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SPP 289

Author: Stephen E. Hanson
Description: Despite widespread Western expectations that postcommunist politicians in Russia would become increasingly pragmatic as a result of the failure of Marxism-Leninism, the leaders of Russia’s two best-organized political parties--Gennadii Ziuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovskii--continue to rely on extremist ideological rhetoric and conspiracy theories to mobilize political support. This phenomenon is not well explained by any of the three major theories of postcommunist party formation--modernization, neo-institutionalism, and the cultural approach. Indeed, none of these theories sees party ideology as exerting any independent influence on party organization. This essay argues that to account for the success of ideological party-building in an unstable new democracy, it must be analyzed as a kind of collective action problem. Ideology--defined as any explicit, consistent definition of the membership of one’s political community--potentially overcomes the collective action problem by artificially lowering the rate at which converts discount the potential future gains from cooperation with other converts. In a highly uncertain environment where high discount rates generally prevail and free-rider problems undermine most attempts at political institutionalization, ideological explicitness and consistency can thus be a crucial organizational advantage. Evidence for this hypothesis can be found by comparing the relative failure of pragmatic would-be party-builders such as Rutskoi, Lebed, Chernomyrdin and Rybkin in comparison to the ideologues, Ziuganov and Zhirinovskii.

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