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Roads to the Temple

Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Roads to the Temple
    Book Description:

    Leon Aron considers the "mystery of the Soviet collapse" and finds answers in the intellectual and moral self-scrutiny of glasnost that brought about a profound shift in values. Reviewing the entire output of the key glasnost outlets in 1987-1991, he elucidates and documents key themes in this national soul-searching and the "ultimate" questions that sparked moral awakening of a great nation: "Who are we? How do we live honorably? What is a dignified relationship between man and state? How do we atone for the moral breakdown of Stalinism?"Contributing both to the theory of revolutions and history of ideas, Aron presents a thorough and original narrative about new ideas' dissemination through the various media of the former Soviet Union. Aron shows how, reaching every corner of the nation, these ideas destroyed the moral foundation of the Soviet state, de-legitimized it and made its collapse inevitable.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18324-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the final scene of Tengiz Abuladze’s 1987 filmPokayanie(Repentance)—a magnificent anti-Stalinist saga that heralded glasnost and became one of its key artistic achievements and most pop u lar symbols*—an older woman asks a passerby which street leads to the temple or the church (khram). “Not this one,” she is told. “What’s the use of a street,” the woman then asks quietly but with conviction, “if it does not lead to the temple?”

    All great revolutions begin with the search for streets, or roads, to the “temple”—a kingdom of dignity, justice, goodness, fairness, equality, freedom, brotherhood....


    • CHAPTER ONE The “Mystery” of the Soviet Collapse and the Theory of Revolutions
      (pp. 11-35)

      Every revolution is a surprise. Still, the latest Rus sian Revolution (1987–91)¹ must be counted among the greatest surprises. Of course, many had talked and written about the “system’s” eventual transformation or demise, yet no Western expert, scholar, offi cial, or politician—or, judging by their memoirs, the future revolutionaries themselves—foresaw the collapse of the one- party dictatorship, of the state-owned economy, and of the Kremlin’s control over its domestic and Eastern European empires by 1991.² When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary in March 1985, no contemporaries saw an impending revolutionary crisis. While they disagreed about the size...

    • CHAPTER TWO For Truth and Goodness: THE CREDOS OF GLASNOST
      (pp. 36-60)

      Every great modern revolution began, in essence, with a search for dignity. The latest Russian revolution started as a rebellion against the indignity of lies—“ubiquitous and all-consuming”¹ lies that had become the “norm of life.”²* As the fear of punishment for publicly challenging the lies (or for refusing to be complicit in their production) began to recede, the first, tenuous advances of truth were felt by witnesses in very direct, physical ways. They were compared to a mighty river that broke a dam, leaving behind the formerly confining “rusted armature” and all manner of “junk and muck.”³ The sudden...


    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 61-62)

      Who are we?

      —Sergey Zalygin, “God Solzhenitsyna” (The year of Solzhenitsyn),Novy mir1, January 1990: 234

      Where are we? Who are we? What do we want?

      —Gennady Lisichkin, “Myfy i real’nost’” (Myths and reality), in Kh. Kobo, ed.,Osmyslit’ kul’t Stalina(To comprehend Stalin’s cult), Moscow: Progress, 1989: 247

      Something always prevents us from giving an honest and merciless answer to the questions: who are we and where are we today?

      —Viktor Krivorotov, “Russkiy put’” (The Russian path),Znamya9, September 1990: 186

      The curtain has risen—and we have seen ourselves.

      —Mikhail Gefter, “Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov: In memoriam,...

    • CHAPTER THREE Inside the “Deafened Zone”
      (pp. 63-70)

      “Who are we?” proved a very difficult question. The road to self-discovery, now deemed vital to the country’s revival—indeed, her survival—was found to be full of vast gaps.

      The doling out of information, deciding what the people should and should not know, was now found to be one of the Soviet regime’s congenital features. The readers ofMoskovskie novostilearned that prepublication censorship was officially introduced in December 1921 and that half a year later the Council of People’s Commissars created the infamous Glavlit, a body originally tasked with compiling the lists of forbidden books and later with...

    • CHAPTER FOUR In Search of History
      (pp. 71-75)

      Glasnost’s first uncensored glance was backward. In 1987 and 1988, relearning Soviet history became a national pastime and passion. Millions seemed to be burning with curiosity about their country’s true past, which, they strongly suspected, was quite different from what they, their parents, grandparents, and now their children were taught. Never before had the truth about the past been searched for and recovered on such a scale, wrote the literary critic Arkady Sakhnin.¹ Everyone understands, he continued, that progress would be impossible without an “exhaustive” analysis of this truth—“and the entire country is now preoccupied with this analysis.”² The...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “The Innocent, the Slandered, the Exterminated”
      (pp. 76-98)

      Anyone opening a major Russian newspaper or magazine in 1987 or 1988 was instantly surrounded by names, faces, voices—the ghosts of thwarted lives of one’s compatriots: slandered, arrested, tormented, shot, starved, or worked to death.* The martyrology that included every stage of descent into Stalin’s hell suddenly acquired texture, sounds, smells: from the offices, where fates were decided by the compilers of proscription lists, to the arrests, “investigation” and torture, the sentencing, and the executions by bullet or camp. “History began to speak!” (Istoriya zagovorila!) proclaimed a reviewer of a slew of documentaries released in 1987–88: those who...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Peasant Hecatomb
      (pp. 99-111)

      The recovered history soon began to touch on what was likely the Soviet state’s darkest and best-kept secret: arrests, exile, penal servitude, and famine that tormented and killed millions of peasants between 1929 and 1933. Even in the anti-Stalinist zeal and daring of his “secret speech” at the Twentieth Congress and the height of de-Stalinization of 1961–63 Nikita Khrushchev would not even hint at what the top Party historians in September 1988 called “the most horrible crime of Stalin and his henchmen”¹ and a literary critic decried as “a planned extermination of the peasants through monstrous repressions” and “a...

      (pp. 112-130)

      Any lasting polity espouses and propagates essential beliefs by which it lives. They do not have to be literally true; indeed, they seldom are. This, however, does not matter so long as these beliefs, or myths, are accepted as reality by enough people. To cite, again, Merton’s “Thomas theorem”: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”¹ The key “consequence,” in this case, is the trust in the basic moral soundness of a polity’s foundation, which, in turn, invests it with legitimacy.

      The Soviet Union, too, had spawned a powerful mythology that legitimized political, economic, and...

      (pp. 131-150)

      Recast by marxism as the ultimate validation of a superior “mode of production,” Hegel’s fetish for historical progress had been a key legitimizing component of the Soviet canon. With state ownership of the economy as its “base,” and a one-party dictatorship as its political “superstructure,” the progress under the “Soviet power,” allegedly portrayed as unprecedented in its rate and reach, was to justify any and all sacrifices that attended its march.

      First to fall was “the enduring myth” that Stalinist industrialization and collectivization had resulted in the world’s highest rates of industrial and agricultural growth.¹ To begin, the Soviet economists...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Unraveling of the Legitimizing Myths, III: THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR
      (pp. 151-171)

      No other tale in the official canon bound the people and the regime tighter than the tragedy and heroism of the Great Patriotic War, which started with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. For over forty years the official myth had been simple and dependable. Confronted with the prospect of imminent Nazi invasion and betrayed by France and Great Britain (which, while pretending to conduct negotiations with the Soviet Union on an anti-German alliance, all the time connived to “push Hitler East,” into the war with the Soviet Union) the Soviet government had no choice...

    • CHAPTER TEN The “Immoral” Economy
      (pp. 172-186)

      One of the most consequential discoveries made by the glasnost crusaders was the “monstrous,” even “surpassing imagination,”¹ waste, neglect, and despoliation in the country’s economy. The irrational, “lopsided” (skosobochennya) system was found to work not “for man but, more and more, only for itself.”² It was called an “insatiable” and “self-consuming” (samoedskaya) Moloch, which year after year devoured more resources and labor and produced less.³

      Of course, every Soviet citizen had seen this Moloch in action. Yet, as with other aspects of the national self-discovery, it was the scope of the generalizations, founded on the no-longer-secret numbers, merciless and irrefutable,...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The “Disintegration of Souls”: HOMO SOVIETICUS
      (pp. 187-196)

      In the end, as with all other aspects of the national quest for self-knowledge, the ultimate and most urgent concern was not the economy itself but rather what it did to the men and women who worked in it: their ideas, their views of themselves, their conscience—their “souls.” Surrounded by waste and negligence, poverty and neglect, arbitrariness and incompetence of all-powerful bureaucracies implementing myriad irrational laws and regulations, men and women were found to have lost, or to be about to lose, much of what was needed to make their country free and prosperous.

      The economy in which wasting...


    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 197-198)

      We are looking for the sources of our misfortunes. We go from the simpler to the increasingly complicated as we try to understand what has happened to us.

      —Alexei Kiva, “Krizis ‘zhanra’” (The crisis of the “genre”),Novy mir, March 1990: 207

      To find an answer to this huge “Why?” hanging over his life and fate and the lives and fates of hundreds of thousands of others…

      —Varlam Shalamov, “Pervyi chekist” (The first Chekist), in Varlam Shalamov,Proza,stikhi(Fiction, poetry),Novy mir, June 1988: 125

      The decisive question for me is: why has all this become possible?

      —Lev Anninskiy, “Monolog...

      (pp. 199-209)

      As the fog of mythology began to yield the true contours of the Soviet state, its foundation and key structures and functions, the glasnost investigators became increasingly certain that an omnipotent and omniscient state—the state that “consumed” the society, “devoured,” absorbed,” “crushed” it¹—had become the sole and unchallenged master of the country and the people. No matter what the label—“administrative-bureaucratic system,” “barrack socialism,” “state socialism,” “state-bureaucratic socialism,” a “totalitarian, anti-democratic regime,” or simply “totalitarianism”²—that essence and its impact on the society were largely the same.

      “The people who created this state thought it was a means...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN “De-individualization,” the “Original Sin,” and the Nationalization of Conscience
      (pp. 210-220)

      The relentless and deepening quest for the ultimate causes of the persistently exposed ignominy of the present state of affairs uncovered a novel human condition. It was labeled “de-individualization.” The Russian term,de-individualizatsiya,appears to have been coined in January 1988 by a well-known Soviet social psychologist, Igor Kon, who described it as a “hypertrophied sense of one’s powerlessness” and “social apathy.”¹ A year later, a prominent essayist defined “de-individualization of society” as the loss of the right to liberty and autonomy and of the right to define one’s own interests. As a result, individual “self-worth” had been lost as well.²...


    • [PART FOUR: Introduction]
      (pp. 221-222)

      Both the “top” and the “bottom” of the society have said: enough! we cannot retreat any longer, we want to live like humans. Who and what is to blame for the past is clear. The question is: what should be done in a new way and who would do it?

      —Pavel Bunich, “I srazu i postepenno” (Both at once and gradually),Literaturnaya gazeta,May 30, 1990: 10

      To say “this street does not lead to the temple” is like crossing something out without replacing it with anything. In what rocket and from what place should we start now in order to...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Stalin, Memory, Repentance, Atonement
      (pp. 223-235)

      A geologist complained to a visiting Moscow journalist about working in Kolyma: “Our bulldozer takes off the topsoil and we see layers of dead bodies. They are so close to the surface and the permafrost has preserved them just as they were. There is frost on the beards but other than that they look alive. How can we go through them?”¹

      The geologist’s pleaechoed a theme that dominated the country’s leading liberal journals and newspapers in 1987 and 1988. What to do about Stalin and his legacy became the first instance of national introspection, whatOgonyokcalled “self-cleansing and awakening....

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN The “Spirit of Freedom” and the Power of Nyet
      (pp. 236-254)

      The rediscovered past was not uniformly shameful—something solely to rue, repent, and redeem. Next to the mighty chorus of condemnation, there gradually emerged and grew stronger the quieter but insistent, crystalline notes of light and heroism. They inspired and gave hope.

      Returning in books of fiction that often had waited decades to be published; in memories that could extend beyond whispers; and in documents from which the country’s true history was being assembled were the luminous tales of those determined to remain true to their own definitions of good and evil, of the Russian righteous who resolved to remain...

      (pp. 255-269)

      With normal channels for dissent and public debate disfigured, blocked, or severed entirely by authoritarianism for most of its history, Russian literature always intruded into the political realm. Writers were at once guides to a morally superior existence and its paragons. Yet rarely before had there been a time when the lives and work of so many of Russia’s finest artists—now recovered by their newly liberated compatriots and giving their revolution much of its conviction and strength—were as tightly entwined and provided so stark an affirmation of their art’s core themes as during the crucible of Stalinism and...

      (pp. 270-286)

      Like every great modern revolution, this one was about reclaiming and extending human dignity, however it was defi ned by public opinion leaders at the time. Almost from the beginning, those who began the reforms in search of a non-Stalinist socialism “with a human face”—and those who cheered them on so effectively—appeared to resolve to put man (chelovek, or individual, human being) at the “forefront” (na pervyi plan)¹ of their political, economic, and social agendas.

      For Mikhail Gorbachev, the “renewal” of the society was inseparable from “the struggle for the dignity of man, his elevation, his honor.”² The...

      (pp. 287-295)

      It was only a matter of time before the effort at “privatization,” or humanization, of national priorities reached the wall of silence and secrecy surrounding the Soviet state’s most exclusive and jealously guarded prerogative: foreign policy and defense. Proceeding in the by now well-established pattern from the bitter truth of the “what” to the value-bound “why,” glasnost thinkers found that the crushing military burden was not an “objective necessity.” Rather, it was the price paid for “totalitarianism” combined with “great power ambitions and ideological messianism” (ideologicheskoe messianstvo).¹ Just as the Russian empire, proclaimed by Peter the Great in 1721, was...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 296-306)

    The impact of ideas on social action can never be measured with any precision. Still, the record compiled in this book at least furnishes plausible approaches to explaining the remarkably swift, mostly nonviolent, and just as surprisingly unforeseen disintegration of the Soviet state.

    The foregoing seems to establish that preceding and inspiring the radical reforms (and then unfolding alongside them) was a powerful quest for self-knowledge, dignity, and moral renewal. The spiritual engine of all great modern revolutions, this quest was very much in evidence in Soviet Russia as well. The revelation of appalling moral failings in the regime’s past...

  10. GLASNOST’S SIGNPOSTS: The Themes and the Texts
    (pp. 307-320)
    (pp. 321-330)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 331-426)
    (pp. 427-466)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 467-483)