The Soviet Union after Brezhnev

By Martin McCauley | Go to book overview

3 Dissent, Opposition and Instability

Iain Elliot

How serious a threat does internal opposition pose to the stability of the Soviet regime? Assessing the numbers and the significance of those who oppose the prevailing system might well seem impossible. Especially when the main source of information about the Soviet Union - the controlled press - repeatedly asserts in front page editorials that the 'entire Soviet people unanimously supports the foreign and domestic policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ( CPSU)', while only occasionally admitting in brief back page reports that political opponents have been executed.

There are, however, additional sources of information: the first-hand reports of visitors to the USSR; the experience of Soviet citizens who have left the Soviet Union; and the 'self-published' documents (samizdat) of people in the USSR who cannot find a forum in the official media. By the end of 1981, the reliable Samizdat Archive in Munich contained some 5,000 numbered items. Such varied evidence allows one to assert with conviction that dissent and opposition to communist party rule persist and deserve further study.

It is much more difficult to determine whether there are enough dedicated opponents of the regime to cause instability, or indeed if there are other factors which might combine to threaten the future of the one-party Soviet state. Biographical details of more than 10,000 dissidents in the Soviet Union are known (see, for example, de Boeret al. 1982), but the total population of the Soviet Union exceeds 270 million. A distinction can be drawn between opposition - a drive by those hostile to the system to replace the existing rulers, and dissent — an attempt merely to reform the system by those who object to certain policies and doctrines.

However, when the regime functions on the principle that 'he who is not with us is against us' such distinctions tend to become blurred. Some dissidents, who in the 1970s openly joined in the struggle for human rights based on the Soviet constitution and various international agreements, had by the 1980s become disillusioned after waves of arrests decimated the movement, and several expressed the belief that clandestine opposition movements might prove more effective. In September 1982 the Helsinki monitoring group gave up the unequal struggle and disbanded, further illustration of this point of view.

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The Soviet Union after Brezhnev
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Soviet Union After Brezhnev *
  • Contents *
  • Maps and Tables *
  • The Contributors *
  • Preface *
  • I the Post-Brezhnev Era *
  • 2 Leadership and the Succession Struggle *
  • 3 Dissent, Opposition and Instability *
  • 4 Soviet Economic Prospects: Can the Soviet Economic System Survive? *
  • 5 Agriculture *
  • 6 Foreign Trade Policy: the Ussr, the West and Eastern Europe as an Eternal Triangle *
  • 7 the Military Build-Up *
  • 8 Soviet-East European Relations *
  • 9 Sino—soviet Relations *
  • 10 is Détente Dead? *
  • References *
  • Index *
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