From the simulative democracy to neo-totalitarianism.
Center for Russia Studies International round table discussion on “The current political regime in Russia: Quo vadis?”. April 5, 2019
The main goal of my speech is to highlight one of the scientific forecast of the Russian regime dynamics. The word “scientific” is stressed as far as it is especially unacceptable to mix propaganda and agitation with scientific forecast. Whatever huge amount of propaganda is available, no scientific forecast can be based upon it.
There are two terms in the header of my speech that belong to the different semantic planes. Simulative democracy unlike the neo-totalitarianism is not the type of political regime. However, I put these two points in the header because the direction between the two most clearly characterizes a vector in which the current Putin’s regime moves.
Simulative democracy is characteristic for any undemocratic regime which has nothing to do but to maintain and demonstrate to the world some forms (just forms, without content!) of democratic institutions. Simulative democracy was indicative even for the definitely totalitarian regimes. Let us recall that Supreme Council (Verhovnyj Sovet) existed during the Soviet Union times, under the leadership of J. Stalin. Let us also recall that the Reichstag existed during the Reich times which, however, from 1943 onwards was not summoned, but ostensibly performed as a representative body with Hermann Göring as its chairman.
I.e., totally undemocratic regimes resort to some forms of democratic institutions in order to have illusive and not real appearance.
The modern Russian regime, if considered unambiguously, is absolutely clearly and undoubtedly the authoritarian one. Nonetheless, there are certain controversies about its nature. Last year I had an opportunity to make myself additionally assured in this within the framework of an exploration carried on by the Center for Russia Studies. In particular, 17 features of authoritarian regime were identified. Why exactly 17? This is because it is senseless to analyze any political regime by three, five or seven features. This system is very complex one. To make a confident statement that regime is authoritarian, more detailed exploration is needed. Now I’d rather briefly guide you through these 17 features to show dynamics of each of them and what is happening within each particular feature of the Russian regime.
The first feature: the power is concentrated in the hands of one person or group of persons and rests on the personality of charismatic ruler.
This precisely corresponds to what we have today in Russia. V. Putin is not the sole ruler; he is the focal point of communication and at the same time a public person which manages the group of at least 15 people. And Mr. Putin is very distinguished person in this group, since some of its members do not even communicate with each other because they despise one another. They need a focal point for communication and, at the same time, they need a certain charisma to capitalize on it.
This feature remains stable, nothing changes. And I would like to stress that this particular feature of the Putin’s regime is one of its weakest points.
Reliance on the personality of the charismatic ruler is always the problem for the transfer of power. In case of Russia this is a 2024 problem. It will be extremely difficult for the current ruling clique to find a successor. Whilst V.Putin nears the completion of his second regular term. That is why 2024 is absolutely inevitable point of bifurcation for Russian political regime and for Russia as a whole.
The second feature: the high degree of centralization is characteristic for the managerial system. This trend is being amplified in the present. According to the 10 points scale, it already goes far beyond 5 points.
The third feature: estrangement of society from power, which provides for a simulative character of election. Extremely noteworthy characteristic, so it actually is. For the last time, as fall 2018 and spring 2019 elections both demonstrated, the protest voting tendency has been intensified. In particular, recently in Ust-Ilimsk of Irkutsk region a female technical candidate was elected the mayor. There was an acting candidate from the ruling party and three housekeepers, apparently with the aim that one could have no doubt for whom to vote. Voters favored one of these three housekeepers. That is a typical example of a protest voting that pronounces about itself in this way at the municipal elections. That is with what the whole Russian authorities cannot cope with.
The fourth feature: the elite is formed in a co-opt manner. That is, contrary to the public opinion, new players are recruited in the ranks of those, who are already within the elite. The most characteristic and vivid indicator for the Russian regime is the fact that the children of the present clique members are appointed ministers. For democratic regimes such state of affairs is unbelievable, but Putin’s regime is not democratic at all.
The fifth feature: the principle of the separation of the branches of power is ignored, and the executive one dominates.
Here we have noteworthy dynamics. After new composition of the State Duma (Gosduma) was elected and Mr. V. Volodin headed it as the Chairman, the weight of this representative body in the system of Russian power slightly increased. But this is not the dynamics of the public institution, it is rather a consequence of Vyacheslav Volodin’s individuality. The person is eager to become more influential. The position “over” the State Duma itself makes him more influential. This does not change the characteristics of the regime and is not indicative of developed democracy in Russia.
The sixth feature: rights and freedoms of citizens are proclaimed, but in real terms they are limited, especially in the political sphere. Dynamics is negative.
The seventh feature: State control extends to the non-political spheres: economy, culture, religion, private life. For modern Russia this feature, in line with other features of authoritarian regimes, is a certain exception. In Russia for quite a long time, for several consecutive years, the influence of the State extends far beyond pure politics and pure (fair) elections. Here we observe a trend of movement towards neo-totalitarianism most definitely.
The eighth feature: citizens are devoid of security guarantees in relations with authorities. There is an old famous KGB joke: if you haven’t case yet, then it’s not your merit, this is our flaws.
And the situation goes on escalating.
The ninth feature: politics is monopolized by the authorities, the regime suppresses opposition, allowing itself to take illicit methods.
This feature is absolutely obvious. Another bold manifestation of this trend was a detention a day before yesterday in Ingushetia in which the leaders of protest action who so far have received 10 days of arrest for seemingly violation of the rules of holding mass events. But as I’ve been told, their data storage devices were seized. That is, until they will be serving administrative detention, apparently, criminal cases are being set basing on the extracted information.
The tenth feature: the party system is dominated by one party. This is beyond comments. No doubts, it’s “United Russia”, though protest voting is being intensified.
The eleventh feature: authorities demonstrate tolerance regarding ideologies that are loyal to the ruling regime. This is another feature of an authoritarian regime, and not so much typical for modern Russia.
For example, Protestantism is an absolutely consistent ideology. But presently it falls under hard pursuit. Several dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses were not just detained, they were imprisoned according certain criminal provisions, ostensibly for extremism activity which is a vivid proof of this thesis.
The twelfth feature: public sector of the economy is strictly regulated, although operates on the market terms.
Here one can also clearly see a trend towards neo-totalitarianism. Exploration of the activity of the State Corporation “Rosteh” which is one of the current regime’s economic foundation proves that it does not look enough market based.
The thirteenth feature: the regime exercises control over media, which are permitted to criticize this or that shortcomings.
The fourteenth feature: authorities relies on force, which is sufficient to subjugate its own citizens. Needless to resort to mass repressions.
It is really so, there are no mass repressions. More than that, in 2018 a positive achievement was recorded in Russia: the smallest number of people serving sentences in places of deprivation of liberty since 1991. That is, year by year the fewer people are imprisoned. At the same time, the number of political prisoners remains approximately stable. Together with people who are persecuted for their religious beliefs, this is about 200 persons. This number remains unchangeable for several years.
The fifteenth feature: all law enforcement structures are not subjected to the civil society at all. This is absolutely obvious, and the creation of “Rosgvardìya” proves this additionally.
The sixteenth feature: civil society is dependent on the State, although its activity is permitted. Russia created a unique system of monitoring: the Presidential Grants Foundation, which annually distributes 9 billion rubles.
At the same time, activities of foreign foundations is banned. Actually all of them are.
The seventeenth feature: national minorities’ rights are limited. Vivid recent confirmation of this is the exclusion from legislature provisions regarding compulsory learning of titular languages in the Russian Federation entities, where they have public status.
So, according to the most of above mentioned features Russian regime is authoritarian. At the same time, I’d stress that for several consecutive years simulation has become the main instrument of control in the hands of this regime.
Developments in the world which people are given by TV is fundamentally different from reality. But according to the results of the voting, most of Russians favor TV “pictures”.
Let’s speak about the regime’s dynamics. If you take quantitative indicators, 12 out of 17 of them tends in the direction of tightening. That is, this regime moves somewhere from authoritarian type. The question is: where? Not to the standard totalitarian regime, which is left in the past everywhere. And not because dictators become kinder. Just the socio-technological environment has changed.
So, now we are talking about neo-totalitarianism, which is characteristic of the appropriate features.
Neo-totalitarianism rests on:
1. True endorsement by the majority of citizens. People really vote for their leader, and this voting is provided by propaganda. The following is a well-known political joke: if 80 % of the success of a totalitarian regime depends on repressions and 20 % on propaganda, then for neo totalitarian regimes the ratio is opposite: 20 % – repressions and 80 % – propaganda. And it works, given the second feature of neo-totalitarianism.
2. Active use of digital technologies. Any person in modern society leaves a lot of electronic “traces” and thus becomes significantly more vulnerable and controllable.
3. Stimulation of migration is an interesting peculiarity of the neo totalitarian regime, unlike the banal totalitarianism. It was difficult to escape from behind the iron curtain in Soviet times. Neo totalitarian regimes, on the contrary, “squeeze” elite out. This leads to its degradation. As a result, groups of incumbent leader’s supporters, friends, relatives, etc. represent remains of the elite.
The answer to the first question: where does Russian regime drifting? – to neo-totalitarianism.
What does it mean?
In the long run neo-totalitarianism inevitably, with 100% probability, leads to the economic and social degradation, to the degradation of the public institutions.
Headed by Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe is a vivid example. That’s exactly Zimbabwe which can be taken as a model of modern neo-totalitarianism and be watched at for what will happen in Russia following Zimbabwe.
It should be taken into account that such regimes are sustainable in the short and medium perspective. That is, for a period of up to 5 years it will certainly survive. Its nearest point of bifurcation is a complicated problem of transferring power in 2024.
The second question and appropriate answer. Will Russia fall apart soon? – No, it will not fall apart. Neo totalitarian regimes, as it has been noted already, are sustainable in the medium term. That is, until 2024 it will not fall apart, I am absolutely convinced.
I have explored separatism for quite a long time. My first scientific article on the matter was published in 2001. Before and after that I attached much of my attention to separatism in its various manifestations. And that is why I can confidently affirm: for Russia, only the weakness of the State can be the factor of the effectiveness of separatism. No matter how you call it: imperial, Soviet, federal, etc. That means: if the center is strong, then the latent separatist tendencies which are present continuously, cannot be realized. They will not be implemented until a disastrous weakening of the federal center.
The third fundamental question and appropriate answer: is Putin’s regime a fascist one? – Certainly not, it cannot be considered fascist one. The question itself (whether it is fascist) has no sense from the scientific analysis point of view. Why? Because there are as many definitions of modern fascism as authors who write about it.
In scientific articles in English, modern fascism is a kind of palingenetic ultra nationalism. That is, palingenetic does not mean a conservative ideology, it does not call for the revival of the nation. It calls for a new nation. We remember: the new Arian identity promoted by Hitler, a new type of human being – “the Soviet people” in the Soviet Union… But Putin’s regime is extremely conservative. In this sense, it confronts the modern fascism. To be more correct, does not coincide with it.
Therefore, we should put together these three conclusions in a very short judgement: we have to be ready for 2024 problem.
The period of preparation for the transfer of power and transfer by itself under the Putin regime circumstances is the period of the exceptional vulnerability of this regime.