Democratization and Revolution in the U.S.S.R., 1985-1991

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Democratization and Revolution in the U.S.S.R., 1985-1991

By Jerry F. Hough
Brookings, 1997
542 pp. $59.95

Six years after the whole thing collapsed, it is, as Hough notes, time to offer some fundamental answers to the most basic questions. Why did the Soviet Union end as it did? And still more problematic, did it have to happen? The unmaking of the Soviet Union, Hough contends, deserves to be thought of as a revolution, a revolution from above. That, he argues, is the modern way to think about revolution -- not as an irrepressible explosion from below, but as the handiwork of national elites who have lost their stomach, indeed their desire, to preserve a decrepit system. But elites have choices, and if they choose well, as in Hough's view the Chinese have, they can reform the system; if they choose badly, as he believes the Soviet leadership did, they precipitate a revolution. For those who believe the Soviet system was unreformable and fated to collapse when tampered with, this thesis will be controversial enough. What should steam things up a good deal more, however, is Hough's claim that Gorbachev's real folly was to listen to radical reformers and democrats rather than "moderate reformers," who would, he contends, have kept the democratizing to a minimum and directed the economic reform at, rather than against, a managerial class ready for change.

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