Managed Politics in Russia

There is a new kind of state emerging in the former Soviet Union: the overtly managed democracy. This October 31, 2006 article in the St. Petersburg Times posits that the creation of an opposition party party to support the head of state is “possibly” unprecedented. The article goes on to state:

The new party, Just Russia: Motherland, Pensioners, Life, is to play the role of the center-left opposition. Its rival is to be the established, center-right United Russia.

“If United Russia is the party of power, we will become the party of the people,” said Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who was elected Just Russia’s leader Saturday.

“We will follow the course of President Vladimir Putin and will not allow anyone to veer from it after Putin leaves his post in 2008,” Mironov said.

Mironov’s comments came at a convention creating Just Russia.

The qualification is in reference to the unmanaged US two-party system or Japan’s one-and-a-half party system, which must be the model. The goal of the new system, as for its somewhat more unconciously operated models, is stability and concensus, charitably put, in a political order that will not challenge the State or its economic underpinnings.

Perry Anderson explores the political economy of these curious developments in the January 25, 2007 London Review of Books. Says Anderson:

…mindful of the rules of any self-respecting democracy, the Kremlin’s political technicians are now putting together an opposition party designed to clear the bedraggled remnants of Communism – liberalism has already been expunged – from the political scene, and provide a decorative pendant to the governing party in the next parliament.

Anderson straightforwardly explains how the currently evolving dictatorship is a managed response of the political elites in the KGB and state security services to the socially disruptive results of Yeltsin’s neo-liberal shock therapy.

The economy that Yeltsin left behind was in the grip of a tiny group of profiteers, who had seized the country’s major assets in a racket – so-called loans for shares – devised by one of its beneficiaries, Vladimir Potanin, and imposed by Chubais, operating as the neo-liberal Rasputin at Yeltsin’s court. The president and his extended ‘Family’ (relatives, aides, hangers-on) naturally took their own share of the loot. It is doubtful whether the upshot had any equivalent in the entire history of capitalism. The leading seven oligarchs to emerge from these years – Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Potanin, Abramovich, Fridman, Khodorkovsky, Aven – ended up controlling a vast slice of national wealth, most of the media and much of the Duma. Putin was picked by the Family to ensure these arrangements did not come under scrutiny afterwards. His first act in office was to grant Yeltsin immunity from prosecution, and he has generally looked after his immediate entourage. (Chubais got Russia’s electricity grid as a parting gift.)

Putin has limited the political independence of the Oligarchs through relentless prosecutions of those who will not tow the line. Khodorkovsky is the best known example, but Gusinsky, who dominates the highly compliant media, is a virtual exile.

A multitude of political parties came into being after 1991. The economic chaos of the Yeltsin years, the 1993 coup against the Congress of People’s Deputies and their inability to alter either resulted in the decline of all the parties. Putin instituted electoral changes which raised threshholds to 5% of the overall vote to acheive parliamentary representation. Some parties attempted to survive by merging, into formations like the Union of Right Forces, or ad hoc coalitions. The Union of Right Forces recentlytried but failed to merge with the liberal Yabloko party. Since, of all the opposition parties, only the Communist party achieved a greater than 5% of the vote in the 2003 legislative elections, the

Now, further restrictions on party activity are hindering registrations for the upcoming 2007 legislative election. In a Moscow Times article (available briefly on the web):

Pro-Kremlin parties United Russia and A Just Russia are on the ballot
in all 14 regions. But opposition parties have been barred from races in a number of regions in what analysts call an attempt by local authorities to settle score with dissident groups and demonstrate their loyalty to the Kremlin.


The affected parties are hardly on the political fringe. The Communist Party was not allowed to register in the Tyumen region and the republic of Dagestan. The Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and Yabloko have also been stricken from the ballot in Dagestan.

St. Petersburg election officials refused to register Yabloko as well as the People’s Will party and the United Socialist Party of Russia, which emerged from the breakup of the Rodina party.


Election officials ruled that 12 percent of some 8,000 signatures submitted in support of Yabloko’s application to register were invalid. The party collected some 40,000 signatures in all. Election law says no more than 10 percent of submitted signatures can be invalid.

Anderson’s article is bracketed by the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya (also a subject of the January 29, 2007, New Yorker). The upshot being that Russia is turning into stable free-market dictatorship, acceptable to the Western governments, even through atrocities like Chechnya, until it overreaches its putative borders.

According to the previously referenced Moscow Times article, 40 Yabloko supporters rallied in Red Square against the party’s disqualification from the St. Petersburg lists. The depressed state of political activism in Russia is the result of years of economic victimization.

Slavoj Zizek writes in the October 28 1999 LRB on Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism, that the elimination of the contest between a morally bankrupt utopianism and capitalism. Without the pretence of a choice, the citizens became just passive victims. Speaking specifically of theWestern Left was flumoxed by NATO’s 1999 ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Kosovo:

…when Nato intervened to protect Kosovar victims, it ensured at that same time that they would remain victims, inhabitants of a devastated country with a passive population – they were not encouraged to become an active politico-military force capable of defending itself. Here we have the basic paradox of victimisation: the Other to be protected is good insofar as it remains a victim (which is why we were bombarded with pictures of helpless Kosovar mothers, children and old people, telling moving stories of their suffering); the moment it no longer behaves as a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it all of a sudden magically turns into a terrorist, fundamentalist, drug-trafficking Other. This ideology of global victimisation, the identification of the human subject as ‘something that can be hurt’, is the perfect fit for today’s global capitalism, though most of the time it remains invisible to the public eye.

In Russia, national politics have internalized the victimization of the citizen. Boris Yeltsin’s coup against the Congress of People’s Deputies enabled the Krimlin to institute highly unpopular neo-liberal shock therapy, and created the current constitution. Putin’s successorship marked the neo-liberal’s compromise with the indispensible security apparatus of the Soviet State, the KGB, which the President has now fused into a monolitic whole. As Anderson says…

Far from the demise of the USSR reducing the number of Russian functionaries, the bureaucracy had – few post-Communist facts are more arresting – actually doubled in size by the end of Yeltsin’s stewardship, to some 1.3 million. Not only that. At the topmost levels of the regime, the proportion of officials drawn from the security services or armed forces soared above their modest quotas under the late CPSU: composing a mere 5 per cent under Gorbachev, it has been calculated that they occupied no less than 47 per cent of the highest posts under Yeltsin.


The new regime is dominated by a web of Kremlin staffers and ministers with ‘security profiles’, who also head the largest state companies quoted on the stock market. The oligarchs had mixed business and politics flamboyantly enough. But these were raids by freebooters from the first into the second domain. Putin has turned the tables on them. Under his system, a more organic symbiosis between the two has been achieved, this time under the dominance of politics.

Its not surprising under the circumstances that only 40 protesters will turn out to oppose the KGB in parliamentary politics. Zizek writes below about the Western leftist reaction to Kosovo below, who entertained the possibility that the Soviet States could determine a third way between capitalism and communism. but who better to know than the citizens now that a political solution is no longer possible?

This is a perverted version of Havel’s ‘power of the powerless’: powerlessness can be manipulated as a stratagem in order to gain more power, in exactly the same way that today, in order for one’s voice to gain authority, one has to legitimise oneself as being some kind of (potential or actual) victim of power.

The ultimate cause of this moralistic depoliticisation is the retreat of the Marxist historico-political project. A couple of decades ago, people were still discussing the political future of humanity – will capitalism prevail or will it be supplanted by Communism or another form of ‘totalitarianism’? – while silently accepting that, somehow, social life would continue. Today, we can easily imagine the extinction of the human race, but it is impossible to imagine a radical change of the social system – even if life on earth disappears, capitalism will somehow remain intact.


Posted on January 30, 2007, in Politics. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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