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  • A Return to Stability
  • Alexander Tsipko (bio)

Strictly speaking, one could not call the poor showing of the electoral coalition formed by DemRossiya and Russia's Choice in last December's parliamentary elections unexpected or very surprising. On the contrary, the truly surprising, even incomprehensible, thing would have been a massive show of popular support for Yegor Gaidar and his team after all that had happened since August 1991, especially their abortive "cavalry assault" on the Soviet economy and their call for an assault on the Russian White House last autumn in order to dislodge the parliamentarians who refused to abandon that building. After all, [End Page 19] President Yeltsin dissolved the parliament out of fear: he felt that this locus of opposition to his government's policies was gaining strength, especially in the provinces. The 15 percent of the vote that Russia's Choice wound up getting seems generous in light of the group's close identification with the assault on the parliament and the enormously unpopular policy of economic "shock therapy."

In the category of the unexpected one must also include the electoral performance of the Communists. who gained an aura of martyrdom after their futile defense of the White House. yet did even more poorly than Russia's Choice and ceded the title of "defender of Russia" to Zhirinovsky's LDP. But then again, it seemed clear even before the election that whoever exploited patriotism most effectively would win.

It was not just Gaidar and Russia's Choice that lost, but the so-called democratic revolution of August 1991. The tragedy of Gaidar and his party lies in their assumption of the burden of responsibility for this primordially doomed business. They believed that the idea of the market and of democratic reform would lend their movement legitimacy and mobilize society powerfully behind it, but they were badly mistaken.

The anticommunist, anti-Soviet revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe succeeded in bringing together the notions of democracy, national independence, and the recovery of national history. This fusion of the concept of democracy and the idea of national revival held within itself—if only for a single incandescent moment—an awesome mobilizing strength. Whether in Warsaw. Prague, or Budapest, it conveyed a sense of national victory and brought together huge numbers of people, practically whole nations, to push for the recouping of national identity and the overthrow of the communist nomenklatura.

Russia's democrats took an opposite tack from the one chosen by their counterparts in Eastern Europe. From the beginning, they linked the idea of democracy with the themes of defeat and deterioration: the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War. the discrediting of the October Revolution, the decay of the Great Russian empire, and so on.

Behind this preoccupation with failure and self-reproach lay a sincere and even healthy impulse: the desire to uncover and confront the truth. To many Russians, however, the democrats came to seem like the high priests of a cult of shame and defeatism. Their honesty was too withering. People could not bear to face the truth about Soviet and Russian history—the truth about themselves.

To make matters worse, our new democrats mechanically and counterproductively tried to stretch the notion of breaking with communism to cover a similar break with the traditions of Russian [End Page 20] statehood and Russian geopolitical interests. Ironically, DemRossiya and Russia's Choice were aping the Bolsheviks of 1917 in their attempt to break completely with the Russian past. The only difference was that Lenin and his commissars at least had the advantage of being able to offer the bait of communist utopianism and the prophesied advent of the "new Soviet man." Communism, for all its scientific pretensions, exalted the irrational and sacral over the rational.

Bereft of a messianic ideology, the new Russian democrats did not even bother to offer the people a clear explanation of why the old Soviet economy had to be destroyed or why the old Soviet ways had to be done away with. Appeals to "turn to the market" or "return to civilization" meant virtually nothing to millions of Russians. To them, talk of reform seemed abstract, unviable, and in...


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