To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: The Many Lives of the Soviet Dissident Movement

A gripping history of the Soviet dissident movement, which hastened the end of the USSR—and still provides a model of opposition in Putin’s Russia


Aug 13, 2024
6.12 x 9.25 in.
67 b/w illus., 1 table
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Beginning in the 1960s, the Soviet Union was unexpectedly confronted by a dissident movement that captured the world’s imagination. Demanding that the Kremlin obey its own laws, an improbable band of Soviet citizens held unauthorized public gatherings, petitioned in support of arrested intellectuals, and circulated banned samizdat texts. Soviet authorities arrested dissidents, subjected them to bogus trials and vicious press campaigns, sentenced them to psychiatric hospitals and labor camps, sent them into exile—and transformed them into martyred heroes. Against all odds, the dissident movement undermined the Soviet system and unexpectedly hastened its collapse. Taking its title from a toast made at dissident gatherings, To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause is a definitive history of a remarkable group of people who helped change the twentieth century.

Benjamin Nathans’s vivid narrative tells the dramatic story of the men and women who became dissidents—from Nobel laureates Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn to many others who are virtually unknown today. Drawing on diaries, memoirs, personal letters, interviews, and KGB interrogation records, To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause reveals how dissidents decided to use Soviet law to contain the power of the Soviet state. This strategy, as one of them put it, was “simple to the point of genius: in an unfree country, they began to conduct themselves like free people.”

An extraordinary account of the Soviet dissident movement, To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause shows how dissidents spearheaded the struggle to break free of the USSR’s totalitarian past, a struggle that continues in Putin’s Russia—and that illuminates other struggles between hopelessness and perseverance today.