CONFISCATED POWER: How Soviet Russia Really Works by Helene Carrere d'Encausse

CONFISCATED POWER: How Soviet Russia Really Works

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lenin may have proclaimed ""All power to the Soviets"" in 1917--but once the Bolsheviks seized power, they never let go. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that Carrere d'Encausse (Decline of an Empire: The Soviet Socialist Republics in Revolt) concludes that power in the USSR still lies with the Communist Party. Still, this runs counter to recent conjectures that the seat of power might have moved to the army or the state bureaucracy. Lenin, Carrere d'Encausse notes, tried to institute two incompatible policies: a leading role for political and technical experts, resulting in unequal authority relations, and material egalitarianism, whereby the experts would receive modest wages. This dual track led to disparities of wealth by surreptitious means: plant managers used their positions to skin wealth off the top, party insiders were given sole access to stores selling foreign goods, etc. Stalin's purges disrupted but did not end this system; and, says Carrere d'Encausse, it was Khrushchev's attempt to undermine this arrangement--through the introduction of economic incentives and the decentralization of decisionmaking--that led to his overthrow by a troika bent on preserving the status quo. The eventual triumph of party leader Brezhnev over his two colleagues is further evidence of party control. Whatever military strides the USSR has taken over the last 20 years are not a result of significant new power for the army, Carrere d'Encausse claims, nor do they represent victories for a ""hawk"" faction over a ""dove"" faction. Rather, the Soviet leadership, rejecting domestic reforms, has turned to foreign policy as a substitute; and in that realm they have succeeded. But whether military or diplomatic, these successes have resulted from pragmatic responses, not factional fighting. The one value the Soviet leaders share is maintenance of the power system that benefits them. The one great stride the Soviet system has taken, since the tumultuous Stalin years, has been toward regularization of its governmental processes; today, the system is both internally weak and externally strong. For both novices and Kremlin watchers: a thorough, knowledgeable look at the Soviet scene--the best such since the Jerry Hough/Merle Fainsod How the Soviet Union Is Governed (1979).

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row