Metta Spencer

Spreading peace and democracy: the Russian case

A version of this article appeared in International Journal 67.1 (Winter 2011), pp169-.

The difficult Soviet transition from totalitarianism began a generation ago. Although some aspects of it are incomplete, there are lessons to be learned from Russia’s experience. We in liberal democracies especially need to examine Russia’s recent history when deciding how best to support others who are trying to liberate themselves.

Between 1982-2011, I carried out hundreds of interviews with intellectuals, scientists, peace workers, and politicians who were working to end the Cold War as research for a book, The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy.1 Those conversations dealt with an issue that is still current in North America—whether, or how, to assist pro-democracy movements abroad.

Should We Promote The Democratization Of Authoritarian States?

Historically, the promotion of democracy and human rights in other countries was a liberal project. After World War II, western democracies began covertly funding freedom and human rights movements in repressive societies. When this became widely known, independent agencies were set up instead, largely funded by governments but not directly controlled by them. Nevertheless, these agencies did not lack critics—especially by two political groups. The larger category of opponents comprised initially mainly conservative “isolationists.” The smaller, mainly left and centrist, category included Marxists and cultural relativists who refused to criticize totalitarianism or human rights abuses abroad.

The revolutionary left typically disparages the value of representative government, arguing that states are always controlled by the ruling class, so that only revolutionary changes can liberate the “masses.” Still, most people in democratic states were progressives who wanted their governments to foster the spread of freedom in other countries where citizens incurred punishment for demanding it themselves. Not until George W. Bush’s presidency did matters change.

It was Bush who reversed the political valence of democracy promotion. Having initially declared that his administration was not interesting in nation- building abroad, he abruptly switched his tune after 11 September 2001 and announced plans to invade Iraq so as to force it to become democratic. Immediately the American right wing also embraced this rationale, while progressives reacted by turning against democracy promotion.

Apparently most Democrats did not dispute Bush’s assumption that in dictatorships such as Iraq and Afghanistan democracy could only be imposed, and with violence. Any comparative historical study of ousting dictators reveals that such movements have often used nonviolent methods, and that bloodless revolutions are more successful than bloody ones in establishing a lasting democracy.

President Barack Obama came to power as a new-style liberal and has only timidly supported pro-democracy movements in Russia and other unfree regimes, including the area of the “Arab Spring.” Now it is necessary to restore liberals’ original conviction—that promoting democracy abroad is a proper project for those of us who can act without fear of being shot or imprisoned.

Our justifications are much the same as before. We consider democracy a national security issue, citing Kant’s democratic peace theory, which continues to be substantiated empirically. Democratic countries almost never go to war against other democratic countries, and are overwhelmingly less likely than authoritarian ones to kill their own citizens. Logically, then, when all societies are democratic, warfare may well end. Peace researchers are still studying the basis for this finding, but without questioning its validity.2

But a second justification for promoting democracy abroad is more uncertain nowadays. For decades many researchers agreed that democracy and economic development went hand-in-hand, though there were debates about which variable was the cause and which the effect. However, the economic rise of China, despite its lack of political freedom, has cast doubt on that connection. Moreover, the average Russian’s standard of living has improved markedly since Putin took power, but this economic development has not led to any new demand for democracy. Quite the contrary: Putin’s approval rating averages an astounding 70 percent, precisely because of the new prosperity (which should actually be attributed to the global rise in oil prices).

Despite this counter-argument, the fundamental controversy has revived; liberals are rethinking whether to promote democracy abroad. Still, support for active assistance remains ambivalent in the west and almost nonexistent in Russia.

By what logic, opponents ask, do democrats call their own system superior to an authoritarian regime that is preferred by the very people it represses? After all, democracies don’t necessarily reach better political decisions than those decreed by, say, a military junta, a wise philosopher king, or even an astute team of technocrats. Recent trends in America’s broken government makes it impossible to admire its democracy.

But, we reply, there are enormous differences among democratic regimes, none of which has ever achieved perfection. All democracies are works in progress, some of which don’t progress at all, but that is not a fatal argument against democracy itself, only a criticism of particular flawed constitutions. Indeed, no form of government always renders the best decisions, for politicians in every system are human. Their predictions can never be certain or their wisdom perfect.

What, then, is the justification for demanding accountable governance? Simply this: Democracy fosters the flourishing of the human person, which is what truly matters. People need to form their own opinions without being intimidated, and to share in the rights and responsibilities of collective decision-making. Whether we reach good or bad judgments, we thrive as competent adults only when participating in the support of human rights and civil liberties.

Thus we cannot even now be indifferent to the democratization of Russia. It would be better for the Russian people and the whole world if Russia were a democracy. Regrettably, it is not. Indeed, many Russians resent westerners for pitying their lack of freedom. Hence the following assumption seems predominant in both the east and the west: It is difficult, if not impossible, to help democracy grow in another country, and any effort to do so will probably backfire. We should mind our own business.

Those of us who favour supporting democracy abroad must answer these objections, which unfortunately are not without merit. For example, in 2008 the Russian state sponsored a national poll to identify the country’s greatest historical figure. The top three winners were Alexander Nevsky, the 13th-century warrior prince; Pyotr Stolypin, a repressive reformer of the late Czarist period; and Joseph Stalin, the dictator. Privately, however, the organizers admitted that Stalin had far surpassed the other two. They had fixed the results to avoid embarrassment.

No grassroots “colour” revolution has occurred in Russia, as they have in other eastern European countries. If anything, freedom is declining: in 2004 the democracy-monitoring organization Freedom House downgraded the country from a status of “partly free” to “not free.” In 2011 Russia scored only six for political rights and five for civil liberties, on a scale of one to seven, where one is best. Overall, the Russian population does not much want democracy, and any attempt by outsiders to promote it will prove difficult. Nevertheless, the liberation of humankind everywhere is a noble challenge. What were the obstacles in Russia, and what can we learn from them about promoting democracy elsewhere?

Freedom Is Hard

I used to go to Moscow once or twice a year, and during Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency people seemed more hostile to him every time I visited. To be sure, the economy was in trouble. In state-run grocery stores only butter and pickles were available, so I assumed people were going hungry. Indeed, some did; mortality rates were rising. However, most families kept stashes of hoarded goods. Prices were still controlled but people had more money, so the demand increased just when farms were withholding products in the expectation that price controls would be abolished and they could charge more. There were shortages in state shops, but most people found “informal” ways of buying what they needed. Gorbachev’s decreasing popularity could not be attributed mainly to economic hardship.

Then what did explain his unpopularity? He was introducing a representative legislature and allowing freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. Why didn’t everyone appreciate that?

My answer is that some people did appreciate democratization, but considered Gorbachev too slow in creating it. (Looking back, he believes he introduced changes too fast.) The majority, however, evidently didn’t want it, which puzzled me. I kept asking people: “Suppose I am in prison and a warden unlocks the door so I can leave. But I don’t thank him. Why not? What has Gorbachev done so that people don’t feel like thanking him?”

Only much later, in 2008, did I hear the real explanation. I was interviewing the remarkable human rights leader Lyudmilla Alexeyeva about the prospects for Russia’s democratization. She said:

We will be a democratic country but we cannot do it so quickly. We cannot! Be more patient! …
In 15 years, I believe we will reach democracy. Because, what does democracy mean? When people won’t permit their rulers to abuse their power. We should arrive at such a society but it’s impossible to make it quickly.
I would say we’ve come quite a distance since the end of the eighties to this time. It’s the most difficult part of the journey because the first steps are always the most difficult steps. We’ve made a lot of achievements. People now are very different from those in the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, people couldn’t do anything for themselves. Either the state did something for the people or it wasn’t done at all.
For example, I would like to have a good apartment. If the state didn’t give it to me, I could not have it. It was impossible. We lived in such a way for three generations. And when the Soviet Union was crushed, we were like kids. We didn’t know how to do anything. We had to learn to be grown-up people in a very cruel way because the state forgot about us. The state crushed our economy and our social system, and nobody helped people in this country. Those who couldn’t learn to do things by themselves, those who couldn’t pass the transition, they just died. That is why we have the demographic problem right now.
People who are alive now are mature people …. It’s another people! It’s the most difficult step for them to recognize that they should depend on themselves without thinking of help from the state to organize their lives, to help their families. Not to think about state help …. Being an historian, I can see that all the stages that took dozens of years or centuries in Europe and America, we are passing through in a few years. Now we have turned from bandit capitalism to state capitalism. Of course it’s not democracy. But we will pass to other stages too—quickly. Believe me.
Because, in parallel with this political development, we have the development of civil society … this is the most important area where we should work to reach democracy: civil society.3

Yes, that made sense. After a life in prison, if someone suddenly sets you free, you won’t know what to expect, nor will you have coping skills. Later I read a similar comment by Vaclav Havel, the dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia and, after 1992, the first president of the Czech Republic. He said:

People want to find a guilty party. They are in a state of shock caused by freedom, by the absence of guarantees, by disillusionment with the hierarchy. This is a state which I have many times compared to that of a person who’s just been released from jail. When you are in prison, you are happy for the moment. When you are let free, and when it happens so suddenly, you become totally helpless; you don’t know what to do. You may even have a desire to return back to prison, because you know what awaits you there. But you don’t know what to expect of this newly acquired freedom. The same thing is happening with this society. It does not know what to do with this freedom. Hence, this search for an enemy who could be blamed for all the misfortunes.4

Sudden freedom was even more frightening for Russians than for Czechs. As Alexeyeva pointed out, they had lived fully 70 years under a totalitarian system of their own invention. Communism had been imposed on the other countries, but it had been created by Russians. True, they had not realized what horrors would result from their experiment, but now it is more painful for them than for others to contemplate their own history.

Alexeyeva’s lesson was existentialist: freedom is a burden. It is hard to take responsibility for oneself, especially having been granted this responsibility as an adult. She warned me to “be patient,” for democratization will take about 15 more years. Perhaps that is why the Russians didn’t thank Gorbachev, their liberator, but do thank Putin, who is giving them 15 more years of authoritarianism during which to learn freedom. Yet Alexeyeva herself does not seem patient. As a frail old woman, she still goes out into the streets protesting, and getting arrested for her trouble.

Alexeyeva also taught me a second lesson about democratizing Russia: support civil society. If it is frightening to confront the state, there are gradual ways of preparing to do so. Because of their long, mutually inflicted suffering, Russians are understandably more mistrustful than most other societies. Trust is built in voluntary associations. The main approach of Russia’s pro-democracy activists now is community organization work. Some are creating associations of apartment and car owners, for example. Western democracy-promotion organizations such as Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Britain’s Westminster Foundation, and the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy often fund such projects. Civil society builds social capital—contacts that generate trust and cooperation. Social capital enables people stressed by unfamiliar freedom to support each other. For those who are bewildered by politics, civil society offers smaller steps toward democracy. Although a slower route, this is a project that foreigners can assist. It empowers people instead of imposing democracy on those who do not want it. But what kind of civil society organizations should we assist? And how?

Diversifying Civil Society

Marxists consider social classes to be the basic form of human association. The argument is that people should connect with each other on the basis of their shared material interests and that if they do not, it is due to “false consciousness”; they just don’t understand their own situation. Thus Marxist social scientists often overemphasize class conflict and downplay the importance of religious, ethnic, or cultural groups, discounting the significance of their conflicts.

But religious, ethnic, and cultural groups share with social classes the trait that each is composed of people who are similar in some way. People typically associate with others who resemble themselves, thus forming civil society organizations with strong in-group solidarity. Sociologists call such groups “bonding” organizations. Each one may be at odds with different bonding organizations whose members are alike in some other respect. Though their in-group solidarity is high, the solidarity between bonding groups may be low. Polarization increases and society-wide cohesion declines.

What is needed to counteract the social fragmentation is an alternative kind of civil society group, which American sociologist Robert Putnam has called the “bridging” organization. Unlike bonding organizations, bridging groups include people of differing opinions and backgrounds. Because of the diversity of their membership, disputes may arise within each bridging group that must somehow be worked out. Their debates benefit the larger society, facilitating democracy by generating skills in conflict management and tolerance for alternative viewpoints.

But because diversity is uncomfortable, bonding groups are more common than bridging ones. The American legal scholar Cass Sunstein has argued that this results in greater extremism. He writes that “[w]hen people find themselves in groups of like-minded types, they are especially likely to move to extremes. And when such groups include authorities who tell group members what to do, or who put them into certain social roles, very bad things can happen.”5 The Soviet system suppressed bridging contacts by isolating the population from foreigners, thus perpetuating mistrust and extremist attitudes. Few people were allowed to travel abroad, for example, lest contact with alien ideas broaden their minds.

Nevertheless, certain privileged people did meet foreigners. Some university scholars were allowed to study abroad and the staff of embassies lived abroad. Musicians and athletes performed abroad and scientists attended conferences. Because transnational associations invariably have bridging rather than bonding effects, the diversity of their contacts attracted these people to democracy.

Transnational Peace Groups

Especially influential were European and American disarmament organizations during the Cold War whose members included high-level Soviet officials. These people questioned the Communist party’s policies, though only in private. Transnational peace organizations were bridges whose Soviet members became closet democrats and studied the writings of foreign political scientists and disarmament-oriented scientists.

These elite organizations influenced Soviet policies to a degree that is rarely recognized in the west. I’ll mention a few, beginning with the Dartmouth conferences, where top Soviet officials met with prominent Americans regularly between 1960 and 1990. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was founded by American cardiologist Bernard Lown, who recruited as co-chair a Russian cardiologist, Yevgeny Chazov, the personal physician to several general secretaries of the party. Together they spoke on Russian television, urging the elimination of all nuclear arsenals. They organized thousands of physicians, worldwide, to educate the public about the nuclear threat, and Lown persuaded Gorbachev to maintain a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing.

The Pugwash conferences on science and world affairs was founded in 1957 by Joseph Rotblat and the philosopher Bertrand Russell as an international body of scientists who, with Einstein, opposed nuclear weapons. It still meets today, and during the Cold War played a unique role in persuading the Soviet Union to sign the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

The Federation of American Scientists collaborated closely with Soviet weapons scientists to reduce the prospect of nuclear war. For example, Princeton physicist Frank von Hippel worked closely with Gorbachev’s main science adviser, Yevgeny Velikhov, who persuaded Gorbachev to allow American seismologists to set up monitoring stations near the nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. They even held joint tests in the Black Sea to demonstrate how to detect nuclear weapons on Soviet ships.

European Nuclear Disarmament differed from the other organizations in being open to grassroots activists; thousands attended its annual conferences. The speakers were politicians, intellectuals, and activists, including Soviet delegates from key research institutes. By August of 1991 it was possible for this group to hold a large conference in Moscow, with activists coming from the entire Soviet Union and abroad.

The participants in these meetings recognized the strong influence of foreigners in the Soviet Union. It was not, they realized, derived from military pressure but intellectual suasion. And it was not America but the Soviet Union that creatively used these ideas and actually ended the Cold War.

Did American Pressure Win The Cold War?

Initially, few citizens in western democracies objected when their governments produced nuclear weapons, for it was generally supposed that otherwise the Soviet Union might attack and turn the whole world into communist police states. When the Soviets withdrew their troops from eastern Europe and offered to reduce their nuclear arsenals, westerners concluded that their strategy had “won.” Many westerners still believe that the United States’ obvious military superiority forced Gorbachev to give up, and although that is the most common account of the Cold War’s termination, it is mostly wrong.

To be sure, the Soviet economy was in desperate straits when Gorbachev took office, and he knew that many changes were required. However, costs were not the determining factor that shaped military or foreign policy. Certain Soviet officials were already searching for ways to end the arms race and funnelling their ideas to Gorbachev. His initiatives, not those of American President Ronald Reagan, broke the impasse. Gorbachev’s liberal advisers sought the ideas of western peace researchers, who unfortunately lacked any influence whatever with their own governments. Nobody “won” the Cold War, which was ended not by NATO’s intimidation but by Russian peacemakers closely aligned to foreigners in transnational bridging organizations.

In opposition to military traditions everywhere, Gorbachev developed policies of democratization and liberalization, which amounted to “new political thinking.” He emphasized interdependence, mutual security, and a willingness to live in an undefended European space, “our common home.” There were four main innovative doctrines: common security, reasonable sufficiency, non-offensive defence, and unilateral initiatives. All of them were proposed by foreigners.

Common security was the notion that in the nuclear age, one country cannot make itself more secure by making its enemy less secure. Common security requires all countries to feel more secure, since countries, like people, become more dangerous when they feel threatened.

Reasonable sufficiency abandoned the idea that both superpowers needed to balance their forces. Instead, it suggested that only a limited number of weapons are ever required, since it is impossible to kill one’s enemy 20 times over. Once is sufficient.

Non-offensive defence was a principle that weapons should preferably be short-range—unable to strike another country at a great distance. Such weapons could defend one’s own territory against invaders but could not invade another side, thus reassuring all potential enemies that they were safe.

Unilateral initiatives were used to avoid the difficulties inherent in negotiating with an adversary. Instead of having to reach a treaty that bound both sides, Gorbachev often took a small initial step, then invited NATO to reciprocate with a modest reduction of their own—and so on, repeatedly, until disarmament was quite advanced.

All of these innovations and a great many others were the result of ongoing interactions between Soviets and their western counterparts in transnational civil society organizations. No Soviet organization or individual reached such novel ideas alone, as Gorbachev has acknowledged. We can truly attribute the ending of the Cold War to the mutual understanding that developed in these bridging organizations.

Success And Failure

Gorbachev was a successful peacemaker. He allowed eastern European countries to oust their communist rulers and removed the Soviet troops that had been stationed there. Reaching agreements with the United States and other European powers, he began disarming Soviet weapons of mass destruction and offered to go all the way to zero. He ended the Cold War.

But his domestic policies mostly failed. His policies of glasnost fostered free discussions, including in the press, and his perestroika began restructuring Soviet institutions, including the economy and the constitution of the union itself. In 1991 he survived one attempted coup from the right (the old guard of the Communist party) but was defeated by a coup from the left (the pro-democracy, pro-peace groups that he had “let out of prison”) when his rival Boris Yeltsin in effect dissolved the Soviet Union and left Gorbachev without a job.6 To understand this catastrophe we must examine the clashes of opinion among four different political groups, whom I call sheep, dinosaurs, termites, and barking dogs.

Accustomed to authoritarianism, most Soviet citizens were “sheep”: they habitually obeyed the state without complaint. In addition, even before Gorbachev was elevated to power in 1985, there were other, more politicized, groups. Of the 20 million party members, most were “dinosaurs,” who actively resisted reform. About one million members, however, wanted peace, democracy, and some market mechanisms in their economy. I call them “termites” because they were quietly burrowing inside the party, preparing to replace it with a more liberal system. And finally, a few hundred individuals openly criticized the state and were punished for it, sometimes being sent to labour camps. Lacking political influence and not belonging to the party, they were called “dissidents,” though they disliked the term. I called them “barking dogs” because they were trying noisily to stir up grassroots demands for democracy and human rights.

The termites and barking dogs held the same political values and should have been allies, but instead were bitter enemies because of their opposing ideas about how to bring about change. Barking dogs (including such figures as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov) believed that only a mass movement from below could sweep away the remaining totalitarian features of their society. The termites believed that change could only come from above, with a new, liberal general secretary who would come to power and revise the whole regime. Gorbachev was their man.

Yet even when Gorbachev was carrying out his remarkable reforms, the termites and barking dogs continued to despise each other. Lack of barking dog support is a major reason for Gorbachev’s failure. Many termites served in his government and were the conduits of new foreign ideas because of their frequent interaction with Europeans and Americans. But with the new freedom, most of the old barking dogs emigrated, while a new group of intellectuals took their place in demanding faster, more radical changes. Admiring Boris Yeltsin, they formed a movement called “Democratic Russia,” which criticized Gorbachev for accommodating the dinosaurs. They seemed not to realize that dinosaurs still held so much power that he had to placate them.

The dinosaurs and barking dogs constituted the two polarized wings, while Gorbachev’s termites took a centrist position. He tried to hold the country together by moving cautiously toward peace and democracy without alarming the dinosaurs. Still, the barking dogs (now called “radical democrats”) such as Sakharov and Yeltsin were dogmatists who tried to provoke the dinosaurs rather than soothe their jumpy nerves. These radical democrats also attacked Gorbachev, who, to avoid being deposed by entrenched party members, appointed some of the latter to important posts. He expected that this was only for a matter of months until he could replace the constitution. However, his “turn to the right” so outraged the termites that they reacted by joining the radical democrats. Now Gorbachev had almost no political base, especially after the dinosaurs’ unsuccessful coup. By the end of 1991, he lacked enough supporters to block Yeltsin’s dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Unlike Gorbachev, Yeltsin had no plan to restructure the country. He permitted much freedom and a quick switch to capitalism, creating chaos and not an orderly democracy. He rigged elections, then appointed Putin as his successor, and left office with an approval rating of only five percent, apologizing for his failure.

With no anti-authoritarian scruples, Putin did create order, and the exhausted public was grateful. He and his chosen and more amiable successor, Dmitry Medvedev, are still popular, and will decide between themselves who will be president after the next election. No one pretends that this is a democracy, nor do most Russians seem to mind.

What Can We Learn From Russia’s Experience?

Russia’s history suggests 10 useful lessons here, some of which rectify assumptions that should never have been entertained at all. First, it should be obvious that people in an authoritarian state really may be unable to free themselves without help. Second, normal people want to help others who need it, but war is a poor tool to help others free themselves. This means that, third, we require nonviolent methods of resistance that work. Fourth, no society actually can liberate another society. (It is absurd to claim that the colour revolutions are run by the United States or any other foreign power.) Fifth, nevertheless, one state can assist a pro-democracy movement abroad— though with caution. (In my opinion, governments should never try to influence the outcome of elections in another country. Some democracies do fund particular political parties or candidates in other countries, but this contradicts democratization itself.)

Sixth, there are other risks too. Thus, supporting democracy abroad may seem arrogant. Nevertheless, the outcome usually corrects that impression, for such projects tend to fail. Russia’s most prominent dissident urged me to be more patient, for her country cannot be democratic yet. So how can we help patiently? Seventh, perhaps the best assistance is to support civil society—which prepares people to act collectively and defend their own concerns.

Eighth, the most useful civil society organizations are the diverse, bridging ones that develop skills in managing disagreement. Transnational organizations invariably are of this type and, as we have seen, can be immensely effective in transmitting ideas. Regrettably, the transnational peace organizations of the Cold War have dwindled. Russians do travel abroad freely now, but sightseeing is not dialogue. They need more sustained discussions with foreigners—and so do we. Ninth, no longer must such discussions be limited to a few elite bridging groups such as Pugwash, the physicians movement, or the Dartmouth group, for millions of people can participate almost without cost from their own homes. Fortunately, most Russian students now learn English. With new computer technologies, it is easy to set up monthly videoconference discussions between, say, four kindergarten teachers in Krasnoyarsk and four in Minneapolis. Or between stamp collectors, ecological activists, or locomotive engineers in Vancouver and Vladivostok. A sustained dialogue on almost any topic eventually shows how the participants’ political cultures differ. Inevitably, they begin comparing their beliefs and ways of handling issues. Cultures change through precisely such encounters.

And 10th, if elite peace organizations helped Russia to save the world and spread democracy last time, thousands of sustained grassroots discussion groups on Google Plus or Skype may do so this time.


This article was written before the Russian elections of 2011 and 2012. Putin had expected to have Dmitry Medvedev keep his presidential seat warm for four years, to conform to the constitution’s one-term limitation. However, when he announced his plan to return in late 2011, many citizens were outraged. The flagrant electoral fraud also evoked mass protests. Putin was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote in March 2012 but it was because his credible opponents, Boris Nemtsov and Grigory Yavlinsky, had been kept off the ballot. Although the press calls this new opposition an urban middleclass movement, it is actually quite diverse and will grow. Still, Russia may not attain democracy ahead of Alexeya’s 15-year prediction, for “strong leaders” remain popular: Putin probably would have won without cheating.


1 Metta Spencer, The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2010). See also additional photos and transcripts of about 200 interviews on the book’s website,

2 Paul K. Huth and Todd L. Allee, The Democratic Peace and Territorial Conflict in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

3 Author’s interview with Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, Moscow, June 2008, http://

4 Vaclav Havel, “The strange epoch of post-Communism: A conversation with Vaclav Havel,” by Adam Michnik in Irena Crudzinska Cross, ed., Letters from Freedom: Post-Cold War Realities and Perspectives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

5 Cass R. Sunstein, Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 53-58.

6 Reversing all previous definitions, in the Soviet Union during that period, reformist pro-democracy forces came to be called the “left,” whereas the Communists were the “right.”

Metta Spencer is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Toronto.