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[Ukrainian Statehood in the Twentieth Century: Historical and Political Analysis. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1996. pp. 299-312.]

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The Metamorphoses of postcommunist power

Oleksandr DERGACHOV, Volodymyr POLOKHALO

At the turn of the 1990s, the "democratic temptation" in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and former USSR, including Ukraine, was so great and social expectations so overblown that a host of intellectual traps appeared on the road to conceptual assessment of the new postcommunist reality. This primarily reflects a desire to skip sociohistorical time in appraising and modeling complex political processes, along with a penchant to the point of dogmatism for embracing methods and traditions of political research based mainly on West European and North American material.

These traps remain and give rise to numerous myths and pseudoscientific hypotheses. Although postcommunist societies are already historically mature (in terms of the scale and dynamics of sociopolitical transformations they are undergoing), political theory still lacks productive intellectual innovations, while political scientists, remaining captive to their own and imported scholarly stereotypes, simply cannot overcome their own inertia in understanding the central category of political science, the category of power.

1. Totalitarianism and Power: The Need for Rethinking

A pertinent question arises: what kind of system of understanding and elucidation might yield results in the political analysis of postcommunist power? /300/

We believe that the most productive approach to answering this question may reside in revising the notion of totalitarianism as an integral component part of a larger problem the problem of power.

Modern political theory characterizes totalitarianism as a type of political regime, political, and social system in which is inherent an all-embracing (total, totalitarian) control over society and the individual by the authorities. In this case, in identifying the main traits of totalitarianism, emphasis is laid, as a rule, on the role of ideology (eschatological and teleological in orientation and revolutionary in content) which the ruling elite forcibly instills in the population as "the only correct science," as well as on reprisals and the threat of them, which enable the rulers to dominate the individual and society.

There also are various other political science approaches to defining totalitarianism and modeling it theoretically. Without attempting a detailed analysis of these approaches, let us nevertheless note their common and gravest shortcoming: their tendency toward formalism. What is studied primarily are the external characteristics and attributes of totalitarianism (particularly, the absence of political rights and freedoms) as well as the instrumentalities, forms, and mechanisms of totalitarian control over society. In this area, researchers concentrate attention primarily on the classical varieties of totalitarianism which emerged in the twentieth century: communist (Stalinist) totalitarianism, fascism, and national socialism.

Simultaneously, its real signs and sources the total dependence of the individual on the regime, of the citizen on the state are overlooked. We mean here not only and not so much ideological dependence but also other numerous, often far from obvious, latent, non-economic, social, sociocultural, legal, and economic multi-dimensional dependences which point to variegated forms of power relations associated with coercion and violence. In the final analysis, the answer to the key question of comprehending the essence of /301/ totalitarianism and totalitarian power whether a person plays an active role in these power relationships or is an object without rights (passive or active) in thrall to those who wield power is neither simple nor unequivocal, especially within the context of the new, extraordinarily complex, and contradictory realities of the late twentieth century.

2. Postcommunist Neototalitarianism: Its Genesis and Special Features1

In the political thought of the postcommunist period most persistent and widespread is the idea that the general degradation and Collapse of communist ideology was simultaneously accompanied by the degradation, delegitimation, then collapse and disintegration of the communist totalitarian power, a power personified by the party/state nomenklatura and communist bureaucracy. At first glance it would seem logical and convincing to build the following quasitheoretical model on the pyramid: anti-totalitarian revolution (1989-1991) post-totalitarian power post-totalitarian state post-totalitarian society.

In other words, the fact is almost axiomatic and proven that totalitarian power has exhausted its potential, that therefore the state and sociopolitical life has been "detotalitarianized," and that there have been or are being successfully implemented principles of organizing power along the democratic vector of political development: man society state (power).

Meanwhile, the experience and practice of the postcommunist transformations testify to something entirely different: in the postcommunist states, or in most of them at any rate, nowhere'has the nomenklatura's power been either abolished of taken away by anyone; the nomenklatura itself has never given up power voluntarily to anybody, and the communist nomenklatura system of power as such has never fully disappeared anywhere.

These are already obvious enough tendencies in the /302/ evolution of the old power. We emphasize the main special features of this process of evolution.

1. The carrying out of a "revolution from above," the purposeful self-transformation of communist totalitarian power and, as a result, the emergence of new types and varieties of power relationships genetically, essentially, and historically connected to previous ones. The special feature of this unusual "revolution" is primarily the evolutionary transformation of political and state power into a new type of ownership by means of the illegitimate, shadow appropriation and distribution of the totalitarian nationalized "property of the whole people" by its actual possessor, the former party bureaucracy, on the initiative of its pragmatic "reformist" segment.

The second half of the 1980s saw the beginning of, first, the conversion of political and state power of the ex-communist nomenklatura into clan/corporativistic, nomenklatura/capitalist economic power, secondly, the intensive concentration of this new/old power outside society's control, and thirdly, the formation of a new postcommunist financial oligarchy. In this sense it becomes possible to state that a new, "magic" merger of politics and economics occurred, the direct transformation of the appropriated property into political and state power and vice versa. In this respect during approximately the last ten years the postcommunist states (with, perhaps, some exceptions) a self-sufficient, mutated system of power gradually evolved, a system commanding adequate resources, totalitarian in essence, and simultaneously alienated from the majority of society. Into this the old comunist nomenklatura (both its pragmatic "reformist" and orthodox wings) and accordingly, with the appearance of new so-called "opposition" communist parties, the greater part of the neocommunist nomenklatura were organically assimilated.

2. The criminalization and corruption of power structures and the state bureaucracy, growing role of shadow group politics, and growing claims to power and influence /303/ upon "necessary" decisions by publicly unconstituted power centers, i.e., the "mafiaization" of power and the emergence of a so-called "fifth power."

Many postcommunist, especially post-Soviet, states are characterized today not only by an unprecedented scale of venality among their civil servants but by the transformation of corruption into a norm of sociopolitical existence. These countries de facto witness a symbiosis of the state bureaucrats at various levels, the leaders of semi-legal and shadow economic enterprises, and criminal world bosses, cementing these forces into a shadow nomenklatura. On this basis total control is exerted over the distribution and redistribution of state property and economic resources ("privatization"), over the spheres of production, market, foreign trade, over economic and social policy as a whole.

In essence, political power has become a universal commodity, which, depending on supply and demand, commands a certain price. However, this commodity has become an object bought and sold only on a black market, a political market closed to the majority. This is a monopolistic trade, in which a greater or lesser portion of power becomes a universally liquid commodity traded among strong criminal (nomenklatura) corporativist clans.

Finally, it has become normal and natural that many leaders of these clans (or their agents) step by step emerge from the "shadows" to political frontstage, seeking social recognition and public legitimization. They have been actively drawn to politics and openly buy themselves key positions in executive and legislative bodies at both the national and local level. It is clear that under such circumstances the anticorruption campaigns announced in almost every post-Soviet state are nothing more than populist posturing. It is understood that such campaigns cannot have even the slightest measure of real success in the near future, for this would mean destroying not only the political and economic conditions but the very mode of existence of contemporary postcommunist power. /304/

3. Thanks to the above tendencies, the crisis and, hence, the ruin and fall of the state's totalitarian communist ideology has not become a basic factor which could cause an irreversible destruction of the very essence of totalitarian power relationships.

The real delegitimation and collapse of the communist political doctrine did not lead to the delegitimation and ultimate collapse of communist totalitarianism in its various guises, from moderate in Slovakia and Bulgaria to more rigid in the former USSR. Moreover, communist nomenklatura-based power in the former socialist states has displayed extreme permeability and adaptability to new conditions, having sensed the weakness of the Marxist-Leninist political ideology with respect to its main function, total control and legitimacy, long before the collapse of the communist system. It is in this sense that we should understand the emergence of the first alternative elements, so to speak, compensatory surrogates of the old doctrine: "new thinking," "the priority of common human values," etc., in the official lexicon of the 1980s. Thus, the collapse of communist ideology did not find the communist nomenklatura unawares. The nomenklatura had prepared for it even before the deideologization of the masses took place.

Without doubt, this does not mean that the nomenklatura ceased to value the legitimizing significance of political ideology as a mechanism for total control over society or at least as a formidable obstacle to the formation of truly democratic opposition parties and a full-fledged counterelite. In essence, the nomenklatura treats political ideology as a certain meta-ideology within which the production and dissemination is carried out of a conglomeration of ideas, myths, and slogans based on a specific sociopolitical situation and certain sociocultural peculiarities.

Postcommunist meta-ideology is not a certain ideological condition but a process of filtering various ideational-political attitudes, of testing various views in terms of their ability to reproduce power relationships according to the to-/305/talitarian model of dependency: state (power) society individual. It can deftly combine in a broad repertoire both the "pure" classical political doctrines (communism, nationalism, and fascism) and form hybrids by mixing them with elements taken from other political doctrines, including democratic ones (social democracy, liberalism, etc.). But all the recombinations of postcommunist meta-ideology remain aimed at the preservation and cultivation of the social and nationalist Utopias which constitute the ideological dominants of totalitarianism.

3. The Geopolitical "Genes" of Postcommunist Power

The power established in the formerly communist countries has the same origins and thus has essential common features. The totalitarian and overideologized nature of the former social system led to all-encompassing "communization," the denationalization of political power, while a rigid centralization of inter-state relations and control by the Kremlin created the de facto absence of sovereignty and independence. For decades full-fledged national existence was lacking and a forced socialist integration nurtured a deeplyentrenched compradore ruling stratum in the postcommunist countries. Of course, the above-mentioned social mutations on the CIS territory went much deeper than in East Central Europe or even in the Baltics and influenced the logic of how the new regimes were created, their qualitative differences, and geopolitical orientations.

A rigid external dependence and internationalist standardization of political life long for rendered it impossible to pursue a national strategy of development. Strategy was Moscow's monopoly. Likewise, in the conditions of a declining "centralizing force," i.e., a radical change of external circumstances, all countries of the region were doomed in most cases to sovereignty and independence, though it contradicted (or greatly anticipated) their internal development.

It is natural that the abrupt and largely unforeseen /306/ changes of the status of statehood placed an especially onerous burden on power which not so much guided the process of sovereignization as it managed it. This has a special impact on the situation in the "Eurasian space" where independence came as a redistribution of power between the central and peripheral (republican) nomenklaturas. The oppression and elimination of any, especially national, elements of civil society in the former USSR left no niche for a competitive counter-elite. Objective preconditions for a qualitative renewal of the party of power, as a prerequisite to national revival and, the more so, for transition to a civilized competition of alternative political forces, is still absent here. In this respect, power in the new independent states is firmly held by the forces which originate genetically from the imperial, social internationalist past and, in any case, take on the role of the representatives and defenders of national interests.

Postcommunist power and the top state bureaucracy of the post-Soviet countries have benefited the most from the collapse of the USSR and have a powerful material stimulus to patriotism. However, it is only the question of a nonguaranteed and far-from-complete corporative and national interests. As evidenced by the example of Belarus, such power can easily ignore not only the social expectations of society but also the very idea of statehood and independence, for it lacks truly national roots and responsibility for the people. A unique dynamism and ease of reintegration processes in the CIS is accounted for precisely by the fact that what we see is not a rapprochement among states as such but a recombination of alternatives for the division of influences and mutual support of the national parties of power, their use of the stand-by "Eurasian" geopolitical mechanisms of rule which are not subject to regulative mechanisms or direct impact of the international community and international law.

Simultaneously, there is a more large-scale and marked external dependence of postcommunist power: it is no longer able to remain absolutely isolated in the international space /307/ and refuse to "work" under conditions of free competition. It has to adapt to certain standards of democracy and seek material assistance from the developed countries. All this results in a situation which, for want of the ultimate responsibility before the people, gives rise to external dependence or even formal international liability as to self-reform and carrying out general democratic socioeconomic and political changes. This strikes a new contradictory balance between non-productive geopolitical dependence within the "near abroad" and general imperatives of a civilized development. This in turn was mirrored a new contradictory balance in the logic of internal political struggle and created unique concepts combining, in different proportions and for different reasons, nationalism and internationalism, patriotism and servility to the empire. What they retain in common is the absence of a nation-state linchpin, readiness to trade off national interests and sovereignty in order to consolidate their own power.

4. The Neototalitarian Paradigm of State-Building in Ukraine

In 1991 Ukraine raised its national flag without having any real program of political and economic independence or political philosophy. And today the Ukrainian state and society are still in an uncertain condition The content of domestic discussion concerns not only the strategies and priorities of socioeconomic development, the principles governing its political structure, but statehood itself. The ever-deepening crisis and spontaneous social processes make it extremely difficult to identify tendencies and the most shortterm prospects. "Great" and "European" Ukraine displays a political life amorphous in both content and form. This characterizes not only the current ruling elite (the party of power) but also the political forces which pretend to offer a realistic alternative. Under these conditions, the flow of criticism (of the most diverse nature in terms of its points of departure, /308/ degrees of intransigence, and to whom it addresses itself), hunts for the guilty and enemies, now an integral feature of Ukrainian political life, are, with some exceptions, a spontaneous manifestation of discontent and disagreement, an impulsive reaction to the escalation of difficulties, but by no means the evidence of a true understanding of the real state of affairs, the essence of problems and the possibilities for their solution. The Ukrainian regime itself is interested in these problems only insofar as the latter affect its prospects for self-preservation.

Ukraine's problems were forced on it by foreign history and a highly unnatural but internally logical coexistence of the incompatible: deep-rooted signs of dependence, provinciality, and inadequacy; demands for independence; the huge debris of economic, political, and mental Bolshevism, along with a pressing need for transformations and building a civilized society. Under normal conditions, a state cannot contain such opposites and remain viable. Such contradictions cannot be reconciled; between them there can be no rational compromise; conflict among them is inevitable. Under conditions of natural independent development such a collection of domestic problems could only bring on a revolutionary situation, which would by axiom envisage the presence of powerful political and socioeconomic dynamics. Ukrainian society has not inherited such dynamics. The impulse to independence and state-building has proved to be neutral in a general civil context and failed to decide the main thing what kind of a state independent Ukraine ought to become.

The process of gaining independence was characterized by hyperbolic expectations that the socioeconomic situation would improve and society would go forward rapidly. A widespread attitude toward reforms as something already accomplished is one of the most stable and hence strange myths in postcommunist Ukraine. Indeed, there was not (nor is there now) a single political force which would not declare that reforms are needed. Meanwhile it also must be stated that not a single well-thought-out program of reforms /309/ has ever been proposed. This concerns both the economy and the political sphere and is the natural result of Ukrainian society's internal unpreparedness for self-organization, for working out a strategy capable of offering a way to ameliorate its inherited internal disharmonies.

Such is society's condition anomaly and the symptoms of sickness. Inability to perceive, formulate, and defend its basic national interests is the main reason for Ukraine's political and socioeconomic stagnation and ill-defined prospects of development.

Ukrainian society lacks above all certain social strata capable of performing important public functions. Of special importance is the political weakness and lack of independence of the intellectual elite, along with the criminal and nomenklatura-like essence of national entrepreneurship. This results in the weakness and lack of independence of the general democratic segment in the political spectrum, which is drawn into a nomenklatura-run state-building process. Thus, there are no real alternatives, even the least real resistance, to the state's "self-building," led by the party of power without a blueprint endorsed by society. Power acts in a rarefied sociopolitical space and makes use of it.

It is the unstructured, amorphous nature of society that hampers its self-organization and purposeful influence on the authorities, even under conditions of the deepening economic crisis. This also rules out the establishment of a fullfledged party system and normal political process in general. Various formally self-evident elements of democracy do not really work, and a sizable part of the population understands neither their importance nor value. A decorative Ukrainian democracy is extremely convenient for the party of power and of little use to the masses. And this, in turn, discredits real democracy.

During the years of independence, Ukraine has gained the image of the most stable and conflict-free state in the CIS. This "achievement" constantly figures in the program speeches of top leaders and is used to demonstrate that a /310/ certain state strategy has been successfully carried out. Leaders of the national democratic forces are also inclined to turn to an idea of social accord supposedly rooted in the nation's mentality. In general, internal stability of Ukraine is officially portrayed and mostly accepted as a sign of "Europeanness," civilization, and a guarantee of successful social transformations.

Yet, Ukrainian stability, as evidenced by the experience of recent years, is of a highly contradictory nature and remains one of the factors which in reality utterly fails to influence the character of political and economic reform. This stability is mostly based on a conscious or "instinctive" unwillingness to tackle these differences rather than on their absence or settlement. The paradox is in the fact that the passivity and indifference of Ukrainian society is the real guarantee of today's "stability."

The state power in Ukraine is not stagnant. The highest party and suite nomenklatura, which dominated unconditionally in Ukraine in 1991, appropriated the idea of sovereignization and took the task of state building on themselves. National democratic forces (first of all, national and only then democratic) went to their former ideological enemies as junior partners giving the latter their slogans and a sizable share of their prestige. The idea of Ukrainian statehood began to cement the political system in a neoetatist vein, sanctify overbureaucratization, set a peculiar monopoly on patriotism and at the same time lose, quite logically, popularity and support "from below." The matter of such state-building also proved familiar and quite acceptable for "leftwing" forces of all hues and attracted the "professional" interest of the army of bureaucrats, thus becoming the property of the nomenklatura as a whole.

The task of reviving and building society was cast aside in favor of one of a purely pragmatic and directly profitable character for those most prominent in carrying out the program of strengthening state structures. This process concentrated within itself practically all the contents, contradic-/311/tions, and real divisions existing in the country. Simultaneously, state-building in such a general, neototalitarian vein hindered the development of democratic institutions and the nation's creative potential in general.

A special feature of the structure of power resides in its combining heterogeneity, homogeneity, integrity, internal struggle and, at the same time, corporativism, a penchant for ideational metamorphoses, and an ability to reach compromise among those who hold different views and represent different groupings. There is every reason to speak about the existence in Ukraine of a well developed and strong party of power capable of serving the interests of various nomenklatura groups through collective exploitation of the country's resources. As for the political clashes and conflicts we witness today on Ukraine's political scene, they occur not in connection with cardinal changes in the system of power itself, but due to the regrouping and rotation of the interests of certain components of the political elite. There is no doubt that, should a real threat emerge from some new social and political sub-stratum, all these components, now seemingly inimical to each other, would immediately rally together, as has often been the case since August-September 1991. However, there is as yet no such "threat" from society.

The very mutual understanding among state functionaries who brandish slogans of European-type reforms and those who declare themselves champions of the ideas of "social justice," their blending into a single body of the party of power engenders the phenomenon of Ukrainian stagnation-development syncretism and still new stagnation, albeit now under the national flag.

In these conditions, working out a long-term strategy or a specific state program is fraught not so much with the destabilization of society as the destabilization of the party of power. In search of overall stability different factions of Ukrainian establishment rally around a political center which now lacks any social base. Meanwhile, an essentially /312/ populist maneuver is thus being carried out, a futile attempt being made to reconcile incompatible sociopolitical concepts. The popularity of the idea of a special "third way" among both left-wing conservatives and official reformers is a vivid testimony to their common fear of fundamental changes, their desire to evade definitness and concreteness, so much needed by society, but risky for those in power.

Search for an optimum strategy of development was replaced by the very pragmatic tactic of strengthening the governmental structures, which brings a quick profit to the main executors. This process in fact concentrates all the achievements, differences, and marked changes the country is undergoing. Yet, state-building in such a general, totalitarian version nips in the bud democratic institutions and the nation's creative potential as a whole. This vector of development was plotted already under Leonid Kravchuk and is being further extended today. Leonid Kuchma, after conducting, since the presidential election, rather complex maneuvers in the process of setting the priorities of domestic and foreign policy, shows no haste to specify and fix publicly the objectives of his own presidency.

Making use of the passivity of society, the extreme weakness of democratic institutions, and the state control over the mass media, the party of power, now headed by a second president, has built a complex but quite recognizable political pyramid based not only on a hierarchial structure of administration but also on the accumulation of general promises and calls for patriotism. This is the largest and most universal trust company exploiting popular credulity. The whole population is its investors in both the purely financial and economic sense as well as in terms of delegating their own will to power. The company is monopolistic and out of control; it has paid no dividends for almost five years, yet it functions legitimately. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine that qualitatively different leaders could have obtained a popular mandate, given the situation in society. Under such conditions of a nominally democratic election /313/ mechanism, the dependent status of vast strata of the population, and its totalitarian, distorted political culture, Ukraine has at the helm what it has.

The further distancing of power from the people, its being out of control, its defending itself from real competition and responsibility are all obvious. The Ukrainian paradigm of state-building today is but the manifestation of creating a state for its own sake, outside society and above it.

1 See also: Polokhalo V., "Neototalitarian Transformations of Postcommunist Power in Ukraine," The Political Analysis of Postcommunism, (Kyiv, 1995), pp. 155-161.

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