Political Will and Personal Belief in the Fall of Soviet Communism

Hollander, Paul
Date published: 
January 2000

The unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 signalled the demise of a political and economic system that as 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 analyses an array of autobiographical and biographical writings, journalistic accounts, and scholarly interpretations of the unravelling 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 of 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.