The Soviet Union under Stalin was very repressive. You could get sent to a GULAG (if not shot) for casually telling an “anti-Soviet” joke...

The Soviet Union under Stalin was very repressive. You could get sent to a GULAG (if not shot) for casually telling an “anti-Soviet” joke or pilfering ubiquitous “state property.” But, as James Heinzen points out in his excellent book The Art of the Bribe: Corruption Under Stalin, 1943-1953 (Yale University Press, 2016), official corruption–and bribery in particular–was rife. At every level of the Soviet system, top to bottom, and in every sector of the Soviet economy, ship building to medicine, people gave and took bribes. The Party knew about it, as did its judicial apparatus. Bribery was a fact of everyday Soviet life, even under Stalin. In The Art of the Bribe, Heinzen explains why bribery was intrinsic to Soviet culture, why bribery was an important and even necessary part of the Soviet system, and why the Party was more or less helpless to do anything about it even if it were interested in taking it on. The book is full of interesting and telling details–all based on first-ever archival research–that, together, amount to a kind of anthropology of bribery in the Soviet Union. Need I say that the book has relevance for understanding Putin’s Russia? Well, if I do, it does. “The more things change….”

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