Moscow's Gorbachev: A New Leader in the Old Mold

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Moscow's Gorbachev: A New Leader in the Old Mold

August 29, 1985 15 min read Download Report
James Gattuso
Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy
James Gattuso handles regulatory and telecommunications issues for The Heritage Foundation.

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451 August 29, 1985 c MOSCOWS GORBACHEV 3 7-r A NEW LEADER i- INTHE OLD MOLD INTRODUCTION Evidence that the Soviets havebeen using a potentially I cancer-causing powder to track the mov ements of U.S. officials in the U.S.S.R. seems to confirm the venerable wisdom that nothing changes in the way the Kremlin operates. Yet the appearance of new faces in the Kremlin It was this, for example, which transformed the grim figure of the dying So v iet secret police boss Yuriy Andropov into a vigorous economic reformer and closet liberal. Similar optimism has greeted I the ascendancy of Mikhail Gorbachev to the top Kremlin post of General Secretary. Some observers expect Gorbachev to embark on domes tic reform, cut Soviet defense spending, and reduce Soviet expansionism.

The inevitable corollary of this optimism is a depression laced with panic, which sets in among Moscow watchers when they begin to see that the new Soviet leader is simply pursuing traditional Soviet policies.

Exaggerated hopes give way to fear I I initially still generates tidal waves of optimism in the West I c Both schools of thought are already in evidence in the American public debate on how to deal with the Soviets. While differ ing in their assessments of the new Soviet leader, many proponents of the two respective views of Gorbachev surprisingly end up with the conclusion that the U.S. should embark on a path of unilateral concessions to the Soviet Union. The motive for some is to mollify a nasty Gorbachev; for others, converselv. it is to motect a reform-minded Gorbachev from the tlhardlinerslt in the Politburo and the relatively sophisticated public relations Kremlin capitalizes on such tendencies military campaign The new con d ucted and by the The fact is, Gorbachevs domestic policy is hardly reformist: it I I continues Andropovs repressive policy of tightening the screws on the Soviet population and bureaucracy to squeeze as much as possible out of .the Soviet economy and nip a ny open unrest continues to enforce Soviet-line uniformity in Eastern Europe and to revive Stalin's policy of totally subjugating East European economies to Soviet needs. In Soviet-American relations, Gorbachev is pursuing the traditional Soviet line of p u blic diplomacy combined with stubbornness at the negotiating table, designed to preserve U.S vulnerability to the Soviet nuclear threat Gorbachev also To concede anything to Gorbachev at this stage would only encourage more of the same on his part. Instea d , the U.S. should proceed with its defense programs, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative, deny the Soviets and their East European satellites the benefits of American credits and technology, increase aid to freedom fighters in Afghanistan and Nica r agua, and conduct active public diplomacy to expose the oppressive nature of the Soviet regime. The U.S. should defend its national interests in a measured and well calculated way, rather than waste time wondering how Gorbachev can punish or reward the U. S . for its conduct. Gorbachev comes out of the Kremlin mold; he does not break it THE PARTY'S -MAN Gorbachev has always been a professional Communist Party functionary, flesh and blood of the small, privileged elite that runs the Soviet Union for its own b enefit. Much has been made of his degrees in law and agriculture. In reality, this education was a sideshow to his political career.

Gorbachev joined the Law Department of Moscow University in 1950 when Soviet law reached its nadir amidst Stalin's post-World War I1 purges. Apparently realizing in 1952 that there were better things than being a Soviet lawyer, Gorbachev, then 22 years ol d, joined the Communist Party and became a Komsomol (Young Communist League functionary at Moscow University. It was a time when the Komsomol organizations of Moscow University showed remarkable zeal in carrying out Stalin's anti-Semitic campaigns.

After g raduation in 1955, Gorbachev did not even try his hand at law, but returned to his native Stavropol in the Russian Republic and became its Komsomol leader. Eleven years later, after holding a number of increasingly responsible Communist Party jobs, he bec ame the First Secretary of the Stavropol City Communist Party Committee. In 1967 he received a correspondence degree in agriculture from the Stavropol Agricultural Institute, whose faculty and administration were in effect Gorbachev's subordinates.

By 1970 Gorbachev was the First Secretary of the Communist Party Committee of the Stavropol Krali Territory in 1971, at age 40, he I became a full member of the Central Committee; in 1978 he was appointed as a Secretary of the Central Committee; the following ye ar he became a candidate member of the PoliFburo; and in 1980 he was promoted to Politburo full membership.

Gorbachev therefore is not exceptional, not a wunderkind miraculously appearing at the top of the communist hierarchy.

Nominating Gorbachev as Gene ral Secretary on March 11, 1985 Andrei Gromyko began by emphasizing that being a Communist Party functionary par excellence was Gorbachev's primary qualification for the job THE MAN FOR ALL SEASONS Gorbachev has an apparent skill to seem what others'want h im to The late KGB chief Andropov, who promoted Gorbachev, saw him as a be ruthless enforcer. Brezhnev, during the peak of corruption and decadence in the Kremlin in the late 1970s to early 1980s accepted Gorbachev as a good member of the ruling inner-cir c le, often known as the Brezhnev "mafia.1' British Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saw Gorbachev as somebody with whom she could 'Ido business by which she apparently meant that he was more of a pragmatist than a communist ideologue. Zdenek Mlynar, a n idealistic Czechoslovak communist reformer ozf the late 19609, found similar idealism in Gorbachev at that time.

In reality Gorbachev is none of the above: he is a consummate actor, as befits the Soviet party functionary, who spends his life accumulating and protecting his privileges by mouthing convincingly whatever suits the interests of the Communist Party at the moment.

GORBACHEV'S STRATEGIC IMPERATIVES However varied the tactics of different Soviet leaders have been they were invariably geared towar d two strategic goals: maintaining the Communist Party's absolute power within the Soviet empire, and widening the basis of this power by international expansion Two major dangers have overshadowed the Soviet policy-making 1. Although his climb to power w as rapid (15 years from the membership in the Central Committee to the job of General Secretary in 1985 it was slower than Brezhnev's 1952- 1964 2. Archie Brown Gorbachev: New Man in the Kremlin Problems of Communism, vol.

XXXIV, May-June 1985, p. 23 3proc ess for the last five years: 1) a possibility, remote but nevertheless frightening to the ruling elite, of the repetition of the Polish crisis in the Soviet Union as a result of economic stagnation and 2) the possible loss of global political gains of the detente era as a result of the resurgence of U.S. national will.

Gorbachev pinpointed this dual danger when he insisted in his June 11 speech at a Central Committee confFrence that no cutbacks in defense and social spending were possible. Gorbachev also m ade it clear that the present growth rate of the Soviet economy (which he estimated at lnaboutll 3 percent a year is insufficient for socipl and military needs, for which Ita minimum of 4 percent is required.

Economic problems could undermine the legitima cy of the Soviet regime not only by dashing the hopes of the Soviet population for a better life, but also by undercutting the predominantly military basis of the successes of Kremlin foreign policy economic policies failing, the Soviet regime has come in creasingly to rely on its imperial expansion for legitimizing itself. Explains Adam Ulam: "The regime believes that its internal security is inextricably bound up with the advance of its external power and authority.

General Secretary last March 11, he identified the priorities of his foreign policy With its social and Gorbachev clearly recognizes this. In his first speech as 1) To maintain a firm grip on the

#socialist camp" (the communist countries within the Soviet orbit, particularly the Warsaw Pact m embers) and to seek to reinvolve China in the'activities of the llsocialist camp11 2) To aid'national liberation movements in the Third World 3) To pursue the "Leninist course of peace and peaceful coexistence1# with the llcapitalistll countries, which. m eans constant encroachment upon the interests of democratic countries and the accumulation of Sfviet political and military leverage over them without open war.

These have been the priorities of Soviet foreign policy since the 1950s when Nikita Khrushchev began to pursue the strategy of Ifpeaceful 3. FBIS--Soviet Union, June 12, 1985, p. R3 4. FBIS--Soviet Union, May 22, 1985, p. R4 5. Alan B. Ulam, Dangerous Re lationq (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983 p. 31 1 6. Kommunist 1985, No. 5, p. 9 4-coexi s tenceI1 with the West 'and simultaneous Soviet expansion in the Third World, while maintaining the Kremlinls .control over its East European satellites even at the cost of military intervention. All of Khrushchevls successors subscribed to this internatio nal strategy, and Gorbachev is no exception.

NEO-STALINISM AT HOME Gorbachev is firmly committed to preserve what is the root of Soviet economic ills: the concentration of all economic decision making in the Communist Party elite is tempted to emulate China's and Hungary's private enterprise experiments. Even such a minor move as the proposed increase in the number of garden plots that Soviet citizens are allowed to till i n their spare time prompted a te+evised official warning against using the produce for profit making enterprise, Gorbachev, like his predecessors, apparently cannot resist the temptation to interfere in economic matters lectures, for example, on the virtue s of various technologies and methods for organizing production. Speaking in Leningrad last May 17 he elaborated upon the need to manufacture Ifproduction complexes rather than individual machine tools, suggested:that Soviet industry copy the East German m e thods of the 1960s, which he claims make goods better and-'cheaper than in the West, mused about the potential economic gains from modernizing all of the Soviet Union's thermal power stations, and recommended deeper ploughing or using the blade cultivator to save soil and fuel. And when problems erupt, he follows the model of all Soviet leaders since Lenin: he blames the economic ills on the bureaucracy centralized planning is very risky, for it is the economic lever with which the Communist Party controls the Soviet multinational empire There are no indications that he While proclaiming the need for greater autonomy for industrial He gives lengthy To tackle the problems inherent in Rather than reform the Soviet system designed by Stalin Gorbachev seems to b e trying to make better use of it traditional Soviet political devices. He relies on The IIStrona Imacre What the Soviet system lacks in economic motivation, Gorbachev is trying to compensate with personal charisma. He imitates Lenin's flbusiness-likelv m a nner, borrows from Stalinls phraseology (especially the famous phrase that the Soviets need to cover in a decade what 7. FBIS-Soviet Union, May 23, 1985.other countrips covered during a hundred years of economic development mimics Khrushchev's folksy ways , and cultivates Andropov's stern disciplinarian image.

Political ReBression Gorbachev is enhancing the public image of the Soviet Union's most feared institution: the KGB secret police. He promoted KGB boss Viktor Chebrikov to full Politburo membership an d approved a laudatory film about former KGB chief and General Secretary Andropov, now being shown in movie theaters and on TV. Chebrikov has published a lengthy article in the June 1985 issue of Komunist, the main theoretical organ of the communist party , boasting at length of the KGB achievements in the struggle against dissidents an# "foreign subversion." The article promises more of the same. Indeed persecution of Soviet human rights defenders, Jewish activists religious believers, and- advocates of th e rights of national minorities continues unabated.

Gorbachev's campaigns against corruption and alcoholism, lauded by some Western observers, are essentially repressive. They ignore the source of the disease, such as the centralized economy's failure to s atisfy consumer needs and the spiritual devastation of the Soviet society. Instead, the campaigns merely try to suppress the symptoms.

It is possible, in fact, that the KGB, more feared than the regular police, might assume a greater role in these campaigns.

Amassincr Personal Power.

Gorbachev has been replacing Leonid Brezhnev's "old guard" with his own people at an impressive rate--in the Politburo, the Central Committee, and throughout the party hierarchy. The anti-alcoholism anti-corruption, and effi ciency campaigns are important tools in this drive: few officials have not committed at least one of these three sins GORBACHEV'S FOREIGN POLICIES Gorbachev has statedthat he is seeking not merely a return to the-detente of the 1970s, but that detente sho u ld be a "transitional 8. Ibid, p. R4 9. Kommunist, No. 9, 1985, pp. 47-58 6stage to a 'reliable and all-embracing international security system. In the Soviet political lexicon reliable and llall-embracingll international security means hegemony achieve t h is in several ways: He will try to If the citizens of the U.S. and Western Europe were not held hostage to the Soviet nuclear threat, Moscow would wield less influence in U.S. and allied foreign policy decision making the specter of Soviet nuclear attack t hat fuels peace movements in the U.S. and NATO. The influential Deputy Chief of the International Department of the Central Committee Vadim Zagladin, among others implies strongly that the '#peace movement,I' together with the Soviet arsenal, are the mahn factors inhibiting Washington from pursuing U.S national interests continue to menace the American population that Gorbachev has been waging his ferocious campaign against Ronald Reagan's Strahegic Defense Initiative or as it is popularly known, Star Wars .

Gorbachev continues arms control positions that have not changed substantially for several years, as shown by an authoritative Pravda editorial, which expresses the views of the General Secretary and the Pol.itbur0, on August 1, 19

85. But the Kremlin is trying to hide its true arms control objectives with a public relations smokescreen.

This includes publishing Soviet statements in major American newspapers as advertisements (something North Korea long has done) and making Soviet officials more availab le to Western newsmen. During the It is It is to ensure that Soviet missiles can I 10. FBIS-Soviet Union May 9, 1985, p. R16 1

1. V. Zagladin World Balance of Forces and the Development of International Relations,"

International Affairs No. 3, 1985, pp. 71-72 12. The political importance attached by the Soviets to the fear of nuclear war among Americans has been made unusually clear in a recent lead article in their USA journal The "factor of fear" of the-threat of nuclear war and of the American vulner a bility in such a war can apparently stimulate the anti-militarist mood of the Americans, their striving for peaceful agreements and normalization of relations with the USSR only under certain conditions. One of such conditions is destruction of the illusi on that the USA can reach such a level of development of nuclear strength and ballistic missile defense which would truly reduce the risk of nuclear war or save Americans in case of. war.

Yu Zamoshkin Yadernaya opasnost i faKtor strakha SShA. Ekonomika. Po litika IdeoIonivG No. 3, 1985, p 70. An article of the Chief of Soviet General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev in Pravda on June 4, 1980, is one example of Soviet propaganda of Futility" of SDI 7- July 29-August 1, 1985, meeting to commemorate the Helsink i Accords for instance, the Soviets went out of their way to arrange press briefings and chat with Western reporters, while the speech of the new Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was almost devoid of anti-Western polemics. This new image of amic a bility, combined with the attempts to address the U.S. public directly via U.S. media, as well as relying on the more traditiona1,Soviet method of using the peace movement" for the propaganda of Soviet views, are Gorbachevls tools to undermine the Reagan arms control negotiating position.

Dividincr the U.S. From Its Allies Like his predecessors, Gorbachev is fully aware of the .potential of exploiting the differences between the U.S. and its European allies. He has, for example, been courting Western Europ e by scheduling a meeting with French President Francois Mitterrand before meeting President Reagan and by announcing a temporary freeze on deployments of Soviet SS-20 medium-range missiles aimed at Western Europe .(the Soviets have already deployed at le a st 279 of these three-warhead missiles against Western Europe). These moves are designed to undermine the continuing American counter-deployments of Pershings and GLCMs in that region and to lay the ground for splitting NATO over the SDI. At a minimum, Go rbachev hopes to achieve more purchases of advanced technology from Western Europe, which, in its own turn, might weaken U.S. resolve to keep its high tech from falling into Soviet hands.

Ticrht Reins On Eastern EuroBe Gorbachev s eems determined to keep Eastern Europe, especially Poland,'under tight control to power, the Soviet newspaper Izvestiva printed an unprecedentedly direct attack against all opposition forces in, singking out the Polish Catholic Church for the most vehement criticism Less than a month after Gorbachev came Gorbachev's visit to Poland at the end of April was followed by a wave of repressive measures by the Polish regime: the penal code was made more severe, the trial of three Solidarity leaders was co n ducted in an atmosphere of open contempt for even legal formalities and amendments to the Higher-Education Act curtailed academic freedoms so drastically that the Warsaw University senate implicitly compared the new situEtion to the Nazi policy of destruc tion of the Polish culture.

Four days before the June 25 to 26 summit in Warsaw of the 13. Izvestiva, April 6, 7 and 8, 1985 14. The N ew York Times, June 14, 1985 8Moscow-controlled communist nation economic group known as COMECON Pravda attacked unspecif ied East European countries for nationalism Russophobia, and anti-Sovietism, for attempts to decentralize economic planning and increase the role of the private sector (obviously a criticism of Hungary), for the 'Ipropaganda of philosophical and political pluralismt1 (allegedly aimed at weakening the communist monopoly of power), for permitting religious revival, and for entertaining ideas of a special "internediaryll role of small countries in Soviet-American relations. Pravda's prescribed remedy was a he avy dose of the old-fashioned medicine: complete subordination of the East European countries to the Moscow foreign policy line ideological purityfa and an uncompromising attitude toward anti-socialist forces.

The COMECON" summit confirmed that Gorbachev i s attempting to reshape Soviet economic relations with Eastern Europe along'StalinIs line of the I'Soviet Union first This will require new investment from Eastern Europe in Soviet energy production, as well as forced sales to Moscow of the high quality g oods &hat the East Europeans are now selling to the West for hard currency.

Emansion in the Third World The.Kremlin is now facing armed national resistance movements in several Third World countries where the Soviets or their communist allies have been in power. Gorbachev seems determined to crush these movements and prevent the West from helping them. In in particular, Soviet tactics against the freedom fighters and the civilian population have increased in brutality in recent months.

Soviet pressure on Pakistan is mounting. On a number of occasions Afghan aircraft, apparently piloted by Soviets, bombed Pakistani territory, while Sovietl,propaganda has been trying to stir up Indian suspicions of Pakistan. Moscow wants to convince the West tha t its channelling support for the Afghan freedom fighters via Pakistan will prompt so much Soviet retaliatory pressure that the regime of Pakistani leader Mohammad Zia ul-Haq will collapse. Yet, increased pressure against Pakistan would interfere with Gorb achev's attempts at rapprochement with China.

In Nicaragua, Gorbachev continues his predecessors' policy of supplying the Marxist-Leninist regime- with weapons, including Hind 15. Its membership includes the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, East Germany, Czechoslov akia Poland, Hungary, Romania, Mongolia, Cuba, and Vietnam 16. The Wall Street Journa I, July 1, 1985; Vladimir Sobell The Key Issues in CMEA Relations," Radio Free Eurorie Research Vol. 10, No. 28, 1985, pp. 1-8 17 The Washineton Post, June 4, 1985; FBTS -Soviet Union, June 25, 1985, p. D1 9helicopter gunships, which proved themselves well in Afghanistan.

Gorbachev is also helping the Sandinistas hone the mechanisms of their budding totalitarian state: it is reported that a group'of Sandinista secret polic e interrogators are undergoing training at secret police facilhties in Czechoslovakia, which are fully controlled by the Soviet KGB. Gorbachev is ready to increase his involvement in Central America at the first sign of faltering of the U.S. support for d e mocratic forces in the region As soon as the U.S. Congress cut off aid to the anti-Marxist resistance forces in Nicaragua, Gorbachev invited the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to' the Kremlin. Only the public opinion backlash at Ortega's trip made Gorbac hev subsequently give a lower profile to his Managua connection.

CONCLUSION Mikhail Gorbachev at home is pursuing a neo-Stalinist policy, which substitutes repression and mass mobilization for genuine economic and political reform neo-Stalinist course of d emanding Soviet-style repressive uniformity and economic concessions to benefit the U.S.S.R. His priority in relations with the U.S is to derail Reagan's strategic defense project so that Moscow can continue to conduct nuclear blackmail against the Americ a n people the Third World, Gorbachev is trying to,frighten away the West from In Eastern Europe he is following the On the fringes of the Soviet empire in helping anti-communist freedom. fighters Far from'being a new model Soviet leader, 'Gorbachev comes o ut of an old mold. Far from being a reformer, he relies on traditional Soviet policies repressiveness, inefficiency, militarism, or aggressiveness.

Consequently, there is no need to overhaul the American policy of the past four and a half years, which has stemmed the tide of Soviet expansion, has reduced the Soviet capacity for military blackmail against the democracies, and has the potential of making the Soviets negotiate arms reductions in earnest There is no visible change in the Soviet regime's Mikhai l Tsypkin The Henry Salvatori Fellow in Soviet Studies 18. Czechoslovak Federal Council, Press Release (Ottawa, Ontario Canada 8 July, 1985 10 APPENDIX Gorbachev's New Men at the Top Yeuor Liuachev 64, Gorbachevls second-in-command, Politburo member (1985 a nd Secretary of the Central Committee (1983 He is in charge of purging the old Communist Party officials and appointing the new ones, and also responsible for enforcing llideological purity A professional Communist Party functionary since 24, he owes his career advancement to the patronage of Mikhail Suslov, the most prominent Stalinist in the Politburo until his death in 1982, and to the late KGB chief and General Secretary Yuriy Andropov.

Viktor Chebrikov 62, Politburo member (1985) and Chairman of the KGB (1982 He became a party functionary at 27 and joined the KGB in 19

67. He has the rare distinction of being both a member of the so-called Brezhnev mafia (beginning his career at the city of Dnepropetrovsk, where Brezhnev recruited many of his appointe es) and being liked by Andropov, who promoted him to KGB Chairman. His tenure as KGB boss has been characterized by increasingly brutal repressions against dissidents.

Eduard Shevardnadze 57, Politburo member and Foreign Minister 1985 A party member since 18, he later spent seven years as the Minister of Internal Affairs (responsible for the uniformed police) in Soviet Georgia, until becoming Communist Party leader of Soviet Georgia in 19

72. There he conducted a ruthless campaign against the thriving und erground market economy flatterer, lavishing praise on the latterls policy of 'Wxst in cadres," which he now denounces together with Gorbachev. He is said to have encouraged torture in Georgia's prisons He also became Brezhnev's court 11


James Gattuso
James Gattuso

Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy