Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong*And why it matters today in a new age of revolution.
LIKE VIRTUALLY ALL modern revolutions, the latest Russian one was started by a hesitant liberalization "from above" -- and its rationale extended well beyond the necessity to correct the economy or make the international environment more benign. The core of Gorbachev's enterprise was undeniably idealistic: He wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union.
For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs. Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state's relationship with civil society be?
"A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country," Gorbachev told the Central Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost -- openness -- and democratization to be the foundation of his perestroika, or restructuring, of Soviet society. "A reappraisal of values and their creative rethinking is under way." Later, recalling his feeling that "we couldn't go on like that any longer, and we had to change life radically, break away from the past malpractices," he called it his "moral position."Does this sound like some of the stuff coming out of the Arab Spring? You betcha:
In a 1989 interview, the "godfather of glasnost," Aleksandr Yakovlev, recalled that, returning to the Soviet Union in 1983 after 10 years as the ambassador to Canada, he felt the moment was at hand when people would declare, "Enough! We cannot live like this any longer. Everything must be done in a new way. We must reconsider our concepts, our approaches, our views of the past and our future.… There has come an understanding that it is simply impossible to live as we lived before -- intolerably, humiliatingly."
The fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation set off the Tunisian uprising that began the Arab Spring of 2011, did so "not because he was jobless," a demonstrator in Tunis told an American reporter, but "because he … went to talk to the [local authorities] responsible for his problem and he was beaten -- it was about the government." In Benghazi, the Libyan revolt started with the crowd chanting, "The people want an end to corruption!" In Egypt, the crowds were "all about the self-empowerment of a long-repressed people no longer willing to be afraid, no longer willing to be deprived of their freedom, and no longer willing to be humiliated by their own leaders," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reported from Cairo this February. He could have been reporting from Moscow in 1991.
"Dignity Before Bread!" was the slogan of the Tunisian revolution.I can't help thinking of something else I read today, from a satire on American politics by Jim Wright:
Hell, Huntsman [a newly-announced GOP candidate for President] is even an Eagle Scout.
But, he’s far too liberal for conservatives.
And he’s far too conservative for liberals.
Maybe he could overcome that.
But this morning, in front of the Statue of Liberty, he committed an unforgivable sin. Beneath the shining symbol of America Jon Huntsman called for polite political discourse and promised to run a civil campaign.
Huntsman didn’t vilify his former boss, instead he claimed that both he and President Obama love their country, but have different visions for its future.
As outrageous as that was, Huntsman went even further. He crossed the line and said 2012 is about “who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”
That’s when the crack appeared in the earth and an ominous rumbling began as the flying monkeys stirred in the fiery deep.
Huntsman said, "Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country."
Can you imagine?
Can you imagine a civil campaign. Can you imagine how boring it would be? Without the vitriol and exaggerations? Without the lies and hyperbole? Who would we hate? Who would we cheer?
Act like civilized adults? That’s no democracy!
Americans don’t want civil discourse.
And they sure as hell don’t want to see candidates who refuse to engage in mudslinging, brawling, and fear mongering. Fight you bastards, don’t just stand there! Fight! Fight!
Americans don’t want moderates! We want extremists!
We demand to know who is the better American!
There can be only one.
Oh, and we want flying monkeys.