Democracy in Russia depends on denationalizing economy

Global Viewpoint

November 07, 1991|By Gavril Popov

Moscow THE CIRCUS has left town, but the clowns remain behind. That is how I would characterize the state of affairs in Russia after the failed coup and the subsequent collapse of the Communist Party structure.

We are passing through a critical moment when the old system has died, but the new has yet to be born.

In politics we face the odd situation of having a " democracy" without real political parties. Real democracy is based on competing political parties that can alternate power. And political parties are based primarily on the material interests of organized social groups, such as farmers, workers and entrepreneurs. They are also rooted in stable social strata, such as a middle class.

But, since we have just barely started the process of privatization, there is as yet no social layer of property owners. We only have "proto" property owners. Likewise, we have no real farmers or entrepreneurs, only "proto" farmers and entrepreneurs. Even our workers are still public employees of the old state-socialism type.

As a consequence, at this stage we have only the seedlings of stable political parties. Indeed, one of the great weaknesses of -- the current period in Russia is that there are only political tendencies and movements, not disciplined, organized parties. This accounts for much of the confusion in the present, as well as uncertainty about the future.

Only when denationalization of the Russian economy actually goes into effect will we be able to overcome this weakness and engage in vigorous democratic practices. For now, since we have only a proto-market system, we have only a proto-multiparty system.

In the future, however, I believe Russia will end up with at least two major political parties, just like every other society with a marketeconomy. We can see the political differentiation already taking shape within the Democratic Russia movement -- the catch-all movement of democrats within Russia.

On one side, there are those with a social democratic orientation, including ultra-radicals, who lean heavily on the appeal of populism.

The other current within Democratic Russia is that of the entrepreneurs, whose outlook primarily concerns how most effectively to organize the economy. This current is comparable to moderate Republicans in the United States. It tries to gear itself to the middle layer, or middle class, in Soviet society and to the new entrepreneurial class.

There are, at the moment, no ironclad divisions between these two currents. Some in the entrepreneurial current also look to the ideals of social democracy, and there are many within the social democratic arm who support free enterprise.

Besides these two main democratic currents, I have no doubt that another party will emerge as real change accelerates. This party will have a Marxist-Leninist orientation, one that is also chauvinistic and nationalistic. They seek to return to a communist state. Their appeal is also populist, but populism of a totalitarian nature.

The main danger now to the whole delicate process of democratization and transition to a market economy comes from the fact that only democrats remain on the stage. If populist democrats who oppose the rapid transition to free enterprise achieve the dominant balance of power, Russia will promptly be brought to a standstill. They will make it impossible for an entrepreneurial sector to form.

This is essentially what has already taken place over the past year in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Ultra-radical populists lTC among the democrats don't want to close unprofitable factories. They want to sustain subsidies. They demand more pay for doctors and teachers, but have no idea how to pay for it. In the absence of an entrepreneurial class that creates wealth, we can therefore only print more money, which of course brings inflation.

The consequent paralysis only paves the way for the chauvinists lurking in the shadows. If the radical populists win now, by spring Russia will be looking toward chauvinists who want a return to the old system.

In this context, outside aid and investment will play a crucial role in smoothing our inevitably rocky transition to a market democracy.

Making it through the coming winter in Russia will be critical. By spring we will know whether the clowns can succeed in again raising the circus tent.

Gavril Popov is the mayor of Moscow. Germond and Witcover, whose column usually appears in this space, will return tomorrow.

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