The Gorbachev Prospect

Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World

by Mikhail Gorbachev
Harper and Row, 254 pp., $19.95

More than a month after the first advance publicity by the publishers, and half a month after the appearance of the Russian edition in Moscow, the English edition of Mr. Gorbachev’s book has finally appeared in American bookshops and become available to the American reviewer. It is, as such books go, a handsome one, with an equally handsome photograph of Mikhail Sergeyevich’s face on the back cover, with nothing to show, to be sure, that the book is a translation; or who was the translator, but for the most part it is not badly translated.

The first question that will presumably be asked about this book is: Did Gorbachev write it himself? The answer is: in all probability yes, most of it, at least. Aside from the fact that he is not known to be given to the use of ghostwriters, it is hard to think of anyone who could have written it on his behalf. The delicacy of some of the subjects treated, the boldness of statement, the relative freshness and directness of style, and the defensive undertone of portions of argument: all these point to an extensive measure of personal involvement on his part with the authorship of the work.

A second, and related, question is, then: To what extent do the contents of the book reflect his own unadulterated thinking, and to what extent did it require or reflect approval, if not formal clearance, by his senior associates? Here the answer is more complicated. He was writing in this instance in the first person, speaking only in his own name and committing only himself. In such circumstances, the rules of clearance were presumably quite different from what they were in the case of his numerous official speeches and reports, where he was speaking in the name of one or another of the senior party bodies; and one may assume that he enjoyed a greater liberty to present things as he saw them.

On the other hand he could not, in matters of established policy, go much beyond what had been agreed to and announced by those senior bodies in formal session, especially since a great deal of all that was the reflection of his own ideas and initiatives. Beyond which, it is not to be supposed that he could or would have produced a work of such importance without at least letting his senior associates know what he was doing and giving them an opportunity to register objections. One may surmise, therefore, that what appears in this book represents a body of material with which his associates were, for the most part, in agreement, or to which they were unwilling to register objection. If the defensive undertones, mentioned above, suggest that there were still many in the Soviet hierarchy who were opposed to Gorbachev’s program, these were evidently people who had opposed it all along, on the basis of his many previous statements and initiatives, and not just because of what is repeated in …

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Letters

The Gorbachev Prospect’: An Exchange March 17, 1988