Lenin's Tomb

by David Remnick

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, David Remnick, then a reporter for the Washington Post, began to visit the new Russia. His profile of the new political and social landscape is both wide and deep, supported by thousands of interview he conducted with residents. One crucial event that he considers is an attempted coup in 1991. Contextualizing this effort and the reasons for its failure, Remnick both explains some of the fissures that had opened earlier and sheds light on the dissenting views that hindered smooth progress after Russia became a separate country.

One of the journalists’ strongest commitments was to contact as many people as possible from all walks of life. Convinced that the everyday person had played just as imported a role as any top-level political leader, Remnick aimed to analyze the changes of the 1980s rather than just lay out a disjointed mosaic. He did gain access to many figures who had played important roles, such as an advisor to the premier and former high-ranking Communist Party officials. At the same time, Remnick investigates social trends that were novelties in the newly reorganized country; these include the more general change to increasingly capitalist economic and financial relations to US popular cultural trends, such as baseball.

Remnick includes substantial attention to the failures of the reforms of the 1980s because, paradoxically, they both went too far and not far enough. The perestroika that Mikhail Gorbachev promoted was seen as a boon to many but a threat to the entrenched hierarchy of Party loyalists. While this aspect of his analysis is solidly supported, it offers little new theory beyond the ideas put forward at the time these events occurred. Similarly, the information on Boris Yeltsin, although important to understanding the 1991 failed coup, offers few surprises. It is rather in the attention to the “little” people—the masses, who were most disappointed by Soviet-style communism’s failed promises—who emerge as the real stars of Remnick’s ambitious narrative.

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