Social Scientist. v 16, no. 185 (Oct 1988) p. 72.


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BOOK REVIEW

Interpreting the Gorbachev Phenomenon

The Gorbachev Phenomenon: A Historical Interpretation. By Moshe Lewin. University of California Press, pp.176. $ 16.95

It is unusual, but there it is. Moshe Lewin, author of Russian Peasants and Soviet Power, Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates and The Making of the Soviet System, who ceased to be a Soviet citizen at least three decades ago, continues to tuck inside himself a patriotic pride. Historical time, he will perhaps not disagree, can be looked at from different perspectives. He does not however believe in turning history upside down; he would not, for instance, go along with the developing trend to appraise the role of Josef Stalin in terms of what naive western capitalist circles would describe as Stalinist historiography. The Soviet history of the past seventy years Lewin views as an inter-related—and internally consistent—flow; you cannot pick and choose the bits you like, and condemn the rest as junk. An organic link exists between events and episodes which took place at different points of time during these seven decades. It will be sheer illiteracy to heap the blame for some of the unsavoury developments in the Soviet Union in the thirties and subsequently on the whims and fancies of a supposedly all-powerful leader, who just happened to be around. The reality is more complex. Nor is it convincing to attempt to isolate, ex post, the concavity of the magnificent strides the nation made in several spheres from the influence of such negative historical features. You have to take the rough along with the smooth; the two, after all, are logically bound together.

Th^Sovict system, Lewin would not deny, is currently encountering a crisis. But it is not a crisis of the polity alone, nor is it specific to the economic apparatus; it affects the whole social structure. True, things have been going awry. True, there is an overlay of bureaucracy, which can be claustrophobic. True, the regime of detailed controls is turning out to be self-destructive. Signals beamed from the top of the party hierarchy, as well as across from the State sector, have ceased to carry the weight they did in the past, adding to the political and economic confusion. In many regions and sectors, the party apparatus and the



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