All Shock No Therapy: the Political Economy of Post-Soviet Russia
In order to understand recent geopolitical crises in the former Soviet Union—from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the rise of multiple right-wing, traditionalist, and patriarchal authoritarian regimes—one must at least go back to the period of so-called “shock therapy” in the 1990s. As the Eastern Bloc began to fragment and the Soviet Union itself dissolved, an economic program of radical, swift, and far-reaching privatization—shock therapy—was imposed by Western powers and international institutions like the IMF and World Bank and readily adopted by post-Soviet elites. In the thinking of notable neoliberal proponents like Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs, such a transition might be painful at first but would result quickly in efficient, fair, developed, and thriving market economies in the place of the former, state-organized socialisms. In reality, the policies resulted in a haphazard and catastrophic transition in which standards-of-living collapsed, health and well-being deteriorated, and a range of kleptocratic autocracies rose, with the former public enterprises of Actually Existing Socialism now the private fiefdoms of a handful of canny or connected “oligarchs.” By the 2000s, in Russia, Vladimir Putin—whose ascent was widely celebrated by Western politicians, business figures, and media commentators—established a regime that mixed a neoliberal dictatorship with modest, improvised, and uneven systems of state-oriented public welfare. Meanwhile, even in states with more “successful” transitions like Poland or Hungary, complimentary forms of patriarchal, traditionalist, and anti-Communist authoritarianism emerged. How can we understand such unwieldy, seemingly contradictory political economic chimeras? What kind of regime is Russia? How does a socioeconomic history of Eastern Europe provide us with a better grasp on everything from Russia’s military adventurism to widespread social crisis and conservatism? What are the place of Russia’s geopolitical interests within global capitalism? And, how can we understand this broad phenomenon across the region?
All Shock, No Therapy is a political economic exploration of Russia’s liberalization—from shock therapy reforms to the rise of oligarchs to the regime’s stabilization under Putin. The course will follow the post-Soviet transformation in Russia through the Shock Therapy reforms of the ’90s—privatization, deregulation, cutbacks in social spending—and the so-called “statist turn”, characterized by centralization of power, dependence on resource extraction, militarization and the promotion of a traditionalist, Christian, patriarchal family model under Putin—and elsewhere—in the 2000s. We will consider these developments in the context of social policy, law, and international political economy. In answering these questions, we will study primary sources such as financial reports, economic and social policy documents, political party documents, and speeches, Students will also review selections from Tony Wood, Boris Kagarlitsky, Iván Szelényi, Linda Cook, Zhanna Chernova, Elena Gapova, Anna Temkina, Kristen Ghodsee, Mitchell A. Orenstein, Hilary Appel, Volodymyr Ishchenko, Oleg Zhuravlev, Theodore P. Gerber, Michael Hout, Ilya Budraitskis, Michele Rivkin-Fish, Richard Sakwa, Simon Pirani, Jeremy Morris, Ilya Matveev, among others. Challenging ahistorical “democratization” theories of “normal” Western capitalism vs. “predatory” corrupt Russian capitalism, this course looks to the future by asking what is the relationship between the neoliberal, nationalist, and revanchist orientations of the Russian state today.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 17 — December 15, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, November 24th.