Hard Reforms and the Invisible Coup

Soviet citizenry became increasingly antagonistic to their leader, even as he was winning a Nobel prize for peace.
Deleted draft chapter from The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy (1996)

Gorbachev’s greatest admirers are probably peace researchers — and for good reason. Apart from Mohandas K Gandhi, one cannot find another national leader in the twentieth century whose words and policies so fully matched the ideals of peacemakers and humanitarians promoting global harmony. Anyone who doubts this needs to review Gorbachev’s speech to the UN General Assembly in 1988.


Canadian peace researcher John Sigler, who read hundreds of other documents, summarized Gorbachev’s working assumptions in the following list of twelve principles.

  1. The primacy of universal human values over narrow vested interests of nation or class. Gorbachev put it this way in his 1988 speech to the General Assembly, “World politics should be guided by the primacy of universal human values. The history of past centuries and millennia was the history of wars. Today further world progress is only possible through a search for a universal human consensus as we move forward to a new world order. No genuine progress is possible at the expense of the rights and freedoms of individuals or of nations, or at the expense of nature.”
  2. The need for mutual and comprehensive security, emanating from the stipulation that no one’s security may be attained at the expense of the diminished security of others. This principle was fully set out in Common Security, the report of the celebrated study group headed by the late Olof Palme. In his UN speech, Gorbachev point out that “one-sided reliance on military power ultimately weakens other components of national security.”
  3. Non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, while honoring the choice of peoples and nations as to the ways and patterns of their development.
  4. The settlement of regional conflicts exclusively through political means, taking due account of the legitimate interest of all those involved.
  5. The enhancement of the international methods and machinery of conflict resolution and the management of the world community of nations. The Soviet Union put forward a wide-ranging set of proposals for reforming and strengthening the U.N. system.
  6. The recognition of the non-use of force and nonviolence as the ultimate principle in human affairs.
  7. Curtailment and cessation of regional arms races and limitations of arms transfers to Third World Regions to accompany efforts at disarmament by the great powers.
  8. Abandonment of the mentality and practice of superpower zero-sum games.1
  9. More effort in nuclear nonproliferation.
  10. Cooperation in economic revitalization of developing countries and in solving global problems of hunger, malnutrition, disease, and indebtedness.2
  11. Assertion of the rule of law in international affairs.
  12. Broad participation of the public at large in political and diplomatic processes; democratization and openness in inter-state relations and the development of human values in international politics.

In his General Assembly speech, Gorbachev said, “life is making us discard our illusions. People want to learn to cooperate.” The otherwise staid New York Times called the speech the most important in international politics since Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points and used such adjectives as “breathtaking,” “risky, “ “bold,” “naive,” “diversionary,” and “heroic.” His ideas, the Times editorial writer wrote, “merit, indeed, compel the most serious response.”3

Gorbachev would receive that serious response, as well as enduring gratitude from human society — with the exception only of his own Soviet society.

For, despite Gorbachev’s success on the global scene, his domestic policies generally failed. His international program was implemented by a team of wise liberals from the International Department of the Central Committee who had been preparing quietly almost a whole generation for this opportunity. As Gennady Gerasimov, his former spokesman for foreign affairs noted, it was a happy coincidence that such a group was at hand. But, “the people in the domestic departments were just awful. … So he had no good team.”4

Domestic politics have consequences for international politics. The primacy of economics, nationalism, and something new — partisanship — could be seen in the responses of the Soviet citizenry, who became increasingly antagonistic to their leader, even as he was winning a Nobel prize for peace. Public opinion in that country was not unique; in other societies too, political success generally depends more on the pay packet than on foreign policy. Therefore, though this book as a whole is concerned primarily with the policies that put an end to the Cold War, we must begin by reviewing the domestic issues of the period. Such is the objective of this chapter, which is a preliminary to a study that ends with the break-up of the Soviet Union.

This chapter will begin by reviewing objective, structural factors (the circumstances that demanded reform in Soviet society and the political options that existed) and end by reviewing the attributions of Russian citizens in the early 1990s as they interpreted the events of the preceding decade. Only in subsequent chapters will I turn to my main task — to show how ideas spread through networks of intellectuals, political elites, dissidents, military analysts, and peace activists and put an end to the Cold War.


Social change cannot always be predicted, but it can be “retrodicted.” We can identify six objective conditions that seemed to call for change when Gorbachev came to power. None of them made the outcome inevitable. Instead, all of these factors seemed to make change as difficult as it was necessary. These six factors were:

  1. the power of the nomenklatura vis-à-vis a weak civil society;
  2. the Cold War;
  3. persistent agricultural failure;
  4. poor management of oil, gold, and other resources;
  5. botched central planning of cities, manufacturing, and transport; and
  6. technological dangers to health and the environment.

Social structures are caused by previous human decisions, good or bad — especially by political decisions. During the critical decade of the 1980s, the Soviet leaders faced grave consequences resulting from the bad decisions of their predecessors, who had created a militaristic leviathan incapable of producing the necessities or life or managing the society’s bountiful natural resources. There was no public accountability; bureaucrats ran the country and skimmed off the cream for themselves. Militarism had been costly in terms of public support, as well as economic terms. The “superpower” became unable even to feed itself, paying instead for its food by the export of raw materials — mainly gold and oil. The natural environment became a poisonous wasteland. As we shall see, all of these factors converged sharply at a certain time, forming a fateful challenge to the political survival of the state and its leaders.

1. The Power of the Nomenklatura and the Weakness of Civil Society

The top officials who administered Soviet society were collectively known as the nomenklatura. The most detailed analysis of that ruling class has been provided by an expatriate dissident, Michael Voslensky,5 who attributed its origins to Lenin and its full development to Stalin. Contrary to the claim that the Bolsheviks were proletarians, Voslensky pointed out that the inner party initially consisted of professional revolutionaries, and that even in later years, the top echelon of the Communist Party was not predominantly drawn from the working class. This group of revolutionaries became the nomenklatura, who monopolized the most important decision-making jobs;6 they were appointed from above by a system of patronage after being vetted by other officials. Once admitted to this privileged class, one could expect to remain a member for life. At worst, poor performance or indiscretion might result in demotion. (Under Stalin, of course, one might have been executed — but for reasons other than inefficiency on the job.) As of the 1970s, Voslensky estimated that “the power of the nomenklatura in the Soviet Union is exercised by about 250,000 persons, or one thousandth of the population, who are subject neither to election nor rejection by the people, but who decide its fate and lay down the people’s political line.”7

Below that top level, other parts of the nomenklatura functioned in roles that did not determine political affairs; they included heads and managers of industrial and agricultural enterprises, plus key personnel in research, universities, and high schools. By Voslensky’s estimates, this group constituted perhaps half a million workers. However, when he included the members of their families, the total membership of the entire nomenklatura expanded to about three million — less than 1.5 percent of the population of the country. Although there were many other officials and bureaucrats as well, the nomenklatura was unique in its ability to protect its own power. This group preferred to be regarded as a civil service, but unlike any true civil service in other countries, it did not simply administer the decisions made by politicians, but made the decisions itself. Unlike a ruling class in other countries, its power is not primarily based on the seizure of property. Voslensky wrote,

The nomenklatura is primarily an embodiment of the political leadership of the society. It is only secondarily, as a consequence of that leadership, that it exercises economic power…. It alone makes political decisions, and this makes necessary a clear dividing line between its political and its purely administrative work…. Thus the Politburo could of course appoint (or `recommend,’ as it is called) a president of a kolkhoz [a collective farm], but it would be a grave breach of the rules, and the rest of the nomenklatura would react with silent astonishment. …The nomenklatura is a bastard kind of feudalism; every nomenklaturist is granted a fief….8

Voslensky insisted that the existence of a nomenklatura is an inherent aspect of communism (though Marx surely would have opposed it), for such a ruling class has arisen independently in all communist regimes. This is so, but others have described the Soviet nomenklatura as historically specific, being modeled on the Czarist bureaucratic structure introduced by Peter the Great. That system, the “table of ranks,” involved two parallel hierarchies — of rank titles and of actual jobs — to which were attached precisely-specified privileges and ceremonial awards.9 The Soviet system was as rigid, as tenacious, and as autocratic as the Czarist regime and, until Stalin’s death, far more violent and repressive. The nomenklatura managed to control lower levels of the bureaucracy, and without them there could have been no totalitarian state.

After Stalin, Khrushchev continued relying on the nomenklatura, though making high-handed decisions without consulting them. But, as Mark R. Beissinger has noted, his ouster in 1964 was both a response to his “`hare-brained’ policies and a backlash against the insecurity from which the Soviet elite suffered. It was as if Khrushchev had mistakenly thought that he could enjoy Stalin’s dictatorial power without employing Stalin’s instruments of control.”10 Succeeding reformers would have to learn from his mistake— his assumption that the nomenklatura could not strike back.

Bureaucratic power is not confined to the communist world. Countless researches have described how it threatens democracy. However, any comparison between the Soviet bureaucracy and that of a Western society must take account of the nomenklatura’s strength relative to the rest of society. In the West, there are at least countervailing centers of power, while the nomenklatura confronted no independent organizations. To be legal at all, every organization had to be “registered” — approved by the state. This practice enabled the state to control groups and individuals alike, for whoever acted in a politically-disapproved way would be blocked in his or her career. Dissidents could not create alternative jobs for themselves or mobilize support through a network of like-minded associates. This absence of civil society — a plurality of independent, voluntary associations — was the structural factor that enabled the state, through its bureaucratic instrument, to dominate the whole Soviet society, without significant challenge for over seventy years. The persistent power of the nomenklatura and the weakness of civil society presented both the need for change and the chief obstacle to change.

2. The Cold War

Everyone wanted out of the Cold War, yet no leader until Gorbachev even tried to put an end to it. The leaders of both superpower blocs had created the superpower rivalry for their own reasons; indeed, each side needed the other as an enemy. Stalinists needed an external enemy to justify the extreme demands that the totalitarian schemes placed on the Soviet citizens for cohesion and obedience. The United States needed the Soviet superpower as an enemy to justify the maintenance of a military force used primarily to control Third World countries for the sake of American economic interests.

The nuclear arms race was the logical outcome of this mutually agreeable contest between global powers; nevertheless, this self-defeating sport eventually terrified even the master strategists who played it. The arms race had continued through the seventies, despite the detente arranged between Brezhnev and Nixon — a superficial calm that masked the expansionism and proxy wars conducted by both superpowers in Asia and Africa. Detente came to an end when the 1980s opened with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and soon thereafter when destabilizing, faster, intermediate range missiles were unveiled, destined for the European theatre of World War III.

In the West, people took to the streets in mass protests against their governments’ policies. The Soviet government promptly matched these demonstrations by organizing its own citizens, who carried banners calling for “No Missiles East or West.” While Soviet demonstrations in no way criticized their nation’s military policies, the very regime that had organized them nevertheless was impressed by the fervor of the participating citizens. Moreover, Soviet officials could not ignore the increasing unpopularity of the Afghan War, even though they suppressed overt opposition to it, as usual, by intimidation.

Soviet citizens were given few details about this war or about the cost of the military contest between the superpowers, but their officials, who did know the economic facts, realized that one purpose of the first Reagan administration’s large military buildup was economic: to out-spend the Soviets and force them into economic bankruptcy.

To this day, many Americans believe that this strategy worked — that it forced Gorbachev to concede defeat and call off the arms race. Michael MccGwire has shown that this did not happen. On the contrary, the Soviets continued to match the American buildup, weapon for weapon, despite the cost, until Gorbachev came to power. In 1983-84, the Soviets reevaluated their defence and foreign policy and planned increases that “would have been extremely detrimental to U.S. interests, if Gorbachev had not changed policies in 1987.”11 The military intensification of 1983 occurred because they misinterpreted a NATO exercise and concluded that the West was actually preparing for nuclear war.

MccGwire maintains that the economic aspects of the arms race, instead of inducing the Soviets to give up the competition, actually prompted them to intensify it. Other observers, such as David S. Meyer and Sam Marullo,12 argue that the Soviets neither perceived an increased threat in the U.S. modernization of weapons nor built up their forces in response to that threat. Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry offer the same conclusion.13 Meyer and Marullo argue, “Since the U.S. buildup occurred after Soviet defence spending reached its peak and was already declining as a proportion of GNP, it could not have been the cause of that change.”14

Not all of these inferences seem compatible. In any case, however, whether these latter four authors or MccGwire is correct, it cannot be claimed that the Soviets backed down and reduced their military program because of recognizing the superiority of the NATO forces.

These analysts may be correct in showing that the economic crisis of Soviet militarism was not a determining factor in Phase I (the buildup of the Cold War) or II (the reversal of the cold war). However, the economy became highly consequential during Phase III — the collapse of the Soviet Union — and cumulative military spending was largely responsible for that crisis. For two decades, the Soviets had spent between at least twice as large a proportion of their GNP for military purposes as did the United States.15 These costs, combined with other economic disadvantages — notably in agriculture and oil — yielded grave structural problems that converged on the leadership just when Gorbachev took office in 1985. Thus he found it easier to make dramatic changes in foreign and military matters than in domestic policies.16

3. Persistent Agricultural Failure

The bare shelves in grocery shops was a third, and perhaps the most important, factor requiring social reform. Yet agriculture had long been a chronic problem for Soviet society. Never since the October Revolution had agricultural policy been guided by realism, but instead by an ideological antipathy that can be traced back to Marx, Engels, and Lenin. [17] While other communist movements (e.g. in Italy, Latin America, and China) in the end adopted pro-peasant policies, the Bolsheviks regarded peasants with deep suspicion — especially the prosperous ones (kulaks), who were regarded as rural capitalists. The Bolsheviks believed in large-scale production and saw no difference between industry and agriculture in this respect, claiming that great results would come from the pooling of land, mechanization, and capital intensive farming. It was Stalin who implemented these principles most fully with his repressive collectivization. Robert Conquest estimates that 14.5 million Soviet peasants died between 1930 and 1937, about half of them as a direct result of the “liquidation of the kulaks as a class.”18 Peasants were deported to Siberia for the “crime” of owning more than two horses. The genocidal collectivization campaign was curbed after 1933 and during World War II some private farming was tolerated.

Khrushchev’s most ambitious program was to open the “Virgin Lands” steppes of Kazakhstan and southern Siberia to cultivation. The negative aspects of this project became obvious by 1964, when half the former pasture land had become dust-bowls where farming had to be abandoned. That year, the Soviet Union had to import massive quantities of grain. Throughout the Brezhnev period, agriculture continued to fail and the Soviet Union became a consistent net food importer.19

When Eastern Europe and then China began to shift back to private agriculture, nothing comparable happened in the Soviet Union. In 1979, the Chinese began a step-by-step economic restructuring by reverting to a free market in private family farming and in the production of small consumer durables. Only after several years, as the consumer market became saturated, did the Chinese gradually make other moves toward a free market economy. Unlike the “shock therapy” reforms adopted a few years later by Poland and then the other Eastern bloc nations, the Chinese method was not accompanied by declining standards of living, but rather by a growth rate averaging nine percent per year.

So far as outside observers could tell, the Soviet leaders never even considered adopting the Chinese model. Actually, however, a secret debate was waged during and after the Andropov period concerning that alternative. It was carried on in various journals, but no public discussion was permitted. The total amount of food production was sufficient to feed the population but, because of the inefficiency of production, storage, and distribution, at exorbitant costs.

During this period, Gorbachev was Secretary of Agriculture. He understood what was wrong with the collective farms and state farms and knew what to do about it, but he had learned caution. While leading the agricultural program in his home region of Stavropol, he had experimented by introducing a system of small and relatively autonomous agricultural units that were paid in proportion to their productivity. The top leaders had blocked those reforms. Gorbachev opposed viscerally the notion of private ownership of land. He expanded the contract system along the lines of his innovations in Stavropol, hoping to improve the relationship between rewards and results, but this failed to increase productivity. [20] The most likely reason for this failure was that, since Brezhnev’s day, the farmers were already being paid extremely well without their income being tied to productivity. In a period of tight money, when agriculture was already grossly inefficient and unproductive, it was impossible for Gorbachev to offer a better deal than the farmers were already receiving. The privatization of agriculture held few charms to the peasants.

Farmers withheld their produce from the state stores, and food shortages increased day by day. Eventually the long-suffering Soviet citizens lost patience and used their new political freedom to express their frustration. It was probably the food deficits, more than any other problem, that stripped legitimacy from Gorbachev.

4. Bad Management of Oil, Gold, and Other Resources

The economy was undergoing other fateful ups and downs, particularly influenced by the export of oil and gold. The Soviet Union had long been the largest oil-producing country in the world and had sold much of the fuel to other Eastern European countries at discounted prices. After the crop failure of 1972, the government was forced to import grain, and would have had to borrow heavily to pay for it except for an unexpected bonanza. The Arab world organized an oil cartel, OPEC, as a response to the Yom Kippur War. The Soviet Union encouraged this project and benefited greatly from it, selling oil to the very countries that were affected by it — at four times the pre-war price. The oil revenue allowed the Soviets to import grain to cover their shortfall while borrowing only $10 billion instead of the $30 billion they would otherwise have required. Indeed, throughout the following decade, the inflated price of oil enabled the regime to get by without undertaking any serious economic reforms. By 1981, oil was accounting for 60 percent of the country’s hard currency.

At that point, as a result of Western energy conservation and a global recession, the oil exports were declining. The danger was masked temporarily in two ways. First, the Soviets began to cut back on oil sales to Eastern Europe, and to substitute natural gas for oil at home. This allowed for Soviet oil exports to increase and bring in hard currency until 1985. Second, the Soviet economy was helped by the price of gold, which was at a record height in the early 1980s. Gold is one of the great riches of Russia, and as it became impossible to export enough oil to cover the rising imports, much of the shortfall was made up by revenues from increasing gold exports.

Another problem gradually became apparent for the oil industry during the 1980s. The environmental difficulties posed greater challenges to oil exploitation than in many other countries, owing to the cold Siberian environment, but the Soviet technology was more primitive than elsewhere. In fact, water was pumped down into the oil wells, forcing the high quality oil to the surface where it could be removed, but ruining the remaining oil, so that it could no longer be extracted. By the late 1980s, this wasteful system was taking its toll. Oil production plummeted and would continue dropping for years to come.21 The shortage of fuel for long-distance transportation compounded the problems arising from cities and a manufacturing system that had been badly planned because of flawed ideologies.

5.Botched Central Planning of Cities, Manufacturing, and Transport

Soviet society was a planned society, organized from the centre by technocrats who did not have to listen to the complaints of people whom their plans affected. From the very beginning, there was a mania for gigantism; big was presumed to be more efficient than small. This can be seen in the cities and industries, which were over-sized. More cities with populations over 100,000 could be found the Soviet Union than in other societies. People tended to be housed in large apartment buildings (unfortunately, the apartments themselves were not so spacious!) situated far from the centre of town, so that great distances had to be traveled every day on overcrowded, beaten-up buses.

Moreover, the planners intentionally created a highly integrated economy throughout a nation-state spread across one-sixth of the world’s land mass. Raw and finished products were shipped vast distances by rail, in flagrant disregard of transportation costs and the corresponding waste of fuel. Overly-large, many cities were “company towns” dominated by a single industry that received its supplies from far away and shipped its manufactured goods equally far.22 When supplies or buyers could have been found closer, across the border in another nation, such trade was discouraged. The result was an economy based on monopolies, where every enterprise is vulnerable to breaks in the chain of supplies and market relations.

Not surprisingly, resentment built up locally against the bureaucratic rulers at the centre. By the end of the nineties, people on the periphery believed that, to regain control over their own lives — especially their own economic relationships — they had to become nationalists and demand secession. This was especially true in republics that seemed potentially self-sufficient in resources. The economy was too centralized, too oversized, and too monopolistic, but though these flaws were conducive to criticism they were hardly conducive to restructuring. It became far easier to stimulate secessionist aspirations than it would be to redesign existing cities, relocate the inhabitants, break up monopolies, or create new trade relations closer to home. Many Soviet citizens would approach secession with an easy conviction that it was the only way to break the hold of the entrenched Communist leaders and that afterwards a new union might be formed on a new and fair basis. In fact, few of these benefits were to appear, while the costs and difficulties of breaking up a centralized, integrated economy would become apparent.

6. Technological Dangers to Health and Environment

The first statistical handbook of the Soviet Union was not published until nine years after the death of Stalin and, even so, many of the figures presented in it were falsified.23 The public was not told the truth about their deteriorating environment and health until Gorbachev enunciated his policy of glasnost — a policy that was not yet institutionalized when, a year after his accession to power, disaster struck at Chernobyl. Gorbachev himself was initially misled by local officials24 but responded to the tragedy by intensifying his campaign for open reporting, especially the reporting of accidents.

The news that began to appear was shocking in the extreme. The Soviet Union was the only country to show a declining level of life expectancy; from 66.1 years in 1964-65, the life expectancy for males dropped to 62.3 years in 1980-81. As Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly report, “Fifty-year-old males could expect in 1985 to die earlier than men who reached the half-century mark in 1939.”25 Over half of all young men reporting to the compulsory draft were unable to be inducted because of poor health. This was partly a result of poor health care facilities. In a society where one person in three lives in rural areas, almost half of all rural hospitals and clinics had no sewer connections and 80 percent had no hot water. There was a perennial shortage of drugs and equipment (including such basics as syringes and operating tables) and of properly trained physicians. In Central Asia, half of all patients who underwent surgery died as a result of it.

Many health problems could also be attributed to environmental pollution. Toxic pesticides such as DDT were used long after other nations banned them. Baby food was contaminated with nitrates. In Central Asia, for the sake of expanding cotton monoculture (cotton is an ingredient in some explosives) water was diverted from rivers that had fed the Aral Sea, a body of water previously larger than Lake Huron. The sea dried up and the toxic salts from its bed were blown to fields a thousand miles away, contaminating the whole area. Mothers in the Aral region no longer can breast-feed their babies without running the risk of poisoning them.26 Cities such as Moscow are also polluted. Infant mortality rates there ran two or three times higher in Moscow than in other republic capitals, and in 1989 more inhabitants died than were born in Moscow.27 Increasing number of babies were born without eyes, without skin, or with other severe defects.

As they became informed about these problems, Soviet citizens turned into activists. For example, in 1987, some 70,000 residents of Kazan on the Volga river rallied against plans to build a biochemical plant in a park. In Ukraine, before it became independent but after the Chernobyl disaster, an environmental group called “Green World” came to demand the closure of nuclear power plants and old gas plants, and a clean-up of the polluted Dneiper and Dniester Rivers.28 Elsewhere, too, ecology clubs began to form and to collect data on the contamination of their drinking water.

Converging Disasters

Just when Gorbachev took office in 1985, he was confronted by a combination of all the aforementioned misfortunes, which created a new level of structural conduciveness for radical changes. The failings of agriculture, as we have seen, had been masked by the oil and gold bonanzas; now these blessings suddenly vanished, as prices and production dropped simultaneously. Oil and gas sales for hard currency dropped by over one-third in three years.29 Time was up. For too long, Soviet leaders had been able to indulge their prolonged ideological commitment to Marxist-Leninist agricultural theories. Truths that had been hidden suddenly were laid bare under Gorbachev, yet by that time, he was the only leader who was available to blame. Had Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko faced reality in a practical way ten years earlier, they might have avoided the steady decline in food production and could have invested the oil and gold windfall in industrial improvements, health care materials and training, and in other infrastructural developments. Gorbachev might then have inherited a viable economy and healthy population from which to begin his reforms. Instead, the errors that had been committed under Brezhnev became consequential immediately after he took office. These problems were old; it was only the combination of failures that made it so apparent that a radical restructuring was necessary. Nevertheless, reform was not certain. Had a different person been named General Secretary, perestroika might not have occurred for years to come, and quite a different list of changes might have been proposed. We turn, then, from the structural factors requiring change to the political orientations of that remarkable reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev.


Not everything that happened during the Gorbachev years resulted from objective, “structured” factors. Gorbachev also had a variety of options, and in making his political decisions he was guided by one objective — to overcome Stalinism. The origins of this orientation have been explained by Zdenek Mlynar, a friend of Gorbachev’s during their university years in the 1950s. Mlynar, who became a reformist leader in his homeland, Czechoslovakia, during the “Prague Spring,” recalls that Gorbachev was a Komsomol delegate to the XXII Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).30 There he heard Khrushchev’s astounding denunciation of Stalin’s atrocities — a much more devastating account than he had presented five years before at the XX Congress. Afterwards, according to Mlynar, Gorbachev went to a panoramic spot in the Lenin Hills overlooking Moscow, the spot where two famous Russian political writers had once taken an oath to struggle against absolutism. There, as a committed Communist, he took his own oath — to devote all his life to the destruction of Stalinism.31

This pledge did not reveal itself as overt dissidence. Instead, Gorbachev worked patiently, biding his time and acceding to whatever the authorities expected of him. Indeed, his career advanced by using the conventional practices of the nomenklatura, including cultivating the influence of conservative mentors. At the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow I interviewed his spokesman, Alexander Likhotal.

ALEXANDER LIKHOTAL: He knew the pattern of the system from the inside. He wrote letters to his wife while he was just a low-level party functionary in Stavropol, and in these letters he puts very frankly his impressions of the stupidity of those who grasped power in the region — that it was impossible to deal with them. He felt that probably when he would be a secretary of the regional party, he could change things, but he found otherwise. He thought that as Secretary of the Central Committee, he could change things — at least in agricultural affairs. And again, he produced new documents and it was impossible to get the agreement of members. Only when he was elected as General Secretary of the party did he understand that at least he had received an opportunity to change everything. But he understood that it would take time and that he would have to manoeuvre a lot because the beast should be kept dreaming and not be awakened. He tried to do it smoothly, gradually, and people at a certain point supported these changes. He thought that probably this was a turning point, but in fact, from this point in time, the political landscape also had to be monitored. A lot of conflicts — national ethnic conflicts — were frozen in the totalitarian grip. When this grip loosened, they appeared.32

The problems that he would face were evident from the outset to experienced observers. For example, in 1986, in an interview with Jiri Dienstbier at his apartment in the center of Prague, I asked what the Czechs expected Gorbachev to accomplish. Dienstbier, who was then working as a stoker because of his activism in the dissident Charta 77 movement, had been a foreign correspondent before the Russian invasion and would become foreign minister of Czechoslovakia after its liberation. He predicted the difficulties that lay ahead.

JIRI DIENSTBIER: The majority [here in Prague] don’t believe that changes are possible. Even if Gorbachev understands what is necessary for Russia and this part of the world, the opposition is terrible against such an understanding. It concerns the privileges of millions of apparatchiks in these countries. On the other hand, some optimism is warranted. If the system wishes to compete, it can’t simply stagnate forever, as it has over the past twenty years. The gap is widening day by day. If the Soviet Union wishes to be a great power even in the 21st century, it must change. That is impossible without releasing the initiative of people. But you can’t have initiative when, as now, the only acceptable thing for people to do is what they are ordered to do from above. They don’t have any space for creativity. So that means a change of the political system, but whether it is possible in Russia now, nobody knows.

When I talk with Russians, they are for Gorbachev, but they always say that he will lose. The bureaucracy will either destroy him or he will finally understand that he can’t go further than the bureaucracy will accept.. … That means it won’t be easy even at the level of the chiefs of the superpowers. …

Everything forms a chain which you can pick up and work from at any point. For instance, … you can’t make any security system without solving the question of Germany. You can’t solve the question of Germany without solving the great powers fighting for influence. And to speak about zones of influence brings up the question, for instance, of the sovereignty of Central and Eastern European states. But that in turn is not only an international problem. It is also a Soviet internal problem, because whenever you let Czechoslovakia or Poland go their free way, what would the nations of the Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Georgians, and Armenians, and this whole [Soviet] Muslim population say? You see, it is all connected!33

Gorbachev evidently did not foresee the nationalistic problems that Dienstbier predicted. Nor could he have anticipated that the people he liberated — whether the nations of Eastern Europe or the repressed dissidents of Russia, such as Andrei Sakharov — would become his opponents. He and virtually all his advisers had felt confident [34] that democratization would automatically generate mass political support everywhere, which then could be drawn upon for the implementation of other, less popular, reforms. Expecting his reforms to translate automatically into political support, he did little to stimulate mass support by persuasion. Instead, he tried to go slowly, for he well knew the dangers of challenging “the privileges of millions of apparatchiks.” That was the lesson to be learned from the example of Khrushchev, who had been ousted by bureaucrats and the army for threatening their dominant role.35

But what to do with the bureaucrats? That was the chief conundrum for any serious reformist. Critics of communism singled out for special loathing the nomenklatura, yet Gorbachev replaced neither this ruling class nor the much larger group of lesser bureaucrats. It is not even clear that he ever intended to do so.Where could he have put them? How could he have neutralized their power? And who could have taken over their jobs as managers? In some other Eastern European countries — especially Poland — many people still remembered pre-socialist days and knew how to work effectively, while other people kept up their skills and their credibility by running parallel institutions and independent resistance movements, such as Solidarnosc. When those countries regained independence, former dissidents stepped nimbly into managing newspapers, government agencies, and parties. This was not the case in the Soviet Union, where for sheer self-preservation, most critics of the regime had previously kept their opinions secret and had acquired only the skills they were told to learn. Gorbachev had no alternative but to work with the bureaucrats, even while he was slowly undermining their exclusive power and creating circumstances that might change them, as he himself had gradually changed. However, he did not long retain the luxury of moving gradually; immediately a new reformist movement sprang up, demanding radical and rapid change. When he disappointed its leaders, they became, not his allies, but another political opposition group.

LIKHOTAL: From this time on, he was fighting on both directions, with the right and with the left, just to keep this maneuvering on course. [Likhotal’s hands undulate between right and left, while moving forward.] Once in an interview he was asked whether this was his mistake; he should be allied with the left, with progressive forces. We were in a car going somewhere in the United States, on a road with sharp curves. He asked the driver, who posed this question, “Look, can you go just directly forward?” [36]

Political Maneuvering and Declining Support

Gorbachev’s declining public support at home was attributed to his slow decision-making and his inconsistent maneuvering from left to right, which came to be seen as “tricky” and unreliable, in comparison to the blunt, direct approach of his rival, Boris Yeltsin.37 Yet his centrist, zig-zag course was initially successful and may have been the only realistic way forward.38

Until the coup, Gorbachev continued to hope that he could reform the Party and use it as an agent for change. Outwardly, that usually seemed to be the case; officials conformed to the new expectations and kept their high positions, usually claiming (perhaps truthfully) that they had harbored private doubts about the communist regime all along. Nevertheless, as Gorbachev was to say later, upon leaving office,

all the people considered me to be a conservative, while it was clear to me that for two years, we simply promulgated slogans and there was silence and immobility just a hundred kilometers from Moscow. … The powerful structures didn’t accept any change. That meant that if we could not switch on the process from below, everything was doomed to fail, as other reformist attempts in our state had been doomed in the past. … The ruling party class asserted its right to speak on behalf of the people.39

By 1990, the bureaucrats realized that their privileged positions were in danger and began to fight seriously. The reformists and hardliners were equally opposed to Gorbachev, who tried to placate both sides by making concessions when necessary.

ALEXANDER LIKHOTAL: I think this was probably one of the mistakes of Gorbachev, though he thinks differently. I think that in the autumn of 1990, he was forced to make an alliance with all the right wing elements of the party. He argues that this union at that time was practically inevitable. When he decided to align with the right, he lost the support of the progressive elements, the intellectuals. And I suppose this is one of the reasons why he lost power half a year later. But at the same time, one should take into account that probably it was a tragedy for this person because we don’t know the real situation. We don’t know yet the real balance of domestic forces at that time and only God knows what could have happened had he abstained from this alliance….

I suppose that there was a very strong rebuff on the part of the military-industrial complex to the 500 Days Program. And he understood that without the support or the okay of the directors of the major industrial complex, no economic program of reform could be adopted or put into practice. I would say that this was why he had to make this alliance; he understood that without the support — or at least without cooperation — on the part of this industrial monster, the economy of the country would be ruined. … Probably it was not correct, but he believed that a temporary alliance with those people would enable him to out-maneuver them after some time. But he did not grasp at the very beginning that these people would like to bind him with certain acts to make this union very strong, so it would be difficult for him to stop it. They made different sorts of provocations, such as Lithuania, just to make him involved in this situation, just to make the left intellectuals turn their backs on Gorbachev, and this is what actually happened.


His shift to the right was unsettling. For several months in 1990-91, Gorbachev seemed to abandon his commitment to perestroika and join the hardline conservative faction. What remains unclear was whether he did so voluntarily or had been threatened, intimidated, or blackmailed into complying temporarily, playing for time to regain control of his government. Some observers claim that this was an “invisible coup” in 1990 — that Gorbachev and his team suddenly were accompanied to important meetings by hardliners and military officers, who seemingly even forced them to reverse their positions.40 But in other respects, Gorbachev’s decisions seemed authentic. Could he have been involved with the right both voluntarily and involuntarily? Gorbachev has never explained the situation explicitly, though in a newspaper interview he did shed some light on the conflicts of that period.

There were real figures who were loyal to the conservatives. They toured around the country, instigating protests and gathering groups of party members. All the information about these activities came to the General Secretary’s desk. I read reproaches that I was betraying the leftists one moment and the conservatives the next moment. How could I behave in this situation? I was subjected to colossal attacks and pressures. It was urgent to decide what to do. The seemingly normal option was to accept the decisive final battle. However, there was no adequate support from the people. The society was not ready and within the CPSU itself, discontent was growing stronger. … Do you think me unaware of the impending blow of the conservative circles of the CPSU, that had united their efforts with those of the military-industrial establishment? I was aware, and until the last moment kept them nearby, under my control.41

In the Congress of People’s Deputies, there were two opposing groups, the reactionary “Soyuz” group and the reformists, who were disappointed when Gorbachev swerved toward the right. Academician Vitaly Goldansky, an eminent chemist who was a deputy to the Congress, recalls September 1990, when Gorbachev suddenly dropped the 500 Day Program for economic reform.

VITALY GOLDANSKY: That was a very dangerous, harmful concession to these hardliners because if all the economic measures of that program had started at that time, now the situation would be much better. But he was afraid of doing that and the most difficult problem was to separate, to detect, when [one of his positions] was a concession and when it was his own line. Different people give different estimations.

The next important concession was in November, when there were two sessions of our Supreme Soviet, one after another. In the first session he gave a very indefinite speech, without any description of his political line.The following night he was pressed strongly by these hardliners and the next morning he announced a new line. Soon afterward he dropped Bakatin, substituting Pugo, then he took as his Prime Minister Pavlov, and the election of Yanaev as his Vice-President, which was absolutely stupid….

[Later] I asked Gorbachev privately, speaking eye to eye, why this shift to the right. He told me the power moves to the right together with the society. That was quite an important answer because it shows that his movement toward the right was not only forced.42

Gorbachev was giving the same explanation to others at the same time — including Georgi Arbatov, one of the most fervent proponents of perestroika, who bluntly questioned the General Secretary about his move to the right. Gorbachev explained that it was necessary because the country had moved to the right.43 On the other hand, in his memoirs, Arbatov records some statements by Gorbachev to the opposite effect, such as a phone call in April, 1991, when Gorbachev had said, “Mind you, I’ll never draw back from my policy of perestroika. I have nowhere to draw back to. What is happening now is a tactical maneuver.” Arbatov had mixed feelings about this message, since he considered that Gorbachev’s “tactics” went too far and conceded too much. He wrote another urgent letter, to which Gorbachev also replied by phone as follows:

“This is a reflection of the ongoing developments, which concern me, too. Some of them you are not even aware of — you cannot imagine what is happening now in the Communist Party.”44 Since they were speaking on an open line, Arbatov did not question him further. Nor, on the other hand, did he accept this explanation, for in his book and especially in personal conversations, he did not disguise his lingering mistrust of Gorbachev. (However, in about 1993, the two former allies were to reconcile.)

All the progressive forces gave up in disgust. In the Supreme Soviet they formed a bloc called the Inter-Regional Group. At one of its meetings, Andrei Sakharov suggested that they announce themselves as opposition and conduct a warning political strike. Vitaly Goldansky took the floor.

GOLDANSKY: I said that from history I remember that when communists quarreled with Social Democrats instead of making a united front with them against Nazis, in fact that was useful for Nazis. Therefore, I said, I believe that this strike and the proclaiming of opposition will be a gift to the rightist forces. And Sakharov said, in the last words of his last speech (he died the same night), “And what Goldansky has said — that this strike will be a gift to rightist forces — I disagree categorically.” So that was a disagreement in tactics.

I think that leftist forces, from a practical point of view, made mistakes. We had to keep much closer contacts to Gorbachev and try to understand each other better. Sakharov was a great thinker, a great scientist, a great humanist, but not always a great tactician or great politician. Sometimes his tactical steps maybe were wrong.45

Another, albeit less significant, reason for the reformists’ disappointment with Gorbachev was his ambivalence with respect to the Persian Gulf War. While on one hand, the foreign minister tolerated the United Nations’ commitment to it, Gorbachev sent to Baghdad another of his advisers, Yevgeny Primakov, to prevent that war. According to political commentator Nikita Maslennikov, “in the newspapers, columnists guessed how many foreign policies the Soviet Union had, for there was a distinctive difference between the policy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shevardnadze, and Primakov.”46 However, according to Shevardnadze’s assistant and speechwriter, Timur Stepanov, Primakov’s search for a peaceful solution was based on a concern for the Soviet national interests, which he thought would be served better by maintaining the existing alliance with Iraq than from proving to the Americans that the Cold War was really over, which was Shevardnadze’s objective.47

In any case, the primary cause of Gorbachev’s downfall was not his foreign policy but the difficulties in the economy — problems that were not amenable to any timely solution. Moreover, he was defeated in this struggle, not by the conservatives and militarists, but by the radical reformists. Accordingly, his closest advisers continue to display less bitterness toward the conservatives than toward those “democrats” who had turned against the reformist president when he needed their support. The strength of bitterness can be seen in the views of one of Gorbachev’s closest associates, Georgi Shakhnazarov, a small wiry man who reminisced about the downfall of the Soviet Union in an interview at the Gorbachev Foundation in July, 1992.

Georgi Shakhnazarov: 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. 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 the 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.”48 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. But besides the government and Ryzhkov, Yeltsin 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 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 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. And 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 anything 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. … 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, 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.49

Shakhnazarov must surely be partially correct in attributing Gorbachev’s downfall to the ambition of his power-hungry opponents. In a larger sense, however, his downfall must be blamed on a combination of economic, agricultural, environmental, and hierarchical structures created by his predecessors — a convergence of problems that could have been solved by no President or General Secretary of the Communist Party, however talented. The crisis was not of his making, yet only he could be held accountable for it. The consequence of his defeat was to be discredited and to have his principles discredited as well. In interviews his associates refer to his “tragedy” — and the term is appropriate. As Max Weber pointed out, the officials who happen to be in power when the nation’s dominant geopolitical position begins to fail will have their ideology discredited, whether or not it was to blame for the problem. A combination of fortuitous circumstances made Gorbachev appear far more clumsy than he would have seemed if judged strictly on the outcome of his own economic policies, hesitant and sometimes misguided though they were. The downfall of socialism may not have been caused by the inherent nature of socialism, but rather from the lasting effects of totalitarian repression — especially the ideological errors that it had kept frozen into place. But even so, Weber is probably right: Socialism will remain anathema in the land where it prevailed for seventy-five years.


For some problems there are easy answers at hand; for others there are none. When he came to power, Gorbachev could see easy solutions to the Cold War and to totalitarianism. To be sure, many others had been unwilling to take those solutions, and he became a historic figure simply by doing the obvious. In later sections of the book we shall give credit to the visionary assistants and like-minded peace researchers who elaborated these good solutions; it is only decent to recognize and honor those who made such contributions but, to be honest, the solutions were so straightforward that anyone with common sense should have been able to figure them out. The whole world needed disarmament, the protection of human rights, and the establishment of democracy “just as we need air,” as Gorbachev once stated. By a few strokes of the pen, he was able to meet those needs for his own society.

There were no such easy solutions to the other problems facing him as he took office. Indeed, all the stop-gap measures had been used up by his predecessors in delaying or disguising the looming problems. The high price of oil during the global energy crisis gave Brezhnev an extra few years in which to reform the declining economy, but he used that opportunity to mask his many other errors from the public. Just when Gorbachev took office, the oil prices dropped and reality set in.

The stage had also been set for numerous other problems — such as environmental degradation — that would have simultaneously hit any new leader who took office. There were no solutions to these problems, yet it was inevitable that a leader who tried to be democratic at that point would incur mass hatred for failing to solve them.

Nevertheless, Gorbachev was committed to democratization, and he believed somehow that by granting it, he would secure the loyalty of the people. It was a brave hope, but not a realistic one. Voters in all democracies are short on loyalty (except during wartime, when they do rally round the leader) and they mainly vote on the basis of short-term economic conditions.

Yet the Soviet people were remarkably untrusting of the first leader to give them any basis for trust. By the end, millions were prepared to believe, for example, that he conspired in organizing the coup against himself. This strange suspiciousness can be attributed in part to Russian history, so full of betrayal, and in part to political inexperience. The Soviet people did not realize that in a democracy, the leader depends on their support in order to press ahead with reforms.

But also, Gorbachev’s own character was responsible for the mistrust that he incurred. He came to be seen as “tricky” for two probable reasons. First, he had learned too well to bide his time and disguise his true intentions. He had taken a oath as a young man to fight Stalinism with his entire being, yet it was suicidal to confront those in power directly. The only path to the top was one of overtly collaborating with Stalinists. Gorbachev made it to the top as a protégé of several political dinosaurs, including the chief ideologist, Mikhail Suslov. Such a career was a perfect training in trickiness in the service of a good cause.

But Gorbachev had a second good reason for seeming tricky and ambiguous. He was extraordinarily aware of the problems encountered by Khrushchev in openly fighting the formidable Party bureaucrats. Khrushchev lost and his reforms were undone. Gorbachev has written of this,

All reformers know they will encounter resistance to their proposals and that they will have to face a showdown at some point. It’s inevitable. When it came my turn, I tried to bear that fact in mind.

The experiences and tragedy of Nikita Khrushchev are obviously very close to me….

Like Khrushchev, in the beginning I thought that you could improve the system, make corrections in it. Later, and not without great difficulty, I realized that only by totally reforming the system could a leader hope to modernize it. The greatest problem facing all reformers, at least those who seek to avoid a tragic bloodbath, is that a country can be reshaped only by using the existing human material — i.e. the work, commitment, and intelligence of the human beings at that moment in time and within the limits imposed by culture and history. …

[Khrushchev] understood the need to weaken the monopoly of power that was exercised over everyone and everything. … But the moment was inopportune, the people were unprepared for major changes, what Khrushchev wanted to do posed too disturbing a challenge to the party bureaucracy — and his actions were often more in the nature of authoritarian intervention than a genuine devolution of power and responsibility.50

Thus Gorbachev had to use the Party bureaucrats — the “human material” he had inherited — even while he was planting a bomb under the Party to destroy it. This required the display at times of a studied ambiguity that can indeed be regarded as trickiness.

Finally, the other lesson from Khrushchev’s failure was not to outrun the population. If you are going to institute democracy, most of the population must move along with you. You must hold the center together and prevent polarization, giving a little to each side, curving with the curves in the road. If “the society moves to the right,” you must do so too, at least somewhat. If the people a few kilometers outside Moscow are indifferent or hostile to a reform, you must slow down. You must not seem too decisive and you will, therefore, certainly appear tricky.

But if Khrushchev was ousted for appearing authoritarian and for challenging the bureaucrats head-on, Gorbachev was ousted for learning, all too well, from Khrushchev’s error and appearing tricky and indecisive.

His vacillations were not necessarily all intentional. In one of our conversations, Gorbachev’s spokesman, Alexander Likhotal, worried aloud that Yeltsin in his turn might become captive in an “invisible coup.” Sometimes, he mused, the power may be in the hands of a new group, while apparently the same officials remain in place. He did not exactly say that this had happened to Gorbachev, and I was not a good enough journalist to ask such a tactless question. However, numerous other clues suggest that in November 1990, a group of hard-liners had Gorbachev by the throat — or at least that he believed so. He believed it necessary to “swerve to the right,” since he lacked support from those who wanted a quicker pace of democratization. The Inter-Regional Deputies, led by Sakharov until his death, by constituting an opposition instead of a support to Gorbachev’s leadership, had left him vulnerable to such attacks, and there was insufficient political support for the quick and radical economic reforms they wanted.

Was Gorbachev’s failure inevitable? Some, such as Jiri Dienstbier, believed so and, historically, periods of such great change do usually lead to polarization. Gorbachev’s firm intention was to hold the center together and move forward as fast as possible, but only as fast as he had democratic support to proceed. He almost succeeded. In August 1991, the chairs and flags were already arranged for a treaty-signing ceremony that would have inaugurated a new regime, with greater regional autonomy and no place for the Party bureaucrats. In this final showdown, Gorbachev was almost overthrown and, as a result of his previous ambiguity, he lost of confidence of the people he had liberated.

As we have seen, those liberated people remain confused and divided about what happened to them. In the next few chapters I intend to explore the psychology of totalitarianism and the means of liberation.


1 This term “zero-sum” is a technical phrase in game-theory, a type of thinking much admired by reformist Soviet decision-makers, particularly Alexander Yakovlev, who was familiar with the books of decision-theorist and peace researcher Anatol Rapoport.

2 Sigler notes that, by contrast, President Carter’s speech calling for such an effort as the moral alternative to war was received with widespread skepticism, if not disdain, in the United States.

3 This list was identified by John Sigler in a lecture to Science for Peace in Toronto, April 1991.

4 Interview with Gennady Gerasimov by phone. Maryland, spring of 1994.

5 Michael Voslensky, Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class Trans. by Eric Mosbacher. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984. Voslensky has acknowledged the kinship between his analysis and that of Milovan Djilas, The New Class; an Analysis of the Communist System. (New York, Praeger [1957]

6 After the break-up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Communist Party, this elite corps of officials would retain their privileges, by the large, by making the most of their financial opportunities. A 1994 study by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, of the Department of Elite Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, revealed that more than 60 percent of Russia’s richest millionaires were former members of the Party elite. Their average net worth was $26 million, plus further millions in undeclared and untaxed income. Most ordinary Russian citizens were unaware of this class, but instead believed that the majority of new millionaires were “mafiosi.” See Geoffrey York, “Communist Elite Prospers in Russia,” Globe and Mail, Sept. 17, 1994, p. A9.

7 Voslensky, p. 95.

8 Voslensky, p. 95-96.

9 Helju Aulik Bennett, “Chiny, Ordena, and Officialdom,” in Walter McKenzie Pintner and Don Karl Rowney, eds. Russian Officialdom: The Bureaucratization of Russian Society From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980. pp. 162-89.

10 Mark R. Beissinger, “The Leadership and the Political Elite,” in The Soviet Union Today: An Interpretive Guide. Second Edition. James Cracraft, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988, p. 38.

11 Michael MccGwire, Perestroika and Soviet National Security . Washington, Brookings Institute, 1991, p. 381.

12 See their paper, “Grassroots Mobilization and International Politics: Peace Protest and the End of the Cold War,” Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change Vol 14, pages 99-140.

13 Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, “Who Won the Cold War?” in Foreign Policy, Summer 1992, p. 126.

14 Meyer and Marullo, p. 107.

15 The estimates by the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1989 (cited by Meyer and Marullo, p. 105-6) put Soviet expenditure at 12 to 14 percent of GNP. Other estimates, including those by Soviet officials, suggest that the percentage was at least 20 and probably higher.

16 On the other hand, after his ouster, not all of these changes would be maintained. The dismantling of nuclear weapons proceeded much as agreed, but there would be a resurgence of power among the professional military elites, proponents of policies running counter to Gorbachev’s program of downscaling and conversion to civilian production. See my interview with Sergei Rogov, Peace Magazine, November-December, 1992.

17 For a more extensive analysis of Soviet agrarian policy and ideology, see Metta Spencer and John Bacher, _____________________.

18 This estimate is widely contested by other Sovietologists, who more often estimate the millions of deaths in single digits.

19 Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr., Ecocide in the USSR. New York: Basic Books, 1991, p. 56.

20 The reforms that Gorbachev did undertake (an expansion of the contract system to improve the relationship between rewards and results) failed to increase productivity. See D. Gale Johnson’s paper, “Agriculture,” in James Cracraft, ed. The Soviet Union Today: An Interpretive Guide Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Second edition. p. 208.

21 Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, cited in “Yeltsin Seeking Support,” in Globe and Mail, Sept. 12, 1992, p. A 14.

22 Olga Medvedkov, Soviet Urbanization London and New York: Routledge, 1990, p. 145.

23 Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr. Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Seige New York: Basic Books, 1992, p. 13. This book, incidentally, was spotted on the desktops of several prominent Soviet policymakers and former aides of Gorbachev shortly after it was published in the spring of 1992.

24 Feshbach and Friendly, p. 14, citing Robert Kaiser’s unidentified “well-placed official.” Moreover, in our interview, Timur Stepanov, a close aide of Shevardnadze’s in that period, said that Shevardnadze kept phoning Gorbachev as soon as the news began to break, asking for information, but Gorbachev himself said he did not know but was trying to find out the truth himself. Stepanov said that officials deliberately hid the truth as long as possible.

25 Feshbach and Friendly, p. 4. These statistics grew even worse after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

26 Feshbach and Friendly, p. 2.

27 Feshbach and Friendly, p. 9.

28 Interview with Anatoly Panov, the Executive Director of the “Green World” Association, Kiev, August , 1991

29 Feshbach and Friendly, p. 3.

30 Robert G. Kaiser, Why Gorbachev Happened: His Triumphs, His Failure, and His Fall. New York: Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1992. p. 29. Kaiser cites Mlynar’s interview with Time Magazine.

31 Zdenek Mlynar, in an interview in1985, cited by Valery Lebedev, “Tsena Putscha” (“The Price of the Putsch,”) in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 21, 1992, p. 5. Fyodor Burlatsky confirmed in an interview having read this story, which was published in the Italian press shortly after Gorbachev came to power.

32 Alexander A. Likhotal, in interview with Metta Spencer, Moscow, June 1992.

33 Jiri Dienstbier, in interview with Metta Spencer, Prague, autumn 1987.

34 This view was expressed, for example, by Alexander A. Likhotal in conversations with Metta Spencer in Austria, 1987. At that time, Gorbachev was greeted on his trips to Central Europe by enthusiastic crowds chanting “Gorby! Gorby!”. Later, in Moscow just days before the coup, while he was working at the Central Committee of the CPSU, Likhotal commented that almost everyone in the Soviet government had been astonished by the demands for independence throughout the former Warsaw Treaty Organization.

35 There were, of course, many others (including perhaps Gorbachev himself) who favored the removal of Khrushchev for other reasons. See Kaiser, p. 39. Also see Georgi Arbatov’s memoir, The System: An Insider’s Life in Soviet Politics (New York: Times Books, 1992, p. 101-2. Evidently Arbatov too approved of this ouster and believed at first that Brezhnev would bring welcome change.

36 Alexander A. Likhotal, in an interview with Metta Spencer at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, June, 1992.

37 Interview with Elena Bashkirova, a sociologist and public opinion pollster, Moscow, June, 1992

38 For an overly-optimistic review of his strategies, see Jerry Hough, “Gorbachev’s End Game: Positioning for Radical Reform.” World Policy Journal, Fall 1990, pp. 639-72.

39 “Interview with the First and Last President of the USSR,” in Komsomolskaya Pravda Dec. 25, 1991.

40 For example, in his book The Turn (New York: Poseidon, 1991, pp. 409-10) Don Oberdorfer recounts a meeting in May, 1990 with James Baker when Gorbachev was accompanied by some military officers, including a Colonel-General Omelichev, of the General Staff. Gorbachev and Baker had reached an agreement about cruise missiles and had shaken hands on it, but after a break the negotiators met again and, evidently under the pressure of the military officers, demanded some new guarantees.

41 “Interview with the First and Last President of the USSR.” Komsomolskaya Pravda Dec. 25, 1991.

42 Vitaly Goldansky, in interview with Metta Spencer, Moscow, June 1992.

43 Georgi Arbatov, in interview with Metta Spencer, Moscow, July 1992.

44 Georgi Arbatov, The System: An Insider’s Life in Soviet Politics (New York: Time Books, 1992), pp. 339-40.

45 Goldansky interview with Metta Spencer, Moscow June 1992.

46 Nikita Maslennikov, Editor of Kommunist, (from 1991 renaed as Svobodnaia mysl) in an interview, Moscow, May 1992. See also Metta Spencer, “Antiwar Hawks and Prowar Doves in the Gulf War: Common Security versus Collective Security,” Peace and Change Vol 17, No. 2, April 1992, pp. 172-98.

47 Timur Stepanov interview, Moscow, April 1995.

48 Yavlinsky’s 500 Day Plan was a tightly scheduled program for switching to a market economy and private ownership in precisely 500 days.

49 Georgi Shakhnazarov in interview with Metta Spencer, Moscow, July 1992.

50 Mikhail Gorbachev’s monthly column in La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, April, 1995, distributed through the New York Times Syndicate.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books