Staunton, Sept. 24 – The Russian elite does not have an explicit ideology but it does have a shared set of beliefs that guide its actions, an ideology that has “grown out of political practice rather than from any philosophy,” Pavel Luzin says. But that does not make it any less influential. Indeed, it may mean that it is even more profoundly held.
The Russian elite recognizes that the system over which it rules “lacks the revolutionary, military or national-liberation legitimation” that other authoritarian systems have, the Russian analyst argues. As a result, what legitimacy it has is based on authoritarian modernization and paradoxically elections (ridl.io/ru/missija-po-ispravleniju-oshibok/).
In fact, Luzin says, for the Rusisan elite, “due to the lack of other sources of legitimation, elections are much more important for the Russian authorities than they are for other similar systems,” even though while using them to mobilize people, the elite has actively opposed “any mass grassroots participation in the political life of the country.”
Many explain this by reference to the personal experiences of Vladimir Putin who saw his career blocked by radical participation, but in fact, Luzin suggests, “the stripping of political agency from Russian society and the opposing of any revival of political agency is better explained by a functional analysis.”
It represents “a kind of ‘non-aggression treaty’ within the Russian elite” that minimizes the risks for its members under conditions of “a shortage of resources for a competitive political struggle” and low levels of trust within the various groups in the elite and between its members and society as a whole.
In many respects, Luzin says, “Russian authoritarianism now is a continuation of the consensus which emerged in the Soviet era after 1953 and was finally institutionalized in 1964,” which had as its “underlying motive” avoiding a repetition of Stalinism and also the stirring up of “an uncomfortable past.”
According to the analyst, “the denial of political agency to Russian society in support of ‘a non-aggression treaty’ within the elite is completely in line with the Kremlin’s ‘counter-revolutionary’ policy.” But it does not mean the elite doesn’t need or want feedback: it simply wants it on its own terms via surveys rather than via unregulated elections.
According to Luzin, “the ideology of the Russian political class also has an economic dimension, one intended to set the Russian economic system apart from capitalism.” Instead, what it involves is “a peculiar ‘socialist consensus’” in which, as in perestroika and NEP, society has more freedom of action but the state remains responsible for overall well-being.
This anti-capitalist approach doesn’t reflect any return to Marxism-Leninism but rather a reaffirmation of political practice over the last 30 years, one in which growth and entrepreneurialism are “sacrificed for the sake of the stability of the political power system” and greater predictability for the elite is maintained.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, the elite’s practical ideology is “fairly obvious.” On the one hand, it wants Russia to remain a superpower but without new burdens on itself. And on the other, it wants to ensure that the former Soviet space can serve Moscow in a completely neo-colonial way.
“The Russian elite,” Luzin says, “seeks to retain its exclusive sphere of influence in the post-Soviet countries via the Eurasian Economic Union backed up by a system of military bases. This commodity-monetary approach helps maintain Russia’s high status and provides it with a guaranteed market for its companies as well as relatively cheap labor and food.”
Because that is so, he continues, it has “learned its lesson” that “uncontrolled socio-economic and political processes in the former Soviet republics pose threats to order within Russia itself.” Moscow is committed that no post-Soviet state should “serve as an example of an alternative and successful state structure.”
In brief, Luzin says, the mission of the Russian political elite now is to build on the past but to “’correct historical mistakes’” made by the Soviets. To that end, “the contemporary Russia elite is seeking to achieve several goals.” It wants to keep its citizens submissive, it wants to promote modernization, and it wants to “set rules for the post-Soviet space beneficial to them.”