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Bitter Path to Modernity

 

The breakup of the Soviet Union was a political, social, and economic event, whose dramatic repercussions were as great as those of the 1917 revolution. The scale of the upheaval was revealed in the depth of economic dislocation, explosions of interethnic violence escalating into local wars, pauperization of the mass of the population, the magnitude of human suffering, and other dramatic developments. Russia emerged from the upheaval with tremendous geopolitical, economic, and demographic losses: it still commanded the biggest territory—one-eighths of the world landmass—but had only half the population of the former USSR. 

 
 

The new Russia cannot turn its back on its Soviet experience. As the dust of the postwar ideological rivalry settles, it becomes clear that, far from being an aberrant phase, the Soviet period was an organic part of Russian history and was largely successful in turning Russia and most of the other Soviet republics (many of which have had no previous experience of independent statehood outside the Russian Empire) into modern states. 

The turbulent 1990s showed clearly that denigration of the Soviet achievement and uncritical copying of Western ways leads only to deindustrialization and demodernization and threatens to relegate the former superpower to the status of a raw materials supplier for Western multinationals.

At the start of the twenty-first century, Russia must find a synthesis of Western forms with Russian content that will take into account its national characteristics: a huge territory, a northern location, unreliable agricultural conditions, a peculiar economic structure, the traditionally significant regulatory role of the state, and the cultural, religious, and psychological makeup of its population. Russian political and intellectual elites must continue to engage in the “westernizers versus Slavophiles” debate about the correlation between national and “adopted” elements within Russian civilization to achieve a better mix of Western patterns with usable elements of the Russian past. Without all this, Russia will not be able to embark successfully on its remodernization to catch up with its Western competitors in the era of scientific and technical revolution and postmodern society.

Finally, Russia must capitalize on its indigenous experience of modernization and its tremendous achievements, both in the prerevolutionary era and under the Soviets, and not squander it in pursuit of the latest ideological fads. All the talk to the effect that Russia must decide which of its two “old regimes”—the tsarist or the Soviet—it wants to inherit is meaningless because it obscures the fundamental fact that both eras have been essential steps on Russia’s path to modernity.

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The Soviet Period

 

Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
Stalinism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
De-Stalinization
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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