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By Alexander Yakovlev. Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. 250 pp. $29-95.)
The period of perestroika is commonly thought of in the West, if not also in Russia, as a brief but intense period of transition between Soviet totalitarianism and the yawning uncertainties of contemporary Russia. But calling a historical phenomenon a transition period is tantamount to relegating it to obscurity. That is a shame, for it is in the hinges of history, so to speak, that the anatomy of social change often reveals itself. Happily, then, two recent books on perestroika by authors who live within the storm--Aleksandr Yakovlev and Vladimir Zviglyanich--afford a chance to revisit this most portentous time. Fortuitously, too, the brilliance of one illuminates the exasperations of the other.
Yakovlev was one of the main architects of the political and economic project that led to the disbandment of the bureaucratic despotism called the Soviet Union. To the Soviet and post-Soviet "conservatives" (reactionaries, demagogues, and Stalinist-fascist rabble-rousers), his name is anathema. For example, in his memoirs, orthodox Leninist and former Politburo member Yegor Ligachev thundered against Yakovlev's allegedly perfidious role in influencing Gorbachev, hijacking what he referred to as the "healthy perestroika" and using it for malevolent, tenebrous purposes. Indeed, for the Russian nationalists and communists, Yakovlev (even more than Mikhail Gorbachev and former foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze) is responsible for all the disasters that have befallen their country: loss of imperial power, moral disarray, psychological chaos, military decay, economic bankruptcy, and the criminalization of society to boot.