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

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

A SOCIETY WITHOUT MYTHS DECEMBER 1990

This snapshot brings 1990 full circle: The year began with religion filling
the ideological void created by the destruction of both old and new ideologies.
Here, the year ends with Soviet people at all levels, including those in the
highest echelons of power, demoralized by the elimination of their social
and political myths. As in previous snapshots, the people's lack of direction,
which was exacerbated by their leaders' lack of direction, continued to be
one of the most serious obstacles to successful reform.

When evaluating the current crisis in the Soviet Union, most Western experts concentrate on "hard facts" (such as inflation, the distribution of resources, and food shortages), and their possible effects (such as the potential for starvation in various parts of the country). As such, when these experts, many of whom were chosen by prestigious international organizations, submit their recommendations to Moscow, they are surprised to find that their suggestions are considered as fanciful as those of countless previous "experts." The reason for Moscow's reaction, of course, is that many of these experts almost entirely disregard the country's social and political climate.

In fact, most Western economists fail to comprehend the depth of the Soviet Union's socio-political crisis. This crisis, which comprises such problems as plummeting morale, the disintegration of the Soviet empire, and the people's distrust of the central government, is unparalleled in Soviet history.

Consider the historical record. During previous periods of remarkable hardship, such as the civil war, collectivization, and the great purges, the Soviet people clung to and were buoyed by their ideals. Even during the Brezhnev era, when belief in official ideology eroded markedly, most Soviet people still supported the major myths of socialism, such as the superiority of public property, central planning, and Soviet morals. Although the Soviet people had abandoned their dream of a "radiant future," they nevertheless envisioned gradual improvements in the lives of themselves and their children.

During the early 1980s, sociological data suggested that the Soviet people were as satisfied with their income, housing, and jobs as were the American people, even though the objective standard of living was immensely higher in the United States. In the mid-1980s, a joint Soviet-American study of people's satisfaction with their lives produced similar results: Two-thirds of the respondents in both countries expressed satisfaction with their lives.

____________________
This article originally appeared as "Hope Dies When Myths Are Abandoned" in The Los Angeles Times on January 16, 1991.

-168-

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