Russian Political Institutions

Russian Political Institutions

Russian Political Institutions

Russian Political Institutions

Excerpt

It is difficult to approach the study of anything Russian in the same frame of mind as we are accustomed to bring to the understanding of other societies. The Russian authorities present the experience of their country as of universal application, and the foreign observer is apt, in the same spirit, to take it as an example, good or bad. Moreover, the world is now much involved in Russian affairs, and its ability to see them dispassionately is affected by a reasonable desire to know what Russia is going to do next. But both polemic and prophecy, particularly tempting in the field of politics, are remote from the study of political institutions. These are the more or less conventionalised processes by which the divergent wills of individuals in a society are, in fact, reconciled into acceptance of courses of action taken in the name of the society as a whole or of recognised associations within it. We seek in this book to understand the process where the individuals involved are Russians, as we are already accustomed to do where they are Americans or Frenchmen. Our concern is with the very recent period of history which we call the present, though this is not to be understood without some reference to the remoter past.

We have to face at the outset the problem of the terms in which to discuss Russian politics. Many of the institutions which we traditionally accept as keys to the nature of political systems -- the legislature, elections or the head of state -- exist, but are of little significance in the real process of politics as we define it. Others -- the government or the party -- although important, are something very different from the institutions similarly designated in the systems with which people in this country are more familiar. Other terms useful in political discourse -- the civil service or central and local government, and the different balances between them -- are inapplicable because of the virtual absence in the Russian system of the distinctions which they imply. The total field of study is itself different. If we decide (as to make his subject manageable the political scientist must) to consider as politics only such . . .

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