(END of the COLD WAR and the SOVIET UNION – continued)
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 workforce. 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 wanted 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 attempts at reforming the economy. Then after only a year in office he too died. The day his death – 15 March 1985 – the Presidium 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.
Mikhail Gorbachev grew up in a peasant Ukrainian-Russian family. In the spring of 1934 his paternal grandfather was sent to a prison camp for two years, and Gorbachev grew up believing the charges against him had been absurd. In his teens, Gorbachev operated combine harvesters on collective farms. In 1952, while a university student, he 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. He believed in the creating the kind of democracy that Karl Marx had wanted, and looking forward to changes.
In 1970, he had been appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet in 1974, and appointed a member of the Presidium 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.
When becoming Party leader in 1985, he wanted to continue the attempt at correcting economic decline and decay. Gorbachev believed that the Soviet Union needed, as he put it, "radical change." 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 were no imaginative contributions rising from individuals outside of governmental bureaucracy.
Sticking to his belief in socialism, rather than radically change the Soviet economy, Gorbachev continued trying to tinker with it. 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 liquor, 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 percent increase by the year 2000. He estimated that labor productivity in this period would more than double. With diminishing natural resources for energy, 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 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. 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, and Gorbachev's popularity within the Soviet Union was rising.
Copyright © 2000-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.