Cultural Contradictions of Post-Communism

Why Liberal Reforms Did Not Succeed in Russia

May 09, 2000


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One goal of Russia's economic reforms during the last ten years has been to establish a new class of businessmen and owners of private property -- people who could form the foundation for a new model post-Soviet citizen. However, the experience of this postcommunist economic "revolution" has turned out to be very different from the original expectations. For as people became disillusioned with communism due to its broken promises, the words "democracy" and "reform" quickly became equally as unbearable to large sectors of the Russian public after 1991. Such disillusion was achieved in less than ten years -- a record revolutionary burnout that would be the envy of any anti-Bolshevik.

Only a few years into the reform process disappointed analysts were already posing stark questions: "Why have democratic and market reforms turned out to be such an arduous process? Why has Western-style liberalism, embraced almost everywhere in theory, proved difficult even to approximate in practice? Why has freedom not yet been established, even though the totalitarian state has been torn down?"1 Indeed, many analysts assess the results of the past ten years as a nearly complete failure, and blame either corruption, or Western institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The blame attached to the international institutions may be too simplistic, as the Bretton Woods Institutions have been around for fifty years, and many of their projects have proved successful. In addition, corruption is part of every political economy and exists to greater and lesser degrees in every country.What is significant is the consensus that Russia's political economy is corrupt on all levels. According to numerous sources, Russia has ranked among the ten most corrupt nations in the world for each of the past eight years. International investors complain about corruption regularly. Moreover, the 1998 financial crisis made matters much worse, inciting discussion as to whether Russia's developing economy was in fact a form of developing capitalism, or simply "oligarchism," a system where a narrow elite has "stolen the state, and everything else."

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