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The Resurrection of "The Party" By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, certain experts triumphantly proclaimed “the end of history.” But more cynical historians warned that the communist “bear” would simply hibernate for a time, and then re-emerge as a newly refreshed “evil empire” in a different form.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seems determined to vindicate the cynics. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has increasingly come to resemble its Soviet self. Like the USSR, today’s Russia is actively courting America’s enemies, such as Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, while undermining sovereign states along its border, as with its recent invasion of Georgia over South Ossetia.

The Soviet parallels are even more striking in Russian domestic politics, where a small but telling development further signals the troubling reincarnation of America’s Cold War foe. According to a September 22 Stratfor dispatch, Putin is planning to tour United Russia Party regional headquarters to “consolidate his control over the country under ‘The Party,’ a concept and term reminiscent of another day and time” when “another Russian party served as the single controlling power in Russian for most of the 20th century.”

Indeed, since the Soviet Union’s fall, Russian heads of state have not headed the political parties that backed them; this would have been a reminder of the one-party rule of the Soviet era. But Putin, who has called the collapse of the Soviet empire “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” has broken with precedent. In April, he became head of the ruling United Russia party.

In that capacity, Putin has big goals for United Russia. In the Soviet Union, membership in the Communist Party was required of any educated individual seeking power, influence and precious perks. Substitute United Russia for Communist Party and you get some sense of the scope of Putin’s ambition.

While membership in the new United Party is relatively small, Putin now seems determined to change this at the regional levels. “It is crucial for Russia’s central ruling party to control the regions,” according to Stratfor’s analysts, “since each regional head tends to lord it over whatever national champion or natural resource — oil and natural gas, metals, or diamonds — is found in that region. Most of these local party leaders are already handpicked by Putin…There is no better way” to “clean house and impose control” than by “bringing everyone under the command of The Party.”

Not everyone believes that these developments are terribly alarming, or even likely. Richard Pipes, Professor Emeritus of History at Harvard University and author of Communism: A History (2001) and other definitive studies, dismissed these concerns in an interview with FrontPage. According to Dr. Pipes, the Russians “want to maintain the pretext of the idea that they are democracy, so such a ‘consolidation’ would make no sense.”

A senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, David Satter told FrontPage that Russia will likely evolve into a parliamentary republic with a largely decorative president. Via email, Satter asserted that “United Russia…will not be a party like the Communist Party because it will not control every aspect of life,” adding, “United Russia is not ideological. Its purpose is to solidify the hold of a small group in power.” Satter said that the Russian one-party state will still pose a problem for America because “it can only maintain its hold over the population by generating artificial East-West crises with which we will have to deal.”

Even as the party will fuel political tensions, experts say that United Russia is unlikely to exert the kind of influence that its communist processor did on political sympathizers in the West. Robert Chandler, a former CIA strategist and author of Shadow World: Resurgent Russia, The Global New Left, and Radical Islam, pointed out that there is “no evidence of financial support by the Russians, except in Eastern Europe where Moscow's energy dollars are being used to buy influence in political parties.”

Going forward, it seems likely that United Russia will play a key role in Putin’s ongoing project to reestablish Russia as a superpower. History, defying the experts, has returned in Russia – and it looks a lot like the Soviet Union.

Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

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