Professor Chris Miller on Georgii Mirskii and Soviet Theories of Authoritarian Modernization


This article examines Soviet thinking about authoritarian modernization through the life and thought of Georgii Mirskii, a noted expert on Arab politics. Mirskii was a regular adviser and speechwriter for the Soviet Central Committee, and was also followed by the KGB for his criticism of Stalin. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mirskii looked to the example of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser to develop a theory of military-led modernization. This article examines how Mirskii’s faith in the ability of Third World militaries to function as modernizing forces changed over time. The course of military politics in the Third World during the 1970s and 1980s, when military coups proliferated, bringing to power violent and self-interested regimes, disabused Mirskii of any faith in military modernization. Examining Mirskii’s thought not only sheds light on the ideas that motivated Khrushchev-era Soviet foreign and development policy, it also provides an illuminating comparison for better-studied theories of authoritarian modernization in the United States.

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