Glasnost & democracy

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Fri Jun 23 23:57:10 MDT 1995

Just a brief note on the recent discussion in which the
"Glasnost/Perestroika" period in the former U.S.S.R. came up.

The important thing to remember about Glasnost is that it was
partly a myth.  The censorship never really ended, and the debate
was restricted as much as possible to one between sections of the
"nomenklatura" (literally, I think, "people with titles" or
"office holders" in normal American-English usage).

I had a chance to talk with Boris Kagarlitsky at a party given
for him here in the Bay Area when he was doing a speaking tour,
and he told me an anecdote which I think gives a clear picture of
the "openness" of "Glasnost":

Kagarlitsky had an article accepted by a journal published by the
Leningrad Komsomol.  The censor held up publication for eight
months, then finally permitted it on the condition that one
phrase was deleted from every use--"democratic socialism".
Kagarlitsky didn't know whether the censor in question was on the
side of capitalist "democracy" or stalinist "socialism", but he
was clear that the two were incompatible, and that for the
nomenklatura it was a choice between them.

In this same period, the Gallup Organization did a public opinion
poll in the U.S.S.R.  People were given four choices as to what
type of society they would prefer:

"Socialism as we have known it"
"Democratic socialism"
"A social-democratic welfare state like Sweden"
"Capitalism as found in the United States and Britain"

I forget, unfortunately, the exact figures for the two first
placers in the poll, but "democratic socialism" had a plurality,
followed by "a social-democratic welfare state like Sweden",
followed by "capitalism as found in the United States and
Britain" (17%), followed by "socialism as we have known it"
(10%).  For those of you slow at addition, that means that 73% of
the population wanted either socialism or social democracy, while
the question posed to them from above was bureaucratic state
planning or Reagan-Thatcherism.  (In Ukraine, as I recall, there
was a majority for "democratic socialism", but I may be

The option which is ever-unacceptable to those at the top is
democracy--they "just don't get it".  They can't understand it,
they know it won't work, they know they have to protect the
foolish masses from their own instinctive preference for it.

Those familiar with public opinion polls in the United States and
how they contrast with the arguments among the elites and their
political lickspittles will recognize a certain similarity.
Overwhelming majorities in this country want military spending
cut, almost no one wants cuts in education and health services.
The Democrats and Republicans, of course, argue about how much
and how to cut education and health.

Tom Condit

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