The Infrastructure of Authoritarianism: State-Society Relationships, Public Sector Organizations, and Regime Resilience in Putin's Russia

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This dissertation uses the case of Putin’s Russia to examine how authoritarian regimes build relationships with their societies in a way that strengthens authoritarian rule. In contrast to the existing scholarship, which concentrates on redistributive politics, that is, on the autocrat’s capacities to buy the loyalty of the masses, I suggest an infrastructural mechanism of authoritarian resilience, which is alternative and complementary to redistribution. This infrastructural mechanism is linked to Michael Mann’s concept of infrastructural state power, i.e. the ability of the state to penetrate society to the grass roots level. I argue that the embeddedness of state organizations in people’s everyday lives allows an autocrat to control lower level political processes even without redistributing significant amounts of goods. Particularly valuable for such infrastructural control are organizational hierarchies and networks in the social public sector – education, healthcare, community and social services. In societies similar to the Russian one, such organizations share three important qualities that allow them to enhance infrastructural state power significantly. These qualities are (1) embeddedness in people’s everyday lives, (2) population’s trust, and (3) direct connection to the state apparatus. They make social public sector employees more convenient and effective agents of the regime than police officers, bureaucrats, or party activists. This dissertation also suggests that the distinction between infrastructural and redistributive mechanisms stems from two different patterns of state-society relationships or, in other words, that the role of public sector organizations in authoritarian resilience depends on the pre-existing pattern of state-society relationships. Under the integrative pattern, people view the state as the embodiment of the public will, cooperate with it at the community level, and allow state officials to build or mediate community ties. In such an environment, social public sector organizations form an administrative machine that routinely manages grass roots politics and makes the regime less dependent on redistribution. Under the autonomous pattern, people conceptually detach the state from the public will and resist the state’s attempts to intervene in community matters. In such an environment, communities turn the state’s requests for cooperation into bargains for material resources, making the regime directly dependent on the redistribution of material perks. To demonstrate the infrastructural mechanism of authoritarian resilience and the two patterns of state-society relationships empirically, I use a quantitative subnational comparison and five case studies. Through the analysis of the regional variation of the 2012 presidential election results, I show that Putin’s regime used schoolteachers for agitation and electoral fraud. Schoolteachers, who are usually trusted by the population, frequently serve as members of precinct-level electoral commissions, and state officials forced them to commit fraud under the threat of job loss. This mechanism allowed Putin to win the election convincingly and demonstrate the strength of the regime to the public at the critical moment when the regime’s popularity decreased. Through the historical study of Kemerovo region, which has been an outlier on the Russian electoral map that supported Putin’s regime in large numbers, I show how the long-term regional governor, Aman Tuleev, has used social public sector organizations to manage mass politics in the region. In particular, I describe the history of his relationships with the pensioners’ organizations and residential committees to show that an autocrat may deliberately develop social public sector organizations for the purpose of increasing infrastructural state power rather than increasing redistribution. The two patterns of state-society relationships manifest themselves in the comparison of the two groups of regions, those with high and low infrastructural power according to the results of the quantitative analysis. As I show through interviews, media publications, and organizational documents, in the regions with high infrastructural power, the Kemerovo region and the Republic of Tatarstan, social public sector organizations work as a centralized administrative machine routinely used for monitoring grievances and mobilization of the population for regime-supported projects. In the regions with low infrastructural power, the Rostov region and the Republic of Altai, public sector organizations defend their autonomy from the state apparatus while actively contributing to clientelistic political practices. In the Tomsk region, which occupied a middle position between these two groups, I observed a mixture of integrative and autonomous patterns. This interaction effect of the integrative and autonomous patterns of state-society relationships on the work of social public sector organizations can have a larger application in studies of other aspects of mass politics. Researchers of bureaucracies, corruption, popular protests, and democratization can incorporate this variable in their analysis as I have done for the study of infrastructural state power. The introduction of these two patterns of state-society relationships as an interaction variable may help reconcile the contradictory findings of previous studies into a coherent theoretical model.

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  • 10/21/2018
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