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

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

ALL-OUT DISSENSION IN THE SOVIET UNION DECEMBER 1989

In this snapshot, the lack of common social myths and values looms larger
than ever. The chorus of voices necessary for a democracy had become
cacophonous and deafening. Until a few collective voices emerged, Soviet
society would make very little progress in any sphere.

Although it seems paradoxical, Soviet society today is far more diverse and heterogeneous than is American society. Despite the diversity that supposedly characterizes U.S. public opinion, the basic social values of most Americans are remarkably similar, which permits society to function and to find solutions, albeit imperfect ones, to major social problems. The present rift in American society regarding abortion, for example, which is one of the most controversial issues on the American political scene, is incomprehensible to the Soviet people, who find themselves embroiled in problems that, in their minds, effect not the fate of a fetus, but of a whole people.

Value conflicts rage in every Soviet social organization and group. Soviet society's complete lack of consensus regarding major values was clearly demonstrated during the first days of the Congress of People's Deputies. Soviet citizens watching the sessions of their parliament saw their delegates vehemently disagreeing on almost every issue.

The level of disagreement within the party was also manifested recently at two meetings which took place in Leningrad within the span of two weeks. The first was convened on November 22 by Boris Gidaspov, the first party secretary and one-time ardent perestroika advocate who, having been appointed at Gorbachev's urging just a few months ago, has abandoned the general secretary and joined the conservative camp, possibly with an eye towards becoming party leader. Gidaspov's meeting quickly became an orgy of Gorbachev-bashing, with each participant trying to outdo the others in denouncing perestroika and demanding the ouster of the Politburo and its leader. The participants vowed to move Leningrad into the forefront of the crusade against the new bourgeoisie and its supporters in the Kremlin, just as Petrograd (now Leningrad) took a leading role in the revolution seventytwo years ago.

The second of the two meetings, which took place on December 6 in response to the first meeting, was organized by Gorbachev supporters who insisted that they, and not the neo-Stalinists, enjoyed the support of the majority of the population.

____________________
This article originally appeared as "A Nation in Search of Itself, Yet Going in Two Different Direction", in The Los Angeles Times on January 10, 1990.

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