Staunton, February 2 – Russian revolutionary Lev Bronstein famously took his nom de guerre “Trotsky” from that of his first jailor because he observed in Russia there will always be jailors and bureaucrats. And indeed, Ivan Sukhov argues today, the Russian bureaucracy is still capturing those who try to lead it and overwhelming those who oppose its massive weight.
In a commentary on Profile.ru, the Moscow analyst says that the total number of bureaucrats in Russia at the municipal, regional, and federal level is “about one million,” a number far greater than the number of opposition activists and a force very much to be reckoned with.
The Russian bureaucracy is “not simply an inert stratum uninterested in change, but rather a group which is ready to defend the existing order of things because it has something to lose,” a reality that remains true even at the present time of retrenchment both for those who seek to oppose it and those who seek to redirect it toward their own ends, Sukhov argues.
Those who simply try to oppose it are typically crushed by its numbers; those who try to capture it and redirect it often find themselves captured instead, as Boris Yeltsin was, quickly forgetting their initial intentions and promoting the growth of “the bureaucratic army” and its “appetite” to control the situation.
That leads to a paradoxical situation: “No one likes bureaucrats, but the career of the bureaucrat remains one of the most attractive in the country. The majority of graduates of Russian schools want to join that privileged caste,” sometimes for patriotic reasons and sometimes just to receive bribes rather than pay them.
At present, no one is seriously challenging the bureaucracy. The population overwhelmingly supports the existing authorities, “although it is difficult to predict what the landscape will look like six months of now.” What is clear is that “there is no alternative elite on view.”
In the event of a crisis, that desert could bloom with a variety of flowers, Sukhov says, “but for the time being,” the country “more reminds one of a vacuum” in which nothing will emerge at all. And simply having more reformers go into the government won’t change that because most if not all of them will be captured by the bureaucracy.
In many cases, having an official car and an official telephone will be sufficient to cause that change. But if it isn’t, the bureaucracy has other ways of sidelining or even expelling those who try to change it against its interests. And such dismissals will be accepted because people will believe that those ousted simply couldn’t cope with their positions.
And the opposition cannot hope at least not yet to overwhelm the bureaucracy, Sukhov continues. It is simply too small. Against a million self-interested bureaucrats, it can deploy only a few thousand activists. In a country without institutions and in which the personality of the top incumbent matters most, that simply isn’t going to get the job done whatever anyone thinks.
And even if a Navalny were to get one of the top jobs, “there are no guarantees” that he could achieve very much because “Russian politics remains the politics of individuals and not institutions. In Russia, there are not only no constitutional instruments” that would allow such change, but there is the bureaucracy which will surely resist it.
If the system is to change, Sukhov concludes, “politics must become of interest to millions of people and not several thousand activists.” The only thing going for it, he suggests, is that the Kremlin and the bureaucracy are unwittingly doing what they can to produce such an interest as rapidly as possible.