BOTH OF THESE books have sensational titles, but they are of very different types. Konstantin Simis' USSR: The Corrupt Society is a totally anecdotal survey of all conceivable types of corruption in the Soviet Union. H,elMene CarrMere d'Encausse's Confiscated Power is a solid, scholarly work on Soviet political institutions and elites, with perhaps too few anecdotes for the general reader.
Confiscated Power was published in French in 1980, and, except for a very short afterword, it does not touch on the political changes of the last few years. It asserts that the party confiscated power in 1917 and that the basic power relationship between party and the society has not changed since then. Yet, despite the implications of the title, the focus of the book is not on the relationship between party and society, but on the changes that CarrMere d'Encausse sees having occurred both within the political sphere and within society.
This analysis is quite sophisticated. CarrMere d'Encausse describes a political system in which the interests of various elites of the country are represented under the authority of the party. She believes that the Brezhnev regime was willing to respond to social pressure, but was unwilling to do what was necessary because of the challenge to its centralized power. She distinguishes between the period 1964 to 1976, which she describes in somewhat more favorable terms, and the period since 1976 in which she sees an increase in the party's stultifying role. (I personally think that it would have been more accurate to emphasize the deteriorating quality of Brezhnev's arteries.) As a result, she analyzes the political system in Brezhnev's last years as totally immobilized--at least in its domestic, but not its foreign policy.
At the same time, Confiscated Power correctly emphasizes that Soviet society has undergone great change. In a chapter misleadingly entitled "The Manufacture of Souls" she concludes that, in fact, the party has not been successful in manufacturing them. The population is seeking values--often individual values--that do not fit with the traditional ideology. She strongly emphasizes the impact of the rapidly growing educational level of the population.
For an American audience that is now devoting increasing attention to the Soviet Union as a result of Yuri Andropov's accession, a major shortcoming of the book is that it makes no attempt to predict the outcome of the growing gap between a petrified political system and a changing society. The author does no more than end with the unanswered question, "Who will win out over whom?"
One of the reasons for this unsatisfying ending, in my opinion, is the sharp distinctions which CarrMere d'Encausses draws between "the party," "the bureaucracy," and "society." With half the college-educated men being party members, with almost the entire educated elite working for some bureaucracy, changes in society inevitably have an impact on the party and bureaucracy as well. An aging dictator or ruling oligarchy may prevent social forces from affecting policy (and it certainly is right to emphasize the immobilism of the period since 1976), but the situation may be very different in the fluidity of a succession period. The interlacing of the party and the bureaucracy with society means that there will be a struggle within the party about the future course of development of the party and its policy. Hence there are far more options than a simple victory of the party or society; the question is whether the political system and party will become less petrified.
For this reason it is vital to understand the real policy choices and dilemmas that will have to be faced in the coming months and years. USSR: The Corrupt Society could have been enormously useful in this respect. Konstantin M. Simis was a lawyer in the Soviet Union and had a broad exposure to the seamy side of life, which he describes in great detail. His definition of corruption is extremely broad: the authorized access of officials to special stores, large-scale illegal bribes, the gift of a bottle of liquor to a business customer, workers serving as private handymen in their off-hours, the theft and sale of government property, the obtaining of favors from friends and acquaintances, prostitution, the reporting of plan fulfillment on December 31st when some of the items aren't finished until the first days of January, and so forth.
The book is a useful corrective for those who think of the Soviet Union as some bloodless, monolithic machine, dedicated in a fanatical way to ideology. However, its author loses perspective. He lumps together things that should not be, and his analysis is far too oversimplified when he argues that corruption is simply the result of party rule and will end when the system is overthrown. One fears that American state and local politics will come as a shock as he learns more about this country.
If he had distinguished between types of corruption and their causes, Simis would have made a real contribution to the understanding to the politics of the succession. The Soviet Union does have a growing and abnormal amount of corruption--not merely because of party rule, however, but also because of the policies the party follows. By emphasizing wage egalitarianism so strongly (as the book documents), the party virtually forces officials into some kind of compensatory actions to live at a reasonable level. By keeping prices of many desirable items far too low in comparison with costs and with demand, it creates inexorable incentives and pressures for a pervasive black market.
It is because these egalitarian social policies have had such a corrosive impact on the moral fiber of society that a number of party ideologists are beginning to look upon price reform, a rise in officials' salaries, and legalization of the second economy as the only way to bring corruption under control. Paradoxically, the market, which once was looked upon as the cause of all social problems, becomes in this view the solution to a severe moral problem, at least in some of its aspects.
If we are to understand the politics of Andropov's succession and the nature of the dilemmas which will shape Soviet defense as well as domestic policies, it is this kind of evolution within ideology and within the party that we must begin to comprehend. The fact that Russian nationalism supports the Soviet system rather than undermines it means that the Soviet Union is not Poland. The changes that come--and surely they will because of the changes in society that CarrMere d'Encausses emphasizes--will in the foreseeable future almost surely not involve an overthrow of the party, but will take place within the framework of party rule.