Banality of Evil in Soviet Union Painful Details of Cruelty from the Pre-Gorbachev Era

By Reviewed Max J. Okenfuss | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

Banality of Evil in Soviet Union Painful Details of Cruelty from the Pre-Gorbachev Era


Reviewed Max J. Okenfuss, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


AGE OF DELIRIUM

The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union

By David Satter

416 pages, Knopf, $30

THE MOST HORRIFIC and banal aspects of the former Soviet Union are painfully resurrected in this rather compelling recycling of a reporter's notebooks. Writing for the Financial Times of London, David Satter lived six years in the Soviet Union prior to perestroika and has spend long periods there again since 1990.

On page after ugly page, political prisoners are beaten, kicked, and starved, would-be immigrants and intellectuals are convicted of treason and sentenced to labor camps, resistors and truth-seekers declare hunger strikes and are force-fed, and labor organizers are confined to psychiatric hospitals. On a more mundane level, milkmaids, collective farmers, and factory workers pilfer or wreck everything in sight, and miners who warn of safety violations are accused of anti-Soviet propaganda.

Dozens of these Pre-Gorbachev era stories, vividly told, are sandwiched between accounts of more recent events, the failed coup of August, 1991, the release of political prisoners, and the decisive revolt of Ukraine which doomed the USSR.

The latter was decisive. "Five years of glasnost had completely destabilized the totalitarian system in Ukraine."

Satter's thesis is that the Soviet Union collapsed because of inherent tensions within, and ultimately disbelief in, its irreligious ruling ideology. In the beginning, "the Soviet Union was something new. It was the first state in history to be based explicitly on atheism." Furthermore, it endowed itself with the attributes of God, the power to recreate the world in its own image. …

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