Gorbachev Speaks with Writers

Mikhail Gorbachev, Conversation of Members of the Union of Writers of the USSR with M. Gorbachev. June 19, 1986

Original Source: Arkhiv Samizdata, AS No. 578S. A partial summary of Gorbachev’s remarks was published in Pravda, 21 June 1986.

Every day produces facts-each worse than the last-of how difficult it is for those who assume responsibility and follow the line of the 27th Party Congress. These people are absolutely not considered part of the existing system and they evoke the resistance of those around them, resistance in every institution….

Between the people who want these changes, who dream about these changes, and the leadership, there is an administrative layer-the apparatus of the ministries, the party apparatus-which does not want any alteration of things, which does not want to lose certain rights that are linked to its privileges….

We have a great many people who make use of their positions. Nothing is exploited among us like an official position.

What two points have been put at the basis of the work of the Politbiuro? The first is not to duck any brewing problems that have built up over the years. You know, Brezhnev once said that we have to have a plenum on scientific-technical problems. I have been shown piles of documents prepared in this connection, all kinds of information, etc. And when they began to look into all this, they suddenly saw that they didn’t know where to take it, what to do with it. So they threw it away. Sure, not all the decisions that we have been making today are the right ones. Sure, we sometimes make mistakes. But we want to take action and we don’t want to sit with our arms folded so that the process would pass us by.

Take our national tragedy, drunkenness. The “drunken budget.” People want a “dry law.” At the same time in the queues you hear all sorts of epithets: “Mineral Secretary,” [Mineral [Water] Secretary,” a play on Gorbachev’s title “General Secretary”], all sorts of jokes about Gorbachev and so on … “Like before, we’ll drain the cup; Brezhnev, we’ll just dig him up.” [In the original, “Budem pit’ po-prezhnemu, otkopaem Brezhneva”] No, we can’t go on this way. I know that even writers love to drop in at the Central House of Literature and have a drink. I know that threatening letters come from the queues, but we will not give in to these attitudes. We are going to save the people, especially the Slavic people, because even though this has spread to the Moslems and to the Caucasus, no one suffers from it like the Slavic part of the population, that is, Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. These figures are terrible, we’re going to fight.

The second point is that everything begins with the party: There will be no dual morality in the party, any double standard. This is quite serious. Our whole society is moving, the economy is messed up, but we are only at the beginning, at the mere beginning of the road. Those who think that we will restructure things in a month or two are naive people! This has been building up for years and demands terrific effort and titanic work. If we don’t involve the people, nothing will come of it. All our calculations depend on influencing the people….

The Central Committee needs support. You can’t even imagine how much we need support from an outfit like the writers.

Don’t think that all this will go easily. A lot of directors write us, we don’t need rights and independence, Just let everything stay like it was, it was easier for us to work, easier to work. They don’t want to change, they don’t know how. It will take generations for us to really restructure. It will take generations.

Restructuring is going on with great difficulty. We have no opposition. How then can we check up on ourselves? Only through criticism and self-criticism. Above all, through glasnost. No society can exist without glasnost. We’re learning this. We are restructuring everything, from the General Secretary to the rank-and-file Communist. Democratism does not exist without glasnost. But at the same time democracy without a framework is anarchy. So it gets complicated. How to do things when to some it seems an “unrestrained flood of democracy,” when a person is unsatisfied, indeed this is an elementary process….

We don’t want the process of democratization in the creative milieu just to become a settling of old scores. We have information from writers. Different views. We would like unity to develop on a basis of principle.

I have spoken to you very candidly, without any double accounting. I have honestly told you about some very complicated problems. There must be just one criterion: “Let our native land be livable.”[A line from “Songs of Worried Youth,” words by L. Oshanin (film “On That Side,” 1957)]. And in this connection we wanted to pose the old question, “What side are you on, masters of culture?”[Title of a verse by Maksim Gorky in “Answer to American Correspondents,” Pravda, March 22, 1932] On the side of the new things that are going on in our life, or aren’t you ready to subscribe to these words?

From the audience: Go on, go on!

If we began to get involved with the past, we would kill all our energy. We would collide with the people head-on. And we need to go forward. We’ll take care of the past. We’ll put everything in its place. But right now we are directing all our energy forward. Our conversation is a summing up of positions. You have to understand that everything for us lies ahead. So far we still haven’t done anything, we’ve only started on the road that seems like the right one, because we put the individual at the center. If we are able to lift up the individual, to activate him…. I am not sure that everything we are doing right now is correct, maybe something will go back into the past, maybe something new will appear, but it will only come about by making it possible for everything that is contained in the individual to come out. For the first stage there is no other way. This is the main thing. Sharp turns-we have to restructure.

On the meetings of the Politbiuro. There are clashes, disputes. We have been putting things off for two or three years, now we want to act. Society is ready for a turnabout. If we retreat, society will not agree to a comeback. We have to make the process irreversible. If not us-then who? If not now, when?

Our enemy has figured us out. They are not afraid of our nuclear might. They are not going to start a war. They are only worried about one thing: if democracy develops on our side, if that works out, then we will win. Therefore they have begun a campaign against our leadership by any means, even including terror. They write about the apparatus that broke Khrushchev’s neck, and about the apparatus that will now break the neck of our new leadership.

Source: Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism (Hanover: Published for the University of Vermont by University Press of New England, 1993).

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