The Demise of the USSR: A Failure to Evolve Administrative Doctrine?

On December 25, 1991, the U.S.S.R. was officially dissolved as a state entity after roughly six years of the most ambitious attempt at reinvention of government in modern history.  Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, openness and restructuring, sought to reform the existing political and economic systems, given the failure of the U.S.S.R’s centrally planned economy (Moss & Thomas, 2010).  The inefficiency of the U.S.S.R.’s command economy resulted in the country’s inability to compete as a world power on the global stage with the United States (Shafritz, Russell, & Borick, 2011).  The subsequent dissolution of the U.S.S.R serves as a reminder of the important link between a state’s administrative doctrine and the well being of its citizens.  Indeed, effective administrative doctrine is essential for the successful public administration of state, given it is a key driver of the effectiveness of state institutions that can positively or negatively affect the well-being of constituents and the survival of the state on the global stage.

Early Soviet administrative doctrine was heavily influenced by Western schools of thought in pubic administration (Cocks, 1978).  In particular, the Soviet administrative rationality movement of the 1920s and 1930s, adopted many of Taylor and Fayol’s principles of scientific management (Cocks, 1978).  However, the USSR focused on the technical production aspects of scientific management and appeared unable to adopt Fayol’s managerial principles as they dealt with “coordination, control, organization, planning, and command of people” (Shafritz, et al., 2011, p. 231); issues that would affect the landscape of Soviet political power (Cocks, 1978).  Rather, “the rationalizers were to deal only with administrative methods; they were not to decide issues of policy and power” (Cocks, 1978, p. 46).  The limits placed on rational administrative doctrine by the Soviet party apparatus all but assured the rational movement would be unable to evolve to address the failures of the centrally planned economy.

In truth, while administrative doctrine in the U.S.S.R appeared to be unable to evolve, the history of western organizational theory demonstrates a consistent evolution and adoption of new scientific thought.  Shafritz, et al. (2011) note that paradigms in administrative doctrine “overlap both in time and content because they are constantly evolving” (p. 245), in response to scientific advances, technological changes, and changing environments, describing doctrinal development as “inherently cyclical”.  Furthermore, Shafritz, et al. (2011) attribute the cyclical nature of administrative doctrine to a competence/incompetence cycle whereby new innovations increase effectiveness until “advancing technologies and changing environments allow the innovation to deteriorate relative to other arrangements” (p. 246), noting striking similarity to the boom and bust cycles of the business world.

Indeed, both the boom and bust cycle of the business world and the competence and incompetence cycle of large organizations share similar roots in human biological and social processes.  Raafat, Chater, and Frith (2009) describe herding behavior in humans as “as the alignment of the thoughts or behaviours of individuals in a group (herd) through local interaction and without centralized coordination” and use the herding metaphor to explore the very human proclivity to follow the behavior of others preceding them, particularly should they appear successful.  Herding behavior, in this sense, can be used to describe why best practices and even benchmarking are commonplace.  Of course, the downside to herding is that individual or groups are unlikely to wander far from the herd, either, resulting in maintenance of the status quo until such time as there is an internal or external shock that creates a need for change to begin the innovation cycle anew.

Of course, the USSR administrative doctrine did not follow the competence and incompetence cycle and as a result, appeared unable to innovate or evolve their approach to public administration.  The lack of an evolved Soviet public administration doctrine left the state unable to deal with the changing global landscape, nor able to compete with U.S. economic and administrative power, despite the considerable political power of the U.S.S.R.  As the fall of the U.S.S.R demonstrates, effective administrative doctrine is essential for successful public administration of a state, can either positively or negatively affect the well being of constituents, and have implications for the long-term survival of the state.


Cocks, P. (1978). Administrative rationality, political change, and the role of the party. In K. W. Ryavec (Ed.), Soviet society and the Communist Party (pp. xviii, 220 p.). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Moss, G., & Thomas, E. P. (2010). Moving on : the American people since 1945 (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Raafat, R. M., Chater, N., & Frith, C. (2009). Herding in humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 420-428.

Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s