Sultanistic Corporatism

Leon Aron has a very interesting new piece over at We thought it was about time that somebody dusted off Max Weber’s views on authoritarian political models for application to today’s Russia. putinassultan111408.jpg

In addition to the characteristics of classic authoritarianism, Putinism has a number of other distinct features that bear a remarkable similarity to common components of fascism. Under Putin, the government became one of personal power, popularity, and legitimacy. Renewed senses of nationalism and nostalgia have also sprung up under Putinism: the Soviet Union is constantly glorified, external (Western) enemies lurk everywhere, and reclaiming the assets lost with the fall of the Soviet Union, such as Georgia and Ukraine, is a priority. Medvedev has closely followed the line of Putinism and seems to see the same enemies around every corner as Putin.

Perhaps an even stronger legacy of Putinism is the sultanistic corporatism built on the foundation of his authoritarianism. Slightly over two years ago, Andrei Illarionov, who had just resigned as Putin’s personal economic adviser, noted that Russia was constructing the “corporatist” state model, with cabinet members or key presidential aides chairing or serving on corporate boards. Illarionov’s use of “corporatism” deviates from the classic meaning of “collaboration” in search of “class peace,” when the state (as in Benito Mussolini’s Italy) mediates between the key institutional economic actors, especially the main industrialists and trade unions.Yet Putinism does correspond to a broader definition of corporatism, defined by political scientist Richard Weiner as “the institutionalized tendency of recognizing vital [economic] groups and bringing them into a privileged stable relationship of ‘collaboration’ in a particular policy area.” In the Russian case, this means an activist state that, while refraining from across-the-board renationalization, has regained majority ownership or complete control (through the so-called state corporations or goskorporatsii) over most technologically advanced or profitable sectors of the economy. These are what the Chinese functionaries, whose record of authoritarianism and modernization the Kremlin seems to admire, designate “pillar” or “lifeblood” industries.The result is what scholar Nicolas Gvosdev has called “Kremlin, Inc.” As the Carnegie Endowment’s Dmitri Trenin puts it: “Russia is ruled by people who largely own it.”Max Weber called authoritarian regimes distinguished by patronage, nepotism, and cronyism “sultanistic.” This label captures the tendency for Putin’s friends, former colleagues, or aides to control most of the “state corporations” and ostensibly private companies majority-owned by the state. According to a Russian business daily, in the beginning of this year, “political and personal allies” of the president headed the boards of companies that together accounted for 40 percent of Russia’s economy.