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Gorbachev Talks Tough

4 minute read

In a stunningly candid and hard-hitting speech last June 19 before a closed meeting of some 40 Soviet writers, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev discussed his views of Soviet society and his plans to reform it. Last week the New York Times provided the most extensive English translation to date based on notes taken by one of the writers present. Excerpts:

On opponents of change. A very profound and serious movement has begun, and a very profound and serious struggle lies ahead. Between the people who want these changes, who dream of these changes, and the leadership, there is a layer of officialdom that does not want changes and does not want to lose some rights associated with privileges.

Take Gosplan ((the central economic planning agency)). For Gosplan there exist no authorities, no General Secretaries, no Central Committees. They do what they want. The situation they like best is for someone to come into their private office and ask for a million, for 20 tractors, for 40,000 — to beg them.

Today I was told that during smoke breaks they’re getting the feeling that they will not manage to grind up the leadership of the party, and will have to change something. We have very many people who take advantage of their position. Nothing is exploited as much as official position.

On the necessity of action. What two elements are at the basis of the work of the Politburo? First is not to walk away from problems that have piled up over the years. You know, ((Leonid)) Brezhnev once said we need to hold a plenum on scientific-technological problems. I was shown sacks of documents prepared in this connection, all sorts of information and so forth. When they began to sort this out, they suddenly saw that nobody knew where to take it, what to do with it. So they abandoned it. Everything remained in sacks.

We haven’t walked away. Perhaps not all the decisions we make today are ^ correct. Perhaps we err in some things. But we want to act and not sit with folded arms, letting the process pass us by.

On the need for criticism. The restructuring is progressing with great difficulty. We have no opposition party. How then can we control ourselves? Only through criticism and self-criticism. Most important, through glasnost ((openness)). Democratism without glasnost does not exist. At the same time, democracy without limits is anarchy.

On the role of the people. Those who think that we can restructure in a month or two are naive! This has taken shape over years and will demand massive efforts and titanic labors. If we don’t involve the people, nothing will come of it. All our plans depend on influencing the people.

On the timing of reforms. The society is ripe for change. If we step away, the society will not agree to a return. The process must be made irreversible. If not us, then who? If not now, when?

On alcoholism. Take the national tragedy: drunkenness. People want a “dry law.” At the same time all kinds of epithets reach us from the queues, all kinds of anecdotes about Gorbachev. No, we won’t leave this path. I also like to drop into the Central Literary Club and have a drink. I know that letters reach us with threats, but we will not give in to these sentiments. We will save the people.

On relations with the U.S. Our enemy sees us clearly. They are not frightened by our nuclear might. They will not start a war. They’re worried about one thing: if democracy develops here, if we succeed, we will win. For this reason they have begun a campaign against our leadership, using all means, including terror. They write about the apparat that broke Khrushchev’s neck, and about the apparat that will now break the neck of the new leadership.

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