The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

By Alexander Dallin; Gail W. Lapidus | Go to book overview

PART 3
Soviet Political Debates

One of the most significant developments of the years of glasnost was the widening scope of cultural, historical, and political debates; the progressive erosion of long‐ standing inhibitions and taboos; and the increasingly critical assessment of the Soviet experience.

It has been aptly remarked that throughout Russian history recurrent challenges to the status quo could often be subsumed under two questions—"Who is guilty?" and "What is to be done?" This was remarkably true in the years of perestroika as well. The reassessment of the entire Soviet experience was perhaps crucial to the gradual delegitimation of the old system in the eyes of a vast part of the population.

While perestroika initially emerged as a reaction against the stagnation of the Brezhnev era and an attempt at intrasystem reform, the discussions of the sources of contemporary problems soon took on a momentum of their own. Under Khrushchev, Stalin himself had been obliquely attacked; now Stalinism as a system was assailed and indicted, with a stream of new revelations appearing in the press concerning deportations, purges and terror, and the forcible collectivization of agriculture and terror, and the forcible collectivization of agriculture and the famine that ensued. The concept of totalitarianism was increasingly utilized to describe the "command-administrative system," which was held responsible for all the shortcomings.

If the revelations regarding the Stalin years initially focused on the departures from Leninist norms, the debate—by journalists, scholars, and "survivors"—expanded to include a reassessment of Leninism itself. The scrutiny quickly extended to the Revolution of October 1917—was it inevitable? was it wise?—and ultimately encompassed Marx and Marxism as well. The debate concerned not only abstract questions of historiography but also explosive issues of personal responsibility, complicity, and integrity in the years of Stalinism and stagnation.

A wide range of political orientations, from anarchist and "pure" socialist to advocacy of a free market and a free marketplace of ideas, found expression in Soviet media. The whole wealth of the political and intellectual debate that developed in the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union, in which a reconsideration of these issues was joined to distinctive national themes, is not even sampled in this section.

To be sure, the revisionists' were not the only voices to be heard. Their views were challenged by articulate and impassioned defenders of a familiar orthodox Marxist‐ Leninist litany, at times with xenophobic, anti-Semitic overtones; the "open letter" by Nina Andreyeva is the most celebrated example of a larger genre. A variety of Russian national cultural figures also railed against the "Westernizing" thrust of the

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