(END of the COLD WAR and the SOVIET UNION – continued)

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Gorbachev and Glasnost (Openness)

Brezhnev died in November 1982 and was replaced as Party leader by Yuri Andropov, a "no nonsense" disciplinarian who had been in charge of the Soviet police (the KGB). Andropov attacked what he saw as moral rot. He launched a campaign against corruption and alcoholism. People were arrested who should have been at work but were in drinking places. And Andropov criticized industry managers for poor supervision of their work force. Andropov knew of the underground economy and corruption that was interfering with government economic organization – corruption that had reached into the upper ranks of the Communist Party itself – to Brezhnev's daughter – and he wished to do something about it.

Large companies were more like welfare institutions than they were enterprises concerned with productivity and the costs of production. Andropov explored the issue of incentives and decision-making for enterprise managers, but little came of it, and he died after only thirteen months in office. He was replaced by Konstantin Chernenko, who continued Andropov's objective of reforming the economy but he also died, and only after a year in office. The day after Chernenko's death – March 15, 1985 – the Politburo and a few others elevated the Party's second-in-command, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the position of Partly leader – his official title being General Secretary of the Central Committee. Like Chernenko, Gorbachev had also been associated with Andropov's desire for economic revitalization – to be known as perestroika.

However oppressive the Soviet system, the Soviet Union's Communists still believed in the kind of democracy that Karl Marx had wanted. The goal of Marxism was the masses ruling themselves and eventually producing an abundance that allowed "to each according to his needs and from each according to his abilities." The Communists did not believe in the authoritarian state as had the fascists, and after Stalin's death, the more liberal Khrushchev denounced Stalin's authoritarian ways.

Mikhail Gorbachev grew up in a peasant Ukrainian-Russian family. In the spring of 1934 his paternal grandfather had been sent to a prison camp for two years, and Gorbachev grew up believing the charges against him absurd. In his teens, Gorbachev operated combine harvesters on collective farms. In 1952, while a university student, Gorbachev joined the Communist Party. It was a time, Gorbachev would recall, that Communist ideology was very attractive to young people – when young soldiers were recently back from the war "full of the pride of victory." He graduated from Moscow State University in 1955 with a degree in law. He had been shocked at seeing a Jew who was his friend being thrown off a street car. He was active within the Party while recognizing the contrast between the way things were and the ideologically-driven slogans perpetuated by his superiors. He held to Party ideals, believing in people, without aiming to tear the system down, and hoping to change what could be changed.

In 1970, he was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet in 1974, and appointed a member of the Politburo in 1979. Within three years of the deaths of Soviet Leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo in 1985. Already before he reached the post, he had occasionally been mentioned in western newspapers as a likely next leader and a man of the younger generation at the top level.

By now the Soviet economy had a negative GNP. In other words, rather than the Soviet economy growing more slowly than others, it was in decline. Gorbachev and his allies in the Party felt compelled to do something to reverse the economic decline and decay. Gorbachev believed that the Soviet Union needed, as he put it, "radical change." Like his predecessors he wanted his nation to catch up with the economic advances being made in the capitalist nations. Gorbachev wanted to prove that socialism could adapt, innovate and be as productive as capitalism.

He launched his new policy of restructuring – perestroika, but economic decisions remained a top-down process. There was no imaginative contributions rising from individuals outside of governmental bureaucracy.

The Soviet economy was not giving opportunities to start up enterprises. Sticking to his belief in socialism, rather than radically change the Soviet economy, Gorbachev continued trying to tinker with it. He denounced "unearned incomes." To improve the Soviet work force he began another crackdown against alcohol, and orders were given that embassy receptions and parties had to be alcohol free. He raised the price of alcohol, reduced supplies and the hours of sales. Then Gorbachev tried to create greater incentives for people of talent – scientific and technical personnel – whose wages were increased fifty percent. And in August 1985 the salaries of others were adjusted to the quality of their work.

Still believing in central planning, Gorbachev wished to increase the efficiency in central planning management. To make economic planning more effective and efficient, new super-agencies were created to oversee economic developments.

In October 1985, Gorbachev published his plan to increase production of consumer goods and to increase services. His plan called for a 30 percent increase by 1990 and an 80 to 90 per cent increase by the year 2000. He estimated that labor productivity in this period would more than double. With diminishing natural resources for energy, the Soviet Union had been looking toward the nuclear, and Gorbachev was planning to increase the production of nuclear power by 400 and 500 percent.

Gorbachev believed that advancing the Soviet Union's economy required mass participation, higher morale among the Soviet Union's work force and more freedom and openness – glasnost. He likened the economy to a family's home, and democracy to ownership of the home. "A house," he said, "can be put in order only by a person who feels that he owns this house." He spoke of the goodwill necessary in making an economy work. And regarding corruption versus worker morale, he complained of leaders having placed themselves beyond the reach of criticism and of some who had become accomplices in, if not the organizers of, criminal activities.

As a part of freedom to express oneself, Gorbachev started releasing political prisoners. The Soviet Union's most outspoken dissident, Andrei Sakharov (the father of the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb) was allowed to return to Moscow from the city of Gorky, where he had been exiled for speaking out against Soviet troops being sent to Afghanistan. The Gorbachev regime allowed more openness in newspapers and on television. Gorbachev's popularity with the Soviet masses was rising.


Copyright © 2000-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.