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The first book to trace the evolution of Russian politics from the Bolsheviks to Putin When the Soviet Union collapsed, many hoped that Russia's centuries-long history of autocratic rule might finally end. Yet today's Russia appears to be retreating from democracy, not progressing toward it. Ruling Russia is the only book of its kind to trace the history of modern Russian p The first book to trace the evolution of Russian politics from the Bolsheviks to Putin When the Soviet Union collapsed, many hoped that Russia's centuries-long history of autocratic rule might finally end. Yet today's Russia appears to be retreating from democracy, not progressing toward it. Ruling Russia is the only book of its kind to trace the history of modern Russian politics from the Bolshevik Revolution to the presidency of Vladimir Putin. It examines the complex evolution of communist and post-Soviet leadership in light of the latest research in political science, explaining why the democratization of Russia has all but failed. William Zimmerman argues that in the 1930s the USSR was totalitarian but gradually evolved into a normal authoritarian system, while the post-Soviet Russian Federation evolved from a competitive authoritarian to a normal authoritarian system in the first decade of the twenty-first century. He traces how the selectorate--those empowered to choose the decision makers--has changed across different regimes since the end of tsarist rule. The selectorate was limited in the period after the revolution, and contracted still further during Joseph Stalin's dictatorship, only to expand somewhat after his death. Zimmerman also assesses Russia's political prospects in future elections. He predicts that while a return to totalitarianism in the coming decade is unlikely, so too is democracy. Rich in historical detail, Ruling Russia is the first book to cover the entire period of the regime changes from the Bolsheviks to Putin, and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why Russia still struggles to implement lasting democratic reforms. -- "Library Journal"


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The first book to trace the evolution of Russian politics from the Bolsheviks to Putin When the Soviet Union collapsed, many hoped that Russia's centuries-long history of autocratic rule might finally end. Yet today's Russia appears to be retreating from democracy, not progressing toward it. Ruling Russia is the only book of its kind to trace the history of modern Russian p The first book to trace the evolution of Russian politics from the Bolsheviks to Putin When the Soviet Union collapsed, many hoped that Russia's centuries-long history of autocratic rule might finally end. Yet today's Russia appears to be retreating from democracy, not progressing toward it. Ruling Russia is the only book of its kind to trace the history of modern Russian politics from the Bolshevik Revolution to the presidency of Vladimir Putin. It examines the complex evolution of communist and post-Soviet leadership in light of the latest research in political science, explaining why the democratization of Russia has all but failed. William Zimmerman argues that in the 1930s the USSR was totalitarian but gradually evolved into a normal authoritarian system, while the post-Soviet Russian Federation evolved from a competitive authoritarian to a normal authoritarian system in the first decade of the twenty-first century. He traces how the selectorate--those empowered to choose the decision makers--has changed across different regimes since the end of tsarist rule. The selectorate was limited in the period after the revolution, and contracted still further during Joseph Stalin's dictatorship, only to expand somewhat after his death. Zimmerman also assesses Russia's political prospects in future elections. He predicts that while a return to totalitarianism in the coming decade is unlikely, so too is democracy. Rich in historical detail, Ruling Russia is the first book to cover the entire period of the regime changes from the Bolsheviks to Putin, and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why Russia still struggles to implement lasting democratic reforms. -- "Library Journal"

43 review for Ruling Russia: Authoritarianism from the Revolution to Putin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Well written - albeit quite the upper level read - account of the ebbs and flows in ruling Russia during the 20th and 21st centuries. From full blown authoritarianism - Stalinism and to an extent Putin post 2004 - to the more "democratic" form of "competitive" authoritarianism, this book effectively hammers the argument that since the post-Bolshavik takeover election of 1917 - which had been conceived prior to their coup - Russia, with the exception of a few notable outliers - latter Gorbachev a Well written - albeit quite the upper level read - account of the ebbs and flows in ruling Russia during the 20th and 21st centuries. From full blown authoritarianism - Stalinism and to an extent Putin post 2004 - to the more "democratic" form of "competitive" authoritarianism, this book effectively hammers the argument that since the post-Bolshavik takeover election of 1917 - which had been conceived prior to their coup - Russia, with the exception of a few notable outliers - latter Gorbachev and to an extent the 1996 Presidential Election - has been plagued by inexorable totalitarianism. Furthermore, Zimmerman makes a compelling argument that Russia reached her zenith of authoritarianism under Stalin, where in the selectorate over the course of a decade was withered away to one individual. Additionally, Zimmerman argues that although subsequent Russian regimes have made considerable concessions and attempts to "drastically" differentiate themselves from Stalin's manner of leadership, that one can never escape the fact that Stalin, to an extent, left an indelible mark on the manner in which Russia is to be ruled, which lingers on to this day.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Phub

    The Russian Great Bear looms large in the mythology of world history. As a legend, it is a great mistake that both Napoleon and Hitler made. It is the place where, despite the founding father’s reservations, the first communist revolution installed a socialist state. Russia is a special country. And this idea of Russian Exceptionalism has been used by many historians and politicians to explain why the democratic hope of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union never materialized. And why it is The Russian Great Bear looms large in the mythology of world history. As a legend, it is a great mistake that both Napoleon and Hitler made. It is the place where, despite the founding father’s reservations, the first communist revolution installed a socialist state. Russia is a special country. And this idea of Russian Exceptionalism has been used by many historians and politicians to explain why the democratic hope of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union never materialized. And why it is now, once again, more authoritarian than democratic. In this book, William Zimmerman tracks the history of authoritarian rule in Russia and in so doing, battles this myth of exceptionalism. By pointing out the many points in Russian and Soviet history when a different decision would have made the country less authoritarian, Zimmerman puts the blame squarely on actors, particularly the big ones like Lenin, Stalin, Yeltsin, and Putin, and shows there is nothing pre-determined about the fate of democracy in the country. The book is at the same time historical and analytical. As an analytic piece of work, it uses the idea of a “selectorate” to judge exactly how democratic Russia was at every stage in its history. The idea is that even in an authoritarian state, there is a group, the selectorate, that grants legitimacy to the leader. Seen this way, a democratic state is just an authoritarian state where the selectorate has been expanded to the entire population. As a historical account, it begins as soon as the Bolsheviks take control of the Russian state in 1917. At this stage, each party member has a voice in decision-making, and Lenin has to play politics to secure votes for his position in the Brest-Litovsk treaty negotiations. This sort of debate amongst the leadership, which, in a democracy, is viewed as a healthy thing, is soon cast as “factionalism” and by 1921, outlawed in the party. From now onward, the selectorate is no longer the entire party. Only the Leninists can decide policy and leadership. Under Stalin, this bad situation was made worse. In fact, Zimmerman claims that Stalin’s cultural revolution was an attempt to further restrict the selectorate. On the extreme end of this selectorate, where every adult has a viable voice is “Democracy,” which Zimmerman defines in Schumpeterian terms (i.e., a democracy is a veritable marketplace of opinions that compete to become law). Stalin was moving the scale in the opposite direction by purging anyone that held a different opinion than his. By 1937, he was the general secretary of the party, the leader of the Sovnarkom (the executive), and head of the Stavka (the armed forces). He was also in charge of appointing regional secretaries throughout the Union, who would then appoint the Politburo. All of these roles combined to give Stalin the rarest title of them all: a totalitarian, the solitary member of the selectorate. A key achievement of Khrushchev’s “destalinization” process that began in 1953 was expanding the selectorate. Soon enough, it became the Central Commission of the Bolshevik party. This was the body that sat between the Congress and the Politburo and de jure held most of the executive power in the USSR system. Khrushchev’s liberal drive also had ironic consequences for him as the selectorate became the ejectorate and gained enough power to remove a leader, as it did him in 1964. Between Brezhnev and Gorbachev, there was no significant change in the selectorate, but those made since Stalin began to impact USSR’s political culture in general: “Stalin’s solution to the presence of potential enemies on the Central Commission had been to have them arrested and shot, Khrushchev replaced them at Party Congresses; Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to persuade members to retire.” Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost brought about the biggest ever change in Soviet life. First, the party-state distinction was brought back. No longer was the state completely beholden to the Bolshevik party. The President of the Union was not a selection of the party anymore. Rather it became a position elected by the Congress of Deputies, who in turn were elected via popular elections. Second, after the 28th party congress in 1990, the selectorate of the general secretary was expanded to include all party members once again. At the time, these changes were dismissed by scholars like Hough as Gorbachev’s lip service aimed at placating discontent. To the Soviet leader’s credit, even though most of his party members and ex-leaders lost in their elections, he accepted the results democratically. Therefore, when Yeltsin became the President of the Russian Federation in 1991, he became so as a result of a selectorate that was the entire (nonincarcerated) adult population of the country - i.e., the selectorate became an electorate. As republic presidents like Yeltsin continued to claim independent power, Soviet unity fell apart. Later that year, Gorbachev conceded the end of the Soviet Union and more importantly, the Bolshevik party’s control over these territories. The years that followed saw Russia under Yeltsin experiment with democracy. And while a lot of debate remains about the experiment and Yeltsin’s intention with it, Zimmerman agrees with Thomas Remmington that there was an honest attempt to institute liberal democracy. Sure, Yeltsin won the 1996 elections through nefarious means, which included giving government ham and raising pensions spontaneously during his campaign and using his oligarchy network to buy the media. Other than that, however, under Yeltsin, Russia was well on its way to becoming a democracy. The parliament was genuinely an arena of debate for competing interests (thereby fulfilling the Schumpeterian definition for a democracy). There was a real separation of powers between the presidency and the legislature. In 1993, when the Duma amnestied some perpetrators of the August Putsch, Yeltsin vehemently disagreed but accepted nonetheless. And then 1998, when the Duma refused to accept Yeltsin’s preferred candidates for PM multiple times, he nominated Yevgenii Primakov, a centrist, for the position, even though Yevgenii was not his preference. At this stage, Zimmerman writes, there was genuine optimism about the future of the country. For the first time in its history, Russians were citizens, not subjects to some central leader. Like Khrushchev about four decades before, however, Yeltsin also suffered an ironic consequence as a result of his liberal bend. Evans writes that Yeltsin’s pro-democracy posturing was seen by the Russian people as being against the “national character and history.” Willerton agrees with both Evans and Zimmerman, adding that Yeltsin’s personal connections with western leaders like President Clinton were seen by the Russian people as yet another betrayal. It did not help that under Yeltsin, global oil prices were low. This was seen by the Russian people as a sign of economic mismanagement of the country’s resources. So, Zimmerman writes that the optimism faded soon, and the tide of democratization turned. Elections of 1996, for all its flaws with Yeltsin’s bending of the rule, remains to this day the most democratic Russia has ever seen. When Putin succeeded Yeltsin as the acting President on new year’s day 2000, his popularity was at an all-time high. As Easter has written, the change in the character of the national leader from Yeltsin to Putin was refreshing to the Russian people. As well, global oil prices had begun to pick up in 1998. To the Russian people, this was an achievement of Putin and a failure of Yeltsin. These two factors added to Putin’s brilliant handling of the Chechnya crisis as PM gave him high public approval. Yeltsin resigning early was not so much about giving the country a new leader for the new millennium as he claimed as much as it was about strategically advancing the elections to ensure Putin’s victory -- in fact, since the start of the new year until the elections, Putin’s approval ratings had been slipping. This casts a shadow, albeit a comparatively mild one, over the 2000 elections as well. Every viable candidate that could have mounted a challenge to Putin in 2004 was disqualified from running on one pretense or another. This was not outright fraud. The playing fields were simply made unlevel to the incumbent’s advantage, which is a usual undemocratic feature in most young democracies. So, even now the selectorate was still an electorate, and Russia was still a transitive democracy. That changed in 2008, however, when constitutional restrictions forced Putin out of the running for the presidency. He responded by running for PM instead and selecting Medvedev as his successor. Here, the selectorate changed dramatically. The elections that year were so fraudulent that Levitsky and Way called it an “election type event.” Effectively, the only person who selected the president that year was Putin. So, the selectorate was once again one. In the same paper, Levitsky and Way labeled the country in 2008, “fully authoritarian.” Since that year, the selectorate has grown once again. But not to the levels it was at in 1996. When the public discovered in 2011 that Putin and Medvedev had always planned on switching positions in 2012 (what has come to be called “snow protests”), large scale protests took to the streets. To some extent, this sort of public mobilization was responsible for moving the state’s classification from “fully authoritarian” to “competitive authoritarian.” But Russia still more resembles the Soviet Union than its democratic doppelganger of the 1990s. Indeed, Easter writes that Putin “effectively adapted [Soviet] state socialist inclinations with the more open conditions of post-communism.” Its economics, in how it manages its large public resources, invests in mega-projects for extra-economic reasons, and how corruption is a necessary player in the nation’s political economy, is Sovietism adapted to the 21st century. In terms of leadership, there is no real separation of powers anymore. Putin uses presidential decrees and veto powers less often than Yeltsin, but that’s only because he does not need to. In modern Russia, there is a custom of “zero readings” of bills. Through it, every bill going on the floor of the Duma is either written or vetted by the Kremlin, thereby rendering the legislature a rubber stamp institution. Finally, the person of Putin has gained loyalty only the largest of Soviet leaders had. Volodin, the speaker of the parliament in 2014 was reported saying, “if there is Putin, there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia.” By looking at the selectorate throughout the history of Russia, Zimmerman manages to track the development of the modern Russian state. Without this analytical tool, most of Russia’s history would fall under the label of “authoritarian.” His analysis, however, shows there is a great nuance in that label. He gives special emphasis to post-Soviet Russia, spending just more than half of this book on the two decades after the fall of the Union. His comparison of Yeltsin and Putin’s Russia is an important one because, through the selectorate analysis, he dispels the myth of Russian exceptionalism. There is nothing pre-determined about Russia that makes the country pathologically authoritarian. In fact, had a few things gone differently in the 1990s or even in the 2000s, had actors like Putin behaved differently at critical junctures, Russia could have easily transitioned into a successful democracy. Zimmerman’s case study is an important addition to the larger literature of political science. Particularly for those who study the viability of democracies. The book is worth a read for anyone with a remote interest in Russia. It is written with an objective, academic voice, with multiple sources for every claim. It is also written at multiple levels, meaning that a scholar will enjoy the book the same amount as a new reader of Russian political history. There truly is something for everyone.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alejandro

  4. 5 out of 5

    King Tobbe

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nancy H

  6. 4 out of 5

    Charles

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lion/Kareen

  8. 5 out of 5

    K

  9. 4 out of 5

    Henry Atkins

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tomas S

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jack Barsky

    Scholarly treatise of Soviet / Russian rule from the October Revolution until today. This is heavy stuff, not for the faint of heart. But the serious student of history is likely to get some insights not readily available elsewhere.

  12. 4 out of 5

    William Woodford

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  14. 5 out of 5

    Fred Zimmerman

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rum Morgan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Shestakov

  18. 4 out of 5

    Radostinski

  19. 5 out of 5

    Travis

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bret

  21. 5 out of 5

    Padraicwhite

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brad Eastman

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Kopamees

  24. 4 out of 5

    LPenting

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alina

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amar Baines

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cambrone

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

  31. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  32. 5 out of 5

    Rajiv Rao

  33. 5 out of 5

    Elliott

  34. 4 out of 5

    Marko Mehner

  35. 4 out of 5

    Tejas Chandrashekhar

  36. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Squires

  37. 4 out of 5

    Linus

  38. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  39. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

  40. 4 out of 5

    Jon

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  42. 4 out of 5

    Mohamad Ghannoum

  43. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

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