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

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

3
1988: Political Progress, Economic Decline, and Increasing Tension

The events of 1988 revealed the fundamental conflict of perestroika--stunning progress in the progress of democratization, accompanied by rapid declines in the economy. Glasnost made great strides in 1988, as the mass media tackled one taboo issue after another (including Lenin and his role in Russian history, and Soviet foreign policy--subjects that went untouched in 1987). In addition, the people's fear of the KGB and the party abated almost daily, and contacts with the West increased enormously.

Democratization continued throughout 1988, despite arduous resistance by the party apparatchiks. The election of delegates to the 19th party conference in June, although still heavily controlled by the party apparatus, involved several new elements. A few democratically oriented party members were elected (rather than appointed, as was the case in the past) and were able to argue freely with their conservative opponents--an event that would have been unbelievable at past party gatherings. Despite the reactionary mood that dominated the conference, Gorbachev was able to pressure the majority of the conference participants into endorsing elections with multiple candidates on the ballot.

While promoting democratization, Gorbachev continued the political maneuvering necessary to prevent the conservatives from blocking his efforts or removing him from office. For example, it took three weeks for Gorbachev to quench the furor caused by Nina Andreieva's acerbic article in a March issue of "Sovietskaia Rossia", which was described as nothing less than a conservative manifesto. Similarly, Gorbachev foiled a new plot against him in September, and managed, using traditional authoritarian and demagogic methods, to oust his main opponents from the Politburo.

Meanwhile, the country's economic situation continued to deteriorate.

-65-

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