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Totalitarianism and Ideology

  • Robert Desjardins
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series

Abstract

In French Sovietology the place occupied by writings using the concept of totalitarianism to interpret Soviet politics can be regarded as marginal. In this respect the contrast with Anglo-American Sovietology is striking. Any student of the latter will discover that the totalitarian model became prominent in the 1950s, only to begin to fall into disrepute during the 1960s.1 The model, even at the height of its popularity among scholars when it was generating numerous articles and books in Anglo-American Sovietology, remained essentially untapped and disregarded in France. However, it should not be inferred that the idea of totalitarianism was a kind of terra incognita in France.

Keywords

Soviet Regime Soviet Economy Ideological Regime Soviet Leader Soviet Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes and References

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  159. As P. Lorrain has observed, ‘At home, the individual can really … rediscover his true nature, be natural and indulge in ‘exteriorizing” his personality’. See P. Lorrain, L’Évangile selon Saint-Marx — La pression idéologique dans la vie quotidienne en URSS (Paris: Belfond, 1982) p. 199.Google Scholar
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    As far as this specific aspect of Besançon’s analysis is concerned, there is little doubt that an evolution has taken place. This change, as mentioned, may be linked to some of the ideas put forward in the late 1970s by Zinoviev. One may gauge this change when reading, for instance, a 1973 assertion by Besançon as to who benefits from the Soviet regime. As he then explained: ‘Who, in the Soviet Union, is objectively interested in maintaining the present regime? Neither the peasants,… Nor the workers … Nor the employees … The regime can only count upon the direct beneficiaries, the members of the Party, the privileged cadres’. See Alain Besançon et al., ‘Où va le régime soviétique?’, Esprit (November 1973) p. 625.Google Scholar
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  167. A few writers have dismissed the expression as being too polemical and journalistic and have chosen to refer to the ‘Soviet political discourse’. See, for instance, P. Seriot, Analyse du discours politique soviétique (Paris: Institut d’Etudes Slaves, 1985). The book, concerned with syntactical phenomena, is an example of semiological erudition. In this context, see also the periodical Essais sur le discours soviétique published by the University of Grenoble since the early 1980s.Google Scholar
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    Other writers disagree with the use of the notion of ‘ideocracy’. L. Sochor, for one, argues that the notion is somewhat obsolete, since the Soviet élite clearly does not exercise its domination in the name of ideas, as it used to do in the early period of the Soviet regime. See Lubomir Sochor, ‘Le “socialisme réel”, une idéologie tournée vers le passé’, Les Temps Modernes, 41ème Année, no. 468/9 (July–August 1985) p. 232.Google Scholar
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  178. The same idea is also spelled out in Besançon, ‘La conviction idéologique: avant et après la prise du pouvoir’, p. 51.Google Scholar
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    Besançon, ‘La conviction idéologique: avant et après la prise du pouvoir’, p. 47. In this context, it is interesting to note that Besançon has wondered about the reasons which caused Lenin to become an ideologue. As he points out, ‘What internal catastrophe forced Lenin to secrete this huge and complicated prosthesis of self, this elementary but coherent “Marxism”, which he could not question without endangering his own identity, without feeling a threat which he exorcized … by annihilating the instigators of doubt? … It is hopeless to speculate, we will never know’. See Besançon, The Intellectual Origins of Leninism, p. 197.Google Scholar
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    On this phenomenon of rampant corruption in the Soviet Union see P. Meney, La Kleptocratie — La délinquance en URSS (Paris: La Table Ronde, 1982) esp. Chapter 5.Google Scholar
  191. See also Christian Jelen and Leopold Unger, ‘L’Etat kleptocratique ou comment gagner de l’argent à l’Est’, L’Express, no. 1465 (11 August 1979) pp. 58–64Google Scholar
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  200. See also A. Besançon, ‘L’Empire russe et la domination soviétique’, in M. Duverger (ed.) Le concept d’empire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1980) p. 373.Google Scholar
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    Aron, Plaidoyer pour l’Europe décadente, p. 472. We believe that Aron, in this affirmation, shows a degree of theoretical laxity in the choice of well-defined notions which are steadily present throughout his analysis of the social structure of the Soviet Union. It is our opinion that the notion of ‘political class’ which Aron regards as the essential component of the Soviet élite should have been used. It would have reflected with more accuracy what Aron really meant in 1977. See Aron, ‘Remarques sur un débat’, p. 78. For a viewpoint close to Aron’s see Jean Vineuil, ‘Les hommes de Moscou’, Preuves, no. 167 (January 1965) p. 65.Google Scholar
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  205. On this general question, the analysis developed by Henri Chambre is worthy of mention. In a number of writings Chambre sets out to study the Soviet superstructure, seeking more particularly to establish the extent to which some of its major components — such as law, ethics and economic science — may have strayed, with the passing of time, from original Marxist tenets. He shows how ideology has historically undergone serious transformations in contact with the Soviet Union’s realities. See Chambre’s classic Le Marxisme en Union soviétique — Idéologie et institutions Leur évolution de 1917 à nos jours (Paris: Seuil, 1955). Finally, see also L’évolution du marxisme soviétique — Théorie économique et droit (Paris: Seuil, 1974). This book corresponds to Chambre’s need to examine some aspects of the Soviet Union’s ideological evolution in the post-Stalin era. Concentrating, as the title reveals, on Soviet law and economic theory, Chambre formulates the idea that these superstructural components have evolved in response to a real Soviet concern for greater rationality. Needless to say Chambre had very little impact, if any at all, on Besançon, who has been very ready, with a stroke of the pen, to discard his colleague’s erudite work.Google Scholar
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    See M.-C. Maurel, La campagne collectivisée — société et espace rural en Russie (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1980) pp. 231, 275–6 and 279.Google Scholar
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    Aron, Les dernières années du siècle, p. 117. In this connection, Aron once wrote that detente, in Soviet minds, can only be ‘a mere modality of the ruthless struggle between the two camps’. See Raymond Aron, ‘Ils ont choisi le plus intelligent’, L’Express, no. 1637 (26 November 1982) p. 55.Google Scholar
  208. The point made by Aron in his posthumously published book has often been made in French writings on the Soviet Union. See, for instance, Michel Mouskhély, ‘La révolution communiste en marche — A propos du nouveau programme’, Res Publica, vol. IV, 4 (1962) p. 330Google Scholar
  209. and, more recently M. Tatu, Eux et nous — Les relations Est-Ouest entre deux détentes (Paris: Fayard, 1985) pp. 35 and 39–40.Google Scholar
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    The question of ideological ‘overestimating’ has been touched on by Georges Lavau in a short article investigating the link between Communist states’ foreign policy and ideology. According to the published summary, Lavau claims that any understanding of the role of ideology in foreign policy ‘requires to distinguish a) between various ideology’s levels, b) between its various uses (motivation, tool for analysis, rationalizing, resource of power, resource for the system’s cohesion)’. See Georges Lavau, ‘Le rapport entre l’idéologie et la politique extérieure’, Pouvoirs, 21 (1982) p. 138.Google Scholar
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© Robert Desjardins 1988

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