In This Review
The Fate of Marxism in Russia

The Fate of Marxism in Russia

By Alexander Yakovlev

Yale University Press, 1993, 250 pp.

Oh, how he must have infuriated his more conservative colleagues on the Politburo! Yakovlev, the liberal spirit in Gorbachev's inner circle, says things about Marxism, Bolshevism and the Soviet experience more scathing than any of Solzhenitsyn's or Sakharov's condemnations. Most of this book, he tells us, was drafted between 1987 and 1990, when the battle over perestroika's course was at its most intense. By then, to judge from the end product, Yakovlev had become more than disillusioned with Marxism and what Lenin made of it; he bitterly resented everything this neo-religion had done to his country and people. And he was ashamed not least because he and so many around him had continued to believe as long as they did.

Two-thirds of the book delivers a fiery, rather elegant, but also overwrought attack on the fallacies of Marxism and the devastation that its translation into state dogma produced during 70 years of Soviet rule. Few of his points have not been made before by others, but to read the words from the pen of a key member of the Soviet Unions last leadership is startling. The more recently drafted final third of the book tells in abstract but useful terms of the stages through which Gorbachev's perestroika passed. It also contains thoughtful, sobering, even ominous reflections on the Soviet legacy and the burden that it will pose for years to come.

In the end, however, the book disappoints, less for what it is than for what it could have been. From a man as intellectual and self-critical as Yakovlev, the reader hungers for insights into how he could have believed so long; when, why and by what turns he ceased to believe; and how his evolution compared with others, including Gorbachev s. These are not in the book.