T.H. Rigby on Soviet and

T.H. Rigby on Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian Politics


In a brief autobiographical sketch in a 1990 volume of collected writings, T.H. Rigby described his early intellectual influences.1 As an undergraduate and Masters’s student at the University of Melbourne immediately after the end of World War Two he was intellectually most stimulated by Karl Marx and Max Weber – although as he wrote: I could never claim to be a real disciple of either.

The influence of Marx was limited even at that early stage by Rigby’s inability to accommodate Marx’s views on the property with what he knew of the social distribution of power and privilege in the USSR. The influence of Weber was far stronger.

From the beginning, Rigby was excited by the linkages that could be made between Weber’s typologies of authority and legitimation and actual social structures, including those of the Soviet Union. But after completing his studies at the University of Melbourne he put aside his interest in Weber for a decade and a half, while he pursued empirical investigations of Soviet society and its political system. His Ph.D. thesis, at the University of London, was on The selection of leading personnel in the Soviet state and Communist Party,2 and had a strong and pioneering orientation towards the painstaking collection of data on officials.

The accumulation of empirical knowledge and expertise continued during subsequent work in the UK Foreign Office Research Department and the British Embassy in Moscow, and then while teaching at the Canberra University College. It was only in 1963, recently arrived at the Australian National University’s Research School of Social Sciences, that he found himself part of a working group on Weber and returned to a serious study of great German. He continued to be interested in Weber and used his concepts for the rest of his career.

The search for an adequate conceptual framework for understanding the key elements of the Soviet socio-political order is of the utmost scholarly and practical importance, but we should not let it blunt our sensibility to the rich variety and unpredictability of human behavior. In seeking to uncover persistent underlying patterns, we must avoid too static an analysis

That approach to theory meant that there was always a modesty about the way he presented his theoretical ideas to the discipline. There was also a broadmindedness in his approach to theoretical matters. As we will see on various occasions in this chapter, he was not fond of the then mainstream behaviouralist political science.

And yet as a theoretical framework for his 1968 classic Communist Party Membership, he used a heavily modified functionalist approach borrowed from Gabriel Almond.4 Although he was far from uninterested in or unknowledgeable of other parts of the world, his comparative interests were as instrumental as his theoretical interests, being totally devoted to the insights they might provide for our understanding of the USSR.

If the experiences of the Soviet Union contributed to the verification and development of a theory and to our understanding of the broader world, well and good, but that was not primary. Rigby’s deep empirical knowledge of the Soviet Union told him four key things about it and its political system. Firstly, he knew that in the Soviet Union questions of whether and why people obeyed their rulers were posed more dramatically than in the societies in which he and most of his readers lived.

Secondly, he knew that fact led to enormous debate within the discipline of Soviet studies over the nature of political and social control. Thirdly, he knew that the Soviet Union was bureaucratic, in terms of both of the powerful bureaucratic institutions that operated within it and how the behavior of those institutions and those working within them was organized.

Fourthly, he also knew that the Soviet Union was a place in which personal links and loyalties were enormously important. These four pieces of knowledge dominated Rigby’s research output, both empirical and theoretical

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