Rewriting the Russian Rules

How the Soviet Union Is Governed

by Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod
Harvard University Press, 679 pp., $18.50

The late Merle Fainsod’s How Russia Is Ruled was first published in 1953. Ten years later it appeared in a second edition, which examined the changes which had occurred since Khrushchev had replaced Stalin. Professor Fainsod’s work was a milestone in the study of the Soviet Union. It was probably the first analysis to appear of the Soviet system of government as it really is—not as it pretends to be in the formal documents, such as its laws and constitution, which formed the basis of that lamentable study of Soviet “civilization” by Sidney and Beatrice Webb; or as a separate, Marxist world, where freedom, justice, or democracy had to be given special meanings or judged by separate criteria from those which have applied to political analysis for centuries. How Russia Is Ruled was squarely based on the assumption that the Soviet system is totalitarian, in the sense that total control is exercised at the top by the leaders of the Communist Party through the medium of party domination over all aspects of life.

The structure of the book reflected this basic conception, with its aim “to communicate a sense of the living political processes in which Soviet rulers and subjects are established.” The book was divided into four parts. A short Part One dealt with the historical background of the Bolshevik revolution and its transformation after power had been attained. A much longer Part Two dealt with the Communist Party in theory and in practice. Part Three examined the soviets, the bureaucracy, the police, and the armed forces, and Part Four looked at the impact of controls in industry and agriculture, and concluded with a general appraisal. The work was lucid, balanced, well written, readable, and as devoid of what is colloquially known in the British Army as “waffle” as a billiard ball is of hair. Its influence was immense. No one in a university, in public service, or the press who had not read Fainsod could claim to be educated on the subject of Soviet government.

Much has happened in the Soviet Union since 1963—and, in particular, since the ousting of Khrushchev in 1964. Most of that ebullient character’s political innovations have been reversed, and the country has witnessed fifteen years of stable, unadventurous, and undramatic, if not very efficient, government on more traditional Soviet lines. Professor Hough’s new version of Fainsod is described as “an extensively revised and enlarged edition.” I do not understand in what way it has been “enlarged,” since it only has 576 pages of text as against the earlier edition’s 601 pages of the same size—but this is a minor point. There is no doubt about the “revision”—it is, in fact, a completely new book.

In Mr. Hough’s words, it

increases very substantially the amount of attention given to aspects of the political process: How policy is formed and how the Soviet Union is governed. It supplements the analysis of Lenin’s struggle against the various oppositions with more discussion of the beginnings…

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