Yesterday there was another poll on the Russian Presidential elections in 2018, this time from FOM (although state-owned, my impression is that they aren’t any less accurate than the independent – and somewhat oppositionist – Levada).
Adjusting for undecideds/no shows, the results if elections were to be held tomorrow are as follows: Putin – 84%, Zhirinovsky – 9%, Zyuganov – 5%, Sobchak – 3%.
First, I am pretty pleased with these results, since they tally with my 80/7/7/7 prediction (Putin will lose a few percentage points due to lower turnout, but make it up with a little padding of the results; relative to Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky traditionally does better in polls than in real life; and Sobchak will eke out quite a lot more thanks to (a) liberals usually being underweighed by polls, and (b) many of the Yavlinsky (1%) and “other candidate” (1%; I assume these are mostly hardcore Navalny fans) supporters voting for her.
But the second, and more interesting, point is how Zhirinovsky, permanent Fuhrer of the nationalist LDPR, has suddenly become the primary recipient of Russia’s protest vote, a role that was previously the preserve of the Communists. Whereas Zhirinovsky gets 13% to Zyuganov’s 11% and the liberals’ (Sobchak, Yavlinsky, other candidate = Navalny) combined ~9% amongst people with a mixed view of Putin, and 17% to Zyuganov’s 10% and the liberals’ ~8% amongst people who are apathetic towards Putin, Zhirinovsky now commands the support of 40% of Russian voters with a negative view of Putin, versus Zyuganov’s 7%, the liberals’ 18%, and 35% who would not vote or would spoil their ballots (many of these are probably liberals).
Several years ago, it was popular to talk of Hungary’s “Putinization” in neoliberal circles. But I submit that we might now get to see Russia’s “Orbanization,” as the great mass of the opposition to a dominant conservative regime shifts from tired old Communists, and liberals whose popularity is confined to yuppies and the intelligentsia in the big cities, to more overt and hardline nationalists.
Bearing this in mind, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at Zhirinovsky’s 2018 program:
The first thing one notices is that it is something of a mess; an idiosyncratic collection of populist, authoritarian, populist, statist, democratic, and even genuinely liberal proposals. It’s like they locked a cryptoanarchist, an Alt Rightist, and a /pol/tard in a room and forced them to come up with something without bothering to even edit the final product. Said room being Zhirinovsky’s beautiful brain. As such, there is something to be found for almost every exotic species of Russian nationalist – though fully satisfying far fewer of them.
The famous Russian far right blogger/troll Vladimir Frolov (“yarowrath“) once argued that the “basedness” level of a Russian politician could be accurately proxied by the ratio of “russkie” (ethnic Russians) vs. “rossiyane” (anodyne PC term for denizens of Russia) in his vocabulary. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of Russian nationalists is that they are unafraid to speak of the interests of russkie, whereas kremlins and liberals alike opt for the term rossiyane (PM Dmitry Medvedev prefers the even less offensive “inhabitants of Russia”).
Consequently, the second thing one notices is that Zhirinovsky’s 1,200 word program is full of “russkie” – twelve instances, to be precise. In contrast, the similarly short program of Alexey Navalny, whom some believe to be a nationalist, mentions the word a grand total of once – in the context of the “russkie” (Russian) language.
Here is what Zhirinovsky is promising to do for russkie, in the sense of ethnic Russians:
- Give passports to all Russians. Defend Russians abroad, do not allow foreigners to take children from Russian families.
- Russia, its environment and its democracy – for everyone: For Russians, and the other peoples of the country.
- 23. Add the following preamble to the Constitution: “We, Russians and the other peoples of Russia…”
- 24. Create an Institute of the Russian Holocaust of the 20th Century
- 66. Rely on Russians, not foreigners, in the Academy of Sciences and the universities.
- We will not allow [foreigners] to shoot down russkie planes, or to laugh at, criticize, lie about, and smear Russia.
The mention of an institute dedicated to the persecution of Russians in the 20th century is particularly fascinating, since this is one of the ideas that we (Kirill Nesterov, @pigdog, myself) have been promoting at our ROGPR podcast for the past year. There are few better ways to generate national solidarity than to promote the idea of some great shared tragedy, and it’s not like Russians would even have to invent anything. Meanwhile, it will accelerate the further discreditation of Communism, liberalism, and the cult of West Worship.
In Russian Nationalism 101, I mentioned three things that virtually all Russian nationalists agree on: An end to mass immigration from Central Asia; no more prosecutions for “hate speech”; and the liquidation of regional autonomies. Zhirinovsky’s program is a “tick, tick, tick” so far as all of these are concerned.
- 8. Do not allow people from the south to commit crimes in central Russia.
- 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
- 26. The country should be divided into 30-40 guberniyas.
- 27. Cancel the Federation Council.
- 34. Limit immigration to Russia.
- 57. Teach local languages only if locals want to.
Note that the “nationalist” Navalny only ever mentions the cancelation of Article 282 when he is specifically asked about it. It is not in his program, and while he doesn’t shy away from using his social media reach to promote various petitions and causes, including some rather inconsequential ones, for some reason he has never tried to collect signatures for the cancelation of Article 282.
Ideologically, Zhirinovsky’s program can perhaps best be described as populist-reactionary:
- 12. Reconcile Tsarist, Soviet, and modern Russia.
- 13. All revolutions are evil.
- 15. Return Imperial symbols: The black-gold-white flag, “God Save the Tsar” as the national anthem, replace the Kremlin’s red stars with the original imperial eagles.
- 20. Return the old names of Russia’s cities and streets.
- 82. Redominate the ruble: Remove two zeros, one dollar is worth 60 kopeks.
Almost all non-Leftist Russian nationalists support some form of de-Communization program. It is, of course, rather strange that Russia has a 700,000 population city named after an Italian Communist leader who didn’t even succeed in taking power, a 250,000 population city named after a Polish red terrorist, and a 200,000 population city named after a German Russophobe.
The program has a strong patriarchic slant, and is strongly targeted towards siloviks:
- 6. Further strengthen the Army and security services.
- 7. Hit criminality. Create a system of military field trials.
- 9. Cancel the moratorium on the death penalty.
- 21. Do not allow more than 10% negative information on TV and radio.
- 65. Encourage men to go into the education sector.
This would meet support with mainstream conservative nationalists, though many of its points would not go over well with the more liberal Sputnik i Pogrom. While they support an increase in the size of the military, especially of the Ground Forces – the Ukraine and Belorussia aren’t going to regather back into Russia by themselves – they want to do it at the expense of the National Guard and other bloated police and paramilitary agencies.
However, there are otherwise few specifics on foreign policy, apart from the general policy of defending Russians abroad:
- We need to finish things up in the Middle East. Reorient foreign policy to the South. Alliance with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria. This is 400 million people, technologies, resources, armies.
This is probably Zhirinovsky’s background as a Turcologist speaking, but the general point or for that matter even the feasibility of this proposal is a very open question.
There is a strong pro-natality element.
- 50. Pay women to avoid abortion, the child will be raised by the state.
- 51. Create a Ministry of Demographics and offer free fertility treatments.
- 53. Promote a cult of the family.
- 54. Pay 20,000 rubles per month to people who adopt orphans.
- 55. Stimulate fertility in regions where deaths exceed births.
It’s worth noting that #55 is basically codeword for ethnic Russian regions.
That said, this is far from a grim document propounding unremitting authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and ultranationalism.
In some respects, it would also increase the civil liberties of ordinary people.
- 1. Build a country without Communism, Nazism, racism, or authoritarianism.
- 12. A one party regime doomed the Empire, and the USSR.
- 17. Name the mistakes of the Soviet leadership, publish the archives, condemn perestroika.
- 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
- 29. Replace all the judges.
- 30. Conduct free and fair elections.
- 31. Develop local self-government.
- 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
- 73. Easen the processs of getting European visas, remove all sanctions.
- 74. Make life easier for disabled people: Accessible accomodations, more ramps, freedom from having to pay utilities fees.
- 91. In Russia, the economy, and democracy, was always offered “from above.” Everything was decided by bureaucrats. The people weren’t allowed to decide anything.
Admittedly, there’s a substantial element of schizophrenia here. For instance, given the rest of the program, it’s rather hard to see the Europeans agreeing to expedite #73.
As regards basic governance and economic policy, the proposals fall into two big, somewhat contradictory categories.
On the one hand, there are the “developmental” policies, e.g. high infrastructure spending, the repatriation of offshore capital, and a reduction of regulations on business along lines that one can imagine even institutions like the IMF approving of.
- 4. Intense development of road networks, trains with speeds of 400km/h.
- 10. Attention to the fight against corruption. Bribe-taking bureaucrats should be fired and have their assets confiscated. A businessman should compensate anything stolen by a multiple of three.
- 19. State commission to investigate the looting of the country after 1991.
- 28. Reduce the numbers of Duma deputies to 200.
- 35. Forbid banks from offering credit with property as collateral.
- 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
- 48. Develop tourism in Russia.
- 78. Review the results of privatization, without violence and persecution, through persuasion.
- 81. Organize a mass free distribution of shares in the state companies to Russian citizens.
- 83. Large-scale economic amnesty, introduce secret accounts in at least one Russian state bank, and return to Russia all capital illegally taken offshore.
- 87. Companies working in Russia should have their accounts in Russian banks.
- 92. Motivate rich citizens to return their money to Russia, only here can they be safe, because abroad they are under the threat of sanctions, freezes, and confiscations.
- 93. No inspections of businesses, apart from restaurants/catering and medicine. Don’t bother hard-working people!
- 94. Small businesses involved in science and production – freedom from taxes.
- 96. Reduce amount of compulsory contributions from entrepreneurs.
Orban pushed through the equivalent of #28 in Hungary. A definite answer to the 1990s privatization question needs to be furnished sooner or later to secure property rights in Russia (for comparison, Navalny proposes a windfall tax, as in Britain). #81 is perhaps a good idea to make ordinary Russians feel more invested in any future privatizations, which are otherwise bound to be unpopular. Economic amnesty is an idea often promoted by liberal economists. Since business inspections are too often just a source of rent for bureaucrats in Russia, cutting them down even further is also often proposed.
However, many of Zhirinovsky’s policies are to various extents statist, populist, or just plainly badly thought out; are of dubious efficacy; and would have the general effect of raising spending on social welfare, restricting individual autonomy, increasing state control of the economy, and increasing general inefficiency.
- 2. Not a single person unemployed, homeless, or hungry.
- 33. Import substitution, sell finished products, not raw materials, abroad.
- 37. Cancel the principle of equity construction. The state must build and sell housing.
- 38. Cancel mortgages. Only building cooperatives and social housing.
- 39. Forbid debt collectors.
- 41. Remove all debt-related restrictions on travel abroad.
- 43. War against unhealthy additives to food. Forbid imports of GMO food.
- 44. There is an obesity problem. Time to restrict advertising of unhealthy food.
- 45. No to black market vodka. Create state stores selling cheap but high quality vodka; elsewhere, at market prices.
- 46. Forbid sects, trainings, centers, etc. whose activities are harmful to citizens.
- 49. Return completely free healthcare.
- 59. Cancel the Unified State Exam. Accept students to universities without exams and return 5 year education.
- 68. Minimum wage of no less than 20,000 rubles.
- 85. A tax on superincomes.
- 86. Remove Russia’s foreign currency reserves from US Treasuries.
- 88. Nationalize trading centers, free up space for domestic producers.
- 89. Debt forgiveness of at least 50% for all agrobusinesses and farmers.
- 100. Special attention has to be given to Siberia and the Far East: No tax economy, salary bonuses, housing subsidies, road construction.
Unfortunately the good or at least perspective ideas are more than counterbalanced by alternatingly questionable and outright catastrophic ones which will, in all likelihood, make Russia into Venezuela.
In particular, the assumptions in #45 are simply wrong, and will collapse Russian life expectancy back down by 5 years or so.
As for ending university exams, that’s not just a return to the USSR, but to the 1920s USSR; without even the Unified State Exam to go on, how are universities supposed to select for talent?
However, in all fairness, many of these proposals will play well to the LDPR’s low-information voters.
This hints at the biggest and most irreconcilable problem of nationalism not just in Russia but throughout Europe and the US generally – the human capital is very low.
Nonetheless, there is precisely zero chance of Zhirinovsky winning and consequently trying to push through his more maladaptive ideas (even assuming that they are earnestly meant). As such, a case can be made that Russian nationalists would be well-advised to vote for him to move those issues which the LDPR really is good on – immigration policy, free speech, a vision of a future where ethnic Russians can advocate for their own ethnic interests without being accused of insulting minorities – further within the Overton Window.