The paths of the soviet reformist economists to power during perestroïka: a “conversion” to neoliberalism?

Special report. The economists’ state. The contribution of economic knowledge to the construction of the state as an economic actor (twentieth and twenty-first centuries)
By Olessia Kirtchik

The intellectual and social sources of the transition to the “market” and capitalism during the post-Soviet transformation in Russia are often presented as external to the state and its ruling class (nomenklatura). In particular, the “young economists”– members of the “reform government” responsible for implementing extremely unpopular economic liberalization measures –had, according to this narrative, no experience with the Soviet economy and mostly followed the prescriptions of Western economic advisers. This contribution aims to question this thesis of the exteriority of post-Soviet reformers and their ideas by closely following their professional trajectories leading them to high government positions in the late 1980s and 1990s. This analysis reveals that most of these economists were part of the networks of power and expertise within the state apparatus long before the end of the Soviet Union, and that this experience provided them with a specific “reformist capital” that played a decisive role in their paths to power at the turning point of autumn 1991, shortly before the dissolution of the USSR. Thus, this analysis sheds light on the logic of selection and reproduction of intellectual and political elites in the Soviet Union and Russia triggered by the profound crisis of the Soviet system.

  • neoliberal reforms
  • perestroika
  • disintegration of the USSR
  • sociology of economists
  • sociology of political crises
  • biographical approach
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