Part 9 - The Pendulum: A Model for Understanding
Political Transitions in Russia
A few of the most famous Russians who ever lived
Editor's note: In this ninth part of his masters thesis, "The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism", St. Petersburg University graduate Kevin Cyron argues that Russia has become so thoroughly integrated into the global economy that it can never return to a truly authoritarian system of government.
Click on the extended post to read part nine of the extended essay.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev advertising a handbag for Louis Vutton
[We find this quote selected by Kevin Cyron - from 1919 - very timely and relevant. With so many think tankers, politicians, pundits, investors, oilmen, bloggers, rabid Russophiles and Russia-haters, and diehard Cold Warriors all contributing to global discourse about modern Russia, it's worth repeating today - The Editors]
There is some subtle mystery about Russia which makes discussion of its affairs passionately bitter. We are able to disagree about France or Fiume without losing our temper. But difference of opinion about Russia distils peculiar venom. - Arthur Bullard 1919
Russia: Big Country, Big Controversies
It is the question of labeling the current Russian administration under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a democracy vs. authoritarian form of government that has been discussed in this paper. To reiterate the definitions of these terms democracy, power from the people and authoritarianism, single ruler. This paper has already shown the beginning roots of democratic development by tracing it through Russian history and putting it in the context of Maslow's hierarchy. That is relevant to the debate because this proves that there has been an underling, although subtle, in the cultural subconscious a desire to progress beyond authoritarianism.
Why Russia Will Not Go Back to Authoritarianism
By examining this aspect one can come to the logical conclusion that even though Russia today gives the impression of taking "backward steps" they will not revert to the systems of the past. These "backward steps" are misconceptions and are done in the context of the democratic sphere of political governance and further more are similar if not identical to other nation's transitions and experiences as discussed earlier when compared to the U.S. Therefore this paper provides a new paradigm.
A Pendulum of Political Transitions.
In the age of Globalization there are two main degrees of political governance, Authoritarian and Democratic or "free and not free", as Natan Sharansky states in The Case for Democracy, in which a pendulum moves from one to the other.
Within each of these is another pendulum which constantly changes with time back and forth to different degrees of authoritarianism and democracy. However in the larger pendulum, once the threshold or event horizon is crossed from Authoritarianism to Democracy this nation in transition will not return to Authoritarianism. Furthermore the reverse cannot happen, i.e. modern democracies in today's era of globalization can NOT transition to authoritarianism.
Comparing Russia to Other Developing Countries
The threshold I believe represents the true transition which is marked between 10 to 15 years. Most developing countries slide back to continuous civil wars for creation of dictators in this time period. As Thomas P.M. Barnett points out in his book, The Pentagon's New Map, the key to a successful transition is a successful adaptation to a global economic system or becoming a part of globalization. Once that is crossed and or achieved, there may be different degrees of democracy but the threshold or event horizon cannot be crossed back. Once the authoritarian regime has been removed for more than 10 to 15 years on average, there is no going back.
When one examines Great Britain, France, Spain, United States as well as others one sees a recurring pattern in history. There may be elements of Authoritarianism within the Democracy but the percentage of Authoritarianism will not exceed the 50% threshold putting it back on the side of Authoritarianism. The small seemingly insignificant steps are subtlety pushing the pendulum that was on the side of authoritarianism closer to the event horizon which when you get close enough pulls you into the period of transition with the end result being a democratic form of government on the other side.
Comparisons to "Backsliding on Democracy" in American History
There are shifts and points of "back sliding" in all democratic states. For example in the U.S., President Abraham Lincoln:
"During the Civil War, Lincoln appropriated powers no previous President had wielded: he used his war powers to proclaim a blockade, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money without congressional authorization, and imprisoned 18,000 suspected Confederate sympathizers without trial. Nearly all of his actions, although vehemently denounced by the Copperheads, were subsequently upheld by Congress and the Courts."(177)
Further still President Roosevelt -- "In 1942 Roosevelt made the final decision in ordering the internment of Japanese, Italian and German Americans (Many not released until well after the War's end) during World War II."(178)
Why Russia Is Not Weimar
One of the biggest comparisons made is between Modern Russia and Germany's Weimar Republic (1919-1933). However this is a major misconceptions for a number of reasons, most notable of which is the influence of national identity, effects of political parties and time. As the 2001 Report states from the NIC:
"The comparison of post-Soviet Russia with Weimar Germany is often made, and there are good reasons for it. But there are two overriding reasons why, overall, it fails to convince:
â€¢ In Germany, national feeling long preceded the formation of a German state; Germany was a country of super-saturated national identity with positive attitudes toward the state. In Russia, on the contrary, the state long preceded the nation--if a nation can be said to exist, even now. As a result, most Russians distrust their state, or at least identify weakly with it.
â€¢ Most Russians are not interested in joining political parties. They do not feel that their problems are best solved through the organization or program of a party, let alone through paramilitary squads such as those that disfigured the late years of Weimar Germany. For historical reasons, Russia has built up its state system not through institutions and laws, but through persons. Owing to its over-stretched and vulnerable geopolitical position, from the sixteenth century onwards Russia's rulers have had to improvise the mobilization of resources in situations of emergency, and they have done so by using whatever means lay at hand, usually the power of local strongmen, rather than through institutions and laws."(179)
Why Russia Is Not Doomed to Repeat History
Many people believe that due to Russia's long history with authoritarianism that the country will forever be caught in the cycles of dictatorial rule. This I believe is short sighted because as Michael McFaul argues in his book, Russia's Unfinished Revolution, "If Russia is bound to be a dictatorship forever, as some cultural theorist would have us believe, why then did Russia begin to tinker with democratic institutions in the first place?"(180)
Russia's Event Horizon - The Point of No Return to Authoritarianism
The Event Horizon is an astronomical term used to describe what is believed to be the point at which nothing can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. Some believe it is where space and time meet. The use of this term is symbolic because not only does it describe the point of not returning to an authoritarian past but also because of the destructive nature of a transition itself.
In this context the Event Horizon represents an admission that the policies of the past no longer function and cannot be revived. It is a sociological effect, as well as an applicable effect on the society and the political structure. This realization does not happen over night, which is why the time frame is 10-15 years. There may be many attempts to reform and save the old system. This is where a nation begins to feel the effects of the pull of the Event Horizon but still has the ability to reverse. This reversal sometimes is the creation of a new authoritarian system as in what happened during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The acceptance of a failed authoritarian regime was not widely held. The failure of the Tsar was felt but not the structure and type of government. As Ronald Suny writes:
"One of the central problems of the Communist in the first two decades of their rule was how to move from exercising power through force towards persuading people to accept their right to rule. The Bolsheviks had to supplement their coercive power with discursive power."
Later he writes, "As unpopular as the Communist were in many parts of the country, they were accepted as the lesser evil, and acquiescence to, if not positive acceptance of Lenin's government spread through different social strata and groups: workers, many peasants, intellectuals, and certain nationalities, like Jews, who were particular victims of White anti-Semitism."(181)
The country was deeply divided which led to the civil war. This civil war pinned the Red Army or Bolsheviks against the White Army the Anti-Bolsheviks. The White Army was a collection of different groups and even though they had democratic supporters among them were not unified in a democratic ideology or even an anti-authoritarian ideology. Many did not believe that democracy was the cure to Russia's problems but that a reformed authoritarian system was. As Arthur Bullard writes in his book, The Russian Pendulum:
"But it seems to me that one cycle is complete; that from one point of view, i.e., political organization, the Great Pendulum has swung from the tyranny of the Tsar through democracy -- a point where the overwhelming majority supported the government and where those who governed sought to rule by democratic methods -- to a new, but in many ways familiar, tyranny. More nearly I think than Napoleon ever came to copying the forms of the old monarchy, Lenin has revived the methods of the Tsar." Later he writes, "There was then a period when the government -- especially under the leadership of Kerensky -- sought the democratic support of the people. An active effort was made to organize, even in the midst of the war, the free election of the Constitutional Assembly. This experiment in popular rule failed to be popular. Month by month, almost day by day, sections of the majority deserted. It could not carry the weight of the war, and at the same time organize the New Regime."(182)
The Rise of Russian Economic Interests Favorable to Democracy
This transition or swing back to authoritarianism was not to last and eventually the pull of economic forces linked with democratic freedoms would throw away the shackles of authoritarianism forever. As Arthur Bullard writes:
"But this is only from the purely political point of view. The economic revolution in regards to land still progresses. What is happening in industry is still uncertain. But even in the narrow field of political organization what a tremendous number of outgrown, lifeless things have been knocked down by the swing of the pendulum! It will swing again. How long Lenin and his minority can hold power is a matter to guess about. The Tsars with a smaller minority held their thrones for more than three hundred years. But the methods of Tsarism by which Lenin rules are outworn."(183)
Gorbachev's Recognition That There Was No Going Back
The difference is that in the 1980s the authoritarian system was widely believed to be accepted and respected, to a certain extent, when this change occurred. In essence the leaders pretended to lead while the people pretended to listen and follow. These changes occurred from the top down not from the bottom up as with other revolutions. Whether Gorbachev realized this or not, he was pushing his country to inevitability. Due to the influence of party loyalty and the effect this had on his predecessor Nikita Khrushchev, who was removed from office in 1964, Gorbachev had to be careful and cunning. However by looking at his own words, Gorbachev by the end knew there was only one way to save his country and that was to dive headlong into the democratic transition of the Event Horizon. As Gorbachev stated in an interview in the German newspaper, Der Spiegel:
"First of all, I think that for us a market economy means the same as it means to all. This institution was not invented by the Germans, the Russians, or the Chinese, but is the achievement of civilization. In this sense our transition to a market economy is a normal phenomenon. We cannot go on living the way we have. We have been suppressing the stimuli, initiative; we have lacked freedom of economic activity. This was a dead end."(184)
A political philosophy as stated like this can only be summed up the way Gregiory Friendin did in his essay, How Communist is Gorbachev's Communism?, which was published by Stanford University:
"If this is the basis of the socialist idea that Gorbachev is committed to the ideals of Erasmus, the French and American revolutions (man rights freedoms); the British political arrangement (parliamentary system); political theories of Locke, Montesquieu, Madison (separation of powers); the Anglo-American tradition of the law-abiding state, champion in Russia by the Constitutional Democrats before the revolution and, more recently, by the dissident advocates of human rights, Chalidze, Tverdokhlebov, Sakharov, the institutions of mixed economy, common in Western democracies, and finally, the no less common systems of social security and guarantee of the rights of organized labor then the political position Gorbachev is advocating must be placed on the continuum somewhere between the Socialism of Francois Mitterrand and the American Republicanism of George Bush."(185)
In the context of Maslow's hierarchy, which was explained earlier, the creation of a constitution and having it accepted by the people is the first step not only in the hierarchy but also the beginning of the end of the event horizon. This is the first step in security and international recognition as an individual state. This however is just the first step because there may be a number of territorial disputes, civil disorder may not have subsided yet, and possible treaties may not have been ratified yet. These are all important steps in establishing security. It must be noted however that a state can do multiple things at one time and in many cases they must. It is also the recognition and the test through elections that truly pushes the state out of the security realm.
Once the security realm is passed and legitimized by several elections, the state is safely out of the event horizon. The legitimacy of several elections is a key point. It must not only be recognized internally but also internationally as well. It is in the first several elections that the security of the new democracy is most vulnerable. The election of a future dictator (ex. Adolf Hitler) can pull a struggling state back to authoritarian. As Nikolai Petro states in his article, "The Elections Since 1989: The End of the Chapter?":
"Elections shape a society, especially during periods of upheaval when they play the role of catalyst for change. They also reflect the politics of the society at a particular moment."(186)
This is why modern Russia is safely out of the event horizon and will not be pulled back through to the degrees of authoritarianism. Russia has had several elections of the Duma and a major peaceful transition of a democratically elected leader. The signal that Boris Yeltsin gave by being the first Russian in its history to voluntarily give up the reign power should not be underestimated. The fact that his appointment, President Putin, was then accepted by a vote of the people and then re-elected by the people should also be recognized as a huge step.
The end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is dated as December 31, 1991 when all Soviet Institutions ceased brought about number of challenges which also demonstrated the destructive power of the Event Horizon. As President Putin pointed out in his speech in 2004:
"Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country's integrity. Oligarchic groups -- possessing absolute control over information channels -- served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere."(187)
It is safe to say that everything that could possibly go wrong did.
Globalization Shaping the Future Leadership of Russia
The importance of economic connectivity to globalization must also be stressed. In addition to a secure political sphere there must also be sustainable economic growth. The growth must also be felt out side the major cities, in the regions. As Bullard states in his book:
"The name which is given to the man on the top -- Director, Dictator, President, Chief of the Executive Power, or General Manager -- is not so important as the organization from below. If the life in the village is free there is no danger of a Tsar. If life in the villages is prosperous, the "Government" will soon recover from bankruptcy. If the village schools are good, we can have confidence that Russian foreign policy will be enlightened."(188)
(177) www.wikipedia.com - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abe_Lincoln
(178) Ibid.- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FDR#Civil_rights_issues
(179) Hosking, Geoffrey 2001, "The Political System: From Soviet Past to Post-Yeltsin Future" In: "Russian in the International System", National Intelligence Council, Conference Report June 1 2001,
(180) McFaul, Michael, "Transition from Communism to Democracy" In: "Russia's Unfinished Revolution" Cornell University Press, London 2001 p. 5
(181) Sunny, Ronald p. 190,191
(182) Bullard, Arthur. "The Russian Pendulum" MacMillian 1919 p. 137, 138
(183) Bullard, Arthur. p. 139
(184) Gorbachev's Interview for Der Spiegel (Izvestiia 25 March 1991).
(185) Friendin, Gregiory, How Communist is Gorbachevs's Communism? Berkly 1991 p.7 - http://www.stanford.edu/~gfreidin/Publications/gorbo92_eng.pdf
(186) Petro, Nikolai V., "The elections since 1989: The end of the chapter?" In: Restructuring Post-Communist Russia" Cambridge 2004 p. 227
Kevin Cyron is a native of Burke, Virginia, USA and a graduate of Marymount University in Maryland. Mr. Cyron has worked on the staff of Congressmen Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Washington D.C., and for an MP in the European Parliament in Brussels. In 2005, Mr. Cyron moved to St. Petersburg, Russia to begin his Masters degree in European Studies the following year. While completing his Masters, Mr. Cyron worked for the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia. Mr. Cyron graduated from St. Petersburg State University with an M.A. in Sociology in June 2008.