Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture by Richard Pipes - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

Russia’s Special Rules

Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture


Yale University Press 216pp £17.95

Russian autocracy has a history of a thousand years, and today, though nobody would have predicted so fifteen years ago, it is as deeply entrenched as ever.

The civic society that Gorbachev brought to life (and that outweighs all his political blunders) lasted barely seven years before Yeltsin ordered his army's tanks first to destroy an obstreperous parliament and then to lay waste a rebellious Chechnya. Now the Russian media, judiciary and intelligentsia are, but for just a few brave relicts, unanimously cowed, and the public which once was glued to politics and satire on television has deserted the political field and yielded it to an alliance of secret policemen and gangsters perhaps even more repulsive than any of the Tsarist regimes.

What is happening today has happened before. The great surge of liberalism and optimism in 1861, when the serfs were emancipated; the parliamentary ferment in 1905, when a constitution was conceded; the revival of civic self-esteem in the 1920s when the Bolsheviks feigned a retreat from totalitarianism – all these

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