Odom's Russia: A Forum

Odom's Russia: A Forum

Mini Teaser: Seven seasoned observers react to William Odom's interpretation of post-Soviet Russian reality, and Odom replies.

by Author(s): Martin MaliaJack Matlock, Jr.Jerry HoughGeoffrey HoskingAlexey PushkovRobert LegvoldHenry TrofimenkoWilliam E. Odom

Because Professor Malia's reaction is the most interesting and complex, a proper reaction to it requires "more than a pedantic quibble" about his reading of Russian history. By his account, Russia has always been about fifty years behind Europe. By 1785, its nobility achieved institutions like France's ancien regime. The Great Reforms in the 1 860s brought Russia up to Prussia's reforms of 1807-12. And the October Manifesto of 1905 was virtually a constitutional breakthrough.2 This interpretation is not universally accepted. The late Michael Florinsky would reject Malia's assertion that the Charter of the Nobility of 1785 instituted property rights in Russia similar to those in France at that time.3 Stefan Hedlund would probably deny that such rights were observed in Russia a century later.4 The Prussian reformers built on longstanding legal institutions deriving from Justinian's Code. Russia first introduced European code law in 1864. Ignoring key institutional realities, Malia can feel much cheeri er about Russia's prospects.5

That is one reason he is so upset that I put the 17th century English experience before the Dutch. Indeed, the Dutch economic take-off was somewhat earlier than England's, but that does not damage my argument. Political power in the Dutch provinces rested on the wealth of their towns, which were never fully subordinated by an absolute monarch, as was the case in England and France. The wealthy cities of southern Germany might have put that region on the Dutch path if they had not been weakened by princely wars against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and later devastated by the Thirty Years War.7 The English case is more instructive for Russia because it involved changing absolute monarchy to limited monarchy. In Russia today, the problem is still limiting the state and making it assume the "third party enforcer" role.8 Can "the Petersburg boy" accomplish this in less than five decades?

I agree with Malia that Russia must turn West because it is welcome nowhere else. Our difference is over Russian institutional realities, a matter on which there is still much to be discovered.

Turning to Ambassador Matlock, although he does not really challenge my analytical scheme, he does reject its implications, leaving me little to say. Since he once again complains about NATO enlargement, however, I must recall his oft-made prediction that it would bring the worst people to power in Russia. Presumably, then, Putin is an awful fellow who should not now be cooperating with the United States.

Professor Hough's wide-ranging comments can only be treated eclectically. His recipe of widespread corruption for creating a liberal regime is a sure formula for keeping Russia locked into its present path dependency. As for his charge that I have never acknowledged change in Russia, given his own record of predictions, one should not be surprised that he failed to read mine carefully. I confine two examples to a footnote.9 And for Russia's sake, let us hope its leaders do not heed his suggestion that they adopt the policies of Witte and Nicholas II. Nicholas died believing that the entire empire was his "patrimony", and Witte shared Nicholas' suspicion of "limited liability corporations", neither view being very helpful for economic performance.10

Professor Legvold correctly notes that my arguments are equally applicable to most other post-Soviet states, not just Russia, but his belief that countries can incrementally creep out of predicaments like Russia's needs a few examples to be convincing. Wars and domestic upheavals more often bring such change. On the importance of Russia to the United States today, Pakistan and Uzbekistan are more important, but that does not make them great powers or permanently important to us. By his own standard these are "arguments that are wrong, not wrong arguments." I concede a point to him, however, and other respondents. I did not believe that my points about Russia's international role ruled out all cooperation with Moscow. If they did, then Legvold is right to emphasize that we do need Russian cooperation today. Will it last? Has it suddenly become the same as the cooperation among all G-7 members? I remain skeptical, September 11 notwithstanding.

Professor Hosking dislikes my style, not my arguments, accusing me of "American arrogance and exclusivity." He has a point. Perhaps I should have put them more softly, but the tone was meant more for Westerners than Russians. On the "exclusivity" charge I feel less vulnerable, having suggested the Meiji restoration and Kemal Ataturk's handling of Turkey as ways that Russia might escape its present path. The American "free framer" route to liberal democracy (Robert Dahl's term) is difficult to imagine for Russia.

Neither Henry Trofimenko nor Alexey Pushkov rejects my case outright. They even approve much of it. Beyond that, Trofimenko's defensive remarks about freedom of the press and certain Russian liberals reveal an understandable sensitivity. So do Pushkov's comments about Germany. Pushkov does, however, evoke my humility by reminding us how far Russia has come in such a short time, throwing off the Soviet regime by itself and making unprecedented attempts at reform. I have acknowledged as much in the Russian press, asserting that the Soviet peoples, not the United States, won the Cold War.11

MY ARTICLE is intentionally provocative, and had I been a critic of it, I would have asked me if I really believed it. My answer? I would bet on Russia remaining in its present institutional path for at least several decades. After all, look at the expectations held in 1950 or 1960 for Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Peru, and other richly endowed states that have received Western tutelage and assistance. Have any of them really "made it"? Something extraordinary would have to happen to make Russia different.

One change, of course, has eased Russia's traditional predicament: most of the minority nationalities have been offloaded. They were an obstacle that no liberal reformer could overcome, certainly not Nicholas II and Count Witte. Without the nationalities, Russia's military requirements drop drastically, another positive sign. Still, Russia's institutional legacies in property, law, and state power present monumental barriers to change. Malia can justly claim that by his fifty-year lag thesis, Russia will break them by mid-century. Because its only real alternative is to join the West, it might do so, but it could take much longer than fifty years.

2 See Malia's Russia Under Western Eyes (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). The cornerstone of his case may be found on page 146: "The pressure generated by Europe's advance, combined with the drag of native backwardness, would continue to complicate Russia's way to modernity. It is the action of these two forces, not the hoary memory of the Sacred Palace of Byzantium or the Mongols' Golden Horde that constitutes the true anomaly of Russia's modern history." Grant his "two forces", but by brushing off the Mongol period, Malia ignores the persistence of key Mongol institutional legacies, particularly the deeply ingrained practice of no limits on state power and no system of private property rights. A few other Mongol legacies endured in Muscovy's secular institutions; Byzantium provided its lasting cultural institutions. See Donald Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-I 589 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 47, for this evidence.

3 Michael T. Florinsky, Russia: A History and an Interpretation (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 570-1.

4 Stefan Hedlund, "Can Property Rights Be Protected by Law?" East European Constitutional Review 10 (No. 1, 2001).

5 Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols, 1304-1589. Unless Malia can dispose of Ostrowski's evidence and interpretations, his dismissal of Mongol and Byzantine institutional legacies in modern Russia is difficult to accept.

6 Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Repuhlic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). Jan de Vries' excellent book, mentioned by Malia, is not as comprehensive on the political history as is Israel's.

7 See Thomas A. Brady, Jr., The Protestant Politics of Jacob Sturm (14 89-1553) and the German Reformation (Atlantic Heights, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1995), for details of the politics of these cities and their struggle to keep their institutions from being destroyed by either Charles V on the one hand or the local princes on the other.

8 Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1992 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), also offers historical grounding for this point.

9 In 1987, I wrote that "the paradox remains that great central control is required to achieve major decentralization of economic control and power. If Gorbachev succeeds, he will lose his centralized power to forces that could undercut the political authority of the regime to a degree that could lead to the breakup of the empire." See my "How Far Can Soviet Reform Go?" Problems of Communism 36 (No. 6, 1987). Hough also might want to look at my "Choice and Change in Soviet Politics", Problems of Communism 32 (No. 3, 1983), where I pointed out that the only problem Andropov could not put off indefinitely without systemic implications was "the declining vitality and responsiveness of the party cadres." Failing to address it was "to risk eventually greater dangers for the system--dangers of the kind that developed for the Polish party." I saw change in the USSR as political decay. Hough saw it as transformation to a pluralist system.

Essay Types: Essay