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Russia’s “Managed Democracy”

I really can't think of anyone I'd rather read on the post-millennial White tsar and the new Russia than Perry Anderson. Reach for the dictionary all you want on terms like Gleichschaltung (Nazi Germany's version of "synergy": how great is … Read More

By / January 19, 2007

I really can't think of anyone I'd rather read on the post-millennial White tsar and the new Russia than Perry Anderson. Reach for the dictionary all you want on terms like Gleichschaltung (Nazi Germany's version of "synergy": how great is that?) — there's no arguing that the Marxist UCLA historian has got one of the most lapidary styles now gracing the people's republic of letters. His latest book Spectrum — one essay on Hayek, Schmitt, Strauss and Oakeshott (Andrew Sullivan's got nothing on Perry here) — is a triumph of academic scholarship doubling as real literature. Anderson also wrote what is, for my money, the ablest deconstruction from the left of both sides of the war debate leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Here is a precis of a Russian intellectual's systematic view of post-Soviet Russia, which I'm quoting not because it's the finest paragraph but because it's the gist of this London Review of Books piece:

The country is a ‘managed democracy’: that is, one where elections are held, but the results are known in advance; courts hear cases, but give decisions that coincide with the interests of the authorities; the press is plural, yet with few exceptions dependent on the government. This is, in effect, a system of ‘uncontested power’, increasingly similar to the Soviet state, but without any ideological foundation, which is evolving through a set of stages that parallel those of Russian Communism. The first phase sees the heroic destruction of the old order, a time of Sturm und Drang – Lenin and Yeltsin. The second is a time of consolidation, with the construction of a new, more stable order – Stalin and Putin. The leader of the second phase always enjoys much broader popular support than the leader of the first, because he unites the survivors of the original revolution, still attached to its values, and the anti-revolutionaries, who detested the anarchic atmosphere and the radical changes it brought. Thus Putin today continues Yeltsin’s privatisations and market reforms, but creates order rather than chaos. The successor to Putin in the third stage – comparable to Khrushchev – is unlikely to be as popular as Putin, because the regime, like its predecessors, is already becoming more isolated from the masses. Putin’s high ratings in the polls are entirely a function of his occupancy of the presidency: the rulers of Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan – Nazarbaev or Aliev – can match them, because their systems are so similar.

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