THE FORMATION OF THE SOVIET UNION, by Richard Pipes (Harvard University Press; $6.50; 286 pp.)
"Imperialism" is a term that belongs in the Classical vocabulary of Communist abuse. If the Russians use it with exceptional skill, it is only because they have an appreciation of its meaning. For within the USSR lies an empire as diverse and far-flung as anything the pre-Marxian world could assemble. The Formation of the Soviet Union, by Richard Pipes of the Russian Research Center, is a study of this empire in the making. Along with the gross anatomy of acquisition, Pipes combines a more rewarding discussion of the physiology of the empire, tracing the course of the troublesome nationality controversies that still disturb Soviet planners.
A one-sided inspection of the stresses in the imperial structure would be falsely encouraging; The Formation of the Soviet Union has a sobering effect as well. It exposes the sinews that bind the borderlands to the empire, and make a Tito-like rebellion within the Soviet Union a very dim prospect. Nearly every disruptive force inside the USSR evokes a counterforce which helps preserve stability. The dynamics of the USSR have changed very little since 1924 in this respect.
Pipes cites the preponderance of Great Russians in the governments of non-Russian republics as a constant source of irritation to the native population. Educated natives in the outlands of the Soviet Union have never had the opportunities for administrative jobs available ot their Russian counterparts. But Communist organization of regional governments has wisely been on nationality and cultural lines, and preservation of native languages in the Republics has helped to maintain loyalty to the Union.
The forces acting on the Soviet empire between birth and conception have left their mark on soviet peoples and policies today. The years before 1924 were the proving period for the tactics of infiltration and absorption. Since the end of World War II, Communists in Europe and Asia have shown how well the lessons were learned.
Pipes points to the importation of liberalism, socialism, nationalism, and utilitarianism from the West as intellectual ammunition for the Russian Populist movement that eventually shook the Tzarist regime. Perhaps the USSR's current eagerness to maintain control over buffer states in Eastern Europe is as much a desire to have a barrier against information as for military protection along its western border. For the European borderlands people in the Soviet Union have once shown themselves vulnerable to disturbing Western ideas of natural rights and democratic law, and they could succumb again.