Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Editor’s note: These are excerpts from Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s address in Moscow on November 2, 1987, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. This version has been prepared by the editors of Foreign Affairs; the English translation was distributed by the Soviet press agency, TASS.
It is 70 years since the unforgettable days of October 1917, those legendary days that started the count of the new epoch of social progress, of the real history of humankind.
The past—its heroism and drama—cannot fail to thrill our contemporaries. Our history is one, and it is irreversible. Whatever emotions it may evoke, it is our history, and we cherish it. Today we turn to those October days that shook the world. We look for and find in them both a dependable spiritual buttress and instructive lessons. We see again and again that the socialist option of the October Revolution has been correct.
Like Marx and Engels, Lenin was convinced that the defense force of the revolution would be a people’s militia. But the concrete conditions prompted a different solution. The Civil War and the intervention from outside, imposed on the people, called for a new approach. A worker-peasant Red Army was formed by Lenin’s decree. It was an army of a new type which covered itself with undying glory in the Civil War and in repulsing the foreign intervention. Those years brought severe trials for the newly established Soviet Republic. It had to settle the elementary and crucial question of whether socialism would or would not be.
From organizing production and consumption by methods of War Communism necessitated by war and dislocation, the party went over to more flexible, economically justified, "regular" instruments of influencing the social reality. The measures of the New Economic Policy [NEP] were directed to building socialism’s material foundation.
These days, we turn ever more often to the last works of Lenin, to Lenin’s New Economic Policy, and strive to extract from it all the valuable elements that we require today. Certainly, it would be a mistake to equate the New Economic Policy and what we are doing now at a fundamentally new level of development.
Today, there are none of those individual peasants in the country with whom to shape an alliance, which determined the most vital aims of the economic policy of the 1920s. But the New Economic Policy also had a more distant target. The task had been set of building the new society "not directly relying on enthusiasm," as Lenin wrote, "but aided by the enthusiasm engendered by the great revolution, and on the basis of personal interests, personal incentives and business principles . . . that is what experience, the objective course of the development of the revolution, has taught us."
Speaking of the creative potential of the New Economic Policy, we should evidently refer once more to the political and methodological wealth of ideas underlying the food tax. To be sure, we are interested not in its forms of those days that had been meant to secure a bond between workers and peasants, but in the potentialities of the food tax idea in loosening the creative energy of the masses, enhancing the initiative of the individual, and removing the bureaucratic trammels that limited the operation of socialism’s basic principle, "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his work."
When thinking of the time when "NEP Russia will become socialist Russia," Lenin could not, and never meant to, draw the picture of the future society in every detail.
But the ways and means of advancing to socialism through the building of a machine industry, through a broad establishment of cooperatives, through the enlistment of the working masses to a man in running the state, through organizing the work of the state apparatus on the principle of "better fewer, but better," and through the cultural development of the entire people, through the consolidation of the federation of free nations "without lies or bayonets"—this and this alone was to shape the face of the country as it attained a fundamentally new level of social order.
The period after Lenin, that is, the 1920s and the 1930s, occupied a special place in the history of the Soviet state. For decades, we have been returning to that time again and again. This is natural.
And if, at times, we scrutinize our history with a critical eye, we do so only because we want to obtain a better and fuller idea of the ways that lead to the future. It is essential to assess the past with a sense of historical responsibility and on the basis of the historical truth. This must be done, first because of the tremendous importance of those years for the destiny of our country, the destiny of socialism. Second, because those years are at the center of the everlasting discussions both in our country and abroad, where, along with a search for the truth, attempts are often made to discredit socialism as a new social system, as a realistic alternative to capitalism.
Lastly, we need truthful assessments of this and all the other periods of our history—especially now with perestroika in full gear. We need them not to settle political scores or, as they say, to let off steam, but to pay due credit to all the heroism in the past, and to draw lessons from mistakes and miscalculations.
And so, about the 1920s and 1930s after Lenin. Although the party and society had Lenin’s conception of building socialism and Lenin’s works of the post-revolution period to go by, the search for the way was not at all simple; it was marked by keen ideological struggle and political discussions. At their center were the basic problems of society’s development, and above all the question of whether socialism could or could not be built in our country. Theoretical thought and practice cast about for the directions and forms in which to carry out socioeconomic transformations, and how to accomplish them on socialist lines in the concrete historical situation of the Soviet Union.
Above all, the country squarely faced the questions of industrialization and economic reconstruction without which building socialism and strengthening the defense capacity were unthinkable. This followed from Lenin’s explicit directions, from his theoretical heritage. The question of socialist changes in the countryside, too, arose on the same plane and also according to Lenin’s behests. And though, I repeat, the party had Lenin’s guidelines on these issues, sharp debates erupted over them.
It is evidently worthwhile to say that even before and after the revolution, in the first few years of socialist construction, not all party leaders by far shared Lenin’s views on some of the most important problems. Besides, Lenin’s recommendations could not encompass all the concrete issues concerning the building of the new society. Analyzing the ideological disputes of those times we should bear in mind that carrying out gigantic revolutionary transformations in a country such as Russia was then was in itself a most difficult undertaking.
In short, it was supremely difficult to get one’s bearings and find the only correct course in that intricate and stormy situation. To a considerable extent, too, the character of the ideological struggle was complicated by personal rivalries in the party leadership.
The old differences that had existed back in Lenin’s lifetime also made themselves felt in the new situation, and this in a very acute form. Lenin, as we know, had warned against this danger. In his "Letter to the Congress" he had stressed that "it is not a trifle, or it is a trifle which can assume decisive importance." And that was largely what had happened.
Their petit bourgeois nature took the upper hand in the case of some authoritative leaders. They took a factional stance. This agitated the party organizations, distracted them from vital affairs and interfered in their work. The leaders in question continued to provoke a split even after the vast majority in the party saw that their views were contrary to Lenin’s ideas and plans, and that their proposals were erroneous and could push the country off the correct course.
This applies first of all to Leon Trotsky, who had, after Lenin’s death, displayed excessive pretensions to top leadership in the party, thus fully confirming Lenin’s opinion of him as an excessively self-assured politician who always vacillated and cheated. Trotsky and the Trotskyites negated the possibility of building socialism in conditions of capitalist encirclement. In foreign policy they gave priority to export of revolution, and in home policy to tightening the screws on the peasants, to the city exploiting the countryside, and to administrative and military fiat in running society.
Trotskyism was a political current whose ideologists took cover behind leftist pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric, and who in effect assumed a defeatist posture. This was essentially an attack on Leninism all down the line. The matter practically concerned the future of socialism in our country, the fate of the revolution. In the circumstances, it was essential to disprove Trotskyism before the whole people, and denude its antisocialist essence.
The situation was complicated by the fact that the Trotskyites were acting in common with the new opposition headed by Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. Being aware that they constituted a minority, the opposition leaders had again and again saddled the party with discussions, counting on a split in its ranks. But in the final analysis, the party spoke out for the line of the Central Committee and against the opposition, which was soon ideologically and organizationally crushed.
In short, the party’s leading nucleus, headed by Joseph Stalin, had safeguarded Leninism in an ideological struggle. It defined the strategy and tactics in the initial stage of socialist construction, with its political course being approved by most members of the party and most working people. An important part in defeating Trotskyism ideologically was played by Nikolai Bukharin, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Sergei Kirov, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, Jan Rudzutak and others.
At the very end of the 1920s a sharp struggle ensued also over the ways of putting the peasantry on the socialist road. In substance, it revealed the different attitude of the majority in the Political Bureau and of the Bukharin group on how to apply the principles of the New Economic Policy at the new stage in the development of Soviet society. The concrete conditions of that time—both at home and internationally—necessitated a considerable increase in the rate of socialist construction.
Bukharin and his followers had, in their calculations and theoretical propositions, underrated the practical significance of the time factor in building socialism in the 1930s. In many ways, their posture reposed on dogmatic thinking and a nondialectical assessment of the concrete situation. Bukharin himself, and his followers, soon admitted their mistakes.
In this connection, it is not amiss to recall Lenin’s opinion of Bukharin. "Bukharin," he said, "is not only a most valuable and major theorist of the party; he is also rightly considered the favorite of the whole party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him (he has never made a study of dialectics, and, I think, never fully understood it)."
The facts again confirmed that Lenin had been right.
As we see, the political discussions of that time reflected a difficult process in the party’s development, marked by acute struggle over crucial problems of socialist construction. In that struggle, which had to be endured, there took shape the concept of industrialization and collectivization. Under the leadership of the party, of its Central Committee, a heavy industry, including engineering, a defense industry and a chemical industry abreast of the times, were built in short order practically from scratch, and the general electrification plan was completed.
The party charted an earlier unknown method of industrialization: to begin building a heavy industry at once, without reliance on external sources of finance, and without waiting years for capital to accumulate through the expansion of light industry. This was the only possible way in those conditions, though it was incredibly difficult for the country and the people. It was an innovative step in which the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses was taken into account as a component of economic growth. Industrialization raised the country to a fundamentally new level in one heave.
By the end of the 1930s the Soviet Union had moved to first place in Europe and second place in the world for industrial output, becoming a truly great industrial power. And looking at history with a sober eye, considering the aggregate of internal and international realities, one cannot help asking whether a course other than that suggested by the party could have been taken in those conditions. If we wish to be faithful to history and the truth of life, there can be only one answer: no other course could be taken.
In those conditions, with the threat of imperialist aggression building up visibly, the party was increasingly convinced that it was essential not just to cover but literally to race across the distance from the sledgehammer and wooden plough to an advanced industry in the shortest possible time, for without this the cause of the revolution would be inevitably destroyed.
At the same time, the period under review also saw some losses. They were in a definite sense connected with the successes I have just referred to. People had begun to believe in the universal effectiveness of rigid centralization, in that methods of command were the shortest and best way of resolving any and all problems. This had an effect on the attitude toward people, toward their conditions of life.
A party and government leadership system of administrative command emerged in the country, and red tape gained strength, even though Lenin had warned about its danger in his day. And a corresponding structure of administration and planning began to take shape.
In industry—given its scale at the time, when literally all the main components of the industrial edifice were conspicuous—such methods, such a system of management, generally produced results. However, an equally rigid centralization-and-command system was impermissible in tackling the problems of refashioning rural life.
It must be said frankly: at the new stage there was a deficit of the Leninist considerate attitude toward the interests of the working peasantry. Most important of all, there was an underestimation of the fact that the peasantry as a class had changed radically in the years since the revolution.
The principal figure now was the middle peasant. He had asserted himself as a farmer working the land he had received from the revolution and he had, over a whole decade, become convinced that Soviet government was his government too. He had become a staunch and dependable ally of the working class, an ally on a new basis, becoming convinced in practical terms that his life was increasingly taking a turn for the better.
And if there had been more consideration for objective economic laws and if more attention had been given to the social processes taking place in the village, if in general the attitude toward this vast mass of the working peasantry—most of whom had taken part in the revolution and had defended it from the White Guards and the forces of intervention—had been politically more judicious, if there had been a consistent line to promote the alliance with the middle peasantry against the kulak, the village moneybag, then there would not have been all those excesses that occurred in carrying out collectivization.
Today it is clear: in a tremendous undertaking, which affected the fate of the majority of the country’s population, there was a departure from Lenin’s policy toward the peasantry. This most important and very complex social process, in which a great deal depended on local conditions, was directed by predominantly administrative methods.
A conviction had arisen that all problems could be solved at a stroke, overnight. Whole regions and parts of the country began to compete: who would achieve complete collectivization more quickly. Arbitrary percentage targets were issued from above. Flagrant violations of the principles of collectivization occurred everywhere. Nor were excesses avoided in the struggle against the kulaks. The basically correct policy of fighting the kulaks was often interpreted so broadly that it swept in a considerable part of the middle peasantry too. Such is the reality of history.
But, comrades, if we assess the significance of collectivization as a whole in consolidating socialism in the countryside, it was in the final analysis a transformation of fundamental importance.
Collectivization implied a radical change in the entire mode of life of the preponderant part of the country’s population to a socialist footing. It created the social base for modernizing the agrarian sector and re-gearing it along the lines of advanced farming techniques; it made possible a considerable rise in the productivity of labor, and it released a substantial share of manpower needed for other spheres of socialist construction. All this had historical effects.
To understand the situation of those years it must be borne in mind that the administrative-command system, which had begun to take shape in the process of industrialization and which had received a fresh impetus during collectivization, had told on the whole sociopolitical life of the country. Once established in the economy, it had spread to its superstructure, restricting the development of the democratic potential of socialism and holding back the progress of socialist democracy.
But the aforesaid does not give a full picture of how complex that period was. What had happened? The time of ideological-political tests of the utmost gravity to the party was actually over. Millions of people had joined enthusiastically in the work of bringing about socialist transformations. The first successes were becoming apparent.
Yet at that time methods dictated by the period of the struggle with the hostile resistance of the exploiter classes were being mechanically transferred to the period of peaceful socialist construction, when conditions had changed cardinally. An atmosphere of intolerance, hostility and suspicion was created in the country.
As time went on, this political practice gained in scale and was backed up by the erroneous theory of an aggravation of the class struggle in the course of socialist construction. All this had a dire effect on the country’s sociopolitical development and produced grim consequences. Quite obviously, it was the absence of a proper level of democratization in the Soviet society that made possible the personality cult, the violations of legality, the wanton repressive measures of the 1930s.
I am putting things bluntly. Those were real crimes stemming from an abuse of power. Many thousands of people inside and outside the party were subjected to wholesale repressive measures. Such, comrades, is the bitter truth. Serious damage was done to the cause of socialism and to the authority of the party. And we must say this bluntly. This is necessary to assert Lenin’s ideal of socialism once and for all.
There is now much discussion about the role of Stalin in our history. His was an extremely contradictory personality. To remain faithful to historical truth we have to see both Stalin’s incontestable contribution to the struggle for socialism, to the defense of its gains, the gross political errors, and the abuses committed by him and by those around him, for which our people paid a heavy price and which had grave consequences for the life of our society.
It is sometimes said that Stalin did not know of many instances of lawlessness. Documents at our disposal show that this is not so. The guilt of Stalin and his immediate entourage before the party and the people for the wholesale repressive measures and acts of lawlessness is enormous and unforgivable. This is a lesson for all generations.
Contrary to the assertions of our ideological opponents, the Stalin personality cult was certainly not inevitable. It was alien to the nature of socialism, represented a departure from its fundamental principles and, therefore, has no justification.
At its 20th and 22nd Congresses, the party severely condemned the cult itself and its consequences. We now know that the political accusations and repressive measures against a number of party leaders and statesmen, against communists and nonparty people, against economic executives and military men, against scientists and cultural personalities, were a result of deliberate falsification. Many accusations were later, especially after the 20th Party Congress, withdrawn. Thousands of innocent victims were completely exonerated.
But the process of restoring justice was not seen through to the end and was actually suspended in the middle of the 1960s. Now, in line with a decision taken by the October 1987 plenary meeting of the Central Committee, we are having to return to this. The Political Bureau of the Central Committee has set up a commission for comprehensively examining new facts and documents pertaining to these matters and those known previously. Corresponding decisions will be taken on the basis of the commission’s findings.
All this will also be reflected in a treatise on the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [CPSU], whose preparation is to be entrusted to a special commission of the Central Committee. This is something we have to do, the more so since even now there are still attempts to turn away from painful matters in our history, to hush them up, to make believe that nothing special happened.
We cannot agree to this. This would be disregard for the historical truth, disrespect for the memory of those who were innocent victims of lawless and arbitrary actions. Another reason why we cannot agree to this is that a truthful analysis must help us to solve today’s problems of perestroika, or reorganization. That is why here too we have to be quite clear, concise and consistent.
An honest understanding of our enormous achievements as well as of past misfortunes, their full and true political evaluation, will provide real moral guidelines for the future. In drawing up a general balance sheet of the period of the 1920s and 1930s after Lenin, we can say that we have covered a difficult road, replete with contradictions and complexities, but a big and heroic road. Neither gross errors nor departures from the principles of socialism could divert our people, our country, from the road it embarked upon by the choice it made in 1917.
And all this was brought out forcefully in the grim trials of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
In the West there is now much talk about the situation on the eve of the war. Truths are being laced with half-truths. This is being done especially zealously by those who are displeased with the results of World War II—political, territorial and social—by those who persist in scheming to amend those results. That is why they are interested in presenting the historical truth upside down, in garbling cause-and-effect relationships and falsifying the chronology of events.
In this context they are resorting to any lies to saddle the Soviet Union with the blame for World War II, the road to which was supposedly cleared by the Ribbentrop-Molotov Nonaggression Pact. This matter deserves being spoken about in somewhat greater detail.
Actually, it was by no means on September 1, 1939, that World War II became a tragic reality. Japan’s seizure of northeast China (the Manchurian Incident of 1931-1932), Italy’s attack on Ethiopia (in 1935) and on Albania (in the spring of 1939), the German-Italian intervention against Republican Spain (1936-1939) and Japan’s armed invasion of north and then central China (in the summer of 1937)—these were the initial conflagrations of World War II.
It is a different matter that in those days the West still pretended that this did not concern it or did not concern it enough to come to the defense of the victims of aggression. Hatred of socialism, long-term designs and class selfishness prevented a sober assessment of the real dangers.
Even more: fascism was persistently being offered the mission of a strike force in an anti-communist crusade. After Ethiopia and China, Austria and Czechoslovakia were flung into the furnace of appeasement, the sword hung over Poland, over all the Baltic and Danube states, and propaganda was being conducted openly in favor of turning the Ukraine into a wheat field and livestock farm of the Third Reich.
Ultimately, the main thrusts of aggression were being channeled against the Soviet Union, and since the scheming to divide up our country had begun long before the war, it is not hard to see how limited our options were. It is said that the decision taken by the Soviet Union in concluding a nonaggression pact with Germany was not the best one. This may be so, if one is guided not by harsh reality, but by abstract conjectures torn out of their time frame.
In these circumstances, too, the issue was roughly the same as it had been at the time of the Brest[-Litovsk] peace: Was our country to be or not to be independent, was socialism on earth to be or not to be?
The U.S.S.R. made great efforts to build up a system of collective security and to avert a global slaughter. But the Soviet initiatives met with no response among the Western political leaders and politicians, who were coolly scheming how best to involve socialism in the flames of war and bring about its head-on collision with fascism.
Outcasts already by virtue of our socialist birth, we could under no circumstances be right from the imperialist point of view. As I said, the Western ruling circles, in an attempt to blot out their own sins, are trying to convince people that the Nazi attack on Poland and thereby the start of World War II was triggered by the Soviet-German Nonaggression Pact of August 23, 1939. As if there had been no Munich agreement with Hitler signed by Britain and France back in 1938, with the active connivance of the U.S., no Anschluss in Austria, no crucifixion of the Spanish Republic, no Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and Klaipeda, and no conclusion of nonaggression pacts with Germany by London and Paris in 1938. By the way, such a pact was concluded by prewar Poland too. All this, as you see, fitted neatly into the structure of imperialist policy, was and is considered to be in the nature of things. It is known from documents that the date of Germany’s attack on Poland ("not later than September 1") was fixed as early as April 3, 1939, that is, long before the Soviet-German pact.
In London, Paris and Washington it was known in minute detail how the preparations for the Polish campaign were really proceeding, just as it was known that the only barrier capable of stopping the Hitlerites could be conclusion of an Anglo-Franco-Soviet military alliance not later than August 1939.
These plans were also known to the leadership of our country, and that was why it sought to convince Britain and France of the need for collective measures. It also urged the Polish government of the time to cooperate in curbing aggression. But the Western powers had different designs: to beckon the U.S.S.R. with the promise of an alliance and thereby to prevent the conclusion of the nonaggression pact we had been offered, to deprive us of the chance to make better preparations for the inevitable attack by Hitler Germany on the U.S.S.R.
Nor can we forget that in August 1939 the Soviet Union faced a very real threat of war on two fronts: in the west with Germany and in the east with Japan, which had started a costly conflict on the Khalkhin-Gol. But life and death, scorning myths, went into their real orbits. A new chapter was beginning in contemporary history, a most grim and complex one. At that stage, however, we managed to stave off the collision with the enemy, an enemy who had left himself and his opponent but one choice: to triumph or to perish.
The Great Patriotic War brought out to the full the talent of outstanding military leaders who had emerged from the midst of the people: Georgi Zhukov, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Aleksander Vasilevsky, Ivan Konev and other distinguished marshals, generals and officers, those who commanded fronts and armies, corps, divisions and regiments, companies and platoons.
A factor in the achievement of victory was the tremendous political will, purposefulness and persistence, ability to organize and discipline people displayed in the war years by Joseph Stalin. But the brunt of the war was borne by the ordinary Soviet soldier—a great toiler of the people’s own flesh and blood, valiant and devoted to his country. Every honor and eternal glory to him!
When the war ended, our ill-wishers predicted an economic decline in our country and its dropping out of world politics for a long time; they considered that it would take us half a century, if not more, to cope with the aftermath of the war. But within an extremely short period of time the Soviet people had rebuilt the war-ravaged towns and villages, and raised from their ruins factories and mills, collective and state farms, schools and colleges, and cultural institutions.
But during this very same time—a time of new exploits by the people in the name of socialism—a contradiction between what our society had become and the old methods of leadership was making itself felt ever more appreciably.
Abuses of power and violations of socialist legality continued, the "Leningrad Case" and the "Doctors’ Case" were fabricated. In short, there was a deficit of genuine respect for the people. People were devotedly working, studying, seeking new knowledge, accepting difficulties and shortages, but sensing that alarm and hope were building up in society, and all this gripped the public consciousness soon after Stalin’s death.
In the middle of the 1950s, especially after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party , a wind of change swept the country, the people’s spirits rose, they took heart, became bolder and more confident. It required no small courage of the party and its leadership, headed by Nikita Khrushchev, to criticize the personality cult and its consequences, and to reestablish socialist legality.
The old stereotypes in domestic and foreign policy began to crumble. Attempts were made to break down the command-bureaucratic methods of administration established in the 1930s and the 1940s, to make socialism more dynamic, to emphasize humanitarian ideals and values, and to revive the creative spirit of Leninism in theory and practice.
The desire to change the priorities of economic development, to bring into play incentives related to a personal interest in work-results, keynoted the decisions of the September 1953 and July 1955 plenary meetings of the party Central Committee. More attention began to be devoted to the development of agriculture, housing, light industry, the sphere of consumption, and to everything related to satisfying human needs. In short, there were changes for the better in Soviet society and in international relations.
However, no small number of subjectivist errors were committed, and they handicapped socialism’s advance to a new stage, moreover, doing much to discredit progressive initiatives. The fact is that fundamentally new problems of domestic and foreign policies, and of party development, were often being solved by voluntaristic methods, with the aid of the old political and economic mechanism. But the failures of the reforms undertaken in that period were mainly due to the fact that they were not backed up by a broad development of democratization processes.
At the October 1964 plenary meeting of the party Central Committee there was a change of the leadership of the party and the country, and decisions were taken to overcome voluntaristic tendencies and distortions in domestic and foreign policies. The party sought to achieve a certain stabilization in the policy, and to give it realistic features and thoroughness.
The March and September 1965 plenary meetings of the party Central Committee formulated new approaches to economic management. An economic reform, and big programs for developing new areas and promoting the productive forces, were worked out and began to be put into effect.
In the first few years this changed the situation in the country for the better. The economic and scientific potential was increasing, the defense capacity was being strengthened, the standard of living was rising. Many foreign policy moves enhanced the international prestige of our state. Strategic parity with the U.S. was achieved.
The country had at its disposal extensive resources for further accelerating its development. But to utilize these resources and put them to work, cardinal new changes were needed in society and, of course, the corresponding political will. There was a shortage of one and the other. And even much of what had been decided remained on paper, was left suspended in mid-air. The pace of our development was substantially retarded.
At the April 1985 plenary meeting of its Central Committee and at its 27th Congress the party frankly identified the causes of the situation that had arisen, laid bare the mechanism retarding our development and gave it a fundamental assessment.
It was stated that in the later years of the life and activities of Leonid Brezhnev the search for ways of further advancement had been largely hampered by an addiction to habitual formulas and schemes, which did not reflect the new realities. The gap between word and deed had widened.
Negative processes in the economy were gathering momentum and had, in effect, created a pre-crisis situation. Many aberrations had arisen in the social, spiritual and moral spheres, and they were distorting and deforming the principles of socialist justice, undermining the people’s faith in it, and giving rise to social alienation and immorality in various forms. The growing discrepancy between the lofty principles of socialism and the everyday realities of life was becoming intolerable.
The healthy forces in the party and in society as a whole were becoming more and more acutely aware of the pressing need to overcome negative phenomena, to reverse the course of events to secure an acceleration of the country’s socioeconomic development, and to bring about a moral purification and renewal of socialism.
It was in response to this extremely acute social need that the April 1985 plenary meeting of the Central Committee put forward the concept and strategy of accelerating the country’s socioeconomic development, and the course aimed at a renewal of socialism. These were given more elaborate theoretical and political formulation in the decisions of the 27th Party Congress and subsequent plenary meetings of the Central Committee, and assumed final shape in the general policy of a revolutionary reorganization of all aspects of socialist society’s life.
Comrades, we have been led to the conclusion about the necessity for perestroika by pressing needs brooking no delay. But the more deeply we examined our problems and probed their meaning, the clearer it became that perestroika also has a broader sociopolitical and historical context. Perestroika implies not only eliminating the stagnation and conservatism of the preceding period, and correcting the mistakes committed, but also overcoming historically limited, outdated features of social organization and work methods.
Two key problems of the development of society determine the fate of perestroika. These are the democratization of all social life and a radical economic reform.
The purpose of the radical economic reform begun in the country is to assure, during the next two or three years, a transition from an overly centralized command system of management to a democratic system based mainly on economic methods and on an optimal combination of centralism and self-management. Today we must once again firmly say: the party will tolerate no departures from the adopted principles of the economic reform. All the changes planned must be and will be implemented in full.
The economic reform and perestroika in general forcefully advance to the forefront the human being. Social justice requires that we should give more attention to a person’s individual abilities, and reward morally and materially those who work better and more, setting others an example.
Thirty months have elapsed since the April plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee. What are our achievements? What juncture have we reached? The general conclusion made on this score at the plenary meeting the CPSU has just held is that we are at a turning point. By and large, we have passed through the first stage of our perestroika effort.
It would be a mistake to take no notice of a certain increase in the resistance of the conservative forces that see perestroika simply as a threat to their selfish interests and objectives. This resistance can be felt not only at management level but also in work collectives. Nor can one really doubt that the conservative forces will seize upon any difficulty in a bid to discredit perestroika and provoke dissatisfaction among the people. Even now there are those who prefer to keep ticking off the slip-ups instead of getting down to combating shortcomings and looking for new solutions.
Naturally, these people never say that they oppose perestroika. Rather, they would have us believe that they are fighting against its negative side effects, that they are guardians of the ideological principles that supposedly might be eroded by the increasing activity of the masses.
But, comrades, isn’t it time to stop trying to scare us with all sorts of slip-ups? Of course negative side effects are inevitable in any undertaking, particularly if it is novel. But the consequences of marking time, of stagnation and indifference have a much greater impact and cost a lot more than the side effects that arise temporarily in the course of a creative effort to reshape the social fabric.
We should learn to spot, expose and neutralize the maneuvers of the opponents of perestroika—those who act to impede our advance and trip us up, who gloat over our difficulties and setbacks, who try to drag us back into the past.
Nor should we succumb to the pressure of the overly zealous and impatient—those who refuse to accept the objective logic of perestroika, who voice their disappointment with what they regard as a slow rate of change, who claim that this change does not yield the necessary results fast enough. It should be clear that one cannot leap over essential stages and try to accomplish everything at one go.
To sum up, comrades, perestroika will not succeed without a drastic invigoration of the activities of all party organizations. And so we must have a more businesslike and a more democratic attitude, we must improve organization and tighten discipline. Then we will be able to put perestroika into higher gear and impart a new impetus to socialism in its development.
During the few years when Lenin directed Soviet foreign policy, he not only worked out its underlying principles but also showed how they should be applied in a most unusual and abruptly changing situation. Indeed, contrary to initial expectations, the rupture of the "weakest link" in the chain of the capitalist system was not the "last, decisive battle" but the beginning of a long and complex process. It was a major achievement of the founder of the Soviet state that he discerned in time the actual prospects the victory in the Civil War opened before the new Russia.
He realized that the country had secured not merely a "breathing spell" but something much more important—"a new period, in which we have won the right to our fundamental international existence in the network of capitalist states." In a resolute step, Lenin suggested a policy of learning and mastering the art of long-term "existence side by side" with them. Countering leftist extremism, he argued that it was possible for countries with different social systems to coexist peacefully.
It took only 18 to 24 months in the wake of the Civil War to end the international political isolation of the state of workers and peasants. Treaties were concluded with neighboring countries and then, at Rapallo, with Germany. Britain, France, Italy, Sweden and other capitalist countries extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Republic.
The first steps were taken to build equitable relations with oriental countries—China, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. These were not simply the first victories of Lenin’s foreign policy and diplomacy. They were a breakthrough into a fundamentally new quality of international affairs. The main thrust of our foreign policy has remained unchanged. We have every right to describe it as a Leninist policy of peace, mutually beneficial international cooperation and friendship among nations.
Naturally, not all our subsequent foreign policy efforts were successful. We have had our share of setbacks. We did not make full use of all the opportunities that opened before us both before and after World War II. We failed to translate the enormous moral prestige with which the Soviet Union emerged from the war into effective efforts to consolidate the peace-loving, democratic forces and to stop those who orchestrated the cold war. We did not always respond adequately to imperialist provocations.
It is true that some things could have been tackled better and that we could have been more efficient. Nevertheless we can say on this memorable occasion that the overall thrust of our policy has remained in concert with the basic course worked out and charted by Lenin—consonant with the very nature of socialism, with its principled commitment to peace. This was overwhelmingly instrumental in averting the outbreak of a nuclear war and in preventing imperialism from winning the cold war.
Together with our allies, we defeated the imperialist strategy of "rolling back socialism." Imperialism had to curb its claims to world domination. The results of our peace-loving policy were what we could draw on at the new stage to devise fresh approaches in the spirit of the new political thinking.
Naturally, there have been changes in Lenin’s concept of peaceful coexistence. At first it was needed above all to create a modicum of external conditions for the construction of a new society in the country of the socialist revolution. Continuing the class-based policy of the victorious proletariat, peaceful coexistence later, particularly in the nuclear age, became a condition for the survival of the entire human race.
The April 1985 plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee was a landmark in the development of Leninist thought along this line too. The new concept of foreign policy was presented in detail at the 27th Congress. As you know, this concept proceeds from the idea that for all the profound contradictions of the contemporary world, for all the radical differences among the countries that comprise it, it is interrelated, interdependent and integral.
The reasons for this include the internationalization of world economic ties, the comprehensive scope of the scientific and technological revolution, the essentially novel role played by the mass media, the state of the earth’s resources, the common environmental danger, and the crying social problems of the developing world which affect us all.
The main reason, however, is the problem of human survival. This problem is now with us because the development of nuclear weapons and the threatening prospect of their use have called into question the very survival of the human race.
The October 1986 meeting in Reykjavik ranks among the events which have occurred since the new stage in international affairs began, which deserve to be mentioned on this occasion and which will go down in history. The Reykjavik meeting gave a practical boost to the new political thinking, enabled it to gain ground in diverse social and political quarters, and made international political contacts more fruitful.
The new thinking, with its regard for universal human values and emphasis on common sense and openness, is forging ahead on the international scene, destroying the stereotypes of anti-Sovietism and dispelling distrust of our initiatives and actions.
It is true that gauged against the scope of the tasks mankind will have to tackle to ensure its survival, very, very little has so far been accomplished. But the first signs of change are in evidence. This is borne out, among other things, by the understanding we have reached with the United States on concluding in the near future an agreement on medium- and shorter-range missiles.
The conclusion of this agreement is very important in itself: it will, for the first time, eliminate a whole class of nuclear weapons, be the first tangible step along the path of scrapping nuclear arsenals, and will show that it is in fact possible to advance in this direction without prejudice to anyone’s interests. That is obviously a major success of the new way of thinking, a result of our readiness to search for mutually acceptable solutions while strictly safeguarding the principle of equal security.
However, the question concerning this agreement was largely settled back in Reykjavik, at my second meeting with the U.S. president. In this critical period the world expects the third and fourth Soviet-U.S. summits to produce more than merely an official acknowledgment of the decisions agreed upon a year ago, and more than merely a continuation of the discussion. The growing danger that weapons may be perfected to a point where they will become uncontrollable is urging us to waste no time.
That is why we will work unremittingly at these meetings for a palpable breakthrough, for concrete results in reducing strategic offensive armaments and barring weapons from outer space—the key to removing the nuclear threat. What, then, are the reasons for our optimism, for regarding comprehensive security as really attainable? This deserves to be discussed here in detail.
The new way of thinking has helped us generally to prove that a comprehensive system of international security in the concept of disarmament is needed and possible. In this connection, we should begin by posing some tough questions—of course, tackling them from Leninist positions and using Leninist methodology.
The first question relates to the nature of imperialism. We know that it is the major source of the war threat.
It goes without saying that external factors cannot change the nature of a social system. But, given the current stage of the world’s development and the new level of its interdependence and integration, is it possible to influence that nature and block its more dangerous manifestations?
The second question is connected with the first one: Can capitalism get rid of militarism and function and develop in the economic sphere without it? Is it not a delusion on our part to invite the West to draw up and compare conversion programs for switching the economy to civilian production?
The third question: Can the capitalist system do without neocolonialism which is currently one of the factors essential to its survival? In other words, can this system function without the practices of inequitable trade with the Third World, fraught with unforeseeable consequences?
Another related question: How realistic is our hope that the awareness of the terrible threat that the world is facing—and we know that this awareness is making its way even into the higher echelons of the Western ruling elite—will be translated into practical policies? After all, however forceful the arguments of common sense, however well-developed the sense of responsibility, however powerful the instinct of self-preservation, there are still things which are determined by an economic and, consequently, a class-based self-interest. In other words, the question is whether capitalism can adapt itself to the conditions of a nuclear-free world without weapons, to the conditions of a new and equitable economic order, to the conditions in which the intellectual and moral values of the two world systems will be compared honestly.
But even posing these questions is enough to grasp the gravity of the task that lies ahead. We will see them answered in due time.
The postwar period has witnessed an in-depth modification of the contradictions that used to determine the principal trends in the world’s economy and politics. I refer above all to the trends that inevitably led to wars, to world wars between capitalist countries themselves.
Today the situation is different. It is not only the lessons of the past war but also the fear of sapping its own strength in the face of socialism, by now a world system, that has prevented capitalism from allowing its "internal" contradictions to go to extremes.
Since an alliance between a socialist country and capitalist states proved possible in the past, when the threat of fascism arose, does this not suggest a lesson for the present, for today’s world which faces the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the need to ensure safe nuclear power production and overcome the danger to the environment?
Ever since the war, the U.S. economy has been oriented and dependent on militarism which at first seemed even to stimulate it. But then this senseless and socially useless squandering of resources led to an astronomical national debt and to other problems and maladies. In the final analysis it has turned out that super-militarism increasingly aggravates the domestic situation and upsets the economies of other countries.
The recent panic on the New York Stock Exchange and on other stock exchanges across the world—a panic without precedent in almost 60 years—is a grave symptom and a grave warning.
There is another important point to be made. In the last few decades, development within the capitalist world proper has given rise to new forms of social contradictions and movements. Among them are movements to remove the nuclear threat, protect the environment, eliminate racial discrimination, rule out policies dividing society into the privileged and the underprivileged, and prevent the disaster threatening industrial areas that have fallen victim to present-day capitalist modernization.
These movements involve millions of people and are inspired and led by prominent figures in science and culture, people enjoying national and international prestige. Social democratic, socialist and labor parties and mass organizations similar to or connected with them continuously play an important role in the political processes in a number of countries, and the influence of some of them is increasing.
Thus, according to all economic, political and social indications everywhere in today’s world, the thesis Lenin regarded as one of the most profound in Marxism is being vindicated: as the thoroughness of the historical action grows, the mass whose action it is will grow as well.
And this is always an unmistakable sign and the most powerful factor of social progress and, consequently, of peace. Hence the politicians’ responsibility. For policy can only be effective if the novelty of the time is taken into account. Today the human factor figures on the political plane not as a remote and more or less spontaneous side effect of the life, activity and intentions of the masses. It directly invades world affairs. Unless this is realized, in other words unless the new thinking, one based on current realities and the people’s will, is adopted, politics turn into an unpredictable improvisation, posing a risk both to one’s own country and to other nations. Such politics have no lasting support.
Such are the reasons for our optimistic view of the future, of the prospects of creating an all-embracing system of international security.
This is the logic behind our stand on defense issues, too. As long as there is a danger of war and as long as the drive for social revanche forms the core of Western strategies and militarist programs, we shall continue to do everything necessary to maintain our defense capability at a level ruling out imperialism’s military superiority over socialism.
Comrades, during these jubilee days, we duly commend the accomplishments of the world communist movement. The October Revolution, which has retained to this day its international momentum, is the source of the movement’s viability.
The world communist movement grows and develops upon the soil of each of the countries concerned, but there is something that the image of a communist has in common, no matter what his nationality is, no matter what country he works in. It is loyalty to the idea of the best, communist society, loyalty to the working people—above all the working class, and struggle for their vital interests, for peace and democracy.
I feel this anniversary is the right occasion to mention the third Communist International. The truth about it has yet to be restored in full, and its authentic and complete history has yet to be written. For all the drawbacks and errors in activities and for all the bitterness the recollection of certain chapters in its history may evoke, the Communist International is part of our movement’s great past.
Born of the October Revolution, the movement has turned into a school of internationalism and revolutionary brotherhood. And more—it has made internationalism an effective instrument furthering the interests of the working people and promoting the social progress of big and small nations.
The time of the Communist International, the Information Bureau, even the time of binding international conferences is over. But the world communist movement lives on. The communist parties are looking for their new place in the context of the profound changes unfolding as we are about to enter a new century. Their international movement is undergoing a renewal, united by respect for the similarly renewed principles of confidence, equality and sincere solidarity. The movement is open to dialogue, cooperation, interaction and alliance with any other revolutionary, democratic and progressive forces.
The CPSU has no doubts about the future of the communist movement as one that offers an alternative to capitalism and involves the most valiant and consistent fighters for peace, for their countries’ independence and progress, for friendship among the world’s peoples.