The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy: Welcome

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books

“This brilliant work illuminates not only crucial developments in modern Russian history, but the profound influence transnational civil society has had on building a peaceful and democratic world.”

—Lawrence S. Wittner, professor at the State University of New York, Albany, and author of Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement.

Welcome to the official author site for Metta Spencer’s new title The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy (Lexington Books, autumn 2010). Here you will find an expanded table of contents for the book; interview transcripts from many of Dr. Spencer’s 200+ interviews on Russia and Eastern Europe over the past 25 years; a wide range of background papers, including deleted chapters, published articles, and reviews from the 1980s and 1990s; a photo gallery of some of the people mentioned or interviewed in the book; information on ordering the book; a list of acronyms and other terms used in the book; and links to related sites, published reviews, and interviews with the author.

Metta Spencer is professor emeritus of sociology, University of Toronto, and editor-in-chief of Peace Magazine. Visit for a full CV, including a detailed bibliography.

“In this book, Metta Spencer tells the important but neglected story of the contacts between western peace activists and Soviet intellectuals (both official and dissident) through the words of those who took part. In so doing, she dispels the myths prevalent in Western policy-making circles that the West ‘won’ the Cold War through its military strength—myths which still have a distorting affect on policy. Anyone who wants to know how the Cold War ended will find this book immensely useful.”

—Mary Kaldor, co-director of the Centre for Global Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science

NEW: Links to John Feffer’s Eastern Europe interviews, on the links page.

NEW: The softcover edition of The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy is now available. Order your copies now either direct from Lexington or through online retailers.

DON’T MISS: Glossary / list of acronyms on the Articles page

DON’T MISS: Papers, articles, and statements from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, on the Articles page

DON’T MISS: Video and transcript of the author’s talk at her Toronto launch event, 23 January 2011 (plus an audio Q&A session) >> open page in new window & streaming audio of a talk to Senior College, University of Toronto (external link): here


They have built a museum in the Kremlin, but it displays only ancient things. You have to discover the new things for yourself. Fortunately, outside the fortress walls many changes are obvious: The traffic, for example, is too clogged with Mercedes and Lexus cars to move, but when it does move, they all race fiercely.

There are subtle changes too, such as the vibrations. If you know where to look, you can go dig up quartz crystals that liberal “New Age” Russians have buried in strategic spots around the Kremlin, hoping to counteract the vibes of tyranny. But I don’t know where to look and if you find any, please leave them alone. The fortress needs all the purification my democratic friends can give it.

I can tell you a bit about the political intrigues inside the Kremlin, but I am more fascinated by the political orientations of the people living outside its walls. Their changes I will describe in this book.

My account is based on hundreds of interviews spanning 28 years, from my first visit to Moscow in 1982 until 2010. I have interviewed quite a few people six or eight times. Long ago I lost count of my trips to Russia. I used to go once or twice a year, but there were two interruptions—once for four years after I was expelled for associating with dissidents, and again later for health reasons. When I could not go there, I continued interviewing Soviets and then Russians at conferences and by phone.

This is not an ethnography; instead, I have some political theories to disprove. One of my professors, Karl Popper, insisted that science doesn’t progress by proving certain theories true, but rather by proving other theories false and thereby eliminating them from the list of possible explanations. Political sociology progresses in the same way.

There are three main theories that I intend to refute here; all of them are widespread and influential. I wish I could absolutely eliminate them from our shared worldview, for doing so would alter the way we conduct international affairs. These three assumptions are as follows:

First, there’s the false belief the West won the cold war by “containing” Communism and spending more on weapons than the Soviets could match, until finally Gorbachev “blinked.” (The truth: We all lost the cold war, and nobody imposed democracy and disarmament on Gorbachev. He and his advisers had been seeking democratic and anti-militaristic innovations of Western origin for years. Far more advanced than Reagan, he adopted innovative proposals eagerly and, after Communism faltered in 1989, encouraged the third great global wave of democratization.)

Second, there’s the false belief that, at best, only a country’s own population can influence its policies. Indeed, in an authoritarian regime, even the citizens have virtually no say, and certainly foreigners who lack a vote or corporate power can have no impact. (The truth: Democracy, human rights, and nonviolence are rarely re-invented independently by local citizens. Usually they are imported from abroad and spread by personal contacts in international civil society, not by diplomats or rulers. That was the way it happened in the Soviet Union. This book describes how certain back-channel relationships with foreign peace researchers and activists influenced that country’s brief democratization, its foreign policy, and its military doctrine.)

Third, there’s the false belief that peace and democracy are two different matters that should be addressed separately. It makes sense for liberal democracies to work for peace when dealing with other countries, but whether those other countries are democratic or authoritarian is nobody’s business except their own. No country should try to promote democracy in another state. (The truth: Dictatorships use weapons against their own people and other nations alike, whereas democracies treat other democracies nonviolently. When any two states are at war against each other, you can be sure that one or both is authoritarian. Establishing democracy in every country will eliminate international warfare and most internal repression as well. In Russia, as else­where, the project of peacebuilding is inseparable from the project of democratization.)

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books