The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

GLASNOST STIRS THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY MAY 1987

As earlier snapshots have suggested, political processes in the Soviet Union
often must be inferred from seemingly distant and tangential events. As this
snapshot suggests, the events captured in the foreground are perhaps the
best indicators of which characters are dominant in the background and in
the shadows.

The status granted to Nikolai Bukharin and Leon Trotsky in current Soviet publications has become a sensitive indicator of Gorbachev's political strength and of the future of his reforms. Bukharin and Trotsky--old revolutionaries killed by Josef Stalin--have, in a peculiar way, become active participants in the great drama now unfolding in the Soviet Union.

The 1986 edition of the Soviet Encyclopedia Reference Book still ignores both men, along with several other leaders of the October Revolution (the 70th anniversary of which the Soviet Union has already begun to celebrate). It is noteworthy that while Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini--and even Anton Ivanovich Denikin and Aleksander V. Kolchak, the generals who tried to destroy the Bolshevik regime during the civil war--find a place in the book, those who started the revolution are omitted.

Still, by Soviet standards, incredible progress has been made in the last year toward a more objective presentation of Soviet history. Sovietskaia Rossia, a leading Moscow newspaper, displayed a civil-war-era photo of Red Army officers that included Trotsky, their commander-in-chief, although his name was not listed with the others in the caption. Another Moscow newspaper recently used a movie review to recall that, as noted in Lenin's famous "political will," Bukharin was "the pet of the party."

Since its inception, glasnost has encompassed past as well as present Soviet life. Proclaiming the party's need for historical truth, Gorbachev has called for the removal of all distortions and gaps in Soviet history.

Gorbachev has enlisted history as his ally in his effort to gain broad popular support for his political program. He has boldly suggested that, after Lenin, the Soviet Union took a wrong turn that led it far from its original revolutionary ideals (this suggestion goes far beyond any made by Khrushchev, whom Gorbachev rebukes for inconsistency in his struggle against Stalinism). As such, Gorbachev views his mission as the creation of "socialism with a human face"--a socialism different than that under any previous regime.

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times on May 1, 1987.

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