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Document No. 51: Notes of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Meeting with Soviet Ambassadors to Socialist Countries

March 3, 1989

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1These notes reproduce a remarkable oration by Gorbachev to an audience that traditionally consisted of party functionaries picked for their ideological correctness rather than their diplomatic skills. But by now the Soviet leader and his foreign minister are in the midst of a process of installing more reform-oriented emissaries to the socialist community. Gorbachev’s consistent message leaps from this text—and one can imagine how vividly this must have come across in person. He insists over and over on a policy of non-intervention and the rejection of force—“we are excluding the possibility of bloody methods”—and connects this policy to the new Soviet sense of the allies as burdens, rather than as unquestioned assets for the USSR. He further shows his resentment of the allies who “reproach us” for “giving up [our] leadership role.” But if we “go back to this practice … we will once again assume full responsibility for their actions.” However, the allies are also taking advantage of the Soviet Union: even though the GDR enjoys much higher meat supplies per capita than Soviet citizens, the East Germans still “demand raw materials for special prices!” Chernyaev’s notes convey the written equivalent of Gorbachev banging the podium: “They resell the specially priced resources they get from us to the West for hard currency. Such is their reciprocity! This is where I turn into a nationalist!” Small wonder the Soviet leader and his circle show so little reluctance to see Eastern Europe go.

2Gorbachev: Nothing is going to be easy. Everything depends on the staff and the people. We need to change the approach to our work—all of it, entirely. This is the most important thing.

3Even our first reaction, as we were rotating the flywheel of perestroika and feeling that it was not working as planned, was to reach for the stick and to punish someone because of ideological or economic issues. Either do what we tell you or leave, so to speak.

4This concerns Politburo members as well. We ourselves are gaining experience and wisdom, and in society everything is still very tentative. Routine work is holding us up more than anything. We still have to finish thinking through and making a prognosis at least of what the contours of future society might be as conceptions become transformed into policy.

5There is movement forward. But so far we have not acquired much through perestroika. Perestroika is moving deeper into society, and we must offer society forms of life that everyone is able to understand. The philosophy of our movement is another matter. But we must not be naive. We must reach each person through reform. The individual is our main focus.

6Sometimes we hear from different sides: perestroika will not give you anything, you will not succeed, the country will fall apart and you will return to Brezhnev, if not to Stalin.

  • 1 The first free elections, allowing for several names on the ballot, were scheduled for March 26, 1 (...)

7Yes, there are many mistakes, but that is inevitable. We have no other choice but to add more to perestroika and to move forward. The people are growing stronger. The people believe. A CPSU candidate to the Congress of People’s Deputies1 traveled around the entire Urals region and then came to me. Everything is in motion, he told me, but it bumps up against old thinking and habits. Novelty is frightening. I told him: what kind of a revolution would it be if there was nothing new in it. We are not just applying new wallpaper, as [Kurt] Hager said.

8We have started such a project! And we started it after serious analysis. The fate of the country is [tied up] in it; this is the country’s chance for a future. If we go back now, the fate of socialism in general will be up in the air.

9Even the Social Democrats want very much for perestroika to be successful. They say they have their model and we have our model. But the socialist idea is shared in common between them.

10The ambassador of Cuba said to me: the reactionaries in the West have come to the conclusion that perestroika is not beneficial to them. Yes, a real struggle is going on. Perestroika has hit the military industrial complex hard, and it is clear that it is not profitable for weapons manufacturers. Baker traveled around Europe and he is in a panic: Europe is breaking away from their control. Their society is reacting powerfully to our work.

11The perestroika concept is being tested by real life right now. It has affected everybody—the party, the peasants, the workers, the intelligentsia. We have a general program, but it has not been developed in some aspects. We do not have a tax policy, we still hope for leftovers from the administrative system. We do not know how to deal in this sense with the cooperatives, with customs, with insurance. And for now the government must control every detail. We do not have a mechanism that would function without being pushed.

12The work being done is already enormous. But it will be some time before everything starts working. […] [And] what to do with our monopolies? These are not capitalist corporate monopolies. These are absolute monopolies.

13There are many people profiteering from our problems: both conservatives and leftists. They are coming together in attacking us. Yeltsin for example—he is insulted and ambitious. The Yeltsin phenomenon is characteristic of a pivotal moment, when society has come up against real difficulties.

14We proposed a triad after the XIX Party Conference: housing, goods for the people, and services. But we need time to become accustomed to it. And life is moving on and tensions are growing. And the people are listening to the demagogues. The leadership does not help by securing scarce goods for itself. This is how the “defenders of the people” arise. They profit from hardship.

15It is a pity that Yeltsin took this road. I tried to stop him. Among other things, his ignorance prevented him from. […]

16How can we respond? There is one answer—intensify perestroika. Raise the quality of all work. Work, work and persist! Difficult years are ahead of us. Some people are proposing a solution: buy provisions from abroad, saturate the market. […] But Hungary’s and Poland’s experiences are before us. Should we ignore that? Of course, if we were frightened we could do that. We will smooth some things out temporarily. But it would be a mistake from a strategic point of view.

17We are searching. Nevertheless a vacuum is left in places and somebody immediately fills it. […]

18Working in your countries you will have to explain the goals and tasks of perestroika every day. Our friends have a major interest in it. Our “best friends,” the Chinese (animation [in the room]), are studying our experience very seriously.

19They have “open zones,” appendices to the international market. That did not work out [for us], and even the leadership was overtaken by corruption. The village grows. But now it has run up against the need to use technology. […]

20But we will not dissolve the collective farms, rather we will change them from within by leasing them.

21Lomakin: (ambassador to Czechoslovakia). The issue is not with the collective farms. Yegor Kuzmich [Ligachev] came to Prague to assure Jakeš that we will keep the collective farms.

22Aristov: (ambassador to Poland). Poland produces less than the GDR. We will advocate leasing in industry. But there have been cases when factories were ruined through leasing. […] The individual at the point of production is the most important factor in Poland. Here, it is the director!

23Gorbachev: The reforms are influencing the personnel. When leasing, the number of specialists needed is 3-4-5 times smaller. Why should they want to lease? They get their 600-700-1500 rubles and are happy with it. Why should they change?

24We are losing 20 billion [rubles] from unprofitable industries. The Cubans did not believe me when I told them.

25We have not succeeded in turning society toward the new yet, but some work has already been done. The most important question right now concerns the cadres of perestroika. […]

26How is all this reflected in the minds of our friends and foes? […] Your position should be as follows: we, the Soviet Union, need perestroika. We must find a new quality of society with it. We can no longer tolerate the situation our people find themselves in now. Perestroika is vitally important to us. It is also important for our friends to understand that the fate of socialism in general is at stake here as well.

27Our friends are worried about socialism’s fate. But we will reveal the potential of socialism through democracy, through the individual.

28And as far as they are concerned: let them take what suits them from our per-estroika. Do not impose anything on anybody! Every country is very specific. Considering this specificity, we are not playing with them. We reject force in everything, in all our policies.

29Take Cuba. […] They are worried. They are afraid to lose what they have been getting from the other socialist countries. As a matter of fact, the GDR has long ago stopped giving anything to Cuba. The Czechs don’t know what to do with meat, but to us they sell it at world market prices. There is 100 kilograms of meat per capita in the GDR. And they continue to demand raw materials for special prices. This is their solidarity! They could not care less about our problems and difficulties.

30They think over there that since we swore to [follow] internationalism, we should go ahead! They reproach us: how is it that you are giving up your leadership role?! You will not teach us anymore and tell us what to do?!

31We will not go back to this practice! If we do, we will once again assume full responsibility for their actions.

32We will think of our own people.

33We are not abandoning Cuba, but we will bring our assistance to within reasonable limits.

34We gave Zhivkov 400 million dollars for no particular reason [prosto tak]. That is 30 percent of Belgium’s national income! What is going on?

  • 2 The phrase “in the last five years” is handwritten as an insert.

35Soviet GNP growth in the last five years2 has been 20 percent [sic] and military spending grew by 40 percent, including for the Warsaw Treaty.

36We will hold people strictly responsible!

37We are in favor of industrial cooperation with our friends. But they do not want it, they want us to provide them with the achievements of our basic science for the modernization of their industry. […] They resell the specially priced resources they get from us to the West for hard currency. Such is their reciprocity!

38This is where I turn into a nationalist!

39We are not changing the course of the socialist community, but we will add some adjustments.

40What is all this for? We need perestroika. The people deserve it. We will persevere and make it through the hindrances and resistance of the bureaucracy.

41We will not follow the path of jumps and races; we will not be erratic. We will conduct a realistic policy.

42So you know what to defend in your assigned countries, what to tell them. The people are pressuring the party, demanding more energetic action. There is impatience. And the oppositionists and demagogues are playing off of this.

43For now we are not equipped with the necessary defensive mechanisms. We are excluding the possibility of bloody methods.

44[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 2. Opis 1. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

Notes

1 The first free elections, allowing for several names on the ballot, were scheduled for March 26, 1989 (see discussion of results in Document No. 53). By agreement, 100 seats in the new parliament were reserved for representatives of “public organizations,” which included the communist party. The Central Committee organized a very active electoral campaign for communists throughout the Soviet Union.

2 The phrase “in the last five years” is handwritten as an insert.

© Central European University Press, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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