How can we explain the divergence between apparent achievements in the process of democratization of the Russian political system and the real perceptions of the lack of progress? The heart of the answer is located in the nature of the Russian state, which does not represent the interests of society as a whole, but rather is deeply penetrated by Russia's emerging capitalist class. The Marxist conception of the state has greater explanatory power for understanding contemporary Russia than either liberal or statist formulations of state-society relations. Three factors influence the intervening role of the state. First, the greater the internal cohesiveness within the state, the more effective the state is in executing policy. Second, the greater the autonomy of the state from society, the more efficient the state is. Third, the greater the capacity of the state, the more effective the state will be. The first of these factors is examined in the first part of the article, while the second and the third are taken in the sequel, which will appear in the September issue.