I would like to call attention to a deeply serious problem that arises from the kind of democracy emerging today both in the Eastern European countries and in the Soviet Union.

In my opinion, the forms of democracy being established in these countries are exceptionally contradictory and in a very short time they will lead to serious internal conflict. That conflict has already started in Poland. It can be observed in Romania, and it is beginning in our country, too. What is happening apparently does not depend on the national characteristics of the particular countries involved, but on more fundamental processes.

I see the main problem in the relationship between, on the one hand, populism and, on the other, the tasks that must be carried out if the economy and the society are to be transformed. Clearly, we could not have overthrown the powerful totalitarian system without the active participation of millions of ordinary people. But now we must create a society with a variety of different forms of ownership, including private property; and this will be a society of economic inequality. There will be contradictions between the policies leading to denationalization, privatization, and inequality on the one hand and, on the other, the populist character of the forces that were set in motion in order to achieve those aims. The masses long for fairness and economic equality. And the further the process of transformation goes, the more acute and the more glaring will be the gap between those aspirations and economic realities.

We must create an effective economy. But the masses of workers participating in the economy are not thinking about how to organize work more effectively; they are thinking about being consumers and of having more goods to consume. If economic transformations are to work, we must create an effective apparatus for management, yet the masses have an intense hatred of any bureaucracy. Whatever assessment we may make of perestroika, we constantly find that large numbers of ordinary citizens are interested in deep economic and social transformations only temporarily and then only during the first stages. And that interest is based not on an understanding of the new, but on a hatred for the old—a destructive motive.

Therefore, in the new democratic soviets in the USSR in which the radicals have won control, we observe a characteristic process. In the first stage, the stage of struggle with bureaucratic communism, most of the forces of society joined together to win; and indeed they are still winning victories over the communist bureaucracies. But no sooner does a bloc or identifiable group of democrats take power and start discussing the question of what to do next than the democratic forces begin breaking apart. We now observe what could be called a renaissance of left-wing populism. But I would call the growing group of left-wing populists the New Communists.

They now criticize the democratic forces that have taken power for not solving one problem or another. Our Soviet trade unions are now the leading fighters for the right to strike and the main organizers of the strikes that take place. After our democratic group won the election in the Moscow soviet, a strike of the workers at all the children’s institutions in Moscow began only four days later. It was organized by the same union that had not allowed its members to strike for the last seventy years. Knowing all the acute difficulties of our society, knowing that its problems cannot be solved in a year, or two, or five, the leaders of these groups still demand that they be solved immediately. In a certain sense they are adopting the tactic we radicals used in previous stages of the struggle during the last few years. And Communists by nature are specialists in criticism. They criticized the tsar, the imperialists, the kulaks, the Zionists, and if there are no enemies, they find one. Now they are beginning to feel at home again. At last, they no longer have to build anything, they can sit back and criticize. And they have a huge backlog of experience in criticizing.

Therefore, we must anticipate that in the next few years our movement for democracy will clash with a growing, powerful, left populist movement, which will isolate itself and separate itself and its interests from other elements in the democratic movement. The fate of democracy will thus depend on whether or not we will be able to develop both a convincing position toward the left populism I have been describing and a convincing strategy for transforming society in the years to come.

In any case, the model of complete democracy we have been trying to follow is bound, in my view, to encounter serious difficulties: first through strikes and then through the consequences of yielding to the demands of left-wing populism, starting at the lower levels of the soviets, and then going higher and higher. Therefore it seems to me that we must make an intense effort to find new and different political mechanisms to bring about the transformations that must take place if we are to move into a new society. It is absolutely obvious to me that the purely democratic model now being pursued is leading to contradictions that can only grow more severe in the future.


The participants in the political struggle in our countries today lack the element that is most needed for them to shape a workable society: new forms of property. And in order for new forms of property and new political forces that would reflect them to appear, we need time. But that is precisely what we do not have. If we cannot soon denationalize and privatize property, we will be attacked by waves of workers fighting for their own interests. This will break up the forces of perestroika and put its future in question. The first conclusion from the analysis I have been making is that we must speed up changes in the forms of ownership. The second is that we must seek new mechanisms and institutions of political power that will depend less on populism.

The euphoria of the previous period, when we prevailed swiftly and easily, has no place in dealing with the future. Very serious difficulties lie ahead.

translated by Antonina W. Bouis

This Issue

August 16, 1990