Democracy from Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution

By M. Steven Fish | Go to book overview

I
Western Scholarship and the
New Russian Revolution

FROM 1985 to 1991, one of the great political dramas of the twentieth century unfolded in Russia. Although it began as an effort at reform from above, the process of transformation was snatched from its initiators and became a revolution. Unlike the revolution of three-quarters of a century past, the new Russian revolution featured no vanguard party and no armed insurgency, and was not made in the name of a class or a single identifiable program or principle. Unlike many other revolutions, it was not fought to craft nationhood or to recapture lost national sovereignty. It was a popular, democratic revolution, but it differed from cases of “redemocratization” experienced in many other countries in recent decades. It was a revolution of a different type, waged by unlikely revolutionaries. The rebellion of most of its heroes did not predate the onset of the revolution itself.

This book is not about “perestroika,” “glasnost',” or “reform,” though these phenomena did provide crucial openings for the emergence of the organizations and movements that will be the subjects of examination. Nor is it about Mikhail Gorbachev, though it does focus mainly on the period of his rule. Rather, it investigates the organized, independent revolutionary opposition in Russia. It will be demonstrated that the old regime, though decaying, is not, or at least until the abortive coup attempt of August 1991 was not, in ruins; that the independent revolutionary forces of a new order, though not mature and firmly established, had by August 1991 already transformed Russian political society; and that the main dynamic in Russian politics during the Gorbachev period was not to be found in a division between “reformers” and “conservatives” within the official political leadership nor in a “search for a new order” under general conditions of powerlessness and disintegration. It was to be found, instead, in a tumultuous, chaotic, and sometimes violent struggle between a pact of domination that proved to be fundamentally, structurally unreformable and an energetic, dynamic, yet disorganized and poorly integrated insurgent political society whose form, character, and development were determined above all by its struggle with state institutions. It will be demonstrated that the new independent forces created a political soci-

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