To Indians as well as to other non-Russians, the words are perplexing perestroika, glasnost. Even when translated into English as Restructuring and Openness, they do not mean much to most people.

And yet the Soviet experiment underlying these two concepts is one of enormous significance, not only to socialism in the USSR, but also to the future of humanity and to the course of history itself. Socialism as a State system becomes this year 70 years old. It was a turbulent period of history, which saw two world wars, the rise and fall of the League of Nations, the emergence of the United Nations, the era of decolonialisation and at the same time the emergence of new forms of imperialism, no-colonialism and sophisticated Capitalism.

Soviet leaders now freely admit that the path of socialist construction has not always been straight. On the one hand Soviet Party leadership is unanimous in the view that Trotsky was wrong. The idea of a permanent and universal revolution is rejected by all. The decision by made by the party in the debate with Trotsky was to strengthen socialism in one country before trying to spread revolution thinly over all societies. The wisdom of the path chosen by the Party under Stalin’s leadership in this regard has been shown by history. If the Soviet Union had not emerged as a strong and powerful state, capitalist states would have joined together to crush all socialist movement.

Stalin’s great achievement in building a strong economy with high military capability during the rise of Nazi power and after the second World War is still to be praised. But there was much that Stalin did which was unnecessary and inhuman for example the personality cult and the psychological climate of secrecy, mistrust, and espionage that Stalin established in the Soviet Union.

The capitalist media would have decried socialist construction in any case, since socialism, is seen as the enemy of capitalism. But Stalin’s excess in fostering the personality cult and the mutual suspicion and mistrust among people gave ample material to socialism’s enemies to generate a climate of anti communist public opinion.

These undemocratic aspects of Stalinism has also had severe economic consequence. It may have been necessary at one time to have a strongly centralized administration in order to fight the enemies of socialism. But socialism is essentially a democratic humanism, and where people lose initiative and creativity socialism cannot freely flourish. Undemocratic central control stifles initiative and creativity; it also makes it difficult for the workers to experience any real control over the product of their labour.

Soviet leadership now admits that there has been some alienation of the worker due to undemocratic centralism and the climate of mistrust created by too much regulation and control of the personal life and thought of individual persons. A culture of repression will that economic productivity on the one hand, and can introduce an element of fascism inside Socialism.

The present programme of perestroika (reconstruction or restructuring) and Glasnost (openness in free discussion, in mutual trust, and in cultural creativity) is directed against these evils.

The pressure for military spending and militarisation of economy caused by the arms race and the arms trade fostered by capitalism has had its effect on the Soviet economy also. It is difficult for any nation, socialist or capitalist, to bear this burden of military expenditure, which keeps growing. The stock market crash of October 1987 clearly shows that the capitalist economies which enjoyed a temporary boom through new jobs and new markets created by increased military budgets and increased arms trade, have to pay the price. It is the temporary boom that ended in the horren - dons and world – wide crash in capitalist company stocks- amounting to a loss of something like three trillion dollars in world stock values.

Percentage- wise this crash was just as big as the last big crash in 1929 which initiated the world- wide depression at that time. It is a warning now that the collapse of the capitalist system as such cannot be too far in the future. Deficit budgeting and unproductive military spending, along with unrealistic credit and finance policies have led to the heightening of the capitalist crisis.

But the socialist economies have also been suffering inordinately by the pressure for military spending. If the socialist way of life is ultimately to triumph over the capitalist way, it is necessary that the standard of living in socialist economies has to rise. This is hardly possible so long as the pressure to spend on useless arms and armies keeps on growing.

Even to develop the necessary safe- guards against President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, (which can be understood only as part of a strategy for aggression against socialism), the socialist economies have to increase their production at a very high rate. The Soviet government and the CPSU do not plan to develop their own space –based nuclear umbrella, since that would be a foolish waste. What is needed is to disable the space- based weapons of the capitalist world. This should cost less than ten percent of what it costs to manufacture and deploy these space weapons. Even that ten percent, however, amounts to billions of dollars, and the Soviet economy has to make a heroic effort, like the one made for post- war reconstruction on order to be able to pay the bills.

This is why the question of raising the level of socialist gross domestic product has become a matter of life and death both to meet the pressure created by S. D. I. And to increase the standard of civilian consumption in the socialist economies. Both are necessary for the survival and ultimate triumph of socialism.

Among the constraints on economic production in the socialist countries the CPSU and its General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachov has isolated several factors. The two main constraints are :

  1. Pressures for military spending and
  2. The stifling of human creativity and responsibility by undemocratic centralism.

These are the two targets that the CPSU programme wants to fight. The only way to ease the pressure for military spending is disarmament and détente. Without tackling this problem forthrightly the major constraint on socialist development cannot be removed. That is why Mikhail Gorbachov has advanced so many realistic proposals not only for eliminating Intermediate range nuclear missiles altogether, for cutting the strategic nuclear arsenal by 50% as a first step to their climination, and to reduce conventional forces and weapons, but also to create a new climate of mutual trust and co- operation in which a new system of comprehensive global can be developed.

Disarmament, development and the establishment of a comprehensive system of global security- all three are interdependent and have to be fostered as three aspects of a single programme for humanity as a whole. This is a moral issue. It is a matter of seeing the vision of a new united, disarmed humanity working in scientific, technical and cultural collaboration to make life on this planet worthy of the dignity of human beings. Without such a vision, the three inter- connected aspects of the single programme cannot make any spectacular progress.

The CPU is also convinced about the centrality of the “human factor” in fostering such a programme. We should deal with this human factor in both its economic and cultural aspects.

In the economy as well as in culture the two current emphasis are on (a) expansion and deepening of democracy and (b) the promotion of self- management in all social spheres. This is where perestroika and glasnost come in.

Self- administration by the people of the economy is a classical Marxist principle, which gathered dust during the Stalinist era of over- centralization. It has now to be cleaned and refurbished It was a mistake to condemn this principle of self- administration by the people as a revisionist fad.

Self-administration by the people is not in contradiction with centralized planning and control. These are mutually compatible and have to be held in dialectic tension. It is this dialectic aspect that the Stalinist era ignored, opting for the single pole of centralism.

Along with the principle of self-administration, there is the second principle of a fresh interpretation of property relations. Social or public property does not mean simply a state-owned and state-controlled no-man’s land for the workers. Workers are co-owners of the means of production, and are directly responsible for the performance of an economic unit.

The new law passed by the Soviet Parliament in June 87 expressly states that the assets of an economic unit belong to its workers or personal. This is a radical effort to move towards the more classical Marxist view of property, which insists on harmonising the interests of the economy as a whole. What is good for the individual worker, and when the two are not conflict, it is good for socialism too. This is bold rethinking and restructuring building on Lenin’s dictum that genuine socialism is a system of civilized co-operatives.

In practice this means work-related wages and performance related incentives based on the profit or loss of an economic unit as a whole, and the productivity of the individual worker. This of course is without prejudice to the social guarantees of socialism-namely employment, housing, education, medical care and old age pension to all workers.

The Market is now more realistically assessed. Market forces constitute on factor to be taken into account, but should not be allowed to dictate the relations of production. Just as there is a dialectic between self-management and central planning, there is also a dialectic between market forces and central planning, and the dialectic tension should not be given up in favour of one pole or the other.

(The Star of the East, Vol. 9, Nos. 3 & 4, 1987)