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RUSSIA AS IT IS: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society Paperback – August 30, 2003
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Maly's book was an eye-opener for me. I enthusiastically recommend it to everyone who wants to understand Russia. -- Anna Libak; Moscow Correspondent of Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
Provocative, politically incorrect, and probing analysis: Those who will influence Russia's future would do well to read it with care. -- Lawrence E. Harrison; The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
Uniquely informed and enlightening perspective to the continuing mystery of Russia. -- David Johnson; Editor, Johnson's Russia List
About the Author
HOW RUSSIA AS IT IS WAS WRITTEN
I was born in 1958 in Moscow, USSR and immigrated to the United States in 1979. I arrived in New York, and in 1984 graduated from Columbia University. At the time, the Communist system was a real contender for world domination, and a world war seemed possible. In America, the Soviet system was presented as uniformly bad, common people were seen as suffering under it, but, because of the Communist tyranny, they were seen as unable to change the way they lived, to bring about American-style democracy that they surely were dreaming of. As much as I hated the Communist system, I knew that such a description of it was very inadequate.
That was the time when Italy and France had huge Communist parties, and indeed, most of my professors in Columbia were left-leaning, unable to understand why did I leave the Soviet Union. As moths are attracted to fire, people were drawn to the Communist ideals (and it was not at all clear what those ideals were) only to be destroyed by them. I felt that we needed to formulate what was the cause of this attraction.
Another related topic was that of envy, which is the worlds last remaining taboo subject. An economics textbook that does not exhaustively discuss envy and such manifestations of it as arbitrary barriers to entry, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, creed, caste, educational credentials, etc. is (partially) applicable only to North America. Yet, you can open any economics textbook, and you would hardly ever find the discussion of an immense area of universally occurring economic activity that is meant to impede, deny, put under control, impose a tribute, destroy, dispossess, mislead, falsify, enslave, or kill. I am convinced that without understanding envy no intelligent discussion of the Communist system is possible. The strong emotions, twisted worldview, perverted rationale, willingness to kill others and to sacrifice oneself these are the traits that manifest themselves both in an envious person and in the Communist regime, and this is not a coincidence.
Finally, there is a highly questionable assumption that all human societies, whatever the stage of their cultural and historic development, yearn for democracy and can readily see its advantages. I disagree with that. It does not mean that I see democracy as bad: it simply means that there are good things for which some people may not be ready (I am not ready to pilot a jet), and there are people who are unaware that certain good things would be good for them (my daughter is not convinced that studying math will do her any good). Thus, I formulated the three themes I wanted to explore:
1. Causes for the (destructive and self-destructive) attractiveness of Communism
2. Envy and its connection to Communism
3. What is democracy and what makes a society accept (or reject) it.
I started writing this book in 1984 and over these 18 long years, the book got shorter and sharper: it respects your time.
Top customer reviews
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I'll throttle down, and limit my review to three main points. (1) I think a very different impression of the character of Russians is gotten by knowing the Russian Far East as compared to European Russians. (2) So many of the sins of the Soviet system are equally or even more powerfully expressed in large corporate capitalism. (3) The individual affinity of persons to a "horizontal" set of value comparisons is quite prevalent in America, and is a great divider here as well both in political institutions and in interpersonal relationships.
Having homestayed in Irkutsk, Siberia, along with my nine-year old daughter, I got very positive impressons of family structure and support; exerted efforts within their family to be positive thinking while totally honest and realistic in their assessment of situations and life; good planners in using time between essential work, recreation, and gardening; keen intellectual interests in music, language, history, and nature; careful providers of meals with an almost religious connotation in dining. What I read in this book assessing character only marginally applies to them, plus their parents and grandparents whom they loved and honored deeply, and possibly a very large subset of Russians, particularly those in the East.
I was distinctly struck by the explanation of why purges are needed to remove the true believers. This was so apt to corporate layoffs in America that it took the top of my head off. The manipulated use of law, or defiance of same, is also so hugely expressed in our American judicial system whenever it pits individuals or employees against the large corporation. Americans have always put the premium on "order" over "law" in its policing services; and if you are in the wrong social or economic class, the law is often very cruel. The major difference is that there are career opportunities in the U.S., with decent pay and good pensions, so outright corruption is not the normal mode. But basically, the law in America has mutated to be in service of the elite, with a few public exceptions tossed out there in the media for public viewing to keep up old illusions.
Lastly, even if depicting people of Iraq, or of New York City, as opposed to Russia, the elaborations on personalities with lose/lose mental frameworks were intriguing. This is not me, but it certainly clarifies for me a good deal of confusion I have had with intimate individuals. When they cannot control others based on the controller's individual incapacities, or even lack of creative ideas, they turn to the collective for the same result. There are so many collectives in America, many under steeples, some under statehouse domes, some behind prison wire, and others in school buildings. Objectively, the author gets the main point right, which is laws recognizing private property are the final firewall, although these are eroding in America.
Editorially, I had difficulty absorbing the author's repeated use of the word "envy." Reaching for a substitute, I think it taps into a history of insightful writing by others in the philosophical camp, as in Nietzsche, if one replaces this with the term "resentment" -- a more applicable term in my opinion.
Overall, this is an excellent book, and one I will be sure to insist my daughter reads when she returns from St. Petersburg and Moscow after studying there.
This book is a primer on what to be ready for when visiting/living in Russia. It explains the psyche of a great people and helps the reader understand the logic behind their actions (of course, not every Russian in general, but a lot).
The book is extremely easy to read as Mr. Maly writes for the reader of all backgrounds. He is honest, although I will say, being honest means sometimes being "politically incorrect" and you will encounter these moments in the book - the truth is sometimes hard to swallow. Bravo Mr. Maly on another monumental book - thank you!!!