The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

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

12 The Emergence of
Independent Associations
and the Transformation
of Russian Political Society

STEVEN FISH

The recent, unprecedented emergence of voluntary political associations, independent trade unions and professional associations, and nascent alternative political parties has transformed Russian political society. But have the new organizations yet given birth to a genuine 'civil society' in Russia? ...

... Mikhail Gorbachev's assumption of the general secretaryship marked the beginning of a process of liberalization that made possible an explosion of organized extra-state political activity....


PHASE I: EARLY 1985 TO MID-1987

The crucial development of the initial phase of the Gorbachev period was the onset of partial liberalization in official thinking and policy on questions of independent association. The phrase 'socialist pluralism' entered the official Soviet lexicon during this time. This concept was open to a multiplicity of interpretations, but in practice amounted to de facto tolerance of the formation of some small citizens' organizations outside the framework of state institutions. Writers known to enjoy contacts with top leaders asserted that diverse and even competing interests existed in Soviet society. 11 The principle of independent, organized intermediation of interests was not affirmed in official thinking, but admission of societal diversity helped provide theoretical justification for limited tolerance of political activity outside the confines of formal state institutions.

Most of the pioneering associations were dedicated to the relatively apolitical tasks of preserving historical monuments, protecting the environment, and fighting alcoholism. More overtly political were Memorial, an association dedicated to investigating the crimes of Stalinism, and Democratic Perestroika, a 'political discussion club' of progressive intellectuals. At their inception, these organizations, like other nascent 'informals', were dedicated to discussion and activism that were not incompatible with the goals of perestroika, as defined by top state officials.

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