Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Interest Groups and Communist Politics

  • H. Gordon Skilling (a1)

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.

Hide All

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

2 See the symposium Totalitarianism, edited by Friedrich Carl J. (New York 1954), 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), 648–59; 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. 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.

5 Compare recent articles in the same spirit by Kassof Allen, “The Administered Society: Totalitarianism Without Terror,” World Politics, XVI (July 1964), 558ff.; 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), 155–68, reprinted in Riesman's Individualism Reconsidered (Glencoe 1954), 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.

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.

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).

14 See the final chapter of their book The Soviet Citizen: Daily Life in a Totalitarian Society (Cambridge, Mass., 1961): “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), 117–27; and in Groth A. J., “The ‘Isms’ in Totalitarianism,” American Political Science Review, LVII (December 1964), 888901.

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.

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

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.

20 Armstrong John, in The Soviet Bureaucratic Elite (New York 1959), 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), 3637, 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); and Granick David, The Red Executive (New York 1960).

21 Neumann, ed., Modern Political Parties (Chicago 1955), esp. the editor's essay, “Towards a Comparative Study of Political Parties,” 395–421; Duverger, Les Partis politiques (Paris 1951), and in English, Political Parties (London and New York 1954); Ehrmann, ed., Interest Groups on Four Continents (Pittsburgh 1958), 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.

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). 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); Conquest Robert, Power and Policy in the USSR (London 1961); Pethybridge Roger, A Key to Soviet Politics (London 1962). 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); and Conquest, Russia After Khrushchev (New York 1965).

27 “How Strong Is Khrushchev?” Problems of Communism, XII (September-October 1963), 2735; 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), 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. 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.

31 Political Power USA/USSR (New York 1964), 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. 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. Cf. Sidney I. Ploss, Conflict and Decision-Making in Soviet Russia (Princeton 1965), 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), 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), 2636, 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), in Polish. See the review of the latter by Wesolowski W. in Polish Perspectives, VII (January 1964), 7880.

A recent important study by the Czech economist Šik O., Ekpnomika, zájmy, politika Economics, Interests, and Politics] (Prague 1962), in Czech, also published in Russian as Ekonomika, interesy, politika (Moscow 1964), 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), 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), 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), 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), 265–74, 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), 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. 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.

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

44 Macridis, 169.

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

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

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

48 Barghoorn, in Pye and Verba, 488.

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

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

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

52 Ehrmann, 205.

53 Lakatoš, “On Some Problems,” 34–35. Marcuse Herbert, in his Soviet Marxism (New York 1958), 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), 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), 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. 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.

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

60 See for instance Macridis, “Interest Groups in Comparative Analysis,” Journal of Politics, XXIII (February 1961), 2545, 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.

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.

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. 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.

* This article is based on a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Vancouver, B.C., June 11, 1965. Appreciation is expressed to Professor Frederick C. Barghoorn, Yale University, and to my graduate students for their helpful comments.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 4 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 309 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.