- The Demise of Marxism-Leninism in Russia
This volume is organized along the lines of an earlier publication, New Thinking in Soviet Politics, also edited by Archie Brown, but it has been substantially revised and expanded. The Demise of Marxism-Leninism includes several chapters from the earlier volume with minimal revisions (because the authors are now dead), some chapters with substantial revisions, and one completely new chapter. The book provides insightful analyses of the Soviet ruling ideology as it stood in the early 1980s and its gradual erosion and eventual disappearance in all major spheres of Soviet politics. The essays in the book are written by prominent British scholars of Soviet and Russian politics.
The contributors to The Demise of Marxism-Leninism trace ideational change starting with Mikhail’s Gorbachev rise to power in the Soviet Union in 1985 through the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and up to the Russian administration of Vladi-mir Putin—a much needed long-term perspective. The book brings together overviews of both the traditional influence and the decline of Marxist principles in the political system, the economy, and foreign policy. By covering a wide variety of issues, including nationalism and federalism, the book serves as a valuable introduction to the study of the end of the Cold War and Russia’s post-Soviet transition. As is often the case with edited volumes, this book is a collection of essays rather than a continuously told story, with chapters that vary in their historical scope, analytical depth, and staying power.
The new essay added to the book, on the development of Russian liberal thought since 1985, by Igor Timofeyev, looks at influential new thinkers and traces their impact on Gorbachev himself and his policies. The chapter gives an excellent historical overview of the reemergence of Russian liberal discourse in the open media from the [End Page 172] initial focus on individual freedom and economic performance in 1985–1987 to such issues as “civil society, private property, the law-based state and the multi-party system” in 1987–1989. In the later years, as Timofeyev shows, the liberal voices were beginning to d iscover ideological differences within their own camp, and the movement was starting to split. His chapter is richly detailed and draws on a wide range of original publications in the Soviet press and both Russian and Western analyses. Unfortunately, the chapter might create an illusion on the part of the reader that Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union and later in Russia was gradually replaced by strands of liberal thought. This mistaken impression comes from the fact that the book does not look at other, non-Marxist trends in political thought that emerged in Russia in the late 1980s and 1990s. Timofeyev’s failure to discuss such powerful ideas and ideologies as Russian nationalism and authoritarianism is a regrettable omission.
The chapters that would probably be most useful to students trying to understand the Soviet system and gain insights into contemporary Russian politics are Archie Brown’s introduction and his chapter on non-Leninist thinking about the political system. In the introduction Brown gives an overview of basic Marxist principles on the economy and political system and shows how these were adapted by Vladimir Lenin to fit Russia’s pre- and post-revolutionary realities. Brown also emphasizes the difference between Lenin the revolutionary and Lenin the state-builder, or Lenin the theoretician and Lenin the realist—a distinction that became important for the “new thinkers” during the early phase of perestroika, when they had to adduce Lenin’s work to promote their ideas. The introduction draws readers’ attention to the “esoteric debate on Marxism-Leninism” in the Soviet Union. Soviet philosophers, economists, and students of politics had to be keenly attuned to this debate if they were to have any hope of expressing at least some independent thought. In the debate, liberal ideas were often traced back to Lenin, especially the late Lenin of the New Economic Policy. Brown emphasizes how often Gorbachev himself invoked Lenin to win support for...