RUSSIA: The People and the Power by Robert G. Kaiser

RUSSIA: The People and the Power

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A broad, well-written study of the contemporary USSR by a young Washington Post correspondent who spent three years in Moscow. Kaiser's thesis is that the Soviet Union operates through ""scraping by"" under a system of ""bureaucratic decentralism,"" with both the government and the people craving security after two hideous wars. Peculiarities and deficiencies of the system are often attributable to the fact that most Russians are at best two generations removed from the peasantry. Kaiser investigates daily life and child rearing without, however, any systematic discussion of the status of women. He also discusses the intelligentsia including detached portraits of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. In the scientific and technological sphere, Kaiser finds drastic imbalances--the abacus and the computer; the Soviet economy is described as the inverse of the American, inefficient in particulars, efficent overall. On the arms question, the USSR is far from ""bristling, powerful and aggressive,"" Kaiser concludes, and it still faces a formidable US offensive threat. The overall picture is of a bumbling, well-intentioned giant which would prefer to sink into Oblomovism but remains committed to the principle of development. Kaiser claims that the quality of education is declining and gives a dubious two to four percent growth rate for the early 1970's; he rightly points out that the Soviets, with their need for advanced technology, have a stake in Western prosperity. The patronizing tone which, despite disclaimers, runs through all this becomes rather ludicrous when Kaiser solemnly refers to the Soviet leaders as ""isolated from their public, chosen to rule only by their autocratic peers, insecure about the legitimacy of their power""--as if this stood in exotic contrast to the US executive. The book remains readable and suggestive--far more substantial than narrow I-was-there contributions such as the Schechters' An American Family in Moscow (p. 1108).

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1975
Publisher: Atheneum