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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 19: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session, March 10, 1988

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This Politburo discussion memorialized by Chernyaev marks a conspicuous change of tone among the Soviet leadership about their socialist allies. No longer are the Eastern European countries seen on the credit side of the ledger and about to reform, but as significant debits, absorbing Soviet raw materials as well as billions of rubles of foreign assistance. During the discussion, Gorbachev points up the failure of the CMEA, the bloc economic organization founded by Stalin in 1949 as an alternative to the Marshall Plan and western European cooperation. He also makes a stark acknowledgement: “In the economic sense, socialism has not passed the test of practice.”

2A key complicating factor in this period is the falling price of oil, which Ryzhkov notes has plummeted from 180 to 54 rubles per ton. Gorbachev remarks that “we cannot remain a provider of cheap resources for [the allies] forever.” After Yegor Ligachev warns of “political upheavals” in the socialist countries, Gorbachev laments: “If the situation begins to crack, the very idea of socialism will be discredited.” Yet the only strategy the Soviet leader proposes for dealing with the yawning crisis is his already-failing “acceleration” policy of investing in machine-building and technology.


3About CMEA

4Gorbachev: [Take for example] the “Ball Bearing” plant. We make a single unit for 60 rubles, while it costs 400 dollars on the world market. But we cannot sell it to our friends for 400 dollars.

5I went to this plant. You walk through the departments and feel like you are continually stepping from the Stone Age into modernity and back. And people’s moods are different in different departments. In one, young people are eager to work, others are empty. Some departments are pure scrap metal, built in the ‘50s or even ‘30s. We should let the plants earn hard currency.

6Hungary and Poland have three times as much differentiated trade with the West as we do. We look at them askance when they walk away toward the West, but we cannot replace [Western goods] with anything.

7In CMEA we almost have no trade, only primitive exchange. Oil is the main item. And our representatives feel no need to trade with them. And they do not feel it either. In the European Union there is a market, but not in CMEA. They [Eastern Europeans] even sell us food for currency now.

8Our [foreign] assistance alone takes 41 billion rubles annually from our budget. Cuba takes 27 billion. In [our] relations with CMEA, we must take care of our own people first of all. It has become unbearably hard for us to conduct business as we have been doing in previous decades. The comprehensive program is dead. This is a very important issue.

9Those who conclude that the economic situation in the socialist system has a tendency to worsen are right. And that leads to socio-political aggravation. Since we are making this judgment, we have to have a precise analysis of where we stand while conducting a calm discussion. We need to look into everything.

10For instance, Poland, [First Secretary Edward] Gierek. What was it all based on? On credits from the West and on our cheap fuel. The same goes for Hungary. There are specific features in Yugoslavia. But even Yugoslavia is on the brink of collapse. We should draw lessons from all this.

11What is our approach? Our priority is political stability in the socialist countries. This is our vital interest, from the point of view of security as well.

12We need the goods from the socialist countries. And we bear our own responsibility for socialism. In the economic sense, socialism has not passed the test of practice. Therefore we should hang on even though the situation is strangling us. This is the first thing we should keep in mind. We cannot isolate ourselves from CMEA. But what is to be done? The main objective in our approach is what we are trying to do today—to step up the application of the STR results, machine-building, technological reconstruction. This will liberate [the socialist camp] from the need to purchase technology from the West. Consequently, this will free up hard currency. And it will have great significance from the point of view of quality and increasing prosperity. There is nothing more important than the STR. Through the STR we will get our friends interested in trading with us.

13We should raise the question in the CMEA candidly: should we become integrated or not? And they must make up their mind, because we cannot remain a provider of cheap resources for them forever. If they tell us “no,” then our hands are free. Phrase it exactly like that: either-or. And it is time to stop releasing triumphant information about the relationships in the CMEA. Everyone knows what the situation is really like.



14Gorbachev: Medvedev was there, his report provides evidence of new trends. Energy and independent thought are growing. We have encouraged this and called for this, and now we are witnessing it. The approach is correct: relying on the collaboration of friends and on equality rather than on a monopoly. We will keep the initiative not due to power but due to intellectual leadership and business-like, comradely dialogue. Of course it was simpler before. But it can no longer be done as it was before. Our friends are already thinking about what is happening here, assimilating it. And by far not everyone understands everything in our approaches and new thinking. There are nuances in our friends’ reaction to perestroika. This is why the processes are dramatic. […]


15Ryzhkov: [There are] two difficult questions—the financial and the currency ones. The world price of oil has fallen from 180 to 54 rubles per ton. In five years we have given 40 billion rubles of assistance to other countries. We have no real trade with the socialist countries. We need a real market and currency convertibility. […]

16Ligachev: Some socialist countries are facing political upheavals. In Poland everything is moving in the direction of renunciation of the party. South Yemen needs assistance.

17Gorbachev: We receive much troubling information about the situation in the socialist countries. The situation is worsening, which threatens an aggravation of the socio-economic state. We need a balanced analysis of the roots of the events. It seems that the answer here is not simple. The entire world is going through a period of serious changes. It is true that the developed countries are going through this period more quickly and painlessly. We, on the other hand, are behind in scientific-technological progress. Our foreign economic setting is changing. The countries that are more connected to the foreign markets are feeling this especially strongly.

18Many mistakes are being made in economic policies. A number of socialist countries have gone into debt; they live off loans at the expense of our oil. We should draw lessons from all this. The stability of the socialist countries is our vital interest from the perspective of both security and our economic interests, because our trade volume with the socialist countries is 80 billion rubles. If the situation begins to crack, the very idea of socialism will be discredited. The socialist countries are a kind of forward defensive position for us.

19The key question is what is going on in our country, in particular with the reconstruction of the engineering industry, which needs to be given broad access to the foreign market? Why shouldn’t we, for example, sell ball bearings? We should rethink the 13th five-year plan from this perspective. We should not waste our national income on the Afghan war, for example. When we give to somebody we should look at where the money is going. We should not be shy about it. Of course, it would be a mistake to free ourselves from assistance to Cuba or Vietnam. But we should not get involved further, and we should take everything we can from our economic relations with them.

20Regarding CMEA: we need to finally clarify the issue of whether we want integration or not. We should prepare a conversation about this at the top level, maybe a meeting at the level of general secretaries.

21[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2. Opis 2. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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