What is new about “Perestroika?” The 254-page internationally distributed book is the first widely publicized “manifesto” that a Soviet leader has ever written. Although it contains hard-line communist ideas dressed in Western jargon, and is riddled with justification for past historical acts, the book is actually an admission that something is vitally missing from the hearts of the Russian people.
Conservatives have labeled it as a public relations effort to subtly seduce the Western world to lower its guard. Liberals have touted Perestroika as a mandate for disarmament and cooperation between two extremely different value systems while under the death threat of nuclear war.
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev insists it is a union of democratic principles and socialism and not a response to a poor domestic economy or wholesale abandonment of basic communist tenets. While both conservatives and liberals may be somewhat true in their assessments, Gorbachev asserts that Perestroika is a blueprint for the Soviet Union to emerge from economic backwardness into global industrial competitiveness.
Although somewhat boring and staccato in his litany of programs and “new” socialist ideas to arouse the Soviet workforce into a higher level of creativity and innovation, Gorbachev seems unusually preoccupied with the need for spiritual values. “Today our main job is to lift the individual spiritually, respecting his inner world and giving him moral strength,” writes Gorbachev.
Instead of pitching a new socialist program in the beginning, he spends two chapters looking at the problems of low morale, disillusionment, cynicism and fear among his people. “Decay began in public morals; the great feeling of solidarity with each other that was forged during the heroic time of the Revolution, the first five-year plans, the Great Patriotic War and postwar rehabilitation was weakening; alcoholism, drug addiction and crime were growing; and the penetration of the stereotypes of mass culture alien to us, which bred vulgarity and low tastes and brought about ideological barrenness, increased.“1
Cronyism and a corrupt bureaucracy are primarily responsible for these problems, according to Gorbachev. “Officialdom, red tape, patronizing attitudes and careerism are incompatible with this ideal (socialism).“2 Gorbachev sees moral purity, high ideological standards, and values as fostering the ideal socialistic utopian society.3
Why is a staunch atheist so engrossed with the propagation of ethereal spiritual values and the elimination of Party depravity? Is it memories of his boyhood spent under Stalin’s regime when the peasants were forcibly collectivized and the ensuing Nazi invasion? Or his Stavprol Krai days when he was serving in minor offices and discussed problems with his constituency on his “walkabouts?”
Gorbachev’s sermonizing is either a sham to deceive his people or the result of good intentions. His peasant background and reputation of integrity suggest the latter.
Nursed and weaned in the mist of bloodshed and war, Gorbachev’s Perestroika and his newly-adopted policy of glasnost (“openness”) demonstrate a desire to reject the Stalinist days of forced collectivization and terror. Perestroika is not only a manifesto of Gorbachev’s Leninist ideas and pet programs that will inject a new dose of motivation into the national conciousness, but a hopeful effort to restore trust between the people and their government.
He sees the beginning of this trend in a national drive to inculcate the people with values. “We must look at ourselves in terms of whether we live and act according to our conscience,“4 Gorbachev writes.
This seems a rather unusual statement for the head of the Supreme Soviet. Gorbachev is two steps ahead of most American political leaders in tracing the roots of Russia’s problems to the valueless vacuum in the hearts of his people. While America’s political leaders are denying the influence and importance of their Christian heritage and values upon society, and crowning the new god of secular humanism, Gorbachev is groping for a spiritual basis for his people.
Perestroika is an effort to inspire Russia towards values and high standards. History has proven that the success of any civilization is contingent upon its ethical base. Mr. Gorbachev is correct in addressing the true issue of spiritual values and its correlation with an industrious and creative people. Rome’s fall began with the hedonism of its people, and the French revolution began with the abuse of power of its leaders. Stalin is a testimony throughout Perestroika of a wicked leader who violated the trust of his people and led his nation into its present backwardness.
Yet Gorbachev’s solutions are flawed because of the sore lack of an ethical framework to guide his programs. More programs, incentives, and good intentions on the part of leaders are not sufficient to reform the Soviet system.
A prominent Russian dissident found the answer to Gorbachev’s problem after studying the history of Russia’s Revolution for over 50 years. The author of one of the most controversial and comprehensive accounts of the Revolution, The Gulag Archipelago, and many other works, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn found that the bloodshed and terror of his nation began when men abandoned God:
“ … if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God.’”
Mr. Gorbachev, along with all of his top party officials in the Kremlin, would do well to read more of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s banished volumes. If he is serious about encouraging freedom and openness in the Soviet Union, then he had best start with the most fundamental issue: religious liberty.
The yearning Gorbachev senses in his people is not simply the desire for an updated brand of socialism. Their need for values will not be met through party propaganda or Marxist indoctrination. The Russian people need the God of the Bible. Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate 20th century and our hands be directed to setting them right.”
Let’s hope that Mr. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost will truly be what it implies: an opening of the Soviet Union’s doors to Christianity.
1 Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and The World, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987), p. 21. 2 Ibid., p. 22. 3 Ibid., p. 55. 4 Ibid.