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Political Will and Personal Belief

Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism

Paul Hollander
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Political Will and Personal Belief
    Book Description:

    The unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 signaled the demise of a political and economic system that was widely perceived as durable, the preeminent rival to that of the United States. Less conspicuous than the momentous political transformations were the altered beliefs, aspirations, and illusions of the individuals who had maintained and led that system. In this original interpretation the eminent sociologist Paul Hollander focuses on the human aspects of the failure of Soviet communism. He examines how members of the Soviet political elite, leaders in communist Czechoslovakia and Hungary, high-ranking officials in agencies of control and coercion, and distinguished defectors and exiles experienced the erosion of ideals that undermined the political system they had once believed in.Hollander analyzes an array of autobiographical and biographical writings, journalistic accounts, and scholarly interpretations of the unraveling of Soviet communism. The Soviet Union fell apart not merely because of severe economic shortcomings, Hollander argues, but because of the double impact of the conflict between official ideals and practical realities and an eroding sense of legitimacy in the highest echelons. In his conclusion, the author considers how Marxist theory both shaped and undermined the system.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14420-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Human Factor in the Failure of Communism
    (pp. 1-34)

    At a time when communist systems¹ have become things of the past, there are especially good reasons for trying to understand not only the political and economic forces that undermined them but also the part played by particular human beings and their beliefs in their decline and fall. Unlike most studies of the collapse of communist systems, which focus on institutional, economic, and political failures, the present one proceeds from individual human beings—their beliefs, aspirations, illusions, and disappointments—to institutions and systems of government.²

    The erosion of belief central to the discussion that follows is not that of ordinary...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Defectors and Exiles: Disillusionment Before the Fall
    (pp. 35-86)

    The earliest accounts of disaffection with communist systems have been provided by defectors and exiles. Given the interest in tracing the roots of discontent and the lengthy process of disillusionment—and in discovering how far into the past they extend—the testimony of defectors is an essential source of information. Their accounts are also helpful for learning about the differences and similarities among the discontents that different communist states generated. It is of further interest to compare the expressions of discontent of the defectors with the critiques of those who stayed. Since the goal of this project was to learn...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Soviet Leaders: The Reformers
    (pp. 87-134)

    Four aspects of political disenchantment are of particular interest. The first is, What originally gave rise to the commitment? Why was the individual in question attracted to the Party and the ideas it sought to realize? Second, what sustained the initial commitment—sometimes in the face of the many discernible contradictions between theory and practice and the unintended consequences of official programs and policies? Third and most important, what began or contributed to the erosion of belief, the inner conflicts, and the ultimate loss of conviction, culminating in a final disillusionment? Finally, especially given the unraveling of communist states, what...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Ambivalence of High-Level Functionaries
    (pp. 135-166)

    In the previous chapter I discussed Soviet leaders indisputably and unambiguously associated with reform and social change. In this chapter I will be looking at individuals whose contributions to the transformation of the Soviet political system were more questionable and ambiguous but who, in any event, exemplify those in high positions during and after the Brezhnev era. Among them, Arbatov and Dobrynin were relatively enlightened and flexible functionaries (or Party intellectuals), exposed, because of their jobs, to Western political systems and their representatives. They were neither in a position nor of a disposition to initiate political change, but they were...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Political Transformation of East European Leaders
    (pp. 167-208)

    The evolution of the political attitudes of leaders in Eastern Europe illuminates the drawn-out process of the decay, delegitimation, and unraveling of Soviet communism. Their critiques of the system dating back to the 1950s and 1960s are hardly different from the critiques which gained prominence in the second half of the 1980s and culminated in the disintegration of the Soviet empire. The lives and changing beliefs of Andras Hegedus, Imre Nagy, Alexander Dubcek, and Zdenek Mlynar, two Hungarians and two Czechs, mirror and help us understand the characteristics of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and why it was doomed...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Leading Specialists in “State Security” (Political Police)
    (pp. 209-274)

    The dilemma of ends and means is most sharply revealed in the activities and reflections of those in power who were compelled by their position to resort to the most problematic means: routinely sending others to their death or to lengthy imprisonment. Among the individuals making life and death decisions were the leaders of the coercive apparatus, the organizers of show trials, Purges, deportations, assassinations abroad, and the Gulag system—the policymakers and supervisors, as distinct from those on the lower rungs who dirtied their hands, figuratively and literally, who could more persuasively silence their misgivings (if any) by their...

  10. Conclusions: The Unity of Theory and Practice
    (pp. 275-298)

    Nothing would be more gratifying at this point than to declare that this study has succeeded in unearthing and isolating a major factor, hitherto unknown or overlooked, that explains with a new clarity and finality why Soviet communism disintegrated between 1989 and 1991.¹ will have to settle, like other authors, for less sensational conclusions.

    The growing awareness of the complexity of all things human and social has made it more difficult than ever to satisfy our desire for concise, causal explanations of great historical events and dramatic social changes. Two impulses struggle with one another as we strive to better...

  11. Appendix: The Interviews
    (pp. 299-306)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 307-339)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 340-350)
  14. Index
    (pp. 351-356)