an American's Reflections - Stephen Lapeyrouse’s website

Democracy in Russia?

During a debate on the BBC which touched on the ideals, realities and influences of such forces as capitalism, socialism, communism, democracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, etc., an articulate British critic of the so-called “free market economy” mentioned how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that the opening of a McDonald’s in Moscow, was a great step for democracy. The term “democracy” has had many varying definitions over the centuries since the Greeks first conceived it: demos, people, + kratos, power, but this claim by the British Prime Minister is certainly among the more unique.

Power to the people – perhaps Abraham Lincoln said it best in his famous Gettysburg Address: government of the people, by the people, for the people. Yes, a concise, inspiring formulation by a man who really was born in a small cabin (with a dirt floor), and yet rose to become one of the greatest figures in American and World History. When the representative (not “direct”) democracy was established in the USA after 1776, there were people who wanted political power to reside in small circles, and there were those who wished it to be a broad base of political power; this debate continues to this day.

I want to make some comments to Russians on the question of political and economic power – not because I am a communist or socialist, or because I believe “real democracy”, were it finally to be established, would bring about the ideal possible society. No; I do so because I don’t like lies, even if they come in the form of commonplace obscurant political rhetoric; and because the word and idea of “democracy” does not need to be libeled.

During the late Soviet period, the USA described itself as “the leader of the free world”, “the leading Western democracy”, and similar wonderful nationalistic superlatives which one could hear and read all of the time. Well, not wanting yet here to take a question on these claims, I want to distinguish democracy and economics – “capitalism” – in this case. In an extended sense perhaps, inexpensive Big Macs are a sort or power to the people which begun with the Magna Carta, but I find such an extension of the concept intellectually offensive – and from Margaret Thatcher’s lips patronizing of the masses (1837) from the elite circles from and for which she spoke.

So let me state my position clearly and immediately: money and economics, “capitalism”, more defines life, society and culture in the USA than politics – so-called “representative democracy”. If a “Happy Meal” can be claimed to be an extension of the Magna Carta, then perhaps I would also extend the sense of the Greek word for wealth, pluto, and say that the USA is a plutocracy: ruled by wealth – not only in the sense of ruled by the wealthiest, but in the sense that life there is determined more by money than politics. This does not immediately claim the critical adaptation of Lincoln well-known in the USA today: government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, but I shall make my position clear on that below. In short, no matter whether Marx and/or Lenin also said it: economics is more decisive of life than politics in the USA – this is my assertion.

While the American colonies had a King, the USA by definition did not. The leading men of that day brought about the American revolution, and established its government.


Moscow, April 1998 (unpublished)