2008 February 24 Sunday
Tsar Putin Stage Manages Election Outcomes In Russia

The central authority in Tsar Putin's Russia operates a large national organization to assure Russians are properly instructed and guided to vote for the Putin's party.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia — Shortly before parliamentary elections in December, foremen fanned out across the sprawling GAZ vehicle factory here, pulling aside assembly-line workers and giving them an order: vote for President Vladimir V. Putin’s party or else. They were instructed to phone in after they left their polling places. Names would be tallied, defiance punished.

Even children serve the Tsar on election day.

The city’s children, too, were pressed into service. At schools, teachers gave them pamphlets promoting “Putin’s Plan” and told them to lobby their parents. Some were threatened with bad grades if they failed to attend “Children’s Referendums” at polling places, a ploy to ensure that their parents would show up and vote for the ruling party.

Opponents of the Tsar are threatened with physical harm.

Around the same time, volunteers for an opposition party here, the Union of Right Forces, received hundreds of calls at all hours, warning them to stop working for their candidates. Otherwise, you will be hurt, the callers said, along with the rest of your family.

Over the past eight years, in the name of reviving Russia after the tumult of the 1990s, Mr. Putin has waged an unforgiving campaign to clamp down on democracy and extend control over the government and large swaths of the economy. He has suppressed the independent news media, nationalized important industries, smothered the political opposition and readily deployed the security services to carry out the Kremlin’s wishes.

The outcome of democratization in Russia illustrates how democracy doesn't succeed in every country. For other examples of democracy failure and theories on why democracies fail see my previous posts History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy, Liberal Democracy Is Not A Universal Desire, Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies, Robert Conquest On The Limits And Pitfalls Of Democracy, and Democracy Debate Needs More Realism.

In Russia's case I see a crisis on the horizon when Russia's oil production starts declining rapidly. The Russian people have been willing to follow Putin's orders in part because high oil prices and rising oil production have boosted Russian living standards. But when the Russian economy turns down their patience with autocracy might wear thin.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 February 24 03:29 PM  Russia


Comments
Matt@occidentalism.org said at February 24, 2008 9:43 PM:

While the rule of Putin may have it's downsides, it is surely better than Yeltsin's drunken and corrupt rule, allowing a tiny minority to loot the entire country, not to mention the gutters clogged with the victims of the "Russian mafia" in lawless Moscow. Authoritarian patriot Putin or criminal mastermind Boris Berezovsky - not really a hard choice.

I think Putin is a smart guy. I am willing to bet (without evidence) that he is working towards the time when Russia will be less reliant on its oil money.

Kenelm Digby said at February 25, 2008 3:49 AM:

Boris Yeltsin was a completely useless, violent, bullying, unintelligent monster-like drunk who was totally unworthy of office and in any decent country would only be considered fit to sweep the streets.
Basically he managed to destroy Russia, destroy peoples' savings, forment unnecessary wars in Chechnya (which he prosecuted with appalling brutality)and handed over the nation's wealth on a silver platter to some very dodgy people.
....And yet this bastard never received an iota of the bad press poor Mr. Putin gets daily from the western media, and Putin if judged solely by his economic and managerial record is the best leader Russia ever had.
Why???

Big Bill said at February 25, 2008 4:28 AM:

Why? Because Mr. Putin is making Russia a world power again. Worse, a world power that is neither dependent on or subservient to the EU or USA.

His very existence shows us there is a "third way" that works, that revives his nation (the Russian people), rejects mass immigration and assimilation into a global European and US controlled economy.

What I wonder is why Putin gets such bad press and China gets none. The best I can figure is that China doesn't feel like a threat yet, even though their imperial intentions are painfully obvious to anyone with an ounce of brains. Perhaps the powers that be figure we can control the Chinese, or the Chinese will mellow out as they become a massive economic power, or some other nonsense. Also, Putin does not engage in the subtile giving of hints and suggestions of displeasure that the Chinese do. Putin is blunt and forthright. Very direct. And that, to wimpy men like Bush and the current US leadership, is threatening on a fundamental testosterone-based level.

daveg said at February 25, 2008 6:57 AM:

Have to agree with these comments. Here is a quote for a Russian English speaking newspaper:

Indeed, the way that Russia's oligarchs managed to transform their real-life biographies of blood, corruption, savagery and destruction into the perception that they were merely modern-day Rockefellers and normal, pro-Western, forward-thinking, progressive business tycoons is truly one of the more stunning success stories in the history of public relations. The lesson was not lost on the Kremlin, particularly as Putin's biggest foe, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, managed to transform his image in the West from underworld thug to shining liberal dissident more successfully than anyone.

Exile

Nobody said at February 25, 2008 7:12 AM:

I don't see the Russian people getting too worked up if their living standard declines. And if they did, what are they going to do, rebel? Good luck to them if they do. Remember that journalist who wrote anti-Putin articles and had the stones to investigate the war in Chechnya and was later found with 2 in the head? I don't either. Nobody fucks with Putin and the FSB/OMON(or KGB, MVD, etc... same thing, different name). But the commentors are correct that he is probably the best ruler the Russia ever had. Why the bad press? The progressive, liberals assholes who think they are so smart can't stand the idea that Russia can't be financially raped like it was by the Harvard assholes when Yeltsin ran the place. Putin is the anti-liberal, he acts in what he sees as the best interests of the Russian state, love the world, kumbaya progressivism be damned. What really pisses me off is that Russia, if not necessarily an ally of the US, can at least be a country we can get along with and have friendly relations with. God forbid we buy their oil and trade, it isn't like they don't have things we want or need. I am sure they would be happy to do that as well. Instead we antagonize them for stupid reasons.

Sage McLaughlin said at February 25, 2008 10:36 AM:

Those of us on the traditionalist and paleo right seem to be in a collective swoon over Putin, because he is "anti-liberal." This is wrong-headed. Putin is a man of surpassing ruthlessness and brutality, a mafia-style big boss who represents none of the best features of Western political life. I would not want a man like him anywhere near the White House, and I would no sooner live under such a regime than I would any tinpot third world dictatorship. Euphemistic phrases like "the down sides" of Putin's one-party rule gloss over the sheer lawlessness of a regime willing to go overseas to murder civilian dissidents, jailing, intimidating, and killing insufficiently slavish media figures, the armed repression of organized political demonstrations, the obliteration of any semblance of local authority, and so on and on. Because he is not a liberal in any meaningful sense (neither was Tojo, of course), and because he is admired by lots of illiberal foreigners, he is held up as some kind of positive counter-example to the feckless European and American liberals who dominate our public institutions. That strikes me as foolish, and the praise that gets heaped on him by Western rightists--for example, that he is uncompromising in pushing what he sees as Russian interests, which can be said with equal justice of any Arab potentate or Asian despot--only serves to highlight their desperation for somebody to look up to. Of course there are very few real heroes in Russian politics, Khodorkovsky being no exception. But that's an extremely weak basis for talking up a man whose differences with gangsters like Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov are slight.

I'm as conservative as they come, but I refuse to allow myself to be deluded into swooning over that oh-so-sexy tough guy Vladimir Putin, or give him oodles of credit merely for electing not to execute a coup.

daveg said at February 25, 2008 12:56 PM:

I'm as conservative as they come, but I refuse to allow myself to be deluded into swooning over that oh-so-sexy tough guy Vladimir Putin, or give him oodles of credit merely for electing not to execute a coup.

You are arguing against a straw man. No one said anything remotely like what you have claimed.

We just think the vilification is WAY overdone and Russia has faced some very bad times that make it hard to judge Putin by our standards (although we are lower our standards everyday thanks to Bush and the neocons).

Randall Parker said at February 25, 2008 5:55 PM:

Guys,

1) Russia's living standards are rising mostly because of rising commodity prices.

2) Whether Putin's rule has improved living standards separate from the rising commodity prices is less than clear to me. Do we really know that corruption is less in the current system? Or is it just better hidden?

I am reluctant to draw conclusions about the net effects of Putin's rule. Maybe you have enough information to draw such conclusions. I wish I did but I'm pretty sure that I don't. I am open to useful references in this.

Sage McLaughlin said at February 25, 2008 9:20 PM:

daveg, I'm talking about a phenomenon not confined to this particular thread of comments, but rather a general trend among right wing Putin apologists. I'm not arguing against a straw man, though I can see why you might think so if you confined all my remarks to this particular set of comments.

Parker's question about whether in fact Putin's Russia is any less corrupt than Yeltsin's is a very good one, and ought to be taken seriously by those who would make the mistake of setting him up as some kind of champion for reform. Obviously it's a difficult thing to talk about, because you have people on one side so deeply invested in opposing US policy, and on the other you have people so deeply wedded to it. Both sides tend to repeat their favored establishments talking points more or less incredulously--for example, by taking at face value the Kremlin's claims that CIA-backed NGO's threaten to topple every government from the Tien Shan to the Carpathians (a facial absurdity in the cases of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and in the latter case an especially discreditable lie).

Bearded Funster said at February 26, 2008 3:47 AM:

Vladimir Putin's only 'crime' is actually to have the guts and temerity to stand-up to the neo-con bully boys and their attack dogs in the west.
Vladimir Putin is a man of enormous natural intelligence - the sheer voltage of his intellectual capability is breath-taking.
Only like his two predecessors, the scurvy, craven traitors Gorbachev and Yeltsin,Putin is NOT willing to 'roll-over on his back and display his softunder-belly, flaccid penis and saggy balls' whenever 'master' (George Bush) snaps 'roll-over'.

Wolf-Dog said at February 26, 2008 1:48 PM:

Apparently Russians like authority, because they know that authority means order (or rather what kind of chaos would follow without order). They learned that the corrupt democrats like Yeltsin would allow the oligarchs to gain power and steal everything. In comparison to the previous oligarchy, probably Putin is allowing his group to amass only the amount of wealth that can be tolerated (this is my impression, but I have no proof), and it is apparently true that Putin established a very powerful tax collection police, which makes it possible to re-distribute wealth. The latter two actions, are probably something that brings order to Russia, saving it from total chaos.

On the plus side, Putin's Russia is also quite forward-looking in the sense that uranium is being hoarded for the future, and Russia is also getting ready to challenge the French exports of commercial reactors by building new advanced reactors to be sold to the third world, and the U.S. once again fell behind in this incredibly important area.

To avoid a misunderstanding, I do not agree with the extreme oppression tactics of Putin, and his modus operandi, but it is simply incredible how our politicians can be so unintelligent when national survival is the issue.

Nobody said at February 26, 2008 1:57 PM:

To avoid a misunderstanding, I do not agree with the extreme oppression tactics of Putin, and his modus operandi, but it is simply incredible how our politicians can be so unintelligent when national survival is the issue.

Wolf-Dog,
Our "leaders" are either clueless idiots, greedy capitalists or in love w/ the 3rd world. Mostly all 3 though.

Randall Parker said at February 26, 2008 6:25 PM:

Bearded Funster,

I do not see signs of enormous intelligence in Putin.

At the same time, I don't have a problem with the Russians wanting to maintain their independence.

Really, I think both the attack rhetoric and the defense rhetoric about Russia is greatly overblown. It is a moderately messed up and corrupt place. It has a shrinking population with large social pathologies (e.g. destructive alcoholism and a high crime rate). The government is getting a free ride on high priced fossil fuels. Its success is exaggerated by its defenders.

What is clear is that the Russian people put less stock in liberty than they do in stability and security. Given the geographic position and history of Russia this is not surprising.

Rob said at February 26, 2008 9:15 PM:

Randall,

You might find this paper interesting: a model of why IQ differences in country has a different effect on wages than IQ differences between countries:

http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/jones.pdf

Bearded Funster said at February 27, 2008 3:41 AM:

Randall,
Rather like a 'form judge' at the race-track, I see Putin's elevated inteeligence simply manifested through his facial physignomy and his demeanor.
I have an uncanny knack of gauging a man's intelligence just through his physical characteristics alone.
Believe me, when I say it, or call me a deluded fool if you will, but Putin has one of the most intelligent faces I've ever seen.

Bob Badour said at February 27, 2008 2:24 PM:

So, what you are saying is the man is pretty. I don't feel any particular compulsion to call you a deluded fool or anything else for that matter.

Matt@occidentalism.org said at March 2, 2008 4:32 AM:

Not sure how many people are still reading this, but this recent speech by President Putin reveals someone who is thinking about the issues, including the reliance on commodities and natural resources.

http://www.ln.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/D52D84BF1FBBC71CC32573EC0025631D

Could you imagine President Bush giving this kind of speech?

Bob Badour said at March 2, 2008 6:21 AM:
Could you imagine President Bush giving this kind of speech?

That's not exactly setting the bar very high.

Randall Parker said at March 2, 2008 8:31 AM:

Matt,

But look at what he says:

Although we have had some successes over these last years we have still not yet succeeded in breaking away from the inertia of development based on energy resources and commodities. There is nothing wrong with developing the energy sector and increasing commodities production, on the contrary, developing a modern energy sector, the best in the world, and creating high-technology enterprises in the mining and natural resources processing sectors are among our unquestionable priorities.

But even with the economic situation in our favour at the moment, we are still only making fragmentary attempts to modernise our economy. This inevitably increases our dependence on imported goods and technology and reinforces our role as a commodities base for the world economy. In the future, this could lead to us lagging behind the world’s big economic powers and could push us out from among the world leaders.

Russia's boom is based on high prices for commodities. As he admits, Russia is growing due to economic success of extractive industries. His policies probably helped. He shifted the extractive industries into the hands of the government and people allied with the government. So more of that income is retained within Russia rather than just flowing into Swiss bank accounts. But if the price of oil was still $20 per barrel Russia would be a basket case.

Matt@occidentalism.org said at March 2, 2008 3:52 PM:

Randall, it is true what you say, but under the former regime it is possible that Russia could have been a basket case despite the commodity prices. At least he shows awareness of the problem, and is frank about it with the Russian people. That, surely, is an important step for any basket case nation.


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