The Soviet Union has transited from a repressive and authoritarian
communist regime in which social welfare, full employment, and a secure old age
predominated to a savage capitalism in which a small minority of Mafia business thugs,
ex-communist bureaucrats, and new rich speculators have pillaged the economy leaving 60
percent of the population in poverty and the vast majority of pensioners penniless.
The dominant class and their acolytes in the mass media present the
successful in the new society as role models to be imitated by the young: new
multi-millionaire business executives surrounded by their bulky bodyguards signing
business deals with Mafia bosses, the new owners of the privatized former public
Most observers, apart from the public relations officers of the
Western foreign relations department, would characterize Russia’s transition to
capitalism as catastrophic in terms of its economic performance and social consequences.
To take only one example: life expectancy in Russia today is six years below what it was
in the last years of the communist regime.
Cultural decline is no less striking than the socio-economic decay.
Prostitution, gambling, and violent crime have skyrocketed—as have suicides, AIDS,
and murder. Gambling casinos employ 400,000 workers, full-time and part-time prostitutes
number in the millions, and the new rich employ a private army of close to a half a
million security guards.
A rigorous study by one of Russia’s most reputable scholars
professor Bores Ruchkin, head of the Russian Institute of Youth’s Research Center
illuminates how the Russian transition to capitalism has impacted on the values and norms
of the post-communist generation, those who have come of age during the transition. The
survey questioned 3,839 people in three age groups; 17, 24, and 30.
Almost 50 percent of the sample believed it is acceptable to take
what you want by force. No doubt President Yeltsin’s bombing of the congress in 1991
to consolidate his power grab was an exemplary act, as are the ex-party elites grab of the
lucrative oil and gas enterprises. Mafiaism has become a hegemonic ideology, seeping down
from the top echelons of power to the new emerging generation. The newfound liberty
praised by Western academics includes the freedom to mug your neighbor on your way up the
The pervasive corruption that defines the nature of post-communist
business and government dealing is also seen as normal by the new generation entering the
market economy. The study found that over 50 percent of 17-year-olds saw nothing wrong
with looking for a job where they stood a chance of being bribed. Among this group almost
20 percent stated they would vigorously pursue jobs that were susceptible to bribe taking.
Given the level of corruption it is probably the case that most better paying jobs involve
corruption. So the recognition of corruption by the new generation can be interpreted as
part of reality. In terms of personal relations the Russian transition incorporates the
worst features of Western commercial society. Over two-thirds said they would marry for
money and over one-fourth said they would agree to sex for pay.
The official line of post-communist society emphasizes the rhetoric
free market and political democracy. On the practical level, the values that inform
everyday life subordinate personal and intimate values to the crassness of the
marketplace. Everything is for sale including adolescent sexploitation. Close to
three-fifths said that money was the most important thing in life.
This generation has been described by Western pundits as the first
to accept liberty as normal. The Russian professor who directed the study concluded:
"Young people are better adapted to the conditions of a market economy. They
don’t want a return to the past."
The old arguments that all the evils of post-communist Russia are
hangovers from the old Soviet period don’t have a leg to stand on. This generation is
of and by the post-communist period. The older group, age 30, may have become cynical as a
result of the double discourse under the communist regime, but for the most part the norms
of communist ideology at least put some constraints on the practice of pillage and
corruption, while providing lifetime jobs and basic social services. The transition to
capitalism has blown away these constraints and all the crude material cravings at the top
of the hierarchy are now given full play. And imitated at least, in fantasy, at the bottom
by the new generation.
The reality is, however, that only an infinite fraction of the new
generation will become the commercial bankers, corporate executives, and Mafia bosses that
most aspire to. The most they can realistically aspire to is becoming a security guard, a
low-paid scientist, or one of the ten million small traders plying the streets and
alleyways of the new Russian market