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As Russia tries to establish the foundations of a stable and productive market-based economic system, it must determine the importance of the state to its prospects. What kind of political order corresponds to the challenges that Russia faces in the post-Soviet period? This analysis argues that geography matters a great deal and the state remains central in compensating for the austere implications of economic geography for Russia's economic prospects under market circumstances.
Our country is vast and rich but disorder reigns throughout....Come and rule us.
- Delegation from Novgorod to a Scandinavian prince, AD 862.1
Although Russia lacks a tradition of vigorous self-government, it does not necessarily follow that it has one of bureaucratic centralism.
- Richard Pipes2
I. On the Importance of the State in the Russian Setting
A recurrent theme in the discussion of Russian history, fortunately less frequent in that history itself, is that of "the time of troubles" (smutnoye vremya in Russian). The English translation provides but a pale sense of what Russians understand by the term: an apparently indefinite period of profound economic and social crisis in the body politic, characterized by the collapse of state authority, a crisis magnified by the comparative weakness of Russia's non-state institutions to fill the gap opened by the disintegration of rule from above. Unregulated struggles over political succession, secession of outlying territories, civil strife, foreign intervention, and above all death, on the mass scale, have all been directly associated with Russia's several times of troubles, both in the popular imagination and in actual fact. In practice, the infliction of mass death has also been associated with periods of overweening state authority, as the reigns of Peter Ⅰ ("the Great," 1689-1725) and Josif Stalin (ca. 1927-53) demonstrate.3 Yet arguably it has been the fear of the consequences attending the decomposition of the state rather than its apotheosis as an unresponsive autocratic Leviathan that touches the raw nerve of Russian political culture .4 Much of this book stands as a meditation on why this should be so .
Russian preoccupation with order, a much more elemental instinct than that conveyed by the old Prussian idea of a well-regulated police state, can be illustrated in a number of ways. Historically, West European and North American terms for "freedom" and "liberty" have often been rendered into Russian by Russians as stikhiya, which in fact most closely resembles the English idea of "anarchy" or "random disorder." (Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently agrees with this interpretation.5) In 1868, a Russian poet named Aleksei Tolstoy (cousin of the more famous Lev) penned a charming satirical poem about the cycles of Russian political history, entitled, "A History of the Russian State"; throughout the long poem, the refrain, which encapsulates the ultimate fruitlessness of many of these efforts at reform, and recalls the plea of Novgorod to a foreign prince in A.D. 862, is the same: "But there is just no order in the land" (Poryadka v ney lish' net).6 More recently, the Russian Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has argued that there have been just three "times of trouble" in Russian history: the early 1600s, when a prolonged Russian succession crisis saw a Polish-backed (and Catholic) claimant to the throne and a Polish occupation of Moscow; the Russian Revolution itself, extending from 1917-21, which catalyzed a civil war that proved far more destructive to Russia than did the First World War, whose until then unparalleled brutality triggered the Russian Revolution and the 1990s, following the disintegration of the USSR. In sum, Solzhenitsyn, who can hardly be accused of sympathy for the Soviet regime, assesses the first post-Soviet decade as more threatening to the health and survival of Russians and of the integrity of Russian civilization than the Stalinist terror or the Second World War, each of which claimed the lives of tens of millions of Soviet citizens.
There are sound reasons for taking such an alarmist view of the impact of the 1990s on Russian life and civilization. Consider only that, in the course of the decade, the Russian national economy contracted by about one-half, leaving Russia with a total gross domestic product (GDP) that is now less than one-fourth that of China's, and a per capita GDP that is now being challenged by China's own per capita standard of living (a detailed treatment of those conditions follows later in this introduction and in subsequent chapters). Relatedly, Russia experienced an annual net outflow of precious capital of $20-30 billion per year over the decade, compared to a net annual inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into China of $40-50 billion in recent years. Consequently, a net sum of approximately $200-300 billion in erstwhile Russian capital has been invested abroad, a sum that, when combined with the $80-160 billion that Russians are believed to be holding "under the mattress," approaches Russia's annual GDP when calculated in dollar terms and that stands in stark contrast to Russia's domestic investment requirements for the foreseeable future.7 This starvation of Russia's domestic infrastructure, public as well as private, has had devastating consequences for the country's public health. To take perhaps the most dramatic index, mortality rates, average male life expectancy in Russia, continuing a trend begun in the late-Soviet period, had declined by the mid-1990s to just fifty-eight years; at the turn of the new century, it hovers on the threshold of sixty. Demographers have estimated that the life expectancy of a Russian teenage boy at the beginning of the twenty-first century is lower than that of his great grandfather as a teenage boy at the turn of the twentieth century. Given an excess of deaths over births on the order of seven hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand per year, the Russian population, in spite of significant in-migration of Russians and non-Russians from other ex-Soviet republics (due to civil strife, ethnic discrimination, and so on), continues to decline, opening up the prospect of a dramatic diminution of Russia's population in coming decades and a corresponding shift in Russia's geopolitical position in the world, especially in respect to China in Asia. By one analysis, by 2050 Russia's population - taking into account birth, death, and immigration rates - could decline to 86.5 million, compared to 144.2 million in early 2002.8 One could extend this kind of analysis, to a greater or lesser degree, into many other areas, including public health in general, the condition of Russian education, research and development, as well as the security of Russia's "nuclear archipelago," civilian as well as military. (See Chapter 3 for details.)
Contrary to what many in Western Europe and North America have argued (in the process continuing a hoary Western tradition of viewing Russia through the prism of internal Western preoccupations),9 this tableau of troubles has much less to do with the relative success or failure of Russian "democratization" and/or "marketization" than it does with the profound shock that has been administered to Russia by the failure of the state to function.10 The decomposition of the Soviet Russian state arguably began with the death of Stalin in 1953; certainly by the middle of the Leonid Brezhnev period, the limits of the Soviet system to function effectively, given the resources available to it, were an open secret among the enlightened elites within the system itself. Mikhail Gorbachev unwittingly made this latent crisis explicit in attempting to save the system through far-reaching structural reform. Even before the end of Gorbachev's tenure in office, the immobilization of the Soviet state that Gorbachev had brought about had triggered what Steven Solnick has called a widespread "bank run" on Soviet state institutions.11 Strategically placed Soviet elites, especially those with access to commodities that could be sold competitively on the world market (oil, gas, gold, diamonds, aluminum, and so on), discovered that they now faced an unprecedented opportunity to convert their administrative control over Soviet economic assets into the equivalent of private ownership; politically, this reinforced the impulse to secession from the Soviet center that was evident in a number of Soviet Union republics, Russia as well as Ukraine, among others. To a significant extent, Russia's post-Soviet political history has focused on providing legal protection for those who managed to acquire personal control of valuable Soviet economic assets, in the process both reflecting and propelling the crisis of the Russian state.
Why is the capacity of the state to govern so important? First, the ability of the state to govern is central to the prospects for building both a meaningful democracy and capitalism in postcommunist circumstances. The experience of the 1990s throughout postcommunist Europe has shown just how important an effective system of state administration is for the course of political and economic reform.12 Democracy does not emerge spontaneously from the bosom of "civil society," which is in any case weak throughout postcommunist Europe and especially in post-Soviet states such as Russia and Ukraine13; nor does a mature and balanced capitalist economic system develop automatically from the interplay of the forces of supply and demand. Without a competent civil service, and the political authority to draft, pass, and then enforce relevant legislation, the state will not be able to perform the legal and macroeconomic functions required to establish what Russians call a "civilized" capitalism. Moreover, since there appears to be a strong historical correlation among democracy, civil society, capitalism, and the rule of law, a state that cannot (or will not) establish the rule of law thereby undermines the chances that an economically and socially healthy capitalism can take root and with it the chances that a strong civil society, whose independence in the final analysis depends upon defensible property rights, can arise.14 In the absence of these social and economic preconditions of democratic political development, it is difficult to envisage how a responsive democratic polity might be built. In short, the state matters, even for those who are primarily concerned with the encouragement of a Russian democracy, liberal or social, and/or a Russian capitalism that might serve as an engine for the creation of wealth and the economic development of the country.
Second, and perhaps more obviously, the ability of the Russian state to exercise effective jurisdiction throughout the Russian Federation affects interests of vital importance not only to Russians but to the rest of the world. The question of whether Russia can effectively manage its nuclear power industry - that is, to prevent another Chernobyl or the like - impinges upon countries throughout the Northern Hemisphere. To the extent that the Russian state cannot effectively fund, and thereby control, the agencies of state administration, that state loses a degree of control over its borders as well as its ability to fulfill treaty obligations under international law. Questions about the leakage of Russian ballistic missile technologies to states such as India and the open sale of nuclear power reactors to Iran fall under this category, as do questions about the transit of narcotics from Afghanistan through Russia's new and vulnerable southern borderlands and the emergence of Russian organized crime as a major international phenomenon. (To a significant extent, Putin's acquiescence, even encouragement, of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 reflected his understanding that the U.S. military would be solving a problem - that is, an aggressive Taliban government alongside a vital Russian sphere of influence - that the Russian military and the Russian state more generally could not.) Then there is the challenge of maintaining effective command and control over Russia's nuclear forces within the context of a general degradation of the country's armed forces. The entire framework of nuclear arms control has shifted, not so much after the end of the cold war as after the collapse of the Soviet state: Whereas during the cold war the primary problem of international security was to insulate nuclear weapons from the international Soviet-American cold war competition, the problem today is rather how to insulate nuclear weapons from the uncertainties of internal political and administrative order in countries such as Russia that can no longer be presumed a priori to be stable states. In all of these instances, the extent to which Russia can effectively govern itself, under whatever political dispensation, democratic or otherwise, presents itself as an issue of international security.15
Finally, the experience of the 1990s in Russia underscores just how tightly bound up Russia's history, Russian civilization, and - as I shall argue in detail later - the prospects for the survival of historical Russia have been with the integrity and capacity of the central Russian state. As noted earlier, "times of trouble" have fortunately been rare and far between in Russian history. The essential trajectory of Russian political history since the emergence of the Principality of Muscovy as the predominant Russian suzerain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with all of the inevitable ebbs and flows of that process, has been toward the consolidation of autocratic government within an expanding imperial state.16 Scholars such as Nicolai Petro have pointed to a number of examples, reaching into the distant Russian past, of what he has termed "constrained autocracy," that is, the effort to induce the sovereign to recognize the specific and autonomous social, economic, and political interests of propertied classes, the Church, in later times commercial and professional classes, and so on.17 Two facts are pertinent in this regard. However well understood the idea of the public representation of corporate interests may have been by the turn of the twentieth century, the idea was resisted tenaciously and ultimately far too successfully by a succession of Russian Tsars, their courts, and their bureaucracies. In the end, the inability of the Russian Imperial political system to assimilate the social and economic forces engendered by Russia's state-directed economic modernization toward the end of the nineteenth century gravely weakened Russia's already questionable capacity to wage modern war of the sort unleashed throughout Europe in August 1914 and rendered the Imperial system fragile under the burden of such a war.18 The weakness and fragility of Russia's modern classes, and their alienation from established authority, made possible the victory of the Bolsheviks between 1917-20 and the rapid establishment of an autocracy exceeding the imagination of any Tsar. Unconstrained autocratic government had thus been the leitmotif of Russian political history from the emergence of Muscovy until the Gorbachev period.
This development, while by no means inevitable, was not accidental, either. As we shall see shortly, the expansion of Russia throughout central Eurasia, ultimately to occupy at its zenith one-sixth of the earth's land surface, is inconceivable without a centralized, militarized Russian state.19 Although the extension of Russian territorial jurisdiction often followed trails blazed by Russian colonists in search of fertile soil, the consolidation of these holdings depended ultimately upon the power of the Russian military. This process of expansion very early brought Russia into conflict with hostile non-Russian and frequently non-Christian peoples. The ability of the Russian state to integrate - through force, inducement, assimilation, and so on - its expanding colonial realm into the "metropolitan" Russian state had the effect of fusing empire and state into one polity, thereby creating an imperial state that was at the same time more formidable and more fragile than the West European overseas empires. The integration of colonies into the state allowed Russia to absorb resources and energies that propelled Russian state development itself. At the same time, this tight integration of state and empire meant that any challenge to the empire was also a challenge to the state, very unlike the case for the West European empires. Defense of empire, which was in fact the basis for Russia's great power status in the wider world, implied in the final analysis defense of the autocracy. This was the great dilemma faced by Russian reformers since the early-nineteenth century and helps explain why the momentum of great reforms tended to dissipate sooner rather than later: The dismantling of Russian autocracy implied the dismantling of Russian empire and with it of Russia's place in the world.20 In fact, the collapse of Russian autocracy in 1917 and again in 1991 saw the immediate fragmentation of the state along nationalist lines and the collapse of the country's weight in international affairs. The defense of empire and of great power status thus entailed support for a powerful Russian state.
Correspondingly, Russian "national" consciousness did not develop along strictly nationalist lines. First, the state itself tended to reject the idea of a Russian "nation" after the French model. To include the peasantry in the "nation" would mean bringing the masses into the political system, an alarming idea to any autocracy. Second, the adoption of a true nationalist ideology, that is, one which saw the ideal polity as one in which the boundaries of the state and of the nation were coextensive, would have the effect under Russian circumstances of relinquishing the large non-Russian colonial periphery, as twentieth-century nationalists such as Solzhenitsyn would in fact advocate (at least with respect to the non-Slavic and/or non-Orthodox non-Russians).21 What we usually think of as Russian national consciousness hence developed as a particular kind of state-imperial consciousness. Nationality in its ethnic form was no barrier to advancement in Tsarist Russia, as the large presence of ethnic Germans in the later Imperial administrations demonstrates. (An aggressive russifying nationalism developed only in the latter part of the nineteenth century.) Service and loyalty to the Tsar and later to the multiethnic Bolshevik Party, in the practical form of the state, not the nation, became the predominant touchstone of Russian political consciousness.
Finally, the Russian state has been central not only to Russia's imperial expansion eastward and southward but to its ability to assert and defend its interests westward, where the interests and power of technologically superior West European states have been engaged.22 Central to this task was the capacity of the Russian state to embark from time to time on a significant but constrained program of economic development, that is, to borrow enough from Western Europe economically, administratively, and militarily to enable Russia to compete in the West and expand in the East and South, but limit the borrowings to avoid social and political challenges at home to the prerogatives of Russian autocracy. Indeed, in both Tsarist and Soviet times, the state has been central to Russian economic development, largely for military reasons.23 We shall explore the reasons for this in depth in Chapter 6. Suffice it to say that, for the general reasons given previously, the state has been the major constant in Russian political, economic, and social development for more than five centuries. In this light, Russia's experience in the 1990s - characterized by the simultaneous collapse of a powerful central government and of plausible external threats - may be seen as the testing of a new hypothesis in Russian history: To what extent is the development, if not the survival, of Russia as a civilization dependent upon the existence of a powerful central state?
II. The Argument of the Book
The historical and functional analysis that we shall employ in this book leads to one overarching conclusion: The strength of the central government remains critically important for Russian political and economic development and even for Russia's prospects as a distinct civilization.24 Historically, forces connected to Russia's geopolitical situation along the vast Eurasian steppe, as well as its position within the global political-military system and political economy, have worked to establish a structure of state power that has contained an intense fusion of political and economic power, whether under Soviet or Imperial auspices. Moreover, this patrimonial synthesis of polity and economy, while distinctive among European political systems, was on the whole not ineffective. Russia's state-driven pattern of economic development proved able, if often at brutal cost to its own people, not only to avoid the fate of colonization that befell China after the Opium War of 1839-42 but to maintain and even increase its standing as a great European power. This was not only a question of sheer material power but also of successful integration into European international society, as the ratification of both Peter Ⅰ's and Catherine Ⅱ's territorial gains by various European "concerts" of power demonstrated.25 What changed for Russia from the mid-nineteenth century on was the novel challenge posed by industrialization, with its emphasis on efficiency as distinct from mass in the production process, thereby requiring a qualitative change in the relationship of regime to society. By 1913, that regime had not done so badly; it had, after all, presided over three decades of the most dynamic (state-directed) industrial growth among the great powers.26 Yet in a classic Marxist (or Huntingtonian27) fashion, the modernization process itself generated new economic and social forces that demanded a political voice that the regime was incapable of integrating in a stable, postpatrimonial equilibrium. At the same time, the pressures of international politics and of Russia's relatively late start on industrialization saw it fall further behind the leading Western states, most dangerously Germany, even as Russian production was growing by leaps and bounds in absolute terms.28
|1||Historical patterns of Russian political development||18|
|2||Soviet legacies for post-Soviet Russia||47|
|3||The 1990s in Russia : a new time of troubles?||85|
|4||Russia's "neopatrimonial" political system, 1992-2004||128|
|5||The Russian 1990s in comparative perspective||166|
|6||What future for Russia? : liberal economics and illiberal geography||195|