Trade Unions in the Comfort Zone: Liberal Authority in Yeltsin’s Russia.
AbstractWhile much has been written on the failure of the Yeltsin presidency and the transformation of Russian society since 1991, little work has been done that illustrates the participation of established liberal democracies in supporting Yeltsin’s authoritarian, politically unresponsive ‘superpresidentialism,’ or linking this support to the authoritarian nature of the modern liberal democratic project itself. By examining Russian trade union culture and history, as well as international trade union representative involvement, this paper argues that the persistent neglect of unions in the 1990s to challenge social relations of production can be understood as paradigmatic of an authoritarian dynamic focused on the political elite rather than on their membership. With international support, the regime’s concern was with the dismantling of Soviet economic relations and social institutions. Working from the culture and history of Russian trade unions, the unions’ efforts to retain a place in the new era through a strategy of ‘social partnership,’ combined with the collapse of the social welfare system, reinforced a top-down inertia characteristic of the unions. The result, predictably, was an era marked by a politics of irresponsibility, a political ethic is not indicative of an inherent Russian authoritarianism, but that of the authoritarian nature of the liberal modernity itself.
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