In This Review

Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism
Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism
By Paul Hollander
Yale University Press, 1999, 351 pp

From the premise that communism existed largely in the minds of those who commanded it, Hollander assumes that its death must have resulted from changes inside their heads. He then asks how the system's managers lost their faith -- and what happened that led them to begin the fatal tinkering that brought the empire down. Resourceful in chasing the answer, Hollander not only wades through the memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies of all the key actors and many of the supporting cast; he also uses the stories of defectors and dissidents to understand when and why beliefs crumbled. This produces many fascinating personal stories but ultimately offers a weak solution to his core puzzle. Gorbachev and the other relevant figures, it turns out, offered little insight about themselves. They either do not know -- or do not say -- how their shaken beliefs altered their actions.