Alexander Yakovlev Speech: Sanford S. Elberg Lecture; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Alexander Yakovlev:
The Future of Democracy in Russia: The Lessons of Perestroika and the Question of the Communist Party; Elberg Lecture in International Studies, 2/22/93

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The End of Communism and the Emergence of Democracy

At least two common traits can be traced in all of those five positions. First of all, each of those five approaches is of an evaluative nature. This is an evaluation that is given on the basis of certain political or ideological preferences, on the basis of personal or group preferences, but not on the basis of preliminary analysis, not on the basis of knowledge, not on the basis of penetrating into the truth of phenomena. In many cases it is with the intention of stepping away from scientific analysis, probably due to a fear of such analysis. Second, each of those evaluations has produced a sort of "from inside" perestroika and "from inside" relations which were brought to life by perestroika. Of course, those who share either of those positions cannot get untangled from the time in which they live, from the political process they are participants to, and from the place they keep within the political process. They are not trying to look at perestroika objectively and identify what it was trying to change and what it has really changed in a broad social and historical perspective.

I cannot say that there are no broad estimates at all. Yet what prevails in attempts at broader estimates and broader evaluations is just one approach, that is, that communism is over, that communism has collapsed. There is no longer the totalitarian state that was brought about by communism. There is no longer lack of freedom within that state and the political surroundings of that state. Either it was a collapse of utopia, which existed for, nobody knows why, such a long time, or more probably it was an end of an unbelievable crime, huge in dimensions of space and time. It seems this collapse removed are all the problems and all the questions which were in people's minds for decades. In this sense, it would be senseless to discuss the lessons of perestroika to begin with, because one can draw no conclusions from crime. In this case, perestroika itself acquires anecdotal dimensions. The attempt to turn from utopia to real life, well, at least this is something sensible.

Although people's consciousness was brought up with utopia and it has put up with utopia, it is hardly believable that it can be easily turned toward realities of life. And if it is a crime, then whatever interpretation we would give to it, it cannot be turned into a noble deed. I think one can understand the reformation movement in my country when one recognizes things that are probably politically unpleasant but they no doubt exist in the current conditions in Russia. I think that communism should not be barred; it is too early to bar it. It is true that it is in a very deep crisis which touches upon both its practice and its ideology. It is true that it has created many ugly things, but it has not collapsed yet. It seems not to exist in the countries of Eastern Europe to which it was imported. But even here I would not exclude the possibility of something unexpected. It continues to exist in a very specific form of the psychology of hope in those areas in which it originated under the influence of domestic rather than outside factors.

Communism does not seem to suffer any outwardly visible crisis in China and in North Korea. It keeps standing in Cuba. It is trying to reform itself in Vietnam and in China. It drives several civil wars for it's own survival such as the ones in Yugoslavia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. It has sacrificed the party in power in the Soviet Union, but it has actually maintained control over many important walks of life in general, and social life in particular. In this context I would mention not only Russia but the Ukraine, Belorussia, and Uzbekistan in general. I do not mean to say that sort of situation is not going to change. I simply do not know. But I think that in the interest of political common sense we should not take slogans for realities.

Equally dangerous in my opinion is the belief that the collapse of communism equals the collapse of totalitarianism. It is true that Stalinism is a synonym for totalitarianism but equally true is the statement that pre-revolutionary Russia, especially the Czarist Russia, could not be considered a democratic state. One can remember quite a number of states in the twentieth century which were market economies and which were non-communist, or even anti-communist, but which were very cruel dictatorships at the same time. In other words, the collapse of communism is not the same as the emergence of democracy and it does not make us free from the possibility of the emergence of new dictatorships.

Next page: The Rational Basis and Idealistic Intentions of Perestroika

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