Gorbachev Discusses the Impact of Western Goods in the Eastern Bloc
At a March 10, 1988, Politburo meeting, Mikhail Gorbachev (leader of the Soviet Union) delineated his concerns about the growing influence of Western goods on Eastern bloc countries. He recognized that there existed minimal economic trade within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and indicated the importance of rebuilding trade within COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) to ensure stability in the region. Gorbachev's message demonstrates Soviet concern over the new directions that Eastern European countries were taking in the late 1980s. Business as usual, as Gorbachev noted, no longer was sufficient to maintain the economic relationships that had been in place for many decades. This document also shows that Eastern bloc countries turned to the West for economic trade long before the final collapse of communism in the region.
A Meeting of the Politburo, March 10,1988
Gorbachev: The HPR [Hungarian People's Republic] and the PPR [Polish People's
Republic] have a volume of differentiated trade with the West three times as large as we
have. W; look at them askance when they walk away toward the West, but we c-mot
replace [Western goods] with anything. In COMECON we almost have no trade. Only
primitive exchange. The essence is in oil [from the Soviet Union]. And our
representatives feel no need to trade with them. And they do not feel it either. In the
European Union there is a market, but not in COMECON. They [Eastern Europeans]
even sell us food for currency.
Our assistance [programs to Eastern Europe] alone take 41 billion [rubles]
annually from our budget. Cuba takes 27 billion. In relations with COMECON we must
take care, first of all, of our own people. It has become excessively hard for us to conduct
business as we have been doing for the last decades. The program [of socialist
integration] is dead...
For instance, Poland, [First Secretary Eduard] Gierek. What was it all based on?
On the credits from the West and on our cheap fuel. The same is [true] with Hungary.
There are specific features in Yugoslavia. But even Yugoslavia is on the brink of
collapse. We should draw lessons from ail this.
What is our approach? Our priority is the political stability of the socialist
countries. This is our vital interest, including the perspective of our security.
...We need the goods from socialist countries. And we bear our responsibility for
[the future of) socialism. In an economic sense socialism has not passed the practical test.
Therefore we should hang on. Although the situation is gripping us at the throat [dushit],
This is the first tiling we should keep in mind. We cannot isolate ourselves from
COMECON. But what is to be done? The main objective in our approach is what we
have been trying to achieve today - to accelerate [nazhimat nu] the scientific-technical
revolution, development of machine-building interests, technological reconstruction, This
will liberate [the socialist campl from the purchase of technologies [from the West],
Consequently, this will free up hard currency...
We should be candid with COMECON and tell them: should we become
integrated or not? And they must make up their mind, because we cannot forever remain
a provider of cheap resources for you. If they tell us "no," then our hands arc free.. .
Source: Notes ofAnatoly Chernyaev. The Archive of Gorbachev Foundation, Fund 2,
Translated by Vladislav Zuhok
The National Security Archive
Notes from a Politburo Meeting, 10 March 1988, Archive of Gorbachev Foundation, trans. Vladislav Zuhok, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).