Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Burying Communism Author Details Failure of Leadership

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Burying Communism Author Details Failure of Leadership

Article excerpt

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE SOVIET EMPIRE

Forty Years That Shook The World From Stalin To Yeltsin

By Fred Coleman

429 pages. St. Martin's , $30

THE ARGUMENT of this blunt and well-written book is that the Soviet Union did not suddenly collapse. Fred Coleman, who spent years in the USSR for the Associated Press, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, argues that the Soviet system was incurably sick and that "Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev each unwittingly contributed essential steps in marching communism to its grave."

Secondly, he believes that the West bears much of the responsibility for allowing it to last so long, and he writes to pinpoint past blunders.

Most of the book details the failure of leadership, the economic mistakes and the nationality problems that produced the inevitable collapse. Particularly vivid is his account of "Mission Impossible," holdin g together a nation of "280 million people. Russians accounted for half of the population. More than a hundred minority nationalities made up the rest." Six factors, independence movements, ethnic conflicts, divided peoples, displaced peoples, disadvantaged peoples, and Russian nationalism, contributed over time to "weakening the Soviet government."

The crunch came under an unprepared Gorbachev. Sadly, "nothing in his background prepared him . . . He had no idea of the depth of anti-Soviet feeling among minority nationalities in the republics."

Coleman's old reporter's notebooks provide interviews and stories that illustrate the inner contradictions that doomed the Soviet system. Emphasizing the contribution of the West, however, seems an afterthought.

Coleman is candid. Because the West was slow to appreciate the significance of Khrushchev's Secret Speech in 1956, it contributed to the failure of his reforms. …

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