Democracy from Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution

By M. Steven Fish | Go to book overview

V
The Struggle in the Provinces:
A Tale of Four Cities

MOST WORKS on revolution, including those on contemporary Russia, focus primarily on the national level. In Russia, as in many other cases, the capital city is properly considered the main locus of both opposition activity and regime resistance. During the period 1985–91, Moscow remained the undisputed center of policy-making authority in Russia. The headquarters of most independent organizations were located in the capital, and groups' national conferences were usually held there. Most leaders of national (all-Russian) organizations resided in the capital, and the “Moscow” and “national” leaderships of many groups were virtually identical. The primacy of the “center” was underscored by the events of August 1991, when the fate of all of Russia, and perhaps even the Soviet Union as a whole, seemed to hinge on a short-lived showdown in the heart of the capital between a clique of reactionary putschists, on one side, and a small group of democratic leaders, protected by a crowd of courageous supporters, on the other.

Yet, like many other “national” (as opposed to strictly regionalseparatist) revolutions, the transformation of Russian politics may be conceived of as a composite of microrevolutions, occurring simultaneously but at divergent rates and under discrete local conditions. However centralized the traditional model of Soviet rule in Russia, the partial erosion of central authority and the fragmentation of the partystate apparat after 1985 produced significant variation in the integrity and repressiveness of official power across cities and oblasts and created dissimilar environments for the growth of democratic movements. Furthermore, most of the insurgent organizations under consideration adopted highly decentralized structures and modes of operation. Local activists retained great autonomy and freedom of action. They were subject to little if any discipline—and enjoyed scant financial support—from their Moscow-based leaderships. In short, the partial decentralization and disintegration of state power and the autonomy of local democratic movement organizations, as well as the sheer size of Russia, gave rise to significant discrepancies in the progress of revolutionary politics across cities.

This chapter investigates the struggle for democracy in four provincial capitals: Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), Tula, Volgograd, and

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