In This Review

The Tragedy of Property: Private Life, Ownership, and the Russian State
The Tragedy of Property: Private Life, Ownership, and the Russian State
By Maxim Trudolyubov. Translated by Arch Tait
216 pp, Polity, 2018

Trudolyubov traces the roots of what he sees as the tragedy of Russia: its failure to establish democratic institutions that would defend its citizens against the whims of their rulers. With concision and clarity, he blames Russia’s historical lack of robust property rights. Through much of Russian history, the ruler dispensed private property—and especially real estate—as a “privilege” to the upper class. In western Europe, by contrast, property rights emerged in the course of long social battles and were closely associated with the development of common law and the liberal tradition. Anxious to maintain the state’s unchallenged supremacy, Russian rulers at all times were wary of private property. The Bolsheviks outlawed it altogether; for decades, the state was the sole owner and distributor of all land and urban housing. Today’s Russians may own their apartments and have better opportunities for a private life than earlier generations, but the state retains discretionary power over large properties, and the threat of sudden redistribution remains. Although he draws a bleak picture, Trudolyubov finds some solace in the fact that Russia’s top leaders do not seek to reinstate across-the-board state ownership or return to a Soviet-style totalitarian past