Her comments were devoted exclusively to the situation in Venezuela, but it is certain that her listeners drew certain conclusions about Russia and especially about what can happen there if the opposition wins elections, the charismatic leader dies or passes from the scene, and a single opposition figure emerges.
Venezuela is an obvious case of “a specific type of regime,” Schulmann began. It can be called “a hybrid regime” or alternatively “an electoral autocracy or competitive authoritarianism.” At present, it is “one of the most ineffective regimes in the world.” It is thus interesting to see whether it will be able to avoid complete collapse.
According to the Moscow scholar, “the Venezuelan regime uses revolutionary-charismatic legitimation,” thus putting itself outside of the usual Weberian trinity of traditional, charismatic or rational legal legitimation. It thus rests on a charismatic leader and the distribution of resources from rich to poor.
Until recently, elections in Venezuela were sufficiently honest that the opposition agreed to take part in them. The powers could agree to that arrangement because it had significant electoral support. But that began to collapse when oil prices did and when the founder of the regime, Ugo Chavez, passed from the scene.
Without a charismatic leader and with ever fewer resources, the regime has been forced to shift from feeding the poor (its base) to feeding the security services (its last line of defense), Schulmann continued. It desperately needs resources and has sought them in China which has given up on the regime and in Russia, which hasn’t, because if the current regime falls, it will pump more oil to get more money and thus send the price of oil down further.
She argued that one of the chief factors explaining why a regime like Venezuela’s has the ability to survive as long as it has is the existence of open borders. “In contrast to totalitarian regimes, which limit exit, hybrid regimes encourage it. The opposition leaves, and those on whom the regime can count remain.”
A further source of strength of the Venezuela powers that be, Schulmann says, is the link between the regime and drug trafficking networks.
Given all this, she said, what could bring down such a regime? Elections in which the regime won less than 50 percent of the vote but sought to cling to power, cutbacks in aid from abroad, increasing evidence of incompetent governance, the appearance of a single opposition leader, and the incautious use of repression.
However, the Moscow scholar suggested, “a really serious shock to the stability of the regime” could come “only from “direct military aggression.” That seems unlikely. “We live in the most peaceful time,” something that is in contrast to the past and good in and of itself,” she said.
But the flipside of this coin is that “such hybrid, authoritarian and ineffective regimes survive a long time since a revolution will hardly occur. No one is running to the barricades.” The regime in Venezuela will fall “quickly;” but “this ‘quickly’ may draw out for a long time.”