The 120th NZ issue 120 marks the journal’s 20th anniversary: an occasion which might be expected to prompt some life-affirming and celebratory themes. However, the socio-political and economic processes of the past decades that have led to the monopolisation of power, concentrated in the hands of individual national leaders and narrow elite circles — party, bureaucratic or corporate — cast doubts on the future of democracy even in the countries where, until recently, it appeared to be a solved problem. It is these tendencies and the regimes that define them, thus making the “grey area” between totalitarianism and democracy increasingly wide, that make up the contents of our two consecutive issues, 120th and 121st.
This issue traditionally opens with Alexander Kustarev’s regular column Political Imaginary. This installment is an extended review of Mark Galeotti’s book “The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia” (2018). Using the author’s thesis — that since the 1990s, social communication, business and the state have been invaded by underworld figures, who dictate their own rules and ideas of right and wrong — as a starting point, Kustarev makes some principal clarifications. In his view, a great deal of value exchange with the criminal world has been present in the fabric of Russian political, economic and everyday life throughout the entire modern period (and especially in the Soviet era).
The next section, Political Theory and Depolitisation Practices, features two fundamental works focused on conceptual definitions of authoritarian regimes. The first is a translation of an extensive excerpt from “Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes”, a book by the American political theorist Juan Linz that demarcates a principal boundary between these types of non-democratic regimes. The second piece is a chapter from “The Dictator’s Handbook”, a work by the New York University professors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, in which differences between democratic, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are identified with the structure of support groups these regimes rely on.
The Politics of Culture section offers “Masses Old and New”, in which Igor Smirnov gives an account of the history of the theoretical reception of the masses in philosophy and social sciences, reflecting on their political potential in the era of digital communication and social networks.
“Contemporary State and Authoritarianism” is a topical section comprising three pieces. The first one is a translation of the introductory chapter from a recent book by the American left-wing political philosopher Wendy Brown (“Undoing the Demos”), which considers neoliberalism as a special type of rationality, translating political freedoms and values into the language of economic efficiency and interest; as a result, corporate and financial capital privatizes the democratic state, usurping national sovereignty. In “The End of the Democratic Century: Autocracy’s Global Ascendance”, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, political scientists known for their provocative arguments, analyse the future domination of democratic states — a phenomenon historically based on economic prosperity, which provides support for a certain political choice — before coming to discouraging conclusions. In “Eastern Europe’s New Despots : The Long Road to Democratic Decline”, the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev uses Hungary and Poland as examples to discuss shifts away from democracy that can be interpreted as a reaction against the so-called “democracy’s third wave”, conceptualized by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s.
The issue continues with “Orwell and the Monsters”, an essay by Kirill Kobrin, which reveals the English writer’s views on the temptations and dangers of the artist’s political engagement, be it right or left wing.
Our regular column Culture of Politics is centered around the liminal moments in the global history that were 1968 and 1989. Georgy Derluguian, an expert in historical sociology, describes routes taken by the two opposing worlds, capitalist and communist, as they moved towards each other, their paths running in the opposite directions while at the same time being interlinked, in his detailed piece, outlining the reason for the collapse of communism. The Belarusian historian Ivan Zhigal in “Belgrade Students and Their ‘Near Revolution’ in June 1968” maps the intellectual landscape of Yugoslavia in the mid to late 1960s, as well as the events of the spring and summer 1968, which have so far remained overshadowed by the contemporaneous developments in Paris, Prague and Berkley.
“The ‘New State’ in Portugal: Its Formation, Evolution and Collapse” by the political scientist Georgy Kutyrev, featured in Case Study, exposes the inner evolution of the regime associated with the figure of António Salazar, citing a number of factors that ensured its stability.
The Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review is traditionally provided by our regular contributor Alexander Pisarev and the New Books section includes two long reviews. In his response to a new biography of Gustáv Husák, the leader of communist Czechoslovakia, Aleksandr Bobrakov-Timoshkin expounds the historiography of the subject and its attendant problems. Ivan Onosov reviews a recently published collection of André Breton’s correspondence with Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia, which provides a better understanding of artistic and political controversies of French surrealism in the 1920s—1930s. Also we would like to note reviews of Cass R. Sunstein’s (ed.) “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America” (2018) and “Diploma Democracy: The Rise of Political Meritocracy” by Mark Bovens and Anchrit Wille (2017).