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‘I Can Say No!’

- Abstract

Two aspects of the fall of the Soviet Union mark it for distinction among major revolutions: its speed and its bloodlessness. How and why did the Soviet Union—a nuclear superpower and ideological linchpin of a global movement—disappear so quickly? For Leon Aron, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of this country’s most respected experts on Russian culture and politics, the conventional answers about the parlous straits of the Soviet economy and the challenge posed by the Reagan-era military buildup have obscured the most consequential cause. In his new book, Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 19871991, Aron writes:

The “life-giving liquid of glasnost and freedom of speech slacked the enslaved society’s thirst for truth,” recalled Alexandr Yakovlev, the Politburo member second only to Mikhail Gorbachev in his responsibility for launching and sustaining the liberalization. The “first gulps of freedom,” Yakovlev continued, “the ability to speak freely, to think freely without the fear of denunciations or camps . . . exhilarated” and “intoxicated.” The society began to “learn the truth about itself,” rejoiced the literary critic Igor Vinogradov, and this process was becoming uncontrollable!

About the Author

Seth Mandel is assistant editor of Commentary.