The End of 1917

THE real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant." Vaclav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless," 1978.By resigning as chairman of the Communist Party and setting in motion the destruction of the party's Central Committee - the single most important institution in the party - Mikhail Gorbachev over the weekend dealt a fatal blow to the Bolshevik revolution begun by Vladimir Lenin in 1917. There has been a coup in the Soviet Union over the past seven days - but not the one the hardliners planned. It may take seven days, or seven months, for even the most ardent Soviet-watcher to fathom the world-changing history being made in Moscow right now. Throughout the USSR - in Moldavia, Tadzhikistan, the Ukraine - leaders have resigned from the party. Party property has been seized by these republics. Following the lead of Boris Yeltsin, the party is being squeezed out of institutions of justice, government, and security across the Soviet Union. President Gorbachev did not fully fathom the change his country was ready for. He came back from the Crimea nearly as out of touch as the coup planners themselves - trying to put the new wine of freedom into the old bottle of the system. Moscovites were toppling statues and shouting in the streets with new energy and hope. Yet Gorbachev talked of reforming the party. Gorbachev has shifted - at the shoving of Mr. Yeltsin. Yeltsin is now one of the most powerful men in the world. He is co-leader of the Soviet Union - and the sole leader, popularly elected, of the huge Russian Republic. Not even Gorbachev had such a mandate. Yeltsin has so far made all the right moves. He recognized Latvia and Estonia (Russia already recognizes Lithuania). Now President Bush and the West must follow suit. Many of Yeltsin's choices for the new leaders of the Soviet Union are liberal, post-Gorbachev-era reformers. The new deputy defense minister is just 43. These officials may lack experience, but at least they will no longer fight the party bureaucracy head-on. Boris Yeltsin may be the hero of the hour. But the battle against Soviet tyranny is old. It was fought by Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, by Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul, by Anatoly Scharansky and millions of other unknown, silent martyrs - men and women who would not accept the lies and hypocrisy of the state. Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia, at the US Congress last year made the patriots of 1776 responsible as well. Many lives are woven into this "August revolution" of democracy .

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