Does Russia Need a Political Opposition? Part I

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August 15th, 2015

By: Oleg Makarenko for PolitRussia

Translated for Fort Russ by Soviet Bear

Does
a healthy and independent society need an opposition? The question is not as
simple as one might think. At first glance it might even seem as if the
opposition is not needed at all — because from whatever side you look, it
brings much more obvious harm than virtual good.

Here is an example – an athlete runs a
distance of several kilometers. Does it make sense to attach a kettle-bell to
his leg, so it slows him down? Will the athlete run faster?

Obviously not. And even if he makes a mistake
and takes a wrong turn, the kettle-bell will absolutely not help him.

Or, they say, business is a traditional fertile
ground for liberalism. How many businessmen do you know who would voluntarily create
an opposition group inside their company to criticize them on everything?
Personally, I don’t know any of those: even if they tolerate
“opposition” among their employees – it is because they’re forced to
and not from any ideological considerations.

Take for example a larger structure —the Army.
The strength of our army (including reserve forces) is more than three million
people. It is ten times more than the population of Iceland. But it turns out
that our army is doing great without the opposition as well as all other armies
on our planet. Even if some opposition appears, they will immediately go to the
brig to think about the importance of respect of subordination.

Let’s look at more liberal structures – the Corporations.
The Corporation Walmart, for example, has over two million employees, and this
figure is also comparable with the population of many small, by the standards of
twenty-first century, countries. But there is no opposition in the corporations
either…

So why the opposition is needed? Dmitry Leykin
(Russian patriotic blogger from Moscow) believes that a good opposition should
be some sort of alternative power: some type of a second pilot in an aircraft,
always ready when there is a need to replace the first pilot.

Quote:

“I
believe that the real Russian opposition needs to do the same work as that of
the current government. Of course, only “on paper” — but seriously.

The opposition just as the current government
should write laws, decrees and orders. Must develop an ideology, has to find
solutions to problems, and has to come up with global projects.

Of course, all of this is not binding unlike
the decisions of real government— but the people would be able to compare. And
determine who did the same job better or worse.

It is quite possible, that the current
government is going to take such opposition on board. Take these laws on their
behalf. Might even invite this kind of opposition in the ruling party.

But should we care? We understand that the
opposition is not for “seizing power” but for improving it. To complement
the government, not to destroy it.

Only such Russian opposition will be present.
Only such Russian opposition will be useful.

And everything, absolutely everything else is
not the opposition, but the most ordinary demagogues and pests.

On the one hand, Mr. Leikin’s perfect
opposition really would be a huge step forward compared with the non-systemic
opposition which we are unfortunately witnessing today in Russia. But, I
believe that before asking the question “what kind of opposition do we
need” we should answer the question “why do we need opposition at
all”

Probably, I would say an obvious thing, but
one obvious thing we have forgotten in recent years. Political parties don’t
need to fight for power: the political parties need to ensure that the authorities
take into account the interests of all relevant groups.

For example, we have farmers. Their interests
are quite clear: to protect the domestic market from the western dumping,
permission for the export of our products, reasonable price of diesel fuel,
cheap loans, option to purchase equipment at a reasonable price.

We also have, for example, oil refineries…

By the way, let’s make a little digression. In
recent years quite a few new oil refineries were built, we are processing more
and more oil domestically. With the construction of new refineries, after some
time we will cease to export the crude oil at all.

So, we have the oil refineries. They need the
production of diesel fuel to be paid off. If the state puts too much pressure
on them in favor of the farmers, they will have to operate at a loss.

All these groups – farmers, oil refineries, steelworkers,
oil companies, Army, doctors, dog owners, pensioners etc. there are a lot of
them in our country. And each of these groups has its own interests: although,
of course, the influence of the dog owners is much less compared to the oilers.

Going up now to the level of the current
government. We make some significant decision, to oblige the steelworkers to
sell metal at a low price in domestic market. This decision allows car
manufacturers to easily go through the crisis — as they can’t afford expensive
metal amid falling sales — however, it takes a certain amount of money from the
pocket of the steelworkers.

Therefore, the authorities need to make sure
to compensate for the steelworkers’ losses: maybe not right now, but after some
time, when the crisis is over. If the interests of the steelworkers are
consistently ignored, they go into a radical opposition and will try to change
the government to one that will take into account their interests too.

Please pay attention: it is assumed that the
people in Russia elect all the power single-handedly, including the deputies of
all levels and the President. In the virtual world of political fantasies there
are no groups of influence, and the opinion of the owner of the steel plant is
as important as the opinion of a guard, which protects a warehouse of
decommissioned equipment.

In the real world, things are certainly
different. When some decisions are made opinions and the people’s interests are
taken into account — but the interests of other groups are taken into account
as well. If we estimate very roughly, we can estimate the influence of the
people somewhere in the 20% of the total power of the vote. The remaining 80%
are bankers, oil companies, military, cultural workers and other groups which I
can’t list because of their sheer number.

Our President, Vladimir Putin, has now a mandate
of trust from the people – the 20% of the power of the vote. What if Mr. Putin begins
to act without regard to the interests of various influential groups, as
supporters of purges and “mass executions” demand?

The rest of the elites will go into a radical
opposition very quickly. Because when the government ignores your interests, you
have no other choice — you either go into the opposition, or you lose your
assets and get thrown out of the elite.

Let’s say you live in an apartment building,
and the house superintendent keeps it in order. You teach music for a living,
and in the daytime students come to you for piano lessons.

What if the superintendent tells you can’t
play the piano not more than 1 hour a day, as the music disturbs other tenants?

From the point of view of popular democracy he
is right: most residents prefer silence and the majority does not care about
your problems. However, the superintendent will create a very serious
inconveniences for you. If the superintendent does the same thing not only to
you but to the other tenants, after some time an opposition, will lobby the
replacement of this superintendent for more adequate.

Across the country things are exactly the
same. A government that ignores the opinion of groups controlling the resources
will cease to be an authority very quickly. And this rule works for any state
and system — from feudalism to communism. If you think that Joseph Stalin never
thought about Soviet elite’s reaction while making decisions, I have very disappointing
news for you.

Similarly, Nicholas II, for all his faults,
was not able to do whatever he wants with the liberals. If Nicholas II had started
mass repressions his reign would have ended much earlier than February 1917.

You ask me: how can, for example, bankers influence
the government, if every banker technically has exactly one vote, and the total
number of bankers in the country is vanishingly small.

Answer. By sponsoring Newspapers, magazines,
television channels, politicians and public figures. Newspapers that receive
money from the bankers start writing that it would be nice to let the traffic
police to check isn’t a car pledged to the Bank during the car registration. Deputies
whose election campaign was paid by the bankers, trying to push “good bills” through
the Duma. So the money gets converted into power.

There are, of course, other mechanisms of
influence. For example, the government already takes into account the interests
of farmers at least because those ensure food security. The shortage of food or
the increase in food prices is a very unpleasant prospect for the authorities,
so the government is trying to satisfy reasonable demands of the farmers.

When the elites fail to agree with the government
– a Maidan takes place in the country. People massively take to the streets
usually only in cases when there is nothing to eat. In modern world, such
degradation of the economy usually happens in the African region: in our
latitudes physical scarce of food is very rare.

However, the organization of the Maidan has a
well-proven recipes: the media begins to talk that “we’ve been
deceived”, one politician after another defiantly join the rebels,
security officers are being told that if they interfere with protests, they are
gonna have problems after the success of the revolution

The
ruler who has antagonized most of the elites, usually has no chance — even in countries
where he really relies on the people. If he does not have the support of the
people, the Maidan will be quick and painless: a week of jumping on the Central
Square and the “black mark” ruler only needs to flee the country. In
recent years we have seen similar scenarios in different countries of the world.

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