Monday, March 8, 2004

In the dear old days of the Soviet Union, there grew up two subdisciplines in Western political science. One was called Kremlinology, the other Sovietology.

These disciplines were developed because the Soviet Union was pledged to the overthrow of democratic countries, it had become a great military power and, as a closed society, it was immune to normal research procedures.

During Josef Stalin’s dictatorship, Kremlinologists, usually academic specialists and foreign correspondents in Moscow, tried to determine the Politburo batting order by comparing from one year to the next photos of, for instance, the May Day parade and seeing which Politburo member stood closest to Stalin in he group photo. Another technique was to examine each day’s Izvestia or Pravda, the onetime Soviet dailies, to see who was mentioned and who wasn’t.

Sovietology, created by three academics, Philip Mosely (Columbia), Merle Fainsod (Harvard), Leonard Schapiro (London School of Economics) in the aftermath of World War II, was the more serious of the disciplines since it sought to breach the secrecy of the Soviet dictatorship through scholarship.

Sovietology reached its full flowering in the 1960s with the publication of Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror,” which managed to pierce the Iron Curtain and describe Stalin’s genocidal rule in sanguinary detail. Mr. Fainsod’s “How Russia Is Ruled” and Mr. Schapiro’s “The Origin of the Communist Autocracy” were pioneering works of Sovietology as was Richard Pipes’ multivolumed history of the Russian Revolution.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Kremlinology and Sovietology were diminished in academic importance except, perhaps, to Western historians who for a few years were able to examine Soviet government and Communist Party archives. Institutes devoted to Soviet studies like those at Harvard and Columbia Universities began to assume a secondary status both in student intake and funding.

Well, I think the fortunes of these institutes can be revived and the status of its practitioners restored if they formalize their research as a new subdiscipline. As there was once a Sovietology and Kremlinology, we can now began a course of study called Putinology — that is, trying to understand what the budding dictator of Russia, who will be with us for years to come, is up to with what he calls “managed democracy.”

There already are future Putinologists. I think of Glasgow University’s Professor Stephen White, Stanford University’s Professor Michael McFaul and the Hoover Institution’s John Dunlop.

The Yeltsin interregnum was anarchic, thanks to Mr. Yeltsin’s alcoholism and was immune to serious study. Only a psychiatrist, not a political scientist, could explain Mr. Yeltsin’s creation of five new prime ministers in an 18-month period.

Monographs on the recent purge of Putin’s prime minister and his Cabinet could, of course be examined comparatively. For example, in Stalin’s day, such a purge would have been followed by arrests, forced confessions and executions or a long sentence to the Gulag. In Nikita Khrushchev’s day, the purge victim would be put in charge of a filling station in Kamchatka where gas was delivered every six months.

Things began to unravel during Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule from 1985 to 1991. With his downfall, the Soviet Union became 16 separate countries and Sovietology came to an end. Of course, Soviet history is still a major course of academic study.

But Russia, even minus its onetime Soviet republics and with less than half of its Soviet population, is still a major nuclear power, still holds a seat in the United Nations Security Council and is becoming an important economic entity in the global market. In other words, Putinology should become an important area of academic concentration, as once was Sovietology.

Professor White is a ranking Putinologist. His study of Mr. Putin’s nomenklatura elites, published in the Toronto Globe & Mail under the title, “Beware a Putin Politburo,” shows they share an important characteristic: They come from the military, law-enforcement and security establishments.

According to the data he collected with Moscow sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, about a quarter of Russia’s leading positions today are in the hands of officials with a military or security background. That compares with about 4 percent under Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. White has offered these possibilities for study for future Putinologists:

“Private ownership will be respected, provided it is ‘patriotic,’ and keeps out of politics. Foreign investment will also be welcome — on a minority basis. Newspapers will be able to say whatever they like — but not television. There will be a harder line toward the West: Indeed, there already is. There will be a bigger military budget, and a greater assertion of Russian national interests, particularly in the former Soviet republics.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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