The Consensus Trap

February 3, 2013 More

Garry Kasparov. Source: Uschesstrust.orgOpposition Coordination Council representative Garry Kasparov offers his perspective on the council’s shortcomings and ways to help it become an effective organization.

The Consensus Trap
By Garry Kasparov
January 23, 2013
Kasparov.ru

It seems that it is now good form to criticize the Russian opposition’s Coordination Council for being ineffective. Even Boris Nemtsov agrees: “Everybody has noticed that the council works badly.” Clearly, the CC’s work has not met our supporters’ expectations, high as they may have been. While it is easy for us to ignore the schadenfreude agitprop bankrolled by the Kremlin, we are obligated to take valid complaints by CC voters very seriously. Therefore, I would like to figure out what is at the heart of these complaints and what we can do to make the CC, which was given a legitimate mandate by tens of thousands of Russian citizens in October, a functional organization to coordinate the opposition.

There are essentially two main complaints, which a recent Gazeta.ru editorial discussed objectively enough: a slow decision-making process, and the lack of a coherent policy to transform the country. In principle, the CC was created as an attempt to build a legitimate governmental alternative, after which it became clear that the government had rejected all of the demands voiced at the mass protests on Bolotnaya square and Sakharov Prospect. So it is not surprising that people who were active in the protest movement expected the CC to make radical proposals to dismantle the Putin regime. It is clear that our policies should not ignore day-to-day functions and should use all legal means to change the political situation in our country. But, nevertheless, the solution to the issue of what the future strucuture of government in post-Putin Russia is going to be like is undoubtedly a key issue for a huge portion of our fellow citizens, whose fear of what could happen if Putin’s power vertical collapses is still too strong for them to reject his despotism.

It is not surprising that so much time has been spent on passing regulations and making policy statements in an organization as hetergeneous as the Coordination Council. Still, this has prompted fierce controversy. Some argue that we need to pass a regulation requiring that any decision (besides procedural ones) can only be passed by a majority of council members (so, a minimum of 23 votes) so that we can force those who hold polar opposite viewpoints to come to a consensus. While this proposition seems reasonable in an online arena, where every KC member has several days to become acquainted with an issue and make a thoughtful decision about it, it is less reasonable for in-person meetings, where turnout is presumably markedly less than 100 percent. In this situation, setting the bar at 23 votes will make it impossible to resolve any controversial issue.

I agree that it is not incredibly appealing to watch the painstaking process of agreeing upon policy statement amendments and repeatedly clarifying regulation subtleties. However, these types of rituals are the basis of parliamenary work.

Despite Ekho Moskvy’s numerous polls demonstrating that most people reject the position of the so-called “loyalists,” the “Republicans” in the CC have failed to secure a stable majority to form a policy agenda that suits most voters. Principle differences remain over the issue of creating a Free Russia Forum, which would be designed to unite our supporters all across the country and give them the opportunity to actively discuss opposition strategy and tactics, as well as whether it is necessary to fully dismantle the Putin regime to carry out full-scale political reforms, or if it is possible to have a softer version of political reforms and preserve current government institutions.

Whatever the case, the CC is middling along, gradually forming working groups and building mechanisms to foster cooperation between its different factions. There have been sessions for three working groups over the past two days, on policy, protests, and international relations. These smaller-scale meetings will undoubtedly enable us to overcome our differences more quickly. Still, I would like to pose the following question to our readers: Do you think that the CC should lower the bar for passing measures to a simple majority, assuming a 30-person quorum at meetings?

Translation by Kasparov.com.