In what is essentially the second part of our 20th anniversary double issue, we continue the general theme set in the previous issue of NZ, developing it further and broadening the scope under the title “Privatisation of Power, or Beyond the Political”. The 121st issue analyses the problem of power being monopolised by elites or individual rulers not purely as a question of democracy but also in the context of the political qua political.
The issue opens with Alexander Kustarev’s regular column (Political Imaginary), which discusses the factors that have caused the professional community to stop reflecting on the October Revolution from political and historical perspectives, along with the reasons for the general public’s loss of interest in the revolution.
Culture of Politics section, divided into two parts, brings up the question of social mechanics and its apparent ability to render innocuous authoritarian rule, a phenomenon invariably painful to society. This is the subject of the following articles: “What Is the Problem with Authoritarianism?” by the French sociologist Carine Clement, an expert in social movements, and “Authoritarian Regime and Society in Russia” by the Russian political scientist Tatyana Vorozheikina. These pieces are complemented by an article in which the sociologist Dmitry Zhikharevich reconstructs post-1968 theoretical shifts in the perception of large-scale changes in the structure of society and the nature of production, particularly those leading to a re-evaluation of earlier notions of struggle against economic inequality and socio-political deprivation.
The issue is structured around three topical sections, each of them depicting the phenomenon of authoritarianism from its own perspective.
The first section, “Proliferation of Authoritarianism”, is focused on the multitudinous character of authoritarianism, which allows it to conceal its political nature under different guises, borrowing from and at the same time deforming individual democratic institutions, such as multiparty and parliamentary systems, elections and social mobilisation. The articles in this section demonstrate how multiparty systems and election campaigns can be completely controlled and predictable (see “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” by the American political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way; “Electoral Authoritarianism: The Vagaries of the Method” by the Russian political scientist Sergei Ryzhenkov), while calls for wide popular participation are reduced to populist strategies aimed at reproducing power (“German Populism in the European Context” by the German author Michael Mertes).
The next section, “Regimes of Real Socialism”, lends the conversation about authoritarianism a historical dimension, describing in detail everyday administrative decision-making practices typical for the late socialist era. In his article “‘Ping Pong’, Negotiation and Dinners. Administrative Mechanisms in the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1960—1980ies”, the Russian historian Nikolai Mitrokhin offers an engaging account of political devices employed by the Soviet party leadership. The German historians Rüdiger Bergien and Stefan Lehr reconstruct the mechanisms of the so-called “telephone law” adopted by the GDR’s ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany, as well as ruling political practices in socialist Czechoslovakia during the “normalisation” period that followed 1968. This section’s theme is further explored in another piece, “Human Rights vs. Olympic Games: Delete as Appropriate? Debates on Human Rights and the 1980 Moscow Olympics” by the Russian political scientist and human rights campaigner Dmitry Dubrovsky.
The third section, “Authoritarianism: An Institutional Framework”, debates the question of whether the behaviour of authoritarian regimes and their leaders is in any way constrained by democratic institutions they adopt, or whether these institutions are fully controlled by them, ensuring their stability rather than being instrumental in their collapse. This question is considered in the piece “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival by Autocrats” by the American political scientists Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski. It is further discussed in Thomas Pepinsky’s article “The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism”, which encompasses a broad range of works on the subject.
The Politics of Culture section addresses symbolic and artistic phenomena typical for authoritarian regimes or for associated resistance strategies. In “Group Photography and the Political Community Issue (The ‘Purge’ of the Visual)”, the philosopher Denis Skopin describes how Stalinist terror manifested itself in retouching and re-editing, methods used to erase the faces of repression victims from group portraits. “From Actionism to Interactionism: Auctorial Practices of Contemporary Russian Art” by the cultural historian Klavdiya Smola considers the dynamics of resistance strategies adopted by politically engaged artists in Russia.
In his column Sociological Lyrics, Alexei Levinson demonstrates how Russia’s international affairs end up being a factor in its domestic socio-political climate.
The issue concludes with the New Books section, among them Pavel Arsenyev’s comprehensive response to the publication of Mikhail Yampolsky’s latest book, “Sketches on Artistic Nominalism”, featuring Dmitry Prigov and his poetics as its subjects.