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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 21: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session, March 24-25, 1988

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok

Texte intégral

1This document is fascinating proof that the Soviet leadership was aware of the “spillover” effect of Gorbachev’s liberalization, particularly the “glasnost” publications about Stalin and Soviet history, on the countries of Eastern Europe. By this time there were plenty of signals from the communist leadership and Soviet informers in these countries that the East European populations had begun to see Gorbachev as a possible “liberator” from their local regimes. Referring to secrets that might damage Soviet prestige, the KGB’s Viktor Chebrikov tells his Politburo colleagues there are some documents that should stay confidential forever. Noteworthy is the outburst of Foreign Minister Shevardnadze that reveals the growing impatience of Soviet reformers with the seemingly immutable conservatism of these regimes. Yegor Ligachev’s words betray the fundamental Soviet dilemma: how to reform the USSR without losing “socialism” in Eastern Europe.



  • 1 In early March 1988, the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya published a feature article by “a professor (...)

2[…] Ligachev: Arguably we will muddle through, and survive the attacks [by radical, anti-Stalinist forces in the Soviet mass media], but there are the socialist countries, the world communist movement—what to do about them? Would we risk breaking apart this powerful support that has always existed side-by-side with our socialist countries? History has become politics and, when we deal with it, we should think not only about the past but also about the future.

3Chebrikov: I would like to touch upon an unusual question. There are things that should remain secret. I would use this expression: There should be Kremlin secrets. Nobody should learn about them. A man dies and his secret dies with him. Do you understand what I mean? Should we turn inside-out the secret that should pass away? Incidentally, we should look at the experience of other states; they take a strict approach to similar affairs. They have established time-limits: which material should be published after 30 years, which after 50 years; some materials are sent to the archives with the classification “not for publication.”


5Some time ago I was in charge of the [KGB] archive. Even today I have access to it. I had to read many documents from the 1930’s, even before the rehabilitation and even before the post-war years. Those materials had a terrifying effect on me regarding the crimes that had taken place in those years. And of course my perception and understanding underwent a painful transformation, my consciousness was changed. A similar transformation is happening in millions of people right now. It is not a simple process: it happens one way for some people and differently for others; some may disagree with it or refuse it, etc.

6Gorbachev: I have been receiving letters in which the authors write: You have set out to destroy what had been built by Stalin—a great state, national order. Of course I understand that if I am called a reactionary it is not just in society. What I am receiving I would not wish any of you to get. But I think that there are goals you believe in, [of which] you are convinced and [for which you are] prepared to go all the way; otherwise what kind of a character are you, what are you doing here? Behind you is the country, the world; and if you, like a petty soul, like a small fry, panic, cry “wolf” and crouch down to save your own skin—then it is all over. […]

7Shevardnadze: Primitivism and intellectual narrow-mindedness prevented N.S. Khrushchev from implementing to the end the line of the Twentieth Party Congress [in 1956]. Primitivism and narrow-mindedness, I am deeply convinced, are leading many socialist countries into deadlock. Take, for instance, Bulgaria; take the old leadership of Poland; take the current situation in the German Democratic Republic, in Romania. Is that socialism?

8I will be frank: The communist and working class movement today is in a profound crisis, in a most profound crisis. Pick any party. Therefore all the things that we have been doing over here—perestroika, renewal, improvement—are revolutionary processes. In essence, they promise the rescue of socialism. And any primitive approach can kill our enlightened cause.

9[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2. Opis 2. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]


1 In early March 1988, the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya published a feature article by “a professor from Leningrad,” Nina Andreyeva, under the title “I cannot forsake my principles.” It quickly became a manifesto of the forces opposed to the radicalization of perestroika. Some Politburo members, including Ligachev, encouraged this process. Gorbachev was abroad at the time, but when he returned he used the “Andreyeva affair” as an occasion to root out the conservative forces.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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