Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russia's Elites in Search of Consensus: What Kind of Consolidation?

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russia's Elites in Search of Consensus: What Kind of Consolidation?

Article excerpt

There is a commonly accepted view that different segments of the elite are major actors in regime transition and consolidation. Most scholars of democratization believe that substantial compromises among elites are a necessary (although not the only) condition of a successful transition to democracy. However, evidence from Russian politics casts some doubt on this proposition. At least, several attempts at elite pacts or settlements have not led to democracy even in the most minimal sense thus far. The study of elite interactions and their impact on transition processes in Russia might be useful for understanding the limits of elitist models of democratization.

The following analysis consists of three sections. In the first section, I discuss some elements of theoretical schemes of the impact of intra-elite conflict and consensus on regime transition process and their application to contemporary Russia. The second section is a case study of regime transition at the level of subnational politics in Russia, in Nizhny Novgorod oblast in 1991-98. In the final section I consider the development of national elites in post-Soviet Russia and speculate about the possible implications of Russia's experience for further analysis of the role of elites in regime transition processes.

Elite Consensus: Pro et Contra

Although the idea that the achievement of consensus among different factions of elites is a breakthrough in the process of transition to democracy was formulated a long time ago,1 the elitist concept of democratization was elaborated in the 1980s and early 1990s. The "transitologists," who analyzed the process of democratization in Latin America and Southern Europe, introduced the model of successful transition to democracy via a "pact" between the moderate wings of the ruling elite and the opposition.2 Almost simultaneously, elite theorists, who analyzed regime transitions from a comparative-historical perspective, developed a similar concept.3 The analysis of regime transitions by elite theorists started from a typology of political elites and corresponding political regimes. The scholars determined three ideal types of elites based on the different types of elite structure.4

The first is a "disunified elite," characterized by minimal value consensus and cooperation among elite factions in regard to existing political institutions and by unlimited political struggle according to a zero-sum game principle. This elite type exists in unstable political systems, both democratic and authoritarian. The second is a "consensually unified elite." characterized by value consensus and cooperation among elite factions in regard to existing political institutions, in the framework of which political conflicts are carried out in a positive-sum game. This elite type exists in stable representative regimes, "at least nominally democratic in nature." Finally, the "ideologically unified elite" is also characterized by value consensus and cooperation among elite factions with regard to existing political institutions; cooperation is assured by the presence of a dominant elite faction whose ideology determines the character of official political discourse. This type of elite exists in stable, nonrepresentative regimes, where despite the presence of democratic institutions, political competition among elites for mass support does not exist.

According to the elitist concept, the main development trend is the transformation of elite and political systems from a disunified elite toward a consensual unified elite. In the comparative-historical perspective, elite theorists make the distinction between two different models of elite transformation: long-term "elite convergence" and short-term "elite settlement." To some extent, the elite settlement model is close to the model of a "pact." Pact as a mode of transition is based on a compromise among elite groups regarding the major political institutions (i.e., the formal and informal norms and rules that constrain the activities of political actors). …

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