Soviet intellectuals in the late 1960s and early ’70s decided it was high time to voice their opposition to the current political situation in the Union. The movement had roots in the Khrushchev era when the state loosened controls ever so slightly, but by the time Brezhnev came to power and tried to restrict expression yet again, the movement was already taking off.
It was a period of both hope and desperation. For the dissidents, there was hope. Their public protests and demonstrations against the Soviet state system only further emboldened their radical thinking; they believed they were the “conscience of society” and had a duty to stand up and demand freedoms for the people of Russia. The dissidents sought democratic socialism and political liberalism, while condemning western ideologies that overshadowed Russian Orthodox values.
Roy Medvedev, a dissident movement leader.
For the Soviet authorities, desperation was in the air. Their legitimacy was being called into question and they could not afford that. Their attempts at controlling the dissidents were tried and true Soviet tactics: confiscating literature, exiling leaders, condemning offenders to prison or mental institutions, removing dissidents from their occupations, and launching propaganda campaigns to counter and delegitimize dissident ideology.
The actual number of dissidents may have been small, but their impact was disproportionately large. The Soviet’s attempts to regain control of public thought were desperate and futile, and if there is one thing I have learned from studying history, it is that desperate actions of a government mark the beginning of the end. I would not go so far as to credit the dissident movement with being the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union. However, it was another blow to their ideology and power, and it is a movement that ought not to be overlooked.