Moscow: Once again the country has been watching a congress on TV. Not everyone was watching this time, and not as intensely as they had been watching the Second Congress of People’s Deputies in June of last year, when hope still prevailed over distrust. But both then and today most of the delegates sitting in the Kremlin Palace were supported by a minority of the Soviet people that has been growing smaller and smaller. Now the gap between the Party elite and the people has almost reached its limit. On July 3 it was announced on television that 92 percent of Muscovites support the Democratic Platform calling for political and economic pluralism. Yet of the 4,500 delegates in the auditorium, only about one hundred were supporters of the Platform.
In any normal country people would think that there had been something improper about the elections that selected the delegates to the Party congress. But within the Communist party, I am convinced, the elections were scrupulously carried out—as usual. The Party members elected the people who were supposed to be elected. And for that reason alone I can say with confidence that our country is abnormal, pathological, sick. And our “advance guard” Party, until recently the only and the ruling Party, is the sickest organ in the body politic. That is what its elected members are really telling the country when they appear on the screen, even though they may think they are saying something else. The choice of words, the syntax, and the logic of sentence construction combine to form the usual clichés, in which the rare words that are true rattle like pebbles on a sieve—the kind of sieve that is used to separate wheat from chaff.
During the first three days of the congress, live, suffering words of truth were heard only two or three times—notably in a speech by Gorbachev’s liberal adviser Alexander Yakovlev. And when such words were heard not only we viewers (though we could not be mere onlookers when it was our fate that was being decided) but the indifferently applauding, or uninterestedly whispering, crowd in the Kremlin Palace froze. We viewers became hushed with gratitude just to hear the words, although we had no real hope that anything would come of them. The audience in the Party congress on hearing them suddenly became rigid and tense, as if getting ready for battle. A battle for what, and with whom?
The grains separated slowly from the chaff, first one word, then another, as Gorbachev asserted his control over the proceedings. There were only two truthful ideas—the people’s need for property, and their need for power. The first is the most important, the second its consequence. As the people—workers, peasants, young and old, not to mention “Soviet women,” who received more than the usual amount of typically male compliments from the delegates—we have virtually no property and nothing to do with property. The old slogan intended to justify Party control of property, “The people…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.