Lenin's Tomb : The Last Days of the Soviet Empire
by David Remnick
Release Date: 26 April, 1994
David Remnick in "Lenin's Tomb" writes a fascinating book on the demise of the Soviet Union. Remnick manages to convey the views of the liberals who want to democratize the country and the neo-Stalinist conservatives who want to turn the clock back to the repression of life under Stalin.
The author has little sympathy for Mikhail Gorbachev who once he launched "perestroika" could not make the final commitment to democracy and republicanism and remained trapped in the dying and corrupt Communist Party. Yet, Gorbachev's half-hearted attempts at reform nearly ended in a disasterous rigt-wing coup. Only, the incompetence of the plotters and will of the people not to turn back to a corrupt failed system prevented the USSR in falling back into despotism.
Because of "glasnost and perestroika" Remnick was able to obtain candid views from everyone he interviewed during his stay in the Soviet Union. Miners, dissident and even communist party apparatchiks spoke freely about the good and bad of Russia. Nearly, 50 years after his death, Stalin's shadow still hovered over everything and everyone in the nation. Liberals such as Andrei Sakharov wanted the government and the party to fully acknowledge the heinous attrocities of mass murder and imprisonments committed during Stalin's reign, Khrukhschev made a tentative start at 20th party congress in denouncing Stalin but failed to follow through with real reform. During the Brezhnev years the country lurched backwards thast by the time Gorbachev came to power the Soviet Union was totally morally, politically and economically bankrupt.
Remnick also does a fine job showing the first hesitant steps toward capitalism yet evenn today 10 years after the Soviet Union collapsed Russia still refuses to make the fundamental changes to bring a market economy fully to fruition. Under the Communists there was "equity in poverty" today in Russia you see the extremes of rich and poor. This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the demise of the Soviet Union, but it needs an update to encompass the last decade.
After seventy-four years, the Soviet Union, a decrepit gerontocrat like its former pilots, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, shuffled off its mortal coil. Journalist David Remnick, who spent four years in Moscow, compiled a series of thematic events into Lenin's Tomb, and explained how glasnost, initiated in small doses by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, became GLASNOST that proved too potent for the dilapidated Soviet state, and in the end, the Marxist-Leninist foundation on which the State had been build. An overdose of GLASNOST gave the Soviet Union a fatal political cardiac arrest.
However, in his indicting assessment, he notes how the Party and the Soviet Union, like Lenin's mummified husk, was politically, spiritually, and economically bankrupt. "The Soviet Union was an old tyrant slouched in the corner with cataracts and gallstones, his muscles gone slack. He wore plastic shoes and a shiny suit that stank of sweat. He hogged all the food and fouled his pants. Mornings, his tongue was coated with the ash-taste of age. ... The state was senile but still dangerous enough." Nice analogy, huh?
Remnick further identifies the cause of that decay with the Party and its failure to keep the promises of socialism to the ordinary Soviets: "The men of the Communist Party, the leaders of the KGB and the military and the millions of provincial functionaries who had grown up on a falsified history, could not bear the truth. Not because they didn't believe it. They knew the facts of the past better than anyone else. But the truth challenged their existence, their comfort and privileges. Their right to a decent office, a cut of meat, the month of vacation in the Crimea--it all depended on a colossal social deception, on the forced ignorance of 280 million people. ... When history was no longer and instrument of the Party, the Party was doomed to failure. For history proved precisely that: that the Party was rotten to the core." And once ordinary Soviets realized they had been lied to, that the socialist utopia was a pipe dream, they wanted the riches and luxuries that only a capitalist system could provide. In short, the Party was over.
Gorbachev was willing to give the Soviet people an inch, i.e. glasnost. As the caretaker of History, he was willing to demonize Stalin but not Lenin. Denouncing Lenin would mean denouncing Marx and Communism, and flat out telling the Soviet people that they had lived a lie for seventy-four years. Instead, the Soviet people took their miles, GLASNOST, and ran with it to many finish line; for the Russians, it would be the demonstration in front of the parliament building on 20-21 August 1991.
Glasnost had thus led to GLASNOST. The influx of information and culture from the West, formerly forbidden books, had led to the ghosts of the past rising up again, be they formerly independent republics absorbed by Russia, or institutions that had been partially banned, such as the church.
Glasnost also revealed the failings of the system, and this was most painfully apparent with the Chernobyl tragedy 26 April 1986. Chernobyl was the epitomy of many things. One, it symbolized "every curse of the Soviet system, the decay and arrogance, the willful ignorance and self-deception." Two, "Chernobyl was not like the Communist system. They were one in the same. ... The system ate into our bones the same way the radiation did, and the powers that be--or the powers that were--did everything they could to cover it all up, to wish it all away"
According to Remnick, Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika as a bandage, albeit a piffling one, to the Soviet Union, and he should be credited for that courageous act in face of the opposition he faced. However, he was outshadowed by Andrei Sakharov and Boris Yeltsin, who advocated what the people really wanted, GLASNOST and PERESTROIKA, i.e. open heart surgery. They and the Soviet peoples took GLASNOST to its logical conclusion, chucking the Soviet Union's bones into the dustbins of History.
This is a well-detailed critical book that explores the whys and hows of the Soviet Union's collapse, and more interesting for those like me who witnessed the Gorbachev era.