THE RUSSIANS by Hedrick Smith


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A study of ordinary existence and social structures in the Soviet Union by the Pulitzer Prize-winning former Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times. The temptation to review the book in tandem with Washington Post writer Robert Kaiser's Russia (see above) is augmented by the fact that Smith's topical development strikingly parallels Kaiser's--the emphasis is on the; privileges of the ruling elite, the tribulations of shopping and housing for the masses, the inefficiences in plant management, the conformity in schools, the vulgar joys of state weddings and bathhouses, and the lack of news in the press. Smith, naturally enough, tells some of the same stories, and finds some of the same psychological characteristics--sentimentality, rudeness, privatism, and peasant passivity. The Russians includes a trip to Siberia where living facilities were shockingly inadequate for workers on development projects and a chapter on women, ""liberated but not emancipated."" Smith's style has less charm and subtlety than Kaiser's, and he tries less painstakingly to be fair--deriding the ""bourgeois acquisitiveness"" and ""bourgeois tastes"" of Soviet citizens as if there were something unsocialist about a desire for material comfort. That such comfort is widely absent, both books abundantly document; Smith also wields the term ""police state,"" unlike Kaiser, whose emphasis is on haphazard de facto administrative decentralization. Nadezhda Mandelstam, widow of the poet Osip and a fiercely candid old lady, is interviewed along with Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and an array of unattractive officials. Smith concludes with a warning that East-West trade will not necessarily bring liberalization within the Soviet Union. The Kaiser book perhaps has greater warmth and sophistication, but the books are basically very much alike, and both have distinct drawing power.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1975
Publisher: Quadrangle/New York Times