T Nation

Can Russia Ever Truly Be Democratic?


Well, what do you think? Keep it civil and educated. Currently, I believe as long as anyone is in power who had any connections with the USSR, democracy can never truly be implemented.

Crime goes hand in hand with this, as the wealthy commissars from Soviet times were in the pockets of the gangsters, and now even thought they are no longer Soviets, the same system exists. To open a grocery store in Moscow you must pay off the gangs, the politicians, the police on top of the actual fees for business licensing.

Maybe we can get some real discussion about political interaction going on in here.


Damn, no one wants to talk about the oppressive regime in Russia... I guess the posters in this forum are as uninformed as I had imagined.


Back in the mid 1980s, when the Cold War was still on, and the Soviet Union still considered the dreaded "Evil Empire", a biologist named Paul Colinvaux wrote a pithy little book called The Fates of Nations. In it, he wrote a theory of history using ecological and biological principles to predict, correctly, all of the major upheavals past and future, as well as the life cycle of a nation.

It echoed what Alexander Tytler supposedly said was the life of a civilization: ("from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back into bondage."), but went one step further be explaining the mechanics of each progression, and make specific predictions of what we might expect to happen in the near future.

He predicted, for example, that the various countries of Africa would attempt to form a political union similar to that of the United States (not yet, but keep an eye on Qaddafi); that the proletarian submachine gun and assault rifle would largely lessen the technological advantage traditionally enjoyed by imperial armies (yup: see Iraq); that the United States and the Soviet Union would someday join forces and go to war in order to obtain petroleum (check: see Gulf War I), and also that many of the freedoms taken for granted by most Americans at the time would crumble under the weight of a growing urban population living in poverty, many of whom expecting entitlements from the State (absolutely: just look around).

Most notably, he compared the USA and the USSR, which were the two most powerful empires of the day. What he found was a huge population living on a huge continental landmass with a great number of natural resources on the one side (the United States), and a relatively smaller population living on a far larger landmass with far more natural resources (the Soviet Union). He then did the math: fewer people sharing a larger pie with more cherries in it should equal greater freedom. "I predict that by the next century," he declared, meaning the 21st century, "the Russian people will enjoy greater freedom than the people of the United States. All they suffer from now is an excess of policemen, and policemen come and go."

I find no flaw in his argument. Also, judging from the Russians that I know personally, I must conclude that they are, as a people, more politically aware, more literate, more financially savvy, and generally better educated than their American counterparts. They are also not disgusting fatbodies who require electric carts to convey their bloated carcasses down the aisles of Wal-Mart.

So while I'm not necessarily rooting for them, I will not be surprised at all if the Russians come out ahead of us economically and freedom-wise in the next two decades. All they suffer from now is an excess of mobsters, and mobsters come and go.


Oh, and note I said "freedom," and not "democracy."

The two terms are decidedly not synonymous.

Some might even say that they are contradictory.


I dunno man, they were going well, very much like your author spoke about. Putin has retarded their development in my eyes. He's so hardline, it's not even funny. Gorbachev and Yeltsin were carebears compared to Putin. His centralizing their gas company/ close ties to the underworld/ violent reprisals against anti-Putin writers= all backwards steps.

And the Russians I know all seem disillusioned with their country, maybe it's the age difference?


I don't know. My generation, 40+, rule is Slavs have televisions instead of brains. We will listen to what we are told as long as everyone else hears the same thing. Maybe different for younger generation. The ones I know (and its limited to maybe a half dozen who are still in E. Europe) who are involved in government, on the way up, etc are hard to read. Either very cynical and opportunistic or technicians whose politics are a cipher to read.


I see your point. The problem I see, and you somewhat alluded to, is that Russian society in general is very 'closed'. There is no heritage of public discussion. All they need, it seems, is an authoritarian ruler (be it Czar, Premier, President) who can successfully defend against foreign threats and guarantee at least a meager existence in order to be content. It is a very foreign idea to me, being a Westerner. In short, it seems Russians in general care about themselves and their family, and as long as those basics are taken care of they can at least tolerate a corrupt political system.


History does not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme?

I did not read the Colinvaux books, but he apparently produced other minor works of ecologic determinist history.
I seem to remember a counter-explanation at roughly the same time...

(Cue the Prokofiev...I prefer Nevsky, but Ivan Grozny will do...)

Agriculture was always a marginal affair in Moscovy (excluding Ukraine). The risks were so great that there was for centuries barely enough production, and that often depended on collective labor and sharing of risks. Failure would lead to peasants into serfdom.

So the collective exploitation of resources, and agriculture, was always tenuous because of the expense and risk of their extraction. (Different story next door in Poland-Lithuania). Productivity--agricultural and natural resources--did not rise until Alexander freed the serfs.

Although intended to free-up labor for industrial production, the agricultural production, specifically, rose dramatically between Emancipation and WWI. European Russia would not again achieve this productivity for many decades, if at all.

The point Colinvaux may have missed is the obvious one: the value of human labor, and whether the environment directs the population to collective, or to individualized efforts. Or so the theory would offer.

(I join the mirror observation: that risk and marginal inefficiency have caused the disappearance of the American family farm over the last 3 decades.)


Why would Russia want to jeopardize their society? :slight_smile:



My favorite is The Montagues and the Capulets from his Romeo and Juliet suite, but it's been overused almost as much as O Fortuna from Carmina Burana.

Interesting take, Doc, as always. I'll be sure to read your counterpoint, but I would recommend Fates of Nations, as well as An Introduction to Ecology, or at very least, Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare, which deals with much more than only why big fierce animals are rare.


Oh, yes, it presents the audible equivalent of my favorite forms of humor: bathos, irony, satire of the powerful...true romance.
(I saw it for the first time in 1969, Royal Ballet with Fonteyn and Nureyev. Nothing better.)

But if you have not done so, Friend V, you may want to look into the Eisenstein/Prokofiev movies. Nothing more than Ivan the Terrible, Part I shows how an intellect can succumb, unwillingly and willingly, to authoritarianism--not Ivan alone, but Eisenstein, vis-a-vis Stalin. And in Alexander Nevsky there is no better expression of the motive power of the National Myth.
Na russie rodnoy, na russie bolshoi, nye byvgat vragu...
(But you will not need the translation)