1992 (?) At the Gorbachev Foundation
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
I was uncertain whether he really didn’t understand my question or didn’t want to answer it. His English wasn’t great but he was a sweet guy.
M Spencer: I have the impression that a coup took place in November and December and not just in the following August. I have heard and read that military industrial people came to see Mr. Gorbachev and put strong pressure on him to sack some of his people and replace them with others, and that some of the events in Vilnius could be traced to those happenings, and that afterwards people were accompanied by military people when they were negotiating. For example, Oberdorfer’s book says that Gorbachev seems to have been forced to reverse a commitment he had just made with James Baker, having just shaken hand on an agreement regarding cruise missiles. The military people who were accompanying him and the negotiators had a word with him and he came back and reversed his policy. And that they were following officials for several months and making sure that they did what they were told. It seems to me to mean that Mr. Gorbachev was not his own person. And that makes a big question: Why, when he returned from Crimea, did he say, “Oh, I made a mistake in appointing those people. I trusted them.”? I can’t see how those can both be true. I can’t understand how he could voluntarily do something while at the same time he was doing it under duress in order to get more time.
Shakhnazarov: You mean why he kept those people around him — Yazov, Pavlov, and so on?
Spencer: Yeah, he says he made a mistake. But if so, was he also under pressure beforehand? Had he caved in to a coup, in effect?
Shakh: Sorry, I didn’t get it.
Spencer: Okay, in November and December he started moving to the right. Most people say he moved to the right voluntarily.
Shakh: He said he was going to resign?
Spencer: No, he moved in the direction of right wing policies and replaced — well, of course, Shevardnadze quit, but …
Shakh: You mean why he didn’t change his government?
Spencer: No, I mean why he did change them. He got rid of progressive people and replaced them.
Shakh: He didn’t. Yakovlev himself decided to go out of Gorbachev because he decided that Gorbachev had rejected the policy of reform. That’s why he said that he could no longer be the adviser of Mr. Gorbachev. That was the position of Yakovlev, but never did Gorbachev say that he was intending to change his policy, because it is a question of [explanation] You can say that it was so but he rejected it. He just now also rejected it. He said that in the circumstances of 1990, he didn’t have a possibility to continue in some other way. He would like to ____ his position as President and get a chance to … [?]
The democratic forces attacked the president in 1990 and openly called for his resignation. … Without interruption there was a chain of demonstrations and meetings demanding that the president be ousted. In this situation, he could not bring to power the same people who demanded that he be ousted. He never rejected the idea of reforms, but it was a compelled situation.
MS: That’s what I wondered. If he was compelled, how could he then say, “On, I’m so disappointed in these good people that I appointed!”?
Shakhnazarov: Let me explain. Gorbachev made a deal with the democratic movement when he brought in Yavlinsky and got him to make the economic program for reform. He agreed with Yeltsin on this. At that time there were four of them — Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Ryzhkov, and Silayev — and they agreed officially that this new program would be elaborated by Yavlinsky and his colleagues. These young people went to a country house and for two months they prepared this “500 Days Program.” At the same time Gorbachev gave me his consent to meet with other democratic representatives to find common actions at that time and make an agreement among all democratic forces. We decided to do it in Bogomolov’s institute and we gathered there: Popov, Marashev, Filshin, and some other people from that side. Petrakov and I were advisers of the president. We discussed the situation and came to the conclusion that all democratic forces — radicals, as we called them — should unite in order to stop the attacks from right wing forces in our country.
They say that Gorbachev betrayed all this new union of democratic forces because he rejected the 500 Days Program. But the real case is that after this program was done, it was extremely criticized in our Supreme Soviet. Besides the government and Ryzhkov, Yeltsin also strongly criticized this program because it would be impossible to make economic reforms in the Soviet Union in the same way and with the same tactics as it was done in Poland. He predicted that if we implement this 500 Days, the living standards in the country will go down up to ten times and that it is possible that the reduction of production would be 50 or even 60 per cent. It would be the collapse of our economy. At that time, I personally did not believe it. But nowadays, we see the same in what is going on. So I also came to the conclusion that it is a mistake to make this shock therapy in a country where everything was based on public distribution and organization of production. It is clear to everybody now that this reform should be done more tentatively, over a period of ten or fifteen years or so. That’s why Gorbachev was afraid that if we implemented this 500 Days Program, we would have an economic collapse and that’s why he tried to correct this program. He did not reject it but he tried to correct it. He tried to mix it with the program of Ryzhkov.
But the leaders of the democratic opposition were of a mood to oust Gorbachev by all possible means because they wanted to take power. That’s why they estimated his move as a rejection of union with them and as a betrayal of the agreement with Yeltsin for the 500 Days Program, and they used this to attack the president. So by that time, Gorbachev concluded that it was impossible to continue to collaborate with these people.
That’s why it seems to me that they, not Gorbachev, rejected the accommodation — for the sake of taking power. They would go so far as to sacrifice the Soviet Union. It was done by Yeltsin, Kravchuk, and Shushkevich. Yeltsin betrayed the agreement with Gorbachev that he would do everything to keep the Soviet Union. I am quite sure that if Yeltsin hadn’t given in to Kravchuk at that time — it was never possible without the consent of the Russian government, the Russian president. I was involved in it and I am sure that it was not as some people from our right or left (we laugh over the ambiguous meaning of right and left in Russia) describe it. It was a struggle for power, and in that struggle, Gorbachev lost because he was not tough and hypocritical enough and was not decisive enough. He had many means at his disposal at that time; he was in command of the situation, and he could have stopped all those things and still be in power, continuing the reforms himself. But it wasn’t his idea to use force; he brought democracy to our country and it was his idee fixe that he should only use democratic methods. The other side acted according to different methods. And besides, he wasn’t a revolutionary, he was a reformer. Quite rationally, he decided that it was not possible in this country to make a revolution and come to a market economy in a year or so. That’s why he lost power.
MS: You are pointing to something that is almost the opposite of what I thought. What has bothered me is that I had been told that in the previous November and December, the right wing had him by the throat. And that when he appointed Yanaev, when he sacked Bakatin, etc. this was done because he had no choice — he was under pressure, under duress, even under threat. And that from that time on, the hard-line military people began to sit in on negotiations and even to dictate the terms of the agreements. There was even a time when she shook hands with James Baker on an agreement and went away. Half an hour later, some of the military people forced him to come back and change this agreement. That sort of thing had been reported and it made me think he was not really in control for a number of months in the winter of 1990-91.
Shakhnazarov: Yes, but you should take into account that he was not only attacked from the left but the same was from the right. At that time the problem was the situation in the Baltic states. He didn’t allow military people and security people to use force in order to crush the liberation movement in the Baltics, but at the same time he was prepared to play some tactics with them because by that time we could see here ——- …..that they were capable from all the country, [. . . ] from a big factory, they sent a message that the president should not only use force. . . . Then some military organization, the army, they sent a delegation saying that if he was not prepared to use force, “we will do it ourselves, because we could not admit that the rights of our officers are violated. … Their families are not allowed to buy food from the shops, and so on.” That’s why you should take into account that he was under great pressure from both sides and he was compelled to make tactical moves. [?…]He did everything he could at that time, but still it could be explained that took all this pressure from the right wing for himself. [?…“national liberation.”] It is a tragedy that as a liberal, as a man of history, he didn’t get recognition by the democratic side, but really he was the one who gave it to them.
MS: I would like to switch to a different question. As a sociologist, I am interested in the human relationships that give rise to different policies. I know that the international department was always a very important source of new ideas. I have heard that the People who were in Prague around the World Marxist Review were very progressive, were a kind of a club during the Brezhnev period, and that you were part of that. I’d like to know what that group was like. I’d like to know whether this was a group who identified themselves as a group and had some policies in common before Gorbachev’s elevation, whether there was anything you could do or did do to help him get to power, whether you recognized him as a potential ally before he became General Secretary, and also some of the other people you became acquainted with — for example, as a peace activist I have known Jiri Dienstbier, and I wonder whether the people at the World Marxist Review were aware of his thinking, and of people like Adam Michnik, Jiri Hayek, Havel, and all these people who became dissidents. Did you have any contact with them or with their ideas? Were you aware of those people when you were in Prague?
[Again, it is not clear that he fully understood my question.]
Shakhnazarov: Yes, because our group of consultants in the international department of the central committee was strongly democratically oriented. Among them were people who are very famous now — like Arbatov, Bogomolov, Burlatsky. We were brought to the Central Committee by Andropov. Andropov was the first man in our country, as in Canada and the United States, who began to form a [group] of professionals, of journalists, and so on. So our group was positioned under strong pressure from other parts of the apparatus because they do not like us and they were against our [views]. But still, leaders like Andropov and Brezhnev understood that these people are very useful. They can help with speeches and so on.
MS: People such as your group?
Shakhnazarov: Yes. And at the same time there were some parts of the intelligentsia, both historians, political writers, journalists, and so on, who were called dissidents, such as Roy Medvedev. We got acquainted with them thirty years ago and later, when he started to write his book about Stalin, we often met and discussed it, because in my dissertation I wrote a chapter devoted to the tyranny of Stalin, Stalin’s political system of despotism. But this chapter was simply crossed out because they would not let me publish it.
MS: What year would that have been?
Shakhnazarov: It was 1970-1972. By that time I had published my book on Social Democracy, and all this stuff was in the publishing house and crossed out. And Roy Medvedev was under great pressure from our security service, KGB. And still they met sometimes. After Gorbachev came to power, they continued their cooperation. There were a lot of people. We tried to help them. Many times I tried to help Lyubimov of the Taganka. We did our best to get permission for him to stage such plays as were prohibited by that time. And Tarkovsky, Vysotsky, ———, and other people.
MS: So you helped these critics. Some of them had to leave the country, despite your help. Tarkovsky had to leave and go to Europe, but I am glad to know you were helping. What about real dissidents? For example, I had friends who were in the Moscow Group for Trust, and I remember arguing when I used to come here to meetings that the Soviet Peace Committee put together (they invited Westerners) I used to say that it was important to get acceptance for these people because it was hard for us in the West to argue for detente and disarmament so long as there was pressure peace activists here who were independent. Was there a kind of awareness was there of people such as that group on the part of people in the highest levels?
Shakhnazarov? You mean the dissidents? No, they did not have such cooperation with these groups, but personally one or another members of such groups had contacts. Medvedev had contacts with our groups and so forth. Of course we discussed many things. But it wasn’t such a large and constant contact, you see. We have got our own minds and decisions were taken in our inner circles. And these inner circles of the intelligentsia were progressive minded. I would like to say that mostly these people were social democrats. And so they did what they decided was right for the country. In these circles there were some party leaders, such as Gorbachev. Gorbachev got acquainted with Yakovlev in Canada. Then he went to England and among those who accompanied him was at that time the deputy chief of the international department, Chernyayev. Gorbachev told me that before he became general secretary he read my books, especially the one on democracy and the future world order. [That’s why he had the idea as a jurist. ???] But I would like to say that it was different. The dissidents attacked the Soviet system. A quite different group, a large group, was those who accommodated themselves to the system but understood that the system was bad and should be reconstructed. I would like to say that in our aims, our group was not less decisive, revolutionary than these dissidents, you see. It is interesting, you can compare because for example, nowadays Roy Medvedev, who was at that time dissident and was persecuted by ______ , he has become chairman of the ____ Communist Party ____.
MS: Yes, I heard that he’s not much of a dissident these days.
Shakhnazarov: I very much respect him because he is a very honest man. He could be a big man nowadays if he expressed his attitude toward democracy and those people who came to power. But he was at that time in a position and now he is in a position. [?] …He had his ideas, his concepts. But at the same time, our group — Bogomolov, Arbatov, me, and some others — who were inside the Central Committee, we were quite radical democrats, but in political circles we were connected with Gorbachev.
MS: How long did you exist as a group and know each other as a group — those of you who worked in Prague? Did you think of yourselves as having something in common during the Brezhnev period?
Shakhnazarov: Yes, of course. Because, you know, one day he came to power and we were at that time in the German Democratic Republic. We came to Moscow. He asked Andropov and his command — that means our group — to help him with [detente? at the top?] as general secretary. We believed at that time that he would restore the ideas of the early Khrushchev — 20nd party congress — and we prepared for him an extremely progressive document for his speech at Red Square and for some others. But in content it was the same orientation, the same content as it was in the first days of perestroika.
MS: The proposals that you put forward to Brezhnev were the same as you later put forward to Gorbachev?
Shakhnazarov: [talking over my question, so I am not sure he heard it] Yes. Because he said that I am going to change everything, it was so bad, and so on. We should come to real democracy. Yeah. And we believed that it was a good chance for us to do, but after some time, especially on the 23rd Party Congress, all those things had been prepared by us and corrected, and Brezhnev _____ said that he was not First Secretary but General Secretary, he crossed out from the charter the rule that a man could not be elected more than twice to keep a post and so on. And step by step, little by little, in a year it became clear that we were mistaken. After that I think it was [leaked out of the First Committee???] but still there was the International Department. But Arbatov, Bovin, and others who were close to Brezhnev, they also tried to do what they could. All of us, we were inside the system, but when the work depends upon us, of course we tried to do it.
But I believe it was the same error. You can find the same situation in the United States during the time under Truman’s presidency when there was a strong right wing attack against left people, and there were in the highest circles some people who still were ______ but at the same time they tried to do what they could in order to make it easier for democracy and so on. Unfortunately my English is very bad, I cannot express what I like, but it seems to me that the situation is very usual, traditional.
MS: Had you already identified Gorbachev as somebody you would like to see elevated to become general secretary before he became general secretary?
Shakhnazarov: Yes, he became secretary for agriculture some time when I was Deputy Chief of the International Department. I deal with our relations with the governments and radical parties in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and his delegation came there and he was chief of the delegation. Several times I have assisted him. Once he said, I have read your book on the New World Order. That was the first time I had met somebody from the Central Committee who had read something besides Marx and Lenin. (We laugh). He said that he approved, that it was a very interesting book, and so on. By the time he was selected, he was ______, and Andropov died, almost everybody on the Central Committee, even our conservative people, all of them wanted to have Gorbachev as general secretary. It was explained, not because they knew exactly what he thinks and that he became such a leader of change ( ?? ) but simply he was young by our standards and all of us were tired of losing leaders one after another by death. All of us wanted at least to have a nice, pleasant man who can speak easily. That’s why when Chernenko was made chairman of the commission, it was a great dissatisfaction. I would like to say that Gorbachev was expected — how do you say Christ was expected? ( ?? )
MS: Oh, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ? [Actually I think he may have meant Gorbachev was the Messiah.]
Shakhnazarov: Oh, everybody thought that he had come at the time. Now, on the contrary, they castigate him.
MS: Was there anything you could do to help him get elevated?
Shakhnazarov: No, he was very clever. Andropov helped him.
M.S. And you were close to Andropov?
Shakhnazarov: Yes. They were not stupid people. You can say things about them, how they used power for their interests, but this elite in the Central Committee always tried to choose among themselves the most impressive, strong man. ______ In the United States we had a discussion with American political scientists. We put the question to them, which system is better for choosing strong leaders? We asked them how many strong leaders they could name since the beginning of the century. They named Lenin, Khrushchev, Andropov, and Gorbachev. And we asked how many American leaders. They said Roosevelt and Kennedy. I said that I could not agree, since it seems to me that Wilson should be added. He was a great man, underestimated. He is father of the League of Nations and so on. So three of yours and four of ours. And why? Our system is totalitarian and yours is democratic, but the outcome is the same. It could be explained only by the selection among all the talented people in the ruling group. In the United States they choose the leader by a general election, and in our country it is by the Central Committee, but the result is the same! (We laugh.) It could be explained why such a man in our country became general secretary.
MS: But you don’t feel you had any way to help him become general secretary?
MS: But you knew which one you wanted!
Shakhnazarov: Yes. Thank you very much. I must see other people now, unfortunately. You know, on the 14th and 15th of July we have here a big conference on our project “Toward a Future Civilization.” Among those who are invited are also two Canadians, Mrs. Calkin from Calgary University, she is vice-president of Calgary University, and she is a specialist on [medicine??], and second there is Mr. Gibbins, he is a political scientist at Calgary University, dean of political science or something. There are other interesting people if you are here in Moscow.
MS: I would be very grateful but unfortunately I leave tomorrow. Perhaps I can call them and maybe they will have papers. It would be very nice.
Shakhnazarov: I have been to Canada quite recently, in June, and we discussed the possibility of a visit by Gorbachev to Canada.
MS: I had heard that. Mr. Krasin told me that. Let me say this, I am connected to Science for Peace, an organization of scientists throughout Canada. We have several hundred members and I would be happy to do whatever I can with that organization to support your trip. If you need help in organizing, especially in Toronto but anywhere in Canada, I would be very happy to help.
Shakhnazarov: Well, it is a pity that you are not here but . . .
MS: Thank you very much.