Starting after the Second World War and taking the story through to the Brezhnev era, Yoram Gorlizki and Oleg Khlevniuk's Substate Dictatorship: Networks, Loyalty, and Institutional Change in the Soviet Union (Yale University Press, 2020) charts the strategies of Soviet regional leaders, paying particular attention to the forging and evolution of local trust networks.
Beginning with the late Stalinist period, Gorlizki and Khlevniuk describe and evaluates the relatively successful mechanisms Stalin used to keep regional networks and bosses (usually Obkom First Secretaries) in check while simultaneously devolving power to the regional governments. When Khrushchev came to power, following Stalin’s death, he removed many of these mechanisms which included oversight bodies such as the Party Control Commission and delegations from the Central Committee in an effort to reform the bureaucracy. This led to an unprecedented level of bureaucratic fraud, perpetrated primarily through family circle trust networks of regional bureaucrats who covered up each other’s malfeasance. The culmination of this trend was the Riazan scandal when the Obkom First Secretary engaged in a number of shady practices such as buying meat from markets in other regions, counting slaughtered animals twice and straight up fabrication to meet the massively unrealistic quotas Khrushchev had set as part of his Seven Year Plan. The resulting scandal undermined Khrushchev’s political capital and contributed to his downfall. Brezhnev took a different tact to managing regional governments by reducing the insane pressures to fulfill quotas they had faced under Stalin and Khurshchev and ending the rotational scheme Stalin had put in to place to try to make sure regional bosses could not develop their own nepotistic networks. Listen in to learn about how authoritarian regimes delegated power and how successful or unsuccessful these methods were and how they fundamentally shaped Soviet history.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book, Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.