The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

By Alexander Dallin; Gail W. Lapidus | Go to book overview

NOTES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: S. Frederick Starr, formerly president of Oberlin College, is currently president of the Aspen Institute.
3 The Communist System
RICHARD PIPES
THE HISTORIC BACKGROUND
In its present form, the Communist system of the Soviet Union and its dependencies is the product of two factors: the Russian political tradition and the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Neither of these factors, taken by themselves, can explain the structure and the behavior of Communist regimes. This hybrid has been produced by the grafting of a modern ideology on the ancient stock of Russian statehood.The Russian state came into being early in the fourteenth century and developed under conditions very different from those familiar to Western readers. 1 Its home lay in the forest regions of northwestern Eurasia, a territory with an unlimited supply of land but poor soil and a climate unfavorable to agriculture. For many centuries the Russians carried on a semi-nomadic form of cultivation which involved ceaseless movement in search of virgin soil. Because of their mobility, they could not develop advanced forms of social and political organization, which demand a sedentary population with territorial roots. Such social institutions as they did develop were of a rudimentary kind. State and society led separate existences; in medieval Russia, the former represented primarily a military force that protected the land from foreign assaults and went on the offensive to conquer new territories for settlement whenever it felt stronger than its neighbors. This background exerted strong influence on the character of the Russian monarchy, which developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with a capital in Moscow.
1. Russia had no feudalism which, in the West, enabled powerful lay and clerical figures to usurp monarchical authority; instead, it experienced a dispersion of authority among numerous independent princes. While in Western Europe the creation of the modern state required the kings to retrieve the authority that had been taken away from them, in Russia it called for conquest and absorption of in

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