I recently finished Soviet Freedom (Picador, 1988), Anthony Barnett’s account of his trip to the Soviet Union in 1987, and was very impressed by his insight into the changing situation and the wide range of interesting people he talked to; I’d recommend it to anyone interested in what that time and place were like. Here I want to pass on an extended quote from Alexander Yakovlev that expresses very well my own sense of the relation between politics and psychology:
Democratization is needed first and foremost, second and third too.[…] We have not got used to really arguing, and what is more, arguing honourably, listening to one another’s opinions. Yet this is essential, since collective wisdom is always stronger than the view of one person. For this reason, the issue does not consist of the perfection of the system of political institutions alone; what is at issue is that we should shape human thinking itself, that we should get people used to a democratic outlook, to a kind of democratic way of thinking.
I mentioned a few days ago here that we have overthrown the tsars, but we have not yet overthrown the petty monarchs hidden within ourselves. Within all of us there sits some kind of khan, tsar, I might say God almighty, in other words a sort of power-hungry being. When this starts to take hold of one, there straight away appears this inner-being, who starts to give out orders, to administrate. It starts to walk not upon our sinful soil but hovers somewhere above it. Such a person already thinks he is more clever, more learned; he starts to make pronouncements and everyone is obliged to attend in awe to his wise thoughts.
Therefore, we have got to get used to spiritual, human equality; we have to understand that a person, in the last resort, is only one among millions. If he attains greater or smaller office, then this only means that people trust him and have honoured him with their trust. To a certain extent, perhaps, it shows that they recognize one of his abilities or talents, but it in no way authorizes him to detach himself from the millions of human beings, to put himself above them.
The passage is from an interview with Andras Sugar for the Hungarian television program Face to Face, broadcast July 30, 1987; I’d love to have it in Russian, but Google hasn’t turned it up for me.
Update. No original has turned up, but Sashura has provided the next best thing, a translation back into Russian, in this post (which also links to a recent hour-long talk by Yakovlev at Berkeley).