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

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

WHO IS THE THIRD FORCE IN THE KREMLIN? OCTOBER 1988

The next two snapshots illustrate the difficulty of interpreting events in the
Soviet Union, particularly those that occurred behind the closed doors of
the Kremlin. They also point to the tendency of Western politicians and
journalists to take events in the Soviet Union at face value--a tendency that
crippled the West's ability to accurately anticipate and respond to events
and processes crucial to world stability.

Western politicians, having inferred that Gorbachev's position was strengthened by the extraordinary meetings in Moscow on the last day of September and the first day of October, have breathed a collective sigh of relief, and have decided that, in the Kremlin, all is as it should be. This is far from being the case, however. In fact, what Westerners saw was merely the aftermath of a ferocious struggle, most of which took place behind closed doors.

By all accounts, the outcome of the events in Moscow was favorable for the General Secretary: his two principal adversaries--Gromyko and Solomentsev--were ousted from the Politburo, Gorbachev captured the coveted position of president, and, most importantly, three controversial fundamentals of Gorbachev's program--glasnost, privatization of the economy, and improved relations with the West--were left untouched by the reshuffling at the top of the Soviet hierarchy. Moreover, Gorbachev appeared to have won approval for his riskiest operation yet: significantly reducing the party apparatus.

All had seemed well in Moscow late in September: Vadim Medvedev, the new ideological secretary, had disavowed his work as Brezhnev's ideologue by publishing an article in Pravda in which he presented himself as devoted to glasnost and universal values, and as opposed to the class approach. In addition, Soviet TV continued to praise private cooperatives and farms as the only way out of the economic crisis facing the USSR. Behind this "business as usual" veneer, however, several events occurred that drastically altered the Soviet political landscape. In fact, the last week of September was rife with political intrigue, high drama, and serious consequences.

On September 25, the Soviet press announced the upcoming regular session of the Supreme Soviet, which was to be preceded by a regular meeting of the Central Committee. On September 27, however, Gorbachev hastily called emergency meetings of both bodies. What happened between Monday and Wednesday? What prompted the Kremlin to call these extraordinary meetings?

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