In the Years of Perestroika

In the Years of Perestroika

“Hitherto, it was on the periphery of the Empire that conflicts and explosions had occurred; and it must be admitted that they had not really come as a surprise. But now, it is against the very center of our system that the large-scale workers’ strikes are directed, the power of the Party,” which presumably represented “the future and the aspirations of the working class. . . . This did come as a complete surprise to everyone: our Marxist theoreticians, our bureaucrats, our technocrats and to us, the intellectual democrats. How often, in our Moscow kitchens, have we scoffed at the passivity and ignorance of the working class!”

These lines, quoted from an editorial in the Literaturnaia Gazeta at the time of the major strikes by miners in Donbas and Kuzbas in July 1989, provide a basis for a discussion of the worker movement in the Soviet Union during the troubled period of perestroika. Since 1985-1986 the call for reforms from above launched social currents, with resistance from the conservatives and opposition from elements wanting more radical changes. The result was to force the reformers to adapt their program to the demands and the pace of a movement stimulated by the new-found freedom of speech. As a result, the intelligentsia and then the nationalities began to stir. The working class, meanwhile, remained, in the words Rosa Luxemburg used to describe the German working class in 1918, in a state of “rigor mortis. “

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Lima