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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 26: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session, June 20, 1988

Traduction de Svetlana Savranskaya

Texte intégral

1In the Musgrove dialogue, Ambassador Jack Matlock comments that he reached a turning point in his opinion of the Gorbachev reforms—that they were fundamental, not just tactical or public relations moves—when he read in the May 27, 1988, edition of Pravda the texts of the theses for the upcoming XIX Party Conference of the CPSU. At the time, Matlock was in Helsinki briefing President Reagan for his imminent trip to Moscow. These Chernyaev notes provide an exclamation mark on the dramatic change Matlock had detected. They cover one of the many Politburo discussions held in June 1988 concerning the statement the general secretary planned to deliver to the Party Conference, which took place June 28 through July 1. (Multiple staff groups had been working at the Central Committee and at the leadership’s dachas to produce drafts for the speech.)

2Chernyaev’s notes do not mention Eastern Europe, but they illustrate the zenith of Gorbachev’s revolution from above. Even the conservative stalwart, Andrei Gromyko, then chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, feels obliged to join the chorus of “new thinking” and support unilateral reductions of arms. Gorbachev’s hands-off attitude toward the mass media brings to mind the policies of Alexander Dubček 20 years earlier, at the outbreak of the “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia. At the same time, the discussion reveals omens of the future radical reforms that doomed the Soviet Union. Gorbachev proposes the election of communists to state bodies (soviets) “by the free vote of the people. In other words, communists would be in power legally for the first time.” This is not only a startling admission about the illegal past, but a revealing statement of Gorbachev’s belief that a free vote would sustain the leading role of the party.



3From Gromyko’s remarks: Could the Soviet Union afford to convert all resources to civilian objectives? Hundreds of billions went for military [purposes]. There is one big “but.” They wanted to bend us to their will. In the U.N. Security Council we proposed to the United States that we cease the arms race. They rejected our proposals. That is why we could not halt our production of nuclear weapons and did not want to reduce the number of our military bases. They had thousands of those. And we could not do otherwise in the name of the country’s independence.

4During Khrushchev’s time we built 600 bombs (nuclear). He said then: how long are we going to do it? Under Brezhnev we could have taken a more rational position. But we continued to stick to the principle: they are in a race and we are in a race, as in sports.

5Science and intelligent people had already arrived at a conclusion about the senselessness of this race. But both they and we continued it. We approached this issue in a primitive way. And our high command proceeded from the assumption that if a war was started, we would win it. And so we made more and more nuclear weapons. That was our mistaken position, absolutely mistaken. And the political leadership bears the entire blame for it.

6Tens of billions were spent on production of those toys; we did not have enough brains. But you all know how those issues were decided then. We should strengthen this point in the theses. I believe that it would make the report a contribution to policy and theory in this sphere.

7Ligachev: How do we admit people to the Party now? Here are the statistics. Every 16th worker gets admitted, and every second-to-fourth person from among scientists, writers, and the like.

8Gorbachev: This issue is unresolved indeed. We cannot admit everybody who wants to [join] the Party, and at the same time, we cannot alter the nature of our workers’ party. We also admit very few young people. We need some criteria.

9The mass media are doing a great job with perestroika. We would not have moved anywhere without them. However, we would have to say that group-think dominates the media. We need to say that in the process of criticizing, the press puts a person in a position where he has no rights. As Lenin said, what comes out is “literary jockeying.” Glasnost should be healing. And how would you heal if a person cannot respond to what has been written about him? The framework of glasnost, the framework of democracy, the framework of socialism—we need to think these through and speak about them openly. […]

10It has been proposed that we should emphasize even more strongly that we managed to remove the threat of nuclear war; we should stress this even more. Yegor Kuzmich [Ligachev] has proposed that. However, I would not get too excited about it. We came to a correct understanding of the situation, and we should give it a dispassionate assessment.

11It says in the first draft “thanks to our power.” No—thanks to new thinking. If we do not stress realism and do not propose realistic things nobody on the other side will meet us halfway, and nothing good will happen. This is a collective process, even though the conclusion that the threat of war has been removed is very important. It is very important that the world has woken up and is taking its fate into its own hands […]

12About the Komsomol. We used to have this phrase: “in partnership with the CPSU.” I do not insist on the term “under the leadership,” but we should somehow state it so that relations with public organizations are understood in a democratic way. But not in such a way that everybody would read it as they want: what it means to lead, but not to order about. I understand it as ideological and political influence on the youth. In other words, I am in favor of leadership, but in a correct form.

  • 1 Novo-Ogarevo was a state house (dacha) near Moscow where advisers and speechwriters gathered to dr (...)

13The question is how to combine democracy and glasnost with the strong central power that is necessary for our big country and a multinational state. Therefore, we proposed this formula: “in conjunction with the party leadership.” There were many doubts. Still, I think, we should not propose anything else here—yet. We said: “at this stage,” i.e. the present political culture does not allow anything more significant. Among the Novo-Ogarevo team,1 many people were not excited about this phrase. But I am deeply convinced, and I have thought this way all my life, that Lenin’s idea of “soviets [councils] with communists” is a promising and correct idea. If we want to ensure the success of perestroika, we cannot do it without the party. If we do not find appropriate organizational solutions for its implementation, it will not work. We need to strengthen the executive committees, but only by strengthening the soviets themselves, assuming that communists would be elected to them by the free vote of the people. In other words, communists would be in power legally for the first time. And that way we would have a check on the general secretary, not so that he can do anything: he can do anything, but only within the law.

14In short, we should think about the country, not about our seats. And if somebody has been trying to adjust their work to be liked by Gorbachev, or Shcherbitsky, or Gromyko—we are against it. We initiated a process of a kind that requires us to think and think about the country. And in the future, when we have led the country to a more open state, many things will become clearer.

15Shevardnadze: Emphasized the thesis on human rights: how well we expanded it; it is a great cause.

16Gorbachev: This section is still raw here. Human rights came from our revolution. And what did it lead to? In short, it will not work in our theses yet.

17Shevardnadze is saying that perestroika should eliminate the distortions in ethnic relations, and that the section on seceding from the USSR is simplified in our Constitution.

18Gorbachev: What are you saying? Under the command-administrative system you can write anything into the Constitution. Under conditions of democracy you need to be careful about it.

19We should state honestly that the party will lead, but it will lead exclusively on a legal basis, on the basis of a free mandate from the people.

20In the Politburo we were talking about opposition parties. We believe that here we need to develop a firm policy. Only when we present this policy, when it gives results, will we then resolve our doubts about other parties; then everything will fall into place. Now the issue is not multi-party systems, the issue is the correct road for all of society. The soil in which extremism grows is the same we want to leave behind ourselves. And today we are only planning many things.

21Comrade Dolgikh was saying here that the people demand that we be on our guard. This is not the issue. Not “on our guard,” but we should do our work, so that we have results. For me there is no question about it—socialism, as we see it now, fits the principles of democracy. But we will not achieve such socialism without the party, and we should reform the party.

22Regarding the mass media. Everybody seems to support the thesis that democracy and glasnost do not mean anarchy. Many of us are inclined to press them down a little. But I would say that now we have accumulated some experience, and now we are already in a position to write a law on the mass media. We could not do it before now. We were rightly afraid that we could strangle them [the media] to death.

23I would say the same about the KGB. Let the country live, and let the KGB work in the new situation. Later, we will see.

24Vorotnikov gives a high appraisal of the international section of the theses. He notes that we did indeed let ourselves get pulled into the arms race. We found ourselves on the brink of a catastrophe.

25Gorbachev: This is the softest term. [We] could use stronger words.

26Vorotnikov: It is not imperialism; we are the ones to blame. We failed to use all [available] means for peace. We were pulled into somebody else’s logic.

27Gorbachev: There is a stupid dialectic here: if they do it, we will also. There were opportunities, yes, but we got sucked into it. If you look closely, we were always catching up, and we did not use political methods to achieve our objectives in a proper manner. This admission can alleviate our guilt to some degree. We wanted to ensure strategic parity. That is a good concept, strategic parity. But we were pursuing simply parity, mechanical parity. Did we want to have parity with all of NATO? To race the entire world regarding the levels of armaments: cannon by cannon, plane by plane? Then let us introduce ration cards for food, turn the country into a military camp, and just race and race onwards.

28The situation has been changing, and now it is completely different. And we still have not used what we possess. We are not changing direction. But we were not capable of using our peace-loving capabilities in a reasonable way. Originally, we wrote in our theses that we found ourselves on the brink of war. That was how it was in the original draft, but then we decided to soften the wording so that we did not scare anybody.

29[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2. Opis 2. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.]


1 Novo-Ogarevo was a state house (dacha) near Moscow where advisers and speechwriters gathered to draft Gorbachev’s speeches and other documents.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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