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2 Mapping the Russian political landscape: Left, Right, and Center
Originally, the political terms of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ described actual physical placement; in the French estates general of 1789, the commoners sat to the left of the king, while the nobles were in the position of honor to his right. 5McLean, Iain (ed.): Oxford Concise dictionary of politics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 280. Since then, across political systems, these terms have been attributed many of the same issue orientations: The Left has typically represented collectivism (vs. individualism); substantial (vs. lesser) state involvement in the economy; emphasis on the interests of the working class/lower social strata; solidarity (vs. egoism); internationalism (vs. nationalism); pacifism (vs. militarism).
During different phases of Russian and Soviet history, these terms have been used regularly to describe relative political placement. ‘To the right of me is the wall!’, boasted Vladimir M. Purishkevich, a deputy to the pre-Revolutionary Duma representing the extreme Right-wing, monarchist party Union of the Russian People. 6Hans Rogger: ‘Russia’, in Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber (ed.s): The European Right. A Historical Profile. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1965, p. 494. In Soviet party rhetoric, perhaps surprisingly, it was not necessarily so that ‘that more to the Left, the better’. Deviations from the dominant line could be condemned as either ‘right’ or ‘’left’, albeit not for the same reasons. The specific Soviet use of these terms originated in works by Lenin, above all his Left-wing childishness and the petty-bourgeois mentality (1918). Here, Lenin described as bourgeois those who did not support the proletarian revolution, while he described as an immature Left deviation those he considered as too eager: ‘[u]ntil the world socialist revolution breaks out … it is the direct duty of the socialists who have conquered in one country (especially a backward one) not to accept battle against the giants of imperialism.’ 7‘Left-wing childishness and the petty-bourgeois mentality’. V. I. Lenin: Collected Works. Vol. 27, February-July 1918. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 327.
The highly contextual circumstances of such labels became particularly visible during perestroika. As pluralism developed in the USSR, the Western audience would see more similarities between their own political system and the Soviet one. Soon, however, it became clear that perestroika accentuated the Left-Right confusion, since a new terminology would now co-exist with the old, Leninist one. Russia had its Left and Right, economic Western style. But then there were ‘conservatives’ who were somehow more leftist than the Left, and ‘radicals’ being more liberalist than Western mainstream right-wing parties.
Terms such as ‘spectrum’, ‘continuum’, and ‘landscape’ all suggest that we are dealing with something that relates to distance. Of course, political distance is not as straight-forward to measure as the meters and kilometers of a regular measure. In Russia as in Western countries, it is common to use as the basic measure of political distance placement on a Left-Right continuum. Applied stringently, a single continuum would indicate position on one single variable. For a Left-Right continuum, this variable could be, for instance, attitude towards state intervention in the economy, or individualist vs. collectivist orientation. In real fact, however, more than that is assumed by such placement. We basically assume that attitudes come in clusters; if you hold one specific opinion, you probably hold a few other, related ones, too. What is highly significant in our context here, is that the clusters that describe the Russian political realm are quite different from the ones we are used to from the West. That bodes for misinterpretation and creates a risk for implementation of inadequate policies.
Several scholars, both Russian and Western, have gone beyond the one-dimensional spectrum when mapping the Russian political spectrum. One way this has been done is by the use of models of two crossing axes. This allows a respondent or an expert to plot a political actor according to two variables at the same time. However, unless the scholar wants to describe one particular aspect of Russian politics, or he considers that these two variables by themselves do indeed go a long way in describing Russian politics, adding only one more variable can not be the solution to all problems. The use of a series of such models, of course, would help, but it would not be possible to view all scores in one and the same model.
A more common approach to the problem of analogies has maintained the single continuum that suggests relative placement, but have identified groups of actors within the continuum that share characteristics, and made less a point of the distance between the actors. The underlying idea is precisely the one that opinions and attitudes tend to come in clusters.. The number of groups/categories may vary between such models. The extent to which the models use popular Russian terminology – for instance the term ‘national-patriots’ – is another variation. Typical such categories include Stalinists, new Left, social democrats,centrists, liberal democrats, national patriots, and extreme Right. Among the categories specifically identified as nationalists (or national patriots) in Russia, terms one may encounter include ethnocrats, imperialists, fascists, etc. 8For two different surveys that both present different Russian scholars’ systems of categories, see Carlsen, Aksel V.: ‘Partier i det post-sovjetiske Rusland – et forsøg på typologisering’. Nordisk Østforum, vol. 13, no. 4, 1999; and Godzimirski, Jakub: Russian Political Landscape, 1991-99. NUPI Center for Russian Studies database, http://www.nupi.no/forskning/
In order to establish political leaders’ and organizations’ political placement relative to each other, scholars have typically put to use one out of two different techniques. The first is expert judgements; relying on the assessment of journalists or academics who know a country well, to identify the actors in question as belonging at one point or the other. The second includes different kinds of surveys, by which respondents in the public opinion are asked to position in the actors according to their own judgement. On basis of such responses, the scholars have then calculated ‘sums’ of scores for the different actors, and in turn placed them along a linear (or two-dimensional) spectrum. Both expert judgements and plotting by surveys have weaknesses. For the former, it is a fact that ‘where you stand depends on where you sit’. To illustrate, analysts in the conservative American Heritage Foundation will tend to view the Russian political spectrum as lying more to left than, say, European liberals or Russians themselves would. Consequently, for instance, Heritage Foundation described the electoral bloc that included Anatoliy Chubais, Sergey Kirienko, Yegor Gaidar, and Boris Nemtsov (the SPS) as ‘center-right’. 9See Heritage Foundation’s Dateline Moscow 15 December 1998, and 19 July 1999.
Academic efforts to define ‘the Right’ has led to several attempts at one-factor definitions. Examples of countering everyday usage may be given for each one of them. If used as the single criterion, individualism would, for instance, put Western-style liberals to the right of fascists, since the latter tend to emphasize the collective more. As I will get back to, however, the Russian political landscape is complicated further by the fact that several of traits presumably defining the extreme Right – it has been described as anti-intellectual and prone to conspiracy thinking, and involving views centering mainly around nationalism and racism 10Roger Eatwell and Noël O'Sullivan (ed.s): The Nature of the Right. European and American Political Thought since 1789. Pinter Publishers, London, 1989, pp 62-75. – are also found on what is seen as the far Left. Attitude to change has been employed as another one-factor defining criterion of the Right. However, as radical policies abound from parties generally termed ‘’Right-wing’; this criterion seems to imply a slight confusion of ‘Rightism’ with ‘conservatism’. Conservatism is generally associated with a subject's wish to preserve its identity. The subject may be an individual, as well as a group. The Right, however, is necessarily a group of people. Furthermore, this group intends to play a direct political role. 11Ernst Nolte: ‘Germany’, in H. Rogger and E. Weber (ed.s): The European Right, op.cit. p. 261.
During the late Soviet years, the word ‘conservative’ was used to describe the more orthodox Communist opposition to Mikhail Gorbachev, to some dismay among traditional Western conservatives. Of course, the conservatism in the Soviet context was the same as it is elsewhere: the resistance to change and the wish to preserve elements of the past. The difference was only that the past in this case was 70 years of Soviet rule. Simultaneously, Gorbachev’s stepping back on reforms and re-alliance with conservative Communists has been described as a ‘turn to the Right’. 12For a discussion of this process, see Surovell, Jeffrey: ‘Gorbachev’s Last Year: Leftist of Rightist?’ Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 46, no.3, 1994. Surovell in this article uses interchangeably the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘right’, and ‘democratic’ and ‘left’. In that case, the forces that Gorbachev reluctantly embraced were described as such mostly for their authoritarian inclination, and readiness to use force to hold the Union together.
The essence of conservatism – the wish to conserve – is present both in the USSR/Russia and in the West. The difference is that the term is a relational one and cannot in the same way stand alone in Russia as it does in the West. There is no comparable category that is described simply as ‘conservatives’ in Russia (although there could be such a sub-category within, say, the KPRF). Moreover, there is really no term as frequently used to describe the opposite of conservatism in Russia. A term such as ‘progressive’ might be a candidate, but is less usable since it is closely linked to Soviet rhetoric. In post-Soviet Russia, ‘progressive’ might be used to describe any position that is not that of the more orthodox Communists. In the Soviet Union, whatever was Soviet policy would be defined as progressive, and most other policies would be ‘reactionary’.
Today, the most basic trait of the Left in Russia is a positive assessment of the Soviet era. 13One exception is the very small groups that may be described as ‘new Left’, that more resemble contemporary Left-wing parties in the West. A major dimension of the Soviet heritage is the organization of the economy. Today’s Russian left, which to a large extent is made up of what were the most conservative elements of the KPSS, remains market-skeptic. Whereas only Stalinists would call for a return of the command economy, until 1999 the KPRF would speak in favor of a ‘mixed economy’, but reveal a preference for state ownership: Its priority over others ‘follows from the nature of national character, and not from Communist orthodoxy’, Zyuganov said in 1994. 14‘Novogo izdaniya Oktyabrskoy revoliutsii ne budet’, Rossiya, no. 40, 19-25 October 1994. Similar reasoning has been made by Sergey Baburin, a left-leaning politician and leader of the Russian All-People’s Union (ROS). He disagreed with the claim that Russia had no democratic roots: ‘They exist, but they are very specific’, he said. The most visible difference from the West and the East concerned the relationship to property: ‘The characteristic of our culture over the centuries was a common economy and a common culture. Socialism – or collectivism – the roots grow out of our own history. 15‘Situatsiyu vzryvaet natsionalnaya ushchemlennost russkikh’, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 9 January 1992.
Despite the retrospective character of much Left-wing ideology in Russia, the imperatives of the current market economy have had a significant impact on political thinking. In a study of party economic programs before the 1999 elections, Mikhail Dmitriev found that the KPRF’s economic thinking had ‘evolved dramatically from very populist and anti-market to slightly pro-market and less unrealistic’. This shift had turned the overall vector of economic policies to ‘remarkably pro-market’, he said. On the other hand, the overall realism of the economic programs had not significantly improved, given the harsher economic realities after August 1998. 16Mikhail Dmitriev: ‘Party economic programs and implications’. In McFaul, Michael, Nikolai Petrov, and Andrei Ryabov, with Elizabeth Reisch: Primer on Russia’s 1999 Duma Elections. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carnegie Moscow Center, 1999, p 39. The survey, which covers the programs of the KPRF, LDPR, Yabloko, OVR, and NDR, is also covered in the article ‘Cherez vybory k rynku’. Itogi, 14 December 1999.
Over the last few years, another term of relativity – centrism – has come to describe a political line to which numerous politicians at different times have expressed adherence to. Only shortly after the USSR broke up did the term appear in the political discourse. Aleksandr Rutskoy, Yeltsin's vice-president and in 1993 his most dangerous opponent, at an early stage attempted to moderate his disagreements with Yeltsin by assuring that he was no renegade. In 1992, Rutskoy said: ‘I am a centrist, a derzhavnik. 17Derzhavnost refers to the word derzhava – great power. It is a term that indicates the promotion of the greatness of the state. As such, it indicates significant assertiveness on part of the state, and it has a clear foreign policy (external) dimension. Someone adhering to such a policy may be termed a derzhavnik. I want to show people that we do not need a shock therapy, but liberal reforms under a strong power.’ 18‘Ya tsentrist, derzhavnik i liberal’. Argumenty i fakty, 1 September 1992. Indeed, by 1992, the so-called Civic Union ( Grazhdanskiy soyuz), which Rutskoy had joined (other leaders included Nikolay Travkin and Arkadiy Volskiy), was often described as a centrist organization. At that time, the Civic Union spoke for a market economy, a constitutional and democratic order, and a government of checks and balances. 19Nikolai V. Zlobin: ‘The Political Spectrum’, in Dallin, Alexander (ed.): Political Parties in Russia. University of California at Berkeley, IAS Research Series, no. 68, 1993, p. 77. Even Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, who by his rhetoric many would describe as a nationalist-imperialist, has spoken of his party as being ‘right-centrist’. In a 1994 interview, he said that centrism was ‘the very best form ... To stay in the center, not go to the extremes.’ 20‘My vsegda otkryty dlya vsekh’. Oppozitsiya, no.4 (1994).
‘Centrism’ is a concept that is quite difficult to define. An early 1999 poll found that 16.6% of Russian voters were supporters of ’centrism’; the largest single category defined by the researchers, in a poll where 44.6% did not group themselves with any category. As part of the poll, a group of respondents were asked to define the concepts ‘liberalism,’ ‘social-democracy,’ ‘centrism,’ ‘Left-wing’ and ‘Right-wing.’ The greatest difficulties in answers were caused precisely by ‘centrism’: some 80 of the 100 respondents could say virtually nothing, and a few answered with aphorisms like ‘it is when it works for both sides’, or ‘when the mafia is in the center, and we are on the fringes’. The respondents had fewer difficulties defining ‘Left-wing’ and Right-wing’, as these were identified with specific politicians. 21Poll by the Russian Independent Institute of Social and National Problems. Supporters of radical market reforms constitute 7.2%, of ‘an independent Russian path of development’ – 15.6%, of communist ideology – 10 percent, and of social-democracy – 5.2%. Vladimir Popov ‘The Razor's Edge, or Centrism the Russian Way’. Rossiyskaya Gazeta 24 February 1999.
When, in August 1999, Otechestvo (Fatherland) and Vsya Rossiya (All Russia) formally united into one bloc (OVR), the most prominent actor normally spoken of as a ‘centrist’, was former premier Yevgeniy Primakov. He defined his centrist platform above all relative to his political competitors, scolding ‘destructive extremes’. The OVR would not return to totalitarian rule or command economy, ‘[b]ut we will also differ from those who would like to return the country into the chaotic, transition-to-market period with no rudder and sails’. 22Itar-Tass, 28 August 1999. Shortly before the Duma election, Primakov repeated this formula: ‘We are against the leftist vision, we are against those in 90s preaching the so called theory of liberalism’. 23MSNBC transcript, interview with Yevgeniy Primakov, I December 1999.
Primakov’s partner in those elections, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, is a figure whom it is somewhat more difficult to make sense of. Descriptions of his political style themselves tend to include contradictions; his way of running Moscow has been spoken of as ‘command capitalism’ 24‘Luzhkov, the Biggest (Business) Man in Moscow’. St. Petersburg Times, 15-21 September 1997. or ‘paternalistic capitalism’ 25Jamestown Foundation Monitor, 9 April 1998.; one Russian analyst said that Luzhkov's position ‘cannot be defined within the framework of linear logic… [but is] quite understandable to the average person, who doesn't care about ‘isms’ or the difference between social-democrats and liberals.’ 26Aleksandr Buzgalin: ‘Luzhkov as a ‘new socialist’: A collage in the post-modern style’. Jamestown Foundation Prism vol.IV no.6. While being a politician of contradictions, Luzhkov may be said to have positioned himself slightly more to what is normally seen as the Right. While forces within the KPRF during 1998 were hinting that they might want him rather than Zyuganov to be their candidate for president, he has ruled out any such alliance. On the other hand, he has spoken warmly of Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, describing him as a personal friend. While Yavlinskiy’s convictions in Luzhkov’s opinion put him to the Right, ‘he is still drawn towards centrism’. 27Reuters 15 October 1998; ‘After Yeltsin: A Mayor or a General?’ Newsweek, 14 December 1998. As for Yavlinskiy's political platform he distinguished himself in the 2000 presidential race by his emphasis on several issues that may be seen as indicating a liberal, individualist orientation. For instance, he emphasized the need to secure human rights, civic liberties, alternative service for conscripts, freedom of press, and a nationality policy taking into account the multinational character of the country. Prezidentskaya programma Grigoriya Yavlinskogo. URL: www.yavlinsky.ru/elections.