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Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 27th Party Congress
by Mikhail Gorbachev
Novosti Press Agency Publishing, 1986
120 pp

On February 25, 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, addressed the Union's 27th Congress. It was a significant speech for a couple of reasons. First, coming just two months before the colossal technology fail at Chernobyl, his words stressing the need for safety in pursuing technology, ring prophetic. Second, in hindsight of the collapse of the Union five years later, his words to the faithful come across as incredibly naive. Even by Soviet standards. I know many will question the usefulness of revisiting a speech given by a fallen leader of a failed state; especially a failed communist state. What can Gorbachev - a Leninist to the core - possibly teach us?

Little Green Men
Gorby's speech that winter day in 1986 lacked much of the fire of his predecessors. Though he scolds the party for its failings, he also praises its accomplishments, promising they can do better. More importantly, on the state of the world, rather than categorically condemning the imperial nations of the West for their global shortcomings, he offers a vision of nations - East and West - working together toward common goals, in a glaring departure from past leadership:

    The global problems, affecting all humanity, cannot be resolved by one state or a group of states. This calls for cooperation on a worldwide scale, for close and constructive joint action by the majority of countries. This cooperation must be based on completely equal rights and a respect for the sovereignty of each state. It must be based on conscientious compliance with accepted commitments and with the standards of international law. Such is the main demand of the times in which we live . . .

    We are perfectly well aware that not everything by far is within our power and that much will depend on the West, on its leaders' ability to see things in sober perspective at important cross-roads of history. The US President said once that if our planet were threatened by a landing from another planet, the USSR and USA would quickly find a common language. But isn't a nuclear disaster a more tangible danger than a landing of extra-terrestrials? Isn't the ecological threat big enough?

While Gorbachev's departure from tradition is noteworthy, he still blasts capitalism as a greed-based system of enslavement, and makes numerous references to Lenin's great intellect, and the importance of trusting the plan. (Under different circumstances, one can't help thinking, he might be a prime candidate for Qanon.) Not only does Gorby's call for unity split with past leadership, it also foreshadows the policy for which he would become known: Glasnost. Although Glasnost - meaning "openness and transparency" - is not mentioned by name, a little further into the speech he all but declares the decade old policy of Detante a corpse. With no formal policy as yet to replace it, he stops short. However, in a matter of months, with the concepts of Glasnost unveiled, the West would understand what Gorbachev was driving at in his address. It was the first roll-out of a gradual, but radical shift in policy, that in a twist of irony, would ultimately contribute to the Union's dissolution in 1991.

      "The US President said once that if our planet were threatened by a landing from another planet, the USSR and USA would quickly find a common language. But isn't a nuclear disaster a more tangible danger than a landing of extra-terrestrials?"

Further into the speech he calls for more productivity, and less red tape. He even toys with private money management, suggesting worker collectives who run lean operations be entitled to keep the savings and use them to increase wages, or even to fund private business enterprises. Meanwhile, managers were encouraged to remove dead wood - employees who collect more in wages than they contribute - and eliminate unearned income. Save for the inequality of earned versus unearned income, all very familiar concepts of capitalism.

Too Big to Fail
Many of these policy changes were necessitated because the Soviet Union was running full gait toward an economic wall. Little did Gorbachev know in February 1986, it was too late to turn the tide. Nor were the Soviet people aware of the imminent danger. We'd like to think such a thing couldn't happen in the West, but recent history has shown us otherwise. On that day in February 1986, as Gorby stood before the 27th Party Congress, he was unaware of the financial ruin - indeed political ruin too - on the horizon for the Soviet system he led. It had, through war and famine, held for nearly seventy years. Why shouldn't it hold for seventy more? It was a nuclear power, after all.

Fragility was likely not a word Gorbachev associated with his Union, and certainly not a word the men and women he addressed that day associated with it. In general, it's not a term we associate with superpowers, particularly our own. Yet, we have to ask ourselves as Americans - especially after the events of January 6, 2021 - if we're not so unlike the members of the Soviet's 27th Congress. Are we going about our business, as they did in 1986, complacent in a false security the Republic is too strong to fail? If the answer is yes, it's due time we take a hard, honest look at the state of our own Union.

posted 07/04/21