Elites and the Russian Transition

  • Graeme Gill
Part of the International Council for Central and East European Studies book series (ICCEES)


The collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent emergence of an independent Russia was accompanied by high hopes that the new state would proceed rapidly and peacefully towards the construction of a democratic political structure and a market-based economic system. Such hopes were fuelled both by the stated aims of the Russian leadership and by the recent experience in Latin America and Southern Europe where the successful replacement of authoritarian regimes by those of a democratic stripe had occurred. Indeed, this experience was seen as being so significant that one observer referred to it as the ‘third wave’ of democratisation.1 However, such hopes were not always accompanied by a sober recognition either of the immense problems Russia would face in traversing these twin paths, or the differences between the Russian situation and that of these other parts of the globe.2 Clearly the physical size of Russia, its ethnic diversity, the particular effect on its development of seventy years of communist rule and the problems of transforming a centrally-directed economy into a market-based system all set it apart from those Latin American and Southern European states which had made the transition to democracy in the 1970s and 1980s. But despite these differences, there are some commonalities. One of the most important is the central role that will be played in shaping the contours of the transition3 by the political elite; the course of development in Russia will be shaped, as it was in these other countries, in large (but not exclusive) part by the nature of elite politics.


Shock Therapy Soviet Period Authoritarian Rule Economic Elite Military Elite 
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  1. Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  2. For example, Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter and Laurence Whitehead (eds), Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  3. Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp.29-30. Also the discussion in Robert H. Dix, ‘The Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes’, Western Political Quarterly 35, no.4 (1982).Google Scholar
  4. Marcelo Cavarozzi, ‘Patterns of Elite Negotiation and Confrontation in Argentina and Chile’, in John Higley and Richard Gunther (eds), Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.232.Google Scholar
  5. For one discussion see Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reform in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), Chapter 4.Google Scholar
  6. In particular, see the literature on bureaucratic authoritarianism: for example, David Collier (ed.), The New Authoritarianism in Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), Part 3.Google Scholar
  7. For one discussion of this see T.H. Rigby, ‘Khrushchev and the Rules of the Game’, in R.F. Miller and F. Feher (eds), Khrushchev and the Communist World (London: Croom Helm, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. For one discussion of this see Richard Sakwa, Russian Politics and Society (London: Routledge, 1993), pp.46-7.Google Scholar
  9. For an argument that the basis of policy dissensus lay in the diverse views present in the elite in the last days of Soviet power, see Judith S. Kullberg, ‘The Ideological Roots of Elite Political Conflict in Post-Soviet Russia’, Europe-Asia Studies 46, no.6 (1994), pp.929-54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. For the argument that this should be seen as a form of ‘delegative democracy’, see Paul Kubicek, ‘Delegative Democracy in Russia and Ukraine’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 27, no.4 (1994), pp.423-41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Graeme Gill 1998

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  • Graeme Gill

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