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The Modernization Theory


The origin of the radical social and political changes in Russia in the period starting in 1985 onwards can best be understood with the help of the theory of modernization. This theory divides societies into two main types: traditional and modern. It sees the transformation of traditional societies (and, initially, all societies were traditional) into modern ones as the driving force of social and historical development.  

The modernization theory helps to explain many contradictions of the modern age. It attributes them to the fact that peoples and countries had entered the modern age at different levels of development. There was a top league of the industrialized nations of Europe and North America. They used their great industrial muscle to spread their political and economic domination over a considerable part of the globe. At the other end, there were colonial countries. Their natural resources and populations were exploited by the advanced industrialized countries.

There were also other countries, in Asia as well as in Europe, that formed a middle group of states. Some countries of that group were in the position of semi-colonies, while others were themselves colonial empires. Yet all of them had one thing in common: they had fallen behind the more advanced nations in rates of development and were confronted with the historical challenge of closing that gap.

The countries in that middle group lagged behind for various reasons: Spain, because it had come to depend too much on the exploitation of its vast colonies in Latin America; Japan, due to its self-imposed isolation; Italy, because of political fragmentation; and so on. But the main reason was that these states had been slow to modernize the traditional socioeconomic and political system inherited from the medieval era and had preserved many of its characteristics. They now faced the task of overcoming their backwardness by taking the path of capitalist modernization and following the lead of the advanced industrialized nations. Russia was one of these modernizing, developing states.

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