For most analysts, including the authors of this brief study, the Russian parliamentary elections of December 1995 brought few surprises. The success of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (kprf), headed by Gennady Zyuganov, was expected. Analysts had also anticipated that the left-wing—more precisely, social-chauvinist—centre would receive about 40 per cent of the total vote when the results in single-member territorial constituencies were taken into account, and that an unstable equilibrium would come to exist in the Duma. So it turned out. What was surprising was the scale of the defeat suffered by the parties of the Right and centre in the party-list elections. The bloc, Our Home is Russia, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, received fewer than 10 per cent of the votes, while Russia’s Democratic Choice, led by the favourite of the Western media, Yegor Gaidar, attracted fewer than 5 per cent. This represented a powerful moral defeat for the rightists, with their policies of ‘shock without therapy’ (Gaidar), of war in Chechenia, and ‘depressive stabilization’ (Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin). The majority of Russian citizens came out in clear opposition to such ‘reforms’.

For the present, however, this is only a moral defeat. The forces of the political Right are still powerful even in the present Duma, where if so-called ‘independent deputies’ from single-member constituencies are taken into account, the rightists have taken about a third of the seats. Among the forces of the Right we include the Yabloko bloc headed by Grigory Yavlinsky. We stress that the differences between the real policies of this bloc and the policies of the present authorities amount only to nuances within a shared pro-bourgeois strategy. Yavlinsky’s current radicalism is mainly the result of his wish to present himself as an oppositionist.

In the Duma, as in Russia as a whole, a situation close to chaos and collapse has emerged as the presidential election approaches. The rightists have already ceased to exercise straightforward control over the situation, even though they retain administrative and political power and control over property. The Left remains far from a real victory. Circling above the battlefield is the right-wing social-populist Zhirinovsky, who has the ability to shift the relationship of forces in the Duma decisively in one direction or the other.

In many ways the political equilibrium—which is naturally very unstable—of the Duma reflects the wider Russian social and economic relations. It is important to note that since the winter of 1993–94, the model of nomenklatura-corporatist capitalism that came to prominence in our country during the process of ‘reform’ has begun gradually to change. From the speculative pursuit of a pro-Western course, the Russian authorities have begun a gradual turn to a chauvinist-paternalist path. This turn has proceeded slowly and in a contradictory fashion, but its causes are profound. Now it has yielded its first results.

So what is happening? By 1995 noticeable changes to the political scene were apparent. They were the product of the fundamental rejection by the Russian economy and people of the attempts to implement the programme of ‘shock therapy’; by the concentration and monopolization of private capital, processes hastened by violence and corruption; and by the regrouping and partial adaptation to the bureaucratized and corrupt market of a significant sector of the ‘old’ monopolies—primarily in the fuel and raw-materials sector.

Partly through the rapid grouping together at the local level of numerous small speculative firms, large corporate clans have arisen, not only in the sphere of material production but also of trade and finance. Within these clans property rights and real power are distributed among various groups of the clan elite. These groups include corrupt elements of the federal and municipal authorities that support a particular clan; the banks that serve and control a given clan; managers of enterprises that are part of the clan, and various private individuals. In most cases these clans bind ‘their’ workers and the residents of ‘their’ cities tightly to the clan structures using ties of patronage and fear. It is significant that in the elections virtually all the present provincial governors were re-elected irrespective of their political orientation.

As the clans consolidate themselves—and the process of their formation is not yet complete—they enter into fierce struggles over the division of property rights and economic power. Naturally, in this struggle—and it is proceeding, we should remember, in a country with a state-bureaucratic capitalism in which a great deal depends on official structures—it is extremely important for the clans to make the breakthrough to political power. As a result, each of the clans has or will place its stake on one or several political forces, which are called upon to lobby for the clan’s interests. The abundance of clans—and if we take into account the republican and regional elites, they number many dozens—and their wish to diversify their representation provides one of the reasons for the multiplicity of electoral blocs with extremely similar political programmes.