[This article discusses the strategy behind the founding of the United Popular Front, a pro-Kremlin populist political movement headed by Vladimir Putin, and widely believed to have been established to distance Putin from the unpopular United Russia party—Ed.]
The United Popular Front, a.k.a. the “United Front for Russia” (well, not for the USA, of course), should cover the entire country, incorporating all social, age and gender groups of the population under one umbrella. White and blue collar workers will start to embody that unity of the leader and the nation, in a dialogue between the authorities and the society. The intellectuals engaged for these purposes – Dmitry Badovsky, Valery Fadeev, Mikhail Leontiev – will explain that the Front is a “social network of like-minded people.” The leaders are predominantly patriots, most of them in parenthesis, according to the names of parties and movements. Olga Batalina, (United Russia); Alexei Zhuravlev, (Motherland); Ludmilla Shvetsova – a familiar image of a stern nomenklatura-like, pragmatic manager. One nation, one Front, one leader.
This is a new old model that the regime has been moving towards in natural ways. For the regime, it is an instrument of preservation, designed to prolong its life. With this model, there is no need to disband United Russia. While it’s still alive, it can still be useful at the elections, but the Front is a less rigid structure— it’s for everybody. You wanted to influence the events in the country, the authorities? Why take to the streets and squares? All they do over there is talk, not a single issue has been resolved. Come to us, we’ll start a discussion, a dialogue. “Despite different opinions, different approaches to solving the problems facing our country and every citizen of the Russian Federation, I would really like this All-Russian Popular Front to become genuinely all-Russian, to become a forum where people of different views could come together, discuss the problems and find mutually acceptable solutions,” Putin said.
This is a multi-faceted approach: to preserve power, to complete a “restyling” and refresh Putin’s image in the process, and to marginalize the opposition.
This is a model corporate state, uniting the whole population of a country consisting of its own corporations—professional, gender, et cetera. This follows the example of Benito Mussolini, who, like Vladimir Putin, started out as a moderate liberal, but quickly embarked on quite a different course.
Appealing to everything “popular”— to common people, even to the poor— is intrinsic to such regimes. The Front is necessary, Putin said after being unanimously elected Chairman, “so that all the citizens had an opportunity to set their own, popular goals” (Italics added—Novaya Gazeta). (This event was choreographed by Stanislav Govorukhin, who had to briefly suspend his pool game with Gennady Zyuganov at a presidential resort Snegiri).
It is so touching that prior to the UPF conference, the VCIOM (the Public Opinion Research Center) completed an opinion survey showing that 73% of the respondents expect that the Front will communicate what is really happening in the country to the President. This implies that citizens believe that the President has no idea of what is happening in the country over which he presides, and that the UPF, as a genuinely popular movement (clearly, everything outside the UPF is not popular), will finally be able to explain it to him.
Vladimir Putin explained the essence of the Front’s ideology, not at the UPF conference, but at a ceremony presenting state awards on the same day: “If we don’t, they will.” A mobilizing idea that semantically closely follows the idea that Joseph Stalin expressed at the first All-Union Conference of Socialist Industrial Workers on February 4, 1931:
“Slowing down means falling behind. Those who fall behind are beaten. That is the law that exploiters live by – to beat those who are falling behind, who are weak. This is the “dog-eat-dog” law of capitalism. You are behind, you are weak, that means you are wrong, and can be oppressed and enslaved. You are powerful, that means you are right, and nobody should mess with you. That is why we cannot fall behind.”
Even if in our own history didn’t have the precedent of pompous crowds chanting the name of their leader, we could refer to the examples of Italy, Spain, Argentina and other states where that populist corporatist model was in operation.
One of the sore spots of the new state ideology is sovereignty, which is always being eroded by somebody. This is a defensive mentality, appealing to blood and soil. The aforementioned commander-in-chief also stated that “…the fight for our right to be a sovereign, independent country becomes more and more fierce. Entire nations, entire peoples are rooted out.”
It is crucially important – and this is reflected in the Manifesto of the Popular Front for Russia”– that the movement is based on the “opinion of the majority of citizens.” The minority doesn’t even have to go to war, but in that case they will have only themselves to blame. As to the minorities… we don’t even go there. “Everyone who is for Russia should join the Popular Front,” their Manifesto says. That means, whoever hasn’t joined is against Russia. You are either with us, or against us—hence, the Front.
The authorities embraced a governance model, typical of the first half of the last century. But it’s unlikely that political retro-mobile will be efficient. It won’t get you to the future; it can only bring you back to the past. The question is— how far and how fast?