Institutional Analyses

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


Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, whose analysis of the Soviet political system we shall discuss in a moment (to be followed by Castoriadis’s latest interpretation), once observed that ‘with regard to … the institutions … the studies in this field have been basically descriptive and the essential dynamics of the system have eluded the researcher’.1 In this particular respect it would be fair to say that French scholarly writings on Soviet political institutions appear, on the whole, to have confined themselves to a knowledgeable description and discussion of these structures. Descriptions of the mechanisms of the Soviet system (party, state organs, and so on), often set against an historical backdrop, have not generally been purely formalistic. None the less, the overwhelming impression which many works in this class of writing leaves is one of dryness; the treatment of the functioning of the political system and of the real decision-making process has remained at an unsatisfactory level.


Economic Reform Party Leadership Institutional Analysis Soviet System Soviet Society 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Introduction to L. Marcou, L’Union soviétique, p. 23.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    P. Gélard, L’administration locale en U.R.S.S. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    P. Gélard, Les systèmes politiques des Etats socialistes, Tome premier — Le modèle soviétique, Tome deux — Transpositions et transformations du modèle soviétique (Paris: Cujas, 1975).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gélard, Les systèmes politiques des Etats socialistes, Tome premier, p. 297.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Patrice Gélard, ‘Le consensus en Union soviétique’, Pouvoirs, 5 (1978) p. 135.Google Scholar
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  7. 7.
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  8. 8.
    P. Gélard, ‘Le phénomène du parti unique dans les Etats socialistes’, in G. Conac, H. Maisl and J. Vaudiaux (eds), Itinéraires — Etudes en l’honneur de Léo Ramon (Paris: Economica, 1982) p. 290.Google Scholar
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    Gélard, ‘Le consensus en Union soviétique’, p. 137.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Patrice Gélard, ‘Des enjeux nouveaux’, La Nouvelle Critique, no. 108 (November 1977) p. 60.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Patrice Gélard, ‘La Constitution d’octobre 1977’, Problèmes politiques et sociaux, no. 326 (23 December 1977) p. 37.Google Scholar
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    Strmiska, ‘Programme socialiste et rapports sociaux en U.R.S.S. et dans les pays socialistes’, p. 161. On the real meaning given by the party leadership to the popular discussion on the draft of the Constitution of 1977, see Francis Conte and Dimitri G. Lavroff, ‘La Constitution de l’Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques du 7 Octobre 1977’, Revue du droit public et de la science politique en France et à l’étranger, vol. 94. no. 3 (May–June 1978) pp. 694 and 696.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Lowit, ‘Le parti polymorphe en Europe de l’Est’, Revue française de science politique, vol. 29, no. 4–5 (August-October 1979) p. 827.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 813.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Thomas Lowit, ‘Y-a-t-il des Etats en Europe de l’Est?’, Revue française de sociologie, vol. XX, no. 2 (April-June 1979) p. 447.Google Scholar
  25. In the context of Lowit’s argument, ideas expressed decades earlier by G. Langrod in an article canvassing the role of the party in the Soviet state deserve attention. See Georges Langrod, ‘Le rôle du parti unique dans l’Etat soviétique’, Revue politique et parlementaire, vol. ccrv (April–June 1951) p. 51.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
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  27. 26.
    Lowit, ‘Le parti polymorphe en Europe de l’Est’, p. 836.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    In this general context, M. Lesage has recently advanced the idea that conflicts arising between the vanguard party and the Soviet administration under its tutelage play a positive role for the system. As he explains: ‘the conflicts play a positive role as they constitute, for the higher authorities, a means of information about tensions existing in the system. The advent of a conflict between two authorities of a similar level may enable the higher authority to intervene in an attempt to solve the underlying problem’. See M. Lesage, L’administration soviétique (Paris: Economica, 1981) p. 116.Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    Lowit, ‘Y-a-t-il des Etats en Europe de l’Est?’, p. 448. Lowit takes the view that the notion of state bureaucracy should now be dropped as there is just one single bureaucracy in the Soviet Union — that is the party’s bureaucracy.Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    Lowit, ‘Le parti polymorphe en Europe de l’Est’, p. 834.Google Scholar
  31. 30.
    Hassner, ‘American Foxes and French Hedgehogs? A French Perspective on East European Studies’, p. 370. One notes that the concept developed by Lowit has been borrowed and used by W. Pańków, a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences. See Wlodzimierz Pańków, ‘L’été polonais — un système de pouvoir en crise’, Revue française de sociologie, vol. XXIV, no. 2 (April–June 1983) pp. 271–83 (article written before the imposition of martial law).Google Scholar
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    Kerblay and Lavigne, Les Soviétiques des années 80, pp. 26–7.Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    Bettelheim, Les luttes de classes en URSS — 3ème période 1930–1941 — Les Dominants, p. 220.Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    Z. Strmiska, ‘Pouvoir politique et inégalités sociales’, p. 382.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Fred Kupferman, ‘L’oeil sur Moscou’, L’Express, no. 1766 (17 May 1985) p. 40.Google Scholar
  36. 35.
  37. 36.
    H. Carrère d’encausse, L’empire éclaté — la révolte des nations en U.R.S.S. (Paris: Flammarion, 1978).Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    H. Carrère d’encausse, Le pouvoir confisqué — gouvernants et gouvernés en U.R.S.S. (Paris: Flammarion, 1980) trans. by G. H. Håloch as Confiscated Power — How Soviet Russia Really Works (New York: Harper and Row, 1982).Google Scholar
  39. 38.
    H. Carrère d’encausse, Le grand frère — l’Union soviétique et l’Europe soviétisée (Paris: Flammarion, 1983) p. 246.Google Scholar
  40. 39.
    H. Carrère d’encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 25.Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Nove, ‘The Class Nature of the Soviet Union Revisited’, p. 310.Google Scholar
  42. 41.
    Annie Kriegel, ‘Qui détient le pouvoir en U.R.S.S.?’, Le Figaro (13 November 1980) p. 2.Google Scholar
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    H. Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 150.Google Scholar
  44. 43.
    Ibid., p. 17.Google Scholar
  45. 44.
    Ibid., p. 329.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
    Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘La puissance soviétique aujourd’hui’, Relations internationales (Genève), no. 17 (Spring 1979) p. 48. One notes that, for Carrère d’Encausse, international power constitutes a remarkable means to protect the Soviet system from its internal difficulties. See Confiscated Power, p. 331.Google Scholar
  47. 46.
    Carrère d’Encausse has defined Khrushchevism as follows: ‘Khruschevism meant becoming aware of all the new factual elements of the Soviet society and of the world, in addition to attempting to salvage the structures and ideology inherited from the revolution by bringing to them a new dynamism’. See Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Khrouchtchev était-il vraiment nécessaire?’, Revue française de science politique, vol. XV, no. 6 (December 1965) p. 1077.Google Scholar
  48. 47.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 207.Google Scholar
  49. 48.
    Kerblay and Lavigne, Les Soviétiques des années 80, p. 25; Marc Ferro, ‘Y-a-t-il “trop de démocratie” en URSS?’, Annales, 40eme Année, no. 4 (July–August 1985) p. 822Google Scholar
  50. and A. Smolar, ‘Le monde soviétique: transformation ou décadence?’, in G. Hermet (ed.), Totalitarismes (Paris: Economica, 1984) p. 165.Google Scholar
  51. 49.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 319.Google Scholar
  52. 50.
    Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Lire la nouvelle Constitution’, Le Monde diplomatique (July 1977) p. 10.Google Scholar
  53. 51.
    Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Party and Federation in the USSR: The Problem of the Nationalities and Power in the USSR’, Government and Opposition, vol. 13, no. 2 (Spring 1978) p. 148.Google Scholar
  54. 52.
    Ibid. On this point, see also Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘URSS: le changement sans alternance?’, Pouvoirs, I (1977) p. 101 in fine.Google Scholar
  55. 53.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 145.Google Scholar
  56. 54.
    Ibid., p. 208.Google Scholar
  57. 55.
    Ibid., p. 327.Google Scholar
  58. 56.
    On this particular question of participation, see the interesting article of Georges Langrod, ‘Les formes de la participation des masses dans le gouvernement et l’administration de l’U.R.S.S.’, Annuaire de l’U.R.S.S. Droit-Economie-Sociologie-Politique-Culture, vol. I (1962) pp. 101–39.Google Scholar
  59. 57.
    Ibid., p. 323. (my emphasis)Google Scholar
  60. 58.
    Ibid., p. 278.Google Scholar
  61. 59.
    Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Les failles de l’Union soviétique’, Défense nationale, 37e Année (November 1981) p. 66.Google Scholar
  62. 60.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Le pouvoir confisqué, p. 294.Google Scholar
  63. 61.
    Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Les failles de l’Union soviétique’, p. 59. (my emphasis)Google Scholar
  64. 62.
    Ibid., p. 70.Google Scholar
  65. 63.
    As she explains, three elements of the 1977 Constitution appreciably weaken the significance of Soviet federalism: ‘First, the Constitution repeatedly asserts that the development of Soviet society leads to an ultimate rapprochement of nations and ethnic groups, and stresses the existence of the Soviet people. In addition, the Constitution of 1977 is much less precise than the 1936 Constitution with regard to federal and republican powers. … Finally, and this is the key point, by turning the Party — this unitary organisation, the vocation of which is to transcend national differences — into the central axis of the Soviet society of tomorrow, and by stressing democratic centralism, those in charge of the Constitution (constituants) have stressed the will for unity, and reopened the contents of Soviet federalism’. See also Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Lire la nouvelle Constitution’, p. 10. See also Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘La Constitution de 1977: continuité et changement’, Problèmes politiques et sociaux, no. 326 (23 December 1977) p. 26.Google Scholar
  66. 64.
    Carrère d’Encausse, L’empire éclaté, p. 128.Google Scholar
  67. 65.
    Ibid., p. 275.Google Scholar
  68. 66.
    Ibid., p. 252.Google Scholar
  69. 67.
    In addition to its impact on the operations of some specific institutions such as universities, the clan/tribe structure influences the selection of cadres in local party or government organs. Also, as Bennigsen points out, ‘in some cases, these survivals of the clan/tribe system provide the basis for illegal religious organizations’. The writer refers here to the Sufi orders which he depicts as being violently hostile to the Soviet regime (these mystical brotherhoods represent the jihad or ‘holy war’ aspects of Islam). See Alexandre Bennigsen, ‘Several Nations or One People? Ethnic Consciousness among Soviet Central Asian Muslims’, Survey, vol. 24, no. 3 (Summer 1979) p. 52.Google Scholar
  70. 68.
    A. Bennigsen and C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, Les musulmans oubliés — L’Islam en Union soviétique (Paris: Maspéro, 1981) pp. 279–80.Google Scholar
  71. 69.
    This particular viewpoint relating to the vitality and importance of both the subnational and supranational levels of consciousness is somewhat at variance with conclusions reached by Bennigsen in earlier writings. For instance, we read in a book published in 1967 that ‘ill-defined tribal on ethnic “subnational” consciousness has disappeared; supranational pan-Islamic or pan-Turkic consciousness … may have survived in the minds of a few but it is barely discernible on the surface’. See A. Bennigsen and C. Lemercier-Quelquejay, Islam in the Soviet Union (New York and Washington: Praeger, 1967) p. 224.Google Scholar
  72. 70.
    Bennigsen, ‘Several Nations or One People? Ethnic Consciousness among Soviet Central Asian Muslims’, p. 51. See also A. Bennigsen and M. Broxup, The Islamic Threat to the Soviet State (London and Canberra: Croom Helm, 1983) pp. 135–6.Google Scholar
  73. 71.
    As remarked by J.-P. Brûlé, the Soviet Muslims ‘today play more the Communist than the Islamic game’. See Jean-Pierre Brûlé, ‘L’U.R.S.S. et ses musulmans’, Est et Ouest, no. 666 (September 1982) p. 30.Google Scholar
  74. 72.
    Alexandre Bennigsen, ‘Les Musulmans de l’URSS et la crise afghane’, Politique étrangère, vol. 45, no. 1 (1980) pp. 19–20. In this regard, Bennigsen mentions the curious symbiosis existing between party apparatus and clan/tribe system.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. 73.
    Carrère d’Encausse, L’empire éclaté, p. 245.Google Scholar
  76. 74.
    Ibid., p. 270.Google Scholar
  77. 75.
    In an article written in the early 1950s, Bennigsen had already underscored the emergence of Muslim ‘separatism’. See Alexandre Bennigsen, ‘Les peuples musulmans de l’U.R.S.S. et les Soviets: IV. Les problèmes politiques’, L’Afrique et l’Asie, no. 23 (3rd Trim. 1953) p. 33.Google Scholar
  78. 76.
    Bennigsen and Lemercier-Quelquejay, Les musulmans oubliés — L’Islam en Union soviétique, p. 299.Google Scholar
  79. 77.
    Alexandre Bennigsen, ‘Mullahs, Mujahidin and Soviet Muslims’, Problems of Communism, vol. XXXIII, (November–December 1984) p. 32.Google Scholar
  80. 78.
    Bennigsen, ‘Les Musulmans de l’URSS et la crise afghane’, p. 19. See also Alexandre Bennigsen and Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay, ‘L’impact des événements d’Iran et d’Afghanistan sur l’Islam soviétique’, L’Alternative, no. 31 (January–February 1985) p. 17.Google Scholar
  81. 79.
  82. 80.
    While writing about this idea of ‘Russian masters’, Bennigsen is indeed far too well-informed a specialist not to bear in mind the evolution towards greater participation and authority of native cadres in their republics’ national affairs. See Bennigsen and Broxup, The Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, p. 134.Google Scholar
  83. 81.
    XXX, ‘Des musulmans tranquilles — L’Islam en Chine et en URSS’, Etudes, Tome 363, no. 5 (November 1985) p. 446.Google Scholar
  84. 82.
    Bennigsen and Broxup, The Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, p. 152. Bennigsen is in no doubt of the fact that ‘Muslim territories of the Soviet Union, forgotten by world public opinion and even by specialists, may well become, in a fairly near future, one of the hottest items in the news’. See Alexandre Bennigsen, ‘L’islam en U.R.S.S.’, L’Afrique et l’Asie modernes, no. 120 (1st trim. 1979) pp. 21–2.Google Scholar
  85. 83.
    Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Les failles de l’Union soviétique’, p. 61.Google Scholar
  86. 84.
    Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 335. For an early depiction of the Soviet Union’s contradictions, see Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘La crise de juin 1957 en U.R.S.S.’, Revue de défense nationale, vol. 13 (November 1957) pp. 1669–72. It is worth noting the relationship existing between the most fundamental contradiction that Carrère d’Encausse underlines in this early writing — that is the opposition between Ha classe des gouvernants-quels qu’ils soient … à celle des gouvernés …’ (pp. 1669–70) — and the title of her book published in 1980.Google Scholar
  87. 85.
    Ibid., p. 336.Google Scholar
  88. 86.
    Michel Tatu, ‘Les institutions communistes face aux crises: les militaires seront-ils le recours?’, Défense nationale, 37e Année (November 1981) pp. 52 and 54.Google Scholar
  89. Tatu’s hypothesis has been echoed by E. Morin, for whom the totalitarian era in the Soviet Union might on the occasion of a succession crisis come to an end through action undertaken and led by the Soviet military. See Morin, De la Nature de l’URSS — Complexe totalitaire et nouvel Empire, p. 249. Both writers seem to believe that a military rule would probably mean less bellicosity on the part of the Soviet Union in the sphere of international relations. Tatu points here to the fact that the military, unlike the party, would not have to seek its legitimacy in foreign adventurism. For Morin, the military would display greater political realism than the party and would, importantly, abandon universal Communist messianism. Another reason leading Morin to think that seizure of power by the Soviet military would constitute the most favourable evolution relates to the disappearance of an acute danger inherent in the nature of the totalitarian CPSU. As he explains, the party can only be ‘all or nothing’ in the Soviet Union. According to Morin, the party knows that, if confronted by a serious democratic threat to its domination, it will then have to stake its all. Were the party’s disappearance to become imminent, the party would likely choose to provoke the nuclear destruction of the planet, so bringing down the whole world in its fall. Ibid., p. 252.Google Scholar
  90. 87.
    On this general point, see Jean-Christophe Romer, ‘Le facteur militaire dans la politique soviétique’, Projet, no. 167 (July–August 1982) p. 845;Google Scholar
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    Carrère d’Encausse, Confiscated Power, p. 188. On this point, see also R. Fritsch-Bournazel: ‘Thus, a fundamental consensus unites the party apparatus with the military for the pursuit of common goals’. Renata Fritsch-Bournazel, ‘Les Forces armées et la “société socialiste avancée”’, Pouvoirs 6 (1978) p. 64.Google Scholar
  94. 89.
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    Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, ‘Les nouveaux Russes’, Le Nouvel Observateur, no. 1136 (15 August 1986) p. 37. (my emphasis)Google Scholar
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    Michel Heller, ‘Teeth ‘n’ Smiles — Gorbachov for Beginners’, Survey, vol. 29, no. 1 (Spring 1985) p. 18.Google Scholar
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    See Archie Brown, ‘Soviet Political Developments and Prospects’, World Policy Journal, vol. IV, no. 1 (Winter 1986/87) pp. 81–3.Google Scholar
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    Kende, Logique de l’économie centralisée, p. 281. In our view, the law adopted in 1986 by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR legalising different types of private activities such as car repair, furniture making and tailoring does not constitute a significant departure from Soviet ideological orthodoxy. Such a measure, the scope of which seems much restricted, is still rooted within the Leninist heritage. See Patrick Cockburn, ‘Moscow legalises private enterprise in service sector’, The Financial Times (29 November 1986) p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Brus, ‘Prospects of Reconstruction of Socialism by Political Democratisation and Economic Reform’, p. 12. See also E. Egnell and M. Peissik, URSS — L’entreprise face à l’Etat (Paris: Seuil, 1974) p. 172.Google Scholar
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  109. 104.
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  110. 105.
    Cornelius Castoriadis, ‘Facing the war’, Telos, no. 46 (Winter 1980–1) p. 52, note 7. Originally published in Libre, 8 (1980) pp. 217–50 and translated by J. Light.Google Scholar
  111. 106.
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  112. 107.
    When Castoriadis refers to the power of the stratocracy he does not mean the presence in the Politburo of a majority of military officers, nor that the latter’s signed intervention is necessary for the taking of any particular decision.Google Scholar
  113. 108.
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  114. 109.
    Ibid., p. 47.Google Scholar
  115. 110.
    Dominique Frager, ‘I. URSS: quelle stratégie? — Interview de Cornelius Castoriadis’, Critique socialiste, no. 43 (April 1982) p. 12.Google Scholar
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    Castoriadis, Devant la guerre, pp. 109–10.Google Scholar
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    Castoriadis considers that his hypothesis of a separate military society is plainly confirmed by the very existence of the ‘closed enterprises’. Ibid., p. 122.Google Scholar
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    Castoriadis, ‘Facing the war’, p. 52.Google Scholar
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    Castoriadis, Devant la guerre, p. 256.Google Scholar
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    Louis-Bernard Robitaille, ‘Le pouvoir au bout du char’ (interview with C. Castoriadis), Le Nouvel Observateur, no. 895 (2 January 1982) p. 15.Google Scholar
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  122. 117.
    Castoriadis, Devant la guerre, p. 263.Google Scholar
  123. 118.
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  124. 119.
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  125. 120.
    See Paul Thibaud, ‘Le plus dur et le plus fragile des régimes — Entretien avec Cornelius Castoriadis’, Esprit, no. 63 (March 1982) pp. 140–6.Google Scholar
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    Robitaille, ‘Le pouvoir au bout du char’, p. 19.Google Scholar
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    Morin, De la Nature de l’URSS — Complexe totalitaire et nouvel Empire, p. 213.Google Scholar
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    Caroline Ost and Gilles Lourmel, ‘La stratocratie: une interprétation hâtive’, Critique, vol. 37, no. 411–12 (August-September 1981) p. 745.Google Scholar
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    Thierry Maulnier, ‘Le bien-être et la puissance’, Preuves, no. 74 (April 1957) p. 67.Google Scholar
  133. 128.
    Jacques Sapir, ‘L’armée dans la société soviétique’, République Moderne, no. 2 (Fall 1985) p. 33.Google Scholar
  134. 129.

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