Posts Tagged ‘Russian Federation’


The Soviet Political Contenders and the ‘Games’ they Play


We can now specify the protagonists in the Soviet political arena.  From 1917 onwards, we can see a movement from the pluralism of the early 1920s through the consolidation of Stalinism up to the middle of the 20th century and a tentative movement back to pluralism during Gorbachev’s time.


Vladimir Lenin

Nikolai Lenin




We submit that these political processes (and contests) can be modeled heuristically as games and are amenable to game theoretic analysis.  Bacharach (1976: 34-36) indicates that whatever has the following four (4) elements is a game:

  • Element (1). A well-defined set of possible courses of action for each of a number of players.
  • Element (2). Well-defined preferences of each player among possible outcomes of the game and among probability distributions or mixtures of outcomes.
  • Element (3). Relationships whereby the outcome (or at least a probability distribution for it) is determined by the players’ choices of courses of action.
  • Element (4). Knowledge of all of these by all of the players.


In real life, certain activities are to be found to resemble games in terms of the above elements.  All of the four elements are certainly restrictive; any deviation from any of them weakens the applicability of game theory.  We have no wish to deny this weakness.  Let us examine each of them.  Element (1) is primary since it establishes the ground rules for the players—that they have agreed to play , and that certain courses of action are permissible while others are not.  It also implies that when a player has to ‘search’ high and low just before he makes his decision to discover what choices he has, game theory is not entirely appropriate.


Element (2) attributes some kind of consistency to the players.  For instance, if they prefer $20 to $10, then they would also prefer a good chance of $20 rather than $10 to a poor chance of $20 rather than $10.  The third element implies that the outcome of the game cannot be affected by any outside cause other than the players’ actions, unless it is random one.  This means no conscious actor can interfere with it.  The fourth element, however, is the most restrictive of the lot.


Games could involve two or more players.  A player need not just be an individual; it could be any human grouping which can choose and act as a unit.  Games could be cooperative or non-cooperative.  A cooperative game is one which the players can cooperate (or assist each other); meaning, there is nothing (in the rules of the game) to prevent them from coming to an agreement as to what each of them will (or will not) do.  Wage bargaining and inter-state diplomacy are cooperative games while monopoly (or monopolizing, to be exact) is not.  In an n-person game, the ground rules may allow subsets of players to cooperate.  For instance, two players may coalesce against a third one in a 3-person game.


A game could be zero-sum or nonzero-sum.  If it is the former type and it involves only two players, then it is usually a non-cooperative one since the gain of one player is the exactly the loss of the other.  Their preferences are diametrically opposed and collaboration is impossible.  A zero-sum game could be modified through side-payments.  A player could yield in exchange for a pay-off coming from the ‘winning’ player.  In this case, instead of an all-or-nothing arrangement, the winner shares part of his total gains with the ‘loser’ once the latter agrees to give up the contest and yield.


Non-zero sum games are not strictly competitive games.  They may or may not be cooperative.  If and when a non-zero sum game is played non-cooperatively, it is so played because collaboration is either not permitted or impossible.


The most interesting 2-person non-zero sum, non-cooperative game is the prisoners’ dilemma (PD).  In this game, cooperation between the two players promises optimal pay-offs for both.  In a one-off transaction, however, rational expectations about each other’s actions lead both players to choose decisions (and actions) which result in inferior pay-offs for both.  Only through repetition and learning will supposedly prevent these sub-optimal outcomes.


Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin



Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky

The Soviet intramurals during the 1920s could be modeled as 3-person, zero-sum games with coalitions allowed.[1]  Nikolai Bukharin staked out a moderate ‘let the peasants decide’ industrialization strategy while Eugen (Yevgeni) Preobrazhensky and Leon Trotsky forwarded a relatively faster program based on non-voluntary extraction of surplus from the peasantry.

Nikolai Bukharin

Nikolai Bukharin


Eugen Preobrazhensky

Yevgeni Preobrazhensky

Joseph Stalin first allied with Bukharin to defeat Trotsky.  When Trotsky was disposed of, the game was transformed into a 2-person kind.  Stalin then moved against Bukharin and adopted the Preobrazhensky program of ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ after Bukharin’s elimination.


Nikita Khrushchev

Nikita Khruschev


Similarly, one can consider the contests between the reformers and the conservatives, between the adventurous and the blah and the bland during the Nikita Khrushchev (1953-1964) and Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982) periods as 2-person games.  Sometimes, they were zero-sum while in certain instances, they were PDs.  Tentatively, one can say that the contest between Khrushchev and his political rivals (who eventually deposed him as CPSU chief) was a zero-sum game.  The political game was subsequently modified with Khrushchev receiving some pay-offs (he retained the perks of his former post) after being sacked in October 1964.



Leonid Brezhnev

Leonid Brezhnev

The cat-and-mouse game between the central planner and the enterprise management in the Soviet Union is obviously a PD.[2]  The planning process starts with statements of productive capability from the operating enterprises which then become the basis of binding plan-instructions from the center back to the productive enterprises.  The logic of the Soviet planning-incentive system forces enterprise managers to bid for lower production targets.  In anticipation, the central planners levy production targets that are substantially higher than what were submitted from below.  The results are sub-optimal for the entire economy as well as for both players.


Alexie Kosygin

Aleksei Kosygin


During the reform process initiated by Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin at the start of the Brezhnev period, asymmetric PD games were played between reformers and conservatives.  Conservatives had either the option to compete or cooperate with the reformers.  The reformers, however, had no other choice but to compete with the conservatives, at least along the reform axis.[3]  Compromises were however possible on other fronts, e.g. on the question of de-Stalinization.  These compromises usually took the form of log-rolling transactions.  Log-rolling appears to be the essence of the games played during the Brezhnevite ‘stagnation’ period.  The players were the ‘doves’ and the ‘hawks’[4] plus the economic reformers and conservatives.  Conservatives would yield to reformers on say the issue of changing industrial incentive structures in exchange for ‘reformist’ support for a massive Soviet military build-up against the Chinese.


The reign of Mikhail S. Gorbachev first appeared to be a 3-person asymmetric prisoners’ dilemma involving the conservative, the centrist reformer, and the would-be radical capitalist transformer.[5]  Again, 2-person coalitions were formed as Gorbachev flip-flopped between the radicals led by Boris Yeltsin and the conservative hardliners headed by Yegor Ligachev.  For instance, the mid-1990 post-28th party congress joint Gorbachev-Yeltsin reform communiqué was a challenge to the CPSU conservatives.  On the other hand, 1991 opened with Gorbachev allying himself with the conservatives on the Baltic problem.[6]  It appeared that Gorbachev’s concern to reform the Soviet was second only to his desire the keep the Soviet state’s territory intact.  The strong identification of erstwhile reformer Gorbachev with the conservatives as 1991 progressed transformed the Soviet game into a two-person contest between conservatives and radicals.


The conservative camp feared for its vital interests and decided to launch the August 1991 coup (including detaining Gorbachev and his entourage in a dacha in Crimea. The coup failed miserably with dire consequences not only for the conservatives but for Gorbachev and the Soviet Union as well.


Yegor Ligachev

Yegor Ligachev




A Soviet soldier loyal to the coup

A coup soldiet atop his tank in Red Square, Moscow



Yeltsin rode high with his strong opposition to the coup and manage to wrest power from a weakened Gorbachev even as the coup was crushed.

Yeltsin atop a tank

Boris Yeltsin (left, with paper in hand) on top of an armored car rallying protest against the August 1991 coup



               [1]  The Soviet economy was gripped by economic troubles—acute goods shortages, gargantuan budget deficits, and monetary imbalances in 1990.  The general availability of basic food stuffs (both in volume and kind) fell from 90% of demand in 1983 to 22% in 1989 and to 11% by mid-1990.  The imbalance between demand and supply will get reflected in higher prices.  While official statistics reported inflation rates of 2% and 5.3% for 1989 and 1990, respectively, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia maintained that inflation in 1990 was likely to be at least 18%, an unprecedented level for a country that claimed the absence of inflation.  Gorbachev and his allies tried to counter the ill-effects of inflation on citizens by foolishly raising wages and social benefits.  This populist move will wreak havoc on Soviet money supply and state finances.  The year 1988 represented the turning point as monetary incomes of the population rose by 30 billion rubles, compared to a previous annual increase of 10 billion rubles.  The increases in 1989 and 1990 were 64.5 billion rubles and 94 billion rubles, respectively (Aslund 1991).  The increased wages, not reflecting increased productivity, only abetted inflation.  Estimates of the monetary overhang (excess money in circulation) place it about 250 billion rubles (IMF et al. 1990).

[2]  The Soviet Union was essentially a multinational imperial state with Russians lording over other nationalities in the federal Soviet state, party, and military organizations.  The Soviet Union’s incorporation of the erstwhile independent Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) in 1940 was never recognized by the Western powers.  This gave Baltic nationalists hope that they would gain foreign support for their independence bids.  Most of Soviet constituent republics in Central Asia had majority Muslim populations.

[3] The new program, which embraced the market economy and abandoned traditional ideas of class identity with the proletariat, was accepted.  In presenting the program, Gorbachev told his colleagues that building communism in the Soviet Union was no longer a realistic goal and that they have to reject outdated ideological dogmas to save the CPSU (PDI 1991c).


Gorbachev in first public appearance after Augist coup

Exhuasted Mikhail Gorbachev as he was brought back to Moscow from Crimea after the August 1991 coup’s collapse


To be continued…


Part IV.  The heuristic GT model for Soviet reform





Bachrach, Michael (1976). Economics and the Theory of Games. London: Macmillan.

Mendoza, Amado Jr. (1992). “The Soviet Reform Process, 1956-1991: From Socialist Renewal to Liquidation.” MIS Thesis, University of the Philippines.



[1]  These intramurals amongst the heirs of Bolshevik leader Nikolai U. Lenin set the stage for the adoption of central planning and the end of the more liberal compromise economic program (the New Economic Policy).  The NEP itself was adopted as a corrective to the extremely harsh ‘War Communism’ resorted during the wars against internal and external enemies collectively called the White Armies.   For a fuller narration of these early political struggles in the Soviet Union, please see Mendoza (1992), particularly Chapter III, “Classic Stalinism: The Object of Reform,” pp. 67-118.

[2] See Mendoza (1992), particularly Chapter IV, “Soviet Economic Reforms under Khrushchev,” pp. 119-180; Chapter V, “The Brezhnev Period: Kosygin’s Reforms and After,” pp. 181-254; and Chapter VI, “The Andropov-Chernenko Interval,” pp. 255-275.

[3] Soon, the political contests will be played along a different axis—whether the Soviet State will survive as a multinational imperial federal state, or not.  This contest will be especially acute during the later part of the Gorbachev period (1985-1991).

[4] ‘Doves’ and ‘hawks’ were identified by their respective positions on the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, especially on the issue of strategic weapons limitations (or more precisely, the reduction of nuclear arms on both sides).  ‘Doves’ were usually economic reformers while ‘hawks’ were usually conservatives.  Later, ‘hawks’ favored a tougher stance vis-à-vis China, when the latter allied with the United States in an anti-Soviet global front after US-China relations got normalized in 1972.

[5] See Mendoza (1992), especially Chapter VII, “The Gorbachev Process: From Reform to Liquidation,” pp. 276-361.

[6] In 1990-1991, the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—previously independent states acquired by the Soviet Union in 1940 under the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, unilaterally declared their independence from the Soviet Union.   After some dilly-dallying, Gorbachev sent troops to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and the resulting violence spurred rather than smothered separatist impulses in Lithuania, the rest of the Baltics and other Soviet republics (Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova).

During the first day of the 3rd Katipunan Conference sponsored by the Strategic Studies Program (with which I am a fellow) yesterday, I asserted that a new cold war is on in the Indo Asia Pacific Theater.  And in fact, I am just echoing the views of very young and very junior scholars I have read way back in 2015 like Hendricks (2015)


What was a Chinese military plane doing in South Korea’s special air defence zone for 4 hours?





What’s going on in our neck of the woods?

A new cold war, that is!

In the Indo Asia Pacific theater with China and the US as the main protagonists.


An appropriate (even if old) theory that could help better understand the new East Asian strategic environment exists.  The Power Transition theory is a theory about the cyclical nature of war, in relation to power (of states) in international relations.   Created by A.F.K. Organski, and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), contemporary power transition theory describes international politics as a hierarchy, with different degrees of power between states. The objective of the theory is to investigate the cyclic condition of wars, and how transition of power in terms of machtpolitik affect the occurrence of these wars.


The principal predictive power of the theory is in the likelihood of war and the stability of alliances.  War is most likely, of longest duration and greatest magnitude, when a challenger (a revisionist power; one of the great powers) to the dominant power (the global hegemon) enters into approximate parity with the dominant state and is dissatisfied with the existing system. Similarly, alliances are most stable when the parties to the alliance are satisfied with the system structure. This leads to the view that when the balance of power is unstable (i.e. one or two nations have taken a dominant role in geopolitics), the likelihood of war is greater.


According to Organski:


An even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of states is likely to increase the probability of war; peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; and it is the weaker, rather than the stronger; power that is most likely to be the aggressor.



Using Organski’s theory, China can be characterized as a ‘revisionist’ power dissatisfied with the existing balance of forces in the world as well as in Asia.  Meanwhile, the United States is a ‘status quo’ power (or a stand patter) working to preserve its hegemony.  It is joined by other status quo powers like Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Since it does not share US interests and preferences, the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin is China’s natural ally.[1]  The same is true with Pyongyang since Seoul is on the opposing side.  India is in a predicament since it shares a land border with China and fought a brief border war with the latter in the 1960s.  Geopolitical realities may force India to either align with China or opt for neutrality in the conflict.


Thus, a new cold war is afoot in East Asia (or the eastern Pacific rim) involving great powers (both status quo and revisionists) plus their allies.

Note that Russia had agreed to sell its most advanced S-400 missile systems to China.  Please see   <;.


A similar cold war is fought between the US and the Russian Federation in, as usual the European and MENA theater.

Of course, they have proxies.

But this new cold war is quite different, qualitatively different than the Cold War between the US and the USSR that ended in 1989-1991.

China and US are not starightfoward enemies.

The US and the Soviet Union were.

China and the US are, in millenial speak, “frenemies”.

They are enemies and rivals in the strategic realm.

But even in the strategic realm, they need to cooperate so as not to blow the world up in smoke and cinders.

They are friends in the economic realm sharing interest in keeping the world economy an open one.

However, as economic powers, they also compete and rival each other.

China was and is the biggest beneficiary of contemporary globalization, of the liberalization of the world’s financial markets and FDI rules.



Want to escape poverty? Replace pictures of Jesus with Xi Jinping, Christian villagers urged | South China Morning Post



In the process, the US steadily lost jobs and this gave (or gives) a fillip to protectionist sentiments exploited by Trump and his kind specially among blue collar workers and within the Rust Belt and the South.

The war is fought because of the steady undermining of the post-World War II world order.



The war is fought while the 4th Industrial Revolution is disrupting our lives, our economies, our ways of life, our politics, and our consciousness.

Fortunes are being made while misery and mayhem are widespread.

For this reasons, all gaps seem to be widening.

There is a great disconnect between competing truths. There is mass confusion, disaffection, and tumult.

The world is poised for a major shift.


Sir Paul McCartney may have supported them.

Madonna, Franz Ferdinand, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers may have asked that they be set free.

These artists may have just be few among many who either expressed support or asked that they be set free.

The Pussy Riot 3 in a glass cage during court proceedings

However, Moscow Judge Marina Syrova found three members of a punk-rock band, Pussy Riot, guilty for hooliganism–a ‘blasphemy incited by religious hatred’.  The three women were meted a 2-year jail sentence; the prosecutors wanted 3 years; while legally, they could have been jailed for seven years.

Tolokonnikova: A still defiant Pussy Riot-er

Sentenced were Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, a philosophy student described by the prosecution to be ‘evil genius’ behind Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, 24, a student of journalism and creative writing   and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, a computer programmer.  Two of them were young mothers.  They have been in jail since early March this year after they staged an anti-Vladimir Putin prayer at the nave of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow’s most important church.  Putin is the current prime minister of the Russian Federation and the Pussy Riot declared they were opposed to Putin’s policies and the close ties between the Putin government and the Russian Orthodox Church.

A pensive Yekaterina Samutsevich

The Guardian reported that in her opening statement, read by a lawyer, Tolokonnikova apologized for those who were insulted by Pussy Riot’s performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. “We had no intentions to offend anyone,” she said. “We wish that those who cannot understand us can forgive us.”  She spelled out the group’s intent: “The words we spoke and our entire punk performance aimed to express our disapproval of a specific political event: the patriarch’s support of Vladimir Putin, who has taken an authoritarian and anti-feminist course. Our performance contained no aggression towards the audience, but only a desperate desire to change the political situation in Russia for the better.”

For Tolokonnikova’s full profile, see

The political is personal: Maria Alyokhina smiles as she is led by police to a court in Moscow.

Before the sentencing, Moscow was rife with talk that the PS3 will indeed be sent to jail for hooliganism instead of being slapped on the wrist for committing a mere misdemeanor.  There was likewise talk that even if they will be jailed, the sentence will be less than the full seven years.

While Prime Minister Putin asserted that the case was off his hands, many believed that the court hearing the case was not truly independent of the Kremlin.

Across the English Channel and the Atlantic, pundits pontificated that the PS3 decision will be a test of the Russian judicial system and could affect the flow of Western investments into the Federation.

Everybody seems so ‘het up’ save the three.   Look at them.  Nadezhda is defiant.   Maria is smiling.   And Yekaterina is at peace.  I guess the three are satisfied they have made their (strong) point at the Cathedral and in court.  I believe they also knew they could not get away with their punk prayer lightly.

So they’re jail-bound.  I hope they will find more time to rehearse their acts and write new material.

As someone who was also jailed for my beliefs and political activities, I salute Nadya, Katya, and Masha.

Viva Pussy Riot!



Author’s note: See my earlier post on the Pussy Riot (  Thank you.