A review of Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, by Mikhail Gorbachev

This offering by the General Secre­tary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon of some years back. Company big shots are sitting around the confer­ence table, in the middle of which is a large box. On the box is emblazoned the word "NEW." A neophyte among those present asks, "But what's new about it?" To which he receives the re­ply, The NEW is what's new about it" As far as I can see, Gorbachev's new thinking and Gary Hart's new ideas stand about on the same level. The for­mer involved stamping a NEW label on some old Marxist-Leninist garbage, and the suckers are lining up to buy it-with the President of the United States at the head of the queue! It is page after page of the emptiest, windiest-and most God-awfully repetitious-rhetoric, and resembles nothing so much as the text of one of those seven-hour speeches that the Soviet leadership gives to the Su­preme Soviet, or at Party Congresses when they convene. I think I'd rather be tortured by the KGB, in the basement of the Lubyanka, than have to sit through one. If you live in that environment, you learn to sleep through the bulk of such speeches-with your eyes open, however-and to applaud on cue. But you also learn to become wide awake on a sudden when, by one or two words buried in the meaningless muck, hints are given of forthcoming changes in policy or personnel among the top brass.

In a recent newspaper article en­titled "Useful Idiots: Then and Now," I reviewed the steady rhythm of the process of over sixty years-beginning with Lenin's New Economic Plan-whereby the U.S.S.R. recovers the economic strength lost to the ravages of communism by periods of detente (or peaceful coexistence, or whatever it is called in its latest reincarnation). When the sun shines, as in Aesop's fable, the West removes its overcoat-that is to say, it dis­arms itself, while lending the money and exporting the technology that prepares the U.S.S.R. for its next round of aggression.

Here are some passages-they might be taken almost at random-from Perestroika.

Some politicians and media, particularly in the United States, have been trying to present perestroika as a drive for "liberalization" caused by Western pressure. Of course, one cannot help paying tribute to Western propaganda officials, who have skillfully played a verbal game of democracy. But we will believe in the democratic nature of Western societies when their workers and office employees start electing the owners of factories and plants, bank presi­dents, etc., when their media put corporations, banks, and their bosses under a barrage of regular criticism and start discussing the real processes inherent in Western countries, rather than engage in an endless and useless argument with politicians. (pp. 127-8)

There is not a word in the above that might not have been paraphrased from Lenin or Stalin-or indeed from almost any issue of the Daily Worker or the New Masses published between 1932 and 1935. The "ver­bal game of democracy" reflects the old Marxist-Leninist conception of "bourgeois democracy" and what communists call the illusion of free speech. Gorbachev himself firmly rejects the idea that there is anything that might be regarded as "liberaliza­tion"-by Western standards-going on in the U.S.S.R. He is saying, in effect, that if Ronald Reagan and other "useful idiots" want to deceive themselves on this point, that is their affair.

Gorbachev sticks by the old Leninist canon, that real democracy begins only when "workers-start electing the owners of factories. . . ." He also sticks by the bare-faced Bolshevik lie about power emanating upwards from the workers, rather than being mo­nopolized by the Party, in communist states. For Gorbachev-as for Lenin and Stalin-strengthening democracy only means strengthening the Commu­nist Party. The "consent of the governed" is not required in any "bourgeois" sense-the sense in­volving freedom of speech, freedom of association, free elections with secret ballots, etc. What is de­nominated by the Party as "objectively necessary" is objectively consented to! Any speech which is judged not to contribute either to the revolutionary overthrow of their capitalist enemies, or to strength­ening the Party, is called "useless argument." Throughout his book, Gorbachev is perfectly straightforward about this. Only the "New" is new.

Consider the sequel:

Some critics of our reforms say that painful phenomena in the course of perestroika are in­evitable. They predict inflation, unemploy­ment, enhanced social stratification, i.e., the things that the West is so "rich" in. Or they suggest that the Central Committee is strongly opposed among Party and government officials. Or they say our army is against restructuring and the KGB has not had its say yet. . . . But I must tell our opponents a few disheartening things: today members of the Politburo and the Central Committee are unanimous as they have never been before, and there is nothing that can make that unanimity waver. (Emphasis added.)

If we wanted to burlesque the Politburo and the Central Committee at work, I cannot imagine any­thing more amusing than a script delineating the progress of proletarian freedom, in which "useless argument" is replaced by unprecedented unanimity. That unanimity, by the way, was recently mani­fested, Soviet style, in the public disgrace of Boris Yeltsin, for his agreement with the policy of per­estroika. Apparently he did not accent his agree­ment in the way unanimously approved, and so he was unanimously disgraced-and ritually de­nounced-by Gorbachev and by other members of the Central Committee. Finally, he was given Soviet- style freedom of speech-no "useless argument," only the freedom to confess! His public "confession" resembled nothing so much as the Moscow trials of 1936, ordered by Stalin, presided over by Vishinsky, and immortalized by Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon.

The cynicism with which Gorbachev threw Yeltsin to the wolves called to mind the action of Cesare Borgia described by Machiavelli in the sev­enth chapter of The Prince. The Duke appointed a henchman to do his dirty work-and then "in order . . . to show that if any cruelty had been done, it had not come from him," he ordered the man's exe­cution, and placed the mutilated body in a public square. The ferocity of that spectacle," said Machia­velli, "left the people at the same time satisfied and stupefied."

A superficial observer might think that, because Yeltsin was not executed (although he was hospital­ized with a heart attack!), the regime has softened from its Stalinist (or Borgia) past. But the denuncia­tion and confession prove that there is no more room today than ever before for independent opinion of any kind. In truth, the crushing of the individual-making him confess to an imaginary offense-is far more damaging to the cause of human freedom than killing him. A man can die with dignity as a martyr to the truth, but he cannot live with dignity when he must grovel before his accusers.

Yeltsin himself certainly does not deserve any great sympathy. As a "good" Bolshevik, he no doubt believes-as did Bukharin in 1936-that if the Party finds him guilty, then he is guilty, since for a dedi­cated Communist neither guilt nor innocence have any objective existence outside the will of the Party! The important thing for us to recognize-especially now that Ronald Reagan has ceased to recognize it-is that Soviet communism today represents the same source and cause of human degradation that it did in Stalin's heyday. That it is in some respects less brutal makes it in other respects more sinister. Consider:

Both in the army, in the State Security Com­mittee, and in every government department, the Party wields the highest authority and has a decisive voice politicallyThe drive for per­estroika has only consolidated the Party's posi­tion, adding a new dimension to its moral and political role in society and the state. (p. 128)

Gorbachev is quite frank in affirming that per­estroika is directed from above. When the Central Committee and the Politburo say "Criticize," then everyone criticizes. Woe unto the man who fails to obey the command to criticize! But woe unto the man who steps outside the approved boundaries of what (and who) may be criticized. You can de­nounce drunkenness, laziness, inefficiency, theft, or falsification of records by workers or managers. But woe unto the ordinary man-in-the-street (not to men­tion a Boris Yeltsin) who discovers any of these vices among the members of the Central Committee, or of the Politburo! And woe unto the man who finds in communism itself the cause of the drunkenness, lazi­ness, etc.

Few things are more certain than that a market economy is a necessary condition of economic effi­ciency in the modern world. And a market economy is one in which people are economically rewarded-or economically punished-by the market itself. Under communism, economic rewards and punish­ments, like all other rewards and punishments, are meted out by the Party-and by the bureaucracy under its control. The way to get rich in the U.S.S.R. is to rise in the Party. No one lives the high life of the top brass by successful entrepreneurship-by pro­ducing goods that the common people want! If they did, Party membership would instantly be devalued. Yet Gorbachev goes out of his way to insist that per­estroika will only strengthen the Party.

What better proof can there be that perestroika is a fraud?

If the fate of Boris Yeltsin does not sufficiently reveal the essential Stalinism of Gorbachev's regime, we should consider the General Secretary's com­ments on Stalin's collectivization of Soviet agricul­ture.

If we are able to take a really truthful and scien­tific look at the circumstances of the time . . . if we do not close our eyes to the extreme backward­ness of agricultural production, which had no hope of overcoming this backwardness if it re­mained small and fragmented . . . one simple con­clusion is inescapable: collectivization was a great historic act, the most important social change since 1917. [It] . . . made it possible to introduce modern farming methods. It ensured productivity growth and an ultimate increase in output. . . . Yes, industrialization and the col­lectivization of agriculture was indispensable. (pp. 40-41. Emphasis added.)

In Churchill's memoirs, he relates a midnight conversation with Stalin in the latter's Kremlin apart­ment. The two men met alone for several hours waiting for their aides to prepare the draft of their communique of August 16, 1942. Churchill asked how the stresses of the war compared with those of the collectivization.

". . . the Collective farm policy was a terrible struggle," Stalin responded. "I thought you would have found it bad" said Churchill, "be­cause you were not dealing with a few score thousands of aristocrats or big landowners, but with millions of small men." "Ten millions," Stalin replied. "It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary for Russia, if we were to avoid periodic famines, to plough the land with tractors. We must mechanize our agriculture. . . . We took the greatest trouble to explain it to the peasants. It was no use argu­ing with them. . ." "These were what you call Kulaks?" "Yes," Stalin replied. "It was all very bad and difficult-but necessary." "What happened?" Churchill asked. "Oh, well," said Stalin, "many of them agreed to come in with us . . . but the great bulk were very unpopular and were wiped out by their laborers." Then, "Not only have we vastly increased the food supply, but we have improved the quality of the grain beyond all measure. . . ." (The Second World War, Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 434-5.)

Notice the identity of Stalin's and Gorbachev's Big Lie: The collectivization of agriculture was not undertaken to increase agricultural production. The truth is that the despised Kulaks were highly pro­ductive. They were allowed by Lenin's New Eco­nomic Plan to own their farms, and to sell their pro­duce on an open market. It was their profitable productivity that rescued the Bolshevik Revolution from the famine and inflation in the cities of the period of the Civil War. By 1930, however, Stalin saw that the very success of the Kulaks had called into question the necessity and desirability of com­munism. And so they had to be destroyed-at least ten million, as he admitted to Churchill. And so the scene of the greatest famine of modern history be­came the Ukraine-known before World War I as the breadbasket of Europe.

In recent years several books-most notably Robert Conquest's-have been published on the famine in the Ukraine in 1931 and 1932. This was as vicious a genocide as any in history, and resulted not from droughts or locusts or any natural disaster. It was caused entirely by Stalin's stripping of food­stuffs from the countryside. Its purpose was to de­stroy the Ukrainian Kulaks-by starving men, women, and children to death-and to break the spirit of Ukrainian nationalism. To say that this was done to increase food production is like saying-as some do-that the purpose of the gas chambers at Auschwitz was to disinfect, rather than to kill the Jews. (I have read articles, purportedly scholarly, maintaining just that!)

Is there any literate person in the Western world who does not know that the collectivized agriculture of the U.S.S.R. is a failure? That the U.S.S.R. reme­dies its annual shortfalls by purchasing grain in the West? Yet-to repeat-Gorbachev inPerestroika calls it "the most important social change since 1917."

Ronald Reagan says that Gorbachev no longer speaks of a world communist state as an objective of Soviet policy. In truth, a world communist state was never an objective of Marxism-Leninism. The de­clared objective has always been a world communist society. This may sound like a merely semantic dis­tinction, but it is more than that. Understanding the distinction is necessary to understanding what the real objective of any Marxist-Leninist state must be.

According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the state-any state-is an organization for repression. The Soviet state exists because the dictatorship of the proletariat must at once guard against counterrevo­lution and promote revolution. It mustdo this be­cause true communism-the final stage of history, and the "leap into freedom"-cannot begin until pri­vate property has been abolished everywhere in the world. As long as private property exists anywhere, there will be a bourgeois state somewhere. As long as there is a bourgeois state somewhere, the dictator­ship of the proletariat must continue in order to stand guard against it. Only when communism is world-wide, and the class struggle is over, will the dictatorship of the proletariat-the final state-be­come unnecessary. That is when-according to the official and never-contradicted Marxist-Leninist doc­trine-the state "withers away" and "the govern­ment of man is replaced by the administration of things."

If you ask how anyone can believe that he now knows this is possible, the Marxist-Leninist answer is that we know that history does not pose problems which man-in-history cannot solve. Our knowledge (they say) of the dialectical process teaches that this result is necessary and desirable. Only those living at the "end of history" will know-or need to know-how the results are actually to be imple­mented. But what the Marxist-Leninists declare to be "science" assures them that the replacement of the state by a purely voluntary association of free and equal individuals is the necessary and desirable out­come of history. They believe this as truly as any Christian or Jew or Moslem believes that God rules the world and that the destiny of the human soul is not in this world alone. Without this belief, they would cease to be Marxist-Leninists.

There is not a word in Perestroika renouncing this eschatology, which parallels, and is meant to replace, that of biblical religion. There is no reason whatever to believe-what Ronald Reagan apparently be­lieves-that Soviet Communism is less dedicated today than at any time hitherto to world revolution. To predicate a foreign or defense policy upon such a delusion is to prepare us to follow the path of the Kulaks into oblivion.