Making Russian Democracy Work: Social Capital, Economic Development, and Democratization

By Spanning, Anna | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Making Russian Democracy Work: Social Capital, Economic Development, and Democratization


Spanning, Anna, Demokratizatsiya


Making Russian Democracy Work: Social Capital, Economic Development, and Democratization, Christopher Marsh. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Meilen Press, Ltd., 2000. 202 pp. $109.95 hardcover.

One of the more intriguing questions in world politics today is whether Russia will be able to consolidate its young and still very fragile democracy. The developments that have occurred lately show signs of clear attempts from Russian state authorities to focus their strengths on the consolidation of state power rather than on the consolidation of democracy. A recent development in the media sector is only one of many that point in this direction. Swedish media in covering the hostage situation at the theater at Melnikov Ulitsa in Moscow reported that Russian journalists were instructed by government agencies to erase everything in their texts covering the police use of gas to stop the terrorists. ' That limitation on freedom of expression and freedom of the press indeed poses a serious threat toward the fragile Russian democracy. A highly justified question therefore is whether Russia will be able to overcome the many obstacles it currently faces and make democracy work; that is the inquiry that poses the point of departure for Dr. Marsh's study Making Russian Democracy Work: Social Capital, Economic Development, and Democratization. The book, which is devoted to the prospects for further democratization in the Russian Federation, investigates the impact of history as well as social capital, socioeconomic development, and regime support on the democratization process.2

Perhaps the most important contribution of the book is its attempt to trace the foundation on which Russian democracy rests, focusing on the people who make up the newly democratic Russia, and their readiness to support their political system through participation and understanding. It is a focus that has been in the shadow of the core of democracy, the institutions, for far too long. By combining an understanding of Russian culture from the historical as well as contemporary perspective with statistical analysis based on a cross-regional approach of Russia's eighty-nine regions and possible requisites of democratization, the study and its conclusions become solid and trustworthy.

The theoretical perspective rests mainly on the scholarship of Seymor Martin Lipset and Robert D. Putnam, who respectively have devoted their research to the explanation of functioning democracies and the necessary prerequisites of democratization and consolidation processes. The study begins with a historical expose of Russia's troubled transition to democracy. It proceeds through the turbulent development of the Russian state, characterized by struggle and autocracy, starting with the rise of the Kievan state in the late 80Os and ending with the Russian democracy under Boris Yeltsin at the end of the twentieth century. The period is explained as an evolutionary path toward democracy, with an interregnum in the shape of the seventy years of communist dictatorship. After the first two chapters, Marsh invites us to follow his search for Russian democracy and its prospects for further development through a cross-regional investigation of the impact of socioeconomic development, regime support, and social capital on Russian democratization.

In defining and assessing the Russian democracy, Marsh turns to authorities in the area such as Joseph Schumpeter, Anthony Downs, and Robert Dahl, where he decides to go with Dahl's criteria for functional democracy, polyarchy. This choice is legitimized by the fact that Dahl's criteria are more flexible and include an aspect that is ignored or not considered explicitly by the other two scholars, namely civic activity. That is an amendment to the minimalist democratic theory (primarily represented by Schumpeter), and is necessary for understanding the complex Russian situation. Marsh then concludes that Russia meets the most stringent definition of democracy, and asks to what degree the Russian Federation can be considered a democratic state. …

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