Stephen Kotkin has always been a bit of an iconoclast in Soviet Studies. He was one of the first to apply a Foucaultian analysis to Stalinism in Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization. The work was so influential it gave birth to the one of the most deployed concepts in Soviet historiography: “speaking Bolshevik.” Kotkin has since moved into investigating the fall of Communism. Armageddon Averted, his first foray into the late/post-Soviet era, addressed the collapse of the USSR in social-institutional terms. This implosion didn’t end in 1991 but continued well into that decade. His new book, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment, is the second volume in assessing the collapse of Communism. In it, Kotkin puts forward a bold thesis: forget about “civil society” destroying Communism in Eastern Europe, he says. It’s a myth. The Communist establishments in Eastern Europe were quite politically stable and were hardly challenged by widespread opposition (except in Poland). Instead, Kotkin attributes the collapse of Communism to “uncivil society”, that is the elites who became disillusioned with their own system and by 1989 simply let it melt away.
New Books in History‘s Marshal Poe recently interviewed Kotkin about Uncivil Society. I highly recommend listening to this thought provoking and lively discussion. Can we expect “uncivil society” to become another Kotkinian watchword? Time will tell.