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Cogs in the Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man
Cogs in the Wheel:
The Formation of Soviet Man

Michail Heller

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. --Virgil

Three years have passed since the Russian edition of this book first appeared. The developments that have taken and are continuing to take place in the country of the "cogs" have served to confirm the topicality of my subject. The scraps of information 1 had to gather from Soviet and non-Soviet publications are now flooding onto the pages of magazines and newspapers, even television screens. It has been announced officially that the Soviet Union is going through a crisis. In the last years of Leonid Brezhnev's life there was no longer any doubt about the reality of this crisis. Yuri Andropov, who succeeded him as general secretary, spoke of it openly, but the brevity of his tenure in the top post (November 12, 1982 to February 9, 1984) allowed him to do no more than draw up a program of action. His successor, Konstantin Chemenko, ceased altogether to talk of a crisis. He held on to the post of general secretary for just over a year (February 13, 1984 to March 10, 1985).

There was no point in overthrowing capitalism in October 1917 and building socialism for all these years if we do not succeed in enabling people to live in a state of prosperity
-Mikhail Gorbachev

The depth of the abyss to the brink of which the Soviet Union had been brought was made clear by the next general secretary-Mikhail Gorbachev-who was elected to the post the day after Chemenko died. The "possibilities of socialism," Gotbachev said, were not being properly exploited in industry, agriculture, the social sphere, culture, rail transport, the health service, and so on. On January 27, 1934, Stalin had proclaimed: "There was no point in overthrowing capitalism in October 1917 and building socialism for all these years if we do not succeed in enabling people to live in a state of prosperity" fifty three years later, on January 27, 1987, Gorbachev declared that prosperity was still a long way off.

A History of Crisis
Party Control
Absolute Power
The Gorbachev Era
"Master of Culture"
A New Personality Cult
The Ruling Party


A History of Crisis

The Soviet Union is certainly going through a very serious crisis, and Gorbachev now has been talking about it for more than two years. But this is not the first crisis in Soviet history In 1921 the Soviet regime experienced --in Lenin's words-- the gravest crisis in its brief history The reason then was the unwillingness of the peasants, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the countrýs population, to accept the policy of "instant Communism" that was being put into practice by the Party, under Lenin's leadership. Persuaded that it was impossible to break the resistance of the peasantry by force, Lenin took a "step backwards," and initiated the New Economic Policy (NEP) which D. Ryazanov has described justly as a "peasant Brest." In March 1918 Lenin had concluded the "indecent Peace" with Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, sacrificing territory to buy time in which to consolidate his power. He repeated this kind of maneuver in 1921 with the NEP Stalin concluded in the late 1920s that all the advantages that NEP could offer for consolidating the regime were exhausted, and he then set about producing a crisis artificially In an effort to compensate for Lenin's "step backwards" he organized a "great leap forward" In the process of collectivizing Soviet agriculture, the peasantry was eliminated as a class relatively independent of the statẹ The state became completely homogeneous: everybody was declared to be equal, everybody became a slave of the statẹ

There are no hostile forces in the Soviet Union today The roots of the present crisis can therefore be seen to reach back to the remarkable success achieved in the formation of Soviet man, Homo sovieticus . That charlatan Trofim Lysenko, without realizing what he was doing, described the principal peculiarity of the regime: "In our Soviet Union people are not born. What are born are organisms. We turn them into people-tractor drivers, engine drivers, academicians, scholars and so forth " In the course of seventy years of building socialism the regime has succeeded in "making" people who have lost all interest in work because they are convinced that those who made" them are also obliged to guarantee their needs once they have adapted themselves to life in special Soviet conditions.

Party Control

It is no accident that the proclamation of a "state of emergency" and the public recognition of the Soviet Unions catastrophic situation coincided with the appointment of a new general secretary The possibility of crisis at such a juncture is an essential element in a single-party system. Since the Party has in its hands all the levers of power, there is no reason why a general secretary should not remain in power for lifẹ The situation in China and Albania, in Czecho slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Vietnam, East Germany and Cuba is clear confirmation of the universality of this rulẹ The Party machine, the apparat, which he creates and by means of which he rules, goes on ruling along with the general secretary, and every time a general secretary dies or is replaced the same thing happens: Each new one (beginning with the first, Stalin, elected at Lenin's suggestion to the previously nonexistent post on April 2, 1922) immediately sets about dismantling his predecessors Party machine and creating his own. It took Stalin almost a decade to get rid of Lenin's Party machinẹ Despite some initial success, Khrushchev suffered defeat in this process after a ten-year battlẹ For the first time in the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) he wanted to carry out, without actually realizing it, a genuine reform of the Lenin-style party Khrushchev succeeded I in getting the Central Committee to pass a resolution dividing the CPSU into two sections, one for industry and one for agriculturẹ That this would inevitably lead to the emergence of two parties, even if both Communist, was so obvious that the conspiracy to remove Khrushchev was successful. The reform was a threat, not just to a few leaders, but to the "party of a new type" that Lenin had invented. Brezhnev quickly set about purging the apparat of those who had supported Khrushchev's reforms.

Every new general secretary begins by revealing the "true" situation and by shocking the population by candid talk about things well known to everyonẹ Suðenly words coincide with deeds and reflect the real state of affairs. The most powerful trump in each new general secretarýs hands is the fact that, in exposing the error in his predecessors behavior, he is speaking the manifest truth --not all the truth, but at least the truth about how the country arrived at the brink of catastrophẹ That is what happened after the death of Stalin, after the removal of Khrushchev, and after the death of Brezhnev. In the first case the cause of all the trouble was said to be the cult of personality," in the second case voluntarism," and in the third "apathy and corruption".

Each time there is a danger of losing control over the process. Khrushchev's struggle against the "cult of personality" threatened on several occasions to get out of hand, although he had indicated very precisely the point at which Stalin ceased to be "good" and became "bad" (December 1934, when the "leader of genius" organized the murder of Kirov and directed the instruments of terror against members of the Party). Brezhnev had to maneuver between "voluntarism" and a return to the "cult of personalitỵ" The most important means to keep control is to set a strict limit to the period covered by the crises: there must be no suggestion that the disease is endemic. So a critical question for Gorbachev is, when did the crisis begin'? His reply is, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He attaches no importance to the fact that it was in those very years that he was made a secretary of the Central Committee (November 1978) and became also a candidate (and later a full member) of the Politburo (November 1979). What is important for him is to lay the blame on Brezhnev.

In our Soviet Union people are not born. What are born are organisms. We turn them into people-tractor drivers, engine drivers, academicians, scholars and so forth. --Trofim Lysenko

Predictably, the new general secretary identified the crisis as being the work of his predecessor and he has proposed a miracle cure-the replacement of the old Party machine by a new one. The process of acquiring power is carried on, of course, under the slogan of correcting the mistakes of his predecessor, who had not known how to "exploit all the possibilities of socialism"

Absolute Power

The general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU has the possibility of acquiring absolute power, but that power does not come into his hands automatically He must know how to exploit all the potentialities that his job offers. No reforms are possible, even if he wishes to bring them about, unless he has the requisite power. So all the reforms he carries out as he gathers strength are aimed at increasing his own power. The political scientist and publicist F Burlatsky, discussing the possibilities and impossibilities of reforming the Soviet system, composed a dialogue between two fairly high-ranking Party officials. One, representing the old apparat, had already been pushed out; the other was the new man installed in his placẹ The older man says that he has heard it all before:

This is the third time in our memory that we have come up against these questions. The first time was after Stalin died ... That was all they talked about --reforms, democracy, social self-management. And what came of it all'?... The second time was in 1965, when the Central Committee announced the beginning of the economic reform. Again nothing came of it. Everything slipped back into the old track and got lost in the sand ... It's not our way of doing things. It goes against the system.

The new secretary sees everything differently: "The fact that we have already begun to talk about reforms several times just shows how inevitable they arẹ In those days we did not have the courage and political will. Now we do" Burlatsky does not find it necessary to say in whom the "courage and political will" are now embodied. It is obvious.

Gorbachev declares that the present crisis is so serious as to require a "change of direction of a revolutionary character." Another revolution is needed! By using a word that has not been employed for more than fifty years to describe Soviet domestic policy, Gorbachev hopes to shock the minds of his Soviet peoplẹ He speaks vaguely and imprecisely about the need for "revolutionary changes." The writer Valentin Kataev, who used to sing the praises of Stalin's great wisdom and of Brezhnev's outstanding literary talent, now has claimed to hear the "music of revolution" in Gorbachev's appeal for people to "rid themselves of falsehood and corruption, and to promote honesty".

A theoretical article appeared in Pravda in 1987 that was mainly concerned to establish what kind of revolution is not wanted today in the Soviet Union.

We are not talking about a socialpolitical revolution, in which the foundations of economic relations in the old system are destroyed and a fundamentally new political regime is established ... It is not a question of ending the public ownership of the means of production but of confirming it and of making better use of it. It is not a question of rejecting the basic principle of socialism-"from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs"-but of a more consistent application of it in the interests of social justicẹ We are not talking about destroying the power of the state but of a further strengthening of the national state, the extension of socialist democracy and socialist self-management.

Predictably, the new general secretary identified the crisis as being the work of his predecessor and he has proposed a miracle cure-the replacement of the old Party machine by a new one.

But what sort of a revolution is it if it leaves everything in its place and aims only at consolidating the existing system? The Pravda article indicates the model for the Gorbachev revolution: "it invites comparison with collectivization and the revolution in cultural affairs". The model and the source of inspiration for the change "of a revolutionary character" that Gorbachev is directing are to be found in Stalin's "revolutions from above": collectivization ( 1929-34), in the course of which the peasants were turned into collective farm workers by terribly cruel means; and the cultural revolution (1928-31), during which the Party asserted its authority over the spiritual life of Soviet citizens. These were the two most important stages on the way to the creation of the Stalinist model of the totalitarian state or, as Pravda now says, "they signified the countrýs further advance along the path of socialist revolution and completion of the task begun by the October Revolution". Like all general secretaries, Gorbachev declares himself to be the direct-and only-heir of Lenin. "Why do I spend so much time with volumes of Lenin?" was the rhetorical question he put to a group of writers with whom he had a private conversation just before the 8th Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in July 1986. The answer was obvious: he was seeking inspiration from the father of the revolution and the Soviet statẹ But the main source of the ideas, slogans and tactics of the Gorbachev era is actually Stalin, the very first general secretary, who possessed an abundance of "courage and political will." In the early 1930s Stalin completed his "inexorable ascent" to absolute power, resolutely overcoming resistance on the part of the "human material" in the process of building a totalitarian statẹ In different circumstances Gorbachev has come up against a similar problem: he is trying to attain absolute power, and meeting, as the expression goes today, resistance from the "human factor." But while Stalin had to deal with the "human material" in the course of forming Soviet man, Gorbachev has to deal with the finished product. In this connection he has no need-for the time being at least-to resort to mass terror. He makes use of other instruments from Stalin's rich arsenal.



The Miracle, the Mystery, and Authority ---the three forces of Dostoevskýs Grand Inquisitor-- remain the three basic forms in which the various instruments for influencing Soviet man are used. A peculiar feature of Gorbachev's policy is his use of the Mystery as the Miracle-the extension of the amount of permitted information is offered as a miraculous remedy capable of curing all the ills left by Brezhnev.

Gorbachev gives the miracle a name: glasnost. This is exactly how Lenin understood it, having employed the word forty-six times in his writings and asserting in particular, "Glasnost is a sword which itself heals the wounds it inflicts" Glasnost has been taken into the political vocabulary today with exceptional speed to become the symbol of the new, Gorbachevian era, and has entered the vocabulary of foreign countries in official Soviet translations that distort its meaning. In French, for example, glasnost is now translated, following the lead given by the Novosti feature agency, as transparencẹ But the pre-revolutionary Russian-French dictionary, which remains an irreplaceable work of scholarship, translates glasnost as publicitté or notoriété. In Russian, Glasnost means giving publicity to something that is already well known.

In Gorbachev's terms Glasnost represents permission to speak publicly about the ills of the system that have long been apparent to everybody It is permissible to talk about the disastrous effects of alcoholism, about drug aðiction, about corruption, false statistics, and the lack of social justicẹ Gorbachev has spoken of the presence of "social corrosion' There is talk of a "decline in the quality of education" due to the inability of the schools to defend themselves from the "arbitrary behavior of the local authorities and education bodies" "Claims for hundred percent success on the part of whole classes, schools, regions and republics," along with a decline in the quality of education, are to be explained, according to Gorbachev, by "a decline in the quality of the people working in education-the teachers, head teachers and inspectors " There is criticism also of excessive centralization and the formation of a too-rigid hierarchy which finds expression in particular in the establishment of a monopoly over information ("because the person who disposes of more information also has more power") and in a hostile attitude to trade, which is treated as profiteering and ill-gotten gains, and so on.

Glasnost, strictly controlled from above, pursues two aims: to shock the Soviet citizen by showing him the brink of the precipice at which the country has arrived, and to accuse the preceding leaders of having been the ones who brought the country so close to disaster. Glasnost on a large scale is the most important instrument for destroying the old Party machinẹ At the same time it is credited with miraculous healing qualities that become apparent when a new Party machine, headed by the new general secretary, emerges in place of the one being destroyed.

The Gorbachev Era

A number of criteria can be applied to determine the character of the changes connected with the Gorbachev erạ First of all, there is his attitude to the past. By making the late 1970s-early 1980s the dividing line between the period of success and the period of decline, Gorbachev categorically rejects the need for any serious study of historỵ In an unpublished conversation with Soviet writers Gorbachev explained: "If we started probing into the past we would use up all our energies. We would come into direct conflict with the peoplẹ We must go forward. We will deal with the past later." In a public speech the general secretary made it clear how he would "deal with" the past: "You have to see history as it really is. There were all sorts of things: there were mistakes, and serious ones, but the country continued to advancẹ Just take the periods of industrialization and collectivization - " The mistakes of the past (distant pre-Brezhnev past) are of no importance because, as he announced proudly, "it fell to our lot to be pioneers What was most important was to be going in the right direction. So long as the Party was going in the right direction all the rest was secondary As Lenin wrote: "Our mistakes and shortcomings are just the growing pains of the new socialist society" Lenin was not put out, the Partýs theoretical journal explained, "if something conceived and decided by the Party did not work out in practice quite as planned or not at all as expected" And if Lenin was not put out by such setbacks, those who continue his work today will naturally not be put out either.

The most important guide to the real intentions of the Soviet leaders is the vocabulary they usẹ In a logocracy --as I explain in this book in great detail-the word is the most important instrument of power. The provenance and source of the words used by the regime is significant, determining the new sense of the word and creating new associations to supplement the meaning.

The only obvious and indisputable result offered in more than two years of "change" is that there is in the Soviet Union today only one Leader, only one Authority --Mikhail Gorbachev. Never before in Soviet history has a new general secretary created a cult of his own personality with such speed.

All of Gorbachev's catchwords have been taken from the vocabulary of Stalin's day --glasnost, perestroika ("restructuring"), and uskorenie ("acceleration") were the most commonly used appeals of the 1930s. In those days glasnost was called kritika i santokritika ("criticism and self-criticism"), perestroika was rekonstruktsiya, and uskorenie was tempy ("tempo" or "speed"). Gorbachev proclaims: "Glasnost, criticism and self-criticism are simply essential for us as a matter of principle". fifty-seven years ago, Stalin said exactly the same thing: "We cannot manage without self-criticism... without it it will be impossible to avoid stagnation, the decay of the apparat, the growth of bureaucracy and the undermining of the creative initiative of the working class" Gorbachev in his turn declared that uskorenie is the basis of his strategy of "revolutionary change ' " More than half a century before that Stalin taught that "in the period of reconstruction, speed decides everything" Gorbachev insists on the importance of the "human factor," repeating Stalin's famous dictum: "Of all the valuable forms of capital in the world the most valuable and the most decisive are people, cadres".

The use of material incentives for the working people is one of the fundamental elements of the "strategy of acceleration" Good work must be better paid than bad work, and a skilled worker should receive more than an unskilled onẹ But, according to Gorbachev, the idea of "egalitarianism" has taken root in peoplés, minds. To violate "the organic link between the measurement of labor and the measurement of demand not only deforms the attitude to work, restricting the growth of productivity, but also results in a distortion of the principle of social justice, and that is a matter of great political importance In 1934 Stalin spoke out against the incorrect understanding of the word "equality" and described "egalitarianism" as a tendency to "level out" peoplé,, needs, saying that "Marxism is strongly opposed to the levelling-out process." Commenting on Gorbachev's appeal for people to fight against distortions of the principles of Marxism and socialism, the philosopher T ỠOizerman states: "The concept of socialism is incompatible with egalitarianism in reward for labor. The fight against egalitarianism makes possible the full revelation and the optimal realization of the advantages of the socialist system over capitalism" This conclusion was drawn just fifty-two years after Stalin made his appeal.

Gorbachev's proposal "to extend further internal Party democracy" as part of the "general policy of the further democratization of Soviet society" was treated --mainly outside the Soviet Union-- as a major sensation and indisputable evidence of a sincere desire to carry out revolutionary changes in the USSR. Gorbachev proposed that "we may introduce a procedure whereby Party secretaries, including first secretaries, will be elected by secret ballot at meetings of the appropriate Party committees" This proposal might well be regarded as sensational if the secret ballot for the election of Party bodies had not already been written into the Partýs statutes, and if, in February 1937, a meeting of the Central Committee had not approved a special resolution based on a report by Andrei Zhdanov that required "the reorganization of Party work on the basis of the unconditional and complete application of the principles of inner-party democratism laid down in the Party statutes," including "the introduction of the secret ballot for candidates in elections to Party bodies".

All of Gorbachev's catchwords have been taken from the vocabulary of Stalin's day -glasnost, perestroika (restructuring), and uskorenie (acceleration) were the most Commonly used appeals of the 1930s.

It is worth noting that Gorbachev's speeches often contain close (though concealed) quotations from Stalin. For example, his speech on the Partýs personnel policy ends: "Bolsheviks can achieve everything," paraphrasing Stalin's well known statement that "there are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot take".

It is a peculiarity of the Gorbachev epoch that an only slightly touched-up Stalinist vocabulary is used with exceptional effectiveness. Slightly extending the range of permitted information, it has become possible to present Soviet society as though it were open. All that was needed was to publish newspaper reports of earthquakes in Tadzhikistan, a collision between two ships in the Black Sea, an ecological catastrophe in Uzbekistan, and so forth. Each dispatch of this kind was intended to demonstrate the results of the bad work put in by Gorbachevs predecessor, who had let the people get out of hand, and at the same time to underline the breadth of view and the openness of the new general secretary The Soviet leaders do not now rely only on their own means of mass communication, however: they have turned to Western public-relations specialists for assistancẹ Robert Dillenschneider, president of the world's biggest public-relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, said in an interview published in an Italian magazine that, following the explosion of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, he was invited to the Kremlin, where he obtained a contract to "sell" to the world the Kremlin's version of the disaster. The preoccupation of the Soviet information and disinformation services with foreign policy and Western public opinion was evidenced, similarly, in February and March 1987 when some 130 prisoners were released whose names were known in the West but whose release was not mentioned at all in the Soviet mass media, though their names were announced at press conferences given at the ministry of foreign affairs. Gorbachev the Liberator thought it important that his benevolence should be properly appreciated by public opinion in the West.

"Masters of Culture"

Gorbachev's prestige and his reputation as a reformer and revolutionary, which he acquired with such remarkable speed, are to be explained mainly (since the concrete results of his moves are still not apparent) by skillful exploitation of the mass media to project his imagẹ Perhaps even more important has been the intensive use of Soviet "cultural" activists-writers, artists, and film peoplẹ Not since Stalin's time has a general secretary enjoyed such affection on the part of the Soviet "masters of culture" In the course of his well-known meeting with writers, Gorbachev put to them a straight question, "On whose side are you, masters of culturẻ" Today their reply is practically unanimous, "On your side, Mikhail Sergevich!" It must be admitted that the Soviet "masters of culture" have every reason to be nice to Mikhail Gorbachev. In the years 1985-87 films previously banned by the censor were screened, some writers and poets whose names had previously been excluded from the history of Russian literature (Gumilev, Nabokov, Ivanov) were rehabilitated, and some manuscripts that had been lying for years in writers' desks were allowed to be published. These were changes that one could only rejoice at. But one cannot help recalling the Trojan high priest Laocoon who warned his fellow citizens: I fear the Greeks even when they come bearing gifts. Gorbachev's gifts evoke apprehension primarily because they are indeed gifts and even, one might say, bribes. They are offered out of the kindness of his heart, because it is the monarch's will. But no law has been passed abolishing censorship, nor one to protect the writer, artist, or film-maker from the arbitrary actions of the regimẹ It is a striking fact that publication has been permitted of manuscripts that have been lying around for decades and may be completely out of datẹ Artistic affairs continue to be regulated (as the literary critic Viktor Shklovsky once said) like a railway timetablẹ But here one must not forget that Laocoon was cruelly punished for his suspicious attitude by the angry gods, and his fellow citizens joyfully welcomed within the walls of their city the Greeks' gift-the Trojan horsẹ

Our Party must have a strong social policy embracing every aspect of a man's life, from the conditions in which he works and lives, cares for his health and occupies his leisure time to his attitude to social classes and other nationalities. --Mikhail Gorbachev

A notable feature of the Gorbachev "revolution" is the total absence from it of young peoplẹ There are no young people among the officials surrounding the general secretary, nor are there any among the journalists, writers, and artists whom Gorbachev has seduced. The places that have become vacant following the purge of the old apparat are being filled by party officials advanced in years. Unlike the situation in the post-Stalin period, Gorbachev's appeals have not awakened any enthusiasm among either young students or young workers. The artificial character of the "revolutionary change" proclaimed by Gorbachev is underlined by this apathy on the part of the young. History knows of no revolutions that have been carried out by old men alonẹ The apathy of Soviet youth can be explained by reference to their upbringing, but also, perhaps, by the fact that they sense the insincerity in Gorbachev's catchwords.

A New Personality Cult

The Miracle and the Mystery-two elements in the triad of the Grand Inquisitor-produce results only if they are exploited by Authoritỵ The only obvious and indisputable result offered in more than two years of "change" is that there is in the Soviet Union today only one Leader, only one Authority-Mikhail Gorbachev. Never before in Soviet history has a new general secretary created a cult of his own personality with such speed. The technique of creating a "cult" has, once again, been borrowed from Stalin, who showed the way Gorbachev's most striking gesture-his telephone call to Sakharov --was a straight imitation of Stalin. A quarter of a century ago, in his novel Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman described a telephone conversation between Stalin and a nuclear physicist called Shtrum. Grossman depicted in one conversation the miraculous effect of Stalin's phone calls. "Stalin and his telephone calls! Rumors would go round Moscow once or twice every year: 'Stalin's phoned Dovshenko, the film director! Stalin's phoned Ilya Ehrenburg!' There was no need for Stalin to give direct orders-to ask that a prize be awarded to X, a flat be allocated to Y, or an institute be set up for Z. Stalin was above such matters; they were dealt with by subordinates .... If Stalin gave a man a quick smile, his life would be transformed overnight .... Dozens of notables would bow down before him-Stalin had smiled at him, Stalin had joked with him on the phone" In the same way members of the Academy of Science gave Andrei Sakharov a joyful welcome when he returned to Moscow after Gorbachev's phone call, although a short time before that, before the phone call, they had known only the words used to condemn their colleaguẹ

Today it is only Gorbachev who speaks-on every question-with writers, engineers, collective farmers, film producers, Young Communists, artists and journalists, peace fighters and foreign statesmen and politicians. He alone Puts forward new ideas, issues instructions, advice, and directives, and teaches people to work well and live "honestly" In his talk with writers Gorbachev described the situation in the country in these words: "There is the population which wants changes and even dreams of seeing changes take place, and there is the administrative apparat, the Government apparat and the Party apparat that do not want to see any changes taking place or to lose some rights arising out of their privileges" That means that it is the people and the general secretary who want changes. They are obstructed by Brezhnev's apparat. Once the barrier between the people and the general secretary has been destroyed, changes will take place about which the Soviet people are dreaming. The dream will become reality So we have drawn up for us the ideal (traditional) Soviet pyramid of power: Lenin (the source of legitimacy), the general secretary (today Gorbachev), and the Peoplẹ In a conversation with the general secretary of the Argentinian Communist Party, Athos Fava, Gorbachev complained: "They want to turn me into a god, but I am not a god. If there is a god in the Soviet Union, it is our people" People began to regard Stalin as a god only toward the end of his life.

The Ruling Party

The general secretarýs authority derives from the Partýs indivisible authority in the country "No one should forget," Gorbachev reminded people, "that our Party is the ruling party" Time and time again he stresses that "our Party is the ruling party" The leading role of the Party in the life of the county and its right to govern the country remains an axiom, to doubt which is a crimẹ Neither glasnost nor criticism and self-criticism extends to this subject; they are strictly forbiðen. In 1926, when the first general secretary was busy destroying Lenin's party machine, it was still possible to talk of such matters. Nikolai Bukharin said then: "A certain section of our Communist cadres, both young and old, may degenerate through having exclusive power. Since our Party is the ruling party in the country, and since our regime is a form of dictatorial power, there is, of course, a great temptation to make use of onés position" Nine years after the Revolution, Bukharin was already noting the Partýs tendency to degenerate and turn into a "hierarchical system".

What is the nature of the changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union since March 1985? The question may be formulated in a more concrete way: Is it possible to imagine a ruling party carrying out reforms aimed at reducing its authoritá»·

Doubts whether Gorbachev's "changes" are genuinely revolutionary, á»áº¹, are changing something essential in the system, derive from the fact that appeals similar to Gorbachev's and actions, projects, and promises of a similar nature have been repeated before so many times. Doubts also rise because of certain frank statements of opinion by both theorists and practitioners in todaýs Soviet society Ẹ Ligachev, said to be the Partýs chief ideological guardian, declared: "The sum of the Partýs activities since the April [ 1985 ] Central Committee meeting amounts essentially to a confirmation of the close links between ideology and real lifé " A corresponding member of the Academy of Science, G. Smirnov, summed up the situation: "The current changes are being carried out on our own socialist foundations and are aimed at consolidating those foundations and their development worldwide, at the completion and perfection of socialism and the transformation of Soviet society into a fully developed socialism"

They want to turn me into a god, but I am not a god. If there is a god in the Soviet Union, it is our people. --Mikhail Gorbachev

In a speech dealing with a proposal for a new program for the CPSU and with the main directions to be taken by economic and social advance in the USSR up to the year 2000, Gorbachev set out with admirable clarity the aims of the ruling Party: "Our Party must have a strong social policy embracing every aspect of a man's life, from the conditions in which he works and lives, cares for his health and occupies his leisure time to his attitude to social classes and other nationalities' " To embrace every aspect of a mans life is to continue and develop on the threshold of the third millennium Stalin's dream of people as cogs who "keep our great state machine in working order."

The satisfaction, joy and sometimes enthusiasm which Gorbachev's activities evoke are easy to explain. The oppressive immobility of the Brezhnev era, which lasted for eighteen years, was so hard to bear that even the appearance of movement is a relief and seems like a step in the fight direction. But the joy is somewhat clouded by the fact that it has been experienced so many times before and has led only to bitter disappointment. Half a century ago the German writer Lion Feuchtwanger visited the Soviet Union at the height of the Terror. He felt himself to be fortunate in having escaped from "the oppressive atmosphere of false democracy and hypocritical humanism into the lively, health-giving atmosphere of the Soviet Union," and he concluded his account of his trip --Moscow 1937-- in a striking manner: "It is a real tower of Babel which is being built, not to bring people closer to heaven, but to bring the heavens down to the peoplẹ And they have succeeded." Have they really succeeded?

Mikhail Heller received his graduate and postgraduate degrees in "historical sciences in the Soviet Union. Since 1969 he has lived in Paris, where he teaches at the Sorbonnẹ His books include The World of Soviet Concentration Camps and Soviet Literature and Andrei Platonov in Search of Happiness. He is co-author of Utopia in Power.


Posted on 11 Feb 2009

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