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Age of Delirium

Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 444
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  • Book Info
    Age of Delirium
    Book Description:

    The first state in history to be based explicitly on atheism, the Soviet Union endowed itself with the attributes of God. In this book, David Satter shows through individual stories what it meant to construct an entire state on the basis of a false idea, how people were forced to act out this fictitious reality, and the tragic human cost of the Soviet attempt to remake reality by force."I had almost given up hope that any American could depict the true face of Russia and Soviet rule. In David Satter'sAge of Delirium,the world has received a chronicle of the calvary of the Russian people under communism that will last for generations."-Vladimir Voinovich, author ofThe Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin"Spellbinding. . . . Gives one a visceral feel for what it was like to be trapped by the communist system."-Jack Matlock,Washington Post"Satter deserves our gratitude. . . . He is an astute observer of people, with an eye for essential detail and for human behavior in a universe wholly different from his own experience in America."-Walter Laqueur,Wall Street Journal"Every page of this splendid and eloquent and impassioned book reflects an extraordinarily acute understanding of the Soviet system."-Jacob Heilbrunn,Washington Times

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14789-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Not long ago, American scientists once again turned their attention to the case of Phineas P. Gage, whose strange fate raised the possibility that the brain contains a “moral center.”

    On September 13, 1848, Gage, a twenty-five-year-old construction foreman for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad, was at work in rural Vermont, supervising the detonation of rocks to level terrain for railroad tracks, when he became the victim of a bizarre accident. The blasting required drilling holes in the stone, partially filling the holes with explosive powder, covering the powder with sand, and using a fuse and a tamping iron to...

  5. Prologue
    (pp. 3-7)

    The machine-gunning continued.

    In the Square of Free Russia there were bodies everywhere, including those of teenagers, as the Russian parliament building, known as the “White House,” came under attack from troops loyal to President Boris Yeltsin, who, only two years before, had risked his life to defend it.

    The ferocity of the bombardment surprised the present defenders of the White House, who included members of parliament. They had expected that the building would be cleared with the help of special commando units, but not shelled.

    In the sixth-floor buffet, Nikolai Troitsky, a reporter for theMegapolis Express, stood watching...

  6. 1 The Coup
    (pp. 8-37)

    In moscow, a light rain washed the peeling facades and potholed streets. Russia’s towering white parliament building, which had come to symbolize the democratic aspirations of an entire nation, was shrouded in mist, its gray shadow reflected in the dappled waters of the Moscow River. Except for bread trucks making early-morning deliveries and workers finishing the night shift at factories, the city slept.

    This, however, was to be no ordinary day. In the Crimean resort of Foros, eight hundred miles to the south, where Mikhail Gorbachev had an opulent dacha, two heavy trucks, under cover of darkness, rode to the...

  7. 2 The Ideology
    (pp. 38-52)

    Like many others in our generation, I was brought up under socialism and without belief in God,” wrote a young mother toPravda, January 18, 1988. “One might say that socialism and its ideals were our God.... As a result of the policy of glasnost and unrestrained criticism, the idea of socialism has, to some extent, been discredited. I cannot speak for everyone, but my faith has been shaken.”

    An agricultural economist in Moscow first learned about the crimes of the Stalin era in the 1970s by reading Western sources during his frequent trips abroad. But he kept in mind...

  8. 3 Gorbachev and the Party
    (pp. 53-89)

    August 23, 1991. A rainy, overcast day. There was an atmosphere of growing panic in the headquarters of the Communist Party Central Committee on Old Square, once the epicenter of Soviet power. As top officials wandered the corridors in a daze, secretaries and messengers continued to work. Piles of documents stamped “top secret” and “absolutely secret” accumulated on desks. Outside, officials leaving the building were being forcibly searched, and an angry crowd carrying Russian flags was demanding a war crimes trial for the Communist Party.

    In the international department on the sixth floor, a meeting was being held to decide...

  9. 4 Truth Seekers
    (pp. 90-121)

    Every night, a large crowd fills Moscow’s vast aerostation, the terminal for buses to the Moscow airports and one of the crossroads of the nation. In a country that spans eleven time zones, buses leave for the airports from the aerostation until late at night and then again in the predawn hours, and the glass-walled terminal with its arc lights, rows of leather chairs, and all-night restaurant and telegraph office is the scene of almost constant activity. Many in the crowd are passengers. They check their baggage on freight scales or queue up to get into the smoke-filled buffet as...

  10. 5 The Workers
    (pp. 122-169)

    For months, in the antediluvian coal mines of Kuzbass, there was a feeling that something was about to happen. The miners in the smoky, polluted region had long been angry about food shortages that got worse with every year. Then, in early 1989, the stores ran out of laundry powder, toothpaste, and soap. At the Shevyakova mine in Mezhdurechensk, forty miles from Novokuznetsk, feelings ran particularly high. The miners had written to the television program “Projector of Perestroika” in December 1988 asking for better food supplies and transport and extra pay for evening and night work, but the letter was...

  11. 6 The Economy
    (pp. 170-191)

    In july 1989, Dmitri Barabashov, an official in the department of the chemical industry of the Communist Party Central Committee, entered party headquarters on Old Square after a long absence and was taken aback by the nearly empty corridors and the apparent lack of work.

    It was a peaceful summer morning, the kind of day when, in the past, the department had been the scene of frantic activity as officials prepared for the upcoming harvest There was always an enormous increase in the use of fuel during the harvest, especially gas and diesel fuel, and it was the job of...

  12. 7 The Border
    (pp. 192-212)

    “When a soviet citizen comes out of customs at Sheremetevo Airport,” said Andrei Koveshnikov, a cab driver in his late twenties, “he resembles a hunted animal. He is loaded down with suitcases and bags and it is obvious that he is afraid that someone is waiting to grab his belongings. As he tries to find a taxi, he is nervous and constantly asking himself who will try to trick him next With a foreigner, it’s different. He is calm, smiling. He has a life-affirming face. As he looks around, it is evident that this is his first time in the...

  13. 8 The KGB
    (pp. 213-245)

    On the morning of October 27, 1990, the citizens of Moscow woke up to discover an unexpected article on the front page of the newspaperKomsomolskaya Pravda. Despite glasnost, the KGB was seldom mentioned in the Soviet press, but on this particular morning, the attention of every reader was attracted to a photograph of Katya Mayorova, a striking, dark-haired woman in her early twenties who was putting on a bulletproof vest.

    Under the headline “Katya Mayorova—Miss KGB,” the article began to describe Mayorova, depicting the KGB as an organization which, like any normal organization, has its own beauty queen....

  14. 9 Internal Policy
    (pp. 246-278)

    The low-lying northern sun lit the facades of the rows of five-story apartment buildings, casting the sides of the buildings in deep blue shadow as laundry stiff from the cold swayed in balconies on ice-covered lines and a strong wind blew up clouds of snow.

    For weeks, the endless winter had brought out the monotony and dreariness of life in the Yugo-Zapadny section of Moscow, contributing to the sense that nothing in the Soviet Union could ever change. But on this particular morning, as buses plied the roads and bundled women walked between scattered birch trees along paths of hardened...

  15. 10 Glasnost
    (pp. 279-297)

    As dawn broke on a June day in 1991 in the forest outside Moscow, a car bearing Sergei Rybin, a reporter for Russian television, and his cameraman drove unnoticed through the gates of Nazarievo, a vacation community for the Soviet elite. The two men parked the car and then, walking along a dirt road, approached a security guard outside a food store. Rybin nodded at the guard, and the cameraman began filming the two-story wooden dachas in the village with their spreading verandas. He then started filming the soaring birch trees and the abundant goods in the store. “They live...

  16. 11 Homo Sovieticus
    (pp. 298-332)

    The train from the urals arrived at the Yaroslavl station at 6 a.m. on a freezing morning in December 1988, and Mikhail Kukobaka, having gathered his prison belongings in a single sack, stepped down onto the already crowded platform. Ten years had passed since he had last seen Moscow, and he glanced around at the crowds before walking to the station building and then out onto the street.

    The area of the three stations was already busy. Long lines waited for taxis, buses trailed exhaust, and the red “M” of the metro station burned in the morning frost. Kukobaka had...

  17. 12 The Roots of Fanaticism
    (pp. 333-350)

    One night, while working late in the office of theFinancial Times, I received a call from Mikhail Berdnikov, who asked me to meet him in the home of a woman he had been treating in the center of Moscow. I left my office and, slightly after 11 p.m., arrived at an old building where a broken chandelier hung in the darkened, stone lobby. A long row of blue metal mailboxes at the base of a marble staircase indicated that the building had been converted into a warren of communal flats.

    In the entryway of apartment 16, a young man...

  18. 13 Ukraine
    (pp. 351-378)

    A faint light filtered through the opaque-glass ceiling of the hall of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet as Leonid Kravchuk took his place at the table in the elevated speaker’s box and the deputies, still shocked by the events of the last six days, filled the benches in even rows. Three days earlier, the coup to preserve the Soviet Union had come to an end, and now the question of independence for Ukraine hung in the air. No one believed that the Communists, who held the parliamentary majority, would vote for independence. But workers in Kiev’s biggest factories were being organized...

  19. 14 Religion
    (pp. 379-393)

    The falling snow cast a veil over the city, turning Moscow’s skyscrapers into looming gray shadows and the roofs of buildings into horizontal layers of white. A bus stopped on Verkhny Novospassky Lane and a young man in a worker’s cap got out and headed for the Novospassky Monastery.

    Sergei Osipov, a construction worker and ex-convict, had been raised an atheist but recently had begun to attend church services.

    Osipov walked in under the entry arch and crossed the courtyard of the monastery over cobblestones wreathed with powdery snow. He stopped to look at the panorama of the city with...

  20. Epilogue
    (pp. 394-413)

    On the stage of an assembly hall in a Moscow factory, a perspiring, thickset man with dose-cropped hair and a loosened tie shouted at two of his supporters to raise a banner with the words “We Need a Great Russia” as high as possible over their heads.

    The men lifted the banner, but the poles supporting it began to bend and the banner drooped toward the floor. “Do you see the condition of Russians,” said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, to the crowd of about three hundred in the hall. “We cannot even hold up a...

  21. Afterword
    (pp. 414-420)

    In the lightly falling snow, Moscow seemed lost in whiteness, the whiteness of a blank, undelineated sky, of the mist that obscured the apartment buildings and of the snow drifts that covered the roofs and piled up on the street. In the blizzardlike wilderness, people struggled with string bags and bundles, stamping along unshoveled paths. The tree branches were heavy with snow and the exteriors of glass-walled cafés were covered with medallions of intricate frost. Buses lurched and shuddered on the streets and dozens of windows in a gothic skyscraper mirrored the orange sphere of the northern sun.

    I had...

  22. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 421-424)