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Blat

BLAT

The use of personal influence to obtain something of value.

Blat, common slang in Soviet times, comes from an older Russian expression, blatnoy zhargon, "thieves' talk", which accompanied misdemeanors. For example, an industrial tolkach ("pusher" or expediter) might use blat to obtain a necessary part or material without a planned allocation order (naryad ). This could be better than waiting for essential supplies through formal channels, because the monthly and yearly plans had deadlines for fulfillment. One way of accommodating a friendly pusher would be to declare perfectly good output "rejects," which could be legally sold without an allocation order. Use of blat would be more likely if the receiving enterprise were producing a lowpriority consumer good. A citizen might also employ blat to secure a larger apartment in a favorable location.

Generally speaking, use of blat implied a reciprocal obligation in the future, but it could involve a gift of a bottle of vodka or small bribe. Blat usually functioned between friends or relations; one hesitated to deal with complete strangers because these transactions were illegal and penalties could be severe. With taut planning, when goods and apartments were always short, a popular folk saying was "Blat is higher than Stalin!" Such informal arrangements were vital to offset the many gaps of Soviet planning and to allow managers to fulfill their plans and citizens to survive and live with some comfort. In many cases, then, blat may be said to have been functional for the totalitarian order, even if somewhat illicit. On the other hand, it also detracted from the competitive advantage the system's directors wished to give to important production, which was subject to stringent control.

See also: black market

bibliography

Berliner, Joseph. (1957). Factory and Manager in the USSR. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Martin C. Spechler

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