Cover: Stealing the State in PAPERBACK

Russian Research Center Studies 89

Stealing the State

Control and Collapse in Soviet Institutions

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Product Details


$82.00 • £65.95 • €74.00

ISBN 9780674836815

Publication Date: 10/15/1999


352 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

5 line illustrations, 21 tables

Russian Research Center Studies


Amid lamentations over ’reforms’ stymied by Communist troglodytes, the repudiation of socialism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union seemed to come out of the blue. An institutional loss of confidence turned into a self-fulfilling spiral. ’Soviet institutions,’ explains Steven L. Solnick, ’were victimized by the organizational equivalent of a colossal bank run.’ Soviet officials sensed the impending doom, and they ’rushed to claim...assets before the bureaucratic doors shut for good.’ Of course, ’unlike [in] a bank run, the defecting officials were not depositors claiming their rightful assets, but employees of the state appropriating state assets.’ And they grabbed everything that was ’fungible.’ (From the wreckage Solnick himself plucked a valuable book.)—Stephen Kotkin, New Republic

A rigorous account of how the Soviet system fell apart. Using three different Soviet youth organizations as examples--the Komsomol, military conscription, and the job assignment program--Solnick illustrates how Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms rechanneled the self-seeking behavior of bureaucrats in directions that destroyed rather than revived soviet institutions. He bases his compact and accessible explanation on recent general institutional theory. Seen from this angle, structures collapsed not because ideology failed, politicians quarreled, or interested groups rose to challenge sterile authority. Instead, the system imploded because bureaucrats at all levels made off with state assets at the first opportunity, hollowing out the state or ’stealing’ it...[The book’s] underlying argument will fascinate most.Foreign Affairs

Solnick addresses one of the most important questions about the breakdown of the Soviet Union: Why did seemingly stable Soviet institutions disintegrate so rapidly during Gorbachev’s reforms? In constructing his answer, Solnick uses a neo-institutional conceptual framework, which focuses the analysis on authority structures of institutions and incentives for individual bureaucratic actors. This is an original, richly documented and engagingly written study that reconceptualizes our understanding of major elements of the Soviet collapse.—Linda Cook, Brown University

Solnick makes a strong case for taking seriously the role that the collapse of institutions internally played in the overall collapse of the Soviet Union. Stealing the State is a major contribution to our understanding of one of the great events of the twentieth century.—William Zimmerman, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

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