The nature of Russian political culture and by extension its politics has been shaped and molded over the previous centuries. While we can by no means attribute its entire political culture to a single event or time period, we also can’t point to a time period, say the Soviet time, and draw our perception of Russia’s political culture from that alone.
That being said, the totalitarian nature of the Soviet State is by partial means attributable to Marxist-Leninist philosophies. The nature of Russian political culture was (and still is in many regards) authoritarian. Throughout Russia’s history there has been an authoritarian attitude in how the country should be ruled. The state was always there, the state was behind forced modernization policies from Peter the Great through Joseph Stalin, and today Vladimir Putin. Russia for the large part of its history been just as vast as it is today. The sheer size of it requires a centralized power to keep regional autonomy down. Every country that followed or still follows Marxist doctrine did (does) so with different flavors of Marxism, none of which are exactly and entirely what Karl envisioned. China and Russia were rivals in several policy areas throughout the 20th century. The same dichotomy can be seen between China and its smaller (communist) Southeastern Asian neighbors such as Cambodia and Vietnam. Communist countries were partially authoritarian because of Marxism. The nature of establishing and perpetuating a command economy demanded authoritarianism. While China has wiggled out of many of the responsibilities and pitfalls of running a command economy by establishing market-driven economic reform, it remains authoritarian. This illustrates that while the key components of Marxism are abandoned, the system and its actors continue to grasp to power as it seeks to adapt and integrate itself into the world system. This is counter to previous attempts to establish a parallel world system behind Soviet ideology.
Bottom line: the only way a Communist system can take continued hold and root itself into the political system is through authoritarianism. Not to mention the guise under which many of the Soviet Republics were brought into the fold and behind the Iron Curtain. These weren’t spontaneous Communist Revolutions toppling several governments around the world; it was the Russian’s moving in after having kicked the Germans out and acting marionette to their new puppets. If it were populist support that kept Communist governments in power around the world one would not see states efforts to cripple freedoms of the press, of assembly, and of religion. Current Communist governments fear a slippery slope, and perhaps rightfully so, where an inch of social freedom given would mimic Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the late 1980’s and lead to an eventual collapse. Russia’s Political culture is more authoritarian than a lot of countries around the world, but today it is a functioning quasi-democracy with authoritarian overtones. This goes to show that in the right circumstances, Russian’s can and will subject themselves to semi-authoritarian rule. Under other circumstances, such as the situation in the 1990’s that followed the collapse of the Soviet system, it’s a wonder that authoritarianism didn’t come back in force. Putin still governs with legitimacy at the front of his mind, and hasn’t suspended the constitution or ruled by decree. True democracy can and will eventually be realized, but realistically this is only possible through generational replacement and hard, slow change. The privatization process can be viewed with much rightful criticism, it didn’t take into account Russians lack of understanding of the West’s definition of ‘rational economic behavior’, nor did it find a happy middle ground between the two extremes of command economy and wild-west capitalism. What it did do was change the rules of the game being played. We can...
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