Russian Politics and Society

By Richard Sakwa | Go to book overview

1Soviet communism and its dissolution

But what I believe to be certain is this: if you were to give all these grand, contemporary teachers full scope to destroy the old society and build it anew, the result would be such obscurity, such chaos, something so crude, blind, and inhuman that the whole structure would collapse to the sound of humanity's curses before it could ever be completed.

(Fyodor Dostoyevsky) 1

Soviet communism was one of the most ambitious attempts at social engineering known to history. Coming to power in October 1917, the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Vladimir Il'ich Lenin sought to change every aspect of Russian politics and society. Armed with the ideology of Marxism, they launched the great communist experiment to build a society on fundamentally different principles from those that human history had hitherto seen. The ideology proclaimed the abolition of the market, the introduction of social, national and political equality, the direct and unmediated power of the working masses, and the spread of the revolution to all corners of the earth. In practice, of course, these ideals were tempered by the harsh realities of trying to build socialism in a relatively backward and isolated society. Communism in Russia was an experiment in the most profound sense, in that untested principles of social organisation were applied by one group over the rest of the community. The attempt to abolish the private ownership of the means of production, to overcome Russia's imperial legacy by granting autonomy to many of the peoples making up the nation, and to repudiate the whole tradition of Western state and law to create a fundamentally new politics, all this was a measure of the grandeur of Bolshevik ambition. For seventy-four years, the Soviet Union sought to create an alternative social order, in effect an alternative modernity, to that predominant in the West. In the event, what was established was a mismodernised society, creating institutions that were modern in form but repudiating modernity's spirit, above all political liberty and free thought. The Soviet system endured far longer than most of its early critics thought possible, but ultimately in 1991 came crashing down. The legacy of the failed experiment lives on in Russia today. Although the major formal aspects of the old system collapsed in 1991, great wedges of the old institutional and informal structure survived intact into the post-communist era. The successor regime did not enjoy a tabula rasa on which to build a new system. What emerged out of the fall of communism is a unique and fascinating hybrid. The bulk of this book is devoted to analysing the nature of this hybrid new political order, but this chapter will focus on the nature and fall of the communist system itself.

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Russian Politics and Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface to the Third Edition xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Note on Style, Spelling and Transliteration xiv
  • Glossary of Acronyms, Acrostics and Terms xv
  • Part I - The Fall of Communism and the Rebirth of Russia 1
  • 1: Soviet Communism and Its Dissolution 3
  • 2: The Disintegration of the Ussr 27
  • Part II - Political Institutions and Processes 43
  • 3: The New Constitutional Order 45
  • 4: Law and Society 72
  • 5: The Executive 98
  • 6: The Legislature 125
  • 7: Electoral Politics 140
  • 8: Party Development 172
  • Part III - Federalism, Regionalism and Nationalism 201
  • 9: Federalism and the State 203
  • 10: Regional and Local Politics 224
  • 11: National Identity and State-Building 254
  • Part IV - Economy and Society 277
  • 12: Marketising the Economy 279
  • 13: Society and Social Movements 305
  • 14: Cultural Transformation 331
  • Part V - Foreign Policies 347
  • 15: Foreign Policy 349
  • 16: Commonwealth, Community and Fragmentation 375
  • 17: Defence and Security Policy 396
  • Part VI - Dilemmas of Democratisation 423
  • 18: Problems of Transition 425
  • 19: Pluralism, Elites, Regime and Leadership 445
  • 20: Democracy in Russia 463
  • Notes 475
  • Select Bibliography 524
  • Index 527
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