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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Command Democracy

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The Kremlin team is facing a serious problem. On the one hand, all the democratic attributes must be in place — free press, a multiparty system and elections. On the other, all this must be under strict control and all decisions should be made behind closed doors and between trusted officials in the Kremlin.

Boris Yeltsin wrestled with the same problem for eight years. Yeltsin allowed democracy to work but made sure his opponents were clear that he would stage a coup (like in 1993) if he was dissatisfied. Occasionally, Yeltsin would shake out the system and then fall asleep again until the next crisis.

President Vladimir Putin and his team are set up differently. They need predictability. Therefore, they need newspapers that — while being absolutely free — would never level criticism at the government. Likewise, politicians are in great demand who — while openly competing with one another — will eagerly carry out any desire the Kremlin may have.

The practical embodiment of this utopia are the many projects for reforming political parties. Small parties must be removed so they don't get tangled underfoot, not because they constitute a threat but because they make management difficult.

Those in the Kremlin engaged in the political reforms are prepared to manage the parties under conditions of democracy just as their Soviet predecessors managed the factories — the bigger the easier. If possible, the leaders will be appointed or at least confirmed by the Kremlin. The number of parties will preferably be reduced to three or four.

Two have already been chosen, the Unon of Right Forces, or SPS, and the Communist Party. Everything is very simple with these two. They attack one another but when any weighty issues are involved they support the Kremlin. For democracy, this constitutes a struggle of ideas — for the Kremlin it is called constructive cooperation. Communist Party leaders explained to party members that they are not fighting against Putin but for him. In other words, whenever the president does something bad it is the harmful influence of SPS that is to blame.

At SPS, the situation is the other way around. In reality the Kremlin decides everything itself, alternately playing the liberal or the national-Communist card.

In tsarist Russia after the defeat of the 1905 revolution, the tsar worked with the Duma in a similar fashion. It was possible to pass one decision by forging an alliance of ultra-nationalists with the centrist Octobrist party and another by allying Octobrists with liberal Constitutional Democrats.

So the current fight is for the place of the Octobrists.

Hence, there are now attempts to merge Unity with Fatherland or create a competing force in the form of a Peoples party based on the People's Deputy faction. All of these variants are equally unpromising.

What the Kremlin is trying to do is nothing new. In political theory this is called command democracy — a model already tested in Egypt and Pakistan in the 1970s. Of course, you wouldn't call either country a model of freedom. But the question is whether such a model will take root in Russia.

At the end of the day, everything depends on economic growth. If the population is guaranteed a stable, albeit impoverished, existence, the Kremlin can achieve its goals. Otherwise, any schemes thought up by the presidential administration will fall victim to social and political instability.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.