Ideologues and Pragmatists: World War II, New Communists, and Persistent Dilemmas of the Soviet Party-State, 1941-1953
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The decision-making paradigm of the Soviet party-state was defined by the persistent shortage of qualified manpower that afflicted the Russian elite. The traditional Russian problems of under administration, combined with the unique features of the Soviet political system, resulted in a dichotomy between practical and ideological demands. The era of WWII provides a microcosm of pressures facing the Kremlin and illustrates the cyclical nature of policy formation forced on it by the paradoxes of the system. As the party's responsibilities expanded into specialized economic and military areas, political experts increasingly depended on the specialized professionals. These trends grew increased drastically during the war. An unexpected consequence of the party's expansion into economic or military professions was the discovery that co-optation worked both ways and many party members become managers rather than ideological overseers. Throughout the existential crisis of the system - the war and its aftermath - the party would find itself in a fundamental conflict over its identity, challenged over its role both vis-a-vis the state and its own priorities. After an abortive attempt by Zhdanov to reverse the wartime trends, a new paradigm was articulated by the party during the last five years of Stalin's reign. This resulted in the emergence of a new elite consensus which envisioned the party as intergral and invasive economic actor. This shift in the party's identity was the price of maintaining centralized political power and came at the expense of the focus on ideological purity. In the long term, however, the diminished role of ideology robbed the party of its core value system and steadily eroded its legitimizing and self-energizing power. Over time, the new consensus would undermine the very foundations of the party-state construct. Yet if the USSR was to survive as a modern, industrialized state, the accommodation with the technocrats was necessary. The contradiction between ideological and pragmatic aims was inherent to the system, and demanded an eventual choice between the long-term health of the state and that of the party.