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

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

SOVIETS HEAD FOR SHOWDOWN ON REFORMS JULY 1987

This snapshot details the further erosion of the Soviet people's political
mythology and belief system. With their old mythology crumbling around
them, and having reaped no obvious benefits from the new system, many
Soviet people begin looking to the past and demanding a return to the old
ways--a process that will become more prominent in future snapshots.

The Soviet people, including those who fully support Gorbachev's reforms, hold strikingly divergent views regarding the restructuring now under way in the Soviet Union. Some insist that the changes in Soviet society have been minimal, whereas others contend that they are enormous. Such disagreements reflect fundamentally different criteria used to evaluate current events in Moscow.

The skeptics in Moscow and in the West tend to use the Western democratic model as their yardstick, and focus on developments they see as moving the Soviet Union toward genuine democracy. By contrast, those who speak enthusiastically about the sweeping changes occurring in Soviet life use as their point of reference the Stalinist model, which, in their view, is in the process of being dismantled.

In fact, both perceptions are correct--the Soviet Union is indeed moving toward a democracy, and the Stalinist model is indeed being dismantled. Differences in the speed of these two processes are central to the drama now unfolding. In some ways, the situation is similar to that following the February Revolution of 1917: the destruction of the old regime was not accompanied by the creation of a new democratic order, thereby inviting the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, the committed enemies of "bourgeois democracy."

Progress toward the liberalization and democratization of the Soviet Union is evident. As Gorbachev proclaimed at the January 1987 Central Committee meeting, the ongoing changes are designed to create a system that "acknowledges the organic link between socialism and democracy." Thus far, however, these changes have affected only a tiny minority of the Soviet people, mostly the cultural elite in Moscow.

The majority of the Soviet people are neither involved in nor affected by perestroika. In a survey conducted by the research center of the Young Communist School, only 8 percent of young people reported any significant change in their organization as a result of perestroika. A survey conducted

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Globe & Mail on July 21, 1987.

-52-

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