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Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society by Matthew Maly

Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society

by Matthew Maly

321 pages
Once the logic of lose/lose is understood, Russia becomes obvious.

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Category: History:Eastern Europe
About the Book

Russian civilization has not developed the notions of private property and individual rights as they are understood in the West. Because of this, the Russian definitions of such terms as law, success, and fairness are different from the West's.

Advanced western nations have long traditions of private property and economic freedoms, which allowed them to make a relatively smooth transition into the Industrial Age. But for Russia this transition required a great leap, and to compensate for the lack of these traditions, the leap had to have a very important symbolic, ideological dimension. As Russia built its factories, it also had to accommodate its historic quest for greatness, a worldview nurtured by Orthodox Christianity, and Russians' unique concept of fairness.

Why did this leap take the form it did? One reason is that Russia for the most part has always been a lose/lose society, where individuals agree to endure suffering in exchange for the right to cause others to suffer. The concept of win/win is a relatively recent discovery - a discovery that can't be made without private property and individual rights. Once we understand the logic of Russia's lose/lose culture and the compensatory devices that Russia has invented to make up for the absence of private property and individual rights, we can easily understand Russia's history - and the challenges it faces today.

By accepting from the outset that Russia is different, this book avoids a discussion about whether a pair of chopsticks is a tablespoon or a teaspoon. Using simple language, humor, and real-life anecdotes, it describes Russia in a way that is understandable and useful for Westerners who want to successfully function in Russia. There is no enigma or mystery to Russia whatsoever.

Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society does not contain a single "scientific" quote, or anything else that the lay reader will find difficult to understand. All you need is a basic familiarity with Russia's 20th-century history. The book leaves its reader knowing what to fear in Russia and what to love, what to regret and what to respect, how to appreciate Russia and communicate with Russians.

The cover shows a statue of Lenin eating a hamburger, and it illustrates the book's main conclusion: we gave Russia the hamburger, which is a symbol of capitalist consumption, but not a symbol of freedom and creativity. The real foundation of capitalism is the opportunity to create and to benefit from your creation, and this is what most Russians still lack. Russia did bite off a piece of capitalism, but its facial expression did not change: it is still inanimate, frozen in a lose/lose mentality that prevents democracy, private property, individual rights, and free enterprise from taking root.


A civilised market economy, which Russia is professedly building, calls for competition without conflict, freedom without indiscipline, ambition without envy and co-operation without coercion. These requirements clash head-on with some of Russia's most ingrained cultural and anthropological traits. Matthew Maly's scholarly elaboration of the dilemma is replete with parables, poetry and aphorisms, reminiscent at times of Thorstein Veblen's sociology of American capitalism. One could almost entitle his book, Theory of the Thieving Class.
- Peter Oppenheimer
Oxford University
Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society is an iconoclastic, provocative, politically incorrect, and probing analysis of why Russia doesn't work - and never has worked - as well as it should. Those who will influence Russia's future would do well to read it with care. The same is true for non-Russians who deal with the country, and for those who wish it well.
- Lawrence E. Harrison
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University,
co-editor of "Culture Matters"
As a former professor of economics and business owner and operator active in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union for the last 10 years, I can highly recommend this book for policy makers, international aid agencies and businesspersons.

The fundamental thesis of the book is that Russia (and other Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Belarus) have developed social, economic and governmental structures that are implicitly based on a psychology of lose/lose as contrasted to the general western psychology of win/win. The zero sum game is perceived as reality in Russia owing to its long history of internal deprivation and external threat. How this developed historically is one subject of the book. Because Russian institutions of law, government and society are derived from this historic-psychological base, an understanding of Russian behavior in its many manifestations requires a firm understanding of how and why this psychology has developed, especially during the Soviet period.

The basic error of western policy makers has been to ignore this important psychological difference with the result that westerners are continually surprised or dismayed by Russian behavior that appears to run contrary to what they assume to be optimal or at least predictable decision-making based on the implicit psychology of win/win. Russia is the proverbial square peg that the western world is trying to force into a round hole. It would better for those involved with Russia to read this book so that at least surprise and dismay can be replaced with understanding and anticipation.
- Paul R. Thomas
President, IRE (USA) Inc.
Partner, IRE (Ukraine) LLC
The advantage of Matthew Maly's book is that it manages to combine reality with theory. You get a general introduction to the basic concepts of liberalism and communism together with a lot of funny examples of how these concepts work or do not work in Russia' s everyday life. This gives you a sense of the enormous difference in the perception of the world that separates East and West; a difference that cannot be explained, as we like to do it in the West, by different stages of development of our respective civilizations. In other words, Maly's book shows that is it just not a matter of us being ahead, and them lacking behind, so that it will only be a matter of time before they catch up on democracy and market economy; no, in many ways, the Russians perceive the world differently than the peoples of western Europe. That is why Maly's examples from everyday life in Russia are as true today as they were in Soviet times and in tsarist Russia. I would have liked to have read Maly's book as a student of political science; then I would have understood these things on a much earlier stage. I had to live in Russia several years before I grasped the difference; and nevertheless Maly's book was an eye-opener for me. It may not be the final truth about Russia; but it is surely a step in that direction, and that is more than can be said about most other books on the subject of Russia. I enthusiastically recommend Maly's book to everyone who wants to understand Russia -- be they scientists, students, politicians, expats living in Russia, or just curious people.
- Anna Libak
Moscow Correspondent of Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
Matthew Maly brings a uniquely informed and enlightening perspective to the continuing mystery of Russia. Russia As It Is provides a much needed insight into today's Russia.
- David Johnson
Editor, Johnson's Russia List
Matthew Maly's third book promises to shed more light on why Russians seems so baffling to us, and perhaps to themselves. A culture based on envy has inherent problems with economic development. I particularly appreciated his explanation of why they don't fix small things that would improve their lives: they are waiting to do something perfect, and can't waste their time doing anything halfway. Whether the reader agrees or not with Maly's provocative analysis, the book presents a stimulating array of ideas.
- Susan McIntosh, MBA
charity president



About the Author
Matthew Maly Matthew Maly was born in Russia and emigrated to the US in 1979. Graduated from Columbia and Yale. Author of Understanding Russia (in English) and How to Make Russia a Normal Country (in Russian). Worked as Expert for the Russian Ministry of Economics, consulted Russian and Ukrainian democratic politicians.



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