The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #308 on Russia

September 11, 1991

September 11, 1991 | Executive Memorandum on Russia

Beware of Misleading Soviet Terms


(Archived document, may contain errors)

9/11/91 308

BEWARE OF MISLEADING SOVIET TERMS

Since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in April 1985, America's media have been delugged by terms describing a very complex political, economic, and social situation in the U.S.S.R. Many words from the Soviet political lexicon, regurgitated by the media without explanation and often poorly understood by the journalists themselves, often confuse the American newspaper reader o r television viewer. Properly understanding the Soviet political lexicon is important because more than just words are at stake. No sense can be made of the momentous events now reshaping the Soviet Union without first understanding the reality behind the s tock expressions. Distorting the meaning of terms used in the Soviet political discourse leads to misunderstandings about what is happening there. And that may result in flaws in United States policy toward the Soviet Union. A few Soviet terms, used by th e U.S. media, requiring better definition am: Black market - This is the huge sector of the Soviet economy that operates outside state control as a free market. Western journalists often use this term in a pejorative way. However, black markets operate acc o rding to the laws of supply and demand, and not arbitrarily according to orders by the state. For decades it has been the only sector of the Soviet economy that functioned efficiently. Conservatives (also see Right) - This is the word most commonly used i n die Soviet Union for hard-line communists. While it makes some sense to view hard-line communists as wanting to conserve the old totalitarian system, it is incorrect to attribute any philosophical meaning to the term. Conservatives in the West are anti-c o mmunist and pro-free market-the exact opposite of "conservative" hard-line communists in the Soviet Union. Democrats (also see Left) - These are those who struggle for f1ree and fair elections, individual liberties, private ownership of property, a free m a rket, and a sharp reduction in the role of the state. in the economy. In the Soviet Union they sometimes are called "progressive" or, mistakenly, left-wing. Left (also known as the Democrats) - The term "left," as used by Western journalists and most Sovi e t politicians, refers to those who criticize and oppose the Soviet political system and communism in general and struggle for political liberty, a free-market economy, and a drastic reduction of bureaucratic interference in the lives of the people. In the West, this is, of course, the agenda of the right. The Soviet left, therefore, bears more of a resemblance to American conservatives than American liberals. Mikhail Gorbachev himself admitted as much when he said in Minsk (Byelorussia), on February 26, 19 9 1: "Left wing implied... adherents of socialism and communism. But the democrats reject the socialist idea and are in favor of making society capitalist. Is it not clear that what we are dealing hem with is a typical opposition of a right-wing kind? We s hould call a spade a spade." nus, in Western terms, Boris Yeltsin is on the right, while Gorbachev, who calls himself a "convinced communist," is on the left.

Perestrolka - This is the attempt by G&bac'hev,to create a "sociatist market!' by giving manage rs, and not -central -state planners, more control over running state enterprises. Gorbachev also allowed the -creation of so-called cooperatives----.rsmall shops, -restaurants, and service organizations owned i collectivelyby the employees. Because'it wa s only a half-hearted reformprogram, perestroika-not I .only failed to improve the economy, it made'it worse. Under Gorbachev the state 4@;ntinued to control -industry, land, -raw -materials, prices, and the distribution of food and other products. Right ( a lso see %Conservatives) -The meaning of this word in -the Soviet Union is the opposite:in the W. est. In the Soviet Union the "right! 'means those -who support communism, rejea free market capitalism and seek to perpetrate government control over the dail y -life lof the people. In the West this is the agenda of-the left. Thus, contrary to what.-the media assert, the August 19 putsch intended to restore -communism was undertaken by -the Soviet left, not the right. Russian vs.:Soviet - Although these terms - o ften are used'interchangeably in the West, they refer to very idifferent things. The. Soviet Union- consists of -fifteen republics of which Rusgia'.is -but one. It is by far 1the'largest republic, comprising dn-ee-fourilis of the area-of the Soviet Urdion , and-on its own would still be the largest country in the world. Although ethnic Russians constitute roughly -half of the Soviet Union's,population, they are but one of over one hundred nationalities. Russia has been the vehicle through Which:the communis t empire was ruled, and before that the Tsarist Empire. Most of -the top tifficials,throughoutboth empires-have been Russians. Russian nationalism, often -was invoked by Moscow to justify its rule. But this -was not done with the consenvof the Russian peopl e , -who Jost 'lives to'Soviet -totalitarian repression: than any other! people in the Soviet Union. T-be Russians -more. de6isively repudiated. Communism When on June 12, 1991 they elected Boris Yeltsin, who resigned ;from:ihe?arty in;1990, as President of the'.Russian Republic. Soverdgnty -'This word'has - be6n used by different groups in the Soviet republics to. describe different goals-for independence. Tor democratic reformers, "sovereignty" has- meant. the assertion of control by the-republics over.the i r own affairs. For the commuxiist@hard-liners,"'sovereignty" for the republics'is used-to describe-a new-Soviet Union in which-the powers-of the Soviet goverriment.over the-republics would-remain -largely intact. For them, it is largely an empty declarati o n, not a stepping stone to independence and-democracy,-as-democratic-reformers believe. Every. Sovietrepublic declared:its 4esovereignty" in.1990. ,Stability - The concept of "stability".is the watchword of the Bush. Administration's Soviet policy. Bush's discomfort-over the -revolutionary transformationiof-the -Soviet Union: and. hispreference for controlled 'and limited change convinced the President.to support'Mikhail Gorbachev long. after he had-become an obstacle to. further democratization. Believing Gorbachev was the key to. stability,'Bush clung to Gorbachev and- the central government and -shunned Boris Ydltsin: and other democratic - leaders of. the arepublics, including those in the-Biltics. Moreover, as in Yugoslavia, the Bush. Administration's - support of the center against the republics-inAhe name of stability may backfire and contribute- to -ogreater, instability and even civil - war."True. stability cannot come from - the -forcible maintenance of an unwanted imperial structure, but only-from t he-free-self-determination of the-republics. 'Suicidal Nationalism.- This. term - was. used'by George Bushlin:his August 1, 1991.speodh in Kiev to describe- the national independence movements in-the. Soviet empire. Bush's policy has been to -appose the; d issolution of the Soviet empire to bolster "stability." Before the August 19 coup- attempt, Bush; had only minimal contacts with the- republics. He feared encouraging their efforts to- free themselves;from Moscow's control. -Leon Aron,iPh.;D. 'William D. Eggers Douglas Segy .Salvatori Senior:Policy Analyst Policy-Analyst ;Policy Analyst In. Soviet-Studies

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