The Search for Socialist Pluralism: Gorbachev's Vision of the Future

Report Political Process

The Search for Socialist Pluralism: Gorbachev's Vision of the Future

April 28, 1988 22 min read Download Report
Donald V.
Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy
(Archived document, may contain errors)


by Leon Aron, Ph.D.

Whatever other feelings he may inspire, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev has people confused. The more thoughtful and informed observers are especially puzzled. Suffering from acute symptoms to cognitive dissonance, they see very real changes in the Soviet Union, yet feel that the system remains fundamentally the same. Now, on the third anniversary of Gorbachev's assumption of power, is as go od a time as any to alleviate these symptoms.

We have to reexamine some of our core conceptions of the Soviet state, especially in its relations with the civil society. As Gorbachev himself has done, we must reeducate ourselves with regard to the state's r esilience, flexibility, resources, and limitations. More important, by extrapolating from the trends of the last three years, we must try to address the most momentous question of all, which so far has been overshadowed by the fun and games of Kremlinolog y: if he does have his way, where will Gorbachev take the Soviet political system? What is the final destination of the perestroika train?

Guided by Suspicion. Gauging the contours of Gorbachev's blueprint is not, of course, an easy task - and at least as difficult for him as it is for us. But it is not a hopeless endeavor as we are sometimes led to believe. I think that the precision of Gorbachev's vision of the future is roughly comparable to that of the protagonist of one of Shakespeare's sonnets, who s a id: "suspect I may yet not directly tell." And so, guided by this "suspicion," relying on the political instincts that have served him so remarkably well in the past, Gorbachev inches toward his vision of a "new" Soviet Union. In the process, the General S ecretary performs an elaborate, if not always elegant, dance, in which the sequence of moves thus far has been the reverse of Lenin's famous "one step forward, two steps backward." And by now he has left enough footprints for us to discern the general dir ection.

'nat the political component of Gorbachev's restructuring is of an explicitly utilitarian nature, openly intended for and subordinated to economic revival, should not detract from the earnestness with which their conception and implementation were attended. The chronology of Gorbachev's revolution bespeaks urgency, even inevitability.

Soviet authors openly admit now that political restructuring was not part of the mandate given to Gorbachev by the inaugural meeting of the Central Committee in April of 1985.

Leon Aron is Salvatori FeHow in Soviet Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He spoke at The Heritage Foundation on April 12,1988. ISSN 0272-1155. 01988 by The Heritage Foundation.

Tbroughout that year and for the better half of 1986, the expect ations were that the Andropov law-and-order model - work discipline, vigilantism, the anti-alcoholism and anti-corruption campaigns - would suffice, along with continuous administrative reshuffling: eliminate a ministry here, merge two ministries there, c r eate a super-administration and then break it into three ministries. The results apparently were far from satisfactory, confirming what reform-minded economists and sociologists had been telling the Soviet leaders for at least a decade. According to a wit n ess from the Soviet leadership, "having started the implementation of the socio-economic measures, the party once again realized that success in such a big, nation-wide business is impossible in the absence of the broadest participation of the working peo ple."i

Pillars of Stalinism. It was precisely this sort of participation that Gorbachev set out to achieve when, after two failed attempts, he received the Central Committee's approval of a revised mandate at the January plenum in 1987. As the General Secr etary told a group of Soviet literati a year later, "let's once again remember the January plenum with a kind word: it led us to the realization of the necessity of broad democratization of our society. v12

Gorbachev's radicalization continued unimpeded from January through the late spring. A halt to the reformers' ascent was signaled by the plenum's resolution on economic reform: half-hearted and contradictory, it left untouched, among other things, such pi llars of the Stalinist economic policy as state-set prices and state "orders" to enterprises.

The second stage of Gorbachev's "revolution" saw the General Secretary's mysteriously long vacation and the resurgence of the center right in the speeches of the defacto second secretary Yegor Ligachev and KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov in the early fall. The attack of the conservatives reached a crescendo at the October plenum and led to the dismissal of the Moscow party chief Boris Yeltsin, the radical and outspoken supporter of reform.

Attack on Political Relaxation. The third, current, phase was inaugurated by Gorbachev's November 2. 1987, speech celebrating the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, in which he emerged in the entirely uncharacteristic role of a spokesman for the center, a voice of moderation and a consensus monger. This phase is static trench warfare. On the reformers' side, there is consolidation and regrouping. In the opposite camp, there is increasing assertiveness and even occasional raid s as evidenced by Ligachev's interview in Le Monde and a recent article in Sovetskaya Rossia. On December 4, Ligachev stated that he, and not the General Secretary, chaired meetings of the Central Committee's Secretariat. While the practice of the defacto s econd Secretary"s chairing such meetings seems to go back to the Brezhnev years, Ligachev's touting this arrangement, just days before Gorbachev's visit to Washington, is unprecedented. 'Me leader of the conservatives appears to have aimed at exactly the k ind of conclusion that Le Monde made: Ligachev is flun peu plus que le numero deux" - "a little bit more than Number Two." A brazen attack on political relaxation, the Sovetskaya Rossia pieces was rumored to be personally approved by Ligachev and edited b y his aides. It prompted a full-page P@avda response, written by

I Vadim Zagladin, First Deputy Chief, International Department of the Central Committee, "The party - the people - socialism," World Economy and Intemational Reladons 5 (1987), p. 10. 2 ftavda, January 13, 1988.


Alexandr Yakovlev, Gorbachev's closest ally in the Politburo and the General Secretary's top advisor on ideological and cultural matters.

The current phase of Gorbachev's reforms is not likely to last beyond mid-May, when the Ge neral Secretary resumes the offensive in preparation for June's Extraordinary Party Conference. Note how hard he pushed to have the Afghan accords signed before the Conference. The timing of President Reagan's visit, too, is not an accident, as they say i n the Soviet Union.

Internal Contraditions. 'The utmost seriousness, even gravity, of the Party reformers' commitment to change is underscored by the theoretical apparatus deployed in the wake of the January plenum. For the first time the contradiction bet ween the "production forces" ("the basis") and the "relations of production" ("the superstructure"), which is central to the Marxist analysis of political upheavals in class societies, has been discovered under socialism. The origin of the braking mechani s m (mechanism tormozhenia) - itself a totally new theoretical concept - is traced by Gorbachev to the absence of "automatic" correlation between the basis and the superstructure. Hence, the political superstructure (politicheskaya nadstroika) must be const a ntly "modified" and "perfected" so as not to fall behind the production forces and become a "serious brake!'on the development of the society.3 Therefore, argues one of Gorbachev's top economic advisors, economic restructuring unaccompanied by "serious re novatiod' in the political, social, and spiritual areas, that is, per5troika-sans-glasnost'. is doomed to "choke up" as the Kosygin reform did in the mid-1960s.

The system of socialized ownership of the means of production and of the state-run economy, unt il recently considered an unmitigated blessing, is now recognized to contain "the potential danger of extreme centralization," which becomes reality in the absence of appropriate counterbalances (protivovesy). Useful only under extreme circumstances, such centralization is said to lead to the growth of "bureaucratism" and "social passivity" if adopted as a general norm.5 Thus, even before the notorious "immobilism" (zastoy) of the late Brezhnev era, the Soviet Union is said to have been through at least tw o other periods of sharp economic and social downturns: in the late 1930s and at the end of the 1950s.

"Plurality of Interests." Moreover, the absence of private property is no longer equated with the absence of labor conflict. While the Soviet state and t he official trade unions may not have any "diversion in principle," "non-antagonistic contradictions" between the 6 economic tasks of the state and the social problems of workers can no longer be ignored.

3 M.S. Gorbachev, Selected Speeches andAidcles (Moscow- Politizdat, 1987), vol. 3, p. 218. See also: Leonid Abalkin, "Supported by the lessons of the past," Kommunist, November 1987, p. 14. 4 Abalkin, op. cit., p. 11.

5 Did.

6 Marat Baglay,"Perestroika and trade-unions,"Kommunist, August 1987, pp. 82-83.


As a result, the official unions are urged to stop being so completely subservient to the managerial power (upravlencheskaya vlast) and to "balance" this power - while, a ll along, working "under party's guidance toward party's goals."7 Finally, and again in a startling departure from the accepted views, the superstructure of a "developed socialisnVis now said to be given not to simplification but to complications. Absence of conflicts and problems is no longer postulated as the feature of the system. Instead, there is now "glurality of interests," and to drive them underground and "shut them up" is to invite a crisis. Soviet Epistemology. As we turn to examine a strategy i n spired by this analysis, the unprecedented fluidity and pragmatism that permeate Gorbachev's game plan become obstacles to our understanding of the General Secretary's blueprint. These days, the official Soviet epistemology, openly modeled on that of the 1 0th Party Congress at which Lenin inaugurated the New Economic Policy, seems to be compressed into two words: zhizn pokazhet (life will show). The General Secretary is never tired of reminding his compatriots that no one has a monopoly on the truth and no one is insured against mistakes.

At the same time, the extent of the flux should not be exaggerated. To continue the 10th congress parallel, the preservation of the "commanding heights" (koman&zye vysoty), of which Lenin assured his anxious comrades in 19 21, will be maintained. In contrast to the Prague Spring of 1968, the debate in the Soviet leadership is not about the principle of keeping these heights in the hands of the Party, but about how much they will tower over the society. At least for now, non e of the key structures of classic totalitarianism appears to be in any danger in Gorbachev's Soviet Union: a monopolistic official ideology; the single mass Party; terroristic police control; near complete monopoly of the means of mass communication; tota l monopoly on the means of armed combat; and central control of the economy.9

Limits on Terror. Yet it is clear that Soviet totalitarianism is completing a passage to a qualitatively different stage. Begun by Stalin's death and evolving, by fits and starts , under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, this process is fueled by the realization that the viability of the state, especially its material well-being and military capability, can no longer be sustained by terroristic mobilization only. It now requires for its ma i ntenance the evolution of its still nearly absolute control over the civil society toward a mode that is less redundant, less excessive and counterproductive, more enlightened, if you will. In the Soviet political history, the experimentation on and with the margins of safety that attends this evolution is not, of course, Gorbachev's monopoly. For all the General Secretary's desire to arrogate for himself the laurels of a pioneer, he is presiding over a

7 ]bid 8 Oleg Bogomolov, "The world of socialism on the road of perestroika,"Kornmunist, November 1987, p. 98. 9 C.F. Friedrich and ZX Brzezinski@ Totalitarian Dictatorship andAutocracy (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1956), pp. 9-10.


process that was well underway by the time he cam e to power. The gradual, deliberate, always reversible lowering of the "commanding heights" and doling out vestiges of security and autonomy to select segments and institutions of the society have been fixtures of Soviet politics for the last thirty years . The most important of such concessions was Khrushchev's limitations on the scope and arbitrariness of terror - a byproduct of the elimination of intra-Party violence. And for all Gorbachev's stridency in trying to legitimize himself by dissociation from f ormer boss Leonid Brezhnev, he is an heir to a very useful legacy. It includes periodic attempts to change the structural priorities of resource allocation in the direction of consumption, attention to agriculture, perception of food shortage as a politic a l problem, and an unprecedented openness to the West. (Unprecedented, of course, by the Soviet standards.) Perhaps most important, by gradually relaxing, after the initial assault, sanctions against quiet and apolitical nonconformism and boosting the pres t ige and autonomy of the professional intelligentsia, Brezhnev reared both the generals and the foot soldiers of perestroika. Preserving Key Party Functions. After a year of linguistic experimentation, an official term for Gorbachev's vision of the Soviet p olity seems to be emerging. It is "socialist pluralism," the term to which the General Secretary himself finally gave an imprimatur at the latest Central Committee meeting in February of this year.10 This denomination is chosen with great care to distingu ish it not only from the bugbear of "bourgeois pluralism" but also from "socialist democracy" that was utterly discredited under Brezhnev. Here is how a top Soviet expert on Eastern Europe explains the choice:

Pluralism is often understood as one of the ch aracteristics of the bourgeois society. Yet in recent years scholars and politicians in the fraternal countries have been trying to locate constructive content of the real plurality of interests, opinions and positions, to reflect them more broadly in the means of mass communication, in the political system .... 11

"Fraternal countries" in this quotation are Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, whose experience in political liberalization is cited by the reformers with increased frequency as a proof that the m argins of safety can be expanded significantly without the loss of the commanding heights. Soviet proponents of the model hasten to add,

Socialist pluralism is not the notorious 'free play' of political forces but an expansion of the platform of national unity under the leading role of the party. It is instructive that nowhere has [socialist pluralism] undermined the foundations of socio-political order .... 12

10 Pravda, February 19,1988. 11 Bogomolov, op. cit., p. 99. Academician Oleg Bogomolov is Director of the Institute of the Economy of the World Socialist System.

12 Md.


According to admittedly sympathetic and less than objective Soviet observers, socialist pluralism preserves the key functions of the Party: the custody of ideology and upbringing (id*,no-vospitate1nqya rabota); maintenance of the appropriate "moral-ideolo gical climate"; policy planning ("development of policies in accordance with party principles"); and control over cadres.13

The last two items are of crucial importance. Detailing his vision of socialist pluralism in the most extensive statement so far, Go rbachev told the a Central Committee plenum last February: The directing and leading role of the party is the necessary condition of the functioning and development of the socialist society. The party develops and adjusts policy...[and] conducts the fitti ng personnel policy. These are, in short, the main functions of the party as the political vanguard of the society. 14

Two Pillars. Thus, two principles emerge as sacrosanct pillars of socialist pluralism: a policy making, in which the Party has the ultima te say, and the system of nomenklatura, in which every appointment of significance - from the school principal, hospital director, and orchestra conductor to the college dean, plant manager and newspaper editor - is cleared by a Party body on the correspo n ding level. They are the two "commanding heights" the Party will not allow to be lowered, let alone shared with the civil society. Under socialist pluralism, the civil society is no longer viewed by the state as a barely tolerated suspect - it becomes som e thing of a very junior coalition partner without the voting rights. Ile state grants limited autonomy, a kind of home rule, to select segments and institutions of civil society, at the same time explicitly declaring some areas off-limits in their charters . The extreme care with which the recipients of such favors are chosen as well as the possibility of home rule's being revoked on a moment's notice are among the key characteristics that distinguish socialist pluralism from authoritarian rule.

Party in the Vanguard. In Hungary and Poland, independent organizations are seen by Soviet observers as "participating in a dialogue" with the "mling7party, recognizing and respecting the constitutional principles, i.e., the dominance of the Communist Party. Such civ i l associations "offer" alternative views and defend their rights - again, "within the constitution."13 In short, as a Kommunist editorial puts it, while remaining "in the vanguard," the Party is engaged in a "constructive dialogue with the masses."16 The rules of this dialogue became clearer last May when the law on referendums was published in the Soviet Union. Originally the draft contained a provision on "nationwide vote." The

13 Bogomolov, op. cit., p. 100. 14 Pravda, February 19,1988, p. 3. 15 Bogomoloy, op. cit., p. 99. 16 Kommunist, January 1988, p. 7.


published version made no mention of voting and was the version adopted by the Supreme Soviet.

At the meeting with writers and editors last summer, Gorbachev told a short story, which is worth quoting verbatim because it is an excellent illustration of Gorbachev's vision of the Party's role under socialist pluralism:

When passions flared at a meeting of a directorate of the Union of Russian Writers, I sent a message to the comrades that we would b e very concerned if suddenly, instead of consolidation of our creative intelligentsia, there were a brawl, so to speak .... Even the sharpest questions have to be discussed respecting each other .... We still lack political culture, culture to conduct a d iscussion, to respect an opinion of your friend, your comrade.17

Monopoly on Strategy. This is vintage Gorbachev. Here, the paradigm of socialist pluralism leaps alive: having arrogated to itself a monopoly on strategy, the Party is not only willing to tol erate debates about tactics but serves as a mediator between loyal followers, a kind of impartial and benevolent guarantor of the civility of debate.

Which social groups and institutions will be most immediately affected by the policies of socialist plura lism? The intelligentsia stands to gain the most, and judging by the support it lends to the General Secretary, understands this very well. To begin, as in Yugoslavia, Poland, and Hungary, Soviet intelligentsia will be the most direct beneficiary of the r elaxation of the cultural border controls that socialist pluralism will entail: easier travel abroad, especially to the West, freer access to Western cultural goods, greater opportunity for meeting Western colleagues.

Boundaries of the Pennissible. Further more, the emancipation of professional intelligentsia from day-to-day, petty political supervision, well advanced under Brezhnev, now appears to be extended to creative intelligentsia as well. The Soviet state is discovering what the Hungarian authorities realized two decades ago: once the boundaries of the permissible have been internalized, there is no longer the need for terrorizing the artist. In the words of Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti, who studied cultural policies of social pluralism "the st ate need not enforce obedience when everyone has learned to police. himself."% Under such circumstances, according to Haraszti, "politically neutral" art no longer constitutes a threat to the state because it does not lead to a "braver culture."

To be sure, the Polish example shows that this policy could produce a different result, one more troubling to the state. Yet both Gorbachev and his top advisor on ideological and cultural matters, the architect of glasnost'Alexandr Yakovlev, are well awar e of the two factors that make Poland distinct: a powerful church, which represents, legitimizes, and consolidates alternative moral and cultural values; and the link between the blue collar

1 7 Kommunist, August 1987, p. 5. 18 Miklos Haraszti, The Velvet Phson: Artists under State Socialism (New York: Basic Books, 1987).


activists and the intelligentsia dissidents. In the absence of both factors in today's Soviet Union, Gorbachev has all the more reason to assume that the additional autonomy granted to writers, musicians, painters, and playwrights will lead to the Hungarian, rather than Polish, outcome - at least in the short run.

This seems to be a justified gamble. The publication of a few literary bombshells, including Anatoly Rybakov's "Children of Arbat" and works of the exhumed Anna Akhmatova, Andrei Platonov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexandr Tvardovsky, and soon Vasily Grossman, appears to bear Gorbachev out. As a Soviet journalist asked rhetorically, clearly taunting overcautious cultural apparatchiks : "Now [that] so much of the formerly 'forbidden,"dangerous' and 'harmful' has seen the light of the day... has the earth moved? Have the walls shaken? Nothing of the sort."19

Wooed and Coopted. Another direct institutional beneficiary of socialist plurali sm is the Russian Orthodox church. If the current trend continues, we might witness a change in state-church relations comparable to that which occurred in the wake of the Nazi invasion in 1941. At that time the relentless and murderous assault on the chu r ch and the believers was supplanted by precarious legitimacy under the rigid tutelage of the state. Perhaps a dire military situation then is similar to today's deep social and economic crisis, in that in both cases the Party is forced to relax ideologica l rigidity and broaden the base of national unity to the point where bearers of competing, albeit not politically potent, loyalties are not merely, and barely, tolerated but actually wooed and coopted.

Some of the recent bows to the church were undoubtedly spurred by the anticipation of the favorable publicity in the West in connection with the millennium of Christianity in Russia. Most measures, however, go far beyond cosmetics: the formation of new parishes is being allowed; old monasteries are being ret u rned to the church, including, possibly, the famous Pechorskaya lavra in Kiev; importation of Bibles is being allowed (there is even a talk of publishing a substantial number in the Soviet Union); a five-volume history of the Orthodox church is reported t o be in preparation. There are signs that the church might be permitted to do charitable work - after a sixty-year hiatus. Konstantin Kharchev, -the voluble and peripatetic chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers who has ta ken recently to dropping tantalizing hints of things to come, went as far as to interpret the 1918 decree on the separation of church and state in a way that would allow religious instruction of children. 20

Under socialist pluralism the Soviet mass media will play the same game under a different set of rules. The media already have been altered considerably in order to help implement the current Party line, to pressure and scare those opposed to it, and to regain for the Party a modicum of trust among the Soviet people.

19 Igor Dedkov, "Literature and New Thinking,"Kommunist, August 1987, p. 63. 20 Konstantin Kharchey, "Affirming the freedom of conscience,"Izvesda, January 77,1988, p. 3.


Press is Party Business. So far, Gorbachev has managed to perform the balancing act that evaded Dubcek during the Prague Spring of 1968: a dramatic expansion of the media's topical range without the loss of party control over the media. As the General Secretary proudly puts it: "A few years ago there was a fear that if a particular fact is mentioned in the press, the foundation of our system would be shaken. Now everything is discussed freely and, look, the foundation is not being shaken.',21

"Everything" is, of course, an exaggeration. Soviet foreign policy, world even ts, the KGB, the military, high politics and high politicians (starting with the regional Party secretary), and most important, the current Party line are exempt from glasnost. Under social pluralism, the Party will continue to set the agenda and define t h e limits of the permissible. As Gorbachev recently reminded a group of Soviet journalists and literati (as if they needed a reminder), "Soviet press is not a private shop... It is a part of the all-party business. This is a statement of principle and it g uides us today."22

Monopoly in Publishing. Having given the mass media a much wider brief, and thus allowing them to coopt many of the subjects of the underground sarnizdat publications, the Party is likely to reassert a nearly absolute monopoly on the pub lic display of symbols. ne heady days of the last spring and summer, with the Crimean Tatars camping authe Kremlin wall, the members of the nationalist Pamyat society trooping through the Red Square to meet with Yeltsin, and thousands of Latvians and Esto nians mourning their lost independence in the streets of Riga and Tallin, are not to be repeated. (The highly unusual confluence of circumstances that led to the recent mass demonstrations in Erevan is an exception that proves the rule.)

While more books w ill be published on some of the previously banned topics, the state will not give up its total monopoly in publishing. Last fall's decree prohibiting the creation of publishing cooperatives formalized this policy. There is also likely to be a similar crys t allization of policy vis-a-vis independent associations (nefonnalnye organizatsii). Here, too, the flux is coming to an end, and the free-wheeling ways of the last year, when an all-Union congress of independent clubs was allowed in Moscow, are not going t o be replayed. Recent attacks in the Soviet press on the more outspoken and popular leaders of major clubs as well as the sharply increased incidence of harassment and tailing of the members appear to signal the emergence of a leadership consensus on the i ssue. A likely outcome is the cooptation or outright absorption of most independent associations by the more tolerant and diverse existing political structures: Komsomol, trade unions, professional organizations. A few explicitly nonpolitical clubs may be granted home rule charters. Recalcitrant associations with political overtones will be forced off the scene by 11soft" repression: denial of meeting space, confiscations, expulsion, and firing of members from the places of study and work.

2 1 Pravda, January 13,1988, p. 2.

22 Ibid.


Huge Roadblocks. The obstacles to socialist pluralism are too many and too serious to be addressed here in detail. But even in the inchoate and extremely fluid mode of today, among a myriad of other problems and pitfalls, three factors stand out. They hem in Gorbachev's reforms, hold them back, and eventually may subvert them completely. These are roadblocks so huge that the General Secretary has not yet begun to tackle them because, I believe, he knows that he does not know how. Not yet anyway.

The most i mmediate and acute impediment may be called the Yugoslav malaise. Any extension of autonomy to the civil society, no matter how carefully planned and contained, inexorably leads to further polarization along the national lines, fuels the fight for various ethnic rights, and, in certain areas, strengthens sentiments for independence from Moscow. Last year, most of the unofficial demonstrations in the Soviet Union took place in the minority republics. This year, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Erev an confirmed the trend. So while Gorbachev the Visionary looks forward to Hungary, Gorbachev the Politician looks back to Yugoslavia - and slows his pace.

The second strategic problem is elite management as a means of assuring policy implementation. In the last fifty years, the stability of the Soviet polity has been achieved either through the total insecurity of the ruling class as under Stalin or its total security, amounting to life tenure, under Brezhnev. The elite was either demoralized by fear or os sified and corrupted by all-out permissiveness. Clearly, neither mode is acceptable to Gorbachev as he seeks to reenergize society.

Reasserting Moscow's Sovereignty. And yet, with the exception of the Khrushchev interlude, during which a halfway point betw een being terrorized and being left entirely to themselves was sought in vain, a third way has never been found, much less successfully implemented. The General Secretary loudly congratulated himself on having reasserted Moscow's sovereignty after the qua s i-feudalism of the Brezhnev era: after years outside the Moscow control, both people and territories have been brought back.23 This was an uncharacteristically premature boast: once local patronage systems absorb and digest Gorbachev's appointees and soli dify into machines, the effectiveness of Moscow's control over policy implementation will again be endangered.

Intertwined with this predicament is what official Soviet sources call "the problem of social justice," much too gentle a euphemism for one of th e most explosive political issues of today's Soviet Union: the vast and elaborate privileges of the ruling class. Having easily withstood assaults from the levelers like Yeltsin, the system has crystallized in a pattern remarkably close to Stalinism: priv ileges are to be conferred and rationed by Moscow only, they are to be enjoyed secretly, and there are strict limits on their transfer - either laterally (spouses, friends, proteges) or vertically (children).

23 Ibid. January 13, 1988, p. 3.

1 0

Dictatori al Power. At the last Party Congress, there was talk of establishing a mandatory retirement age, and at the January 1987 plenum Gorbachev hinted at secret ballot and multicandidate elections to Party organs below the Central Committee. Recently, such prop osals have surfaced again. So far, there has been no movement to implement them in any shape or form.

A third obstacle to socialist pluralism is the absence of even a quasi-independent judiciary. A lawyer by education, Gorbachev understands very well the n ecessity to provide perestroika with what he calls an appropriate legal base. He has already announced that the 19th Party conference will do just that. Yet the fate of all "good" laws designed to reinvigorate the society and provide leadership with usefu l feedback - the law allowing the appeal of government officials' decisions, the law on referendums, the law on the press currently being considered, as well as scores of other acts under consideration - in short, what Soviet authors call the legal guarant ee ofperestroika (pravovoye obespechenie. perestroiki), hinges on the enforcement.

Despite a vigorous debate in the press, no workable solution has emerged. The reason for the impasse is well known to Soviet jurists but may not be mentioned even in the hal cyon days of glasnost. the dictatorial power of regional secretaries - Soviet prefects, to use Jerry Hough's excellent label. T'hey are the ultimate guardians of the state's control over their locales, and even minor infringement on their unlimited prerog atives, let alone challenge to them, will reverberate through the entire power structure of the Soviet state.

The Same Aquarium. What, then, should we make of socialist pluralism? I find it helpful to think of the political system that Gorbachev is so busy fashioning in terms of a metaphor used by Miklos Haraszti. Although coined to illuminate the position of the artist in an "enlightened" socialist state, it is equally fit to describe state relations with civil society as a whole. In his brilliant book, c i ted above, Haraszti compares Gorbachev's ideal - Hungary, after all, has travelled the road of socialist pluralism for the last two decades - to an aquarium, originally created and locked by Stalin to prevent the fish from escaping. "Since Stalinism," wri tes Haraszti, "the owner has become wiser and the fish happier. The aquarium remained the same. 124

It ig worth our while to get used to the notion that it takes a monster like Stalin to create the Soviet political system, but that only a smart and competent manager like Gorbachev can try to maintain it - by diligent and earnest repair and fine-tuning - if no t forever, than for a long, long time. And try he will, with all the shrewdness of an experienced and victorious nomenclatura infighter: probing and stretching the margins of safety of the state he inherited, pushing them to the limit, but never oversteppi ng them - if he can help it. The search for the fragile and elusive socialist pluralism will continue - and so will our education.

2 4 Haraszti, op. cit., p. 101.



Donald V.

Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy