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

By M. Steven Fish | Go to book overview

Epilogue

SINCE the final chapter of this book was written in late 1992, the new Russian polity has experienced a year of turbulence and tumult. The term “crisis,” normally used to describe a temporary period of disruption between equilibria, appears to have established itself as a permanent feature of Russian political life.

The events between the time of Gaidar's ouster in late 1992 and the December 1993 parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum largely represented a denouement of the currents and conflicts that shaped the first twelve to fifteen months of the postcoup period. El'tsin attempted to preserve and expand his decree powers but was stymied by increasingly obstinate and conservative legislatures, and especially the Supreme Soviet. The referendum of April 1993, which handed El'tsin and his program a spectacular public endorsement, raised hopes that the increasingly rancorous conflict between the government and the parliament could be resolved in a manner that was both peaceful and propitious for radical reform. The parliament's staying power and contempt for the results of the referendum, deepening fissures within the government itself over the pace of economic reform, El'tsin's indecision and inability to convert the moral victory of the referendum into political capital, and the bloody confrontation of late September–early October 1993 revealed such hopes to be unfounded. Relations between the president and prodemocratic organizations, moreover, continued to deteriorate, though most progressives supported El'tsin in the referendum and continued to prefer him to his increasingly vocal and bellicose enemies.

As of the beginning of 1994, ample grounds exist for pessimism regarding Russia's political future. Although the violent confrontation between El'tsin and his Communist and nationalist opponents ended (given the alternative) in a manner propitious for the continuation of reform, the conflict itself raised serious questions regarding the viability of Russia's transition. The government ultimately commanded the force necessary to put down its opponents. But its initial confusion and helplessness in the face of marauding bands and its eleventh-hour response called into question its capacity for self-defense and the extent of its control over the agencies of coercion. Furthermore, the ferocity of the confrontation—the opposition's resort to massive violence, and El'tsin's equally violent, if belated, response—highlighted the tenuous-

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