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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: 'Cosmic' Battle Masks Crude Dividing of Pie




In most modern democracies, political battles seem, at first glance, rather prosaic. Other than in times of war, or when a basic moral question is at issue (like abortion or the death penalty), they involve such things as more government versus less, more social welfare or less, higher taxes versus lower. Pretty tepid stuff compared to Russia's endless cosmic struggle, pitting the genocidal policies of the anti-people's regime versus the looming specter of a communist revanche.


The first glance, however, is deceptive. In fact, political disputes in democracies are political in the real sense of the word, meaning that interest groups - taxpayers, pensioners, whatever -and their elected representatives fight over such things as how big society's pooled resources should be, and how they are to be allocated.


Politics in this sense doesn't really exist in Russia. The maximalist invective the Kremlin and the opposition hurl at one another simply provides cover for an endless struggle over how to divide society's common resources among themselves.


Last week's events made this abundantly clear. Take impeachment. The leadership of the Communist Party are able to do arithmetic as well as the Kremlin, and it's a fair bet that they knew all five counts would fail. In the end, Gennady Zyuganov and Company didn't really want their initiative to pass the State Duma, any more than they really wanted to win the 1996 presidential election. Had impeachment passed, President Boris Yeltsin would have engineered a way to dismiss the Duma, and the Communists had no real desire to risk their comfortable lives of taxpayer funded "opposition."


It is still possible that Yeltsin will dissolve the Duma. But it is likely that the Kremlin will never take the other step it is rumored to be contemplating - banning the Communist Party outright. Yeltsin needs them as a bogeyman for the voters (at least, to maintain the 2 percent that currently support him) and, more importantly, to scare up money from the International Monetary Fund. It would not even be surprising to find out that the Kremlin and its allies in the State Duma arranged things so that the Communists and their allies could "vote their consciences" without bringing about the dreaded result.


The Communists, meanwhile, need Yeltsin as a rallying point, to at least slow down the thinning of their aging electorate's ranks, and thus hang on to the perks of "opposition" life a while longer.


The current arrangement suits everyone.


A corollary lesson of the last week is that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the "leftist opposition" is not the source of instability in Russia. Nor are the deep social divisions in society. The real source of instability in Russia is the place where the preponderance of state power is concentrated - the Kremlin.


Within 24 hours of Sergei Stepashin's confirmation as prime minister, he was already rumored to be in trouble for having pushed for Duma budget committee chief Alexander Zhukov's appointment as economics tsar. According to Russian press accounts, Stepashin has run afoul of two Kremlin clans vying for control of the new government - one led by privatization architect Anatoly Chubais, the other by tycoon Boris Berezovsky.


So Yeltsin, as predictably as the trajectory of the stars, has again set the courtiers at each other's throats. He will divide and rule until his last day on earth.