Russia today is a mighty world power, with the largest territory of any state, a population of 260 million, great mineral resources in a resource-hungry world, and a geopolitical position that gives it a large role in both European and Asian affairs. It is a military superpower with intercontinental and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in large numbers, supersonic airplanes, a huge standing army based on universal military service, and fleets in all oceans. It controls an East and Central European empire extending deep into Germany and the Balkans. Its power and influence radiate into Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Africa and Latin America.

This formidable global presence is serviced and maintained by an internal state system centered in Great Russia's capital city, Moscow; the formal autonomy of the outlying, non-Russian Soviet republics is constitutional fiction. Staffed by an army of party, government and other officials (it has been estimated that full-time party officials alone number close to half a million), the party-state edifice comes to a peak in the 23 departments of the party's Central Committee, whose Politburo is the focal point of decision-making authority. Under this supreme directorate, about 60 government ministries provide centralized administration of the Soviet realm. Two of these bureaucracies, the police and the military, have roles and prerogatives of special importance. Their chiefs, along with the chairman of the Council of Ministers and his first deputy, the minister for foreign affairs, the principal Central Committee secretaries, the first secretaries of the Moscow, Leningrad and one or two republic party organizations, sit with General Secretary Brezhnev on the Politburo and take part in policymaking.

This system lays official claim to the title "developed socialism." A source inside the Soviet establishment, writing under the name of Fedor Zniakov, more aptly calls it "supermonopoly capitalism." Ownership, he explains, is concentrated in a single center, the "supermonopoly," which possesses the plenitude of economic and political power.1 The economic system may be likened to a single gigantic conglomerate incorporating industries and other state-controlled activity, including state and collective farm agriculture, under unified management at the Politburo level.

The Politburo's control is ensured by a hierarchically organized ruling class that represents and defends the supermonopoly's interests in all spheres of social life. The fundamental aim is the preservation, strengthening and extension of the supermonopoly's power. The ruling class starts at lower levels with plant directors, collective farm chairmen and heads of local party and governmental bodies, and extends to Central Committee secretaries and members of the Soviet government at the top.2 It is sometimes informally called the "nomenclature class" because of the system of nomenclature (nomenklatura), or lists of posts, appointment to which requires the approval of a given higher or lower party body. The nomenclature class comprises those cleared for assignment to responsible positions in the party-state.

Its members and their families live in a relatively closed world of privilege, which so sharply differentiates their life experience from that of ordinary citizens that they could almost be living in different countries. People of the nomenclature class have comfortable apartments, cars and, in many cases, country houses. They are served by a network of so-called closed distributors, inconspicuous special shops where food and other products, including foreign goods, are available at subsidized prices. They have opportunities for foreign travel, adequate health care, and can enjoy the facilities of desirable Soviet resorts at desirable times of the year. Through informal channels of influence their children can make their way into the restricted number of openings for higher education and thence into careers in the official world.

Perquisites in that world are carefully differentiated according to gradations of rank. Thus in the Science Settlement at Novosibirsk, according to an ex-Soviet science journalist, "A full member of the Academy lives in a villa, a corresponding member has half a villa; a senior research officer has an apartment with three-meter ceiling height, while a junior has one with a two and a quarter meter ceiling, on a higher floor with a communal bathroom."3


Was this rigid, centralized and highly stratified sociopolitical structure an inevitable outgrowth of the single-party dictatorship established by Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks after the October Revolution? Or did it evolve as one possible sequel to the Revolution, the result of historical decisions that might have been taken differently and that reflected, in some measure, the unique political personality and outlook of Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin?

I believe the latter is the case. Although Brezhnev's Russia differs from Stalin's in the absence of an all-powerful dictator ruling by terror and in other ways to be discussed below, in the fundamental aspects already mentioned it is indeed an inheritance from the Stalin era. It took shape in the course of what can best be called a state-building process that was launched around 1929 when Stalin finally achieved ascendancy in the Soviet political leadership. Taking advantage of the ability that this gave him to manipulate the regime's policy (he was not yet the personal dictator that he became in the mid-1930s), Stalin steered a course in internal affairs predicated upon the imperative need to build an industrially and militarily powerful Soviet Russian state within ten years in preparation for what he considered an inevitably oncoming great new war-a war that, with assistance from his own diplomacy, did break out about ten years later, in 1939.

The state-building process started with Stalin's policy of collectivization of the peasantry. Looking back proudly in later years, he spoke of collectivization, whereby about 25 million private peasant farms were abolished and the peasants organized into some 200,000 state-supervised collective farms, as a state-initiated and state-directed "revolution from above" that matched or surpassed in historical significance the October Revolution of 1917 by which Lenin and the Bolsheviks acquired power.4 His phrase is applicable to the entire, statist transformation of Soviet Russia during the 1930s.

In using it, Stalin forebore to mention a fact of which he was well aware, that coercive revolution from above in a long-range state-building process was no new phenomenon in Russia's history. A previous such process had its background and origin in national adversity: the conquest in 1240 and 200-year subjugation of the Russian lands by the Tatars. The tsarist state, centered in Muscovy, developed from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries in a protracted struggle for the reconstitution of the national territory, a "gathering of Russian lands," in a hostile international environment that comprised not only the declining but still strong Tatar khanates but also powerful neighbors on three sides: Ottoman Turkey in the southwest, Poland-Lithuania in the west, and Sweden in the northwest. Through war and diplomacy, Muscovy expanded from an area of about 15,000 square miles in 1462 to that of the transcontinental Eurasian state that it finally became.

The expansionist drive placed a great premium upon military strength. Because of the country's economic backwardness and technological inferiority to its Western neighbors, the government sought to mobilize the resources for war by enlisting the population directly in its service. The exploitative relation of the state to the society brought an extension of coercive controls and the growth of the centralized governmental system. This took place largely through a series of revolutions from above. Claiming ownership of the land, the state destroyed the landowning boyars as a class and created a controlled nobility of serving men whose landed estates were allotted on condition of military service to the state. This was the foundation for the later growth of an "aristocracy of rank" under which bureaucratic distinction rather than birth became, in principle, the highroad of entry into the nobility. The fastening down of serfdom upon the peasants in the seventeenth century was another aspect of what older Russian historians called the "binding of all classes" in compulsory service to the state.

Under Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century, the state underwent coercive remodeling from above through a Europeanization that connoted the borrowing of advanced technology from the West and the forced development of Russian industry under governmental auspices for military power in the continuing process of external aggrandizement. Thus the primacy of foreign policy and the need for military strength for external defense and expansion were the mainsprings of the internal state-building process. In his summation of this process, the pre-1917 historian V. O. Kliuchevsky wrote that "the expansion of the state territory, straining beyond measure and exhausting the resources of the people, only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people. . . . The state swelled up; the people grew lean."5

The pressure of external upon internal policy relaxed with tsarist Russia's achievement of its commanding world position by the close of the eighteenth century, making it possible for the government to give more attention to the needs of internal welfare rather than territorial expansion. The earlier binding of all classes in compulsory state service gave way to a partial unbinding of classes with the release of the nobility from its compulsory service obligations in the late eighteenth century.6

The "unbinding" proceeded in slow uneven steps. Not until 1861 was the peasantry released from serfdom by imperial decree. That action inaugurated a time of transforming change (from above) known as the epoch of Great Reforms. Although it witnessed a considerable liberalization of Russian life, the autocratic, authoritarian, centralized, bureaucratic state structure that evolved in the state-building process was too well entrenched, its repressive powers too formidable, and the history-bred submissiveness of the people too enduring, for the processes of change to work their way to fruition peacefully. What had developed as a dynamically active autocratic state authority in the earlier state-building process proved so strong as a static force later on that it could successfully block its own thorough transformation, as shown by its capacity to withstand the nationwide insurrectionary movement of 1905. Only under the unbearable strains of the third year of the World War did the structure finally buckle and collapse in 1917.


The Bolshevik party-state that emerged in control of what remained of the Russian Empire after the ensuing time of troubles was not initially oriented toward a renewed state-building process in the Russian national tradition. The Marxist ruling party's programmatic commitment was not to the restoration of a militarily powerful bureaucratic Russian state under a new tsar-autocrat, but to "socialist construction," meaning the building over time (a generation at least, Lenin said) of a socialist or communist society characterized by cooperative forms of production in a setting of economic and technological advance, by material abundance for the entire populace, and by a steady growth of popular self-administration in place of rule by a governmental bureaucracy. By the seizure and monopolizing of power and the establishment of a party dictatorship, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had, however, created a medium in which a dynamic resurgence of statism could occur. Moreover, by virtue of the losses of territory in the revolutionary period and the new state's isolation in an unfriendly international environment, now called "hostile capitalist encirclement," the country's situation in the 1920s showed a certain parallel to that of the early Muscovite period.

Among the leading Bolshevik contenders for power after Lenin died, Stalin alone was disposed by personal politico-ideological orientation to take that historical parallel seriously. His orientation is best described as "Russian national bolshevism," an amalgam of Bolshevik revolutionary theory and practice with Great Russian nationalism. When he expressed it in moderate terms in the platform of "socialism in one country" that he advocated against the party Left in the debates of the mid-1920s, it had strong persuasive appeal to large elements of the ruling party, particularly the younger party members. But linked as it was with his special perception of a parallel between Muscovite Russia's situation in earlier times and Soviet Russia's now,7 Stalin's actual position was far more radical in its political implications than his followers suspected-until he began acting upon it in 1929.

Such basic elements of the Bolshevik program as the construction of a socialist society in Soviet Russia and the international communist revolution were preserved but at the same time transformed by Stalin's Russian national bolshevism. Communist revolution abroad was reconceived as a process spreading out from a base in the U.S.S.R. to neighboring countries, hence as, in part, a revived "gathering of Russian lands," such as those lost to Poland and to the independent Baltic states during the revolutionary period.

In Stalin's Russian national bolshevism, further growth of the international communist revolution and Soviet Russian expansion, territorially or in terms of spheres of influence, were fused into one process. Since a focal area for expansion was Eastern Europe and the Balkans, a diplomacy of accord with Germany, looking (among other things) to a new partition of Poland, was a fixture of Stalin's foreign policy conception from early on. While encouraging Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov to pursue in the mid-1930s an open diplomacy of collective security and popular fronts against fascism, Stalin made his way by secret diplomacy toward the Nazi-Soviet pact that he concluded in 1939.

Thus Russian national bolshevism resurrected the historic Russian primacy of foreign policy, and with it the necessity-to Stalin's history-oriented mind-of a renewed, but this time Soviet Russian state-building process centering on forced-draft industrialization with emphasis upon heavy industry and military-industrial power. Collectivization was designed to undergird the industrialization drive by organizing the peasantry into collective and state farms. This ensured government control of the great bulk of agricultural produce, including large amounts for export abroad to finance the importation of technology. That aim required lightning collectivization rather than the long-range "cooperating" of the peasantry by persuasion that Lenin had envisaged. Lightning collectivization was, and could only be, accomplished by terrorist methods, whose utilization on Stalin's orders backfired because the mass of peasants, seeing in the collectives a revived form of Russian serfdom (which they were), slaughtered a huge proportion of their livestock before entering them. Although the state got control of the produce by the draconian means Stalin employed, it did so at the cost of an estimated ten to fifteen million lives lost in the ensuing great famine, whose effects are still felt in Russia's agricultural economy 50 years later.

Restoring as it did something comparable to old Russia's serfdom, collectivization was not only a coercive revolution from above but a first phase of a renewed state-building process. Stalin moved to bring every element of society under regimentation and control. He reenacted the "binding" of all strata in compulsory service to the state authority. He pursued a policy of direct exploitation of the human resources of the economically backward country for amassing military power through industrialization. One major expression of this was the expansion of the vast "Gulag" forced-labor empire in Siberia, the Far North and elsewhere, much of it initially recruited from the rural "kulaks" whose violent dispossession and deportation into the interior in 1929-33 was the means used to terrorize the peasantry as a whole into joining the collectives. Another was the binding of the industrial worker to his place of work by the reintroduction of an internal passport system, like the one that existed before 1917, and by legislation of the later 1930s prohibiting voluntary changes of jobs. Total exploitation of the populace meant totalitarian control. Since a large bureaucratic apparatus of police and other governmental regulation was needed for this, a leviathan of a state resulted. Not only was a powerful, highly centralized, bureaucratic state revived; its control of people's lives extended well beyond the limits reached by tsarist rulers.

Russia's history in Stalin's time retraced, therefore, the course epitomized by Kliuchevsky in his phrase cited earlier: "The state swelled up; the people grew lean." The people "grew lean" in the shrinkage of the unregimented parts of their lives, and in the simple sense of being hungry, living on rations, going without desperately needed housing, and enduring other hardship. Nevertheless, Stalin publicly proclaimed in 1936, when promulgating a new Stalinist version of the Soviet constitution, that the foundations of a socialist society had now been built. This claim contradicted Leninist assumptions that socialism connoted richer lives rather than poorer, more equitable distribution rather than less, less bureaucratic regimentation rather than more, more meaningful public involvement in administration rather than less. But it was consistent with Stalin's Russian national bolshevism, in which socialism-building and state-building were fused, so that the construction of a mighty Soviet Russian military-national state in which all strata were bound in compulsory service to the state power became the fundamental meaning of "socialism." Such a view required that Stalin revise the long established Marxist and Leninist tenet that it was the destiny of the state as an institution to wither away with the advent of a socialist society. As Stalin reformulated the dogma, in 1939, the Soviet socialist state had to grow great and strong in order to defend itself within a hostile capitalist encirclement.

Much of this was alien to the thinking of the great majority of surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as to many of their juniors in the new party generation that had matured during the early years of the Soviet regime and was heavily influenced by the Old Bolsheviks in its way of thought. Even many who had been "Stalinists" in supporting Stalin's platform of building socialism in one country, were unprepared for what his Russian national bolshevism meant in practice-a replication under Soviet conditions of the patterns of revolution from above that had found earlier expression in the tsarist state-building process. They were appalled by the ghastly tragedy of collectivization by terror and the resulting hushed-up famine of the early 1930s. They were, many of them, repelled by the new, stratified society of privilege that they saw emerging in those years of privation, and by the swelling of a bureaucratic state that, to minds conditioned by Marxism and Leninism, should have been beginning to atrophy if socialism were really being built in Russia.

Their disenchantment with the new statist society over whose construction Stalin was presiding was expressed in negative attitudes, even in opposition, to him. Some Old Bolsheviks made an abortive attempt during the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934 to carry out, belatedly, Lenin's parting confidential advice to the party elders that Stalin be removed from his position of power. His lethal response was the Great Terror, which began with the assassination of the Leningrad party leader, Sergei Kirov, in December 1934, and is estimated to have cost the lives of about two million Communists and previously expelled party members, plus large numbers of their non-party relatives and associates.8

The Terror, by opening careers en masse to replacements for the victims, brought into being a new, state-created as well as Stalin-oriented Soviet elite. It lived far better than ordinary citizens but was just as securely bound in service to the state as were the peasants and the worker. Hence, the Great Purge was another revolution from above, or another phase in the larger revolution from above of the 1930s. It recapitulated in a highly magnified twentieth-century way the binding of the landed aristocracy in compulsory state service. Like the boyars of old, the Old Bolshevik ruling elite was exterminated in large part and, for the rest, submerged in a new Soviet service nobility. The purge as a revolution from above was, moreover, the crucible of the reemergence of Russian absolutism in a Soviet setting, the rule of a new tsar-autocrat in whose dictatorial system the still ostensibly dominant political party was, like all other institutions of Stalin's state, a transmission belt for implementing his policies.

This interpretation of the Stalinist 1930s conflicts with a view that has enjoyed wide credence in the West. That view sees Stalin's revolution from above as a harsh and cruel way of bringing backward Russia into the modern world, a revolution of "modernization."9 There is no question but that Russia underwent considerable industrialization and urbanization in the Stalinist 1930s, accompanied by growth in literacy, in the availability of education, chiefly technical, and in other indices. Yet all this took place in a state-building process similar in a fundamental way to one seen earlier in history.

The upshot is that what happened in Russia in the 1930s is not only superficially described but actually obscured by the use of a term like "modernization." In fact, the nation underwent a reversion to the Russian past in its developmental mode. Without a clear comprehension of this it is not possible truly to understand either the legacy of Stalin and Stalinism to the Russian present or the depth of the problems confronted by Stalin's successors. In particular, no accurate diagnosis can be made of the present situation of Soviet society.


"Russ is where the true belief is," a noted émigré interpreter of Russian thought and society has written.10 His point was that Rus' developed in history as a community of right believers, meaning those of the Russian Orthodox faith. In what we may call its sustaining myth, Russian society was a political community of the faithful, an Orthodox tsardom. So persistent was this pattern that as late as the early twentieth century a peasant-and the vast majority of Russians were peasants then-would speak of himself not as "Russian" but as "Orthodox" (pravoslavny).11 Russian was his language; Orthodoxy, his identity. Since the Tsar was a centerpiece of the mythos, waning faith in the Tsar was a sign of the coming end of the tsardom. Bloody Sunday in January 1905 has been mentioned in this context. On that day a priest-led, icon-bearing procession of common people was met with murderous gunfire on its walk to the Winter Palace in Petersburg to ask the Tsar for redress of grievances. The priest, Father Gapon, is said to have declared in the midst of the carnage, "There is no Tsar anymore."

The revolutionary reconstitution of a society always sees the rise of a new conception of the meaning of membership in that society. Bolshevism's revolutionary republic, which Lenin called Rus' in an article of 1918, soon generated its own sustaining myth in the concept of Soviet Rus' as a community of "builders of socialism." The Bolsheviks' militant atheism, their unremitting effort through antireligious propaganda to dislodge Orthodoxy from Russian minds, was the other side of their project of instilling in those same minds a new set of right beliefs, a new transnational orthodoxy. The society was envisioned as a collective of citizens united in believing in future socialism and eventual full communism as a transcendently worthy life goal. As Lenin formulated the idea in his speech of 1920 to a congress of representatives of the Young Communist League:

The generation of people who are now at the age of fifty cannot expect to see a communist society. This generation will be gone before then. But the generation of those who are now fifteen will see a communist society and will itself build this society. This generation should know that the entire purpose of their lives is to build a communist society.12

Though not in Lenin's audience on that occasion, one of the youths whom Lenin meant to address was a Leonid Brezhnev. Born in 1906, he was just turning fifteen. He must have been among the many in the growing generation in whom the mythos of building a socialist Rus' was deeply implanted.

During the brief remainder of his active life, Lenin tried to formulate guidelines for building what must initially be a socialist rather than a fully communist new society. It would entail the creation of a machine industry based especially on electric power, overcoming persisting class differences, the growth of general prosperity, and the "cooperating of Russia," that is, the enlistment of the whole population, peasantry included, into cooperative societies and cooperative forms of work. The coming socialist Rus' would likewise be to a great extent popularly administered, free of the "bureaucratism" bequeathed by history. The construction of socialism was not envisaged as a state-building process of the kind that subsequently occurred, although Stalin, in part by selective quotation of earlier Lenin texts, sought to obscure the gulf between Lenin's guidelines and his policies.

Under Stalin, the meaning of Soviet citizenship continued to be defined as belief in socialism and communism, but the contents of the belief system changed. As of about 1936, a Soviet citizen was supposed to believe that Stalin's Russia of the five-year plans had basically made the transition to socialism and was now on the way to an indefinitely deferred communist future which must serve as the nation's goal. Furthermore, the belief system was personalized in a new way. It had already been personalized upon Lenin's death because the deceased founder of Bolshevism was made into a cult figure, a venerated supreme authority whose writings figured as sacred texts on, above all, the society's goal and the way to achieve it. Then, in the early and middle 1930s, the Lenin cult became overlaid and overshadowed by official glorification of Stalin as the "Builder of Socialism." Soviet citizens were expected to believe not only in socialism as a fait accompli and in communism as the further objective, but also in Stalin as the party's genius-leader to whom credit was due for the society's history-making breakthrough to the socialist stage of development foretold by Marx, Engels and Lenin but not realized in their lifetimes.

The Old Bolsheviks, as already indicated, were mostly Old Believers as well (to borrow another term from Russian history), and so were many of their younger contemporaries who had come into the Party during the Civil War and the 1920s. Most of them had been willing followers of Stalin when he spoke in the mid-1920s of socialism in one country. But not being Russian national Bolsheviks of his peculiar stripe, few could accept the unprosperous, deeply stratified, bureaucracy-ridden society of the mid-1930s, with its reimposed state of virtual serfdom and its increasingly bound working class, with its more and more strident Great Russian nationalism, as a "socialist" society. Nor could they believe in Stalin, the colossal bungler of collectivization, as the leader of genius portrayed in his personality cult. Those generations of Leninist Old Believers were mowed down wholesale in the terrorist purges of the later 1930s.

We should beware, however, of assuming that the people who took their places in leading positions, or in lesser ones with higher status in store, were cynical, opportunistic nonbelievers. Some, perhaps many, were, to be sure, just that. But Stalin, however vicious, was not stupid in this phase of his state-building policy. He consciously brought along a new generation of state servitors who could be and in very many cases would be believers of a new kind. These people accepted the society he was building as the socialist one he proclaimed it to be. They admiringly looked upon him as indeed the Builder of Socialism.

Risen from simple, often peasant origins, these New Believers were culturally disposed to think of Russia as a new Orthodox tsardom of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist persuasion, naturally with a new tsar, albeit an uncrowned one, at its head. They could accept the equation of a socialist Soviet Russia with an industrially developed and militarily strong one, take satisfaction in their participation in the state-building effort, and be proud of the country's emergence as a great power. They, or many of them, could uncritically accept the results of the devious foreign policy that made a deal with Hitler which turned his aggression westward and meanwhile opened the way for Russia's and communism's expansion into Eastern Europe.


When, after confounding Stalin's calculation on a long debilitating war in the West, Hitler "perfidiously" (as the Soviet version goes) hurled the full force of the Wehrmacht against his ally of 1939-41, the New Believers were a rock of support for the defense effort. As for the common people, they were wary as the war began, not knowing what to expect from the Germans, who were European and hence (as Russians had always supposed) a "cultured" nation. When they discovered that the invaders were behaving like savages rather than liberators, they were ready to respond to the Stalin regime's call to arms. It did not say, "Rise in defense of Soviet socialism," but, "Mother Russia calls you." The symbols invoked, such as General Kutuzov who commanded Russia's defense in the war against Napoleon, were Russian national symbols.

Having no one to defend it but the people, whose material conditions of life had to grow worse rather than better in wartime, the regime made the one concession possible: it lifted the terror-tinged atmosphere of the prewar years and allowed the warring nation a relaxed sense of more-freedom-to-come. During those awful years of death and privation, commitments were quietly made to the population. Not by open proclamation but by spreading the word through the grapevine that serves the country's real communication needs, the regime encouraged the people to believe that victory would be a great turning point toward materially better as well as freer conditions, that peasants would be allowed to leave the collectives, that intellectuals would enjoy a respite from cultural regimentation, that there would be opportunities for foreign travel and study in a no longer hostile world, and even that the Americans would be invited to open department stores in Soviet cities.

So, at a cost of twenty or more million casualties and with critically important aid from the Western allies, Russia prevailed. The war itself became a popular one in the sense that the great bulk of the population was behind it. Stalin himself became, for the first time, a popular hero as beleaguered Russia's rugged war leader. The fact that he had panicked and had a temporary nervous breakdown at the beginning was not known outside a tiny circle at the top. Nor did the people know about his grievous faults as supreme commander of the fighting forces. Many had but a hazy realization, if that, of the fact that his terrorist collectivation and methodical destruction of seasoned cadres in all fields in the fury of the Great Purge had done far more to wreck the war effort in advance than to prepare for it.

It was an article of faith in the Soviet public mind that the end of the war would bring the beginning of a new period in the country's life, a time of peace, liberalization, and growing plenty. I heard a Red Army officer cry, "Now it is time to live!," during the joyous victory celebration in Red Square on May 9, 1945. But the anticipated and longed-for new period of economic betterment and liberalization did not come with the victory for which the people had paid so dear a price.

Instead, Stalin, now a supremely glorified hero as well as absolute ruler, defined the postwar period as a new prewar period. That was the underlying message of his postwar address of February 9, 1946, in which he spoke of the necessity of three or four more heavy industry-oriented five-year plans in order to prepare the country for "all contingencies" in a world where the continued existence of imperialism made new wars inevitable. Although Russia was no longer isolated and threatened as before, Stalin was decreeing a new round of the state-building process for what was already then becoming, in his foreign policy, an era of cold war and near total isolation of the nation from the outside world. That meant a new round of strain, sacrifice and austerity internally. A Russian of the older generation in whose Moscow apartment I sat as Stalin's words were transmitted to the people by radio, placed his head on his folded arms when he heard them. All over Russia people figuratively were doing the same. In a society founded on the presumption of belief, that signified the beginnings of a crisis.

Aware of the mass disenchantment, Stalin prescribed as antidote what has been called the Zhdanovshchina, the campaign, initiated in 1946 by his party lieutenant Andrei Zhdanov and others, to revitalize political consciousness and belief. They castigated what was called "apoliticality" and "non-ideologism." The phenomena so designated were real, whereas the means employed to counteract them, including propaganda of Russian chauvinism and, increasingly, anti-Semitism, were impotent to reinstill active commitment in a generally dispirited people that had lost hope for a better life in their time. Fear became the main stimulus, and the security police lorded it over all other organs of power, including the theoretically ruling party. By Stalin's death in 1953, the society was in the grip of something close to paralysis.


Stalin's successors were bound to pursue a politics of change although they were divided over how far and fast it should proceed, in what directions, and who should preside over it. Some staunch Stalinist conservatives, such as Lazar Kaganovich and Viacheslav Molotov, appear to have wanted only limited change hypercautiously administered, whereas younger leaders like Georgi Malenkov and Nikita Khrushchev stood for substantial reform but differed over the course it should take and who should implement it. Having achieved a sort of supremacy in a two-year struggle, Khrushchev embarked in 1955 upon a reform course and made the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956 his forum for it. His reform course was aimed at making the Soviet system work by restoring it to a condition of economic and sociopolitical health.

A peculiar blend of Old and New Believer in his makeup, Khrushchev was a tirelessly itinerant politician who went around Russia and the world preaching the superiority of the Soviet way. But his faith in the Soviet system did not stand in the way of a realistic appreciation of its failings. This believing Communist could be astonishingly frank in exposing the actualities, whether it was the grim state of Soviet agriculture in 1953, or the ills of the Moscow-centered bureaucratic management of the economy, or Stalin's criminality in the terrorist purge of the party. It took a deep believer in the fundamental underlying rightness of the Soviet order to be such a scourge of past tragedies and present malfunctioning.

The watchword of Khrushchev's special brand of reformism was "Back to the path of Lenin," connoting, above all, revival of the system of single-party rule that had been eclipsed for 20 years by Stalin's police-based personal despotism. Accordingly, the grand theme of his secret report to the Twentieth Congress in 1956 was Stalin's violation of the "Leninist norms" of rule by the Communist Party as a collectivity. His chilling exposé of tyranny was not published in Russia, but its contents soon became known through the grapevine after the speech was read at closed meetings of party cells all over the country. Hence the whole of politically literate Russia became aware, if it had not been before, of the Stalinist heritage of anti-party terror, and millions of its still surviving victims began returning to Soviet society from concentration camps.

Khrushchev was acutely aware that a widespread failure of belief was both a part of and a cause of the crisis bequeathed by Stalin to Soviet society, and hence that the system could not be made to work well, even under reformed party auspices, unless belief was rekindled in the minds of Soviet citizens. He realized that this would not be possible unless people could anticipate concrete benefits in the not far-off future. After decades of privation accompanied by promises of future bliss, the people must be shown that the system, meaning first of all the economic system, could be made to work for their welfare, and soon. In a literal sense, it was time to deliver the goods. Khrushchev made plain his awareness of this by sponsoring the slogan: "The present generation of Soviet people will live under Communism!" It appeared on signboards everywhere, along with a still more concrete message that a visitor could see even along dusty Siberian roads in the summer of 1958, "We shall overtake and outstrip the U.S.A. in per capita production of meat, milk and butter!"

This was to be accomplished in a few short years. The new program adopted by the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1961 formalized the theme: during the 1960s, the U.S.S.R. would outstrip the United States in per capita output, make agriculture flourish, provide a sufficiency of material goods, basically meet the country's housing needs, and become the land with the shortest working day. In the 1970s, it would establish the material base for full communism, secure material and cultural abundance, make a start on distribution according to need (e.g., rent-free housing and free public transit). "Fundamentally a communist society will be constructed in the U.S.S.R." the Program declared in italics, leaving the construction to be "fully completed" in 1981-90.

Many new departures in domestic policy were aimed, if not at achieving communism by 1980, then at raising depressed Soviet living standards very sharply in the near future. They included the large-scale cultivation of virgin lands in southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan for grain production, the effort to solve the fodder problem by the cultivation of corn, the sale of the farm machinery of the state-owned machine-tractor stations to the collectives, and various changes in the structure of economic administration. The great Stalinist ministerial bureaucracies were dissolved and their officials scattered across the country into regional economic councils in an effort to decentralize the economy.

When this failed to produce the desired results, Khrushchev resorted to another organizational panacea: the party apparatus was split into industrial and agricultural divisions locally so as to compel party officialdom to concentrate upon problems of production. Under the banner of democratization, certain reforms were adopted that chipped away somewhat at the privileged status of higher officials. Ministerial salaries were reduced from extremely high Stalinist levels. The new Party Rules adopted in 1961 mandated rotation of membership in party committees, the Central Committee included. A reform affecting children of persons from the privileged class, along with others, made vocational experience mandatory between school and higher education.

Inherent in Khrushchev's reform orientation was a shift in the relationship between domestic and foreign policy that had been fundamental to the Stalinist state-building process. The latter had harnessed the nation's energies to war preparation before 1941, war-making during the Second World War, and the cold war after 1945. Now, under Khrushchev, the cold war gave way to competitive coexistence in Soviet foreign policy, and domestic needs, including consumer needs, took high priority as part of the effort to make the system work. To divert resources from the military to the civilian economy, as Khrushchev tried with some success to do (for instance, by restricting the growth of the Soviet navy), it was imperative to seek relief from the relentless demands of the arms race; for this, a changed relationship with Russia's chief adversary, the United States, was essential. Hence the theme of coexistence as a complex process of competition and cooperation appeared in Soviet official thinking, and détente with the West became an intermittently pursued goal.

Ironically, the effort to economize on war preparation did not always lead to reduced tensions. Thus Khrushchev's missiles gamble in Cuba in 1962-a move to offset U.S. strategic superiority cheaply, so as to allocate to civilian needs resources that would otherwise have to be invested (and were later invested) in a costly program of intercontinental ballistic missiles-temporarily halted the search for a modus vivendi with the United States. But the nuclear test ban agreement of the following year found Khrushchev back on the road to an understanding with Washington.

Impetuous in style, given to organizational solutions, Khrushchev lacked a coherent, longer range reform program that would have liberated middle- and low-level management and people at large to unleash initiative untrammeled by party overseers. His economic decentralization only transferred power over the economy to regional party bosses, and the party as such could not serve as the reform instrument that he thought it could be. So, his optimistic faith in the capacity of reforms within the frame of the restored single-party system to make the economy perform productively for the benefit of the populace proved largely misplaced.

There were some successes, especially in housing construction, and the virgin lands scheme paid off temporarily. But the promises of overtaking America in per capita food production and of giant strides toward full communism in the near future were not borne out. Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated drastically during Khrushchev's tenure, while relations with the West showed no corresponding improvement. The Cuban missiles gambit backfired in a manner that was politically damaging to him at home. The military leadership undoubtedly chafed at his effort to hold back on military expenditures. Conservative hackles were raised by the liberalizing ferment that the de-Stalinization campaign aroused in the creative intelligentsia. Meanwhile, his shake-up of the party and state bureaucracy intensified the opposition in high places to his leadership and prepared the ground for the palace revolution that swept him out of power in 1964.

Before this final defeat, however, he made a last-ditch attempt to mobilize support against the conservative pro-Stalinist opposition by bringing his anti-Stalin campaign into the open at the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1961. Here he and his party lieutenants repeated in public many of the sensational revelations that had been made behind closed doors in 1956, and the congress ended with a dramatic decision to remove Stalin's remains from the mausoleum on Red Square and erect a monument to the victims of his bloody crimes.

It is not clear whether this bluff man, not given to psychological subtleties, realized what impact the revelations about Stalin would have upon the minds and spirit of very many people in Russia. We have noted above how, with the rise of Stalin's personality cult in the 1930s, the entire official Soviet belief system became personalized in a special way: To believe in socialism and communism as the goals of Soviet society meant believing in Stalin as the Builder of Socialism and the inspired leader who was guiding Russia on its path to the ultimate goal. Now this leader stood condemned before the people as a man guilty of criminal abuse of power on an appalling scale.

Many in the generation of New Believers who had come up during the heyday of Stalin's rule in the 1930s and the war years were deeply shocked and disoriented. Some resisted the blow to their beliefs; others ceased to believe in anything. To still others, albeit a small minority composed of intellectuals, the revelations about Stalin meant a welcome break with the Stalinist past and a promise of more far-reaching reforms pointing the way to a humane socialism in Russia. That point of view found expression in Roy A. Medvedev's samizdat work, Let History Judge: The Origin and Consequences of Stalinism. On the whole, however, Khrushchev's politics of de-Stalinization worked against his effort to revitalize the communist faith in Soviet minds. By the time of his removal from power, the crisis of belief was in some ways more serious than it had been when he assumed the leadership and embarked upon his reform course.


Taking over from the willful, erratic, yet believing and reform-minded Khrushchev, Brezhnev and his associates changed the course and pace of policy. To them Khrushchev's administrative reorganizations were (to use their words) "harebrained scheming" and fraught with a potential to destabilize the system. Taken together his reform efforts had been worse than a failure. Not only was the slowed growth of the Soviet state's military machine undesirable. Not only was the promised high economic performance not forthcoming. Unreal hopes had been aroused among the people for early economic betterment, and among intellectuals for more liberalization. This too was potentially a source of trouble. So, the new group's coming to power spelled conservative and in some ways reactionary government. To be sure, a modest managerial reform was promulgated in 1965 under Premier Alexei Kosygin's auspices, but its effect was negligible. If Khrushchev had the reform impulse without a coherent overall design, his successors lacked the impulse. Their central concern has been to keep the great centralized state system that Stalin built in being. They have given Russia a regime of stabilization.

Structurally, they restored the system to something close to the form it possessed in Stalin's time, minus the autocracy at the top and police supremacy over the party hierarchy. They undid Khrushchev's organizational innovations and reestablished the centralized economic ministries, enabling the ministries' official families to return from the provinces to Moscow. Khrushchev's emphasis upon vocational education for the younger generation was discarded. The nomenclature class was given to understand that it could, finally, breathe easily in the knowledge that the new masters of the state would be protective of its interests. Such was the deeper meaning of the slogan, "Trust in cadres," which Brezhnev introduced early in his period in power.

Higher officialdom was released not simply from the perpetual fear endured under Stalin's terroristic despotism-Khrushchev had seen to that-but also from the career uncertainties, the insecurity of tenure and privilege that Khrushchev's zigzag reform course had entailed. But only the privileged section of society was so emancipated. This development bears some comparison with the "unbinding of the nobility" in the Russia of the late eighteenth century. It affected particularly the men at top levels of political life. In place of the strong personal leadership that Khrushchev sought to furnish with the aim of change, Brezhnev offered consensual leadership for order and stability. He has been content with, and may owe his longevity in power to, his willingness to be first among equals in a truly oligarchical regime in which the various power blocs, including the military and the police, wield a heavy influence on policy.

This shift in the character and orientation of the regime led to a resumption of the steady buildup of military power. The Soviet military-industrial complex was accorded resources that it had, for a time, been denied. The unsuccessful effort to overtake America in per capita production of meat, milk and butter gave way to an eventually successful one to rival her in missiles and other components of strategic military power. The formidable Soviet blue-water navy of today is largely a product of this change in policy, and an intensified search for bases in distant places has been one of the accompaniments. The focus on military strength that characterized Stalinist policy has been restored in Brezhnev's time.

This has meant less effort to redirect resources into expanding the civilian economy and less hope of improved conditions for the mass of non-privileged Soviet citizens. True, in the aftermath of Poland's food-price riots of late 1970 and amid portents of unrest at home, Brezhnev came before the Twenty-Fourth Party Congress in March 1971 with a program for raising depressed Soviet living standards. But it was not made meaningful by a concomitant decision to hold back on military outlays. One possible way out was the vigorous attempt made by the Soviet government in the early 1970s to obtain Western and Japanese economic aid on a large scale through technology transfer, enlistment of Western firms in developmental work for the Soviet civilian economy, and farm imports. This called for a policy of limited détente which was formalized in the U.S.-Soviet Moscow summit meeting of 1972.

If Khrushchev intermittently sought accommodation with the West in order to economize on military expenditures, Brezhnev seems to have done so for the opposite reason: to enable the Soviet government to provide more for the population without skimping on military expenditures and without making fundamental changes in the Soviet system. Above all, he needed-and needs-a relationship with the United States that ensures the regular flow of American grain to a Russia whose agricultural economy is chronically ill because of the present regime's refusal to relinquish those hopelessly failed institutions, the state and collective farm.

The regime of stabilization very quickly put an end to Khrushchev's periodic exposés of Stalin's tyranny and imposed restraints on efforts by writers and scholars to testify in writing what Stalinism meant. Stalin himself was restored to posthumous official respectability, especially in his role as Russia's war leader in 1941-45, and further attempts to excavate the political history of his time and lay bare the facts about it were driven underground. While no real revival of the cult of Stalin occurred, a regime determined to preserve so much of his institutional and political legacy had to enforce a fictional history of his reign. For Khrushchev the raking over of the Stalinist past appears to have served as personal penance as well as a political expedient. His successors, on the contrary, seem to reason the way the character of Glebov does in the play based on the late Yuri Trifonov's novel House on the Embankment: "The past is what we remember. If we stop remembering, the past will have ceased to exist, and we'll be all right."

A post-Khrushchev crackdown on the creative intelligentsia began in earnest in 1966 with the political trial of two prominent writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Juli Daniel, and the campaign of protest against their conviction by numbers of intellectuals inaugurated the unofficial Russian human rights movement whose leadership was subsequently assumed by Academician Andrei Sakharov. Speaking more broadly, the contemporary dissident movement in Russia can be traced in large measure to the abandonment of regime-initiated reform under Brezhnev. So long as Russians could pin their hopes for change on the party-state's leadership, many were willing to try to work within the system and to envisage change in the system's own terms. The disappointment of those hopes after the passing of the Khrushchev era encouraged a further quest for new directions in national life.

As the dissident movement grew, especially after the Soviet military suppression of Czechoslovak communism's reform movement in 1968, the Soviet leaders have pursued an increasingly repressive policy toward people of unorthodox views. Its forms range from exile and imprisonment to punishment by psychiatric confinement to the hounding of individuals of talent and spirit into emigration.

The military takeover of Czechoslovakia made manifest a determination to preserve one other large part of Stalin's legacy: imperial rule in the communist sphere, and, in particular, single-party rule on the Soviet model in Eastern and Central Europe. Unlike 1956, when the Hungarian uprising confronted Moscow with a direct prospect of the departure of a communist-ruled nation from the Soviet sphere, the Czech reform movement presented a case of a communist regime's internal transformation through democratization. As the Czech reformers saw it, socialism was not being abandoned; it was being realized. When the Czechoslovak and Soviet leadership groups met at the border town of Cierna not long before the Soviet invasion, Alexander Dubcek offered assurances to Brezhnev that socialism was not going to be given up in Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev made his regime's philosophy brutally plain by replying, "Don't talk to me about 'socialism.' What we have we hold."13

Is the Brezhnev period to be described, then, as one of Stalinism's revival? Despite its reactionary tendencies, such a characterization would be wide of the mark. The renewed military buildup and associated economic priorities are far from resurrecting the Stalinist state-building process in its pattern of revolution from above. Intense Soviet competition for political influence in the Third World is a different phenomenon from the cold war as waged by Stalin. Severe as it is, the present regime's repressiveness is not a replica of what went on in Stalin's terror state. The country is not isolated from the world as under Stalin. There is no freedom of emigration, yet many thousands of Jews and others have been allowed to leave in recent years. There are no freedoms of speech, press and assembly, yet an unpublished and unpublishable literature of samizdat has its shadowy existence and there is freedom of table talk among friends in their homes. The nation is not reduced, as in Stalin's time, to communicating in frightened whispers. This list of differences could be extended.

"Not Stalin's heirs but his heritage," Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia is said to have remarked about the men who succeeded Stalin in power. Just so, their regime is not one of Stalinism resurgent, but of attempted custodianship of much of its legacy: the swollen centralized state with superpower status in the world enforced by military might, the hierarchical system of power, the economic supermonopoly, the state and collective farm setup in the countryside, the foreign communist empire, the closed world of privilege for the nomenclature class. There is, however, another great part of Stalinism's legacy that the custodians would like to eliminate or alleviate but cannot: the crisis of Soviet society.


Economically as well as politically, the state swelled up during the Stalin era and has continued doing so in the recent past so far as basic industries and military production are concerned. Second only to the United States in gross national product, Russia is first in the world in steel, pig iron and cement, second in aluminum and gold. Its aerospace establishment is America's sole competitor. It produces ample arms for its own and subject states' needs and for export far and wide. It is self-sufficient in oil production and exports oil and gas to countries of its empire and beyond.

Yet, the people in their great majority remain "lean."14 This great industrial power does not, and within the frame of the system of supermonopolistic capitalism inherited from the Stalin period cannot, provide the bulk of its population with a decent standard of living. The transfusions of foreign technology during the Brezhnev détente have only somewhat eased the situation without seriously altering it. Above all, agriculture is in bad shape. It does not feed the country adequately, and the food situation has grown worse during the later 1970s and start of the 1980s, save for the privileged minority. Bread alone remains cheap and plentiful, at least in urban centers.

Moscow food stores have been closed on Sundays to stem the flow of people who travel for considerable distances from the surrounding countryside on their day off in search of locally unobtainable produce that can be bought in the country's best supplied city-its capital. A resident of Russia's second city, Leningrad, when asked not so long ago when the food situation there had been worse than it is now, answered: "During the [World War II] blockade." The food shortage seems to be worst in small provincial towns in central areas of the country, and even on some of the state-run farms themselves. Thus, children living on a large state farm (sovkhoz) whose produce is taken for Moscow have been observed with stomachs distended from malnutrition. The reintroduction of a limited form of food rationing, not practiced since World War II, is reportedly under consideration. There is no one cause of the deteriorated food situation, but the fundamental fact is that Soviet state-run agriculture, a legacy of Stalin's re-enserfment of the peasantry by brute terror, is an unmitigated disaster.

The shortage of factory-produced goods is not comparably acute, but neither are they, with few exceptions, in plentiful supply. Many goods are of shoddy quality, and some construction projects go for years uncompleted. An entire "second economy" has come into being to provide goods and services not obtainable from the first. Moreover, graft and corruption abound in the official economy itself, for example, in the common practices of bribery and the temporary hiring under flimsy arrangements of so-called shabashniki (people who work privately for cash payment) by state managers who cannot get a job done properly by their unmotivated state-employed workers. In sum the Soviet people, in its great majority, is underfed, under-housed and under-almost-everything except under-ruled, under-policed and under-propagandized.

Since the limited targets for higher living standards, adopted by the Twenty-Fourth Party Congress in 1971, not to mention Khrushchev's glowing promises in 1961 of communism by the 1980s, have not been fulfilled, the leadership has had to radically revise (downward) its timetable for the society's advance toward communism. Brezhnev went before the Twenty-Sixth Party Congress in February 1981 and declared that it was necessary to rewrite the Party program adopted in 1961, eliminating its vision of the complete construction of a communist society during the 1980s. It was inappropriate, he explained, for the program to stipulate specifics. Yet, the idea of the party's and society's commitment to the goal of full communism is indispensable to the regime. Upon it rested and rests the Communist Party's claim to a rightful monopoly of all power and an authoritative guiding role in all governmental and nongovernmental organizations in Russia. The legitimacy of the system turns on the concept of the one party as the possessor of a true teaching, Marxism-Leninism, which holds the key to the society's (and every society's) ultimate goal of communism. If there were no such goal and no authoritative knowledge of the way to it, the party could not present itself to the people as their "conscious vanguard" in the long march to what its propaganda has called the "glittering heights" of communism.

Here is the context for understanding the crisis of society in contemporary Russia. Every society has its real existence in the minds of its members, their sense of constituting together an association with historical significance, of common participation in a worthwhile collective enterprise. This is what the society's sustaining myth signifies. In the Soviet case, as a consequence of all the shocks that the history reviewed here has administered, the myth no longer sustains more than a small minority, if that. People en masse have stopped believing in the transcendent importance of a future collective condition called "communism." They have stopped believing in the likelihood of the society arriving at that condition and the desirability of trying to achieve it through the leading role of the Communist Party, or through themselves as "builders of communism," which is how the official Party program defines Soviet citizens. In a society with an official culture founded on just those beliefs, this spells a deep crisis.

The evidence for this comes in many forms, first of all the testimony of knowledgeable people. Andrei Sakharov has said in a message from his apartment-prison in Gorky: "There are few people who react seriously anymore to slogans about building Communism, although there was a time when, perhaps as a result of a certain misunderstanding, Communist slogans reflected a wish for justice and happiness for all in the world."15 A Moscow intellectual, himself a party member, estimated recently that no more than one or two percent of party members are true believers, and said: "Most of them would not belong if they could get away with it. But they are afraid."16 The popular mind, as expressed in anecdotes, suspects that the leaders themselves no longer believe the slogans they repeat. According to an anecdote I heard in Russia in 1977, the country is a train headed for a destination called "communism," with Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev in charge. When, after a time, the train grinds to a halt, Stalin orders the engineer shot and the fireman sent to a concentration camp. The train moves on and then stops again. Now it is Khrushchev's turn to give orders. He posthumously rehabilitates the executed engineer and frees the fireman from camp to drive the train. When that happens, the train moves on, then comes to a halt again. Now it is Brezhnev's turn to solve the problem, and he says: "Let us draw the curtain and pretend the train is moving."

The widespread failure of belief is at least one of the main causes of a variety of other, more overt phenomena indicative of a profoundly troubled society: the desire of many people, and not just Jews, to start new lives elsewhere, despite the risks and difficulties entailed; the defections of prominent cultural figures who enjoyed every advantage that high position in Soviet society could bring, such as the orchestra conductors Kirill Kondrashin and Maksim Shostakovich; the veritable epidemic of chronic alcoholism that afflicts Russia nowadays; the already mentioned shoddy work that so many perform on the job; and the near universal indifference toward what is written in the official press. These facts must be balanced, however, against the realization that Russians still have patriotic feelings and that many doubtless take a certain pride in, and are defensive about, the military might of their state and its superpower status in the world. But even this pride is intermixed with a haunting fear of another great destructive war in a society where the memory of the horrors of World War II is still alive and the authorities consciously play upon war fears in order to solidify popular support.

The failure of belief in the official myth of Soviet communism among the many has been accompanied by a recovery of belief in new forms among some-those known in the West as the "dissidents." Indeed, the dissident movement might more accurately be described as a belief movement. For those who have joined it, whatever the divisions between them in the content of their beliefs, are united in the discovery, one way or another, of a Rus' that they can believe in as distinct from the official Russia of their daily lives. As one of them, Lev Kopelev, said on his departure from Moscow airport in December 1980, in parting words to his friends: "I believe in Russia." If the movement had a motto, that could be it.

The Rus' that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his followers believe in is a resurrected pre-Bolshevik Orthodox Russia. Andrei Sakharov and some others believe in a Rus' convergent with open societies, one in which human rights are secured and whose government cooperates with others in addressing the great problems of conflict, population growth, resource depletion, pollution and the like on the darkening globe of the late twentieth century. Roy A. Medvedev and his fellow reformers envisage a movement from the closed Soviet system to a democratized Marxist Russia. Many people have reverted to some form of religious belief, and many in the non-Russian republics have found meaning in their own forms of nationalism.

The belief movement should not be written off as of little significance because of the relatively small numbers actively involved and the fact that most of the activists have by now been imprisoned or intimidated into silence or expelled from the country. Its roots lie in the very failure of belief that characterizes contemporary Soviet society. The recovery and profession of belief in new forms is a response by those individuals for whom the frequently found combination of inner unbelief and outer conformism is not a tolerable way of living. If this is so, the movement can be temporarily repressed but not stamped out. As Georgi Vadimov, a distinguished writer and president of the Moscow chapter of Amnesty International, said some time ago (when the chapter was down to six members), "The movement is shattered. But it will rise again, in a new form, with new people. It is the only way for Russia to get out of this mess."

We have credible indications that there are in the middle rungs of the Soviet establishment itself some people who have come to feel that the supermonopolistic economy has reached an impasse and that fundamental changes are essential. They are linked with the present regime by the circumstances of their lives and careers-most are members of the Communist Party. They are not visionaries with recipes for Russia's salvation, but simply patriotic functionaries with training and experience in the management of an industrial society and concern over the critical condition of their society. Fedor Zniakov in the already cited memorandum describes them as an emergent "middle class" of factory directors and others who desire liberation from "supermonopolistic totalitarianism" so that their production units may function autonomously according to economic criteria.17

Alexander Yanov, writing from his extensive experience as a journalist who interviewed industrial executives before his emigration from the U.S.S.R., cites as typical the views of one important Leningrad industrialist. He and other managers, engineers, economists and the like who have learned to think independently would like, the industrialist said, to be able to work independently. He went on: "They are ashamed of Soviet backwardness, its dependence on foreign technology, its humiliation. They believe that one reason for this backwardness is that their hands are tied-and tied tightly. Give them free rein, and tomorrow they will fire half the workers in their shops and pay the rest two, three, or five times more, depending on their skills (this assures them of sympathy and support from the skilled segment of the working class); they will introduce innovative, fundamentally new modes of work organization; they will be ready to experiment day and night." The only obstacle, he added, is "the Party administration's total domination of the economy."18

How widespread such views and feelings are in the ranks of middle and higher management is a matter on which we can only speculate. What can be said for certain is that those views and feelings exist. The people who harbor them have the mental freedom to think critically because, despite their linkages with the supermonopoly, their personal futures are not necessarily bound up with its perpetuation or its continuation in the present form; their talents and energies would be as needed in a post-supermonopolistic Russia as in the present one and would, indeed, have far more useful outlet. They are a potential constituency for change. The kind of change they envisage, however, is peaceful, evolutionary change, not an upheaval. Given the country's historical traditions and political culture, the sine qua non of liberalizing change of the sort envisaged would be strong political leadership from above.

A fact that must be faced is that the one part of the Soviet system that truly works efficiently is the police and the military establishment, which cannot make the system perform well but can keep it from being changed. As in tsarist Russia, what developed as a dynamic autocratic state authority in the state-building process remains so strong now as a force for the preservation of the system that the state can successfully block its own thorough transformation-unless leadership for change appears from above. Such leadership is out of the question so long as the present aging oligarchy remains in control. Whether it will emerge when new leaders take over in the not distant future is hardly likely, but we should not rule it out as unthinkable.


Writing in European exile in the second half of the nineteenth century, the expatriate Russian, Alexander Herzen, said of the contemporary tsarist state that "It wields power in order to wield power." It had lost whatever spiritual raison d'être it had earlier possessed. By force of the whole circular movement of Russia's history in the twentieth century, that judgment once again applies. Stalin's protégés in power are men in control of a spent society. As a system of power expressed in military and police institutions, Soviet communism remains strong, very strong. But as a culture it is historically played out because the belief system on which it was founded has lost its meaning. The rulers wield power in order to wield power.

This, despite everything, puts change on Russia's agenda, although no one can say how and when it will start and what direction it will take. The great problem is how to overcome the legacy of the past, to bring about a Russian renewal peaceably and evolutionarily. That would mean a change in the relationship between state and society-not something unprecedented in the country's history. The tsar-initiated reforms of the 1860s inaugurated the gradual emancipation of Russian society from the all-encompassing tutelage of the bureaucratic state. Official Russia contracted somewhat, under its own leadership, and Russia's society emerged into the open from behind the "shroud" with which, as Herzen put it, the state had covered it up previously. Social forces acquired some scope for self-expression. As noted earlier, this process stopped short of its natural culmination in the transformation of the state system itself.

Can such a process of society's emancipation develop in the Soviet Russia of our time? There is reason for pessimism when one considers the weight of the legacy, its deleterious effects on the popular consciousness and ethos, the strength of the repressive agencies, and the material interest of a dominant minority as a group in the system's preservation more or less as is. On the other hand, there is ground for hope when we consider the critical condition of the country as described above, and the fact that there are people among the intelligentsia, among the working classes and in the bureaucracy itself who are conscious of and troubled by the situation and see the urgent need for some kind of change in the state-society relationship. They have no better spokesman than the recently exiled Soviet writer, Vladimir Voinovich, who says: "Democracy is the natural state of society, as a live organism that can stumble, be mistaken, get burned. But society has its nerve endings that register pain and force the whole organism to learn its lesson from those mistakes . . . . No problems in the Soviet Union, economic, political, national, or religious, can be decided without democratization of the whole society. Is that possible? I don't know."19 The matter had best be left on that sensible note of uncertainty.

The rest of the world has a vital stake in the Russian renewal in question here. But does the West, the United States in particular, have any meaningful part to play in facilitating it? Only in an indirect way, it seems, but this indirect way is an important one. The West can, first, continue, as it has done in the recent time of détente, to accord Soviet Russia the status that it claims as a great power with worldwide interests and responsibilities. But, beyond this, it can seek incessantly to engage the Soviet Union in cooperative efforts toward constructive solutions for increasingly menacing world problems. At the same time, it can and should do everything possible to create a less tense international atmosphere in which it will be easier for Russian minds to concentrate attention, as they need to do, upon their difficult internal and imperial situation and find a way out of it.

1 Fedor Zniakov, "Pamiatnaia zapiska" ("Memorandum"), Arkhiv samizdata, Document No. 374, p. 3. Fedor Zniakov is believed to be a pseudonym. The memorandum is dated May 1966.

2 Ibid.

3 Mark Popovsky, Manipulated Science: The Crisis of Science and Scientists in the Soviet Union Today, trans. Paul S. Falla, Garden City: Doubleday, 1979, p. 179.

4 History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union/Bolsheviks/Short Course, Moscow, 1945, p. 305. First published in 1938, this book was written by a commission under Stalin's personal direction. In his Marxism and Linguistics, New York: International Publishers, 1951, p. 28, he reverted to the theme of the Soviet "revolution from above" as one that "did not take place by means of an explosion. . . ."

5 V. O. Kliuchevsky, Kurs russkoi istorii (Course in Russian History), Vol. III, Moscow, 1937, p. 11. First published in 1911.

8 Roy A. Medvedev, On Stalin and Stalinism, New York: Oxford, 1979, p. 214. Based on evidence now available, Stalin's responsibility for arranging the Kirov murder as a pretext for the Great Purge is beyond reasonable doubt.

9 Thus Isaac Deutscher writes that Stalin undertook "to drive barbarism out of Russia by barbarous means," and Deutscher adds, "The nation has, nevertheless, advanced far in most fields of its existence. Its material apparatus of production, which about 1930 was that of any medium-sized European nation, has so greatly and so rapidly expanded that Russia is now the first industrial power in Europe and the second in the world. Within little more than one decade the number of her cities and towns doubled; and her urban population grew by thirty millions. The number of schools of all grades has very impressively multiplied. The whole nation has been sent to school." Stalin: A Political Biography, 2nd ed., New York: Oxford, 1967, p. 568.

10 Nicholas Berdyaev, The Russian Idea, London: Macmillan, 1947, p. 9. "Russ" (Rus') is the ancient Russian word for Russia.

11 Leonard E. Hubbard, Soviet Labour and Industry London: Macmillan, 1942, p. 10.

12 Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology, New York: W.W. Norton, 1975, p. 674.

13 I have this on the authority of a person who was present and overheard Brezhnev's words.

14 In "The Harsh Decade: Soviet Policies in the 1980s," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1981, p. 1008, Professor Seweryn Bialer has written: "The last 15 years have seen a growth in the standard of living of the Soviet people that was rapid by any-but especially by the Soviet-measure, particularly in the area of durable consumer goods . . . . The Soviet citizen-worker, peasant and professional-has become accustomed in the Brezhnev period to an uninterrupted upward trend in his well-being and more demanding in what he expects from the government in terms of goods and services." I beg to differ with the idea that the overall standard of living of the Soviet common man has improved in the Brezhnev period. Any improvement in supply of some durable goods has been greatly counterbalanced by the serious deterioration in the central element of Soviet living standards-food supply.

15 "Sakharov: A Letter from Exile," The New York Times Magazine, June 8, 1980.

16 Craig R. Whitney, "Crisis in Ideology in Soviet Turns Rulers to Old Values," The New York Times, October 12, 1980.

17 Zniakov, op. cit., p. 9.

18 Détente After Brezhnev: The Domestic Roots of Soviet Foreign Policy, Berkeley: University of California Institute of International Studies, 1977, p. 29.

19 Vladimir Voinovich, "I Am Not a Dissident," The New York Times, May 23, 1981.


You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Robert C. Tucker is Professor of Politics and Director of the Russian Studies Program at Princeton University. His books include Stalin as Revolutionary and, most recently, Politics as Leadership. The work leading to this report was supported in part from funds provided by the National Council for Soviet and East European Research.
  • More By Robert C. Tucker