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The "Corporatist" Model

"Gorbachev Factor"

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the debate on the nature of the Soviet political system between the supporters of the totalitarian and pluralist schools was reinvigorated by the appearance of a new, corporatist approach. Most fully the views of the corporatist strand of Soviet studies were presented in the works of Valerie Bunce and John Echols. Like pluralists, the corporatists recognized the existence of organized interests in the USSR and a certain adjustment of the post-Stalin regime. 

However, they disagreed strongly with the pluralist interpretation of the role of these interests and the nature of the changes. In particular, they objected to the central proposition of the pluralist model that downgraded the role of the top party-state leadership to that of a passive broker mediating institutional interests. The corporatists argued that this view ignored the fundamental differences between the role of the government in pluralist democracies of the West and in Brezhnevs USSR.

The supporters of the corporatist theory insisted that the Soviet authorities retained their immense prerogatives and were actively involved in the decision-making process. Soviet interest groups were not autonomous and independent, but instead were organic parts of the system and bound to follow the rules of the game. In other words, their functioning was based on the corporatist, rather than the pluralist, model. In corporatist politics the more important interest groups are incorporated into the policy process by the state and its leaders. State corporatism allows the organization and articulation of interests, particularly those connected with heavy industry and the military, but only under the tight control of the state.

It is clear now that the Soviet reality was too complex, multifaceted, and contradictory to allow its essence to be captured in a single word, be it totalitarianism, pluralism, or corporatism. However, by focusing on particular aspects of the regime, the adherents of each of the three schools of thought contributed to a better understanding of the power mechanisms in the Soviet Union. In particular, the emphasis by the pluralist and corporatist schools on the study of interest groups helped to gain important insights into their structure and political role in the pre-Gorbachev period and laid the foundation for subsequent research into the growth of pluralism under Gorbachev and the evolution of organized interests in post-Soviet Russia.

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