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Four lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union

By Liu Shulin

A tide of reform spread in the socialist states in the 1980s. However, just like running faces bigger risk of falling down than walking, the reforms in socialist countries are even vulnerable.

The lessons from the failure of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) are valuable for China, which is experiencing reform today.

Firstly, the party should not give up its leadership of the country during the reforms. The CPSU, though it had been plagued by corruption to a severe degree, could have been resurrected. But in the clamor of “limitless openness,” the CPSU had lost its control of the intelligentsia, theory circles and the media.

Secondly, reforming should not abandon the principle of public ownership as economic foundation. The socialist public ownership has determined the nature of socialism and guaranteed the people can manage themselves. It is also the most substantial part of the socialist system. As long as the position of public ownership is sustained, the foundation of socialist countries stays, no matter how the reforms proceed.

On July 1, 1991, the Soviet Union’s Supreme Soviet passed a privatization law, which regulated that the State-owned enterprises could be turned to collective or shareholding enterprises, and they could be sold or auctioned.

In the same month, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote to the G7 summit to inform them that the first two years of the plan would see 80 percent of medium- or small- sized enterprises sold to individuals and then the mode of massive private enterprises was promoted.

Privatization generated the privileged class and produced class differentiation in the Soviet Union, which could only lead to two results: a reshuffle of the country because of a sharp U-turn in policy on the part of the ruling party, or an angry public struggling with the new reality.

Thirdly, reforming doesn’t simply mean denying previous leaders. Nikita Khrushchev repudiated Joseph Stalin in the “Secret Speech” in 1956. And from then on the anti-Stalin movement lasted several decades in the Soviet Union, and led to the disastrous consequences of denying the history of the Soviet Union, and finally opposing the systems and goals of communism.

However, merely denying the past does not help solve the problem. During the reforms in the 1980s, Gorbachev changed the direction of the Soviet Union based on the so-called “new thinking.”

What was the ultimate purpose of the reform? Should the reform persist in following the principles of socialism? On these fundamental issues, Gorbachev showed nothing but enormous blindness.

Fourthly, the reform should not rely on external powers. The US never changed its goal of trying to “peacefully transform” the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. It took steps to put ideological pressure on socialist countries, while the leaders of the Soviet Union who supported reform took no precautions at all.

Gorbachev cared about evaluation and praise from the US, and his efforts to promote openness and the so-called “cultural autonomy” were all in the hope of obtaining US support.

Moreover, he is claimed to have first called the US president after the attempted coup by Soviet hardliners and left his house arrest only after asking the US president for instructions.

It is understandable to keep contact with the Western countries under the open situation, but it is necessary to maintain a sober mind, and to take effective precautions.

The author is a professor at the School of Social Sciences at Tsinghua University.

Source: Global Times

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