A century ago, the youth of Russia were notorious for their radicalism. By the end of the nineteenth century, their more extreme representatives had pioneered strategies of political terrorism against the Czarist state; attacked and led an ill-fated "crusade to the people" intended to spark insurrection among an allegedly restive peasantry; and embraced versions of Marxism that demanded the total, and if necessary violent, reconstruction of society. In the Bolshevik Revolution, this student generation came to power under the leadership of such figures as Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, and Stalin, all former student activists who had been expelled from college or otherwise punished for their radicalism.
As Russia navigates its current time of troubles, the identity of its youth, especially the elite in higher education, takes on greater importance than at any time since 1917. If the political attitudes and behavior of today's young people prefigure the political complexion of Russia in the first decades of the next century, we should take a great interest in knowing whether they are likely to form the vanguard of nationalist extremism or a bulwark of liberal democracy and market economics. My guess, based on recent experience living and teaching in Russia, is that the current generation will promote democracy, not through conscious political action, but rather indirectly through their own economic activities, which will establish a solid foundation for an autonomous Russian bourgeoisie--the great missing link in the evolution of political pluralism in the post-Soviet era.