Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Essays on Russian Politics

Political Science 141
Russian Politics
Dr. Sharyl Cross

Final Take Home Examination
Russian Politics

First Essay on Russian Politics

In 1939, Winston Churchill described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Russia is an enigma that few Westerners can fully understand. Her development as a nation-state-has followed neither a full Western concept of society and culture, nor has she reverted to an Eastern concept of society. In reality, Russia has created a hybrid society taking elements of both cultures. Please explain?

The most important aspect of this hybridization is the conflict of a western notion of individual thought verses the eastern notion of community thought. This affects every aspect of Russian society. Western views of individualism and scientific rationalism were imported into Russia by the Tsars, Russian nobles and intellectual elites. Peter I, and Catherine II both attempted to bring in Western intellectual thought, art and culture. And yet this attempt at westernizing Russia conflicts with the traditional Russian values of community, family and its deep religious beliefs found in the Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, Western individual thought contradicts with the traditional Russian feelings of communitarism. Another example is the view that Western society believes in the separation of church and state. This contradicts the deep Russian beliefs in religion and its integral part of Russian politics. What is interesting to note is that Russia attempted to create a hybrid ideology incorporating these two conflicting ideals through the Communist Party. The Communist Party was a rationally scientific attempt at creating a new “Soviet Man,” living in a Utopian society using elements of both Western and Eastern thought. An example of such is the Communist ideology which individuals had the right and obligation to work for the common good of society. Yet individuals who were able to work their way up through the ranks of the communist hierarchy could be rewarded for their efforts inside the Party system—those outside the party system had no means of social or economic movement. Communism also sought to incorporate a religious doctrine into their ideology. While Communism preached for the separation of church and state through promoting atheism, or cracking down on the Eastern Orthodox religion, the Communist Party also created it own religion with Marxist-Leninism as its religious ideology. This became even more pronounced as the Party elevated both Lenin and Stalin into mythical deities with their phrases and beliefs changed to a quasi-religious scripture. Finally, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is currently being torn between the notion of the West’s free market approach of capitalism and the Communist ideology of state-market economic planning with its roots in communitarism. Russia has adapted by creating a number of Russian oligarchies, which control the Russian means of industrial production. These oligarchies have connections within the Russian Mafia and the government of which it can exert its influences with impunity. More importantly, is the shift in these oligarchies views of enriching themselves and their own interests with a distinctly Western view of individualism over that of the traditional Russian view of communitarianism. This can be seen through the collapse of the Russian welfare system with the harsh living conditions that have been thrust upon ordinary Russian’s daily life. There is also an economic class distinction where a select few Russians in the government, the bureaucracy, and the Mafia who have gathered up the wealth of Russia, while the majority of Russian citizens struggle to survive in such harsh conditions each day.

Another aspect of Russia is the Russian individuals dual personality. On the outside, Russians could be seen as somewhat impassive and suspicious. Russians would not openly state their opinions or views on an issue or the government for a fear of reprisals against them. This was an outer personality. And yet, there was an inner personality where they could be warm, caring and fiercely loyal and proud to those they could trust. This dual personality has its roots in the old Tsaris period when Russians had to fear the state secret police. With no freedom of speech or expression, Russians had to be careful with who they could share their personal views and opinions. This personality was more pronounced during the Communist regime. The West had no counterpart to this dual personality since the Western peoples and societies had the rights of freedom of speech and expression. In Russia, government criticism to the wrong people could cause the individual to be arrested by the state secret police simply for speaking his opinion during the Tsaris and Soviet periods. Therefore, the Russians were always guarded as to what they could say to whom. Currently with the Yeltsin government, the Russian people have full rights of freedom of speech, worship, and assembly, which was unheard of 70 years ago. However certain rights such as the freedom of press my be restricted not through government censorship, but rather through economics as newspaper, radio and television stations are purchased through oligarchs and Russian Mafia fronts which use those media outlets to restrict the editorial content of the press or they will force the press to publish to their own favorable views on issues.

For much of its history, Russia has felt this pulling of traditions between Eastern and Western thought and culture. Russia has straddled between these extremes. The Communist experiment was Russia’s unique attempt to incorporate these opposing views into a new and distinct Russian culture. This culture could only originate in Russia.

Second Essay on Russian Politics

The fall of the Romanov dynasty brought an end to the house of the Tsars while beginning a new history of the Soviet state. The Soviet Union was to replace an autocratic monarchy with a worker’s paradise guided by the hand of Joseph Stalin. Did the Soviet Union under Stalin resemble the Russian state under the Tsars?

While the Communist doctrine may reject such similarities between the two dynasties, The Russian government and its social structure remained the same. The most obvious similarity was the nature of the government. Bother the Tsar and the Soviet government were autocratic dictatorships with a strong, central leader. Both Nicholas I and Stalin ruled Russia with a strong-willed dictatorship. Their word was law. There were no other governmental systems to provide a check on their powers. This strong, central leadership has continued to play a part in Russian politics with Yeltsin having established a presidency with tremendous powers. In addition, both Stalin and his Tsar predecessors had an extreme mistrust of dissent and opposition. Catherine II was forced to put down a rebellion uniting Cossacks, Tartars, and serfs under Emelian Pugachev using force in 1773-1774. Stalin was fearful of the Old Bolsheviks who could usurp his power with their knowledge and their close personal relationship with Lenin during the early stages of the revolution when Stalin was consolidating his power. Stalin initiated purges of these Old Bolsheviks, which grew into a self-destructive orgy of killing by Stalin’s minions. One opponent of Stalin’s policies—Leon Trotsky--was assassinated presumably under Stalin’s orders while he was in exile in Mexico. Yeltsin unleashed the army to storm the Russian “White House” to arrest opponents in the legislature who opposed his power in 1993.

A second similarity between the Tsaris and Stalinist Russia was a deep-seated fear of invasion. This can be explained by the Russian geography. Russia is a nation located on a great steppe or plain. There are no natural mountain ranges or swift rivers that can provide a defensive line. Hence, the Russian nation has always been subjected to invasions. Pre-Tsarist Russia was subjected to Mongolian invasions until Ivan the Great overthrew the Mongols and consolidated the Muscovite Russia. Russia was also invaded by Sweden and Poland during the “Time of Troubles,” and the French invaded Russia under Napoleon. Finally, Germany invaded Russia twice—once during the First World War, which caused the Romanov dynasty to end, and during the Second World War that pitted Stalin and Hitler in a fight. Because of these continuous invasions, Russia has always had a deep-seated fear of security and the need for a strong army. Stalin’s Russia was no different. Stalin feared the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler, which was one of the primary reasons for the non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. Stalin had hoped the non-aggression pact would allow Russia to buy some time and develop her industry and build up his army before the Germans invaded. Near the end of the Second World War, Stalin was determined not to have a 3rd German invasion on his territory. This prompted Stalin to create the friendly communist regimes in East Europe as a buffer zone to protect against a German and US invasion of Russia. Currently, Russia’s main fear has been the US expansion of NATO into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as well as the NATO bombings of Kosovo during the Yugoslav crisis. However, with the collapse of the Russian army, there has been little that Russia can do to relieve its own fear and insecurities.

While there were some similarities between the Tsaris and Stalinist regimes, there was one unique difference between them. This unique difference would be seen as a difference between Eastern and Western philosophy. The Tsarist regimes all had a common desire to import Western ideals, thought, culture and art to Russia. Peter the Great traveled through Europe and attempted to build up the Russian army on a European model. Catherine the Great was a former German princess. The Tsars and the Russian intellectual elite’s were cultured and schooled in Western thought and traditions. The peasantry, however, were uneducated to the Western thought. They were brought up with the old Russian traditions, the strong Russian Orthodox religion, and communitarianism. In contrast, Stalin did not have much exposure to Western intellectual and political thought. He came up through the Bolshevik system through hard work and careful Machiavellic planning. Stalin was fearful of the West and its power. He was also fearful of the intellectual elite’s, and of the old Bolsheviks since they could challenge his power through Lenin’s ideals. He eliminated the Old Bolsheviks during the purges of the 1930s. The main reason for this was that the Old Bolsheviks were a part of the original Communist party and had strong memories of Lenin as a man and had memories of Lenin’s views and opinions. They were an intellectual threat to Stalin’s power and his own grandiose dreams of deity for which he encouraged through the cult of Stalinism. More importantly, while the elite’s in the Tsarist period wanted to transform Russia into a strong, decidedly Western power, Stalin transforms the Soviet Union into a militarily strong power for which he immortalized himself as a deity responsible in transforming the Soviet Union. This was the cult of Stalinism.

While Russia has emerged from its Communist past, the similarities and differences between the Stalinist and Tsarist past are a part of Russia’s national character. Russia cannot escape from the past. Russia cannot escape from the Tsars or Stalin. She must learn the lessons they teach to help her move forward in the world and in history.

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