The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

THE POOR SOVIET APPARATCHIK DECEMBER 1985

This snapshot introduces the last of the Soviet Union's major political ac-
tors--the apparatchiks--and details their changing position in society fol-
lowing Gorbachev's reforms. The snapshot also captures the first of many
no-win situations faced by Gorbachev, each of which had serious long-term
implications for the future of the Soviet Union.

Among the most important developments in the Soviet Union since Brezhnev's death are those involving the changing relationship between the leadership and the party apparatus--the middle managers of the bureaucracy and the core of the Soviet ruling class.

Observers of Gorbachev's anti-alcoholism campaign--certainly one of the most interesting social experiments in modern history--generally assume that the Soviet workers are the main victims of Gorbachev's initiative (as one taxi driver lamented in Pravda, "They took our happiness from us!"). Yet, for the most part, it is not the ordinary toilers who suffer now, but rather their superiors, the apparatchiks. As always, the Soviet workers will adjust to the new situation--they will hoard liquor bought when the stores are open, they will travel to stores in distant cities, and, of course, they will turn to the black market.

The apparatchiks, on the other hand, are in a far more difficult situation. If Gorbachev remains adamant about pursuing his anti-alcoholism campaign, Soviet officials will have to remain sober twenty-four hours a day. In addition, under the new program, Soviet apparatchiks will find themselves under far heavier surveillance than the rank-and-file workers. Thus, they will not dare risk participating in a revel, even in their own home, much less at the office or in a restaurant.

To be forced to forego drinking, as well as the related opportunities for relaxation, illicit sex, and intimate conversation, is a great blow to the apparatchik's quality of life. Apparatchiks must now disavow the pleasures they once regarded, along with other official and semi-official privileges, as fair compensation for their arduous and responsible work.

Of course, in terms of its effect on the apparatchiks, the anti-alcoholism campaign is easily surpassed by another of Gorbachev's initiatives--the struggle against corruption. Like the anti-alcoholism campaign, Gorbachev's anti-corruption campaign has at least temporarily deprived the apparatchiks of the numerous illegal privileges and pleasures they once enjoyed. Both

____________________
This article originally appeared as "The Apparatchik Is an Endangered Species" in the New York Times on December 28, 1985.

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