Democracy has widely become the norm within the international community. To promote democracy around the world is not only a key goal of international organizations such as the World Bank, but it is also on the foreign policy agenda of many European and North American countries. Nevertheless, democracy is a notoriously vague and encompassing term. It is often used as a synonym of whatever is desirable in a state, such as good governance and democratic values of elites and citizens. Illustrative of the lack of consensus about its meaning are the results of a survey finding that 150 different studies used more than 550 subtypes of democracy (Collier and Levitsky 1997).
Despite this lack of consensus, most political scientists and policy makers use the minimalist definition of democracy described in Robert A. Dahl’s 1971 book, Polyarchy. According to this definition, democracy is a system of government in which citizens choose their political leaders during periodic free and fair elections, thereby giving those leaders the right to rule after the elections. There are two main theoretical dimensions of democratization: competition among political parties for the people’s vote on the one hand, and inclusive suffrage and political participation on the other hand. South Africa’s apartheid government (1948–1994) was competitive but not inclusive, because the vast (black) majority was excluded from the right to vote. Regimes in the People’s Republic of China and North Korea are inclusive but not competitive, because one political party dominates political life completely. Only regimes with both competition and inclusive suffrage can be classified as a (minimal) democracy.
Democratization is the process whereby a country adopts a democratic regime. Dankwart A. Rustow (1970) distinguished four different phases. During the first phase national borders, national unity, and a coherent national identity must emerge, before democratization can occur. The second “preparatory” phase is characterized by political conflicts between old and new elites in which the new ones demand more influence in national politics. During the “decision phase,” key actors, such as the political parties, must accept a fundamental set of democratic rules and practices. Finally, basic democratic institutions and the rules of the game are established in the “habituation phase.” Each phase is the result of different causal processes. Given their different causes, it is useful to separate them.
Moreover, scholars often distinguish the phases of “transition” to and “consolidation” of democracy from each other. Transitions are defined as the interval between the dissolution of the old regime and the installation of a new regime, while the essence of consolidation is in defining and fixing the core rules of democratic competition. It should be noted, however, that there is a huge debate about the exact meaning of both terms in the democratization literature (Schedler 1998).
Democratization is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although some Greek city-states had democratic characteristics, modern—or minimal—democracy dates only from the late nineteenth century. Since the publication of Samuel P. Huntington’s influential 1991 study of democratization, The Third Wave, scholars have come to take for granted the notion that the spread of democracy has come in waves. A wave of democratization is defined as a group of transitions from nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occurs within a specified period and that significantly outnumbers transitions in the opposite direction.
During the so-called first wave of democratization between 1893 and 1924, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and many countries in western Europe made a transition to democracy. The regime changes to authoritarianism during the second reverse wave after 1924 reflected the rise of the ideologies of communism and fascism. A second short wave began after World War II (1939–1945) and continued until approximately 1960. Allied occupation promoted the installation of democratic institutions in West Germany, Japan, and Finland. Costa Rica, Chile, and Uruguay were the Latin American states that adopted a democratic system during this period. There is no clear second reverse wave, but the 1960s and 1970s can better be described as an intermezzo, in which transitions to both nondemocratic and democratic regimes occurred (Doorenspleet 2000). In this period, for example, Colombia and Venezuela became democratic. By contrast, the polarized Chilean democracy was overthrown by a military coup led in 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006). Military coups in Uruguay and Argentina ended democracy in these countries as well.
The third wave began in southern Europe in the 1970s in Portugal, Greece, and Spain. Then it spread to Latin America—to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, El Salvador, Uruguay, Honduras, and Brazil. This wave of democratization also affected some Asian countries in the late 1980s, such as the Philippines and South Korea. The so-called fourth wave since 1989 was overwhelming and global. At the end of the 1980s, the wave swept through Eastern Europe. The 1990s saw widespread rapid collapse of nondemocratic regimes in Africa, and more than a dozen democracies emerged. The decade after the cold war was a fruitful period for democratization around the world.
Nevertheless, many countries remained authoritarian. So, why do some countries democratize whereas others do not? According to modernization theories, which became dominant in the late 1950s, democratization is less likely in poor countries. If less-developed countries are not able to undergo this political modernization process, it is caused by a low level of socioeconomic development in the country. Each less-developed country would have to follow the same path already traversed by the now developed and democratic countries. After the publication of Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1959 article, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy,” many statistical studies showed that there was indeed a positive correlation between development and democracy. India, with its democratic regime and low economic development, is always brought up as an important exception to this general pattern, though. Moreover, studies of the 1990s show that modernization theory can explain democratic consolidation, but not transitions to democracy (Przeworski and Limongi 1997).
As a reaction and alternative to the modernization approach, the dependency and world-system theories emerged in the early 1970s in Latin America (Bollen 1983). The underdevelopment of Latin America was attributable to its reliance on the export of primary products to the industrial states of the capitalist system, and it was argued that Latin America had been turned into a satellite of the capitalist metropolises of Europe and North America. This approach states that a country’s position in the world system, located in either the dominant rich core or impoverished subordinate periphery, is an important determinant of democracy. According to this approach, if a country is not able to become democratic, this is due to external factors—rather than internal domestic factors.
In addition to economic development and international dependency, cultural influences, ethnic divisions, the type of religion, and historical institutional arrangements have been mentioned by researchers as important structural explanations of democratization. According to actor-oriented theorists, however, regime transitions are not determined by structural factors, but are shaped by what principal political actors do as well as by when and how they do so. In their 1986 study Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead abandoned their earlier structuralist perspective and began to focus on the role of elites. They emphasized that elite dispositions, calculations, and pacts largely determine whether or not an opening to democracy will occur at all. Strategic interaction between elites from the state (political parties, the military, and political leaders) and elites from the society (social movements, civil society groups, and intellectuals) establishes the mode of transition and the type of regime that emerges afterward. In “transitions from below” mounting popular pressures and mass mobilization eventually lead to regime change, while in “transitions from above” political and military rulers respond to crises by introducing democratic reforms whose timing and substance they hope to control.
Since the early 1990s, democratization scholars emphasize that the described approaches complement rather than contradict each other, and suggest that a comprehensive theory of democratization should include not only structural but also actor-oriented factors.
Democratization processes seldom follow an easy, smooth path. On the contrary, violent conflicts and wars often occur in democratizing states. Conflict can be prevented more easily in very nondemocratic regimes on the one end (because these regimes are willing and able to suppress dissent) and in democratic regimes on the other end (because these regimes recognize minority rights and try to conciliate, thereby reducing dissatisfaction and conflict). Democratizing countries, however, are situated in a dangerous phase in which conflict is very likely.
Not all democratic transitions are dangerous, but the chance of war rises especially in those transitional states that lack the strong political institutions that are needed to make democracy work, such as an effective state and organized political parties (Mansfield and Snyder 2005). The most important reason for this is that political leaders try to use nationalism or ethnic identity as an ideological motivator of collective action in the absence of effective political institutions. Then politicians have the incentives to resort to violent nationalist or ethnic appeals, tarring their opponents as enemies of the nation or the ethnic group, in order to prevail in electoral competition. When political institutions are strong, though, war can be prevented. This is particularly crucial in ethnically divided countries. A stable democracy is impossible in a country without strong political institutions.
SEE ALSO Democracy; Democracy, Indices of; Dependency; Elite Theory; Ethnocentrism; Huntington, Samuel P.; Nationalism and Nationality; War; World Bank, The; World-System
Bollen, Kenneth A. 1983. World System Position, Dependency, and Democracy: The Cross-National Evidence. American Sociological Review 48 (4): 468–479.
Collier, David, and Steven Levitsky. 1997. Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research. World Politics 49 (3): 430–451.
Doorenspleet, Renske. 2000. Reassessing the Three Waves of Democratization. World Politics 52 (3): 384–406.
Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. American Political Science Review 53 (1): 69–105.
Mansfield, Edward D., and Jack Snyder. 2005. Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
O’Donnell, Guillermo, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead, eds. 1986. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Przeworski, Adam, and Fernando Limongi. 1997. Modernization: Theories and Facts. World Politics 49 (2): 155–183.
Rustow, Dankwart A. 1970. Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model. Comparative Politics 2 (3): 337–363.
Schedler, Andreas. 1998. What Is Democratic Consolidation? Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 91–107.
The process of creating, extending, and sustaining democracy has intrigued observers since the end of the eighteenth century, when democratic revolutions and movements broke out in America, France, and other parts of Europe. The failure of many of these early democratic revolutions has provoked further interest in the specific and the general reasons for democracy's few initial successes and many failures. The American democratic experiment became the subject of intense scrutiny to determine whether it was the harbinger or the exception to the European political future. For this reason Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer and politician who visited the United States in the 1830s, turned his attention from American prisons to consider why and to what extent American democracy had succeeded. In Democracy in America (1835, 1840), Tocqueville took a surprisingly modern, empirical approach to explaining American democratization, paying particular attention to the underlying civic culture of the United States. Since Tocqueville's time, American democratization has been at the center of the debate as to whether popularly elected governments were replicable from one culture to another.
theories of democratization
Later-nineteenth-century observers took a more detached and theoretical approach to the idea of democracy and democratization. The utilitarians, particularly the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, produced what Joseph Schumpeter later called the "classical doctrine of democracy": this was primarily concerned with describing the sources of authority and the purpose of government in democratic regimes. The utilitarians saw democracy's source of authority in popular consent, and the purpose of democratic government was the collective good. Although popular consent and the common good seemed eminently rational and achievable goals before World War I, these goals seemed far more naïve and utopian to the social scientists who wrote about democracy at the onset of World War II, when the West was beset by the perils of totalitarianism.
Writing in 1942, Schumpeter rejected the classical doctrine of democracy as too reliant on the object of the collective good based on utilitarian reason. Schumpeter and other postwar social scientists urged a focus on the procedures common to democracies instead. This they judged to be a more "objective" approach to understanding democracy and democratization. During the cold war, amid the heated competition between the Soviet-style "people's democracies" and those of the West, the procedural school developed a set of common characteristics that they said defined functioning as opposed to sham democracy.
Although Robert A. Dahl has attempted to combine proceduralism with an informed, normative description of democracy, most social scientists concerned with democratization have followed the procedural approach of Samuel P. Huntington. According to Huntington, a democracy is a state in which the "most powerful collective decision makers" are chosen in "honest and periodic elections." Moreover, in a democracy, "virtually" the entire adult population is eligible to participate.
Although accused by his critics of being simplistic, Huntington has maintained that his definition's simplicity is essential to understand democracy and democratization on a global scale. The proceduralists argue that what is most important is often cast in much wider terms, encompassing such values as liberty and freedom but rejecting particularistic notions like a "civic culture" that determines the extent of democracy in a particular place.
Since the end of the cold war, some proceduralists have been accused of determinism in arguing that certain conditions inevitably bring about the emergence of democratic regimes. Francis Fukuyama has come in for some of this criticism, arguing for the global triumph of liberal democracy, which according to his definition must have electoral competition, attendance to market forces, and "judicial rights."
Huntington has argued that democratization has occurred in three historic waves: the First Wave, from 1828 to 1926, occurred after the extension of American suffrage and continued until after World War I, when it encompassed all of Western Europe, North America, and Australasia. The second wave of democratization occurred in the midst and the aftermath of World War II, from 1942 to 1962. It restored democracy to Western Europe and planted democratic regimes in the former European colonies of Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. The Third Wave, from 1991 to the present, followed the end of the cold war, and included the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, some of the states within the former Soviet Union, and most of the countries in Latin America. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, all the states in Europe with the exception of Ukraine and Belarus claimed to be democratically elected regimes. Similarly in Latin America, outside of the Caribbean, all of the states claimed to be democratic, to one degree or another.
democratization in america
Oriented toward empirical evidence rather than theory building, American historians have taken a more nuanced approach than the proceduralists in considering democratization in the United States. Historians have typically focused on two related aspects of democratization: political participation, as measured by voter turnout, and political power, as measured by sociological patterns in officeholding and community leadership.
In the mid-twentieth century, it was standard to date the beginnings of democratization to 1828, with the election of Andrew Jackson and the dawn of the so-called Age of the Common Man. Over the next half-century, historians greatly complicated this simplistic narrative. In the 1960s William Nisbet Chambers and David Hackett Fischer argued that democratization in voting actually began with the competition of the first party system, between the Hamiltonian Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans. Since then the American Antiquarian Society's First Democracy Project has amassed new voting data showing that voter turnout in Federalist vs. Republican elections sometimes surpassed 70 percent of the total adult male population, a rate of sustained participation that no European state achieved until nearly the end of the nineteenth century. By some measures, then, the first wave of democratization began in the late eighteenth century and was practically complete by the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency.
Other historians have taken issue with this idea, arguing that democratization awaited the competitive national parties of the 1830s and 1840s, the Whigs and Democrats. Historians like Ronald P. Formisano and William G. Shade have described some of the practices of the earlier Jefferson-era politics as predemocratic, or what Formisano has called a "deferential-participant" culture dominated by local notables with little input from ordinary citizens. The social historians Glenn Altschuler and Stuart Blumin have gained some adherents for the argument that ordinary voters were indifferent to party politics even during the supposed mid-nineteenth-century heyday of the mass political parties. Altschuler and Blumin built on an older tradition, dating back to the writings of the great postwar historians Richard Hofstadter and Lee Benson, which debunked the socalled Age of the Common Man. According to these scholars, the rhetoric of the Jacksonian era was a cynical charade of powerful elites to flatter their inferiors.
A similarly complex picture has emerged concerning the democratization of political power in early America. Ardent debunkers of "Jacksonian democracy" like Edward Pessen argued that the antebellum United States groaned under the almost unbroken rule of nearly hereditary regional elites whose roots dated back to the colonial period. Sidney Aronson's study of federal officeholding more or less substantiated this idea. From John Adams to Andrew Jackson, high national, state, and local officeholders largely came from the same wealthy, educated class that they always had.
At the same time, historians have found a good deal of evidence for incremental change. Clearly the intensifying demands of democratic politics drove some of the gentleman politicians of the founding era (and their sons) from the fray. Numerous scholars have commented on the apparent professionalization of politics in the early nineteenth century, as less socially and intellectually gifted politicians who expected to make their livings in politics became much more predominant than they had been in the days of Jefferson and Washington. Sean Wilentz has written of the "embourgoisement" of American politics, noting that by Jacksonian times, wealth and professional success could as easily allow entry into the political as the family connections that were formerly essential. Jeffrey L. Pasley has upheld a more genuine but also compartmentalized form of democratization by pointing to the more than seventy newspaper editors appointed to office by Andrew Jackson and the hundreds more elected or appointed after that. In the North, most of these editor-officeholders were former journeymen printers or hardscrabble rural lawyers with little formal education, making their elevation a real advance for common men, if not the Common Man in general.
In the most systematic study of these matters yet produced, Whitman H. Ridgway analyzed political leadership in local communities, using Maryland as his test case. Ridgway argued that traditional oligarchies continued their domination in relatively homogeneous areas such as the rural South. More diverse and economically dynamic locations like the city of Baltimore underwent a specialization of leadership rather than full-out democratization. After the 1820s, the "wealthy and prominent men" who had controlled the oligarchic politics of earlier eras increasingly "eschewed direct competition in the political realm in favor of concentrating their energies in other specialized areas" such as private business, where the real power increasingly lay. Although the old oligarchs continued to wield great influence behind the scenes, during the Jacksonian era they learned to share public power with other men whose status was based more on ability and effort than wealth and family connections. The result was a system of plural oligarchies that Ridgway labels "polyarchy."
At the start of the twenty-first century, the debate among historians over democratization has moved beyond questions of officeholding and adult male voter turnout. A new wave of political history has sought to broaden the definition of democracy to include a much wider range of behaviors that should be redefined as political. Historians have shown that those on the margins of formal politics or even excluded from citizenship altogether—including landless laborers, free people of color, and women of all social classes—found ways of making their interests felt in the public sphere of the early nineteenth century. David Waldstreicher and Simon Newman have shown that parades, street demonstrations, and riots had their place in a rambunctious political culture only beginning to define who was let in and who was left out of this raucous popular scramble for a voice.
Scholars who analyze political language have also discovered the critical importance that changes in rhetorical style played in transforming the United States into a more democratic political culture in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. American political rhetoric on the printed page took on the spontaneous, emphatic quality of the stump speech. Politicians and editors found it necessary to communicate with a mass audience that needed to be informed as well as interested. The result was a simpler, cruder, starker—more democratic—mode of discourse.
Women's historians have made it clear that women's role in the early nineteenth century remained a public one that exercised critical influence on reform movements, the operations of government, and even the party politics from which they were officially excluded. Women as suffrage advocates, society hostesses, abolitionist activists, and plantation mistresses exercised a powerful role in politics even if formal democratization for women had to wait until a later century.
See alsoAmerica and the World; American Character and Identity; Citizenship; Class: Overview; Democratic Republicans; Election of 1828; European Influences: Enlightenment Thought; Federalist Party; Founding Fathers; Government; Individualism; Jackson, Andrew; Liberty; Natural Rights; People of America; Politics; Popular Sovereignty; Presidency, The; Women: Political Participation .
Allgor, Catherine. Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.
Altschuler, Glenn C., and Stuart M Blumin. Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Aronson, Sidney H. Status and Kinship in the Higher Civil Service: Standards of Selection in the Administrations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964.
Formisano, Ronald P. The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827–1861. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.
——. "Deferential-Participant Politics: The Early Republic's Political Culture, 1789–1840." American Political Science Review 68 (1974): 473–487.
Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 1992.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
Newman, Simon P. Parades and the Politics of the Street: Festive Culture in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
Pasley, Jeffrey L. "The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.
Pasley, Jeffrey L., Andrew W. Robertson, and David Waldstreicher, eds. Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Ridgway, Whitman H. Community Leadership in Maryland, 1790–1840: A Comparative Analysis of Power in Society. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.
Robertson, Andrew W. The Language of Democracy: Political Rhetoric in the United States and Britain, 1790–1900. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995; Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2005.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper, 1942.
Shade, William G. Democratizing the Old Dominion: Virginia and the Second Party System, 1824–1861. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.
Varon, Elizabeth R. We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Wilentz, Sean. "On Class and Politics in Jacksonian America." Reviews in American History 10 (December 1982): 45–63.
Jeffrey L. Pasley
Andrew W. Robertson
While modern times have seen more than one, however partial, attempt to democratize Russia, democratization in the narrow sense refers to policies pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev and his closest associates, roughly from 1987 to 1991.
The language of democratization was widely employed within a one-party context by Gorbachev's predecessors, most notably by Nikita Khrushchev. Yet their interpretations of demokratizatsiya and democratizm diverged fundamentally from universal definitions of democracy. "Soviet democratization" implied increased public discussions, mostly on economic and cultural issues; increased engagement of Communist Party (CPSU) leaders with ordinary people; and some liberalization, namely, expansion of individual freedoms and relaxation of censorship. However, electoral contestation for power among different political forces was out of the question. The openly stated goals of democratization Soviet-style included reestablishing feedback mechanisms between the leadership and the masses over the head of the bureaucracy; encouraging public pressure to improve the latter's performance; and improving the psychological and moral climate in the country, including confidence in the CPSU leadership, with expectations of a resulting increase in labor productivity. Additional, unspoken goals ranged from strengthening a new leader's position, through public discussion and support, vis-à-vis conservative elements, to promoting Moscow's international image and its standing vis-à-vis the West.
Gorbachev's initial steps followed this pattern, relying, at times explicitly, upon the legacy and experience of Khrushchev's thaw; the official slogan of the time promised "more democracy, more socialism." Soon, however, Gorbachev pushed democratization toward full-scale electoral democracy. The reforms sparked demands for ideological pluralism and ethnic autonomy. As the momentum of reform slipped from under his control, Gorbachev's own policies were increasingly driven by improvisation rather than long-term planning. Emerging nonparty actors—human rights organizations, independent labor unions, nationalist movements, entrepreneurs, criminal syndicates, proto-parties, and individual strongmen such as Boris Yeltsin—as well as old actors and interest groups, with new electoral and lobbying vehicles at their disposal, introduced their own goals and intentions, often vaguely understood and articulated, at times misrepresented to the public, into Gorbachev's original design of controlled democratization.
Preliminary steps toward electoral democracy at the local level were taken in the wake of the CPSU Central Committee plenum of January 1987 that shifted perestroika's emphasis from economic acceleration to political reform. A subsequent Politburo decision, codified by republican Supreme Soviets, introduced experimental competitive elections to the soviets in multi-member districts. They were held in June 1987 in 162 selected districts; on average, five candidates ran for four vacancies; election losers were designated as reserve deputies, entitled to all rights except voting. Bolder steps toward nationwide electoral democracy—multicandidate elections throughout the country and unlimited nomination of candidates (all this while preserving the CPSU rule, with the stated intent of increasing popular confidence in the Party)—were enunciated by Gorbachev at the Nineteenth CPSU Conference in June 1988. The Conference also approved his general proposals for a constitutional change to transfer some real power from the CPSU to the representative bodies.
Seeking to redesign the Union-level institutions, some of Gorbachev's advisers suggested French-style presidentialism, while others harked back to the radical participatory democracy of the 1917 soviets, when supreme power was vested in the hands of their nationwide congresses. Idealistically minded reformers envisaged this as a return to the unspoiled Leninist roots of the system. Gorbachev initially opted for the latter, in the form of the Congress of People's Deputies, a 2,250-member body meeting once (and subsequently twice) per year. Yet only 1,500 of its deputies were directly elected in the districts, while 750 were picked by public organizations (from Komsomol to the Red Cross), including one hundred by the CPSU Central Committee, a precautionary procedure that violated the principle of voters' equality. The Congress was electing from its ranks a working legislature, the bicameral Supreme Soviet of 542 members (thus bearing the name of the preexisting institution that had been filled by direct however phony elections). The constitutional authority of the latter was designed to approximate that of Western parliaments, having the power to confirm and oversee government members.
The relevant constitutional amendments were adopted in December 1988; the election to the Congress took place in March 1989. This was the first nationwide electoral campaign since 1917, marked—at least in major urban centers and most developed areas of the country—by real competition, non-compulsory public participation, mass volunteerism, and high (some of them, arguably, unrealistic) expectations. Though more than 87 percent of those elected were CPSU members, by now their membership had little to do with their actual political positions. The full ideological spectrum, from nationalist and liberal to the extreme left, could be found among the rank and file of the Party. On the other hand, wide cultural and economic disparities resulted in the extremely uneven impact of democratization across the Union (thus, in 399 of the 1,500 districts only one candidate was running, while in another 952 there were two, but in this case competition was often phony). And conservative elements of the nomenklatura were able to rig and manipulate the elections, in spite of the public denunciations, even in advanced metropolitan areas, Moscow included. Besides, the twotier representation, in which direct popular vote was only one of the ingredients, was rapidly delegitimized by the increasingly radical understanding of democracy as people's power, spread by the media and embraced by discontented citizenry.
The First Congress (opened in Moscow on May 25, 1989, and chaired by Gorbachev), almost entirely broadcast live on national TV, was the peak event of democratization "from above," as well as the first major disappointment with the realities of democracy, among both the reform-minded establishment and the wider strata. Cultural gaps and disparities in development between parts of the Union were reflected in the composition of the Congress that not only was extremely polarized in ideological terms (from Stalinists to radical Westernizers and anti-Russian nationalists from the Baltics), but also bristled with social and cultural hostility between its members (e.g., representatives of premodern Central Asian establishments versus the emancipated Moscow intelligentsia). Advocates of further democratization (mostly representing Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Baltic nations, Ukraine, and the Caucasus, and ranging from moderate Gorbachevites to revolutionary-minded dissidents), who later united in the Interregional Deputies Group (IDG) and were widely described as "the democrats," had less than 250 votes in the Congress and even a smaller proportion in the Supreme Soviet. The bulk of the deputies had no structured political views but were instinctually conservative; they were famously branded by an IDG leader Yuri Afanasiev as "the aggressively obedient majority." The resulting stalemate compelled Gorbachev to abandon legislative experiments and shift to a presidential system, while the democrats (many of them recently high-ranking CPSU officials, with only a handful of committed dissidents) also turned their backs on the Congress to lead street rallies and nascent political organizations, eventually winning more votes and positions of leadership in republican legislatures and city councils.
Thus, democratization's center of gravity shifted away from the all-Union level. The key events of this stage were the unprecedentedly democratic republican and municipal elections (February–March 1990), with all deputies now elected directly by voters, and the abolition of Article 6 of the USSR Constitution that had designated the CPSU as "the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system" with the right to determine "the general policy of the country." The elimination of this article, demanded by the IDG and mass rallies and eventually endorsed by Gorbachev, was approved by the Congress on March 13, 1990, thus removing constitutional obstacles for a multi-party system—arguably the major and perhaps the only enduring institutional change of the period achieved through public pressure.
From that time issues of democratization yielded center stage to institutional collapse and economic reforms. A major transitional point was Gorbachev's decision to become USSR president through a parliamentary vote, instead of running in direct nationwide elections. As a result, his presidency and other Union-wide institutions lagged behind republican authorities in terms of their democratic legitimacy. This was accentuated by Yeltsin's election as Russian president (June 1991), the first direct popular election of a Russian ruler, which initially endowed him with exceptional legitimacy, but with no effective mechanisms of accountability and restraint. And the disbanding of the Soviet Union (December 1991) had an ambivalent relationship to democratization, for while it was decided by democratically elected leaders, Yeltsin had no popular mandate for such a decision; to the contrary, it nullified the results of the Union-wide referendum of March 1991, where overwhelming majorities in these republics voted for the preservation of the Union.
As a result of the events of the years 1988–1991, Russia acquired and institutionalized the basic facade of a minimalist, or procedural democracy, without providing citizens with leverage for wielding decisive influence over the authorities. The disillusionment with democratization has been shared both in the elite—some viewing it as a distraction or even an obstacle in the context of market reforms—and among the population presented with the impotence and malleability of representative institutions in the face of economic collapse. Lilia Shevtsova describes post-Soviet Russia as "elective monarchy"; others emphasize a gradual reversal of democratic achievements since 1991, under Vladimir Putin in particular. The judgement about the ultimate significance of democratization on its own terms will hinge upon the extent to which a new wave of democratizers learns the accumulated experience and is able to benefit from this knowledge.
See also: communist party of the soviet union; perestroika; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich
Cohen, Stephen F., and vanden Heuvel, Katrina, eds. (1989). Voices of Glasnost. New York: Norton.
Hough, Jerry F. (1997). Democratization and Revolution in the USSR, 1985–1991. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Kagarlitsky, Boris. (1994). Square Wheels: How Russian Democracy Got Derailed. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Reddaway, Peter, and Glinski, Dmitri. (2001). Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism against Democracy. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press.
Starr, S. Frederick. (1988). "Soviet Union: A Civil Society." Foreign Policy.
Steele, Jonathan. (1994). Eternal Russia: Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and the Mirage of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Theen, Rolf H. W., ed. (1991). The U.S.S.R. First Congress of People's Deputies: Complete Documents and Records, May 25, 1989–June 10, 1989. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Paragon House.
Urban, Michael E. (1990). More Power to the Soviets: The Democratic Revolution in the USSR. Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar.