Although the US is the example of free-market capitalism, and the US is the example of a liberal democracy, that does not mean that overnight conversion to capitalism automatically means overnight conversion to liberal democracy. From Reform in Russia: Free Market, Yes; Free Politics, Maybe:
For more than a decade, Washington and its favorites in Moscow embraced a seductive theory: Free markets would anchor free democratic politics in post-Soviet Russia by creating prosperity and property owners. Now capitalism has vanquished communism across the former Soviet empire, destroyed Marxism as a global rival to America’s free-market creed and, after years of turbulence, brought Russia robust growth. But Russians’ faith in Western-style democracy has withered. Liberal economics and liberal politics, instead of being an inseparable tandem, have drifted apart. Many Russians even see the two as at odds.
Russia’s economy has grown steadily, but it’s ruled as a “managed democracy” by an ex-KGB agent:
Russia’s economy, now mostly in private hands and primed by high oil prices, has grown steadily for five years, surging 7.2% last year. The number of mobile phones, a crude barometer of confidence, doubled last year to 36 million. The share of Russians who call themselves middle class jumped to 48% from 28% in 1999.
Also distinctly on the rise is support for President Putin and his drive to replace the cacophony of pluralistic politics with the calm of “managed democracy.” The former KGB officer, who once described a strong state as part of Russia’s “genetic code,” in March won re-election in a landslide. While relentless cheerleading by state-controlled television had something to do with that, Mr. Putin clearly is in sync with the people.
Russia, he said when he first became its leader, “will not soon, if ever, become a second edition of, say, the U.S. or England, where liberal values have deep historic traditions.” The oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed last fall on fraud and tax-evasion charges, recently said in a dispatch from prison that while Mr. Putin is “neither a liberal nor a democrat,” he is “more liberal and democratic than 70% of the population.”
Russia remains far from a Soviet-style autocracy. Outside of Chechnya, where tens of thousands have died, Mr. Putin hasn’t crushed political opposition, only muffled it. The Kremlin keeps critical voices off television but mostly gives them free run in print media, which have less impact. Parliament, though stacked with yes-men eager to rubber-stamp Putin policies, is chosen through elections.
Of course, this doesn’t sound too terribly different from 19th-century Great Britain, an empire, with a queen and a House of Lords — and a powerful navy used to ensure free trade overseas. Britain, of course, evolved into a liberal democracy (with a royal family) over time. Russia might very well do the same (minus the queen):
As the Soviet Union slouched toward oblivion in the late 1980s, Adranik Migranian, a reform-minded academic, put forward a thesis in a journal of ideas that appalled Western-oriented liberals: Russia couldn’t leap from totalitarianism to democracy but must transit through a long period of authoritarian rule. Only then, he argued, could Russia prosper without political and ethnic tumult.
Mocked then as a reactionary, Mr. Migranian today gloats at the disarray of Russia’s liberals, whom he calls “idiots completely divorced from reality.” He views Mr. Putin’s tough rule as a “second chance to do what I suggested before.” Though not close to the Kremlin, Mr. Migranian coined its best-known slogan: “managed democracy.” He says he came up with the term in late 1993 after Yeltsin aides complained about an article in which he called a new constitution authoritarian.
His model is China, which he hails as proof that market authoritarianism is a better recipe for modernization than market democracy — and that harsh methods are sometimes needed. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was “absolutely correct,” he argues, because “one billion people are more important than a few thousand students shouting stupid slogans.” China’s Communists, big fans of Mr. Migranian’s theories, have translated two of his books and regularly invite him to Beijing.
Other Russian reformers have looked to Chile, where Augusto Pinochet overthrew a socialist government in 1973 and imposed radical market economics in tandem with a brutal dictatorship. Among Gen. Pinochet’s most fervent admirers is Vitaly Naishul, a mathematician who in the 1980s wrote an underground tract called “Another Life.” Working then at the State Planning Commission, he saw communism’s failures up close and embraced unyielding “Chicago School” free-market theory with a gusto that unnerved even dissident economists.
In 1990, Mr. Naishul led a group of young Russian economists to Santiago to discuss market reform and meet Gen. Pinochet, then still head of the Chilean army. “He is a political genius,” says Mr. Naishul. He praises President Putin for realizing that Russia can gain from free-market methods but “cannot copy Western democracy.” One of the architects of Gen. Pinochet’s economic program, Jose Pi?era, recently attended a conference at Mr. Putin’s country home.
Mr. Naishul has visited Chile five times. He has a medal, given him by a Chilean economist, inscribed “Mission Accomplished.” Overturning an ingrained economic system, Mr. Naishul says, inevitably triggers pain and resistance, and to continue, the effort requires either political consensus or force. “The level of repression depends on the level of resistance,” he says, adding that Russia was initially slowed by foolish mimicry of Western politics.
“We tried to be good pupils in the beginning. We attempted, in a very primitive way, to imitate Western systems. It didn’t work,” he says. Instead of a stable, pluralistic system, the country got a “spoiled democracy” of chaos and corruption. But the people want clear orders, he says, citing a Soviet-era maxim: “One bad boss is better than two good ones.”
Naturally, we have to ask if Iraq is ready for democracy.