Mikhail Gorbachev: Can Perestroika Produce Democratic Freedom?

In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev released his famous work, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, the outline of his policy for the restructuring of the Soviet system. This is an overview of the plan he presented in April of 1985 to the Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The Communist Party then endorsed his plan of Perestroika as their general policy line.

It was immediately heralded in the West as a breakthrough; a new openness or glasnost was proposed as a way of admitting the failures of the Soviet system and a means of engendering a mutual trust and understanding with the free nations. In America, publications such as Time magazine heralded Perestroika and glasnost as a move toward western-style democracy. Gorbachev was named “Man of the Year” and later “Man of the Decade” by Time and he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

By 1991, the economic demise of the USSR has been interpreted as a failure of Perestroika. Gorbachev announced recently that the Soviet Union would continue to try to move toward a system of reform under a government consisting of “reformed Communism.” Although the Party has apparently fallen from favor with the people, and Gorbachev has renounced atheism and Marxism, his policy of Perestroika is still in place.

But what does Perestroika actually say to the West? Perestroika states emphatically from the very first chapter that its goal is a return to Leninist-Communism. In this work, Gorbachev maintained that the potential of socialism hadn’t yet been realized. He made frequent appeals to western leaders for nuclear disarmament, “new thinking,” and global environmentalism. A reading of Perestroika will show that these terms are just socialism dressed up in popular, western, free-world lingo. So what is really new about Perestroika?

Here is the plan in Gorbachev’s own words:

“Perestroika is an urgent necessity arising from the profound processes of development in our socialist society.” p.17

“The works of Lenin and his ideals of socialism remained for us an inexhaustible source of dialectical creative thought, theoretical wealth and political sagacity. His very image is an undying example of lofty moral strength, all-round spiritual culture and selfless devotion to the cause of the people and to socialism.” p.25

“The Leninist period is indeed very important. It is instructive in that it proved the strength of Marxist-Leninist dialectics, the conclusions of which are based on an analysis of the actual historical situation…. The important thing was to translate it into the practical language of everyday life.” p.26

“There are people in the West who would like to tell us that socialism is in a deep crisis and has brought our society to a dead end. That’s how they interpret our critical analysis of the situation at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties. We have only one way out, they say: to adopt capitalistic methods of economic management and social patterns, to drift toward capitalism….

“To put an end to all the rumors and speculations that abound in the West about this, I would like to point out once again that we are conducting all out reforms in accordance with the socialist choice. We are looking within socialism, rather than outside of it, for the answers to all the questions that arise. We assess our successes and errors alike by socialist standards. Those who hope we shall move away from the socialist path will be greatly disappointed. Every part of our program of perestroika – and the program as a whole, for that matter – is fully based on the principle of more socialism and more democracy.” p.36

Here in effect, is Gorbachev’s plan. Allow basic human freedoms to function within the socialist state while bolstering the material productivity of the nation and the happiness of the individual:

“More socialism means more democracy, openness and collectivism in everyday life, more culture and humanism in production, social and personal relations among the people, more dignity and respect for the individual…. We will proceed toward better socialism rather than away from it…. We want more socialism and, therefore, more democracy.” p.37

More socialism and more democracy?

Perestroika is – in theory – a form of socialistic democracy. But it differs greatly from the American form of democracy. The Russians themselves are a people in search of democracy. For thousands of years they have been oppressed by invasions of barbaric tribes, placed under the thumb of Czarist Russia, then ruled by the iron fist of Stalinist Communism, and now being ruled with renewed Communist leadership.

Communist Russia has been ruled with the same spirit of oppression as during the time of the Czars. The spirit hasn’t changed – still there is oppression – only now it is through a committee. But through all the centuries there has been a gradual change. Ivan the Terrible – a madman, Peter the Great and Josef Stalin all ruled over a nation that was in search of democracy. This long history brings us to the present day – a time when real and lasting progress can be made.

During the past five years, Gorbachev has continually vacillated between concessions to Communist hardliners while gradually opening up the Soviet Union to the West. In a meeting before the Communist Party in July 1991, he reportedly made his strongest denunciations of the socialist system.

Whether he first realized it or not, Gorbachev started a process in 1987 which has prepared his country for mass evangelism by Christian missionaries and for a resulting freedom which can only come when their society is leavened by the gospel. Western Christians, if they avail themselves to the Holy Spirit and see beyond the media smoke screen to the real issues at hand, can tip the scales of destiny in favor of a lasting freedom.

The question that needs to be asked here is: Can socialism and freedom coexist as Gorbachev once maintained? Or is it a system that must be done away with completely before freedom can reign? We must answer: True lasting freedom can only come when the socialist system is done away with and a Russian Constitution is ratified on the basis of the natural law.

The Natural Law

What is the natural law? For most of America, this term is forgotten; yet it is the foundation on which our entire society is based. This question reveals the fact that we have forgotten that it is the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which our laws and government are based. Although not every American has been Jewish or Christian in personal orientation, Americans have until recently held to a Judeo-Christian worldview. This worldview is based on the natural law.

Simply: The natural law states that governments are founded for the purpose of protecting rights, not granting rights. All human beings are born into the world apart from any rulership of government; the only laws they are bound to be subject to are God’s laws found in the Bible. Men should enter into citizenship of a civil government by consent, not by force. When we enter into this citizenship, the Bible commands us to obey the civil authorities, because even they have been instituted by God (1 Peter 2:13-17).

There are God-given rights which are self-evident; that is, even people without the Bible can see them (Romans 1:18-20). These rights are life, liberty and property. These rights exist even without civil government. The natural limit of government is to protect these rights. However, only those people who are able to be self-governing under God’s laws found in the Bible are capable of enjoying the full privileges of these rights.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, said that natural rights were also moral duties:

“Man has been subjected by his Creator to the moral law, of which his feelings, or conscience as it is sometimes called, are the evidence with which his Creator has furnished him…. The moral duties which exist between individual and individual accompany them into a state of society … their Maker not having released them from those duties on their forming themselves into a nation.”

The Constitution of the United States assumes that the American people are fully capable of being self-governing. Thus the Constitution confirms both the natural law and the Biblical law as the basis of a moral code which every citizen is bound to obey. The sole purpose of the Constitution is to “secure the blessings of liberty” which a God-fearing people ought to enjoy.

The United States Constitution

The basic outline for the first working democratic republic is found in the United States Constitution. Whereas the Soviet Union has drafted several constitutions since their Leninist beginnings, the United States has drafted only one in its history. The body of the U.S. Constitution remains completely unchanged after over 200 years. This is baffling to some Russian students; during my recent trips to the Soviet Union some of them wanted to know why. To them it was a violation of the law of progress.

The fact that the U.S. Constitution remains successful and unchanged is not due to the fact that we are a democratic society; or that we have a free market; or that there is a comprehensive Bill of Rights. Our country has a successful Constitution because it is based on the main premises of the natural law. The American documents of liberty are merely extensions of philosophical reasonings based on biblical principles. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution outline our basic liberties and propose a structure that limits the powers of government to protect those freedoms.

The success of the American system is founded firmly on a biblical basis of government and an understanding of the natural law. While many countries seek to copy the American free market system or impose laws which guarantee basic freedoms, they will always fail to produce true liberty unless their form of government implies an understanding of the natural law. Unless the framers of any national constitution understand that it is the Bible which provides the laws and principles upon which a successful, free society must be based, their system is destined to fail.

But what did Gorbachev have to say about the American system?

“I know that American propaganda – yes propaganda – presents America as a ‘shining city atop a hill.’ America has a great history. Who will question the importance of the American revolution in mankind’s social progress, or the scientific – technological genius of America and its achievements in literature, architecture and art? All this America has. But America today also has acute social and other problems, to which not only has American society not yet found an answer, but, even worse, it is looking for answers in places and in such a way that may lead to others having to pay…. I admit frankly that what we know does not support the idea of the United States of America as a ‘shining city atop a hill.’” p.215

Looking at our current failures – which are moral failures due to America’s recent rejection of Christian values – Gorbachev rejected the American system as a whole. It is a shame that he did not understand that the root of America’s problems lies in the decay of the root of America’s success: biblically based social order and the innate freedom of each individual to responsibly govern himself under God’s laws found in the Bible.

Nevertheless our form of government ought to be the model – a city set on a hill for all the world to see – which other nations would copy. Any democracy which is based on a moral code which agrees with the natural law and the Bible is destined to succeeed.

The socialist mentality defines democracy as collectivism. Collectivism states that the worth of a person is determined by what he contributes to the group. The society benefits from each individual’s productivity. The individual benefits from the privileges he enjoys as a productive citizen. For instance, doctors get more benefits (but not in the form of capital) than factory workers. The deception here is that a person is valued for his productivity, yet is not allowed to share in the wealth he produces. Benefits and privileges take their place.

In direct opposition to collectivism, Christianity teaches the principle of individuality. All of us are unique, yet God does not value us by what we produce. God also gives us the right as individuals to possess property. The principle of private ownership of property gives birth to the idea of self-government. If we are self-governed according to the laws of God, then the material wealth produced by our own industry will naturally increase.

Each of us has been created equal in the sight of God with certain inalienable rights. When individuality, private ownership, self-government and industry are all working together, a free market economy arises. To expect Communism to produce these ideals is foolish. In fact, the very definition of Communism is the direct opposite of these principles: collectivism, state ownership of business, state control of individual rights, and a government controlled economy.

Retaining a form of socialism, Gorbachev once hoped to revive his country by giving the people certain rights, and allowing a degree of private ownership and capitalism in the form of foreign investment. But is this plan feasible? Can socialism and democracy work together?

Democratic Freedom

The form of government the United States enjoys is correctly labeled as a Democratic Republic. It is democratic because there is an underlying assumption that all men are created by God with certain equal and inalienable rights. We are republican in the sense that all legislation and judicial proceedings are done through representation of the people. The tyranny of the majority is eliminated through the judicial branch of government which is appointed by the existing executive representative. The tyranny of the individual is eliminated by frequent, democratic elections by the people.

American government is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.” There is also the sense that all freedoms are inalienable; that is, our rights are God-given. Rights cannot be given by the government or taken away by the government. When a government becomes tyrannical, it becomes the God-given duty of the people to overthrow it.

In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev believed that freedom and socialism could coexist – and the policy of Perestroika was birthed. His recent denunciations of Communist policies and the resulting coup by Communist hardliners may be the result of the hard experiences of the past six years.

Let’s continue to look at the differences between socialistic democracy and the freedom based on the natural law by examining the God-given rights of private ownership of property, and freedom of the press and religion.

A Free Market

Privately owned property is the basis of a free market economy. Under the Soviet plan of Perestroika instituted in 1985, citizens of the Soviet Union were allowed to establish private enterprises and own and buy private businesses. The chief goal of this plan was to encourage foreign investment in order to stimulate the economy. Presently over 90 percent of all the businesses in the Soviet Union are run by the state.

The move to a free market economy is a slow change. In fact, most of the Soviet people are not capable of paying the exorbitant registration fees required to begin and operate private businesses. Most are discouraged by the immense amount of bureaucratic paper work involved in starting such an enterprise.

Commercial businesses are, for the most part, unprofitable because even highly motivated businessmen are constrained by many legal restrictions placed on their enterprise by the government. To compound this problem, once the enterprise is established, it must out of necessity cooperate with the state run businesses since the private sector is not as yet fully developed. The immense waste of time and financial investment due to government regulations ensures that most private businesses will remain small.

Hence, the God-given right to property is still being violated by undue control by the Soviet government. The reforms have given the Soviet people greater freedom than in the times of Stalin, or even Brezhnev, but these freedoms are cannot be compared to the inalienable freedoms of the West.

Freedom of the Press

Two of our inalienable liberties include freedom of expression and the press. The Communist government has acquiesced to these two liberties. But the Communist government is granting concessions to the people, when each one of these rights is already God-given according to the natural law. If the people realized that liberty comes from the Lord, then they would know that they are already free.

In registering the newspaper Predvestnik in the Ukraine (one of the more progressive republics) we found that any group of four or more citizens with official documentation may register a newspaper. The price of registration was 1000 rubles, low by American standards, but for an individual Soviet citizen equivalent to almost four months salary!

After this fee has been paid the government may deny registration or close the newspaper at any time. This arrangement encourages foreign investment and the growth of newspapers run by successful companies, but restricts freedom of the press for the individual and almost abolishes individual initiative in publications.

Freedom of Religion

There is more freedom of religion in the Soviet Union today than at any other time in Communist history. There is almost unlimited freedom of religious expression and there is an openness among the people which makes evangelism simple and easy. The difficulty comes when churches are formed and they wish to meet and establish themselves in their communities. The Soviet government requires each church that is meeting regularly to register with the state.

It is here that churches become subject to the arbitrary requirements of government officials. Independent charismatic churches are routinely denied registration. Often the state will require them to submit a full summary of doctrines and practices which must be approved by the state. They will also scrutinize “the psychology of the church” before registration will be made complete. The Soviet government allows the establishment of new churches but regulates and controls the process. Consequently, many young churches refuse to register and continue to be harassed by the KGB.

Guaranteeing free press and worship to the people while striving to maintain the socialist apparatus is like trying to mix oil and water. It simply cannot be done. The two are based on mutually exclusive principles.

Freedom of the press and religion are based on the assumption that these are rights given by God to the people. Socialism, on the other hand is a state-run ideal, in which freedoms are given to the people by the state. In fact, the people of communist countries often act as though freedom is something that the government gives you. The people themselves must be educated and liberated from this idea.

Hope for the Future

Hope for reform within the Soviet Union can only come when the gospel is spread throughout their society. Only when biblical principles become ingrained in the hearts and minds of the people can true democratic freedom result. Within this process there must be Christian education. The people of the Soviet Union must begin to realize that the government does not exist to provide freedom. Governments exist only to protect property – and most importantly: liberty of conscience.

Liberty of conscience includes every democratic freedom which we as Americans hold as God-given inalienable rights. A tyrannical government is one which invades the rights of conscience of the people. Furthermore, this type of government will eventually control all the property and the economy. Christian education is needed to prevent this type of government.

Education of Christian principles secures free government to future generations; without it tyranny will reign. An ignorant people will quickly become a people enslaved. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the initial goal of communism has been to gain control of all newspapers and effectively indoctrinate the people by squelching all forms of personal expression.

Our hope for the future of the Soviet Union is a bright one. When Communism finally grinds to a halt – under Gorbachev or another leader – the gospel must continue to be preached until it takes root all across the land. Only then can individuals be self-governing under the laws of God. They will then be able to choose representatives who will form strong local governments. The government will exist solely to protect the individual rights of the people and secure their property from theft and foreign invasion.

As the gospel is preached, Christians will become responsible for educating the people. The rights of individuals will be protected in future generations and the Soviet Union will be known for its high standard of morality. Love for God, family and country will be the chief characteristic of a people who are truly governed by a just and loving God.

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