The Secret History of Perestroika

The Secret History of Perestroika

Mini Teaser: Gorbachev has shown that, intentionally or unintentionally, he can destroy the Soviet system comprehensively.  It remains doubtful whether he can replace what he has destroyed.

by Author(s): Frederick Kagan

The conflict between the two is illustrated by an anecdote Burlatsky relates.  He had written an article about Yugoslavia's movement toward the free market in the 1960s.  It was, by the standard of the times, radical, for it took a positive view of these new developments.  Andropov sent Burlatsky a long note asking him to withhold the article.  He argued that it was not time, that the article would be incendiary and counterproductive.  Burlatsky yielded.

I did not agree with him, but I believed that, as distinguished from us, the young advisers coming from scientific or journalistic circles, [Andropov] understood politics as the art of the possible.  He knew not only what it was necessary to do, but also how it may be achieved in concrete conditions....(11)

The disagreement did not prevent Burlatsky from working with Andropov, but it points to a division within the intra-party reform movement that appears to have continued through the years.

The Reformist Diaspora

In the early 1960s the intra-party reform movement began to fall on hard times.  In May 1964 Kuusinen died.  His power could not have been great by the end, but his death removed Andropov's support in the Politburo.  When Khrushchev was ousted in October 1964, all powerful support for reform of any kind disappeared.  Andropov and his group of advisers found themselves in an exposed position.  Burlatsky decided that he could not write the sort of hard-line dogma that the Brezhnev-Kosygin government wanted and quit the Central Committee apparatus, much to Andropov's dismay.  His place as head of the group of advisers was taken by Georgi Arbatov in 1965.  Early in 1967, however, Arbatov accepted a position as head of the newly-formed Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada and he, too, left the group.  Alexander Bovin replaced him.  As he makes clear in Voices of Glasnost, Bovin shares Burlatsky's enthusiasm for Andropov unreservedly.

Andropov was the first major political figure in my life--a kind of mentor.  You see his picture on the shelf here in my office.  Andropov was a born politician...but he was also an undogmatic, knowledgeable intellectual.  We'd spend hours arguing about some problem, he with his coat off and his shirtsleeves rolled up....(12)

Bovin's service under Andropov was to be short, however, for within a few months Andropov was transferred to the post of chairman of the KGB and separated from the advisory group.  Burlatsky makes it very clear that Andropov's transfer was unwelcome.

As for Andropov becoming head of the KGB in 1967, I'll tell you what really happened.  He was forced to leave his post as a Central Committee Secretary and go to the KGB.  Under Khrushchev, Andropov was being groomed to become the successor to Mikhail Suslov....The first thing Suslov did after Khrushchev's ouster was to demand that Brezhnev remove Andropov as a Central Committee Secretary by sending him to the KGB.  Suslov thought this would make it impossible for Andropov ever to return to leadership politics because after Stalin's death there was no precedent for a KGB chief becoming a Central Committee Secretary.  Suslov wanted to end Andropov's political career.  But Brezhnev was a man of grand compromises.  He agreed to Suslov's demand, but at the same time promoted Andropov to candidate membership on the Politburo.  Eventually, after Suslov's death in 1982, that made it possible for Andropov to return.  It was always his dream while he was at the KGB.  I remember when he left the Central Committee in 1967, he gathered his associates and pledged, "I will return to the Central Committee."(13)

It must have been an emotional scene.  Burlatsky had gone into a self-imposed exile, Arbatov had left to head a new institute of dubious power, and Andropov pledged to his remaining allies that he would return to a position of power one day.

The interim was a bad time for the members of the advisory group.  Burlatsky went to work for Pravda as a political commentator, but lost his job in 1967 for being too radical.  He then went to work with Alexander Rumyantsev at the Institute for World Economics and International Relations.  Rumyantsev was also a radical reformer and was trying to gather a group similar to Andropov's around himself, but the Brezhnev mafia caught up with him, fired him, and broke up his group in 1972.  Burlatsky went to head a section at the Institute for State and Law.  In 1975 he became head of the Institute of Social Science and in 1976 vice president of the Soviet Political Science Association.  He remained at that post until 1982.

Alexander Bovin, a more flexible man than Burlatsky, fared somewhat better.  He remained head of what had been Andropov's group of advisers until 1972, when he went to work for Izvestia as a political writer.  In all probability he was transferred from the Central Committee against his will.  As he puts it today, "Sometimes the Communist Party feels that an individual ought to have a new assignment somewhere else.  In my case, it was suggested to me that I ought to go to Izvestia as a political writer."(14)  He remains there to this day.

Georgi Arbatov proved most successful of all.  He still heads the USA-Canada Institute.  This is technically under the control of the USSR Academy of Sciences, but the KGB relies heavily upon it for information and disinformation about the United States.  It is likely that Arbatov was able to maintain contacts with Andropov in a much more normal fashion than any of the other consultants during Andropov's years as head of the KGB.

The Long March

Andropov's own position was also difficult.  Since Stalin's rise in the 1920s, the position of supreme power in the Soviet Union has been that of general secretary of the Central Committee (CC) of the CPSU.  No one has ever held that position who did not rise through the ranks of the Secretariat of the CC CPSU.  Andropov's transfer to a position outside of the Secretariat seemed an insurmountable obstacle to his progress to ultimate power.  Also, no previous chairman of the KGB had ever risen to supreme power.  He could only hope to succeed by so pleasing those in power that they might call him back from exile.  He could please them, however, only by pursuing policies which flatly contradicted his own sentiments.  The ample evidence suggests that Andropov became a model "hardliner" for a time, not out of conviction but simply in order to attain power.

His willingness to compromise was tested almost immediately.  In 1968 he helped crush brutally the Prague Spring, impressing his overlords with his ability and loyalty.  He then turned on a dissident movement (the so-called "law-defending" movement), exaggerating its importance and twisting its meaning so that it appeared to aim at the overthrow of the Soviet state--which it did not.

In 1979 Andropov appears to have actively supported the invasion of Afghanistan.  The KGB maintains a system of spies and informants within the armed forces for the purpose of monitoring on unit morale, cohesiveness, and effectiveness, as well as combating any "spies" who may have crept into the ranks.  The KGB also performs some of the intelligence assessment functions carried out in America by the CIA and the NSA.  It is hard to imagine, therefore, that any Soviet general secretary would go to war without the active support of the chairman of the KGB.  At the very least, he would surely replace a reluctant chairman in such a critical position.  There is therefore good reason to believe that Andropov must have supported the invasion.

Part of the explanation for Andropov's contradictory behavior is sheer opportunism, which has characterized the whole Kuusinen-Andropov-Gorbachev reform movement.  The earliest reformer, Kuusinen, not only survived Stalin's regime but managed to advance his political career during that reign of tyranny.  What doing so involved--the way he conducted his life--is graphically illustrated by one episode.

In the 1930s, Kuusinen's son and his wife, Aino, were arrested and imprisoned by Stalin.  One day while talking with Kuusinen, Stalin asked him why he did not try to get his son released.  "Evidently there were serious reasons for his arrest," Kuusinen responded.  "Stalin grinned and ordered the release of Kuusinen's son."(15)  Kuusinen had not protested the imprisonment nor fought for the release of his wife and son.  Such a struggle might have led to his joining them in prison to no effect.  Despite this personal proof of Stalin's cruelty, however, the father of the intra-party reform movement continued to serve Stalin loyally for all the dictator's days.

Georgi Arbatov has displayed the same cool opportunism in his twenty-three year tenure as head of the USA-Canada Institute, through the stewardships of KGB heads Andropov, Fedorchuk, Chebrikov, and under the new chairman, Kryuchkov.  He has collected a small group of friends at the Institute, some of whom, like Nikolai Shmelyov, are now prominent reformers, but there is no indication that Arbatov has refused to take part in the Institute's many shady functions.

Fyodor Burlatsky stands distinct from the other reformers.  Always dubious about his role in government, he left as soon as he felt he could no longer produce what the government wanted.  (And when he left rather than sacrifice his principles, Andropov was angry with him.)

Essay Types: Essay