In This Review

Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia
Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia
By Yegor Gaidar Translated by Antonina W. Bouis
Brookings Institution Press, 2007, 332 pp

Gaidar begins with an erudite, historically wide-ranging account of the collapse of many empires, ancient and modern, and then moves on to a briefer summation of the reasons contemporary authoritarian regimes also perish. This is but an impressive prelude to a detailed exposition of why the Soviet Union failed -- indeed, why at some point it had to fail. It was not, as many in his country want to believe, because of external intrigues or treasonous Soviet leaders but because of the "very nature of the system." An anti-Marxist, Gaidar includes in his argument a strong element of economic determinism: economic development in the modern age dooms empires and authoritarians. The Soviet Union swirled to its death in an economic crisis, driven in no small part by its misplaced dependence on oil wealth. His quite explicit purpose is not simply to warn his fellow Russians against counting too heavily on oil revenues and yielding too easily to authoritarian solutions but also to strike against what he sees as a growing threat, the lingering hold of a "post-imperial nostalgia" on much of the political elite. This, he contends, is not only bad for Russia but also dangerous for everyone else.