2 JUNE 1961, Page 26

Moscow Confidential

Power and Polley in the USSR. By Robert Conquest. (Macmillan, 35S.) NEVER since 1917 has there been any lack of books on Russia. But until the end of the 1940s they were mostly travelogues, reports by more or less official delegations, confessions of dis- illusioned sympathisers or straight Communist propaganda; scholarly studies were few and far between. However, during the past decade Soviet studies have developed into a sizeable academic discipline with a solid core of established facts and a variety of working hypotheses.

One can look at Russia in many ways, and a good case can be made for almost any of them. Yet although almost any approach is justified in general, the one adopted in a particular inquiry must be appropriate to the object of the inquiry. Mr. Conquest, who has already produced several studies of Soviet Russia (a selection of post- Stalin poetry under the title Back to Life, Com- mon Sense about Russia and The Soviet Deporta- tion of Nationalities) each with a different approach, adopts in his new and much bigger work the approach commonly nicknamed `Kremlinological.' It consists in analysing politi- cal developments in Russia in terms of individ- uals or cliques contending for positions at the centre of power. Exaggerated claims on behalf of this method by some of its practitioners (e.g. the late Professor Borkenau), who maintain that it is the only method relevant to Soviet conditions and equate Kremlinology with Soviet studies as a whole, have provoked a certain mistrust to- wards it—almost involuntarily one tends to suspect that an author who uses this method will claim it to be the cipher that decodes all Soviet secrets. But Mr. Conquest steers clear of this temptation. He himself is fully aware of the limitations of his approach—he at once intro- duces the reader into the nature of his method, showing with admirable clarity both the oppor- tunities it opens and the restrictions it imposes.

The author deals in the two main sections of the book with the interplay of issues of policy and the fortunes of individuals and groups at the summit of power since the late 1940s. Here we find the clarity of view and attention to detail characteristic of Mr. Conquest's earlier writings brought to bear on the fascinating though un- pleasant spectacle of men of outstanding intel- lect, resolution and stamina, combined with total lack of moral scruples, competing for as large a share of power as possible, first in conditions of Stalin's despotism and then of oligarchy. Even to those who have followed the developments at the time and dutifully read the current interpreta- tions of the commentators on Soviet affairs, this study is not a mere recapitulation. Partly because the pertinent evidence often comes to light several years after the events and partly due to Mr. Conquest's historical insight, familiar figures, actions and situations acquire under his treat- ment new dimensions, policies appear to have played a major role where only personal ambi- tions and animosities have been seen hitherto, or conversely, apparent champions of definite policies are shown as essentially opportunists.

Much of what is new in the book inevitably belongs to the realm of hypotheses, but they are brilliant and well-founded hypotheses. Thus there is an ingenious reconstruction of a common ideological basis for Zhdanov's and Voznes- ensky's policies in the late 1940s which makes much more sense of the notion of a Zhdanovite faction as a political entity. Evidence is traced linking tip the accusations in the Doctor's Plot

affair with the incipient purge among the econo- mic managers. Every crucial stage in the develop- ments since Stalin's death is examined anew and almost invariably it turns out that there is more to it than we have thought. Nevertheless. it is a significant indication of the substantial accuracy of previous analyses that even such close scrutiny leads to no major changes in the over-all picture.

Of the main conclusions reached by the author, the one perhaps most open to doubt is his view that as late as the summer of 1960 Khrushchev was still dependent on a majority in the Central Committee of the party and that he had this majority only within comparatively narrow limits, that there were still factions opposing him on major issues rather than fighting among them- selves for his favour or for the succession. The justification given for this view is rather cursory; one feels that perhaps not all the relevant evidence has been taken into account. The apparent ease with which Khrushchcv has been able since 1958 to secure the adoption of all his policies (and one would like to see some of these, such as the educational or the legal reforms, analysed in greater, `Kremlinological,' detail), as well as the cult of his personality, already at a very advanced stage in mid-1960 when this book went to press, would seem to warrant a different view.

It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that Mr. Conquest has again decided, as in his earlier books, to limit himself in principle to the Soviet press as almost his sole source of information. He argues, probably rightly, that the introduction of other materials would not significantly affect the outcome of the analysis. But to disregard a priori evidence not emanating from official Soviet sources means indirectly to discredit such evidence, to convey the impression that it is somehow bound to be less reliable. And this. considering the degree of reliability of the Soviet sources, is hardly a tenable view. Scholars, too, might like more indication where Mr. Conquest departs from earlier studies, breaking new ground. But this sacrifice of academic pedantry only enhances the value of the book for anyone whose primary purpose in reading it is to obtain as clear a picture as possible of the men who are now ruling Russia.