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Perestroika and Democracy in Russia Illusions and Reality


The problems touched upon in this article concern the logic of the development of socialism, the crisis of the Soviet society in the former USSR, the estimation of the developed socialism in the 1970s-1980s and Gorbachev's perestroika, the problem of Stalinism.

At the turn between the 1970s and 1980s the situation for the USSR on the world arena changed for the worse. It was the time of cold war aggravation, taking the form of arms escalation and bitter ideological warfare. Whereas in the former part the Soviet Union was able to uphold parity, in the latter it was losing out and finally lost to the aggressive western propaganda. The terms used by the western political scientists to oppose socialism and capitalism were 'totalitarianism' and 'democracy'. These terms, widely handled as a weapon to subvert the Soviet order, however, were used in the emasculated meaning; devoid of their initial scientific depth they obscured, rather than elucidated the real state of things. As history shows, they turned out to be nothing but propaganda 'dummies', stock phrases unsuitable for the serious analysis of reality.

The term 'totalitarianism' appeared in Italy in the 1920s; its scientific status was determined by the American professor P. Hayes in 1939, who characterized as 'totalitarian' certain fascism-related features in the political development of Italy and Germany, relating this phenomenon to one of the lines of development of bourgeois - free market society. However, in the 1950s as a response to the obtaining political situation ('the cold war') Carl Friedrich and Zbignev Bzhezinsky spread the term 'totalitarianism' to the Soviet society, thus effectively blending together such widely diverse and essentially opposite phenomena as communism and national-socialism (Stalinism and Hitlerism). The aim was to represent these social phenomena as the two variants of one social order.

In the late 1980s the 'Soviet totalitarianism' had marched its way to the USSR finding there quite a few adepts in the circles of individualistic intellectuals and liberal mass media - exactly around the time when serious scholars in the west began to discard the totalitarian explanatory model. What are the criteria of totalitarianism? Totalitarian control of state over society existed already in pharaohs' Egypt, in China, the Roman Empire, the Inca State and many other civilizations. The totalitarian scheme comprising fundamentally different types of societies holds no water; it simply indicates one part common in them - the strong centralized power. In the cold war time it was a part of propaganda technology - a psychohistorical technique - to subvert collectivism as a principle and create a 'guilt complex' in the Soviet society.

It appears that the basic demarcation line between the above-mentioned societies is not totalitarianism-democracy, but socialism-capitalism. The Soviet society was anti-capitalist; its theory and practice rejected private property, civil society, free market, classes, the division of private and public sectors of economy (its old capitalist social structure had been broken) - it asserted a society based on equality, common property, centralized power. In the other case (the fascist Germany) we deal with the capitalist (bourgeois) society, based on the strict division of public and private property. Even the German nationalist party itself was, by the law of December 1 1933, 'a public law corporation', i.e. a regular public institution of the capitalist society. These societies were also widely different ideologically - let us remember that Communists with their humanistic and internationalist ideology were regarded as major enemies by the nationalist Nazis.

Now let us look at the term 'democracy' and its ideological correlatives - Karl Popper's 'open society', and 'pluralism' - allegedly representing the social reality in the west. The democracy as the 'rule of the people' can be specified - antique, bourgeois, Soviet 'democratic centralism', etc. It is clear, that in each case we deal with different phenomena. Nevertheless, all of them have one point in common: in all cases we are presented with certain formal institutions, which are so constructed as to exercise the will of powerful political groups (or whole classes), representing them as the interests of the majority and creating an illusion of equal rights. Elections have become one of the tools for creating this illusion; their actual tasks are to make the impression of mass participation in the political process, to channel social discontent, camouflage the real, unelected power and monitor the relations between dominant political groups, punishing the culprits for mistakes, extreme conservatism or radicalism. As a rule, the most efficient 'model' democracies are those which fulfill the above-mentioned functions the best. We discover that democracy frequently cannot serve as a tool for scientific analysis, but an ideological label, substituting the reality and serving to manipulate the public mind.

Democratic forms at the early stage of capitalism (e.g. the 17th c. England during the early Stuarts and the Commonwealth period, when the Commons in the Parliament were gaining political weight) were actually the forms of fight of the bourgeois minority against the absolute monarchy and ruling aristocracy. The democracies epitomized by the USA and the European states in the 19th-20th centuries are essentially the result of the concession of the ruling bourgeoisie to the oppressed social groups, the concession achieved through severe class struggle and much facilitated by the existence of the world socialist superpower - the USSR. That country, professing anti-capitalist principles, made the bourgeoisie camouflage its supremacy and concede to the working masses for fear of social turmoil and upsetting of the social order.

The doubters who prefer to defend western democracies may introduce themselves to a long list of western literature on the essence of democracy, among other sources - to the theoretical research on the discontinuation of the '1945-1975 brand' democracy in the USA. For example, the 1975 report 'The Crisis of Democracy' by M. Crozier, S.P. Huntington and J. Watanuki (New York, 1975), made by the orders of the Trilateral Commission, asserts that certain problems of the USA government arise from excessive democracy. To function well the democratic system needs a certain degree of apathy and lack of interest in political life on the part of individuals and social groups. For the past 30 years this principle has been watchfully put into practice in the west - largely, by diverting the public attention from burning issues. The events of September 11, 2001 have worked right into the hands of the stunted democracy ideologists - the democracy in the west is on the wane.

Those who believe that in the 1990s Russia transferred to democracy may get the real picture by trying to answer the questions: what type of democracy, for whom and in whose interests? Was it in the interests of the people? No, it was not in the interests of the majority of population. As the initial stage of transition to the longed-for democracy the national property was denationalized (note again the confusion of the dichotomies 'capitalism-socialism' and 'democracy-strong nation-state'). People were endowed with vouchers for the privatization of national property, but, being brought up in the society which glorified honest work for the benefit of the people, most of them were unable to evince enough speculative enterprise. Those who did profit from the privatization were actually speculators who bought up other people's vouchers and then purchased the national wealth for a mere song. The Russian nation was split into two uneven parts overnight: some turned into rich exploiting minority, others - into paupers struggling for physical survival. Ever since the early 1990s the majority of Russian people (who have retained the egalitarian and collectivist mindset, at least subconsciously) have been languishing spiritually and morally and passing away at the rate of about a million persons each year.

Apologists of democracy understood as freedom from any constraints claim that there are some gains from Gorbachev's perestroika: freedom of speech, the fall of the 'iron curtain', the ability to go and live abroad, etc. This appears to be a rather narrow-minded approach. Freedom understood as freedom of speech and dissent cannot overbalance the national disaster which ensued in Russia - the country's disintegration, depopulation, criminalization, moral decay. The formulation 'Does Russia's transition to democracy (to read 'capitalism') have more pluses or minuses?' sounds rather naive. The superpower fell - instead of it a minor power based on exploitation and deprivation was created by some former functionaries, aided by criminal structures and foreign capital.