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The Structural Approach


A third, structural, approach to explaining the lack of party development devotes attention to the scale of socio-economic transformation in Russia. This school attributes the lack of party development in Russia to poorly defined socio-economic cleavages in Russian society.  

Post-communist transformations destroy old classes, create new interest groups, and confuse almost everyone living through the transition. The slow development of capitalism in Russia suggests that we should expect a similarly slow formation of market-based interest groups. Russian parties, in turn, have had difficulty in situating themselves on programmatic or interest-based dimensions. For instance, Russia has weak liberal parties, because Russia has a small and ill-defined middle class.

The Triumphal March of Capitalists in Russia. Poster:

Under these circumstances, interest cleavages in the 1990s were fashioned more by general attitudes about the transition, rather than by particular economic or even ethnic concerns. In the 1990s political situations and electoral choices were often polarized into two camps, those for change and those against. More conventional cleavages that demarcate the contours of stable party systems in other countries may perhaps emerge only now that this polarization has begun to recede. This approach offers important insights about party weakness in Russia and predicts that party development will occur from the bottom-up.

Still others believe that the long shadow of an authoritarian past and an unstructured post-Soviet society cannot be blamed entirely for the lack of party development in Russia today. They emphasize a causal relationship between individual choice and party development. Specifically, Russian political elites made choices about the timing of elections, the kind of electoral systems, and the relationship between the president and parliament at the federal level and the relationship among the heads of administration of local legislatures at the regional level, all of which have impeded party development.

In other words, parties in Russia are weak because the most powerful politicians in Russia have made choices to make them weak. Cultural, historical, and socio-economic factors play a role in impeding party development, but individual decisions especially decisions about institutional design are the more salient causes of poor party development.

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