Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion: Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China after Stalin and Mao, Joseph Torigian

Reviewed by Peter Rutland

This work, which originated in an Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral dissertation, is a careful and systematic comparison of the dynamics of leadership transition in the post-Stalin Soviet Union and post-Mao China. It draws upon extensive research in primary and secondary sources on both countries, and uses a social science theoretical framework to interpret these historical events.

Author Joseph Torigian argues that he is providing a revisionist account based on insights from newly available archival materials and memoirs. He suggests that conventional approaches to these leadership transitions tend to frame them in terms of broad and vague ideological categories such as “reform” or transactional patronage networks. He argues that the policy differences between the competing factions were much less significant than is commonly supposed: it was just convenient for the winning faction to label their defeated opponents as opposed to reform and easy for historians to explain the leadership struggle as a debate over policy choices (25).

The basic story of how Khrushchev rose to power with the help of Marshal Zhukov—the arrest of Lavrenti Beria in 1953 and then the toppling of the “anti-party group” of Khrushchev opponents in 1957—is well known, but Torigian offers a new analytical framework, one that challe

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