Does Russia Need Political Opposition? Part 2


August 17, 2015


Original: Fritz Morgen

Translated for Fort Russ by Soviet Bear

Click here for Part 1

What is the advantage of modern Russia?

The fact that our president has two very strong sources of power. The first is unconditional trust of the people, who, thanks to the aggression of the West, support the president’s policies almost entirely. Second – fifteen years of being in power, during which Vladimir Putin has built a strong vertical of power, and raised his political weight to a very serious level.

In the beginning of the 2000s many people were ready to challenge the power of our president, suggesting that he is weak. Now – after subduing the oligarchs in the 2000s, after winning outright confrontation with the pro-Western protests of the 2010s, after two presidential terms, and a prime minister term nobody is willing to overtly oppose Putin.

Well, of course, there are some individuals who keep trying. Russia is huge and there are plenty of those who are licking their lips on our abundant resources, both inside and outside Russia. But now it is way harder for the revolutionaries to recruit new followers under their banners than 10 years ago – as very few people believe in the possible success of the rebellion.

Concluding the digression, I will note that the longer the ruler is in power, the stronger his authority is. That is why our American friends and partners do not have anything against Angela Merkel’s fourth term, but have extremely negative attitude to the third term of Vladimir Putin – Angela Merkel is “their woman”, there is no need to replace her. But when it comes to Vladimir Putin – the Americans would prefer to see someone more docile in his place.

Let us return to the two advantages of our president, I have outlined a few paragraphs above – the unconditional support of the people and the eventful fifteen years of being in power. Is this enough to make decisions without regard to the powerful elites?

Not at all. I estimate the influence of our president in the 30% of the total amount of the central power in the country. 20% – mandate from the people. 10% – Putin’s personal power. The remaining 70% are all sorts of industrial, financial and other elites.

However, 30% of the power resource is more than enough to run the state – as the remaining 70% are highly fragmented and each one of them is pulling the blanket to their side. 

While our president is acting in the interests of Russia and as long as he does not block anyone’s oxygen, the elites do not interfere with the president’s strategic decisions and that moves the country in the right direction.

Once again, our elites have different views about the future of Russia. A quote from Crimson Alter (another great Russian blogger and analyst – S.B):

In Russia there are four large political groups, which I prefer to describe a little bit cynically by the combination of their official ideology and its actual implementation:

1. The Liberal compradors

The declared vision of the future: “Russia integrated into Western civilization.”

In fact: Russia integrated into the Western civilization as a raw material colony of the United States and the European Union

2. The New Conservatives

The declared vision of the future: “Russian Empire 2.0.”

In fact: “The Orthodox Iran” (meaning – the real Iran, with its pros and cons, not the caricature portrait of Iran from the Western media).

3. The New Liberals

The declared vision of the future: the country of winning “patriotic capitalism”.

In fact:  The year of 2007 as a “Groundhog Day” – the endless attempts to reproduce the stability of the 2000s by modifying the existing system.

4. The Red Patriots

The declared vision of the future: “USSR 2.0.”

In fact: China of the 2000s (again, the real China of the 2000s, with rapid economic growth, a huge role of the state in the economy, but with the return of a specific social stratification)

We can agree with the classification, proposed by Crimson Alter, or disagree, but it is obvious that different political groups will lead Russia in different directions. If tomorrow one of these groups, wins the fight against the others, the president’s power will be weakened severely. The President will cease to be a game referee, who is “above the fray” and manages the process, and he will be just one of the players.

If we recall that our mandate of trust is exactly in the President’s hands – not in one of the power groups – it becomes clear that the suppression of unpopular groups of the elites is not in our interests. It is a somewhat paradoxical conclusion, but if you think the situation over a little bit, I think you will agree with me. The steering wheel in the hands of Vladimir Vladimirovich is much better than it is in the hands of influential people for whom we did not vote, who only are accountable to the members of their party or clan but not to us.

Let’s talk about mass repressions a little bit. It’s no secret that the government consists of a huge number of people with very questionable talent whose behavior is quite appauling – causing discontent of the respectable public.

It would seem – we should lay them off, jail them, seize their property … but it’s not that simple. Each influential figure in power is a member of some influential group. And at the moment if we send an unfavorable person to prison for no good reason, we rapidly deteriorate our relationship with this group.

If someone is caught by the hand, if there is evidence proving his or her guilt – Ok.  After a trial process, the person goes to prison. Here everything is clear, there is no objection.
But the problem is that although influential people often act quite silly, they still try to protect themselves as much as possible without signing any documents personally, which could compromise them in the future. Moreover, they have the ability to hire the best lawyers in Russia.

Now put yourself in the place of the President. There is a government official who is accused of some crime, and who is required to be punished by the media which belongs to some clan. So there is a trial where there is not enough evidence to jail him as the man had enough brains not to sign anything compromising himself and hired a very good lawyer.
Let me remind you that even the legendary gangster Al Capone, whose guilt was obvious to everyone, could avoid prison for a long time, only later he got charged with tax evasion – which, of course, was not the most horrible of his crimes. Modern corrupt US officials are now much smarter, it is virtually impossible to put them behind bars.

Domestic corrupt officials are not stupider than their American counterparts.  So should our President pressure the court and require a public flogging of a man, who is suspected of something unfavorable?

Let’s start with the fact that such pressure would violate the law. Again, it is not so simple to catch the corrupt official by the hand: they usually are not fools and know very well what they are doing.

Let’s imagine, that the President decides to play Gleb Zheglov (a main protagonist of the classic Soviet crime fiction TV miniseries “The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed”) and commands to plant a wallet with the pickpocket thief. The consequences of such a step are easy to predict. Firstly, the media will start to shout in unison about judicial lawlessness: and they have ground for it, as you can find flaws in any, even the most honest in trial in the world.

Second, the elites perceive this action as a declaration of war and will take some countermeasures. If the President starts a series of unjust repressions – a riot may occur. In the current political situation, this rebellion will result in a massive shift of the sympathies of the elites towards the United States and the subsequent organization of Maidan on Red Square.

Perhaps this Maidan could be suppressed by a series of very brutal repressions… although it will not make things better.

Even now, in a very quiet and stable times by historical standards, our prisons are full of innocent people, who accidentally got under the flywheel of justice. In the thirties, there were more of those. And not because Stalin was a bloody tyrant, but because repression is a weapon of mass destruction. Because it’s hard for the wheels of justice to tell the real criminals from innocent citizens if they are tried en masse. 

 Please note: I don’t in any way mean that it is necessary to tolerate corruption. Not at all. Corruption is not only unjust by its nature, but very dangerous for the state. Corruption must be fought! However, the fight against corruption should be systematic. Not to plant evidence against those suspected of theft, but to install video cameras in the trams.

Anticipating the obvious question – work to improve the anti-corruption legislation is under way, and very active.

Perhaps this description of the political system of modern states can be regarded as a roughly finished. Note that if you look at the US government or the Chinese government, you will find exactly the same thing there – a writhing ball of elite groups, which has very little in common with the glossy “democracy”, which is represented on the leaflets of the opposition parties.

Now we are ready to answer the question from the beginning of the article – “do we need the opposition”.

It is easy to see that all the power sources in our scheme are divided into three segments: the actual power, the moderate opposition and the radical opposition.

With regard to the Russian reality – the President and his closest associates are the actual power. The President now has full mandate of the people and thus is an example of truly democratic ruler so rare in today’s world.

Moderate opposition – this is a different kind of power groups that pursue their own interests, but who agree to submit to the central government, as long as it is strong enough to maintain order.

Radical opposition – a power group that have irreconcilable differences with the central government, and who believe that the current system can’t provide for their interests.

Moderate opposition is useful to the state since it makes it more stable. The presence of such opposition insures the country against excessive centralization and allows to ensure more or less smooth continuity in the transition from one ruler to another. In states in which all power is in the hands of one person or one clan crisis periods often end in a disaster.

The presence of a radical, uncompromising opposition is a symptom of a certain disease. The advent of such opposition means that some groups do not see a place for themselves in the country, as the government does not want or cannot take their interests into account.

Radical opposition is obviously dangerous for the state. If it represents some internal groups, the government should find a compromise that will enable these groups to survive somehow in the framework of the state. As Sergei Witte said to Alexander III, «if you cannot drown the Jews in the Black Sea, you have to give them equal rights with other citizens.”

If radical opposition represents the interests of outside groups or the opposition is funded by other states we should take a look at the geopolitical map of the world. The sovereign states must cut off the tentacles stretching from other countries that could affect their policy from within. For the weak and dependent countries, on the contrary, it is necessary to negotiate with more powerful nations, so those keep their controlled opposition on a leash.

As to what exactly should the good opposition do – to offer alternative bills or to hold rallies – this is, in my opinion, the least important issue.  After all, as Francis Bacon said back in the XVI century, “no matter how many types of state systems there are, for science there is only one – as it has always been and will always be a free state.”

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