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Kremlinology is the study and analysis of the politics and policies of the Soviet Union[1] while Sovietology is the study of politics and policies of both the Soviet Union and former communist states more generally.[2][failed verification] These two terms were synonymous until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In an extended usage, Kremlinology is sometimes used to mean any attempt to understand a secretive organization or process, such as plans for upcoming products or events, by interpreting indirect clues.[3]

The founder of Kremlinology is considered to be Alexander Zinoviev.[4][5] The term is named after the Kremlin, the seat of the former Soviet government. Kremlinologist refers to academic, media, and commentary experts who specialize in the study of Kremlinology. The term is sometimes sweepingly used to describe Western scholars who specialized in Russian law, although the correct term is simply Russian law scholar. Sovietologists or Kremlinologists should also be distinguished from transitologists, scholars who study legal, economic and social transitions from communism to market capitalism.


Academic Sovietology after World War II and during the Cold War was dominated by the "totalitarian model" of the Soviet Union,[6] stressing the absolute nature of Joseph Stalin's power. The "totalitarian model" was first outlined in the 1950s by political scientist Carl Joachim Friedrich, who argued that the Soviet Union and other Communist states were totalitarian systems, with the personality cult and almost unlimited powers of the "great leader" such as Stalin.[7]

The "revisionist school" beginning in the 1960s focused on relatively autonomous institutions which might influence policy at the higher level.[8] Matt Lenoe describes the "revisionist school" as representing those who "insisted that the old image of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian state bent on world domination was oversimplified or just plain wrong. They tended to be interested in social history and to argue that the Communist Party leadership had had to adjust to social forces."[9] These "revisionist school" historians such as J. Arch Getty and Lynne Viola challenged the "totalitarian model" approach to Soviet history and were most active in the Soviet archives.[8][10]


During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to "read between the lines" and to use the tiniest titbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as "First Secretary", the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper Pravda and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.

To study the relations between Communist fraternal states, Kremlinologists compared the statements issued by the respective national Communist parties, looking for omissions and discrepancies in the ordering of objectives. The description of state visits in the Communist press were also scrutinized, as well as the degree of hospitality lent to dignitaries. Kremlinology also emphasized ritual, in that it noticed and ascribed meaning to the unusual absence of a policy statement on a certain anniversary or holiday.[11]

In the German language, such attempts acquired the somewhat derisive name "Kreml-Astrologie" (Kremlin Astrology), hinting at the fact that its results were often vague and inconclusive, if not outright wrong.

After the Cold War[edit]

The term Kremlinology is still in use in application to the study of decision-making processes in the politics of the Russian Federation.[12] In popular culture, the term is sometimes used to mean any attempt to understand a secretive organization or process, such as plans for upcoming products or events, by interpreting indirect clues.

While the Soviet Union no longer exists, other secretive states still do, such as North Korea, for which Kremlinology-like approaches are still used by the Western media.[13] Such study is sometimes called "Pyongyangology", after the country's capital Pyongyang.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ""Kremlinology" definition". merriam-webster.com. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 16 February 2015. Definition of KREMLINOLOGY: the study of the policies and practices of the former Soviet government
  2. ^ ""Sovietology" definition". thefreedictionary.com. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  3. ^ Armstrong, Charles K. (February 1999). "[Review of the book] North Korea after Kim Il Sung. Edited by Dae-Sook Suh and Chae-Jin Lee". The Journal of Asian Studies. 58 (1): 224–225. doi:10.2307/2658450. JSTOR 2658450. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  4. ^ Yury Solodukhin (2009). "The Logical Doctrine of Alexander Zinoviev" (Alexander Alexandrovich Zinoviev). Moscow: ROSSPEN. pp. 133–152.
  5. ^ Karl Kantor (2009). "The Logical Sociology of Alexander Zinoviev as a Social Philosophy" (in Russian).
  6. ^ Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. Academic Sovietology, a child of the early Cold War, was dominated by the 'totalitarian model' of Soviet politics. Until the 1960s it was almost impossible to advance any other interpretation, in the USA at least.
  7. ^ Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. In 1953, Carl Friedrich characterised totalitarian systems in terms of five points: an official ideology, control of weapons and of media, use of terror, and a single mass party, 'usually under a single leader'. There was of course an assumption that the leader was critical to the workings of totalitarianism: at the apex of a monolithic, centralised, and hierarchical system, it was he who issued the orders which were fulfilled unquestioningly by his subordinates.
  8. ^ a b Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. Tucker's work stressed the absolute nature of Stalin's power, an assumption which was increasingly challenged by later revisionist historians. In his Origins of the Great Purges, Arch Getty argued that the Soviet political system was chaotic, that institutions often escaped the control of the centre, and that Stalin's leadership consisted to a considerable extent in responding, on an ad hoc basis, to political crises as they arose. Getty's work was influenced by political science of the 1960s onwards, which, in a critique of the totalitarian model, began to consider the possibility that relatively autonomous bureaucratic institutions might have had some influence on policy-making at the highest level.
  9. ^ Lenoe, Matt (2002). "Did Stalin Kill Kirov and Does It Matter?". The Journal of Modern History. 74 (2): 352–380. doi:10.1086/343411. ISSN 0022-2801. S2CID 142829949.
  10. ^ Sheila, Fitzpatrick (2007). "Revisionism in Soviet History". History and Theory. 46 (4): 77–91. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2303.2007.00429.x. ISSN 1468-2303. [...] the Western scholars who in the 1990s and 2000s were most active in scouring the new archives for data on Soviet repression were revisionists (always 'archive rats') such as Arch Getty and Lynne Viola.
  11. ^ Lawson, Eugene K. (1984). The Sino-Vietnamese Conflict. Praeger. pp. 8–9.
  12. ^ Poland is in the Eurasian Union: the mythology of Russian-Polish relations. Eurasian Club East - West, October 2012 Archived 2012-12-07 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Salmon, Andrew (2 January 2012). "'Kremlinology' used to watch North Korea". The Washington Times. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  14. ^ Nakagawa, Ulara (29 September 2010). "The Art of 'Pyongyangology?'". The Diplomat. Retrieved 25 January 2019.