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To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: The Many Lives of the Soviet Dissident Movement

To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: The Many Lives of the Soviet Dissident Movement

Author Benjamin Nathans
Publisher Princeton University Press
Publication Date 2024-08-13
Section New Hardcover - Nonfiction / European History
Type New
ISBN 9780691117034

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union found itself unexpectedly challenged from within by a cohort of dissidents who eventually achieved global fame. Their struggle for the rule of law and human rights made them instant heroes in the West, where they appeared as democracy's surrogate soldiers behind the iron curtain. But, as historian Benjamin Nathans argues, theirs was a homegrown phenomenon; activists built the anti-totalitarian movement on fundamental concepts from within the communist pantheon. And their goal was not to topple the Soviet state (a feat they could scarcely imagine) but to exercise a kind of containment of Soviet power from within. Still, the movement was in many ways improbable: a half-century after Lenin launched the world's first socialist society, and a generation after Stalin liquidated millions of "enemies of the people," there was not supposed to be any internal opposition left. What kind of people became dissidents, and how were they able to invent new techniques of social activism, eventually forming the socialist world's first civil and human rights movement? To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause-a title borrowed from the dissidents' favorite toast, pronounced with glasses raised in countless apartments across the USSR's eleven time-zones-tells the story of the people and the ideas that made the movement. Weaving together KGB interrogation and surveillance records with diaries, letters, and an extraordinary number of memoirs, Nathans explains how a movement grew from a chain reaction of individual acts of resistance. He explains its origins in the counterintuitive idea of "civil obedience"-the conviction that human rights could be achieved if only the Soviet regime followed its own constitution and that citizens had to act as if the constitution was the law of the land in the absence of compliance within the governing class. Nathans constructs in detail the lives and struggles of numerous dissidents, including Andrei Sakharov, Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, and Alexander Volpin. He describes the many show trials of activists, the extra-legal tactics of the KGB's Fifth Directorate, the international networks of activism and journalism that fueled the movement at key moments, and the gradual incorporation of dissident ideals into mainstream Soviet political culture. This book offers a definitive history of the group of dissenters who worked from within the Soviet system against the post-Stalinist regime, bringing to life the stories of drama, conflict, tangled relationships, personal sacrifice, and extraordinary devotion to a seemingly impossible cause.

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