Saturday, December 22, 2018

Contradiction of Authoritarian ‘Content’ with Democratic ‘Form’ Behind Crisis in Putin System, Furman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Yezhednevny zhurnal has taken the unusual step of reprinting an excerpt from Dmitry Furman’s 2010 book on the Russian political system which argued that “the imitation democratic system” of the Putin era suffers from a fundamental “contradiction between its authoritarian “content” and its democratic ‘form.’”

            Furman further argues that developments in the regime and developments in society not only increasingly put the two at odds but make it unlikely that Russia will be able to make the transition to a truly democratic system in a relatively non-violent way. Instead, he says in this excerpt, chaos is likely to follow Putin’s departure before ushering in something new.

            For the full text of Furman’s important book, see What follows is based on the excerpt the Moscow newspaper has just published (

            The imitative-democratic system in Russia suffers from the presence of “deep contradictions which with the passing of time will intensify na dlead to a crisis of the system and its destruction. Above all,” Furman writes, “this is the contradiction between its authoritarian ‘content’ and its democratic ‘form.’”

                The logic of such systems leads to the transformation of elections into a ritual that eventually deprives the regime of the only source of legitimacy and feedback, and those developments in turn lead to collapse. When a president’s standing is high, this can be hidden, he continues, but when it falls, it can’t be and the system’s fundamental problem become obvious.

            That is all the more so, Furman continues, because the powers that be constantly seek ever greater approval. If 60 percent is good, 70 percent is better, they believe. But the consequence of that pursuit is outright falsification that can’t be hidden and that undermines the system as such.

            This is compouned by the fact that “if the evolution of the system makes elections ever more fictional, the evolution of society leads to a situaiton in which its ability to see their fictional nature grows.” And that means the problems of fictional democracy stand revealed far sooner than anyone expects.

            The powers that be may seek to respond by intensifying their control over society; but that leads to another problem, Furman says, the atrophying of the feed back loop. As a result, those in power lose touch with what is going on and, coming to believe their own propaganda, make more and more obvioius mistakes.

            An additional factor promoting the decay of such systems, he argues, is the bureaucratization of social mobility, something that leads to the rise of ever more “faceless people” who cannot cope politically. That happened at the end of Soviet times; it is happening even more rapidly under Putin because the latter lacks any motivating ideology.

            Because of that, the system focuses exclusively on maintaining itself via securing the loyalty of those in the power pyramid below the top. And to that end, it promotes the idea that the current system and its current leader is the only possible one: there is no “alternative” to either.

            Unfortunately for this sytem, “the organism ‘ages’ and becomes ever more rickety and ever less capable of resisting. Seeing this process,” Furman says, “we can predict a crisis in the future with 100 percent confidence … but to predict the forms of this crisis and the time of its onset is impossible,” given the very large number of factors potentially involved.

            Nonetheless, certain things can be said about the future. “The most desirable variant of development would naturally be ‘a revolution from above’ that would consciously dismantle the system and conduct a planned tranasition to democracy something like Gorbachev attempted to do in the USSR.”

            But for several reasons, the prospects of this are far less real than they were at the end of Soviet times.  Paradoxically, while the transition from imitation democracy to real democracy is simpler than that from communism to democracy, it is far more difficult because it is simpler and because it requires those in power to promote those who will replace them.

            This contradicts human nature, Furman says.

            A second way forward of the “soft” kind would be the result of a divided elite.  That almost happened in 1999 in Russia, and “something similar culd theoretically be repeated,” although given the controls now in place, it is far less likely than it was two decades ago, Furman suggests.

            And third “soft” way would be as a result of a “color” revolution, but both the powers that be and the population are so afraid of this that it seems unlikely that either would allow it to develop before drowning it in blood, something that would preclude the transitions that color revolutions have made elsewhere.

            Because of Russia’s situation and its cultural dispositions, Furman says, none of these “soft” and “organized” paths forward seem likely.  But that doesn’t mean there won’t be change, only that “the inevitable crisis will take more unexpected, spontaneous and disorganized forms” than anyone expects.

            And fear of that will lead to efforts to maintain stability even though those efforts in and of themselves ensure that the transition away from imitation democracy will be far harder and more chaotic than would otherwise be the case, a reality that Russians should have learned from their own history.

            “For stability of the Russian autocracy n the 19th century, which sharply contrasted with the stormy history of Western Europe, the country had to pay with the catastrophe of 1917. For the stagnation stability of the late Soviet period, with the catastrophe of 1991. And it is very probable,” Furman concludes, “that for the stability of the Putin period, we wil have to pay with a new period of chaos and collapse in the future.”

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