Staunton, June 19 – A century ago, the Italian social theorist Vilfredo Pareto argued that there are two kinds of ruling elites: “the lions,” who base their power on the use of force, and “the foxes,” who build authority by manipulating public opinion. That insight, Igor Eidman says, explains Russian politics in recent years more than the personalities of Moscow leaders.
In an essay on the Kasparov.ru portal, the Moscow commentator argues that the roots of Russia’s problems with its government are “much deeper” than either the personality of Vladimir Putin or even of Boris Yeltsin. Instead, they are the product of “objective social processes which have been taking pace in the country” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5766814D98F64).
These processes have brought to the fore the two groups of people that Paretto described, although Eidman says that out of deference for the nobility of the lion and in reaction to the nature of Russia’s siloviki, he prefers to label that branch “wolves” rather than lions who have been interacting with the “foxes.”
If one considers the relationship of these two groups, he says, one can gain “a short course of the establishment of Putinism” and have a far better grasp of what is going on and what is likely to go on than by the largely biographic approach most analysts have brought to bear on the Russian regime.
“In the course of the struggle for resources and political influence, sometimes ‘the foxes’ force ‘the wolves’ to work for them and sometimes ‘the wolves put ‘the foxes’ under their control,” Eidman says. But “the basic strategic goal of both the one and the other is the same: maintaining power and property against the pretentions of the rest of the population.”
The Moscow commentator begins his “short course” in 1993 when he says the clash between Boris Yeltsin and the old parliament made “the wolves” “irreplaceable” because they stood behind him against the Supreme Soviet and then led him into the failed adventure in Chechnya.
By 1996, however, he continues, “’the foxes’ had gotten the upper hand.” “The wolves” wanted to solve the Yeltsin re-election plan by banning the communist party or putting off the vote. But they failed, and “the foxes” with Chubais at the head successfully got Yeltsin to reject the use of force and then sideline Korzhakov.
Two years later, Eidman continues, “the wolves” tried to take their revenge at the time of default, but “the foxes” were sufficiently entrenched in the presidential election that they were able to parry that effort successfully.
In 1999-2000, there was a temporary alliance of the two groups and it was that which brought Vladimir Putin to power, someone who had a background in the “wolf” security services but who had worked with the “fox” politicians in St. Petersburg. That appeared to resolve the conflict, but it certainly did not end it.
In 2004, after Beslan, “the wolves” again subordinated “the foxes” to themselves, redirecting financial flows and control of property and putting off gubernatorial elections. Putin tried to present himself as above this fray but in fact he was deeply implicated in it because of his roots in both camps.
In 2011, the next big crisis year, “the foxes” again assumed prominence but the problems their success in that regard caused had the effect of giving “the wolves” a new opening. And in 2014, with the invasion of Ukraine, “the power of ‘the wolves’ became absolute” not only domestically but internationally.
However, the difficulties Russia found itself in as a result of the collapse of oil prices and sanctions meant that could not last. And now, it is possible, Eidman argues, that “the pries will lead to a new compromise between ‘the wolves’ and ‘the foxes’” in order to escape international isolation and domestic decay.
Eidman adds a postscript saying that he expects to be criticized for being overly schematic, but he notes that his goal was not to provide “a full picture” of events in Russian politics but rather a matrix for organizing what is by its nature the complex flow of events. That he has clearly and usefully done.