Conversations with Gorbachev

Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
ZDENĚK MLYNÁŘ
Translated by George Shriver
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gorb11864
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with Gorbachev
    Book Description:

    Mikhail Gorbachev and Zdenek Mlynar were friends for half a century, since they first crossed paths as students in 1950. Although one was a Russian and the other a Czech, they were both ardent supporters of communism and socialism. One took part in laying the groundwork for and carrying out the Prague spring; the other opened a new political era in Soviet world politics.

    In 1993 they decided that their conversations might be of interest to others and so they began to tape-record them. This book is the product of that "thinking out loud" process. It is an absorbing record of two friends trying to explain to one another their views on the problems and events that determined their destinies. From reminiscences of their starry-eyed university days to reflections on the use of force to "save socialism" to contemplation of the end of the cold war, here is a far more candid picture of Gorbachev than we have ever seen before.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50505-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
    Archie Brown

    This book, based on conversations between Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Zdenĕk Mlynář, is an important historical document. It provides insights into the evolution of the political ideas of two highly intelligent people—from dogmatic Communism to Communist reformism (or revisionism) to a social democratic understanding of socialism. When one of those concerned played the decisive role in the pluralization of Soviet politics and in the ending of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, that gives an especial significance to how his way of looking at the world gradually evolved.

    There are critics of Gorbachev who have denied that his ideas...

  4. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
    George Shriver
  5. AUTHOR’S PREFACE
    (pp. 1-10)
    Mikhail Gorbachev
  6. CONVERSATION ONE THE CRISS-CROSSING OF OUR PATHS
    • 1. STUDENT COMMUNISTS
      (pp. 13-27)

      Z.M. It would be worthwhile to begin our conversation with the question of why exactly we joined the Communist Party. The answer for each of us will probably be distinctly different, but at the same time this is where our common political biography begins. So I’ll start right off by trying to answer that question for myself.

      In general and on the whole this was not even connected, properly speaking, with my concepts of socialism. The decisive consideration was the war [World War II]. When the war ended I was fifteen years old, and not especially interested in social problems,...

    • 2. NEW HOPES AND NEW DISAPPOINTMENTS
      (pp. 28-39)

      Z.M. I think that the first ten years after Stalin’s death had a much greater effect on both our lives than we realized at the time. I see two reasons for this. We went from the university lecture hall into practical life, and that is always a time when a person goes through the process of completing his or her formation as an individual. The overall situation at the same time aroused hope that new conceptions would actually be implemented. The so-called socialist world looked impressive. It extended from Prague through Moscow to Peking. There was the revolution in Cuba...

    • 3. TWENTY YEARS, DIVERGENT PATHS
      (pp. 39-54)

      Z.M. This part of our conversation will be a little different in form. It will consist of short monologues, one following the other. Because now we are talking about a twenty-year period in which we did not see each other, a time when we were following such different paths that each of us needs to speak only about the path he was following independently.

      Z.M. Right now I’m not going to talk about my concepts of reform socialism which I sought to implement in 1968. We are sure to discuss that more than once later on in connection with our...

  7. CONVERSATION TWO HOW WE SOUGHT TO REINVIGORATE SOCIALISM
    • 1. THE PRAGUE SPRING AND ITS DEFEAT
      (pp. 57-66)

      Z.M. Beginning in approximately 1963, in my theoretical articles and articles on current events, I began working more systematically on questions concerning the possibility of linking socialism with democracy.

      Originally I took as my starting point certain basic ideas, or “theses,” put forward in Khrushchev’s 1961 program of the CPSU: the so-called state of the whole people, which was supposed to take the place of the dictatorship of the proletariat; and the development of elements of social self-management. These were general notions, but if a person took them seriously and was convinced that it was correct in principle to develop...

    • 2. MORE DEMOCRACY, MORE SOCIALISM
      (pp. 66-75)

      Z.M. When we met once again in December 1989 after a 22-year interval you said to me, among other things: “I don’t know of course what we will succeed in doing, what my attempts at perestroika will end up with. But it is quite clear that for the time being the people will have the possibility of demonstrating their will; the state of affairs could not be worse than it was when I became head of the party.”

      From this it was clear to me that you were firmly convinced that the people would support socialism, not reject it. That...

    • 3. FREEDOM OF CHOICE EITHER EXISTS OR IT DOESN’T
      (pp. 75-91)

      Z.M. One of the basic demands, Misha, that you linked with your policy of perestroika, especially after 1987, was the demand for freedom of choice. To give the people the possibility of freely choosing what path they wish to follow and what policy they wish to support. However, this is always a very complex and contradictory thing, not only in a transition from a totalitarian system to democracy. On top of that, when changing the system is involved, it is also a very risky business, because if freedom of choice is taken seriously, one cannot know with full certainty in...

    • 4. An Airplane That Took Off Without Knowing Where it would Land
      (pp. 91-102)

      Z.M. The comparison of the policies of perestroika with a helpless airplane that has taken off but doesn’t know where it’s going to land began to be used frequently, especially after 1989, by those who criticized the new policy above all because they were afraid to change the existing system (or in general did not want to). In a definite sense, it was mainly the slogan of the conservatives. At the same time, it embodied a certain element of truth: the end result of historical processes that involve fundamental change always remains open and unclear; no one can say with...

    • 5. WHAT TO DO WITH THE PARTY?
      (pp. 102-127)

      Z.M. In the attempt to fundamentally change a system of the Soviet type there was always a very important question: What role in this process ought to be played by the Communist Party, which had a monopoly on power? We both began as reformers within such a party, and we both based ourselves on the idea that the process of reform and of systemic changes must begin first of all within the Communist Party and under its leadership. I think that really was an essential precondition, so that systemic changes would not immediately, from the very beginning, result in explosions...

    • 6. CAN THE USE OF FORCE “SAVE SOCIALISM”?
      (pp. 127-134)

      Z.M. Misha, I think that it’s clear from our entire preceding conversation that we hold a similar view to the effect that it would not have been possible to “save socialism” by a continuation of the Soviet system of “actually existing socialism,” because that system really was not identical with socialism. Still less is it possible to “save socialism” by the use of force. Nevertheless, I would like to ask you this: If you look back on those years when you held supreme power in the USSR, doesn’t it seem to you that government intervention (that is, ultimately the use...

  8. CONVERSATION THREE THERE’S ONLY ONE WORLD
    • 1. BREAKING OUT OF THE DEAD END OF THE COLD WAR
      (pp. 137-146)

      Z.M. Everything that we have said so far can actually be stated, from the point of view of our conception of socialism, in the following sentence: On the basis of our own experience we ceased to identify socialism with a system of the Soviet type, and from this we gradually arrived at the conviction that socialism cannot be understood as an isolated “anticapitalist formation” existing apart in one or several countries. In other words, the so-called socialist camp did not have some sort of exclusive proprietary rights to socialism; on the other hand, it could not be said that the...

    • 2. SOCIALISM IS ALIVE AS A WORLD PROCESS
      (pp. 146-172)

      Z.M. Official Soviet ideology for many long years proclaimed that socialism exists only where certain general so-called laws of socialism are embodied in practice: public (or state) property in the decisive means of production, collective property in agriculture, economic planning obligatory for developing the economy, the leading role of the Communist Party (and through it, of the working class), and socialist internationalism, which in practice meant obligatory adherence to orders from Moscow for all other Communist parties.

      From the course of our conversation it has become quite unambiguously clear that each of us, in different ways and at different times,...

    • 3. AT A CROSSROADS OF CIVILIZATION
      (pp. 172-194)

      Z.M. Many people both in the West and the East, on the left and on the right, are under the impression now that with the end of the Cold War what dominates the world above all is a great uncertainty. Developments have become less predictable; political events and their consequences less subject to calculation. Things have passed beyond the control of the superpowers that at one time more or less kept them under control, because one of those superpowers, the USSR, has ceased to exist. It might seem that this would result in a situation in which the United States,...

  9. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS The Conscience of the Reformer
    (pp. 195-214)

    Z.M. At the conclusion of our conversations, Misha, it would probably be worth saying a few words about how we ourselves, on a completely subjective level, experienced the rather high drama represented by the attempt to reform “actually existing socialism.”

    There were several months of the Prague Spring, in which I had a personal role, and there were six years of perestroika, in which you had a personal role—although of course these two things cannot be equated in terms of historical and political importance. But as far as our subjective experiences, our purely personal impressions and sensations, are concerned,...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 215-226)