A Hard Act to Follow: Explaining Authoritarian Succession
A year ago, as Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine was proving not to be the quick and easy victory Vladimir Putin had expected, some observers speculated that the bungled decision to invade his neighbor could be Putin’s undoing. The idea of a Russian state without Putin raised alluring prospects of reform. In this week’s Horns of a Dilemma, American University Professor Joseph Torigian discusses the dynamics of authoritarian succession. His book, Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion: Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China After Stalin and Mao, contradicts conventional scholarship. While the most significant autocratic power transitions of the 20th Century did result in more reform-minded leaders in the Soviet Union and China, Torigian argues that Nikita Kruschev and Deng Xiaoping earned their leadership positions the old-fashioned way: by intrigue, politicking, and making promises to gain the support of the military and security services. Torigian’s talk is both a fascinating history, and an important caution in setting expectations for leadership transition in Russia and China, whenever and however it may occur. This talk was held at the University of Texas, Austin.