Unlike Khrushchev, who knew firsthand how precariously poised was the house that Stalin had built on terror and lies, the Gorbachev group appeared to believe that what was morally right was also politically manageable. There is hardly a better example of the primacy of the moral component in Gorbachev’s opening crusade than the campaign against alcohol consumption, undertaken and sustained in the face of obviously and extremely adverse political and economic consequences. In 1985, the state’s annual income from the sale of alcoholic beverages constituted between 12 and 14 percent of total budget revenues. (In 1990, Gorbachev disclosed that, alongside oil exports, the vodka trade sustained the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1985.) Between 1985 and 1988, the anti-alcohol campaign cost the Soviet Treasury 67 billion rubles--the equivalent of almost 9 percent of the 1985 GNP, 17 percent of that year’s revenue, and nearly four times the sum spent on health care. Yet when Ryzhkov objected to the campaign’s excesses he was overruled by other members of the Gorbachev “team” because, as they put it, he was “concerned about the economy instead of morality” and the “morals of the nation must be rescued by any means available.”
The closest approximation to a well-integrated vision of perestroika as a revolution of ideas and ideals--a normative, conceptual, even cognitive overhaul--is to be found in articles, interviews, and memoirs by the “godfather of glasnost,” Aleksandr Yakovlev, who died in Moscow last October, six weeks shy of his eighty-second birthday. When he returned to the Soviet Union in 1983 after a ten-year stint as Moscow’s ambassador to Canada, Yakovlev’s memory of what he saw was much the same as Gorbachev’s and Ryzhkov’s: "[T]he moment was at hand when people would say, “Enough! We cannot live like this any longer. Everything must be done in a new way. We must reconsider our concepts, our approaches, our views of the past and of our future.” There had come an understanding that it was simply impossible to live as we lived before--intolerably, humiliatingly."
Yakovlev makes clear that, for both himself and Gorbachev, democratization was the most urgent imperative, that it came far ahead of any economic objectives in the initial impulse forperestroika. In his remarkable final book Sumerki (Twilight), published in Moscow in 2003, Yakovlev refers to the upheaval a few times as the “March–April  Revolution,” but far more frequently calls what happened a “Reformation” to underscore the moral and spiritual transformation. For him, perestroika was an “attempt to. . .end the amorality of the regime.”
In a secret memorandum that Yakovlev handed to Gorbachev in December 1985, a few months after Gorbachev had made him a secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, Yakovlev argued, “The main issue today is not only the economy. This is only the material side of the process. The heart of the matter lies in the political system, that is, its relation to man.”Hence, the “main principles of perestroika”: democracy first and foremost, understood as freedom to choose in multicandidate elections; glasnost, or freedom of speech and the press; judicial independence; and laws safeguarding key human rights--the inviolability of individual persons, property, and communications; freedom to travel, assemble, and demonstrate; freedom of religion; and the ability of a citizen to sue any official or official body in court. For Yakovlev, glasnost was the touchstone of perestroika. Soviet society was tormented by lies--“ubiquitous and all-consuming lies.” Without glasnost, he repeated to newspaper and magazine editors, perestroika would be “doomed.”
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Leon Aron credits a moral revolution led by Aleksandr Yakovlev