Interesting ... I think I disagree about Red Plenty!
First, I think he's careful to withhold judgment about shadow pricing. He's all about saying "what if?" and then withdrawing (which makes it great for discussion, right?). But also, we are acclimatized to assume that shadow pricing and centralized control would have been a disaster, so I think he does nudge us to try to imagine it working. He invokes this brief window in the 60s when Soviet planners were preparing to set aside their abacuses in favour of these new magic calculating machines filled with mysterious promise; when Khrushchev was in charge and wanted to beat capitalism at the things the capitalists said they were best at (material abundance for ordinary people); and when mathematical economics was flourishing and people like Kantorovich were proposing radical new reforms to how centralized planning worked. But then that window closed: Krushchev was deposed, Kantorovich's ideas were not really adopted, and ... well, lots of stuff happened. The direction changed. I think Stufford is asking us to imagine what might been.
I would love to find out more about shadow pricing, by the way. I don't think Spufford really explains it -- something about calculating the value of commodities (or actually, factors of production) in terms of their opportunity cost, and getting each producer to maximise profit. But I don't really understand how it works. I know there was also the socialist calculation debate in the West, and market socialists like Oskar Lange proposed something which I think was similar, wasn't it?
Second, bureaucracy as such is also not Spufford's major focus, is it? It's true that, in that excellent chapter describing the material balances method of central planning (the system that haphazardly grew up during the Stalin years), there are thousands of folders and an extremely onerous decision-making process.
But it felt to me like his focus was really on: (a) the artistry and imagination of the planner (who is able to sort a problem out much more quickly than the mathematicians have "proved" would be necessary); (b) the fact that these decisions emerge from the personal power of an official, rather than the impersonal power of his office; (c) the possibility that this process is ripe for some kind of techno-scientific rationalization, and especially ...
(d) the vast network of informal decision-making that is neither bureaucratic in the strict sense, nor market-based. Maybe this is really the same point as (b). By "bureaucratic in the strict sense" I mean formal, legalistic, to do with the application of rules (whether those rules are applied well or poorly). Spufford seems way more interested in things that don't have formal procedures: the negotiation, the bluffing, the tricks, the favours, the threats, the kindnesses, the artistry, and as you say, the power games.
We could call all that "corruption," but I think we might miss some of the interesting questions if we did that. It might be better to think of it as "embeddedness" (term associated with Karl Polanyi): the way that economic decisions are always shaped by the non-economic context in which they occur. This theme of embeddedness runs throughout the subplot about the vicose factory, first when we see things from the planner's perspective, and then from the perspective of Chekuskin the fixer or 'pusher' (tolkach). Tolkach deal-making, Spufford says, is halfway between a purely commercial black market, and a "thoroughly mystified" gift economy consisting of a "backscratching of many overlapping circles of friends." For the tolkach, "The money was there, the price of a transaction had to be paid, but the object was to find non-money reasons for the transaction to take place."
You could question to some extent whether shadow pricing IS entirely "centralized." Isn't it an attempt to synthesise a centralized plan with a certain amount of de-centralized decision-making?
BTW, interesting note on bureaucracy:
"They acted as progress-chasers, fixers, censors, seducers": but not, by design, as bureaucrats, in one very specific sense of the word. The Soviet Union had regular campaigns against ‘bureaucracy’, hard though this is for an outsider to make immediate sense of in a system where every employee was a state employee. ‘Bureaucracy’ as a Soviet pejorative implied coldness, impersonality, slowness, trivial rulefollowing. Apparatchiks were supposed, by contrast, to be quick, ‘conscious’, lively, free to engage in brilliant improvisation to get the job done by any means necessary. See Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism, pp.28–35. And there was some support for this model of power at the receiving end: it was the aim of anyone dealing with an official to try and get themselves treated po-chelovecheski, ‘like a human being’, on the basis of an emotional recognition rather than some cold rule. See Ledeneva, Russia’s Economy of Favours. The result was that Soviet bureaucracy, while pervasive, did not exhibit some of the classic features of bureaucracy elsewhere. It was not predictable and rule-governed; thus, by a neat circle of cause and effect, you had to approach it personally, emotionally, looking for the individual with whom to make a relationship.