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Epistemological Gaps between the Former Soviet East and the “Democratic” West


The Soviet Union is considered to be a classic example of a disciplinary society, and we are used to regarding it as a backward social system in comparison to the post-disciplinary societies of liberal democracy.

What for the Western states took place as a gradual development towards post-disciplinary conditions after the Second World War became shock therapy for the former Soviet states after 1989. The entrance into the “civilized democratic world” had to be accomplished via measures that were often extreme and exceptional; these entailed monetizing the commonwealth, cancelling social guarantees, imposing a forceful shift to a market economy, and permitting the spread of criminal businesses.

Such vicious features of the post-Soviet “transition to democracy” were often eradicated by severe and authoritarian measures; these measures were taken either in the name of integration into the world of “Western liberal democracy” (as was the case with Georgia during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili), or (as was the case with Russia in the 2000s), they were taken to control and nationalize businesses whose complete economic freedom and social irresponsibility led to a drastic impoverishment of the population. Nevertheless, the early post-Soviet criminal economy, as well its eradication, were equally violent and hardly democratic; furthermore, they coincided with neoliberal shifts in Western governments. So the pursuit of Western social democracy in post-socialist states turned out to be somewhat belated, since the social democracy programs in the Western neoliberal societies themselves shrunk and became obsolete. Here one has to face the fact that, while promoting the social democratic agenda or the socially engaged legacies of avant-garde art in post-Soviet regions, Western non-governmental and cultural institutions claimed to export and disseminate something that they themselves were no longer able to practice or believe in.

As the result, the drive to become a transparent and modernized society manifests in the features of control and in the police state far more in post-Soviet societies than in Western democracies. It is for this reason that the memory of a disciplinary society with its shadowy backdrop might paradoxically seem more attractive and desirable for many. This is the reason why, since the late 1990s, the enlightened neoliberal technocracy in the West has had little effect on Russia’s paternalist oligarchy. Legalized, “civilized” capitalism seems far harsher than the domestic, corrupt clans of the post-Soviet economy. It would seem that some amount of corruption keeps things more “human,” less alienated—an apparent excuse for the rampant corruption that characterized the shadow economy of the Soviet and post-Soviet period.

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