This issue of Pro et Contra is dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of Soviet communism. The authors examine aspects of post-Soviet development, including public opinion, the economy, and the state, and how they have evolved over the course of the past twenty years.
Symbols of Regression Instead of Symbols of Change
In the first half of the 1990s the initiatives of Yeltsin and his team focused on rejecting the Soviet experience—both as Russia’s past and as their own “legacy.” However, by the end of Yeltin’s presidency but especially in the first period of Putin’s, there occurred a symbolic “reconciliation” of the Russian people with the “Soviet” as “our own,” as “our past.” Soviet symbols are now linked in the public consciousness not with the Communist Party, but with an idealized image of the collective existence “of the whole people.”
Can Russia Kick Its Rent Addiction?
Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes
Russia is not a young, dynamic, “emerging” economy. It is an old economy still burdened by a legacy of 60 years of misallocation and faulty development. The misallocation was not weakened and reversed but rather reinforced by a decade of rent abundance. The first decade of the 2000s was a time of stability and welfare gains. As it enters a decade of trade-offs and tensions, Russia is caught in a trap. For sustainable development it needs to fundamentally change the structure of the economy. But such change would be highly destabilizing.
Foreign Companies and Russian Oil
The rise of the oligarchs in the 1990s put an end to the production sharing agreement framework, but cleared a path for Western companies that wanted to invest in the Russian oil and gas industry. The formation of state capitalism in the Putin era forced foreign companies to seek out partnerships with Rosneft and Gazprom. But achieving this goal was made difficult due to the excessive tax burden on the oil industry. At the end of the 2000s, the political cycle in the oil and gas sector entered a second round.
Too Much of a Weak State
In addition to increasingly frequent breakdowns and emergencies, the system inevitably generates crises out of the blue due to its imperfect internal structure and the fact that the interests of its various individual parts are isolated from system-wide interests. The current Russian government is growing increasingly dysfunctional. However, as was shown by the crisis of 2008-2009—which the system managed to overcome without too much disruption—one should also not underestimate its stability, and above all, inertia.
Nizhnevartovsk: Nature’s Revolt
By 1988 Soviet production was in steep and irreversible decline. Even more alarming, at least in the short term, was a decision by Saudi Arabia to the summer of 1985 to increase its oil production dramatically. By the first quarter of 1986 the Soviet Union would be able to fetch no more than ten to twelve dollars a barrel for its oil, compared with a peak of nearly forty dollars in 1980. During Gorbachev’s first two years in office the country’s hard currency export earnings fell by almost a third. Perestroika was doomed before it had even begun.
The Return of History
The return of history first began with Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing Stalin in 1956. But the “thaw” was extremely limited and, as it turned out, reversible. Without a full and careful assessment of the past, one that could not be crammed back into the genie’s bottle, real reform, much less democratic revolution, was impossible. After two years of hesitation Gorbachev used 1987 as his moment to begin what Khrushchev had started. He opened the door to history.
Between Tolstoy and Carlyle
The paradox of Gorbachev is that he achieved something that was the opposite of his original intention. He wanted to reinvigorate the Soviet system, to give it a new lease of life much as Franklin Roosevelt had rescued American capitalism from the Great Depression. To his surprise and dismay, he ended up presiding over the destruction of the system he wanted to rescue. In the process, he achieved something that he had never intended: the peaceful dismantling of the mightiest totalitarian empire ever created.
The Snake That Bit Oleg
August 1991 presented the delusion of an ending, and history does not have endings. Or not for very long. It was also ignorance: ignorance of the persistence of mentalities and institutions; ignorance of the true depths of the damage done to the peoples of the former Soviet Union; ignorance of how long it would take to recover from that damage and how likely it was that so many mistakes, misfortunes, and reactionary currents would interrupt the march toward what seemed so possible that summer twenty years ago—say it—a shining democratic future.
The Evolution of Post-Soviet Regimes
The competition of fascist, Leninist, and liberal capitalist regime-types that shaped social life for four generations, in retrospect, constituted a unique evolutionary period in which collective action in the service of deeply internalized and directly antagonistic pictures of the human future was remarkably widespread. The twenty-first century, by contrast, appears thus far to be a much more cynical age. Paradoxically, this cultural condition facilitates the continued global hegemony of the liberal capitalist regime type.
The USSR: Further Disintegration, or Reintegration?
A federation of nations, even if it arises in the course of some of the zig-zags of history—either from the “top down” or from the “bottom up”—will always inevitably and quickly degenerate into an empire or an effectively unitary state (as in the case of the Soviet Union), or will collapse. Now, the European Union—seemingly infinitely far from the unitarity of the USSR, to which it is, in some sense, a historical successor—has arrived at precisely such a point of uncertainty.
Igor Fediukin, Boris Makarenko, Konstantin von Eggert