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They Laughed at Khrushchev : THE SIXTH CONTINENT by Mark Frankland (Harper & Row: $22.95; 304 pp.) : THE GORBACHEV STRATEGY by Thomas H. Naylor (Lexington Books/ D.C.Heath: $22.95; 235 pp.)

November 08, 1987|Marshall I. Goldman | Goldman is the Class of 1919 Professor of Economics at Wellesley College, associate director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard University and author of "Gorbachev's Challenge: Economic Reform in the Age of High Technology."

Talk about odd couples. "The Sixth Continent" by Mark Frankland and "The Gorbachev Strategy" by Thomas Naylor, when read together, make the reader schizophrenic. Frankland's book, a conventional look at the Soviet Union by a two-term journalist for the London Observer in Moscow, provides a close-up and at times fascinating view of one of the most intriguing periods of transition in Soviet history. Frankland, who has developed a good feel for Soviet life and conditions, is particularly interesting on the Chernenko and Gorbachev eras. In contrast, Naylor, who says he is "recognized throughout the world for his expertise in business strategy and international business" and who openly disdains his lack of experience and training on the Soviet Union, has stitched together a misleading book about the Soviet Union. Unencumbered by Naylor's apparent need to provide detail, engage in research or use primary sources (except some of Mikhail Gorbachev's speeches), the book is notable for mistakes (over 50 and counting), misinterpretations and poor editing.

While reading the two books, I began to ask myself what would it be like if Frankland and Naylor had been asked to review each other's books. Naylor would take Frankland to task for being one-dimensional. The study of the Soviet Union, that sixth continent, has for too long been the preserve of a narrow band of Sovietologists. In fact, Naylor criticizes Sovietologists and their poor record in foretelling developments in the Soviet Union at least 13 times in his book. Naylor would argue that being in the Soviet Union for six years or so clouds Frankland's perspective. Sovietologists tend to concentrate too much on personalities and not enough on more general currents that tend to influence world events. Moreover, foreigners who live in the Soviet Union tend to become anti-Soviet.

If Frankland were to look at Naylor, he would wonder how any editor familiar with the Soviet Union could allow so many mistakes. While he might acknowledge that Sovietologists sometimes do become too ingrown, he would also insist that a lack of awareness of Russian and Soviet history accounts in part for Naylor's faulty interpretations of current developments in the Soviet Union. For example, the analyst must be aware of the longstanding and built-in interests of bureaucrats to appreciate why so many Soviet officials resent and fear the changes proposed by Gorbachev. Because he lacks this background, Naylor finds it hard to believe that Gorbachev has "substantial political opposition" to his policies. Similarly, Naylor's lack of familiarity with Soviet sources and his inability to read Russian or to find translated sources may well explain why he says incorrectly that "Gorbachev repeatedly used the term 'radical reform' in a February 1987 speech." That is an important issue because, when describing his plans, Gorbachev actually used the phrase 'radical reform' only once. Instead, the word he used then and since is perestroika or restructuring. Perestroika encompasses changes that are conventional as well as those that are far-reaching.

Naylor's lack of familiarity with his subject causes him to use early-harvest estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rather than the considerably lower, but actual Soviet harvest figures for the periods since 1980. This also explains his statement that Gorbachev's appointees are making the government "less centralized geographically" because so many do not come from Moscow. What he misses is that no Soviet leader from Lenin on was a true Muscovite. They have all come from outlying areas, from Georgia to the Ukraine. Even more striking is Naylor's apparent belief that based on what he saw at the Soviets' showcase, the Moscow International Economic Achievement Exhibition, the Soviet Union has made rapid advances in technology. Certainly the Soviets have much to be proud of, but now even Soviets acknowledge publicly that the exhibition is a modern-day Potemkin village. Naylor's lack of experience also leads him to marvel at the fact that the Soviet Embassy in Washington sent him a bound copy of Gorbachev's speeches with Gorbachev's picture on it. He chalks this up to Gorbachev's new style of openness, whereas in fact, this and other forms of propaganda are decade-old practices.

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