[Marxism] WSJ: "Reform in Russia: Free Market, Yes; Free Politics, Maybe

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon May 24 09:02:07 MDT 2004

(The fall of the Soviet Union was and remains an event
of world-historic importance with profound significance
for all who would propose to build a post-capitalist 
socialist society. The repercussions of the destruction
of the Soviet Union, a product of both international
pressure and domestic disintegration, are too numerous
to summarize in a phrase or a paragraph. 

(One result has been the unleashing of Washington's far
more aggressive and more unilateral policy throughout
the planet. Following 9/11, Washington's invasion and 
occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti are but an 
indication of what's in store on the world stage. The 
US claims that it aimed to bring "democracy" to the 
world have been shown as the fraud they are by the 
prisoner abuse scandal which should more properly be 
called Torturgate.

(Keep in mind that when the WSJ speaks of "democracy"
and of "free elections" they mean like we saw in Florida
in 2000, in the US today where hundreds of millions are
being spent by two candidates with scant disagreement,
and this March in El Salvador where the presidential
election was bought by millions of US dollars which 
orchestrated mass fear throughout the population.

(How is the former Soviet Union devolving today? What
has become of the former dissidents who were lauded by
the human rightsers of the 1980s? Here’s a small peek.

(Naturally, the collapse of the Soviet Union had many
contradictory consequences for Cuba. The island was at
once obliged to rely more on its own resources. And at
the same time, Cuba had to tack between the countries 
in the world whose interests divide them Washington at 
various points. Cuba has become a rallying point for 
fighters against the entire system of neo-liberal 
globalization as Fidel Castro's two recent speeches,
on May Day and on May 14 showed for all to see.



Walter Lippmann

May 24, 2004 

Reform in Russia: 
Free Market, Yes; 
Free Politics, Maybe

Washington's Civic Dreams for Old Foe Fade as People Focus
on Making a Living A Dissident's Post-Soviet Path 

By ANDREW HIGGINS Staff Reporter of 

MOSCOW -- At a meeting in the White House this year, Yegor
Gaidar, former acting prime minister of Russia and chief
engineer of its exit from communist central planning, faced
a solicitous question. What, asked National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice, might America do to lift the
flagging fortunes of Russia's liberal-minded democrats?

Mr. Gaidar gave a blunt answer: nothing. At least for the
moment, he said, the cause was lost.

For more than a decade, Washington and its favorites in
Moscow embraced a seductive theory: Free markets would
anchor free democratic politics in post-Soviet Russia by
creating prosperity and property owners. Now capitalism has
vanquished communism across the former Soviet empire,
destroyed Marxism as a global rival to America's
free-market creed and, after years of turbulence, brought
Russia robust growth. But Russians' faith in Western-style
democracy has withered. Liberal economics and liberal
politics, instead of being an inseparable tandem, have
drifted apart. Many Russians even see the two as at odds.

"Our assumptions were all wrong," says Michael McFaul, a
Russia expert at Stanford University who, in the Soviet
Union's last months, worked on a program to promote
democracy in President Vladimir Putin's hometown of St.
Petersburg, then called Leningrad. "We all assumed that
when the economy began to turn around, most people would
support liberal politics. They don't."

It's an unsettling turn for a place the U.S. has often
cited, as it occupies Iraq, as proof that democracy, with
help, can triumph. Months after the Iraq invasion, U.S.
occupation authorities even invited Mr. Gaidar and other
East European reformers to Baghdad for tips on how to help
Iraq escape a legacy of dictatorship. Mr. Gaidar says
Iraqis have to find their own way, and he didn't recommend
Russia as a model.

Russia's economy, now mostly in private hands and primed by
high oil prices, has grown steadily for five years, surging
7.2% last year. The number of mobile phones, a crude
barometer of confidence, doubled last year to 36 million.
The share of Russians who call themselves middle class
jumped to 48% from 28% in 1999.

Also distinctly on the rise is support for President Putin
and his drive to replace the cacophony of pluralistic
politics with the calm of "managed democracy." The former
KGB officer, who once described a strong state as part of
Russia's "genetic code," in March won re-election in a
landslide. While relentless cheerleading by
state-controlled television had something to do with that,
Mr. Putin clearly is in sync with the people.

Russia, he said when he first became its leader, "will not
soon, if ever, become a second edition of, say, the U.S. 
or England, where liberal values have deep historic
traditions." The oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed
last fall on fraud and tax-evasion charges, recently said
in a dispatch from prison that while Mr. Putin is "neither
a liberal nor a democrat," he is "more liberal and
democratic than 70% of the population."

Russia remains far from a Soviet-style autocracy. Outside
of Chechnya, where tens of thousands have died, Mr. Putin
hasn't crushed political opposition, only muffled it. The
Kremlin keeps critical voices off television but mostly
gives them free run in print media, which have less impact.
Parliament, though stacked with yes-men eager to
rubber-stamp Putin policies, is chosen through elections.

In some ways, the push to strengthen Russian state power
serves American interests. It has eased one longtime U.S.
worry: that a feeble, chaotic Russia might leak nuclear
know-how or even warheads. Moreover, Mr. Putin sometimes
deploys his authority to aid America, as when he aligned
firmly with Washington after the September 2001 hijack
attacks and then, against his advisers' counsel, acquiesced
to a U.S. military presence in former Soviet territory in
Central Asia.

Such gains, however, mask a considerable hazard for America
in a Russia fortified by market economics but detached from
other Western values. An emboldened Russian security
apparatus is flexing its muscles, hounding human-rights
activists, environmentalists and other independent voices.
Moreover, Russia -- along with China and other economically
vibrant but politically closed societies -- could show the
world a potent alternative to America's democratic recipe
for success. "In retrospect," Mr. McFaul says, "one of the
great blessings of the Soviet Union was how poorly its
economy functioned." Now, he says, the "really scary
scenario" is the possibility that, one day, a thriving
capitalist economy will serve an aggressive, authoritarian

Democracy, after a decade of steady advances around the
world, has been showing some signs of fatigue, even in
regions that produced some of its most fervent converts.
According to a United Nations study, for example, 56.3% of
Latin Americans now believe economic development is more
important than democracy, and 54.7% would support
authoritarian rule if it solved their problems. Four
elected Latin American presidents have been forced from
office since 2000.

The dwindling Russian commitment to liberal democracy, like
some other risks the U.S. now faces, is partly one of its
own making. In the first post-Soviet years, Washington
vested all of its hopes in Boris Yeltsin, an erratic leader
who also had a mighty thirst. (President Clinton described
Mr. Yeltsin in private as "better drunk than most of the
alternatives sober," according to Mr. Clinton's chief
Russia expert, Strobe Talbott.) But Mr. Yeltsin's instincts
sometimes appeared far from democratic, as when he sent
tanks to shell a hostile parliament in 1993.

The U.S. also pushed Russia toward the shock-therapy of
free prices and a sweeping selloff of state assets. While
the privatization succeeded in rendering a communist
revival impossible, it was laced with corruption, created a
few fabulously wealthy "oligarchs" and helped sour Russians
on Western values.

The Russian liberals whom America supported helped to
discredit their democratic cause by championing the flawed
privatization, helping make democracy, in some minds, a
fancy word for fraud. In Russia today, Mr. Khodorkovsky
says, "the words 'liberalism' and 'democracy' are almost

Building a whole new political and economic order was a
staggering task in a nation that suddenly lost its empire,
its identity and its bearings. "We had a revolution, more
or less peaceful but still a full-scale revolution," says
Mr. Gaidar, who was acting prime minister in 1992-93 and
then economics minister. "In America, where the revolution
[against England] is seen as the start of history,
revolutions are viewed as something nice and romantic. But
revolutions are terrible things.... Inevitably, people get

Russians support Mr. Putin's strong hand for mostly
straightforward reasons. The state has started paying
pensions and salaries on time. Oligarchs are running scared
-- witness the jailing of Mr. Khodorkovsky, Russia's
richest man. And Mr. Putin, unlike Mr. Yeltsin, doesn't get
drunk in public and play spoons on the head of a bodyguard.

More complicated -- and vexing for liberals like Mr. Gaidar
-- is a thirst for order among Russians who cheer free
markets but question the value of free politics. "Russia
doesn't need debate but growth," says Konstantin Tublin, a
publisher in St. Petersburg. "We need to limit the space
for political discussion."

An anti-establishment gadfly in the Soviet Union, Mr.
Tublin now runs a thriving business whose hit titles
include "Give Me!" a teen memoir laced with sex and drugs,
and a brutal novel called "Head Crusher." The proceeds pay
for tennis lessons at a private sports club for his young
daughter and a Mercedes SUV for himself. He travels abroad,
plans to buy an apartment in London and rejoices in
post-communist freedoms. But real democracy can wait.

Such attitudes, unthinkable in the euphoria of the early
1990s, signal a return not to the Soviet past but to a
powerful strand of Russian reform.

As the Soviet Union slouched toward oblivion in the late
1980s, Adranik Migranian, a reform-minded academic, put
forward a thesis in a journal of ideas that appalled
Western-oriented liberals: Russia couldn't leap from
totalitarianism to democracy but must transit through a
long period of authoritarian rule. Only then, he argued,
could Russia prosper without political and ethnic tumult.

Mocked then as a reactionary, Mr. Migranian today gloats at
the disarray of Russia's liberals, whom he calls "idiots
completely divorced from reality." He views Mr. Putin's
tough rule as a "second chance to do what I suggested
before." Though not close to the Kremlin, Mr. Migranian
coined its best-known slogan: "managed democracy." He says
he came up with the term in late 1993 after Yeltsin aides
complained about an article in which he called a new
constitution authoritarian.

His model is China, which he hails as proof that market
authoritarianism is a better recipe for modernization than
market democracy -- and that harsh methods are sometimes
needed. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was
"absolutely correct," he argues, because "one billion
people are more important than a few thousand students
shouting stupid slogans." China's Communists, big fans of
Mr. Migranian's theories, have translated two of his books
and regularly invite him to Beijing.

Other Russian reformers have looked to Chile, where Augusto
Pinochet overthrew a socialist government in 1973 and
imposed radical market economics in tandem with a brutal
dictatorship. Among Gen. Pinochet's most fervent admirers
is Vitaly Naishul, a mathematician who in the 1980s wrote
an underground tract called "Another Life." Working then at
the State Planning Commission, he saw communism's failures
up close and embraced unyielding "Chicago School"
free-market theory with a gusto that unnerved even
dissident economists.

In 1990, Mr. Naishul led a group of young Russian
economists to Santiago to discuss market reform and meet
Gen. Pinochet, then still head of the Chilean army. "He is
a political genius," says Mr. Naishul. He praises President
Putin for realizing that Russia can gain from free-market
methods but "cannot copy Western democracy." One of the
architects of Gen. Pinochet's economic program, Jose
Piñera, recently attended a conference at Mr. Putin's
country home.

Mr. Naishul has visited Chile five times. He has a medal,
given him by a Chilean economist, inscribed "Mission
Accomplished." Overturning an ingrained economic system,
Mr. Naishul says, inevitably triggers pain and resistance,
and to continue, the effort requires either political
consensus or force. "The level of repression depends on the
level of resistance," he says, adding that Russia was
initially slowed by foolish mimicry of Western politics.

"We tried to be good pupils in the beginning. We attempted,
in a very primitive way, to imitate Western systems. It
didn't work," he says. Instead of a stable, pluralistic
system, the country got a "spoiled democracy" of chaos and
corruption. But the people want clear orders, he says,
citing a Soviet-era maxim: "One bad boss is better than two
good ones."

One eager pupil of the U.S. example was Oleg Rumyantsev, a
young lawyer steeped in the works of Jefferson and Madison.
As a member of Russia's first legislature, the Supreme
Soviet, he led a commission writing a new constitution.
America's National Endowment for Democracy invited him to
the U.S. for seminars. American funds equipped his office
and paid for a trip to Venezuela to study an election.

Mr. Rumyantsev's faith in checks-and-balance democracy
collided with the reality of political power in Russia and
with American Realpolitik. In late 1993, Mr. Yeltsin issued
a decree disbanding a parliament elected shortly before the
Soviet Union's 1991 demise. Washington supported the
legally dubious move. Mr. Rumyantsev joined fellow
legislators, who ranged from neo-Nazi nationalists to
moderate democrats, in defiance.

The constitutional tug of war swiftly became a violent
showdown. Members of parliament, barricaded in their
offices on a bank of the Moscow River, stocked arms and
named a parallel government. Mr. Yeltsin cut off their
water and power. When legislators sent an armed rabble to
storm state television, the Kremlin shelled the parliament
building with tank fire. Mr. Rumyantsev was inside.

"What happened then was a disaster for Russia, for
democracy and for myself," says Mr. Rumyantsev, who has
given up politics and works for Royal Dutch/Shell Group.
"Everything that is happening now has roots in that time."

Russia's current system -- a czar-like president and
emasculated parliament -- took shape shortly after the 1993
bloodshed with adoption of a new constitution. It wasn't
Mr. Rumyantsev's draft, which favored a strong parliament.
The U.S. applauded Mr. Yeltsin's decisiveness. "This was
the end of the romantic part of our history," Mr.
Rumyantsev says.

Washington shed romanticism, too. It cut funding for
"democracy building" projects that found little traction,
their English-speaking staff often having scant feel for
Russian society. Some met aggressive hostility. A team of
Americans from the National Democratic Institute got beaten
up in 2002 in southern Russia.

Other organizations harvested unexpected results: A
Siberian "democracy" project spawned a Russian bride
business. Citizens Democracy Corps, set up by the first
President Bush to work in the former Soviet Union, changed
its name to Citizens Development Corps and wound down its
program in Russia.

Russian voters exasperated American policy makers and
pundits. In 1995 they elected a parliament full of
nationalists and others hostile to the U.S. and its plans
for Russia. President Clinton, according to Mr. Talbott,
asked: "How many more of these things is it going to take
before they stop electing fascists and communists?"

Today, fascists and communists have been eclipsed along
with the democrats, who got wiped out in parliamentary
elections last December. Replacing them is a breed of
politician defined not by ideology but by loyalty.
Boisterous debate has given way to gray calm.

Vitaly Votolevsky, a manager for a construction company,
welcomes the quiet. Sales are up and property values are
soaring. His firm's projects include a lakeside housing
development called New Scandinavia. Brochures show
clean-cut, Nordic-looking Russians enjoying a quiet
barbeque with fruit juice. "Our middle class is not very
mature yet," says Mr. Votolevsky. "It's got money but is
not clear what else it wants."

When Communist hard-liners attempted a coup shortly before
the Soviet Union's collapse, Mr. Votolevsky rushed to
Marinsky Palace in St. Petersburg to shout defiant slogans.
Now, he wants politics kept off the street. He isn't keen
on the Chilean or Chinese models -- far too harsh -- but
likes Japan, where the Liberal Democratic Party has been in
power every year but one since 1955. "They have 'managed
democracy,' too," he says.

At Moscow's Ostankino TV center, Mikhail Leontiev, a
pugnacious and very popular commentator, prepares for his
prime-time program on Channel One beneath his own version
of a Russian icon. It's a photo of himself with Gen.
Pinochet, whom he interviewed in 1997. Seventy years of
communism and a decade of democratic chaos, Mr. Leontiev
says, left Russia a corpse in need of a strong hand to
swipe away swarming flies. "I had hoped for other creatures
-- butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers. But they all
turned out to be worms and bugs."

The career of Mr. Leontiev has traced the full trajectory
of Russia's political course over 15 years: dissent under
the Soviets, democratic idealism in the early 1990s and now
ferocious dedication to Mr. Putin and his vision of a
resurgent Russian state. "We were all raised on dissident
literature and liberal ideas. We took the West as an ally,"
he says. "I now realize: This was complete idiocy."

Mr. Gaidar, the liberal former government minister,
remembers meeting Mr. Leontiev at a birthday party soon
after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. They talked
about the hopes for reform unleashed by perestroika. Mr.
Leontiev was working at a small museum dedicated to Boris
Pasternak, the author of "Doctor Zhivago" and a hero of the
dissident intelligentsia. The TV commentator, says Mr.
Gaidar, "has obviously changed. Unfortunately, the whole
picture has changed."

Write to Andrew Higgins at andrew.higgins at wsj.com 

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