LIBERALISM AND DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA IN 1991 AND MIKHAIL GORBACHEV

Someone who has read my post on the Russian liberals and who knows Russia well has made a point that I want quickly to touch on.  Her point is that Gorbachev has lost most of his popularity in 1991.  I presume this point was made in response to my comment that the parliamentary elections to the USSR and Russian Parliaments of 1989 and 1990 were on the basis of the number of votes counted won by the Communist Party and its supporters.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I fully accept that Gorbachev had lost most of his popularity in 1991.  In fact opinion polls showed that he had become massively unpopular.  By 1991 things appeared to be falling apart with a bitter “war of laws” underway between the USSR and Russian Parliaments, a mounting economic crisis and escalating unrest in the Caucasus, the Baltic States and elsewhere.  Inevitably as the person in charge Gorbachev was blamed for these problems and there is no doubt that he made his position worse by a succession of serious political mistakes.

The reason I mentioned Gorbachev in connection with the elections in 1989 and 1990 was that I did not want my comment that the majority of votes in those elections went to members of the Communist Party and its supporters to be misunderstood as my saying that in those elections the majority of Russians cast their votes for Stalinism and for dictatorship.  During his talk last Tuesday Martin Sixmith on several occasions came very close to saying and on one occasionally even appeared actually to say that Russians have a cultural and political predisposition to prefer dictatorship (or “one man rule” or “autocracy”) to democracy.  I did not want my comments about the elections of 1989 and 1990 in my previous post to be read as giving support to this thesis, which I happen to think is nonsense.

The elections that took place in the USSR and in Russia in 1989 and 1990 were the result of a powerful democratic impulse that has very deep roots in Russian culture and society and which in 1989 and 1990 was one that was shared by most Russians who would at that time have defined themselves as Communists.  I happen to believe that the revolution that took place in 1917 in both of its manifestations of February and October was also a result of that impulse.  In 1989 and 1990 Gorbachev embodied that impulse and it is right therefore to associate his name with it.  The point is that though that impulse was and is democratic it is not liberal as every election that has ever been held in Russia on anything remotely approximating a free and fair basis has consistently shown.       

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