patterns of Russian modernization all point to the main distinction
between the type of modernization characteristic of Western
societies and the nature of Russian modernization. Western societies
were transformed into modern societies as a result of the great
industrial revolution and the liberal-democratic revolutions of the
seventeenth-nineteenth centuries. Their modernization was “organic”
in the sense that it had natural historical origins and popular
roots and developed “from below.” This assured these countries’
accelerated economic and technological development.
Russia’s “catching-up” modernization attempts were not organic. They
did not originate naturally within Russian society but were thrust
from above by the ruling regimes that sought to overcome Russia’s
economic, technological, and military backwardness.
Russia often was compelled to emulate Western advances in these and
other areas to preserve its own sovereignty and independence and to
continue to develop in its own way. Russia’s bouts of westernization
are usually catalyzed by security threats or direct military
challenges coming from the West: the Northern War against Sweden in
the reign of Peter the Great, the defeat in the Crimean War at the
start of Alexander II’s reign, and the intensification of
military-industrial competition with the West in the final phase of
the cold war are prime examples of this tendency.
“socialist onslaught” itself was motivated by the need to prepare
the country to hold its own against “capitalist encirclement” and
involved massive imports of Western equipment and know-how to
augment the country’s industrial and military capabilities.
As a result of
their “non-organic” nature, Russia’s modernization attempts moved
forward with much greater difficulties than “organic”
modernizations, overcoming the resistance of the unwilling
population subjected to the hardships that accompanied the reforms.
The reforms often stalled, or were abandoned, or declared alien but
were eventually revived because there were no alternatives to
modernization except historical backwardness.