Theorising the Structure of the Kremlin Factions: Lessons Learned from China

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Theorising the structure of the Kremlin Factions: lessons learned from China


Two decades after the end of communism, the ‘state of democracy’ in Russia remains a point of vivid debate within academic circles. There’s no lack of concepts to describe the nature of the current regime: ‘managed democracy’ (Lipman and McFaul, 2001), ‘Potemkin democracy’ (Clarck, 2004), ‘forms without substance’ (Brown, 2009), ‘phony democracy’ (Sakwa, 2008b), ‘facade democracy’ (Rutland, 2003), ‘democracy’s doubles’ (Krastev, 2006), ‘imitation democracy’ (Shevtsova, 2007), etc. All of them point in a certain extent to the same conclusion: although formally and constitutionally Russia could be labelled as a ‘democracy’, in practice and in substance it just isn’t. A real democracy is hampered by the existence of an informal ‘regime level’ operating around the Kremlin which has been dominating Russian politics for the last fifteen years (Willerton, 2010: 230). This regime level is considered to be largely free from genuine democratic accountability, and is succumbed by fluid ruling groups or ‘factions’ (Sakwa, 2008a: 136-38). While there has already been done much work in identifying and describing these different groupings or factions, much less attempts have been made to theorise their composition, the relationship between the faction-members and their institutional position within the formal state structures. An exception to this is the recent work by Richard Sakwa (2010, 2011) in which he defines Russia as a ‘dual state’ with a formal constitutional order (the normative state) and a second level of informal, factional politics (the administrative regime). However, Sakwa limits himself to giving a broad definition of these factions and to locate their position within his concept of the dual state. In this essay a first, modest, attempt will be undertaken to theorise the structure and composition of the Kremlin factions and to devise a corresponding model. Yet, this will be no ‘tabula rasa’ operation. We believe much can be learned by looking over the fence to other countries, because as it comes to ‘informal politics’ Russia is no isolated case. Contrary to Russia, theories about factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has already been widely discussed, with a first contribution dating back to the 1973 pioneering article of Andrew


Nathan, A Factionalist Model for CCP Politics (Nathan, 1973). His contribution was followed by some responses in the 70s and 90s, all widely inspired by and based upon Nathan’s first article. In 1995, in a co-authored essay with Tsai, Nathan enhanced his model by making it more apt for ‘transplantation’ to other cases (Nathan and Tsai, 1995). We will also base our analysis upon the work of Nathan, because his analysis tries to describe the patterns how factions organize, how their institutional patterns affect their patterns of behaviour, and this “regardless of the culture in which they operate” (Nathan and Tsai, 1995: 158). This is contrasted by the alternative analyses of his critics: although Tsou states that his concept of informal politics could be refined “through further empirical and theoretical testing” for example by “examining [factional] politics in some other country selected for its comparative value” (1995: 102), his and others’ alternatives (Tsou, 1976, 1995; Dittmer, 1995; Pye, 1995) are based upon and explained by Chinese historical and cultural factors. Nathans’ work, especially his most recent ‘new institutionalist restatement’ (1995) on the other hand is much more usable for ‘transplantation’ to our Russian case, because it isn’t based on ‘Chinese exceptionalism’. Before we start, we need to go over the structure of this essay. First, we start with providing a short outline of the contemporary factions in Russian politics, where we will try to distinguish the different characteristics of factional membership. Next, we discuss the nature of the relationship...
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