When Nathaniel Davis was last in the...

When Nathaniel Davis was last in the Soviet Union, a month or so before the August coup attempt that roiled the country like a depth charge in a pond, he suspected big events were imminent.

Davis and a group of students found themselves on a dizzying glasnost and perestroika carousel--with free elections, revelations of corruption, demonstrations, long lines, currency crises and a pervasive sense of malaise.

Aside from the widely reported political turmoil, says Davis, a Harvey Mudd College humanities professor, the economy appeared to be in a state of free fall.

“The ruble was no longer a currency you could buy things with,” Davis recalls. “The taxi drivers didn’t take you where you wanted to go--unless you paid in dollars.”


Davis, former senior adviser on Soviet affairs to President Lyndon B. Johnson, will talk about the last gasps of Soviet communism in a free lecture--"The U.S.S.R. and the Devolution of Power"--in Galileo Hall, Harvey Mudd College,

Claremont, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Davis, 66, has served as ambassador to Guatemala, Chile and Switzerland, as well as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and director general of the U.S. Foreign Service. He is the author of “The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende.”

The resolution of the political crisis did not solve the Soviet Union’s twin problems of a stalled economy and a disintegrating union of republics, Davis says. He chides the Bush Administration for holding back on aid until reforms are in place.


“There isn’t a chance that the Soviets will have a functioning free-market economy in place in the immediate future,” he says.

But economic stresses can send the nation in other, less agreeable directions, he adds.

“Empty saucepans are more dangerous than even tanks,” Davis says, quoting the remarks of a Soviet deputy.