A Journey Into the Soviet Future

Stalin’s Successors: Leadership, Stability, and Change in the Soviet Union

by Seweryn Bialer
Cambridge University Press, 312 pp., $19.95

What will the Soviet Union be like in the Eighties? What will it do? Will it wish to cooperate with the Western world? Will it remain aggressively expansive? And, if so, will it have the economic and political strength to survive? Regrettably, these questions are among the most important ones with which the Western world will be faced in the next few years. I say “regrettably,” because they are a measure of the weakness and lack of will that beset the West. These qualities are illustrated by the fact that in place of a policy in the face of advancing communist influence and power, the West has been able to produce nothing but squeaks of surprised and indignant reaction to every new Soviet move.

For better or for worse, the state of the USSR in the next decade will affect the lives of all of us. Prediction is not the most promising—or for that matter successful—of the political scientist’s activities. To embark on it is courageous and, in a manner, self-sacrificing. Seweryn Bialer is to be congratulated on his valor for taking the burden of prophecy upon himself. He has done so with the best kind of perception, wide reading, immense research into the past—which are still the only basis (if any exists) for divining the future—and no doubt much discussion and reflection.

He begins with a review of Stalinism—if there is such a thing. Mr. Bialer has no doubt that there is, or was. Different from “Leninism,” different from what has come after, since Stalin’s death in 1953. Now obviously Soviet Russia under Lenin was different from what it was under Stalin—just as it is obvious that significant changes have taken place in the past twenty-seven years. It would indeed be surprising if in an autocratically ruled country the changing personality of the autocrat were not reflected in the system of government. Few would dispute, I suppose, that while Stalin took over the instruments created for him by Lenin he put them to very different use—if only because he had a lust for power and for the gratification of his vanity as well as fear for his survival, which, naturally, increased as rapidly as the toll of his victims mounted. It would also be generally agreed that Stalin’s personal dictatorship differed from the somewhat more institutionalized rule practiced by Lenin or by Stalin’s successors. The implied premise underlying Mr. Bialer’s general analysis is undoubtedly sound: that Stalin was an aberration in Soviet history, and that if we wish to guess at the future with some degree of success we have to recognize this fact—even if we cannot altogether exclude the possibility that another Stalin may emerge at some future date.

But I think Mr. Bialer wants to go further than this—and to elevate the period of Stalin’s rule into some kind of system which is sui generis. This interpretation of Soviet history, which rests …

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Letters

The Party’s Power April 30, 1981