Sale of the Century: Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism

Chrystia Freeland, Author
Chrystia Freeland, Author Crown Business $27.5 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8129-3215-7
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 00/00/0000
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All it takes to derail economic change is a few not-so-good men. That's the message in this page-turning, behind-the-scenes look at Russia's so-far failed attempt to transform its state-controlled economy into a free market. Freeland, who was Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times beginning in 1995, details how two groups--former Communist bureaucrats and a small clique of wealthy Russian men--both opposed Russia's economic reformers who took power in the early 1990s. The reformers, she shows, had to choose one of the groups to ally with, and they opted for the clique--the oligarchs, as the Russians call them. While this alliance may have been necessary, it hasn't done the government--or the country--much good. After a series of barely legal dealings (most notably a 1996 plan in which the businessmen loaned the government money in return for large stakes in government-owned companies), Russian politics quickly descended into palace intrigues between the oligarchs and the government, and, sometimes, among the oligarchs themselves. The oligarchs united to maintain Boris Yeltsin's grip on power in the 1996 elections, but afterwards returned to back-stabbing each other. The effect on ordinary Russians has been to create widespread disillusionment. Freeland, no leftist apologist, quotes one Russian friend as observing, ""Everything Marx told us about communism was false. But it turns out that everything he told us about capitalism was true."" In an epilogue, Freeland argues that the struggle to reduce the power of the oligarchs and establish liberal capitalism is far from over. As the recent three-day jailing of one of the oligarchs, Vladimir Goussinsky, shows, she's probably right. (Sept.)
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