Primary Sources

Soviets Discuss Perestroika for Other Communist Countries


In this letter to Mikhail Gorbachev dated October 6, 1988, Georgy Shakhnazarov, Gorbachev's adviser and a champion of reform in the Soviet Union, revealed his views about the urgency of perestroika (reform) in socialist countries worldwide. Shakhnarazov acknowledged not only that each country had unique problems in need of some country-specific reform measures but also that some problems affecting socialist countries necessitated a grander approach to reform. What is especially revealing is Shakhnarazov's admission that the difficulties socialist countries experienced were at the heart of socialism itself. He noted that socialism had weakened over time and, as a result, was in need of radical transformations. In preparation for a politburo meeting, this document serves as an example of the types of discussions that took place in an effort to promote perestroika in the Soviet Union and beyond under Gorbachev.


Georgy Shakhnazarov to Mikhail Gorbachev, 6 October 1988, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Today we are discussing the results of our talks with the leaders or prominent figures from a number of socialist countries....

Each country has its unique situation and we would be correct not to approach them across-the-board [chokhom]; we are seeking to figure out the specifics of each of them, and to build our policy on the basis of such an analysis.

...Notwithstanding all their differences and nuances, there are multiple signs that some similar problems are increasingly plaguing the fraternal countries. The very similarity of symptoms of the disease testifies to the fact that its catalyst [vozbuditel] is not some kind of a malignant germ that has managed to penetrate their lowered defenses, but some factors rooted in the very economic and political model of socialism as it had evolved over here, and had been transferred with insignificant modifications to the soil of the countries who had embarked on the path of socialism in the postwar period.

We have already laid bare weaknesses of this model and are beginning to remove them in a systematic way. This is actually the super-task of perestroika—to give socialism a new quality.....

...When we receive from time to time alarmist cables we do what we can, but all this is at best like applying lotion to sores, not a systematic, thoughtful strategy for treatment of the disease, not to mention preventive measures. It is high time to discuss these issues at the Politburo in the presence of experts. We should not bury our head in the sand like an ostrich, but we should look into the future with open eyes and ask ourselves the sharpest questions....

This is a huge problem, in scope as well as in significance, we need to tackle it continuously, but the first exchange should take place as early as late December [1988]-early January 1989. There will be a working conference of the Party leadership of the commonwealth in Prague in February, and this gives us a chance to share some of our conclusions with our friends.

How to Cite this Source

Georgy Shakhnazarov, "Soviets Discuss Perestroika for Other Communist Countries." Making the History of 1989, #164.