Yakovlev vividly describes the ways that Marxism has proven to be not only wrong but ruinous to Russia, as it demolished civil society and ruthlessly replaced it with immorality and state-supported atheism. He discusses the pervasive, historical roots of the Russian "authoritarian consciousness" that helps explain why Russian society was so susceptible to the totalitarian implications of Marxism. He describes the triumvirate structure of power in the USSR before and during perestroika, the political reforms that were initiated, the ways that Soviet attitudes toward glasnost and perestroika evolved in both the reformist and conservative wings of the Party, and the reasons for the seemingly final swift collapse of the old ruling structures—the crushing defeat of the Party—in August 1991.
Assessing the situation in Russia now that Marx's teachings and the Communist Party have been rejected, Yakovlev warns that if the economic situation worsens further, Russian society will be prepared to sacrifice democracy for even modest economic growth. He urges the restructuring of Soviet society on a new basis of democracy, morality, common sense, and economic efficiency.
The book includes as appendixes five speeches given by Yakovlev in the West between November 1991 and January 1992 that provide further insight into his thinking after the collapse of the Communist Party.