The Soviet Union: 1917-1991

The Soviet Union: 1917-1991

The Soviet Union: 1917-1991

The Soviet Union: 1917-1991

Synopsis

A second edition of this famous survey has been eagerly awaited. When the first edition appeared Brezhnev was still in power, Gorbachev did not make it to the index, and the USSR was a superpower. Today the Soviet experiment is over and the USSR no longer exists. How? Why? Martin McCauley has reworked and greatly expanded his book to answer these questions, and to provide a complete account of the Soviet years. Essential reading to an appreciation of recent history -- and to a better understanding of whatever happens next.

Excerpt

The Soviet Union is no more. The great experiment has failed. The joy, ecstasy and unbridled optimism which followed the October revolution had given way to bitterness, disillusion, cynicism and despair by 1991. The brilliant tactical success of the Bolsheviks in taking power in a developing country, dominated by the peasantry, dimmed as the difficulties of transforming the country became evident. The first and greatest mistake Lenin and his cohorts made was to underestimate the task they set themselves. They believed that if they slipped into the seats of power all that was needed to modernise the country was democracy. People's power would overcome every obstacle. Sadly for them, they quickly found that human nature is not instantly malleable. Self-interest, corruption, abuse of power and all the other barriers to efficient administration reappeared, indeed had never disappeared, and vexed the Bolsheviks. Embroiled in a bloody civil war, they resorted to coercion. Democracy was a major victim. If democracy had been practised the Bolsheviks would have been swept from power. This haunted them until the demise of the USSR. They never resorted to the ballot box to measure their legitimacy.

The Civil War left an indelible imprint on Bolshevik thinking and practice. A party arranged along military lines could become a powerful force. The most efficient militaries approximate machines. The Bolsheviks were always seeking to fashion a machine which would drive the Soviet Union forward and make it a force to be reckoned with in the world. Under War Communism socialism appeared to be attainable but only for a short time. NEP was a retreat but the great offensive (military metaphors are very revealing) began at the end of the 1920s. Interlocking mechanisms were to be created so that the USSR would work like a single factory, a single machine. This goal led to a vast bureaucracy being spawned since everyone had to follow orders, otherwise the machine might break down. The market was banished but the market exacted its revenge. It can never be eliminated since an economy is a vast forum for negotiation between and among actors. It . . .

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