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In the late 1980s and early 1990s most Russian people sought improvement in their material and social conditions rather than fight for capitalism. The rank-and-file participants of the democratic movement were inspired by prospects of greater freedom and social justice. The mistake of the Russian government was its failure to engage the citizenry as partners in its modernization attempt. 

 
Photo: ITAR-TASS

The reformers pushed through radical policies without making a real effort to explain clearly their plans to the people, treating the populace as guinea pigs in a colossal economic experiment. Their biggest mistake, however, was that they did not regard the goal of raising the population’s living standards as the main criterion, against which the reforms’ success or failure should be judged. By allowing these standards to take a deep dive, they alienated citizens from their capitalist project.

Far from mobilizing the necessary public support for their policies, the reformers’ actions threatened to erode the social base of Russia’s fledgling democracy itself. Many of the democratically minded people withdrew their support from Yeltsin as early as 1992 when the first devastating effects of “shock therapy” turned the words democracy and market into terms of abuse. In 1993 President Yeltsin resorted to military force to disband the very parliament that only two years earlier had supported the dissolution of the USSR and vested him with vast powers to implement reform.

From 1994 on, the regime’s social base of support was restricted to the bureaucracy, which enjoyed unjustified privileges in the climate of corruption, and the big business tycoons. Even the support of the new business community was halfhearted as the government failed to protect entrepreneurs from corrupt officials and criminal rackets. The growth of the middle class, which could have provided a base of stability, was held back by the banking crisis of August 1998, which plunged many of its members into poverty.

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Deformed Capitalism

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