The following dialogue between Abraham Brumberg and Irving Howe took place in early October 1989. Abraham Brumberg is a widely published authority on Soviet and Eastern European affairs and editor of the forthcoming Perestroika: Chronicle of a Revolution, published by Pantheon Books —Eds .
IH: Some questions about the fate of perestroika: There is a general sense that, although the achievements of glasnost are remarkable, perestroika as a socioeconomic transformation is facing grave difficulties. Boris Yeltsin recently said that he gives Gorbachev a year. If there are no significant improvements, there could follow serious dislocations. I notice also among some commentators a kind of anticipatory glee at the difficulties of perestroika, as if the confirmation of conservative ideology is more important than the success of Gorbachev’s effort. Within the Bush administration there clearly are influential people who feel nostalgic for the days of cold war and are not especially eager for perestroika to succeed. So I raise these questions: What in general is the situation today with regard to perestroika? Do you agree that a coup against Gorbachev would, right now, be a disaster for the entire world, since it might restart the cold war and impose a new authoritarianism on the Russian people?
AB: Yes, the achievements of glasnost surpass those of perestroika. But let’s keep things in proportion. First, the two are interrelated—you can’t have restructuring without the right to expose all the evils of the system, past and present, and to advocate alternatives. In turn, the overhauling of basic institutions encourages more free discussion and criticism. To separate one from the other strikes me as an academic exercise.
Second, what do we mean by perestroika? The word refers not only to economic transformations. The Soviet economy, of course, is in terrible shape,