Review: Perestroika

This remarkable book is required reading for all, regardless of outlook, who are concerned with human affairs, especially Peace and disarmament. It is not presented as a finished, definitive work, but as an effort to talk directly with the citizens of all countries and an “invitation to dialogue”.

It records great pride in the achievements of the Russian revolution. It records, with great frankness, the repression of the Stalin years, deficiencies in planning, economic blunders, inertia in the system and among people.

Perestroika is motivated by “an urgent necessity arising from the profound processes of development in our socialist society” (p 17). In 1985, he reports, a major economic overhaul was started. Scientific and technological progress was accelerated. Glasnost became state policy and the individual was to become involved in this democratic renewal in all its aspects.

Mass initiative, intensification of the economy, utilization of the scientific and technological revolution, priority development of the social sphere, social justice: these are the main objectives of perestroika (pp 34-35). Over 100 pages are devoted to the foundations of these ideas, of their specific applications to various spheres of the economy and groups in the population. Gorbachev sees the growth of democracy and the expansion of glasnost as essential to the revitalization of the economy and the spirit of the people. The author reports initial successes, confesses errors and miscalculations, as well as noting difficulties to be overcome. “Soviet society has been set in motion and there is no stopping it.” But, “We have no ready-made formulas.” (pp. 54-65)

It is tempting to comment further on this part of the book, but Science for Peace Bulletin readers should be more directly concerned with what it all means for peace and disarmament. This is explained in Part 2, “New Thinking and the World”. This part discusses perestroika in the USSR, other socialist countries, the third world, Europe, and concludes with “Problems of Disarmament and USSR-USA Relations”.

“New thinking” may well undergird the shift from the doctrine of strategic parity to the strictly defensive concept of “reasonable sufficiency” (p.204). The Soviet leadership may well have been guided by this in agreeing to dismantle about twice as many nuclear weapons as will the US under the INS agreement initialed at the December Summit and by not taking into account the nuclear weapons of England and France. The “fundamental principle” involved is “Nuclear war cannot be a means of achieving political, economic, ideological or any other goals” (p 240). Gorbachev emphasizes: “There would be neither winners nor losers in a global nuclear conflict… .It is a suicide rather than a war in the conventional sense of the word.”

Already in 1956 the CPSU Congress had declared formally that a new world war was not inevitable, was preventable and global war could be banished from human experience. Now, it is stressed, it must be banished. Gorbachev cites Lenin about “the priority of interests common to all humanity over class interests.” (p. 145)

The need to avoid war is not restricted to nuclear war. Conventional weapons are many times more destructive than during WWII. There are in Europe “some 200 reactor units and a large number of major chemical works. The destruction of these facilities in the course of conventional hostilities would make the continent uninhabitable.” (pp 195-196)

In this hi-tech age an arms race may be artificially created for political and economic objectives. Making the transition from internal to international questions, Gorbachev asks, “…does the West want to overstrain the Soviet Union economically by accelerating the arms trade in order to frustrate the formidable work we have started and force the Soviet leadership to allocate More and more resources for unproductive purposes, for armaments?” He points out (p. 129) that, “Those hoping to over-strain the Soviet Union seem so presumptuous about their own economic well-being. The USA can ill afford to throw away a third of a trillion dollars a year on armaments.”

The questions he raises about the political Intent of an arms race in which the “US sets the tone” give Canadians much food for thought. Do we wish to bind ourselves as hostages to chance? The deterioration through under-funding of health services, universities, scientific establishments, cultural life, welfare, job-creation programmes, aid to developing countries? Do we wish out resources to go to arms instead of to these socially necessary objectives?

These questions I have asked should not create the impression that the book under review is of confrontational character. Its tone is expressed in this sentence from the author’s Conclusion (p 253): “There is a great thirst for mutual understanding and mutual communication in the world. It is felt among politicians: it is gaining momentum among the intelligentsia, representatives Of culture and the public at large.” The book challenges everyone to participate, “to encourage mutually advantageous cooperation rather than confrontation and an arms race.”