Gorbachev Discusses the Impact of Western Goods in the Eastern Bloc
At a March 10, 1988, Politburo meeting, Mikhail Gorbachev (leader of the Soviet Union) delineated his concerns about the growing influence of Western goods on Eastern bloc countries. He recognized that there existed minimal economic trade within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and indicated the importance of rebuilding trade within COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) to ensure stability in the region. Gorbachev's message demonstrates Soviet concern over the new directions that Eastern European countries were taking in the late 1980s. Business as usual, as Gorbachev noted, no longer was sufficient to maintain the economic relationships that had been in place for many decades. This document also shows that Eastern bloc countries turned to the West for economic trade long before the final collapse of communism in the region.
Notes from a Politburo Meeting, 10 March 1988, Archive of Gorbachev Foundation, trans. Vladislav Zuhok, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Gorbachev: The HPR [Hungarian People's Republic] and the PPR [Polish People's Republic] have a volume of differentiated trade with the West three times as large as we have. We look at them askance when they walk away toward the West, but we cannot replace [Western goods] with anything. In COMECON [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance] we almost have no trade. Only primitive exchange. The essence is in oil [from the Soviet Union].... In the European Union there is a market, but not in COMECON. They [Eastern Europeans] even sell us food for currency.
... In relations with COMECON we must take care, first of all, of our own people. It has become excessively hard for us to conduct business as we have been doing for the last decades. The program [of socialist integration] is dead....
What is our approach? Our priority is the political stability of the socialist countries. This is our vital interest, including the perspective of our security.... We need the goods from socialist countries. And we bear our responsibility for [the future of) socialism. In an economic sense socialism has not passed the practical test. Therefore we should hang on. Although the situation is gripping us at the throat [dushit], This is the first thing we should keep in mind. We cannot isolate ourselves from COMECON. But what is to be done? The main objective in our approach is what we have been trying to achieve today--to accelerate [nazhimat na] the scientific-technical revolution, development of machine-building interests, technological reconstruction. This will liberate [the socialist camp] from the purchase of technologies [from the West]. Consequently, this will free up hard currency....