David Remnick is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lenin’s Tomb, The Devil Problem and Other True Stories, and Resurrection. He is the editor of The New Yorker.

How Russia Is Ruled

If we have learned anything from the strange and epic story of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin these past ten years it is that no tsar is hero to his bodyguard. Or not for long, anyway. We know this because, in the new tradition of Russian politics, the bodyguard in question has …

On Murray Kempton (1917–1997)

Murray Kempton wrote about eleven thousand newspaper columns in his time, and, like all practitioners of the trade, he devoted a fair percentage of them to the deflation of the pompous and the unmasking of the fake. Early in the campaign of 1992, he determined Bill Clinton to be a …

Laughter in the Dark

If Saint Peter should ever locate the keys to the Lubyanka and release all the writers slaughtered there, the only shade in the procession likely to be wearing a smile would be Isaac Emmanuilovich Babel. As his second wife, Antonina Pirozhkova, tells us, “Babel ascribed great importance to merriment.” “What …

Hammer, Sickle, and Book

The imagery of triumph and even comedy that attended the events of August 1991 in Russia comforted, and ultimately deceived, the world. The men of the Communist Party, the Army, and the KGB who had tried to seize power in the name of Leninist principles and imperial preservation betrayed their …

Notes From Underground

The big year for the New Journalism was 1965. (A Journal of the Plague Year, Homage to Catalonia, and even Joseph Mitchell’s foretaste of the postmodern, Joe Gould’s Secret, had been published before this momentous date, but that wasn’t the point. “New” was the point.) In the spring, Tom Wolfe …

Getting Russia Right

The fall of Sovietology was as cruel as it was quick. One may reasonably restrain one’s sympathy for the displaced men of the Central Committee, but it is a stunning thing to see what the collapse has done to professors on university faculties—to the historians, the political scientists, the sociologists—who …

Le Carré’s New War

The end of the cold war is a hard bargain. Certainly it is an advantage to mankind that our chances of being vaporized into radioactive mist have been reduced considerably, and yet, on the debit side, we have lost one of the greatest characters in the history of the espionage …

The Counterrevolutionary

In the years after his overthrow, Nikita Khrushchev sat with a boxy reel-to-reel tape recorder and dictated his memoirs for hours at a time. To avoid the listening devices he knew had been planted in his house, he worked at first outside his dacha in Petrovo-Dalneye. One can hear on …

Invitation to a Beheading

A few days after the collapse of the August coup in Moscow last year, reliable sources in the Russian government said the KGB had for months been burning archives in underground furnaces. But even the celebrated efficiency of the secret police was no match for their own graphomania. In Moscow …

Dons of the Don

Gaidar Aliyev was humiliated. After two decades as the Communist Party boss of Azerbaijan, he had been dumped in 1989 from Gorbachev’s Politburo, vilified for corruption in the news columns of Pravda, and reduced to sharing the back seat of a dismal Volga sedan with an American journalist. The pressures …

Defending the Faith

Just before he went into exile twenty years ago, Joseph Brodsky took up a long tradition and sent a letter to the tsar. “Dear Leonid Illich,” he wrote to Brezhnev, “A language is a much more ancient and inevitable thing than a state. I belong to the Russian language. As …

Dead Souls

When Lenin died in January 1924, Bolshevik mystery displaced the last traces of historical truth. The wing of the Communist Party gathering around Stalin created a cult of Lenin, made sacred his image, and pickled his remains. It is hard to say now which influences of the past weighed most …

Chaplygin Street Blues

Alexander Nevzorov is the Soviet empire’s video warrior. An ex–movie stuntman, Nevzorov hosts 600 Seconds, an immensely popular program on Leningrad television that features gruesome true-crime stories and propaganda in the service of the Mother-land. Wearing his black leather jacket and trademark sneer, he is equal parts Geraldo Rivera and …

Native Son

On a summer afternoon in 1988, Elena Chukovskaya was leading a tour through the small museum in Peredelkino dedicated to the life and work of her grandfather, the children’s book writer and literary scholar, Kornei Chukovsky. One of the tourists fixed on a small photograph of Solzhenitsyn. “Why doesn’t Solzhenitsyn …

The Struggle for Light

On a winter’s night in 1986, two electricians and their KGB escort installed a “special telephone” in the apartment of Andrei Sakharov. For six years Sakharov and his wife Elena Bonner had been living in the industrial city of Gorky under government edict, and the sudden appearance of the new …

The Communist Party Cut-Up

At times, Boris Yeltsin can seem the Huey and Earl Long of Soviet politics, a theatrical populist.Relying on a politics of resentment, Yeltsin has won an angry public’s affection. For him no statement, no amount of bombast, is beyond belief or tolerance. In interviews he will suggest with a burlesque …