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

By M. Steven Fish | Go to book overview

VI
Democracy from Scratch

A CENTRAL argument put forward in this study is that the character of state power furnishes the key to understanding the independent political society that emerged in Russia during the Gorbachev period. It has been argued that the conditions under which elections were held, state repression and control of popular political participation, and the fusion of polity and economy—all of which were shaped by vlast'— determined the scope of popular mobilization, the content of social movement demands and the organizational forms through which they were expressed, and the behavior and strategies of independent political associations. The causal argument has accorded primacy to the structure and character of state power rather than the beliefs, ideas, and policy orientations of particular power holders; domination, resistance, and struggle rather than modernization and development; fortuitous breakthroughs and “path-dependence” rather than evolution; and political opportunity structures and political entrepreneurship rather than ideology and culture. If the statist, institutional approach to political-societal change constructed here furnishes a powerful and robust explanation for social movements and their organizations, one would expect the regime changes that followed the abortive putsch of August 1991—the ultimate “breakthrough event”—to alter the development of autonomous political organizations, even in the absence of immediate changes in political culture or level of economic development. On the other hand, one might expect the legacy of the late Soviet period to leave a deep and lasting imprint on post-Soviet Russian political life. The present approach would also recommend examining precisely what changes the coup attempt induced—and did not induce—in state power and particularly in the causal variables employed in analysis of the Gorbachev period before considering the prospects for democracy.

A full understanding of the political changes that have occurred since the failed coup is impossible at such an early stage, and at any rate it is beyond the scope of this study. Brief examination of several of the central tendencies that defined politics during the first year or so of the postcoup period may nevertheless illuminate how the legacy of the Gorbachev era—the crucial first stage of posttotalitarian politics—is

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