STALIN'S SUCCESSORS: Leadership, Stability, and Change in the Soviet Union by Seweryn Bialer

STALIN'S SUCCESSORS: Leadership, Stability, and Change in the Soviet Union

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Completed just before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to which Bialer (Political Science, Columbia) briefly refers in the Introduction as a major break in Soviet policy, this analysis of changing political elites in the USSR should still, if successful, shed some light on that episode. That it doesn't signals the difficulty social science has in forecasting probability. Bialer reviews the last period of Stalin's rule, the period of the Great Purge, which he sees as a conservative phase tacked on to the revolution; he clearly rejects the view--made common currency by Solzhenitsyn most recently--that Stalinism grew organically out of the Bolshevik revolution. Bialer notes that the current leadership is a product of that period; having risen to the top via Stalin's personal power, it has attempted, since his death, to maintain the status quo (witness the failure of the one effort to confront the Stalinist past, that of Khrushchev), But, as everyone knows, Brezhnev and company are very old men now, and Bialer is really interested in saying something about the coming leadership generation, a generation not personally related to Stalin's conservative rule, But, despite the talk of cohorts, it turns out that little can be said; this generation is thought to be materialistic, accustomed to the ways of bureaucracy, perhaps a little more daring in foreign policy (since they are not haunted by the memory of World War II). None of that, of course, distinguishes them from the new elites of any Western country. The one thing that keeps Bialer from predicting a stable Soviet future is the gap between the logical successors to Brezhnev--still the old guard--and this lower-level younger group; when Brezhnev goes, the transition is likely to be smooth, but the second transition could be accompanied by a lot of scrambling and temporary disorder. As for Afghanistan, it doesn't fit the mold, since the succession problem hasn't yet moved into phase one, and the staid old boys are suddenly acting pretty recklessly. Nothing here is new, and while some of it is interesting, there is little to place any bets on.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1980
Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press