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"Organic" vs. "Non-organic" Reforms


The enduring patterns of Russian modernization all point to the main distinction between the type of modernization characteristic of Western societies and the nature of Russian modernization. Western societies were transformed into modern societies as a result of the great industrial revolution and the liberal-democratic revolutions of the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries. Their modernization was “organic” in the sense that it had natural historical origins and popular roots and developed “from below.”  This assured these countries’ accelerated economic and technological development. 

By contrast, Russia’s “catching-up” modernization attempts were not organic. They did not originate naturally within Russian society but were thrust from above by the ruling regimes that sought to overcome Russia’s economic, technological, and military backwardness.

Time magazine cover, March 1983

Paradoxically, Russia often was compelled to emulate Western advances in these and other areas to preserve its own sovereignty and independence and to continue to develop in its own way. Russia’s bouts of westernization are usually catalyzed by security threats or direct military challenges coming from the West: the Northern War against Sweden in the reign of Peter the Great, the defeat in the Crimean War at the start of Alexander II’s reign, and the intensification of military-industrial competition with the West in the final phase of the cold war are prime examples of this tendency.

Stalin’s “socialist onslaught” itself was motivated by the need to prepare the country to hold its own against “capitalist encirclement” and involved massive imports of Western equipment and know-how to augment the country’s industrial and military capabilities.

As a result of their “non-organic” nature, Russia’s modernization attempts moved forward with much greater difficulties than “organic” modernizations, overcoming the resistance of the unwilling population subjected to the hardships that accompanied the reforms. The reforms often stalled, or were abandoned, or declared alien but were eventually revived because there were no alternatives to modernization except historical backwardness.

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"Non-organic" Reforms

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