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

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

THE MOST BOURGEOIS REVOLUTION IN HISTORY AUGUST 1991

When the coup collapsed, it took with it all that the conservative plotters
supported: a totalitarian empire, an unchecked coercive apparatus, a cynical
and self-serving political machine, and, of course, a crippled planned econ-
omy. Private business owners--the new Soviet bourgeoisie--were among
the coup's most important winners. This snapshot provides few clues, how-
ever, about whether the new bourgeoisie will be able to continue its winning
ways.

On August 22, the day after the conservative coup collapsed, Moscow was still abuzz with the remarkable events that had just transpired. An American journalist, hoping to tap the sense of triumph and celebration sweeping the city, asked his taxi driver for this thoughts. "Is it not clear," snapped the incredulous cabbie, "that the bourgeoisie has won?" This answer astounded the journalist, since it so clearly contradicted the ecstatic declarations of those who believed that their freedom had been ensured by a democratic, rather than bourgeois, victory on the steps of Moscow's "White House."

Karl Marx, whose brilliance lay in his ability to uncover the social and economic significance of purely "political" events, would likely have delighted in the insight of this "man of the people." Marx would have reminded the cabbie, however, not to overlook the democratic achievements of those three historical days in August--a caveat reflecting Marx's recognition that a young bourgeoisie, in order to guarantee its economic freedom, would fight ferociously for its political freedom.

It is clear that the conservative junta sought to destroy not only the Soviet Union's fledgling democracy, but its budding private sector as well. On the first day of the coup, the KGB published a statement announcing investigations into several private enterprises. Similarly, state authorities, under the pretext of combatting speculation, began seizing goods belonging to private businesses.

The magnitude of the threat to private enterprise was reflected in the resolve and courage shown by the young businessmen who helped defend the Russian parliament during the crucial night of August 19-August 20. Hundreds of businessmen joined to form human barricades, and brokers from the first Soviet stock exchanges took to the Moscow streets with banners condemning the coup. The Soviet people regard it as highly symbolic that one of the three young people that died defending the parliament was a member of a private cooperative.

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