Streetwise Professor

October 24, 2007

Domestic Disaggregation

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:29 am

Robert Amsterdam describes Russia’s divide-and-conquer energy policy “disaggregation.” Disaggregation is also employed domestically. The attacks on civil society, the strangulation of NGOs, the undermining of any potential opposition party, the expanding control over the media, are all designed to atomize Russian society; to prevent the coalescence of any group that could coordinate opposition; thereby to intensify the collective action problems that any opposition must overcome to challenge the incumbent power structures. The emphasis on “vertical” relations–whereby everyone and everything is linked, if at all, only through the intermediation of the central authority–is similarly intended to suppress horizontal coordination among potential sources of opposition.

Such structures are very powerful, but often very brittle. The main threat they face is the spontaneous outbreak of widespread discontent sparked by some issue that affects large numbers of individuals in the same way. If enough people are affected by this issue in the same way, and if it is of sufficient importance to them, it is easier to achieve and sustain spontaneous coordination of the opposition; there is a common issue, a common problem, to rally around. Moreover, the widespread nature of the problem makes it more difficult for the center to stymie the opposition through divide and conquer tactics.

It is far too early to predict that inflation, particularly food price inflation, or the perverse effects of ham-handed attempts to suppress it through price controls, will pose such an existential threat to Putinism. But it is far more dangerous a threat to Putin et al than any political party or movement, individually or collectively. This is especially true given that political maneuvering (firing governors, intimidating reporters, and the like) cannot solve it, and that any economic policy that will mitigate the problem entails other unpalatable costs. These sorts of economic problems are not the kinds of things that Chekists are well-suited to handle, and indeed, many of their instincts are counterproductive.

So, like I say, too early to make dire forecasts . . . but something that bears watching.

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