Russian Politics and Society

By Richard Sakwa | Go to book overview

Part II

Political institutions and processes

The August coup of 1991 in Russia might be taken as a symbolic moment of rupture between the old and the new, year zero of the new order; but at the same time, while history might have accelerated, it did not move in leaps. Enormous continuities remained across the symbolic divide: Russia was not a tabula rasa on which the new authorities could write at will. One of the main themes of post-communist politics must necessarily be the interaction between continuity and change, between the existing conditions in society, the economy and politics, and the process of change itself reacting with these historically determined conditions. Matters are complicated, moreover, by the fact that post-communist Russia had two 'old regimes' against which to measure itself and on which to draw, the Tsarist and the Soviet. While it was by no means certain that the factors that had given rise to Bolshevism in the first place had been overcome, it was clear that the seventy-four years of Soviet power would profoundly influence the post-communist period: there could be no direct return to pre-revolutionary Russia.

In 1991, the self-declared 'democrats' came to power, but this did not necessarily entail the triumph of democracy, and it soon became clear that post-communism was a distinctive syndrome of its own and far from synonymous with democracy. The fall of the communist regime was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the triumph of democracy in Russia. Between the collapse of the old order and the birth of the new there lay a period of disorientation and disorder, a new Time of Troubles like that in the first decade of the seventeenth century. The dissolution of communist power was accompanied by a crisis of governance threatening chaos and social disorder. The optimal balance between stability and transformation proved elusive as the Soviet crisis of governance reappeared in an accentuated form. The weakness of post-communist state institutions was not compensated by the growth of other mechanisms to achieve the 'reign of peace' in civil society, giving rise to an almost primeval pre-liberal struggle of all against all, as Hobbes would have put it. The distinctive feature of post-communist Russia was the almost palpable retreat of government: the high tide of state power under the Soviet regime ebbed and society was left exposed and vulnerable to its own morbid elements: venality, criminality and corruption. Once again it appeared that decrees were issued and laws passed only to be ignored by a society apparently living according to a different set of rules. The economic collapse and the threat of social disorder accompanying the transition from communism raised fears that, once again, as in 1917, the democratic experiment would be still-born.

-43-

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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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