Sunday, December 31, 2017

Post-1991 Russia Ended Soviet-Style Horizontal Coordination Without Putting Anything in Its Place, Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Coordination among institutions at all levels is “the most important condition for the normal work of bureaucrats” but “in contemporary Russia, things in this regard are in worse shape than they were in the USSR,” according to Kirill Titayev and Darya Dimke.

            The two scholars from St. Petersburg’s European University say that explains why things like the construction of a playground with no toilets nearby or the opening of a park a kilometer from the nearest bus stop now happen: there is no basis for coordination among the various groups responsible (

            “The Soviet system of state administration had many minuses,” they write, but “it had its own internal logic” and that logic was not as “authoritarian and vertical as it is typically presented today.” On the one hand, every institution was subordinate within a pyramid; but on the other, two institutions – the soviets and the party structures – allowed them to coordinate.

            Had those coordinating bodies not existed, “the system simply could not have worked at all.” It would have collapsed. But the soviets and the party committees in which all the key institutions were represented allowed the groups to talk to each other, something made even more necessary and possible by the multiple subordinations of many primary institutions.

            “The reforms of the 1990s expelled from this system all the mechanisms of horizontal coordination,” the two scholars say. And as a result, “the new society which the reformers built inherited the vertical nature of its predecessor but destroyed practically all systems of horizontal coordination.”

            That means that “we live not in the Soviet Union but in an administrative reality which would have seemed a nightmare to any Soviet bureaucracy because it lacks practically all of the local mechanisms of coordination.” As a result,” we see playgrounds in cities beyond the Arctic circle and police struggles against drunkenness in Muslim regions with traditionally low levels of alcohol consumption.

            “Having destroyed ‘the diktat of party organs,’ the reforms did not think up any mechanisms of horizontal coordination which could take the place of those which had been destroyed. In the economy, this problem was more of less solved by means of privatization.” But in state administration, a huge whole has been left unfilled.

            If local governments were stronger and controlled more of their own resources, this might not have mattered as much as it does; But there are few cities which earn enough to pay their own pay; and to get money from Moscow, they have to cede control to the center without any chance at coordination.

            Consequently, the two write, “for any successful reforms, the creation of mechanisms of horizontal coordination and the weakening of vertical pressure are vitally necessary. Otherwise w will remain living in a worsened version of the Soviet Union.”

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