This article examines shifts in Soviet ideas about the economic and political role of the state. Drawing on documents from Russian archives as well as published debates, the article traces Soviet ideas about how states operate. Examining the role of writers such as Fedor Burlatsky and Karen Brutents, the article suggests that by the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet analysts increasingly believed that state structures could be self-interested, functioning as a type of class. Soviet scholars concluded that such self-interested state structures explained some of what they perceived as the failures of third-world economic development—as well as some of the pathologies of the USSR’s own politics.

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