Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Regions in Search of a Violent Entrepreneur

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Regions in Search of a Violent Entrepreneur

Article excerpt

The problem of the "violent entrepreneur" (enforcer), clearly stated by Russian sociologist Vadim Volkov (1) and based on Mancur Olson's model of "stationary bandit," (2) has already taken up an important place in the social sciences, particularly in political regional studies. As Volkov has shown, any social or economic activity outside the closest circle of relatives or friends requires an external force that acts as a guarantee of commitment to "the rules of the game" and interpersonal agreements. The social actor fulfilling this function he terms a "violent entrepreneur." In the modern period, this violent entrepreneur who possessed a monopoly over legal violence was the state. In the early 1990s, however, the situation in Russia began to change. Although the state apparatus of the USSR had disintegrated, the new post-Soviet state was still in the process of formation and could not maintain order. At the same time, groups who had just recently become economically active felt an increasing need for a violent entrepreneur. To meet this need at a time when the state could not, alternative violent entrepreneurs appeared: criminal entities, private security companies, and regional and municipal administrations. The best that most of these new violent entrepreneurs could hope for was a local monopoly over violence; they had to coexist with violent entrepreneurs both at their level and above them in the social hierarchy. At any given time, one of the enforcers in this space would take the lead, determining the behavior of economic and social actors and defining the structure of figuration (3) as a system of interconnected actors.

By analyzing the actions of one or another (quasi-)political actor, researchers have revealed the details of regional political regimes and discovered the network of agencies creating these regimes. (4) Comparatively little attention, however, has been paid to the dynamics of these processes, regime change, and the structure of violent entrepreneurs providing and maintaining social order on a given territory.

The goal of the present article is to trace what is happening to today's regional enforcers. This involves discussing changes in economic and social practices, because as Volkov has shown, (5) such changes are closely connected to the actions of violence enforcers.

The geographical scope of this paper is the southern and maritime parts of the Russian Far East. This region was selected not only due to my personal location in this region, but also due to specific social and economic features of the Russian Far East. (6) In the Soviet period, the economy of this region--described as "a Soviet fortress in Asia"--was based on the military-industrial complex. At some points, military officers and their families, as well as military factory workers, comprised over 50% of the regional labor force. (7) Natural resource extraction (of precious, ferrous, non-ferrous and rare earth metals; marine and freshwater biore-sources; fuels etc.) was secondary to the militarily-oriented economy.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the region's industrial enterprises degraded and in most cases closed. This degradation spread to small and medium enterprises and the social infrastructure connected to them. As a result, there was a mass population outflow of over 20% in the post-Soviet period, and the remaining population transitioned en masse to new, post-Soviet industries. The Soviet economy had fewer "broken pieces" here than in the European part of Russia, and the processes were much more obvious--and therefore easier to describe. This reality informed my interest in violent entrepreneurs in the Far East.

The empirical basis for analysis is several series of informal biographical interviews with inhabitants of the Far East, collected by me or with my participation from 1997 to 2016 (23 interviews in total). The first series of informal interviews was collected in Khabarovsk in 1998 within the framework of the project "Competing for Taxpayers: Regional, Federal and Shadow Taxation," supported by the Moscow Public Scientific Foundation (MPSF). …

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