In the late
1980s and early 1990s most Russian people
sought improvement in their material and social conditions rather
than fight for capitalism. The rank-and-file participants of the
democratic movement were inspired by prospects of greater freedom
and social justice. The mistake of the Russian government was
its failure to engage the citizenry as partners in its modernization
The reformers pushed through radical policies without making a
real effort to explain clearly their plans to the people, treating
the populace as guinea pigs in a colossal economic experiment.
Their biggest mistake, however, was that they did not regard
the goal of raising the population’s living standards as the main
criterion, against which the reforms’ success or failure should be
judged. By allowing these standards to take a deep dive, they
alienated citizens from their capitalist project.
mobilizing the necessary public support for their policies, the
reformers’ actions threatened to erode the social base of Russia’s
fledgling democracy itself. Many of the democratically minded people
withdrew their support from Yeltsin as early as 1992 when the first
devastating effects of “shock therapy” turned the words democracy
and market into terms of abuse. In 1993 President Yeltsin
resorted to military force to disband the very parliament that only
two years earlier had supported the dissolution of the USSR and
vested him with vast powers to implement reform.
From 1994 on,
the regime’s social base of support was restricted to the
bureaucracy, which enjoyed unjustified privileges in the climate of
corruption, and the big business tycoons. Even the support of the
new business community was halfhearted as the government failed to
protect entrepreneurs from corrupt officials and criminal rackets.
The growth of the middle class, which could have provided a base of
stability, was held back by the banking crisis of August 1998, which
plunged many of its members into poverty.