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The Uniqueness of Russia and State Power

by Viacheslav Iatsko

At turning points in its history Russia has faced a dilemma: to follow its own, unique way of development or to adopt models already existing in Western countries.

The first such turning point took place at the beginning of the 18th century, when Peter the Great reformed all spheres of Russian life, inviting a large number of foreign experts and implementing cultural, economic, and political achievements of more developed Western countries (Germany, England, Holland, France). Most historians agree that Peter’s reforms allowed Russia to catch up with other European countries, to become a great power.

The next turning point occurred in the second half of the 19th century, when, after the abolition of serfdom, an intensive capitalist industrial development began. It was at that time that upper circles of Russian society became conscious of the dilemma, and a struggle between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles began. The latter, backing the idea of Russia’s unique way of development, pointed out the following features characteristic of Russian society: peasants’ communes, absence of social contradictions, orthodox religion.

On the whole agreeing with the Slavophiles, I can add that life in peasants’ communes determined some specific featured of the Russian population’s psychology, such as: indifferent attitude to social property (“what belongs to all, belongs to nobody”), that possibility for idlers to live at the expense of other members of the commune, subordination of individual interests to communal interests, worship of a charismatic leader of the commune (“the Tsar is kindhearted but has bad ministers; that is why we live under bad conditions”).

At the beginning of the 20th century, the social psychology of the Russian population took severe blows that caused a crisis. Bloody Sunday (January 9th, 1905 when a peaceful demonstration of workers carrying icons was shot on the Tsar’s order), the German origin of the wife of Nicolas I, repressions against the participants of the first revolution (1905-1907), and Rasputin’s influence shook faith in the Tsar. World War I shook the faith in orthodox religion of the millions of peasants who participated in it.

It was because of that crisis in social psychology that the Bolsheviks headed by Lenin managed to seize power. They formulated slogans and created the social order that fully corresponded to the features of Russian social psychology and the Slavophiles’ ideas.

Under the Soviet power all that could be collectivized was collectivized. The Soviet Union was actually one big commune, in which the individual interests of a person were subordinated to the interests of Soviet State, which, in exchange, guaranteed every citizen more or less decent living standards. Orthodox religion was replaced by a communist ideology that allowed including in the commune peoples that professed other religions. Under Stalin, worship of the leader of the country was fanatic.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union began at the end of 1950s, when Khrushchev struck a severe blow to the social psychology denouncing Stalin. But for silly reforms conducted by Khrushchev and Gorbachev, the Soviet Union would still exist.

President Putin’s success can be accounted for by the fact that his image corresponds in a way to the image of a charismatic leader that still exists in the social psychology. Nevertheless, events of the last months (Fradkov’s appointment, a great increase of government officials’ salaries, and the impudent behavior of deputies representing the government’s interests in State Duma) undermine this image.

Social stability in Russia is determined by the balance of three major factors: a charismatic leader, economic stability, and ideological unity. When these factors don’t work, the country gets into a crisis (as it did in 1998). President Putin and his government having being unable to suggest any ideology, two other factors work currently: Putin is still a charismatic leader; the economy is stable. Russia is in the state of unsteady stability. For how long?

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Copyright © 2004 by Viacheslav Iatsko

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