Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Restoration and convergence: Russia and China since 1989


Authoritarian and totalitarian legacies

Conventional political wisdom considers 1989 to be the year when communist China and the Soviet bloc parted ways: China continued on its course, while the Soviet bloc converged with the post-authoritarian Latin American and Southern European paths in transitioning to democracy. Consequently, as George Lawson mentions in his introduction to this volume, the early transition theories recycled Latin American models for Eastern Europe. In this chapter I challenge this conventional wisdom. I argue that the differences between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and societies are pivotal for understanding the different paths they followed in the post-totalitarian and post-authoritarian eras. These path dependencies explain why, twenty years after 1989, there is increasing convergence between Chinese and Russian politics and patterns of social stratification. The apparent divergence in 1989 was not as sharp as it appeared at the time. Post-totalitarian Russia and China emerged from a process of the adjustment of the rights of the late-totalitarian elite – the nomenklatura – to its interests. The apparent differences between the bumpy road of Russia and the smooth track of China in the decade after 1989 resulted from the spontaneous nature of this process in Russia, whereas in China this adjustment was planned and enounced publicly. Understanding the global post-totalitarian 1989 requires understanding the evolution of the totalitarian ruling class from that of political revolutionaries to that of the property owners.

Totalitarianism is distinct from authoritarianism in establishing a monopoly of a single elite in all social institutions.