Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin and Parliament Replay 1917 Scenario Dual-Power Situation Has Ominous Parallels to the Historical Path to Communist Coup

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin and Parliament Replay 1917 Scenario Dual-Power Situation Has Ominous Parallels to the Historical Path to Communist Coup

Article excerpt

RUSSIA faces a profound, but historically familiar, crisis of authority.

The political revolution that swept Russia after the failed August 1991 coup expelled the Communist Party from power and left the Soviet Union in ruins. But the revolution did not settle the most fundamental issues of political power - in whom and in what institutions does legitimacy rest?

Russia is now torn between two contending structures of power, the presidency and the soviets (legislative councils), both of which reach back to the Communist era and both of which have a claim to authority.

Today the legislature meets in emergency session, threatening to impeach President Boris Yeltsin on the grounds that he has violated the Constitution. If it does, the president intends to ignore the vote as illegitimate.

The situation is so familiar to Russian history that it has a name:dvoevlastie, or dual power. It refers to the period between the February Revolution of 1917, when the Czarist state was overthrown, and the October 1917 coup by the Bolsheviks, which established the Soviet Communist state. During that nine-month interregnum, power rested simultaneously in the liberal Provisional Government and the Socialist-led soviets.

In today's Russia, after the equivalent of the February Revolution, Mr. Yeltsin's presidency plays the role of the Provisional Government. His government not only has power to execute laws but also to legislate, by decree and by proposing laws.

But it is challenged by a nested set of psuedo-legislatures, beginning with the Congress of People's Deputies, the standing Supreme Soviet drawn from the Congress's ranks, and the regional soviets. Parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, once a supporter of Yeltsin, bases his drive for power on an alliance of centrists with today's Bolsheviks, an axis of communists and extreme Russian nationalists.

Historian Viktor Miller argues that today's Russia, as in 1917, is in the middle of an unfinished revolution, which only began in August 1991. Under these circumstances, neither power can truly claim legitimacy. "What legitimacy can we talk about when a revolution is going on?" he asks. "Firm and legitimate authority can be established only after the revolution is over."

In this struggle, both sides claim to have legality under the Constitution, and yet both acknowledge that neither has it.

The structure of dual power rests shakily on the Soviet-era Constitution, which vests ultimate authority in the Congress but was amended to create a powerful presidency. Both the Congress and the president were directly elected on a competitive basis before the anticommunist revolution - the Congress in 1990 and Yeltsin in 1991.

A week ago, speaking to the Russian people, Yeltsin asserted that he alone had legitimacy and that the Congress represented the old order seeking to regain power. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.