Gorbachev's Russia: Breakdown or Crackdown?
To say that we live in the midst of a Worldwide political earthquake is to state the obvious. Democracy and capitalism, which “progressive” Western opinion had relegated to the archives, are everywhere toppling Communist (as well as right-wing) dictatorships with astonishing ease. The secular trend toward enhanced state authority and collectivism that was initiated by the Russian Revolution and accelerated by the Depression, began quietly to be reversed a decade ago in Great Britain and the United States. The elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and of Ronald Reagan the year after appear in retrospect as historic watersheds, signaling a return to the traditions of genuine liberalism. The English and American electorates, increasingly made up of descendants of the lower classes who had benefited from capitalist prosperity to ascend into the middle class, had grown impatient with the burden of supporting the less productive elements of society. In the words of the late Theodore H. White, they had decided “that the costs of equality had come to crush the promise of opportunity.” The radical intelligentsia, which in its quest for political influence had played on class resentments, suddenly found the ranks of its followers thinning.
A process similar in effect although different in origin occurred in countries under Communist rule. It began in Poland in 1980 with the formation of Solidarity, the first genuine trade union to gain a foothold under Communism. Solidarity derived much of its strength from the fact that it embodied Polish religious and national aspirations: it was par excellence a movement of national resistance against domination by a foreign power ruling through a quisling government. But it also reflected a growing impatience on the part of Poland’s working population with a regime that not only robbed it of every political and economic right, but required it to support a huge, unproductive bureaucracy. Solidarity espoused the very ideals that left-wing intellectuals in the West labeled neoconservative: its heroes were Thatcher and Reagan.
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