In order to organize history, historians have compartmentalized it into periods: Stone Age, Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Jazz Age, Post-Modernism, and so forth. In doing so, the human-ness disappears as if these moments were just scenes from a fast paced montage of world history. But the flow of time and events are distant from the neatly packaged years lumped together for convenience. They are the diverse, messy, bloody, and even well intentioned actions of individuals, who thought, energized, and created. History only happens because of individuals who act--either on their own or together, consciously or not.
The end of the Cold War was the combined influence created by small and bold decisions one at a time. Imagine standing at a picnic in the park and the person in charge realizes the food table needs to move because the watering system is about to come on. She calls for help and one by one, two by two, the frisbee team hurries over, the father hands the baby to the mom, they gather and when there is enough cumulative strength---the table moves. This is how the "evil empire" was defeated. It took several people who came to the table.
Andrei Sakharov had helped to create the first Soviet atom bomb and the first hydrogen bomb. He was considered one of the most valuable and prominent Soviet physicists, but even he reached the point when he saw the futility of an ever-competing nuclear build-up. He began to write and protest. His power demanded attention; when people started to listen, he was shut down-- put under house arrest. He later received a Nobel Prize for his courage. His decisions were part of the great puzzle.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a respected Soviet playwright and novelist. Through his writings, he revealed the imbalance and injustices of the Soviet Union and was labeled a dissident and banished from Soviet society.--another part of the puzzle.
Once there was an actor and a playwright from Poland named Karol Wojtyla. At some point in his life his call was no longer the stage, but a call to serve God. He listened. In 1978, he became Pope John Paul II, the Pope who would be forever known as the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years and the one who came from a communist country.
When he made his first visit to his native country the party deemed him an enemy: "He is dangerous, because he will make St. Stanislaw (the patron saint of Poland)...a defender of human rights...Our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop (Gaddis, John-The Cold War)."
When Pope John Paul II entered the city of Warsaw, he was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people shouting, "We want God, we want God." The next day, the next city, over a million people came to see the people's Pope. The crowds grew and so did the desire for religious freedom.
Another blow to communism was the election of the first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She robustly targeted nationalized industries, intrusive government regulation and high taxes. "No theory of government was ever given a fairer test...than democratic socialism received in Britain. Yet it was a miserable failure in every respect (Gaddis)." Thatcher's policies showed that capitalist principles of privatization, deregulation and entrepreneurship, helped the economy. When England's economy was rebounding, the Eastern bloc countries were suffering from stagnant growth, lower production, the threat of famine and bankruptcy.
Lech Walesa, was a Polish electrician and in 1970 had seen shootings in an anti-government protest. This memory festered and in 1976, he lost his job for trying to organize workers or unionize his trade. Outside of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. 1980, he announced the formation of Solidarnose, or solidarity!--the first ever independent trade union in Marxist Leninism tradtion.
He was arrested by Polish communists and when they came for him he said, "This is the moment of your defeat. These are the last nails in the coffin of communism."
Why? The theories of Marx and Engels, the actions of Lenin, were born in the name of the proletariat--the workers of the world. They were encouraged to rise up against the establishment. This is exactly what Walesa was doing. It was an ironic slap in the face to the cause of communism.
For every person who played a pivotal role, a role of notoriety, there were thousands who will forever remain unknown; but the surge, the changes, couldn't have happened without them.