Loss of political leadership and passive ‘triple transformation’ in the former Soviet Union: A comparison with China’s reform strategy

Liang Tang*


研究成果: Chapter


China’s reform in the late 1970s and the reforms in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s were both moderate in nature. Their initial motivations were to carry out within-system reforms to save the socialist system. Yet, the evolution and outcome of the two reforms turned out to be quite different. In China, with all its ups and downs over the decades, the political line of reform within the system still holds. Although China’s market economy system is not yet completely established, and achievement in the development of democratic politics is not up to the expectations of the people, China has made tremendous achievements in economic and social development, and has made substantial progress in terms of broadening political freedoms and rights. In contrast, the Soviet Union underwent and completed a major societal transformation within a short period of five to six years - from a within-system reform to radicalWestern-style democracy and marketization of the economy - at the cost of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and long-term political and economic disorder. Of all the empirical works applying transition theory to the study of the Soviet/Russian transformation, Russia’s Unfinished Revolution by Michael McFaul (2001) stands out as an excellent book. The author takes the scope of the reform and political dynamics as independent variables, and explains the outcome and tumultuous process of transition through analysis of a large amount of data as well as interviews with people involved in the reform process. McFaul points out that in their attempt to expand political influence, the opposition parties put forward new reform goals one after another, which led to serious conflicts between different forces both within and outside the system. As a result, the Russian transition turned out to be extremely difficult. Generally speaking, different political forces have different demands and assertions with regard to the goal of reform. They necessarily proceed with political maneuvers to shape the reform agenda. Therefore, the balance of forces among the political parties, that is, who has the upper hand and how to form a reform alliance, affect the government’s capacity in setting its reform goals and in carrying out its reform strategies. By virtue of its focus on the political dynamics and reform objective, McFaul’s analytical approach is also applicable to the analysis of China’s political reform process. But McFaul’s research is very much influenced by existing system transition theory and is also centered on explaining conflicts in the transition, and is less focused on stable and sustained reform or transformation. Therefore, it is necessary to make some major modifications in the framework before we can adapt it to a comparative analysis of the transitions in China and Russia. First, in McFaul’s study, there are three major goals of reform in Soviet Union: democratization, marketization, and the restructuring of the sovereign state. McFaul measures the scope of reform by whether it is systematically carried out separately or simultaneously, that is, the scope of the reform is considered to be small if all the reform goals are pursued separately while it is considered big if they are pursued all at the same time. However, my study argues that if a socialist country adopts a gradual course of reform, then it would be well justified to further divide the goal of political reform into three sub-goals of different dimensions or stages, namely administrative or government reform, moderate liberalization, 1 and democratization. We may regard government reform and moderate liberalization as the ‘infrastructural development phase of democratization’, defined as the first stage of political transition. Such a framework will not only enable us to make an analysis of China’s political reform within the framework of transition theory, but it will also enable a comparative analysis between Soviet/Russia and China. That is to say, we can compare how the Russian reform has rapidly developed from the infrastructural phase to democratic transition and consolidation, and why China’s political reform remains at the stage of infrastructural development. Second, in his study, McFaul sets the political dynamics and the scope of reform as independent variables, yet he fails to give a sufficient theoretical explanation of why these two variables would keep changing in the Soviet/Russian reform. My study sets an intermediate variable based on achievement after implementation of reform strategies, and the standpoints of the elites both in and out of the system and that of the general population, so that we can analyze the mechanism of the interaction between political dynamics and reform strategies. Specifically speaking, at the initial stage of reform in a socialist country, the government has absolute political dominance and is relatively autonomous in making its reform strategy without much interference from the outside. However, once the reform is in progress, whether the reform strategy will fit the social environment, how the elites and population will understand and critique the reform, and to what extent the liberalization target can be materialized will all influence the change of the support base for the within-system reformists, the change of alliances in the reform, and the change in the government’s controlling power. In other words, the reform strategy will act upon the dominant power of reform. Third, inMcFaul’s study, both the political dynamics and scope of the reform are set as independent variables. In the present paper, it is argued, the scope of reform is, to a great extent, decided by the relative strength of political power and in particular by the government’s political power or the strength of political control capacity; and, therefore, the scope of reform is not an independent variable but an intermediate variable that is influenced by the political dynamics of the transitional course and its results. At the initial stage of reform, as both Chinese and Soviet governments were in control of political initiatives, they were able to effectively resist demands and assertions from the opposition. Thereafter, the government in China was able to maintain strong political dominance by maintaining the system of one-party leadership. In contrast, in the course of radical liberalization in the Soviet Union/Russia, the opposition gained a relatively larger political space and rapidly extended its political influence, so that the government was forced to accept more radical demands in the reform, that is, Western-style democracy, marketization, and restructuring of the sovereign state. Using the intermediate variable based on the result of system reform, that is, the achievement of economic development and liberal political space, this paper examines the dynamics of the ongoing interaction between the dominant political power and the political reform strategy. While comparing it with China’s reform strategy, I explain why the Soviet/Russian reform, which started with a moderate inner-system reform strategy, soon turned to radical liberalization and finally embraced in a passive manner the ‘triple transformation’ of democratization, marketization and the restructuring of the sovereign state, all of which went far beyond Gorbachev’s initial intentions.

ホスト出版物のタイトルEurasia’s Regional Powers Compared - China, India, Russia
出版社Taylor and Francis
出版ステータスPublished - 2014 1月 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • 社会科学一般


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