In This Review

Democracy From Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution
Democracy From Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution
By M. Steven Fish
Princeton University Press, 1995, 300 pp

Misleadingly subtitled, this book is only fleetingly about organized political opposition in post-independence Russia. Fish focuses instead on the varied and motley groupings that emerged under Gorbachev and sought to undo the existing system, most of them in the name of democracy, hence the revolutionary label. Parties are supposed to be able to compel those in power to pay attention to particular interests in society. The Soviet parties in the Russian Republic did this feebly or not at all.

The author contests those who think a real civil society began to develop in the Soviet Union's last days. Nor is it any mystery to him that civil society remains weak in Boris Yeltsin's Russia because the curse of the past remains, derived from a ramified Soviet state that, even as it ceased to be more than a shadow of its former self, was still sufficiently strong and recalcitrant to incapacitate the new parties.

All this comes with his own taxonomy of theory allowing the author to distinguish himself from others -- traces of the dissertation the book originally was. Not only because the taxonomy mixes theory, some of it classic, with mere concepts, and the concepts are of greater use to him than the theory, but also because his argument is fairly straightforward and not particularly theoretical, the larger scaffolding is more interesting than functional. The book's payoff, while more modest, is considerable: at its heart the reader will find an intelligent, subtle, firsthand account of the years after Gorbachev opened the door with perestroika.