Russia's Systemic Transformations since Perestroika: From Totalitarianism to Authoritarianism to Democracy—to Fascism?

Motyl, Alexander J.

All the post-Communist states of the former Soviet empire have experienced significant change in the last twenty years, but Russia's systemic transformations since Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika may be most dramatic....Russia passed from totalitarianism to several years of both authoritarianism and democracy—only to abandon democracy completely and embark on a transition to what is arguably fascism. In using this term, I am suggesting both the magnitude of Russia's change in recent years and the direction in which it has changed. No less important, I am also suggesting that the terms scholars have developed for Russia— such as patrimonial or tsarist—are inadequate, primarily because they fail to place Russia on a spectrum of comparative political-system types. This paper therefore examines fascism as a system type within a typology of political systems. It also suggests why Vladimir Putin's Russia has enough of the defining characteristics of fascism to qualify as fascistoid—that is, as moving toward fascism—and why Russia alone moved along so exceptionally turbulent a systemic path. Finally, the paper examines whether a fascistoid or fascist Russia is likely to be stable.

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Harriman Institute
The Harriman Institute, Columbia University
The Harriman Review
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January 7, 2021