French scholar Kerblay concedes at the outset that his report on the state of the Soviet Union (barely three years after Gorbachev launched sweeping reforms) could prove a rash venture. Despite the obvious danger of being overtaken by events, the author of Modern Soviet Society (1983) offers an illuminating assessment of the USSR's capacity for socioeconomic change imposed from above as well as the possible consequences of renewal efforts. Like Moshe Lewin in The Gorbachev Phenomenon (1988), Kerblay focuses on demography and longer-range trends, largely ignoring foreign affairs and internecine political conflict. Nor does he address larger issues involving the fate of international communism as does Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Failure (reviewed above). In the context of a still stable political system, the author provides perspectives on the principal home-front priorities of the Communist Party's general secretary. Gorbachev's main concern, in Kerblay's view, is restructuring to accelerate economic growth and democratize national institutions (albeit without yielding to pluralism) through greater willingness to accept criticism (glasnost). Whether Gorbachev's potentially convulsive policies will prevail remains in Kerblay's estimation a very open question that can only be answered over the longer run. The Soviet leader's program has already encountered resistance, even opposition, among elites, including the military's officer corps, bureaucrats, and intellectuals; blue-collar workers in the increasingly urbanized country's industrial centers, while receptive to reform, are skeptical about its prospects. In the meantime, nationalists in Islamic republics like Kazakhstan have muddied the waters by resorting to violence in defense of their language and culture. To develop a spirit of enterprise in a diverse, generally well-educated, but stubbornly apathetic population and bring an entrenched officialdom to book without sacrificing any significant measure of the state's authority, Kerblay argues, Gorbachev may have to rely on the intelligentsia (who have been granted greater freedom of expression under his regime) or run even greater risks, e.g., encouraging rank-and-file activists to go public with their complaints against old-guard functionaries. Concise, enlightening insights that refute the notion that the USSR is a quiescent society incapable of engaging in, much less sustaining, debate.
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