I'm making pretty steady progress.. but I've never been so intimidated by questions in my life. (The mid term is tomorrow, and we'll be told which 3 to answer when we get to class.) I can't wait for it to be over.
Political Science 441
Government and Politics of Russia
February 5, 2009
Please answer three of the questions below, as assigned by your instructor.
1. The Russian political economy that emerged from the middle of the 16th century was a function of Russia’s history, geography, and other factors. It has been referred to as selective modernization, a focusing of state resources on a narrower band of sectors of the economy essential for survival. The political economy of selective modernization has had deep impact on Russia’s politics, economy, and culture ever since. Describe the basic features of selective modernization and its impact on Russian economics and politics in 1) the tsarist period; 2) the Soviet period; and 3) the post-Soviet period. Has Russia’s predominant political economy changed over time? If so, how?
2. Vladimir Lenin predicted in his revolutionary tract State and Revolution that the class domination by capitalists of the state would give way to socialist democracy, whereby workers and peasants would eventually be able to administer the state without class struggle and exploitation and usher in an all-around flowering of human beings in a genuine democratic system. Yet just a few years after State and Revolution was written, the world’s first socialist state, the Soviet Union, had become a one-party dictatorship with methods of coercion even more extensive than that of tsarist autocracy. Why did this happen? Given Lenin’s political psychology and strategy in achieving power, was the loss of democracy promised by the Bolshevik Revolution inevitable?
3. Joseph Stalin’s intense mobilization of Russian economics, politics, and society succeeded at great human cost in industrializing Russia and eventually making it a global superpower. Yet by the late 1970’s and particularly in the early 1980s, the extensive economic development strategies of Soviet state socialism had lost their dynamism. The Soviet economy was again falling behind the West in terms of intensive post-industrial economic strategies based on innovation and new technologies to promote growth. Discuss how the reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev (glasnost and perestroika) attempted to deal with Soviet economic stagnation. Why were they ultimately not successful?
4. The fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 did not bring with it sustainable liberal political institutions in the post-Soviet period, with meaningful checks and balances between branches of government, political parties that represented broad sectors of society, and an effective federalism between Russian central authorities and its regional and ethnically-defined political counterparts. Why didn’t this happen? What were the historical as well as contemporary conditions that kept it from happening? Would you say that the managed democracy and rule by law described by former President and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin represents a tactical or fundamental change in Russian political practices when compared with the Soviet period?
5. Political scientists Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter have argued that in any transition from authoritarian or totalitarian rule, the founding election is a crucial stage of political development in the new society being formed from revolution. Such an election establishes the institutional frameworks of political contestation, and the basis for democratic participation; it frames the menu of electoral preferences as well as patterns of voting behavior and it legitimizes new political regimes. Discuss the elections of 1991-1996 in terms of key elections held in Russia during this period. Did such elections prevent old or new non-democratic forms from returning? If not, why not? What would it take to reverse the current authoritarian trends away that appear to undermine responsive political institutions?
6. Russian national identity for nearly five hundred years has been embedded in a strategy to the outside world that embraced territorial expansion, a special role for Russia in the international world, a militarized state, and resource investments heavily tilted toward defense and heavy industry that could meet essential security needs as defined by the political leadership. Yeltsin and his supporters sought to reverse this national identity for one based on liberal principles of free markets, far-greater civil liberties, and non-interventionism in foreign affairs. This newly stated national identity was fiercely contested by Yeltsin’s opponents in the 1990’s, not always consistently pursued by Yeltsin himself and beginning in the year 2000 a corporatism of sorts as defined by “Putin’s Plan.” If national identity is defined as timeless criteria of what constitutes a nation and its ideals, can we say that the Russian people and its leadership actually have a national identity at this point in their history?