Political Science Assignment on Russia

Classifying and Explaining Political Regimes: The Case of Russia. How would you describe and analyze the central features of the political regime in contemporary Russia?

But what I believe to be certain is this: if you were to give all these grand, contemporary teachers full scope to destroy the old society and build it anew, the result would be such obscurity, such chaos, something so crude, blind, and inhuman that the whole structure would collapse to the sound of humanity’s curses before it could ever be completed. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)[1]

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was one such significant attempt at social engineering. It was an ambitious project enterprise undertaken to create an alternative social order by the Bolshevik party of the state under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin in October 1917. A unique social experiment heavily influenced by the teachings of Marxism to create a communist, a classless social order where no social group is able to dominate another.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in complete eradication of autocrat Russian Monarchy and its replacement with a communist state order. It resulted in complete abolishment of the old social order and state machinery characterized by the dominance of monarchy and was replaced with an alternate new form of social structure. The revolution of 1917, occurred in through two separate coups. The first coup occurred in February 1917 followed by another in October. The October coupled with Vladimir Lenin resulted in the formation of a new communist government that managed to establish its complete control of the state around 1920.

The alternate model of social order established by the Bolshevik party later called the communist's political party foresaw a significant role played by the communists state machinery. The state then created was against the market economy, an ideology that dominated the entire western European liberal democratic countries. The state was ideologically based on the understanding of social, national and political equality, the direct and unmediated power of the working class and is aimed at spreading the ideology of communist revolution to the entire world[2].

However, the main actor of the Russian Revolution wasn’t just the working class as believed by Karl Marx. Though present in substantial numbers, the economy of Russia even in the 20th century was dominated by Agriculture and its industry was still underdeveloped. Hence, the communist revolution on 1917 was purely a product of class conflict between the proletariats and bourgeoisie. Rather the intellectual class motivated by the teachings of Marx led the movement to form a classless communist state. This ambition was thus carried out not in an industrialized economy with a substantial working class already in existence as Marx’s predicted but in a relatively underdeveloped and isolated society.

USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics):

With Russia Revolution of 1917, the state of Russia was restructured not just ideologically, politically and socially but also demographically. Under the dominance of the Bolshevik party, the state was Russia was transformed into USSR in 1922. It restructured itself into a union of different sovereign republics of reflected a peculiar type of ethnic-federalism that included within its framework people belonging diverse nationalities. In the next ten decades, the demographic limits of Soviet Russia further expanded to encompass within it other countries like Armenia, Belorussia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Lithuania Latvia, and Estonia.

For next seventy-four years then, the Soviet Union sought to create an alternative social order that was an alternative to the one followed by the capitalist western economies. It was based on command economy where various factors of production were collectively owned by the state. The country went through a phase of rapid industrialization and urbanization under the dominance of the communist party. The economically regressive country emerged as one of the superpowers in the post-WWII era. However, the country was able to achieve this level of progress at the coast of various civil, political, social and economic fundamental liberties possessed by its citizens. 

Under Soviet Russia, only the communist party enjoyed a legal existence. The dominance of a single party was even guaranteed by the constitution adopted under the guidance of Leonid Brezhnev in 1977. Between 1918 and 1921, a period called ‘war communism’, an economic system introduced by Vladimir Lenin to combat the economic consequences civil war that characterized the country from 1917. Under this economic system, the whole economy and its various factors of production were controlled by the state through the process that involved centralization of planning and the elimination of the level management from various factories. This led to a sense inefficiency that resulted in the adoption of the New Economic Policy by Lenin in the year 1921[3]. These policies were guided by the aim to introduce various economic reforms and signified a return to limited capitalists system.

Under Stalin however, the New Economic Policy programs were replaced by five-year plans and providing for a planned economic development of the nation.  A system of collective and state farms was introduced against the widespread peasant opposition followed by rapid industrialization that stressed on the production of capital rather than consumer goods. At the same time, there was an increase in the dominance and control of the communist state over various political, social and cultural aspects of the citizens’ lives. Freedom of movement was restricted and the criticism of state policy and programs came under severe censorship. Through this bureaucracy emerged into a strong and significantly powerful class[4].

The USSR under Stalin not just survived the WWII but also emerged victorious as a superpower along with the United States. The era that followed the Second World War, also known as the cold war was characterized by increasing enmity between two very powerful countries loyal to contradicting ideologies and belief- capitalism and communism. The Cold war between the two superpowers was characterized by the intense arms race and struggle for an increase in their sphere of influence. The period between 1945-1991 was referred to as the cold war because the two nations were never involved in a formal physical conflict though they came almost to it during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The wars were instead fought on Asian soil; the Vietnam War and Korean War are some of the significant examples. The terror of consequence of a nuclear escalation acted as an important deterrent in preventing the advent of another world war. The cold war, however, ended with the dissolution of Soviet Russia in 1991.   

Russia in Post-1991 World:

The Soviet system endured for a much longer period than what its early critics predicted it to be. But, in 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved and with that, the most significant attempt to create a communist state was meet with a disastrous end. A number of factors seemed to have triggered the ultimate demise of USSR; most significant of which is the political and economic reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika. This ultimately helped loosen the constraints that the Soviet Russian constrained its citizens and with it the ended the bipolar international political order.

The legacy of the former Soviet Republic, however, proves very significant as it played a significant role in influencing and shaping the present state of Russia. The newly created state of Russia did not manage to completely abort itself with its predecessor by it emerged into as a unique and fascinating hybrid[5]. Russia in post-Soviet Union evolved into a political system that still retained some feature of its communist predecessor. It further transitioned into a market economy and led to Russia embracing capitalists system of economy. However, the federal system that characterized the continued to characterize the Russian state system underwent re-centralization with the subsequent rise of Vladimir Putin.

Russia After USSR:

Russia reformed itself and emerged as a sovereign political state with along with different political institutions and various branches of state like a legislature, executive specifically tailored to its unique needs. The demographic boundaries of the states had o reconfigured with many of its federating units opting to disintegrate into a sovereign unit. Russia then had to make an effort to create a new national identity distinct from its Tsarist or Soviet imperial past.

In 1991, Yeltsin was reelected as the president in the first popular election for president in the history of the Russian Republic. Later, through the constitutional amendment adopted in 1992, its name changed in ‘Russia’ and ‘Russian Federation’[6]. The political formulation of the Russian Federation constituted in 1992 is governed under the constitution created in the year 1993 as a federal semi-presidential republic. The head of state is the president who then appoints the prime minister. The legislature or Federal Assembly is divided into two houses- the upper house is called Federation Council and the lower house is called State Duma. However, the attempt to introduce various political and economic reforms was met with various obstacles.  Yeltsin’s attempt to reform the country was met with insatiability and chaos and within this emerged Vladimir Putin. 

Russia Under Vladimir Putin:

In the parliamentary elections of 1999, Vladimir Putin emerged victorious as Russia’s president. He later introduced several measures aimed at centralization of the government machinery and increased the power of union over its various federating units and he further suspended a number of laws that conflicted with federal laws. He also managed to acquire the authority to remove governors and dissolve legislatures that would enact laws in conflict with the national constitution[7]. He also tried to reestablished its relationship with various federating units of the former Soviet Union and rebuild its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. 

Rather than reverting to its confrontational position vis-à-vis the West, Russia under Putin tried to form a more cordial relationship with it. In 2001, the nation tried to focus on improving its trade relationship with other western countries as it tried to establish an association with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which resulted in the formation of a NATO-Russia Council through which Russia could participate in NATO discussions any issues except those involved with security. 

As a result of these various economic developments, by 2003 Russia had managed to maintain a steady economic growth for the next half a decade and able to recover from an earlier slump in the economic growth. It has also managed to re-establish its relationship with various countries in Asia and Africa. The country has also managed to maintain its reinforce its position as the developing economic nation as understood by its inclusion in BRICS which is the acronym given to the recent emerging developing economies of the 21st century.

However, even after all this period of time, the relationship between Russia and western democracies is far from that of friendly. The legacy of insecurity and animosity that characterized Russia’s relationship with the western world still persists. The situation has been amplified with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. This has managed to reinstate the fear of West of former Soviet Union’s expansionist tendencies. The situation has been further intensified by Russia’s position about the conflict in Syria and recently in Ukraine. Also, the allegations about the role that Russia has played in the recent United States election with Russia alleged to help in the electoral victory of Donald Trump. Though the USSR has disintegrated as early as in 1991, even after more than one and a half decade later its legacy still looms large. This is demonstrated in the way the western countries frame their foreign policy relationship with the Russian country or the way the nation itself hasn’t been able to escape from the remains of its failed history.   

[1]Fyodor Dostoyevsky, ‘One of Today’s Falsehoods’, 1875, in A Writer’s Diary, Volume 1, 1873–1876, trans. and annotated by Kenneth Lantz (London, Quartet Books, 1994), pp.288.

[2] Sakwa, Richard. Russian politics and society. Routledge, 2002, pp. 3.

[3] http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/commonwealth-independent-states-and-baltic-nations/cis-and-baltic-political-geography/union

[4] http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/commonwealth-independent-states-and-baltic-nations/cis-and- baltic-political-geography/union

[5] Sakwa, Richard. Russian politics and society. Routledge, 2002, pp.3.

[6] Sakwa, Richard. Russian politics and society. Routledge, 2002, pp.39.

[7] http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/commonwealth-independent-states-and-baltic-nations/cis-and-baltic-political-geography/agin#1E1Russia

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