Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Soviet Experiment by Ronald Grigor Suny

OK, first off, Seattle, you guys rock. There's a long, lovely story behind the 'Christmas Lenin' here displayed. It's in Seattle, and discussed on Wikipedia, where I highly recommend you look it up.

Okay, now that the important stuff is out of the way...

This was an interesting book. I won't get back into my conversation in the last review, but I will say, the style of the author aside, the 'arrogance of the historian' here is acceptable, because the information is deep and informative, and it FEELS (mind you, I'm no Soviet historian) far different than the original book - at the same time colder and more dispassionate (the author, for instance, does not convey the horror of the Stalinist purges) but also more precise and unbiased (he is able to give me a feeling of what happened from a economic level during Stalin's reign, good and bad). Honestly, the coldness was really interesting, reading things that are such a part of the American mythology now from farther outside of the tale we tell ourselves.

The section on the fall of the Soviet Union was particularly interesting to me, and gave me a deep respect for Gorbachev, along with a slight distaste for Yeltsin who strikes me as kind of an opportunist, who ended up being just another corrupt leader milking the country for his personal aggrandizement. It was interesting to learn that George Bush (the first one) actually hoped that the Soviet Union would remain intact, and to find myself, despite my own biases, more or less agreeing - the slow, gentle climb into democratization that the Communist Reformists were attempting would have been the better road.

That being said, I'm not sure that was possible - the Communists (a misnomer if ever I heard one) had fought too long and too hard against the interests of the country to react to the waves of nationalism that attended reform, and eventually came to overthrow the government. The cyclical revolutionary history of Russia continues, then - revolution from the top, unrest, destruction, upheaval, and eventual return to a drastically new system with the same basic results - a small oligarchy controlling the resources produced by a vast, patient, suffering populace.

I also got to relive the occaision of Kruschev beating his desk at the UN General Assembly with his shoe, which is priceless. Shine on, you crazy Kruschev, shine on.


hamilcar barca said...

i like your analysis of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. i have always considered the former one of the true heroes of the Soviet Union. he recognized the need for reform, despite being an avowed and proud Communist. if he had stayed in power, i think Russia and the rest of the erstwhile Soview Union would all be in much better shape today.

Yeltsin was a opportunistic clown. alas, the whims of History worked out in his favor, not Gorbachev's.

in a way, it's very similar to the places of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in American history. the former was the true reformer, that latter a shallow opportunist. but History smiled on McGovern, not McCarthy. (sighs)

Unknown said...

Gee, if I have to be smiled on, I'm not sure I'd want to be smiled on with quite the smile that George McGovern received...

Anonymous said...

Being book lovers, I love your blog