Soviet Downfall

Soviet Downfall Abstract This essay concentrates on two representatives of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and in the 1970s–Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The essay introduces the history of the dissident movement in the Russian Empire under the Tsars and in the Soviet Union under various leaders, mainly under Nikita Khruschev, Leonid Brezhnev and Michael Gorbachev. It presents the historical conflict of Slavophils and Westernizers that began in the time of Peter the Great and discusses its impact on Russian thinkers over the years. The essay proposes that Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov are representatives of two branches of Russian philosophy, modified with time: Slavophilism and Westernism. Solzhenitsyn is presented to be a person with Slavophilic tendencies, while Sakharov is presented to be an advocate of the Western model of development for Russia. The essay discusses their paths to dissidence and their opposition to the Soviet regime.

It also provides a comparison of their views and ideas. The essay attempts to follow the chronological order of their lives. In the end it provides a brief overview of their recent actions, based on their ideas, drawn from Slavophilism and Westernism. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the world changed dramatically. The Cold War ended and the threat of communism ended in Europe. Such Eastern European countries as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and others stopped being Soviet satellites.

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East and West Germany, meanwhile, were moving rapidly toward unification.[1] But this was not the end. In November 1991 the Soviet Union, the evil empire that had kept the democratic and non-democratic world in fear and strain for almost seventy years disappeared. It left fifteen independent republics, with Russia being the largest one. Russia, out of all the former Soviet bloc states and the former Soviet Union, was the first one to fall to Communism. But also it was the last one to liberate itself from it despite all the controversy going on inside Russia such as the three-day-coup of August 1991 by Brezhnev-era hard-liners.

These transformations, though painful sometimes, were unexpected and startling. There could be many explanations for why Communism was being abandoned: America’s and NATO’s successful containment policies; the arms race bankrupting Moscow, and mostly it was the objective fact that Comm unism is a rotten system.[2] But even such reasons would have never been enough if the human beings in the oppressed countries stayed passive. However, the human spirit can never be destroyed and there is always an opposition to the existing regime whatever it is. In totalitarian societies such as Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy dissent was outlawed and dealt with brutally. In the Soviet Union, another totalitarian state, the opposition also was always illegal until the collapse of the empire with the brief exception of Alexander Kerensky’s provisional government in 1917. The dissident movement had a long history of persecutions in Russia starting from Czarist times when great national poets and writers such as Alexander Pushkin, Michael Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodr Dostoevsky suffered from censorship which extended to their brilliant works.

It also had two major branches: the Westernizers and the Slavophils. The split in Russian society began in the times of Peter the Great (1672-1725), who reformed the administration of the state in a way unknown before to Russian people. His reforms touched almost every aspect of Russians’ life through the introduction of European styles and traditions which Peter I learned during his year-long stay in Holland and England. Ever since then the intellectual movement was divided in the two major groups of thinkers–Westernizers and Slavophils. Westernizers were those who believed that the traditional Russian ways of life could be a bitter handicap, and the sooner Russia caught up with the West the better.

The Slavophils, influenced by the German romantics, opposed westernization and idealized Russia’s distinctiveness.[3] One of the brightest events of the dissident movement of the 19th century was the Decembrist revolt in December of 1825, when a group of Russian army men tried, without success, to abolish Tsarist rule by refusing the oath of allegiance to a new Tsar, Nicholas I, and forcing him to abdicate. The Decembrist conspirators were of liberal inclinations, and their background was Russian freemasonry and the Russian army.[4] That revolt can be seen as he first sign of the major revolution to follow and that is why it is important despite its failure. It was the first attempt to change the existing order in the Russian Empire. The revolts after it were also unsuccessful until World War I, which served as a powerful catalyst for deep change. The Bolshevik Revolution was supposed to bring changes to many aspects of Russian people’s lives.

And it did bring a 99% literacy rate, the development of heavy industry, urbanization of the former agricultural country with absolute monarchy and feudal laws and many others. But it did not bring freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. Stalin tried his best to eliminate even the slightest possibility of any kind of dissidence–through purges, show trials, concentration camps and massive brain-washing on completely government-controlled media. But everything has its end and so did Stalin–he died in 1953 and other people took over: Nikita Khruschev, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Andrei Chernenko and at last Mikhail Gorbachev. Under these Soviet leaders the situation of domestic suppression vacillated from loosening up to tightening again, but fortunately none of them managed to crush the human spirit as much as Joseph Stalin did.

During the end of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s the dissident movement in Russia started expanding more and more, rapidly touching mostly the upper intellectual classes of the Soviet society along with the scientific circles. Andrei Sakharov is now known in Russia and abroad as having been the leader of Soviet dissidents starting from the 1960s until his death in 1989. As he writes in his memoirs: The years 1965-1967 were a turning point in my life. I was heavily involved in demanding scientific work, even as I was approaching a decisive break with the establishment.[5] His decision to join the Russian dissident movement was a heavy stroke against a Soviet government which promoted propaganda about the unity of thought in the Soviet people-scientists ad artists; factory workers and peasants, and so on Sakharov was not an ordinary man–by that time he was a famous physicist, one of the creators of the Soviet hydrogen bomb and a greatly respected member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Sakharov’s impact on Russia’s democratic development is enormous–for many years his voice was believed to be Russia’s conscience and hope for the democratic future.

He is by no means less respected in Russia than Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose extraordinary literary works won him the honor of being the first writer to speak openly about the horrors of the concentration camps, the now infamous Gulags. The political views of the two men differed from each other, although they both opposed the Soviet regime. These differences went back to the old argument between the Westernizers and the Slavophils in the 1840s–1860s. Sakharov perceived the happiness of Russia as following the Western model of social and economic development while Solzhenitsyn was dissatisfied with Western ways, finding them too materialistic and lacking essential spirituality. Both of the men were against the Soviet regime, though they came to that opposition in different ways. In February 1945 Solzhenitsyn, who was an artillery officer during World War II, got arrested by the Soviet counterintelligence for criticizing Stalin in his letters to a friend.

He was sentenced to eight years and was sent to a labor camp. There he saw and experienced himself the plight of Ivan Denisovich in One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich and Oleg Kostoglotov in Cancer Ward. In 1954 after his sentence was finished, Solzhenitsyn began to write. His writings coincided with the period of the thaw under Nikita Khruschev who was the first Soviet leader to denounce the crimes of Stalin. In the realm of the new policy some of Solzhenitsyn’s novels were published.

In November 1962 Novy Mir, a Soviet journal which had a progressive-minded editor-in-chief, Aleksandr Tvardovsky at that time, published One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich. In 1963 the same courageous journal published more of Solzhenitsyn’s stories: Matryona’s House, The Incident at Krechetovka Station and For the Good of the Cause. But that was the end of it. On 14 of October 1964 Khruschev was freed from his duties as the Communist Party Secretary General by the Politburo and the thaw was over. This state of affairs affected Solzhenitsyn’s status immediately: in late 1964 all his works including the manuscript of The First Circle were seized by the KGB.

Solzhenitsyn began protesting right away. In 1967 he wrote two letters to the Union of Soviet Writers, the only organization that could possibly, and was supposed to, support the Soviet writer’s rights. In the letters he demanded the abolition of censorship, the rehabilitation of writers killed during Stalin’s purges and the restoration of his papers confiscated by the KGB No reply followed despite protests and meetings: it was obvious that the writers did not want to or were simply afraid to spoil relations with gover nmental officials. The reaction of the Writer’s Union did not change with the years; in fact it only got worse as an indicator of Solzhenitsyn’s difficulties with the government. On November 4, 1969 he was expelled from the Writer’s Union which meant losing even the formal status of a Soviet writer. Western writers and Soviet dissidents publicly protested his expulsion from the Writer’s Union and the banning of his books.

From that time on none of his works was published in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s–they were considered anti-Soviet. It is not surprising that Solzhenitsyn could not endure the banning of his books silently. For him to be a writer was to be the voice of a nation; strict censure, according to Solzhenitsyn’s moral principles, was a crime against morality. Writers had to be speaking out and expressing the concerns of the people. Solzhenitsyn described what he thought the writer’s mission is in his Nobel Lecture on Literature–This is in essence the position of writers: the spokesmen for their national language–the principle tie binding together a nation, binding together the very Earth occupied by a people, and in fortunate cases their national soul also.[6] With such vision it must have been unbearable for him to see the corrupt Writers’ Union, an instrument of the government acting at its very command. reaking up with the official writers’ circles meant going into the underground: from a radical and progressive but publishable writer Solzhenitsyn turned into a nonconformist whose novels were not recognized.

For Andrei Sakharov the way to dissidency was quite different. For years, he remained one of the leading scientists working over the creation of the hydrogen bomb. On November 22, 1955 the Soviet hydrogen bomb was tested in a remote part of Siberia. The sense of triumph that proved that all these years of work had not been fruitless was mixed with other feelings, perhaps chief among them a fear that this newly released force could slip out of control and lead to unimaginable disasters.[7] Being the eyewitness of the testing of the H-bomb had a great influence on Sakharov’s thinking. After that he fully realized that the scientists among whom he belonged and who created this terrible destructive weapon had no control over its use whatsoever.

More than that, the biological effects of the testing of nuclear weapons, such as radiation, which is dreadful to DNA, were either ignored or deliberately underestimated. Sakharov wrote that: Whenever I tried to explain that the issue is the total, cumulative dose for the whole of mankind–since this factor determines the overall number of victims of non-threshold biological effects, people either failed to understand or scolded me for being too ..abstract.'[8] Political confrontation with the West played the major role in the decision-making of the Soviet government. Khruschev needed to prove to the United States, Great Britain and to his own hard-liners at home that the USSR was increasing its military power and he resumed testing in 1961 after the few years of moratorium. Andrei Sakharov was strongly opposed to a resumption of testing: During the 1950s, I had come to regard testing in the atmosphere as a crime against humanity, no different from secretly pouring disease-producing microbes into a city’s water supply.[9] He sent a note to Khruschev in which he warned him against testing. This provoked their confrontation and Sakharov was not listened to. The further testing continued in 1962.

In the 1960s Sakharov was becoming more and more concerned with the dangers that thermonuclear weapons possessed In 1966, MAD–mutually assured destruction–was achieved and the possibility of the destruction of the whole world became a fact of life. Sakharov continued attending conferences where strategic warfare, the production and application of delivery systems, and nuclear weapons were discussed. He wrote in his memoirs: I could not stop thinking about this, and I came to thinking that technical, military, and economic problems are secondary; the fundamen …