The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union

By Walter Laqueur | Go to book overview

2
1917: The Russia We Lost?

The Russia We Lost, a television documentary watched by many millions of Russians in 1991 and later shown in the cinemas, created a considerable stir. It was written and produced by Stanislav Govorukhin, one of the masters of this genre, well known for the film This Way We Cannot Live, which was screened a year earlier, a moving and depressing account of the many social ills afflicting his country. Govorukhin's new film depicted prerevolutionary Russia, a country making good progress, allegedly producing more wheat than Canada, the United States, and Argentina combined.

The film opens with scenes showing men and women skiing in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, well-nourished peasants working in the fields, and giant factories. A ninety-year-old woman relates how well people lived before the revolution. We are shown the pictures of several dozen substantial individuals and couples, all looking well dressed and happy. These pictures could be of people in any other European country or in America. The scene then shifts to a section of the great Trans-Siberian railway built from 1902 to 1904, one of the technical miracles of the age, and it is revealed that an even more ambitious project was planned by a Russian engineer, connecting Paris with New York by way of Siberia and Alaska. Finally, we see the famous Eliseev food shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg (which still exist, albeit under a different name). Magnificient showpieces of turnof-the-century architecture, they offered delicacies from all over the world and compared very favorably with Soviet shops of a much later period. A paradise for the rich? By no means: bread was 2 kopeks a pound; sugar, 17; meat, 45. A workman earned 30 rubles a month or more if he did overtime; a physician, 200. In brief, paradise lost, not just for the well-to-do but for every Russian. Why didn't we know about it? Because for seventy years the history of Russia had been written by its killers.

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The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • 1 - The Age of Enthusiasm 3
  • 2 - 1917: The Russia We Lost? 28
  • 3 - The Fall of the Soviet Union 50
  • 4 - Totalitarianism 77
  • 5 - Sovietology: An Epitaph (I) 96
  • 6 - Sovietology: An Epitaph (II) 110
  • 7 - How Many Victims? 131
  • 8 - The Nationalist Revival 147
  • 9 - East Germany: A Case Study 163
  • 10 - Conclusion 183
  • Notes 195
  • Index 227
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