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

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

GORBACHEV'S STILL LAUDING THE COLLECTIVE AUGUST 1986

Once again, Gorbachev reveals his true convictions, or lack thereof. In
almost the same breath, he declares privatization and individual initiative
to be absolutely crucial to the Soviet Union's economic rejuvenation, and
then encourages a return to the collectivism of the past. As future snapshots
will reveal, such ambivalence came to characterize the Gorbachev leader-
ship, and ultimately undermined not only all of its initiatives, but, more
importantly, the people's faith in their government.

From earliest childhood on, the Soviet people are taught that the collective-- or the contingent of employees in a factory or office--is the supreme judge of a person's behavior. To be "against the collective" has long been one of the harshest accusations leveled against Soviet citizens. In official Soviet mythology, collectives are voluntary, autonomous organizations whose members are supportive, selfless, and concerned for their fellow workers.

In reality, of course, Soviet collectives have never been voluntary or autonomous, nor have they ever defended their members against the bureaucracy. It is only in informal groups--in friendship--in particular that the Soviet people experience genuine collectivism, including mutual support against the system.

During periods of strong ideological indoctrination and repression, Soviet collectives brimmed with voluntary and involuntary informers, and served as effective political watchdogs for the state. Collectives were used by the political elite as weapons against any form of individual dissent, as well as against managers considered undesirable by the party.

The social and economic developments of the last two decades, however, have changed the role of collectives in Soviet life. Amidst the general moral decay of the Brezhnev era, many collectives abandoned their role as agents of the state. They ignored official policy, and instead served the personal interests of managers and local party bosses.

Of all the issues raised by the Soviet mass media as a result of Gorbachev's new policy of glasnost (or openness), the place of the collective in Soviet society has become one of the most prominent. A never-ending stream of articles has revealed corrupt collectives (dubbed "communities of liars" by popular journalist Liliia Beliaeva in a recent article in "Sovietskaia Kul'tura") being used to cover up low labor ethics, conservatism in technology, inferior

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on August 14, 1986.

-25-

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