Primary Sources

The Strategy of Relations with European Socialist Countries

Description

In the following memorandum to Alexander Yakovlev, one of Gorbachev's chief advisors, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) analyzes the effects of Gorbachev's reform program in Eastern Europe. The document reflects the complexity of the issues raised by the new Soviet policy. In the excerpt below, the CPSU assesses the current situation and identifies some of the key problems to address, including Western economic competition and the growing pressure on the socialist systems from disaffected citizens. The excerpt then highlights key elements of the broad strategy presented in the memorandum for redefining the Soviets' role in the region. It is noteworthy that, despite the obvious problems, the CPSU did not see the situation in February 1989 as hopeless, but rather as a "transitional period" during which the Soviet leadership must adapt to the challenges posed by the changing environment.

Source

Central Committee of the CPSU to Alexander Yakovlev, "The Strategy of Relations with European Socialist Countries," February 1989, The Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

1. Our relations with socialist countries, including the allies of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, entered a difficult critical, stage.... Perestroika, the development of democratization, [and] glasnost, confirmed the role of the Soviet Union as the leader in the process of socialist renewal....

However, having broken with the previous type of relations, we have not yet established a new type.... The problem is that the transition to the "balance of interests" is seriously aggravated by the prolonged crisis of the model of socialism which developed its main features in the Soviet Union in Stalin's time, and was then transferred to the countries that were liberated by us, or with our decisive participation. Their political system still suffers from a lack of legitimacy to this day, and the stability-oriented socio-economic system is incapable of giving an adequate response to the challenge of the scientific and technological revolution.

... The economic factor, the ability of a country to join and to assimilate into the world economy, moved to the top of their priorities, for not a single country can overcome the growing gap individually, but socialist economic integration is clearly in a stalemate, so that if the countries stay with it, they would risk being left out of world development for the foreseeable future. This constitutes the main national interest of the majority of the socialist countries right now, and it should be primarily taken into account in our relations with them.

The European socialist countries found themselves in a powerful magnetic field of the economic growth and social well-being of the Western European states.... The constant comparing and contrasting of the two worlds, of their ways of life, production, intellectual cultures, entered our daily life thanks to the mass media, and there is no way around it....

As a consequence, in a number of socialist countries, the process of rejection of the existing political institutions and the ideological values by the societies is already underway now. Nonconformism is spreading more and more widely among the youth, and it is moving from a passive, kitchen level toward a civil and political one.

...

3. Several possible scenarios for further development of socialist countries are distinguishable now. One of them is a smooth movement of society toward democratization and a new form of socialism under the leadership of the ruling parties....

Another scenario—is a way of leaps and bounds, which would be a direct continuation of the preceding development, when the ruling party offers a new portion of political concessions after the next mini-crisis. This scenario lets us avoid the worst—a political eruption—but it moves the Party away, to the curbside of political life ...

Finally, a third way is also possible—preservation of the existing power relations in society along with suppression of the social and political activity of the masses....

4. In this critical, transitional period, our relations with socialist countries continue to remain our priority....

...

Authoritarian methods [and] direct pressure have clearly outlived themselves. In the political sphere, even in the case of a sharp deterioration of the situation in one of the countries—and we cannot exclude such a possibility today—it is very unlikely that we would be able to employ the methods of 1956 and 1968, both as a matter of principle, but also because of unacceptable consequences. Use of force would be admissible only in one case—if there were a direct and clear armed interference of external forces in the internal developments of a socialist country. Therefore, essentially, our only methods of leverage could be our political and economic ties.

5. The state of economic relations is assuming growing political importance....

...

What could we do in the existing situation? First of all, we should not allow our prestige as a reliable economic partner to weaken. Each breach of contract—and such cases are becoming more frequent—puts the socialist countries in a difficult, sometimes even hopeless situation....

Coordination of efforts for the conversion of the military economy could become one of the new channels of economic influence on the socialist countries ... One more opportunity would be to develop a common concept of alleviating foreign debt, which is extremely large in a number of socialist countries.

Lastly, when we intensify our economic ties with the West, it is important to actively try to bring our socialist partners into those [contacts], in order to overcome the impression, which some of them have, that we are lessening our attention to the fraternal countries....

6. A number of new tasks have emerged in the sphere of political cooperation. Just several years ago we would have considered many of the developments that are underway now in the socialist countries as absolutely unacceptable for us....

...

We need to give special comprehensive consideration to the processes of formation of the structures of political pluralism, of the coalition and parliamentary type, [and] legalization of the opposition that are unfolding in a number of countries....

The lessons of several crises have shown that the main danger posed by an opposition is not the fact of its existence in itself, but that it could unite all kinds of forces and movements in the society which are dissatisfied by the existing situation in a negative, destructive platform.

...

7. The general development of world politics and the increased differentiation of the national interests of socialist countries require that we make corrections to the approach to coordinate of our joint steps in the international arena.

Most importantly, the process of deconfrontation in the world, the decreasing weight of the military-strategic and the increasing weight of political factors of security, objectively increases the role of our friends....

... However, there is also another side to this. The pluralism of interests of different socialist countries is more and more noticeable....

...

9. In the present circumstance we could formulate the following "minimum program" for our relations with socialist countries in the transitional period:

First of all, we should have a balanced and unprejudiced analysis of the development of socialist countries, of their relations, and we should prepare scenarios of our reaction to possible complications or sharp turns in their policies ahead of time ...

Second, we should keep in mind that the significance of our contacts with the party and state leadership of the socialist countries is preserved and even increases in significance, especially because in the existing situation our friends could develop a "complex of abandonment," ...

Third, in explaining the essence of perestroika policy, we should carefully try to avoid any artificial transfer of our experience to the context of other countries, which could be perceived by them as a relapse to command administrative methods, restriction of their independence, and could eventually lead to undesirable circumstances.

Fourth, by strictly adhering to our obligations, we should preserve the existing ties that link the socialist countries to the USSR and try to ensure that the inevitable and for the common interests to a certain extent beneficial process of integrating the socialist economies with the West develops in a balanced, coordinated way ...

Fifth, taking into account the key role of the armed forces in the case of a possible deterioration of the situation, it is important to maintain genuine partnership between the armies of the socialist countries ...

Sixth, We should continue the policy of decreasing our military presence in the socialist countries, including the future possibility of a complete withdrawal of our troops from Hungary and Czechoslovakia....

Seventh, It is certainly in our interest that the changes that are ready to happen in the socialist countries, with all the possible variations, develop as much as possible inherently without unnecessary shocks and crises, within the framework of socialist solutions. But we have to account for a possibility of a different turn of events. In such a situation, it is important that the ideological differences on the issues of the renewal of socialism, and finding ways out of the crisis situations that have manifested themselves in the socialist world, do not assume the character of conflict and do not have a negative influence on the relations between our states, and do not lead to antagonism toward the Soviet Union.

This presupposes making a distinction between the interests of an essential preservation of ruling communist parties at the helm of power and the interests of preserving allied relations with those countries.

Eighth.... we should actively seek channels for contacts with all the forces in the socialist countries which compete for participation in acquiring power. Contacts [with] churches are becoming more important ...

In general, at this stage it is particularly important to reject the old stereotypes in our approaches, which have outlived themselves. If a country disagrees with us, and sometimes even seriously—this still does not mean that it is turning to the West; if the role of the Party in one of the countries is questioned—this still does not determine that it would definitely distance itself from us....

How to Cite this Source

International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, "The Strategy of Relations with European Socialist Countries," Making the History of 1989, Item #134, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/134 (accessed July 31 2014, 9:36 am).