Joseph Torigian, "Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion: Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China After Stalin and Mao" (Yale UP, 2022)


Unfortunately, one takeaway for readers of this book should be the difficulty that not only outside analysts but even party insiders face when trying to understand elite politics in Leninist regimes. Sinologists have always struggled to see inside the “black box,” and the track record is not strong. Yet getting history right is immensely important, as the past is one of the few places that allow us to understand structural features that might persist.

– Joseph Torigian, Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion (2022)

The political successions in the Soviet Union and China after Stalin and Mao, respectively, are often explained as triumphs of inner‑party democracy, leading to a victory of “reformers” over “conservatives” or “radicals.” In traditional thinking, Leninist institutions provide competitors a mechanism for debating policy and making promises, stipulate rules for leadership selection, and prevent the military and secret police from playing a coercive role. Here, Joseph Torigian argues that the post-cult of personality power struggles in history’s two greatest Leninist regimes were instead shaped by the politics of personal prestige, historical antagonisms, backhanded political maneuvering, and violence. Mining newly discovered material from Russia and China, Torigian challenges the established historiography and suggests a new way of thinking about the nature of power in authoritarian regimes.

Professor Torigian’s insightful and accessible journal articles with hyperlinks and book recommendations from this interview for listeners interested in exploring related concepts and ideas:

See also Joseph’s illuminating ‘War on the Rocks’ post-doc blog post of January 2017 in which, among other things, he correctly anticipates the PRC’s top leadership succession as non-event.

Joseph Torigian is assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington D.C. His research focuses on the study of the politics of authoritarian regimes with a specific focus on elite power struggles, civil-military relations, and grand strategy. His research agenda draws upon comparative politics, historical institutionalism and international relations with a focus on relevant questions about the long-term political trajectories of both China and Russia.

Keith Krueger lectures part-time in the Sydney Business School at Shanghai University.

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