The Communist regime considered dissent in the Soviet Union
a repudiation of the proletarian struggle and a violation of
Marxism-Leninism, and thus a threat to its authority. The
proletariat was seen as selflessly striving for progress in the
building of socialism, whereas the bourgeoisie was seen as
selfishly fighting to maintain the status quo. According to
Marxist ideology, class struggle was the engine of change in all
social development. Vladimir Lenin's ideological contribution
was to make the party itself the exclusive "vanguard of the
proletariat" and thus the final arbiter of what was proletarian
or bourgeois. The secret police was enlisted to enforce the
party's ideology and to suppress dissent.
Because the party's legitimacy rested on the basic
correctness of its ideology, failures in practical policy were
never attributed to ideology itself. To maintain the party's
ideological authority, religion had to be condemned outright, and
history periodically revised to match the current party line.
Books and magazines viewed as no longer politically correct were
removed from libraries. Scientists, artists, poets, and others,
including many who did not think of themselves as dissidents but
whose work appeared critical of Soviet life, were systematically
persecuted and even prosecuted. Often they were declared either
enemies of the state and imprisoned, or insane and committed to
punitive mental hospitals.
To speak for human rights or to support freedom of
expression was to question the very basis of Marxism-Leninism and
the legitimacy of the party's rule. Among those harassed and
persecuted were world-renowned artists and scientists, including
Nobel Prize winners Boris Pasternak, who was forced to refuse his
prize; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was forcibly removed from the
USSR; and Andrei Sakharov, who was expelled from the Academy of
Sciences and internally exiled to a closed city.
A prime mover of change was Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policy
of glasnost' allowed freedom of expression and resulted in the
abandonment of Marxist-Leninist ideology and a loss of legitimacy
for the party.