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Interest Groups and Communist Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

H. Gordon Skilling
University of Toronto
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The idea that interest groups may play a significant role in Communist politics has, until recently, not been seriously entertained either by Western political scientists or by Soviet legal specialists. The concept of “totalitarianism” that has dominated the analysis of communism in the West has seemed to preclude the possibility that interest groups could challenge or affect the single ruling party as the fount of all power. The uniqueness of a totalitarian system has been deemed to lie in the very totality of its political power, excluding, as it were by definition, any area of autonomous behavior by groups other than the state or party, and still more, preventing serious influence by them on the process of decision-making. Marxist theorists, starting from different presuppositions, have assumed that the single ruling party, the organization of the working class, best knew the “real” interests of the people as a whole, and have denied the possibility of fundamental conflicts of interest within the working class, or between it and associated friendly classes such as the peasantry. Within the ruling party itself, groups or factions opposing the leadership have not been admitted in theory or permitted in practice.

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Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1966

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1 See, for instance, Osnovy marksizma-leninizma [Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism] (Moscow 1959), 7981Google Scholar, 352–54. Cf. Barghoorn, Frederick C., “Soviet Political Doctrine and the Problem of Opposition,” Bucknell Review, XII (May 1964), 11ff.Google Scholar

2 See the symposium Totalitarianism, edited by Friedrich, Carl J. (New York 1954)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for a wide array of views. Note in particular Friedrich's “The Unique Character of Totalitarian Society,” 47.

3 See, for instance, in Totalitarianism, N. S. Timasheff, 39; Waldemar Gurian, 125–26; Alex Inkeles, 93–95, 99–101. See also Wolfe, Bertram D., “The Durability of Soviet Totalitarianism,” a paper given at Oxford in 1957, and reprinted in Inkeles, and Geiger, Kent, eds., Soviet Society: A Book of Readings (Boston 1961), 648–59Google Scholar; and the comment by Daniel Bell, ibid., 49–50.

4 See Totalitarianism, 52–53, and Friedrich, and Brzezinski, , Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), 910.Google Scholar The five essential features are these: an official ideology, a single mass party, a monopoly of control of all means of armed combat, a monopoly of control of mass communication, and terroristic police control. See also the later article by Brzezinski, , “The Nature of the Soviet System,” Slavic Review, XX (October 1961), 353.Google Scholar

5 Compare recent articles in the same spirit by Kassof, Allen, “The Administered Society: Totalitarianism Without Terror,” World Politics, XVI (July 1964), 558ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and by T. H. Rigby, “Traditional, Market, and Organizational Societies and the USSR,” ibid., 539ff.

6 Friedrich and Brzezinski, 239–89.

7 See Riesman, David, “Some Observations on the Limits of Totalitarian Power,” Antioch Review, XXII (June 1952), 155–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar, reprinted in Riesman's, Individualism Reconsidered (Glencoe 1954)Google Scholar, chap. 25.

8 Totalitarianism, 43. More recently, in openly doubting the usefulness of the term “totalitarianism.” Robert C. Tucker has returned to this idea, and has spoken of a sequence of different political systems in Russia since 1917. See his comment on Brzezinski's, “Nature of the Soviet System,” Slavic Review, XX (October 1961), 379–80.Google Scholar

9 Totalitarianism, 381ff., esp. n. 2.

10 The most extreme version of this view is given by Bertram Wolfe in the paper cited here in n. 3.

11 Friedrich and Brzezinski, 300; Brzezinski, , “Totalitarianism and Rationality,” American Political Science Review, L (September 1956), 761.Google Scholar

12 See in Totalitarianism, George F. Kennan, 31–32, 34, 83; Paul Kecskemeti, 379; Karl W. Deutsch, 317–18, 320, 321, 331ff. Deutsch writes of a “steady drift to a peripheralization and pluralization of the centers of decision” and of a possible split between Russia and China in the 70's or 80's.

13 (Cambridge, Mass., 1954). Isaac Deutscher also predicted a change in Soviet society as a result of industrialization, which, in his view, had undermined Stalinism and had stimulated democratic aspirations. See his Russia: What Next? (London 1953).Google Scholar

14 See the final chapter of their book The Soviet Citizen: Daily Life in a Totalitarian Society (Cambridge, Mass., 1961)Google Scholar: “Trying to read the future of Soviet development solely on the basis of the distinctive characteristics of Soviet totalitarianism without taking account of the changes in the Soviet industrial social structure and in the Soviet people is like trying to understand a story when the pages have been torn in half, lengthwise, and you have only the left halves to read” (pp. 383–84).

15 See the criticisms of the “totalitarian model” in Jenkner, Siegfried, “On the Application of Integration and Conflict Models in Research on Communist Social and Ruling Systems,” Modern World (Köln and Berlin), III (1963–64), 117–27Google Scholar; and in Groth, A. J., “The ‘Isms’ in Totalitarianism,” American Political Science Review, LVII (December 1964), 888901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 This paraphrases a comment made by Gabriel Almond in an unpublished address at a meeting of the Conference on Soviet and Communist Studies of the American Political Science Association, September 10, 1964.

17 See my article “Soviet and Communist Politics: A Comparative Approach,” Journal of Politics, XXII (1960), 300313.Google Scholar

18 See, for instance, Easton, David, The Political System (New York 1953)Google Scholar; Almond, and Coleman, James S., eds., The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton 1960)Google Scholar; and the substantial literature cited in Macridis, Roy C. and Brown, Bernard E., eds., Comparative Politics: Notes and Readings, rev. ed. (Homewood, Ill., 1961).Google Scholar See also Harry Eckstein's introduction to Eckstein and Apter, David E., eds., Comparative Politics: A Reader (London 1963), 332.Google Scholar

19 For instance, Almond and Coleman, 49. They themselves use the totalitarian concept, with, however, some suggestive reservations (pp. 40–41). See also Almond's, article “Comparative Political Systems,” Journal of Politics, XVIII (1956), 391409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20 Armstrong, John, in The Soviet Bureaucratic Elite (New York 1959)Google Scholar, writes of the conflict and diversity beneath the monolithic surface of Soviet politics (pp. 28, 30). See also Fainsod, Merle, How Russia Is Ruled, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), 3637CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 417–20, on the struggle of elites in Soviet bureaucratic politics. On elites, see also Bauer, Inkeles, , and Kluckhohn, Clyde, How the Soviet System Works (Cambridge, Mass., 1956)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Granick, David, The Red Executive (New York 1960).Google Scholar

21 Neumann, , ed., Modern Political Parties (Chicago 1955)Google Scholar, esp. the editor's essay, “Towards a Comparative Study of Political Parties,” 395–421; Duverger, , Les Partis politiques (Paris 1951)Google Scholar, and in English, Political Parties (London and New York 1954)Google Scholar; Ehrmann, , ed., Interest Groups on Four Continents (Pittsburgh 1958)Google Scholar, esp. the report by Jovan Djordjević, “Interest Groups and the Political System of Yugoslavia,” 197–228, and his later comment, 292–94.

22 Neumann at first describes the one-party system as a contradiction in terms, since one can speak of a party only if more than one exists. He later compares it with other systems, but notes that in spite of apparent similarity of function, there is a fundamental difference in their actual nature, and the contrast between democracy and dictatorship is embodied in the types of party system. Neumann speaks, however, of a hidden multiparty system within the monolithic regime (p. 411). Duverger similarly counterposes sharply the single-party system and democracy, but notes that theoretically a single party might not be totalitarian, and that the real opposition might exist within the party (pp. 261, 276ff., 393, 413).

23 Ehrmann, 198, 227, 292–94. Only two of the participants, Gunnar Heckscher and Gabriel Almond, comment on his view (p. 302). Both urge the need for continued study of interest groups in Communist countries.

24 “An Approach to the Analysis of Political Systems,” World Politics, IX (April 1957). 383400.Google Scholar

25 Pp. 40–41.

26 There is an interesting confrontation of views in Rigby, T. H. and Churchward, L. G., Policy-Making in the USSR, 1953–1961: Two Views (Melbourne 1962).Google Scholar On the post-Stalin succession struggle the literature is too extensive to list, but the following may be cited as representative: Rush, Myron, The Rise of Khrushchev (Washington 1958)Google Scholar; Conquest, Robert, Power and Policy in the USSR (London 1961)Google Scholar; Pethybridge, Roger, A Key to Soviet Politics (London 1962).Google Scholar See also the discussions in successive issues of Problems of Communism cited here in nn. 27, 30. Cf. the earlier articles under the common title “The Soviet Leadership: Trends and Portents,” by Richard Lowenthal and Robert Conquest, ibid., IX (July-August i960), 1–7, 7–11, respectively. On the struggle for power before and after Khrushchev's fall, see Rush, , Political Succession in the USSR (New York 1965)Google Scholar; and Conquest, , Russia After Khrushchev (New York 1965).Google Scholar

27 “How Strong Is Khrushchev?” Problems of Communism, XII (September-October 1963), 2735Google Scholar; also Linden's comment, ibid. (November-December 1963), 56–58. Linden's view is strongly commended by Robert C. Tucker and Wolfgang Leonhard in letters, ibid., 59–61, 61–64. See also Tucker's letter, ibid., XIII (May-June 1964), 88.

28 Pethybridge in his discussion of the 1957 crisis defines “pressure groups” as “influential bodies of men within and without the Presidium and the Central Committee whose composite power makes them a force to be reckoned with in Soviet politics.” He distinguishes two major groups—the party apparatus and the government bureaucracy—and two minor groups—the economic elite and the army—and, under Stalin, a further major group—the police (pp. i7ff.). V. V. Aspaturian, in his analysis of Soviet foreign policy in Macridis, , ed,, Foreign Policy in World Politics (Englewood Cliffs 1958)Google Scholar, writes of the competing interest groups or elites, including the party apparatus; the government bureaucracy; the economic managers and technicians; the cultural, professional, and scientific intelligentsia; the police; and the armed forces (pp. 169–75).

29 Conquest, Power and Policy, 18ff., 29ff., 48.

30 Rigby's rejoinder to Linden, , Problems of Communism, XII (September-October 1963), 36ff.Google Scholar See his “How Strong is the Leader?” ibid., XI (September-October 1962), 1–8. More recently Barghoorn has dealt extensively with the play of social forces in Soviet politics, and has referred to the limited degree of pluralism and group action that is emerging. He minimizes and even explicitly denies the existence of organized interest groups comparable to those in the West. See his chapter on the USSR in Pye, Lucian W. and Verba, Sidney, eds., Political Culture and Political Development (Princeton 1965), 450511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Political Power USA/USSR (New York 1964)Google Scholar, esp. 195–98. See my review article “Soviet and American Politics: The Dialectic of Opposites,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, XXXI (May 1965), 273–80.Google Scholar Significantly, the word “totalitarianism” is not listed in the index and was deliberately not used in the book.

32 See esp. Tucker, on “The Conflict Model” in Problems of Communism, XII (November-December 1963), 5961.Google Scholar Cf. Sidney I., Ploss, Conflict and Decision-Making in Soviet Russia (Princeton 1965)Google Scholar, for a detailed case study concerning agricultural policy from 1953 to 1963. The author draws the conclusion that there is “a genuinely oligarchic procedure for policy-making, and its most outstanding feature is conflict” (p. 283).

33 See my book Government and Politics in Communist East Europe (New York 1966)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 11.

34 Ehrmann, esp. 292–94.

35 “K niektorým problémom štruktury našej politickej sústavy [On Some Problems of the Structure of Our Political System], Právny obzor (Bratislava), No. 1 (1965), 2636Google Scholar, in Slovak. Cf. his orthodox class analysis in an article published less than two years earlier, “K otázce vývoje sociálně politické základny socialistického státu v ČSSR” [On the Question of the Development of the Social and Political Basis of the Socialist State in the CSSR], ibid., No. 7 (1963), 385–94. In his later article Lakatoš refers to the work of Arthur Bentley on interest groups in the early part of the century, and cites also the study by Ehrlich, Stanislaw, Grupy nacisku w strukturze politycznej kapitalizmu [Pressure Groups in the Political Structure of Capitalism] (Warsaw 1962)Google Scholar, in Polish. See the review of the latter by Wesolowski, W. in Polish Perspectives, VII (January 1964), 7880.Google Scholar

A recent important study by the Czech economist Šik, O., Ekpnomika, zájmy, politika Economics, Interests, and Politics] (Prague 1962)Google Scholar, in Czech, also published in Russian as Ekonomika, interesy, politika (Moscow 1964)Google Scholar, devotes a chapter to “Needs and Interests,” in which Šik notes the importance of noneconomic as well as economic needs and interests, and refers to national as well as class interests. His later discussion, however, relates almost exclusively to conflicts between classes and ignores other social groups entirely.

36 See Inkeles, , “Myth and Reality of Social Classes,” reprinted from an article originally published in American Sociological Review, XV (1950)Google Scholar, in Inkeles and Geiger, 558–73. See also his fuller study, with Bauer, The Soviet Citizen, esp. chap. 13, “Social Class Cleavage.”

37 Ehrmann, 203, 210, 212–13, 222.

38 Lakatoš, “On Some Problems,” 29–31. Some support for this approach was forthcoming in the Soviet Union in an article by Shubkin, V., “O konkretnykh issledovaniiakh sotsialnykh protsessov” [On Concrete Research on Social Processes], Kommunist, No. 3 (February 1965)Google Scholar, which refers to the complexity of society and the need to study not only classes but also definite groups within classes, “the differences among which were conditioned not by forms of ownership of the means of production, but by factors such as profession, level of training, education, and extent of income” (pp. 49, 51). It remains to be seen whether Soviet and other Communist scholars will conduct empirical research elucidating the role of interest groups.

39 Note for instance the changing role of the trade unions. See the symposium “Soviet Workers: The Current Scene,” Problems of Communism, XIII (January-February 1964)Google Scholar, esp. Jay B. Sorenson, “Problems and Prospects,” 32. Cf. later article by Lakatoš, , “Dvadsat rokov budovania socialistickej demokracie” [Twenty Years of Building Socialist Democracy], Právny obzor, No. 5 (1965), 265–74Google Scholar, in which he speaks of the mass associations as exerting pressure, on behalf of interest groups, on the organizations that resolve the conflicts between group and general social interests.

40 Cf. Brzezinski and Huntington, 196.

41 The expanded public discussion and the increasing role of experts are noted by Churchward who quotes a Soviet source as stating that between 1953 and 1956 some twenty major conferences, involving some 30,000 persons, took place. See Rigby and Churchward, 30, 39–40, 42, and n. 35. See also the article by Jenkner (cited here in n. 15) and, on the role of the intelligentsia in East Germany, see Richert, Ernst, Macht ohne Mandat (Köln and Opladen 1963)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 281–89.

42 This is acknowledged by Aspaturian, in Macridis, 170–71. See also his analysis of Soviet politics in Macridis, and Ward, Robert E., Modern Political Systems: Europe (Englewood Cliffs 1963), 526–27.Google Scholar Bauer, Inkeles, and Kluckhohn have argued that a large proportion of the intelligentsia are not members of the “political elite” and are “apolitical.” Somewhat contradictorily the intelligentsia are said to have “a good deal of power,” but not to “have much power” in current decisions (pp. 157, 175–76). John Hazard discusses the growing influence of the intellectuals in The Soviet System of Government (Chicago 1957), 29–31. See also Barghoorn, in Pye and Verba, 486–90, 508–10.Google Scholar

43 “After the Fall: Some Lessons,” Problems of Communism, XIV (January-February 1965), 18.Google Scholar

44 Macridis, 169.

45 See Berman, Harold J., “The Struggle of Soviet Jurists Against a Return to Stalinist Terror,” Slavic Review, XXII (June 1963), 314–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and his Justice in the USSR, rev. ed. (New York 1963)Google Scholar, esp. 80.

46 Smolinski, Leon and Wiles, Peter, “The Soviet Planning Pendulum,” Problems of Communism, XII (November-December 1963), 2133Google Scholar; Nove, Alec, “The Liberman Proposals,” Survey, No. 47 (April 1963), 112–18.Google Scholar See also Smolinski, , “Khrushchevism Without Khrushchev,” Problems of Communism, XIV (May-June 1965), 4244.Google Scholar

47 See Johnson, Priscilla, “The Regime and the Intellectuals: A Window on Party Politics,” supplement, Problems of Communism, XII (July-August 1963), xxviiGoogle Scholar, and her book Khrushchev and the Arts: The Politics of Soviet Culture, 1962–1964 (Cambridge, Mass., 1965).Google Scholar Cf. Dunham, Vera S., “Insights from Soviet Literature,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, XVIII (December 1964), 386410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

48 Barghoorn, in Pye and Verba, 488.

49 Bilinsky, Y., The Second Soviet Republic: The Ukraine After World War II (New Brunswick 1964)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 8.

50 Witt, Nicholas De, “The Politics of Soviet Science,” unpubl. paper given at the American Political Science Association, September 7, 1962Google Scholar

51 See the articles by Wolfe, Thomas W. and Gallagher, M. P. in Problems of Communism, XIII (May-June 1964), 4452Google Scholar, 53–62; also, Wolfe, , “Problems of Soviet Defense Policy Under the New Regime,” Slavic Review, XXIV (June 1965), 175–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Soviet Strategy at the Crossroads (Cambridge 1964).Google Scholar

52 Ehrmann, 205.

53 Lakatoš, “On Some Problems,” 34–35. Marcuse, Herbert, in his Soviet Marxism (New York 1958)Google Scholar, writes of the competing special interests in Soviet society, even within the party, and of the role of the bureaucracy in representing “the social interest over and above individual interests,” and the “real” interest as distinct from the immediate interests of the people (pp. 107–19).

54 Aspaturian, in Macridis and Ward, 492–94, 526. He does not admit the possibility of an “accommodation” of interests, but speaks only of an “imposition” or of “mutual elimination.” Ploss, , in his Soviet Politics Since the Fall of Khrushchev, Foreign Policy Research Institute Series, mimeographed (Philadelphia 1965)Google Scholar, rejects the abstraction of a cohesive Soviet leadership and argues that the leadership “frames its policies with need [sic] to compromise and adjust between diverse groups and their interests in society” (p. 12).

55 Aspaturian, in Macridis, 170. Cf. Barghoorn on intraparty differences, in Pye and Verba, 468–70, 510.

56 The computer approach to comparative politics by Banks, Arthur A. and Textor, Robert B., A Cross-Polity Survey (Cambridge, Mass., 1963)Google Scholar, is weak in its analysis of Eastern European Communist states with reference to interests. It is assumed that “interest articulation” by associational groups and nonassociational groups, or by several political parties, is limited or negligible, and is significant only through institutional groups (the single party). “Interest aggregation” by the legislature, it is said, is “negligible,” and, for the executive, is “unascertained.” The role of the single party in interest articulation and aggregation is also said to be not ascertainable (pp.89ff.).

57 Dahl, , Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago 1963), 63.Google Scholar See Barghoorn's speculations on the growth of elite influence and incipient pluralism, in Pye and Verba, 507–10. Cf. the discussion of the continuance of traditional elites under Nazism and Fascism, in Groth, “The ‘Isms.’”

58 A Czech scholar in a recent article (in Russian) discusses at length the relations of individual and group interests with the general social interest, and the role of the party, the trade unions, the representative bodies, and the technical experts in achieving a reconciliation of these conflicting interests. See Mlynarzh, Z. (Mlynář), “Problemy politicheskovo rukovodstva i novaya ekonomicheskaya sistema” [Problems of Political Leadership and the New Economic System], Problemy mira i sotsializma, No. 12 (December 1965), 9099.Google Scholar

59 The Governmental Process, Political Interests, and Public Opinion (New York 1951).Google Scholar

60 See for instance Macridis, , “Interest Groups in Comparative Analysis,” Journal of Politics, XXIII (February 1961), 2545CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Eckstein and Apter, 389ff. See also the review article by Lowi, Theodore J., “American Business, Public Policy, Case-Studies, and Political Theory,” World Politics, XVI (July 1964), 677715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61 Eckstein and Apter, 393.

62 Truman, 33, 37.

63 Eckstein and Apter, 412.

64 P. 507.

65 Almond and Coleman, 33.

66 Lowi.

67 See Macridis, “Interest Groups in Comparative Analysis,” and Almond, , “A Comparative Study of Interest Groups and the Political Process,” American Political Science Review, LII (March 1958), 270–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

68 Truman, 437, 519.

69 Ibid., 65.

70 The results of a content analysis of newspapers and journals assumed to represent six Soviet and American elites that exert influence on decision-makers were published by Angell, Robert C. and Singer, J. David as “Social Values and Foreign Policy Attitudes of Soviet and American Elites,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, VIII (December 1964), 329491.Google Scholar The six Soviet elites are the military, scientific, cultural, labor, government-Party, and economic. The results of this massive statistical analysis are meager and dubious, and reveal no significant information about differences among Soviet elites. More meaningful results might be achieved by a content analysis of Soviet journals on specific policy issues, or by the more traditional types of analysis of Soviet discussions in individual fields, along the lines of the studies cited here in nn. 45–51. For instance, Vera Dunham, in an article included in the Angell and Singer report and cited in n. 47 above, uses literary sources to identify differences of view within the cultural elite and to detect the influences exerted by them on the political elite.