In the western narrative Soviet dissidents are portrayed as pro-democracy and even pro-market. However literature from the time hints that inequality between the Nomenclatura and the poorer elements of society was seen as an issue.

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    What literature are you talking about? Of course one can be pro Dennis democracy and pro greater economic equality.
    – Ne Mo
    Mar 16, 2022 at 8:16
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    What preliminary research have you done?, and please cite all assertions; in my years of Soviet studies, dissidents were rarely if ever portrayed as pro-democracy.
    – MCW
    Mar 16, 2022 at 8:25
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    It was certainly an issue in East Germany, but then the issue might have been less about inequality itself and more about hypocrisy and the distance between rulers and ruled?
    – Jan
    Mar 16, 2022 at 8:48
  • Very few people are 'pro-market' in a philosophical sense. Aside from issues of civil rights, dissidents wanted e.g. shoes that fit, not to have to queue to buy food that tasted terrible, and to live in a house that wasn't shared with 20 other people. The arrival of the free market would, in the beginning at least, make most of these problems even worse. But that's a different story...
    – Ne Mo
    Mar 16, 2022 at 12:47
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    The subject refers to "social justice" (which these days in the USA usually refers to "equality of outcome by race/sex") while the body seems to be talking about economic inequality in general. Either way, soviet dissidents were mostly concerned with individual human rights, rather than grand sociological issues. There were exceptions though...
    – sds
    Mar 16, 2022 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


Even though one can always find different people and motivations, overall, the dissident circle in the USSR was centered around human rights issues, and to a lesser extent, civil rights.

In the later years, this was shaped by the Helsinki Accords, which USSR signed in 1975. An independent Moscow Helsinki Group was formed to monitor USSR's adherence to the Accords. More than ever, they could argue (in courts and otherwise) about illegality of government's actions. "Please respect your own law/Constitution" was a common motto (and remains to this day).

The human/civil rights issues at the centre of attention, such as freedom of speech and religion or 'simply' justice, are more fundamental than the more abstract ideas of 'social justice' or 'democracy'. Democracy, market and such things can be seen as the means to achieve freedoms and justice, and opinions could differ (and still do) about their efficiency towards these goals.

'People on the ground' were mostly busy with more specific problems like defending the accused or disseminating the truth. Many dissidents did not see themselves inherently anti-Soviet and just wanted to live a honest life with dignity, and refused to participate in mass hypocrisy. Unlike the state, they tried to live by the law.

The 'pro-democracy and even pro-market' sentiment can be explained by simple observation that the situation with human rights (etc.) was better in the West, so it would be natural to emulate what they were doing. The inequality and political problems of the West were seen as laughable compared to 'our own', which only reinforced this view.

Also, there was quite universal derision (amongst Soviet dissidents of all kinds) towards the Western USSR sympathisers, who were seen as naive fools (or uninformed useful idiots at best). Given that these sympathisers were nearly always leftists, this creates somewhat incorrect perception that all dissidents were rightists. This is simplification. But it would be fair to say that most dissidents were 'liberal' it its true original sense, which is 'pro-liberty' and hence by extension pro-market.

  • This is leveraging overly heavily on the concept of “dissident.” Opposition to the manner of relations in the USSR to 1975 or so was mostly self organised working class around better conditions, with notable small peasant organisation to 1933, fascist organisation 1941-1944, and periodic arrests of party figures for socially networking through to the late 1950s. “Dissidents were dissidents because all other oppositions weren’t dissidents” is a dangerously dictionary definition fallacy. Mar 18, 2022 at 12:47
  • @Samuel, yet that's the actual usage of the word in the specific application to the USSR (and in Russian). In the "late USSR" (1970s+, but excluding late Perestroika) there was no other "opposition". People grumbling privately in their kitchens but otherwise living "normal" lives are not opposition. There was no practical way to "self organise" by then. Those rare individuals who dared to protest openly quickly discovered the KGB power (which was more sophisticated by then) and either backed off or joined "proper" dissidents, learning that it was rights that suffered most, not shoes quality.
    – Zeus
    Mar 20, 2022 at 23:45
  • The kitchen table learnt a different lesson about shoes. And the question isn’t phrased post-68. Mar 20, 2022 at 23:57
  • @Samuel, I believe it does. The title explicitly says "late USSR". This essentially means Brezhnev's era and later. Besides, the word was not in common use before then.
    – Zeus
    Mar 21, 2022 at 0:04

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