Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism
A brilliant and original analysis of the fall of communism that focuses on the impact of its cumulative failures on the communist elite. It is a reflection of the limitations of Soviet studies, not just in the United States, that Hollander (Sociology/Univ. of Mass.; Political Pilgrims, 1981, etc.) is the first analyst to do so. Most Sovietologists have tried to explain the fall of communism in institutional terms. They have looked at the economic failure of the USSR, or its warring nationalities, or its imperial overstretch. Hollander instead examines the erosion of the leadership's belief in the inevitable triumph of communism and their growing discomfort about the gap between its utopian ends and its brutal means, between professed ideals and bleak reality. He considers four groups: the defectors and exiles, the reformers and high-level functionaries, the leadership in Eastern Europe, and the state security apparatchiks. The process of disillusionment was profoundly painful for many. There had been an element of religious faith in their convictions. Some were shocked when they first encountered the freedom and abundance of the West, ``a standing rebuke to and refutation of everything the Soviet system claimed it stood for.'' Others (like both Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev) nurtured terrible memories of loved ones exiled or shot. Many were appalled by the privileges of the elite and the contrast with the misery of the poor, by their own private well-stocked stores, their country dachas with staffs of a dozen, and the greedy fights over the possessions of fellow party members who had been executed. Their disillusionment, Hollander notes, remained well under control until they themselves were purged, but it clearly affected the devotion with which they fought to maintain the system. A thoughtful and timely reminder that regimes, no matter how seemingly invincible, are built, maintained, and ultimately betrayed by people.