Friday, October 5, 2018

To Hold onto Power, ‘Russian Elite Moving Toward Collective Leadership,’ Auzan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 5 – In order to hold onto power “the last breath,” Aleksandr Auzan says, “the Russia elite is moving toward the principles of collective leadership,” toward a kind of “Politburo 2.0,” and for many of the same reasons that the Soviet leadership moved in that direction after the death of Stalin.

            Speaking to the Yeltsin Center, the dean of the economics faculty of Moscow State University says this arises from the fact that members of the Russian elite do have long-term interests but “very much fear” they will ousted from the elite and so, because even personal ties won’t prevent that, constantly focus on the short-term issues alone (

                “We live in conditions when independent courts do not work and where there are no conventions,” the economist says. “This means that one must hold onto power to the last breath or lose one’s property and perhaps also one’s freedom. This is a problem which is resolvable only by lengthy institutional problems.”

            The countries which have done the best economically and politically are those whose elites have a long-time horizon. In the US, there are 50-year plans, and in Saudi Arabia, 30-year ones.  At least 20 years seems to be required, Auzan says, far longer than the one Russian elites now have.

            If Russian elites continue to have such a short time horizon, he argues, one that may be no longer than the presidential term, “then there will not be investments in healthcare and education because human capital produces a result only beyond ten years. In the course of five or six years, one can be involved only in construction, purchases of equipment and other things, which do not have a direct relationship to the development of education and health care.”

            For Russian elites to think longer term, Auzan continues, they must believe that they will remain in the elite for a lengthy period. And the most immediate challenge in that regard is “the restoration of collective control over the instruments of force. Its absence gives poor results not only within he country but outside” because of the uncertainties the lack of it produces.

            “In the 20th century,” he continues, “we had such control. After the death of Stalin, elites understood that they must never allow the application of the NKVD and MGB against themselves and the army; and collective control was retained through the entire period until the end of the USSR.”

                According to Auzan, institutions like the Duma and Federation Council can contribute little to the changes that are needed. That is the lesson of the period between 1954 and 1991. Then this control was exercised by the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee which limited the general secretary, the special services and the Armed Forces.”

            Today, there is no party that could produce such an organ. But there is an alternative: “It is necessary to transform, broaden and strengthen the Security Council. He must not be simply an advisory body: It must become a collective organ for the taking of decisions and holding officials to account.”

            If this “Politburo 2.0” were to be created, Auzan continues, “then all would understand that this or that personnel shifts would not create the threat of the overthrow of the state and civil war because there would be collective control over the instruments of force.” Moving in that direction won’t be easy or quick, but it is what the elites and the country require.

            And the reason is simple. On the other hand, any revolutionary change will only deepen and compound the current problems. And on the other, a move to such a system will allow people to take a longer view because “people are divided not by their views on this or that issue but by the length of their focus.

                “For example,” Auzan says by way of conclusion, “if a liberal, a socialist and a nationalist divide up an annual budget, they will curse each other to the death; but if they talk about development over a decade of what needs to be invested in this, this and this, then, it may happen that they will agree” and the country will benefit.

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