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The Legacy Approach


A number of explanations exist of the causes of party weakness in Russia. A legacy approach emphasizes the Soviet legacy. Seventy years of Communist Party rule created a strong negative reaction within Russian society for party politics. Because Soviet society was hyper-organized and over-partyized, post-Soviet Russian leaders and citizens have had an allergic reaction to parties.  

In the former USSR all children of school age had to be members of the All-Union Pioneer Organization (the Soviet equivalent of boy scouts)

After quitting the Communist Party in 1990, Yeltsin vowed never to join another party again, and many in Russia sympathized with his decision. If other East European countries were able to revive old parties from the pre-communist past, Russia had only a splash of experience with competitive party politics before the Bolshevik revolution, so there was no party culture to resurrect.

The Soviet system did produce large quantities of social and organizational capital. In fact, organizations and networks that were formed in the Soviet era be they Party cells or trade union organizations continue to form the basis of the largest organizations in the post-communist era, including first and foremost the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Yet, this inheritance may serve more as a barrier to the growth of grassroots party development and less as a base from which to develop new party organizations.

After all, these organizations served to control people, atomize society, and discourage participation in real politics. Although formally resembling parties and party-affiliated groups, these Soviet organizations have little in common with Western-style parties and interest aggregation observed in Western democracies. Only after these old organizations have faded and only after Russians have recovered from their Soviet-inflicted traumas regarding politics will they begin to recognize the importance of parties for democratic consolidation.

A cultural approach is a variation of the legacy interpretation that goes back even further to argue that Russian history and culture, not just the Soviet period, is the main impediment to party development This school explains weak party development as part of a more general phenomenon of the lack of democratic development.

Russians have not built strong parties, because Russians are not democratic. Instead, Russians prefer strong, paternalistic leaders who develop a direct relationship with the people that is not mediated or distorted through parties. Russias hundreds of years of autocratic rule is cited as evidence for this approach.

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