Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Coalitional Configurations: A Structural Analysis of Democratization in the Former Soviet Union

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Coalitional Configurations: A Structural Analysis of Democratization in the Former Soviet Union

Article excerpt

Trajectories of Post-Socialist Polities: The Big Picture, Explanations, and Coalitions

The democratization experiences of countries from the former Soviet Union pose an analytical riddle: Why is there such variation in outcomes given relatively similar starting points as former members of the Soviet Union? Echoes of democratization's contradictions and challenges reverberate: in the byzantine politics of shadow coalitions and "Kremlin capitalism," in Central Asian oligopolies, and in various color revolutions past and future. The roots of unhappy politics in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, or Kazakhstan-in contrast to the relatively more benign or progressive polities of the Baltic countries-lie in processes that enabled and constrained actors as they constructed new coalitions and rules determining access to and use of political and economic capital. Yet for all the empirical richness of these experiences, the balkanization of social sciences has obscured how post-socialism speaks to past and ongoing issues of democratization. In fact, variation in post-Soviet political trajectories cries out for an overarching analysis on its own terms: first, to make better sense of the processes and projects of this post-socialist iteration of the "Great Transformation"; and second, to take advantage of variation, just as earlier sociology and political science did to lay the groundwork for fundamental theoretical ideas still used today. Post-socialism allows us to revisit earlier questions with new comparative cases, to generate further insights or expand the realm of analysis by treating post-socialism inductively as an historical event in itself.

Scholars have typically addressed dynamics and trajectories of post-socialist change with focused case studies or comparisons across a handful of countries.1 Our goal is to build on these insights, and the real variation between these cases, to expand a field of inquiry that harks back to grander traditions in comparative politics and political sociology that asked big questions about "modernity." Perhaps the most ambitious was Barrington Moore's comparison of historical pathways to democracy, fascism, and communism, an undertaking that inspired other seminal comparative works.2 Moore's analysis revealed the importance of structures (in his case, class structures) in shaping political trajectories, rescuing Marx's insights from his own initial oversights and the weaknesses of later Marxists. Facile references to (often tautological) "political culture" in and of itself, or to historical contingencies alone, were insufficient for making sense of why one country suffered authoritarianism while another enjoyed democracy. Further developing a structural analysis and adding processes and organizations, Charles Tilly compared European histories to demonstrate how economic structures, state structures, and state-economy relations influenced the trajectories of political structures and regimes.3 Later, he explored broader structures and institutions, proposing a political process model of political change and democratization that incorporated lower-level structural relations, especially coalitions.4 In this model, what matters for democratization is the quality of interactions between authorities and their subjects in the polity.

While we accept the importance of Tilly's "three Cs" (coercion, capital, and coalitions) for understanding political trajectories, here we focus on coalitions to make better sense of the trajectories of political structures, polities, and regime power in the former USSR. Coalitions, one form of structure, are important for democratization because they express polity members' protection from and access to state action. Where are actors located in the polity-inside, on the edges, or outside? To whom are actors connected? The importance of coalitions as they relate to coercion and state capacity is in how coalitional structures can nudge polities along different trajectories. …

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