10.08.2004
Leave and Make Room
№3 2004 July/September

The presidential regime in Russia has put an end to opposition
parties, both on the left and on the right. There is no room for
them in the new system of non-alternative power. It goes without
saying that the president and his minions do not need them.
Moreover, the electorate does not need these parties, since voting
for parties that are unable to come to power is always
disappointing.

The regime easily liquidated the right and left opposition in
Russia only because they had always been unviable and doomed to an
early death. Their real function was to help the regime grow
stronger and then die.

In the regime’s establishment, the right parties played the
main, active role. But the present ‘party of power’ is in no way
right. It is just a party of power, as the Soviet Communist Party
(CPSU) was, despite the fact that it did have leftist roots in the
distant past. This party is an evolutionary result of the
democratic movement which won in 1991, like the CPSU was the direct
successor to the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers’ Party
(Bolsheviks). The incumbent Russian president was appointed
successor by the leader of the democrats who came to power in 1991
– this succession is even more direct than that between Lenin and
Stalin.

Of course, the party has transformed completely after being in
power for almost 13 years. Interestingly, the present right
oppositional party does not ‘recognize’ it. This situation is
reminiscent of the many Bolsheviks who remained loyal to ‘Lenin’s
precepts,’ but who later were driven to the sidelines of political
life. They eventually formed the ‘Trotsky-Bukharin opposition’ and
did not recognize Stalin’s party as their own. However, the
transformation of the present ‘party of power’ began as soon as it
came to power in 1991, like the Bolshevik party began to change in
1917.

The heroes of the 1917 socialist revolution who were forced out
of the party spoke about its ‘transformation.’ They talked about
Thermidor and Bonapartism, but they never realized that the way to
Stalin and their own way to death began with the seizure of power
by a revolutionary minority and with the dissolution of the
Constituent Assembly. In the same way, the Right, which now find
themselves in the opposition, do not realize that the path to the
Putin regime began in 1991 when their party seized power without
the nation’s consent. The Belovezha Forest agreements on the Soviet
Union’s breakup (no matter whether it was possible or necessary to
try to preserve the Soviet Union) in 1991 were precisely such a
seizure of power behind the nation’s back. Two years later, in
1993, the party of ‘democrats’ reached a point of no return in its
transformation when it shelled the rebellious government members
who were holed up in the parliament building. At this point, it had
burned all of its bridges.

In actuality, Putin has done nothing special – he has just
removed the scaffolding from the already built building and added
some finishing touches to it. As for the building itself, it was
Yeltsin as opposed to Putin who was responsible for its
construction, as well as all those who applauded each stage of the
construction project but who went into opposition when they saw the
building without its scaffolding. Now they spend much time
reminiscing about the wonderful times when they had begun the
construction of a bright future with so much enthusiasm. The
present right opposition is a party of nostalgia for 1991 which has
failed to understand anything, just like the Trotskyites were a
party of nostalgia for 1917 who did not understand anything.

The Right took an active part in the construction of the
incumbent regime, while the Left, who bitterly hated them, gave
them their assistance. If the Right are a party of nostalgia for
1991, the Left are a party of nostalgia for the Stalin-Brezhnev
past. Whereas the present Right opposition has never understood how
the Putin regime emerged and why they have found themselves on the
sidelines, the present Left fail to understand why the Soviet
system collapsed and why the Soviet Union broke up.

The present Communists’ role in building the incumbent regime
was creating an obviously unrealistic and unacceptable alternative
to the past, something like a monarchic alternative in the 1920s.
(“Stalin is bad, but still this is not a return to czarism,” was
the attitude. “Yeltsin and Putin are bad, but still this is better
than the Communists.”) In this way, they, too, helped create the
regime of non-alternative power which the ‘democrats’ were actively
in the process of building. And now, when the government is
increasingly acquiring a traditionalist, Soviet nature, the left
opposition is losing its bearings, in much the same way as in
Stalin’s times when the opposition of nostalgia for the monarchy
began to lose its bearings.

In those times, the Bolsheviks who remained loyal to the ideals
of 1917 met in the GULAG with the monarchists who remained loyal to
the czar. Today, when customs are not that brutal, the personal
fate of ‘true democrats’ and ‘true Communists’ may not be as
gloomy, but from a political point of view it is the same.

Both oppositional camps have contributed to the construction of
the present regime, and now, like “the Moor [who] has done his
duty,” they can go. Both camps belong to the past and have no
future. They are unable to accomplish the main task facing this
country: going over to democracy, that is, enabling the Russian
people – who have never elected their governments – to start
electing them, as is done elsewhere in the civilized world.
But this problem will have to be addressed sooner or later. And the
death of the present oppositional camps does not postpone a
solution – on the contrary, it brings it nearer. This is because
dying oppositional groups make room for new political forces that
will be more adequate to the task.
However, such forces are not yet seen on the horizon. The contours
of new opposition are nowhere to be seen. Yet, generally speaking,
we can guess what form it will take, proceeding from the task it
will have to address.

This must be neither left nor right opposition per se, but
precisely democratic opposition. It must be led by people who will
understand well that a normal society must comprise both the Right
and the Left, cosmopolitans and patriots; that democracy does not
mean a victory of some people over others, rather, it means that
all of the actors play according to common rules of the game. This
means that even a very unpleasant, yet democratically elected,
parliament must not be dissolved. To put it bluntly, even a very
hungry person must not eat his neighbor.

To come to power, this opposition must be very strong and,
naturally, be a party of a majority. However, this must not be just
a majority, but an overwhelming and serried majority. Although one
can hardly imagine the present regime annulling elections and going
over to undisguised authoritarianism, it is obvious that when this
regime senses a real threat, it will not stop at such a trifle as
the large-scale rigging of general elections. It would be naive to
expect that the first rotation of power can be implemented simply
by winning 51 percent of votes and receiving power on a silver
platter. To come to power, a new democratic movement must be strong
enough to paralyze the regime’s resistance, like the Shevardnadze
regime was paralyzed in Georgia.

Obviously, forming such opposition and implementing Russia’s
first rotation of power is an immensely difficult task. The
incumbent regime in Russia is very strong, and we are now at the
zero point of a cycle, when the former opposition has already
disappeared and new oppositional forces have yet to be formed. The
formation of new opposition cannot be achieved by the next
elections in 2008 – this is a task for future decades, for the next
generation.
But even when this momentous event arrives, the first rotation of
power will still not be a final transition to a stable democracy.
The opposition’s first victory will be only the beginning. One must
wait until the winners themselves lose elections and admit their
defeat in a calm manner, and until those who defeated the winners
go from the political scene, as well.

Only after the completion of several such rotations will the
rules of the game be adopted by the entire society; at that point,
no one will think of violating them. So the decades that divide us
from the victory of the yet unborn opposition must be followed by
at least one more which will be needed to achieve a stable
democracy.

We are now only at the beginning of this very long and very
difficult journey. The first step requires that we understand what
kind of a journey it is going to be and that it will have to be
made because we simply have no alternative.