IN THIS REVIEW
THE AUGUST COUP: The Truth and the Lessons. By Mikhail Gorbachev. HarperCollins. 127 pp. $18.
THE FUTURE BELONGS TO FREEDOM. By Eduard Shevardnadze. Free Press. 237 pp. $22.95.
FOR A NEW RUSSIA. By Anatoly Sobchak. Free Press. 191 pp. $22.95.
CE QUE NOUS VOULONS FAIRE DE L’UNION SOVIETIQUE. By Aleksandr Yakovlev. Seuil. 157pp. 79 francs.
BORIS YELTSIN: From Bolshevik to Democrat. By John Morrison. Dutton. 303 pp. $20.
REBUILDING RUSSIA. By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 119pp. $14.95.
“At the burial of communism too many people want to jump from the coffin into the funeral procession.” The Polish author of these lines tried to convey the idea that the former practitioners now seem oblivious of their past performance. His image, however, does not go far enough, since they come to the funeral not to mourn but to curse. The more accurate metaphor would be that they try to Jump from the defense table to the prosecutor’s seat because, conveniently forgetting their own neo-Stalinist past, they lump everything together and damn Marx, communism and quite often socialism as dangerously utopian. Nor is it quite surprising. Restoration is a time for turncoats and for epidemics of amnesia.
Brushing up one’s memory may be a subconscious act. This came to mind when reading the proud assertion by the former Soviet Foreign Secretary that “since childhood I have never allowed any encroachments upon my own notions of duty.” In that case, the notions must have been quite flexible. The silver-haired, smooth and suave Eduard Shevardnadze, co-architect of “new thinking” In Soviet foreign policy, may have become the darling of Western chanceries (I almost wrote Ed, since he refers to James Baker as Jim), but the man was not born in 1985. By then he was party boss, i.e., supreme master, in Georgia, a post he reached through the Komsomol, the K.G.B. and the Ministry of the Interior, hardly a journey for a tender democrat. He does not deny the itinerary, only somehow misses its significance. A Georgian, Shevardnadze is a southerner, and one should possibly apply to him Alphonse Daudet’s definition of the French variety: “They don’t lie; they believe in what they say.”
The origin of the main reformers and the resulting ambiguity may indeed have contributed to the difficulties of this “revolution from above.” Four of the books under review are by key actors in the perestroika. In addition to the writings of Mikhail Gorbachev himself and of his master diplomat, there is a book by Aleksandr Yakovlev, for years the chief ideologist; and another by Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of Leningrad, rechristened St. Petersburg, and one of the stars of the rising generation. (He is the moderate legal spokesman, whereas the Mayor of Moscow, Gavril Popov, is the more adventurous economic messenger of the acquisitive priviligentsia.) Considering the prestige of the authors, the books are a disappointment. And not only because it is now impossible to publish fast enough to keep pace with the acceleration of history in Eastern Europe: Shevardnadze and Sobchak have managed to tag on a postscript on the putsch; Gorbachev spends a great deal of his limited space arguing in favor of a Union of Sovereign States, a plea that by now has only a historical meaning.