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A Genealogy of Kontrol’ in Russia: From Leninist to Neoliberal Governance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017


This article examines the emergence of the concept obshchestvennyi kontrol’ in Russian state discourse, the practices to which it has been attached and the legitimating narrative employed to justify them. It traces the concept of kontrol’ from Leninist conceptions olrabochyi kontrol’, through post-Stalinist discourses of narodnyi kontrol ‘, demonstrating that contemporary state-driven articulations of obshchestvennyi kontrol’ exhibit a substantial amount of continuity in the conceptualisation of the role of the citizen as assisting the state in its pre-determined goals. However, in contrast to rabochyi and narodnyi kontrol’, which were legitimated by various aspects of Marxist-Leninist theory, contemporary mechanisms of obshchestvennyi kontrol’ are accompanied by a rhetoric of increasing international competitiveness, thereby allowing the Kremlin to respond to international norms of a ‘small state’, outsourcing and civic participation.

Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Inc. 2016

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1. Some English texts have translated obshchestvennyi kontrol’ as “public control,” but I consider this a grave mistranslation. “Control” in English means to manage, that is, to make decisions in full possession of relevant facts and to steer the course of events. Yet, as Maurice Brinton observed, kontrol’ in Russian means to monitor or check the decisions made by others; it thus implies a limitation of sovereignty not present in the English word. This distinction is very important for the relationship between state and society inculcated by the institutions that enact obshchestvennyi kontrol’. However, when citing directly from sources that have translated kontrol’ as “control,” I have remained faithful to the source from which the citation came.

2. “Obshchestvennyi kontrol’ dolzhen priiti v armiiu,” Press Sluzhba Obshchestvennoi Palaty RF, February 15, 2012, at (last accessed January 8, 2016); “Putin obsudit c ONF kontrol’ goszakupok,”, November 26, 2015, (last accessed April 5th 2016); “Priiutskii kontrol’,” Press Sluzhba Obshchestvennoi Palaty RF, February 28, 2012, at (last accessed January 8, 2016); “Putin predlozhil oprobovat’ na TsKAD sistemu obshchestvennogo kontrolya”, RIA Novosti, November 8, 2011, at (last accessed April 5, 2016); “Putin prizivaet usilit’ obshchestvennyi kontrol’ za provedeniem YeGE,” Vesti, May 31, 2011, at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

3. See Vladimir Putin, “Demokratiia i kachestvo gosudarstvo,” Kommersant, February 6, 2012, at: (last accessed January 8, 2016); “Address to the Federal Assembly,” President of Russia, December 21, 2012, at (last accessed January 8, 2016); Vladimir Putin, “Poslanie Prezidenta Federal’nomu Sobrianiiu,” Prezident Rossii, December 12, 2013, at (last accessed January 8,2016).

4. “Istoriya Obshcherossiiskogo narodnogo fronta,” at (last accessed January 8,2016).

5. “Putin podpisal’ zakon ob obshchestvennom kontrole v RF,” RIA Novosti, July 22, 2014, at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

6. In defining discourse, I follow Norman Fairclough, who sees discourse as a particular stable linguistic representation or ‘vision’ of a set of social practices articulated by a specific social group. See Fairclough, Norman, New Labour, New Language (London, 2000), 21 Google Scholar.

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11. These are paradigmatic exegeses of the Kremlin’s contemporary worldview: the pre-election articles articulate to the electorate Putin’s strategy for national development over the coming years.

12. Lenin, Vladimir, Selected Works, 12 vols., ed. Fineberg, J. (New York, 1935), 6:488 Google Scholar and 6:426-27.

13. John Reed, “The Origins of Work’s Control of Industry in Russia,”, November 23, 1918, at (last accessed January 8, 2016); see Lenin, Selected Works, 6:453.

14. Ibid, 6:452, 6:488 and 6:285.

15. Ibid, 6:487.

16. Ibid, 6:265.

17. Ibid, 6:623.

18. Ibid, 6:410.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid, 6:411.

22. Maurice Brinton, “The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control: The State and Counter-Revolution,”, at (last accessed January 8,2016).

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41. Adams, Citizen Inspectors in the Soviet Union, 61.

42. Ibid, 59.

43. Swearer, “Who Controls Whom?,” 49.

44. Ibid.

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46. Ibid, 107.

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57. Cook, Postcommunist Welfare States, 153.

58. “Kontseptsiia Administrativnoi Reformy v Rossiiskoi Federatsii v 2006-2010 Godakh.”

59. “Federal’nyi Zakon Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 4 Aprelya 2005 g. N 32 F3. Ob Obshchestvennoi Palate Rossiiskoi Federatsii,” Rossiiskaia Gazeta, last modified April 7, 2005, at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

60. However, obshchestvennyi kontrol’ has recently been fully defined for this first time in the Law on the Foundations of obshchestvennyi kontrol’ in the Russian Federation, discussed below.

61. Obshchestvennaia Palata Rossiiskoi Federatsii, “O Palate,” at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

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64. ‘Tret’ respondentov “Levada-Tsentra” schitaet Obshchestvennuyu palatu dekorativnoi,’, March 2, 2011, at (last accessed March 30, 2016).

65. Obshchestvennaya Palata Rossiiskoi Federatsii, ‘Doklad o Sostoyanii Grazhdanskogo Obshchestva Rossiiskoi Federatsii za 2011 God,’ (Moscow 2011), 69, at (last accessed March 30, 2016).

66. Obshchestvennaia Palata Rossiiskoi Federatsi, “Palaty Po Okrugam,” at (last accessed January 8,2016).

67. In 2008, obshchestvennyi kontrol’ was made the subject of a law for the first time when prison monitoring bodies, known as Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs), were created by Law No. 76 “On the Obshchestvennyi Kontrol’ of the Protection of Human Rights in Places of Detention and Assistance to Persons in Places of Detention.” However, even here the concept is not given a full definition; rather, the law states that obshches-tvennyi kontrol’ is to be performed by PMCs, and continues with an elaboration of their activities. These include inspections of detention facilities, followed by the preparation of recommendations for improvement to the facility authorities, the handling of complaints by inmates and helping prison authorities ensure that prisoners’ rights are observed. In short, it is the combination of assistance and scrutiny that characterises public chambers. Furthermore, the Federal Public Chamber conducts the PMC application process and regional chambers often provide training sessions and administrative support. See Catherine Owen, “Consentful Contention in a Corporate State: Human Rights Activists and Public Monitoring Commissions in Russia,” East European Politics, 31: 3,2015.

68. These councils were then regulated according to the governmental decrees No. 481 of August 2, 2005 and No. 842 of August 4, 2006.

69. “Postanovlenie Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 2 Avgusta 2005 g. N 481 g. Moskva,” Rossiiskaia Gazeta, last modified August 9, 2005, at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

70. “Postanovlenie Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 6 Iyunia 2013 g. N 480 g. Moskva,” Rossiiskaia Gazeta, June 18, 2013, at (last accessed January 8,2016).

71. “Ukaz Prezidenta Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 4 Avgusta 2006 g. N 842,” Rossiiskaia Gazeta, August 8,2006, at (last accessed January 8,2016).

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77. Adams, Citizen Inspectors in the Soviet Union, 108.

78. An earlier draft of the law contained a vague description of the ‘public interest’; however, this has been removed in the final version. See Press Sluzhba Obshchestvennoi Palaty RF, “Proekt Federal’nogo Zakona ‘Ob obshchestvennom kontrole v Rossiiskoi Federatsii,”‘ at (last accessed January 8, 2016).

79. See Sovet pri Prezidente RF. Po razvitiiu grazhdanskogo obshchestva i pravam cheloveka, “Proekt Federal’nogo Zakona ‘Ob Obshchestvennom (Grazhdanskom) Kontrole v Rossiiskoi Federatsii,’” November 2011, at (last accessed January 8,2016).

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81. Obshcherossiiskii Narodnyi Front,

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98. Plant, The Neo-Liberal State, 250.

99. Putin, “Rossiia sosredotachivaetsia.”

100. Putin, “Demokratiia i kachestvo gosudarstva.”

101. Ibid.

102. Putin, “Demokratiia i kachestvo gosudarstva”, “Stroitel’stvo spravedlivosti and “Rossiia sosredotachivaetsia.”