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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reform and Mass Democracy

Western capitalism extorted its largest toll upon the people of the countries in which it developed at a time when political democracy was confined largely to the beneficiaries of capitalist development - the so-called freeholders, men (always men) of property if not of wealth. This was above all true in Britain and France, the European pioneers; it was also true of the (still) more democratic U. S. , whose 18th century anti-colonial constitution was founded on voting being limited to middle class white males.


In the late 18th and l9tb centuries, the rough, sometimes hideous processes of creating industrial societies were pushed through; they were eagerly embraced by the Bolsheviks, who were full of admiration, most of all for the regimentation and ruthlessness of the destruction of old societies and the emergence of the new. In a poorer country, and at much greater speed, they copied them - with the results we still see all about us.


In the West, political democracy allowed the emergence of socialist and other parties and movements which, contained within the broad framework of a capitalist economic system, nevertheless greatly moderated and humanized it. In the Soviet Union, by contrast, the lack of political democracy until the last few years elevated a late-19th century mode of production into a timeless political truth because of its most prized product - the industrial working class.


The sudden granting of formal political democracy to people who have long been effective prisoners of an archaic economic system is, as we know, unprecedented. No other "post-communists" have had to cope with such a shock: the Central and East Europeans have memories of post-war pluralism and anti-imperial movements, and were led in the late 1980s by elites who saw themselves as struggling against empire: the Chinese continue to be guided by a formally Marxist Party which permits, indeed encourages, the most rapid free market development while retaining a political monopoly.


This cursed uniqueness of the countries of the former Soviet Union determines the character of the exceptional difficulties they now face. Political democracy has not developed - it dropped from the sky, to be swallowed up in social, economic and above all national struggles whose agendas only sometimes coincide with civil rights and freedoms. Governments, under-resourced and inexperienced, expend all of their meager political capital in achieving social stability by continuing subsidies and make-work employment and have not yet dared to execute the harsh reforms required for modernization and eventual enrichment.


How these ministers must sometimes long to restrict the franchise to the beneficiaries of their reforms- the entrepreneurs, bankers, traders and internationally tradable intelligentsia! (This is roughly what the Chinese Communists, possibly more cynical students of 19th century British history, have done). But it is too late: for good or ill, the vast dislocation of structural change has to take place in conditions of mass democracy.


This is the reason why, when Oleg Soskovyets, the first deputy prime minister, said as he did Tuesday that Russia expected delivery of the large sums of aid promised by the Group of Seven at its summit meeting in, Tokyo next month, he was expressing a political more than an economic reality. For without aid on the scale promised - nearly $45 billion - the demands which would have to be made of the population would be too great for any government, any president, to enforce. The Western money is the price paid for instant democracy: a calculation that this shift of resources will avoid the backlash of a suddenly empowered electorate.


In that sense, it is right that the Western countries make these payments. They called for such change; they supported those who fought for it; they condemned regimes, like the Chinese, for brutal refusals to open up the democratic path. This was the moral position, but it carried a price which must now be paid.


John Lloyd is the MOSCOW Bureau Chief for the Financial Times.