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Once the hub of the tsarist state, later Brezhnev’s “model Communist city”—home of the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil’s Cathedral—Moscow is for many the quintessence of everything Russian. Timothy Colton’s sweeping biography of this city at the center of Soviet life reveals what such a position has meant to Moscow and ultimately to Russia itself.
Linchpin of the Soviet system and exemplar of its ideology, Moscow was nonetheless instrumental in the Soviet Union’s demise. It was in this metropolis of nine million people that Boris Yeltsin, during two frustrating years as the city’s party boss, began his move away from Communist orthodoxy. Colton charts the general course of events that led to this move, tracing the political and social developments that have given the city its modern character. He shows how the monolith of Soviet power broke down in the process of metropolitan governance, where the constraints of censorship and party oversight could not keep up with proliferating points of view, haphazard integration, and recurrent deviation from approved rules and goals. Everything that goes into making a city—from town planning, housing, and retail services to environmental and architectural concerns—figures in Colton’s account of what makes Moscow unique. He shows us how these aspects of the city’s organization, and the actions of leaders and elite groups within them, coordinated or conflicted with the overall power structure and policy imperatives of the Soviet Union. Against this background, Colton explores the growth of the anti-Communist revolution in Moscow politics, as well as fledgling attempts to establish democratic institutions and a market economy.
As it answers persistent questions about Soviet political history, this lavishly illustrated volume may also point the way to understanding Russia’s future.