In This Review

The Collective and the Individual in Russia
The Collective and the Individual in Russia
By Oleg Kharkhordin
University of California Press, 1999, 336 pp

A young Berkeley Ph.D. from Russia, Kharkhordin starts with a puzzle: How could it be that so many new Russian entrepreneurs, when interviewed in 1992-93, consciously embraced individualistic ideals after centuries of Russian collectivist thought? He starts with a (mercifully brief) description of his intellectual debt to Michel Foucault, dotted with unexplained, fragmentary allusions to ideas from related thinkers -- a kind of lazy academic insiders' discourse in danger of spreading through promising young foreign scholars to other countries. Fortunately, he then moves smartly and impressively into his subject. In a subtle reading of Soviet institutions, including the purge commissions of the 1930s, he shows how the system created a certain kind of individualism that stressed self-perfection. True, this process was bound by Stalinist values and came at an awful cost. It also excluded key features of its Western counterpart, the emphasis on autonomy and privacy. Ironically, the system ended by promoting warped versions of both, a point that Kharkhordin deftly argues.