Stable Authoritarianism

From time to time, La Russophobe forwards us links to what they are publishing.  This posting on subnational authoritarianism in particular is quite interesting.  Writing in the Russian Analytical Digest, Vladimir Gelman argues that the processes of political recentralization of the regions initiated in the Putin era has a certain character which is more similar to that of Southern Italy  (1950s to 1980s) and PRI-era Mexico (an argument we have heard before) than it is to the authoritarian bureaucracies of Central Asia.  In this bargaining system of loyalty rewarded by non-intervention (which goes miles in explaining how the Kremlin can’t seem to stop murders in Chechnya), Gelman argues that we aren’t likely to see any pluralistic opening up of these structures locally without the total collapse of the national party structure.  Bummer.  As it has been pointed out before, there are many self-perpetuating qualities to the Russian political model which stand in the way of reform.

The Center, as in the Soviet period, seeks to minimize the loss of its control over the local elites, rushing to redistribute rents among the local lobby groups and selectively repress those who fall under the dispensation of mid level bureaucrats. Therefore again, as in Soviet times, there is a spontaneous transfer of powers and resources from the Center to local leaders (especially in the republics) within the framework of an informal contract exchanging loyalty for non-interference.

The Russian subnational authoritarianism of the 2000s completed aU-turn from the decentralized to centralized party model according tothe scheme “back in the USSR.” In contrast to the decentralizedsubnational authoritarianism, which was a temporary and transitionalphenomenon in the process of state and institution building,centralized subnational authoritarianism is much more stable. Itsframework is based, first of all, on a concentration of the coerciveand distributional capacities of the state in the hands of the rulinggroup in the Center, which is able to block efforts to undermine thestatus quo at the local level from above, and, second, the lack ofinfluential actors capable of carrying out such an undermining frombelow.

From this point of view, centralized subnational party authoritarianismcan be stable. The experience of such regimes from southern Italy toMexico shows that their undermining is more likely as a result of thecollapse of the national regime and/or the party system, than under theinfluence of their internal evolution at the local level. Therefore onecan predict that in the short-term there is little reason to expectthat subnational authoritarianism in Russia will significantly weakenor fall of its own accord. In fact, even the possible potentialliberalization and democratization of the regime at the national leveldoes not guarantee the undermining of the local regimes. In addition tothe historical legacy of the Soviet (and pre-Soviet) period, theformation of a new institutional legacy in the 1990s and especially inthe 2000s hinders the undermining of subnational authoritarianism inRussia.