Figures in a Red Landscape
The Struggle for Russia: Power and Change in the Democratic Revolution
In his recent book The End of the Communist Revolution the historian Robert Daniels expresses some views about the collapse of communism and its aftermath that have become increasingly accepted. First, “the sequence of victorious democratic break-throughs in the former Communist realm was one of the most extraordinary and, to believers in democratic values, gratifying developments in all of modern history.” Second, the outcome in the former Soviet Union is “a congeries of feuding ethnic authoritarianisms.” And, finally, “the record of decolonization on other continents offers few examples to encourage optimism about the political future of the Soviet successor-states.”
Why has the promise turned sour so soon? Is it now an exaggeration to use terms like “democratic break-through” to describe what has happened since the rise of Gorbachev? Why exactly did Soviet rule disintegrate? Did it do so too quickly for political stability to be even theoretically attainable amid the resulting chaos? How well or badly are particular successor states doing? Which of their many problems are the most severe?
These questions are raised in the books under review, and I often heard them discussed in Ukraine and in Moscow when I was there during the political crisis of September 21 through October 5. Ukraine, which I visited first, is potentially a rich and powerful country, comparable in population and resources to Britain or France. But its people were feeling vulnerable and frightened. As the cars thin out on the streets of Kiev for lack of gas, Russia continues to insist that in 1994 it will export energy only at world prices, which Ukraine cannot afford. Most articulate Ukrainians are saying that the government must urgently launch a program of reform to rescue the economy from continued decline. However, few believe that this will soon be done, while most have strong doubts that any such program will, in any case, succeed in averting economic collapse.
Again and again I was told that the parliamentary elections scheduled for March and the presidential elections for June were badly needed: President Kravchuk and the Communist-dominated Parliament are hopelessly deadlocked over economic policy and who should control it, and both have lost the public’s trust. The democratic Rukh movement is weakly represented in Parliament, and has lost much of the cohesion that enabled it to challenge the Communists in 1990 and 1991; it has failed to capitalize on the glaring failure of those in power to run the country effectively. Yet the coming elections are also viewed with apprehension: harshly fought political campaigns may seriously undermine political stability, and there is no guarantee that the newly elected legislature and executive will be better able to work together than their predecessors were. These fears are naturally deepened by growing concerns about the disintegration of Russia itself, to which Ukraine still has close economic ties.
In Moscow, I heard similar fears expressed with equal anxiety. Referring to the two weeks of national crisis that came to a climax with the storming of the White …