USSR: THE CORRUPT SOCIETY by Konstantin M. Simis


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As a Soviet lawyer, Simis had the opportunity to learn a good deal about scandals and shady dealings in the land of socialist realism. This information, combined with what he knew from his everyday experiences as a Soviet citizen, forms the basis for this exposÉ of Soviet society--and accounts for Simis' current residence in the US. (When the authorities got wind of the book, he and his wife were expelled from the country.) According to Simis, ""the Soviet Union is infected from top to bottom with corruption,"" a condition he attributes to the ""totalitarian rule of the Communist party."" Simis' definition of corruption, however, differs from Western usage: for him, corruption encompasses everything from the existence of special stores for bigwigs, featuring foreign goods, to the paying of cash bribes to get into a hospital. If prostitution is declared to be nonexistent and nevertheless exists (with great difficulty, to be sure), then Simis considers that corruption. Further evidence of corruption, by this accounting, is the existence of an underground economy ministering to consumer demand by an elaborate (and lucrative) system of skimming off raw materials from official production to make unofficial consumer goods. (The result, of course, is underground millionaires who then have to hide their illicit wealth.) Simis' procedure is thus markedly different from that of Hedrick Smith, who, in The Russians (1976), revealed most of what Simis has to tell us. In Smith's version, corruption is the subject of one specific chapter--and includes such material as the case of the Politburo's one woman member, Yekaterina Furtseva, who lost her position amid a scandal involving an elaborate country house she built at government expense (an example Simis uses too, but at much greater length). In accordance with the Western outlook, Smith relegates material on perquisites for the elite, or on the underground economy, to separate chapters; only if one holds the Soviets to their expressed ideal do all these matters become instances of endemic corruption. The scarcity of goods, and the pervasive bureaucracy, create the sometimes ingenious ways that Soviet citizens go about getting things--failings of the system, worthy of examination as such. The particulars have been well aired by Smith--and without the excessive moralizing that underpins Simis' unsurprising litany.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster