The Russian countryside was among the biggest losers during market reforms in the 1990s. The combination of an emasculated state, vocal rural leadership which opposed reform, and rural conservatism would seem to portend rural instability. Yet, mass protests did not occur, and in general the countryside was quiet. Why?
This article analyzes sources of rural stability in Russia through the prism of the social contract. Rural quiescence occurred because of a transformation in the rural social contract. As market reforms unfolded, the Soviet era rural social contract ended, or at the very least was rendered untenable, and a new relationship between state and the countryside emerged. This transformation of the rural social contract was characterized by movement from statedependence to relative household independence. The nature of the rural social contract changed in three important ways: (1) the ‘contract’ was changed from below, not above; (2) rural households became less dependent upon the state for their income and welfare; and (3) the content of the ‘contract’ changed from the Soviet era exchange of increasing standards of living for quiescence/compliance to increased economic freedom for political quiescence/compliance.