A controlled revolution
In the 80s it was no secret that communism as a formula of organisation of social and economic life is already dead. Despite this, most people who came to live under its yoke endured the hardships of everyday life without a murmur.
The reason for this passivity was obvious – fear of reprisals. Communism, though totally inefficient economically, still seemed to be a military and police power. A proof and a warning could be the Polish “Solidarity” – a grass-roots opposition movement of several million people which was almost completely destroyed during one December night of 1981. Jaruzelski, introducing the martial law, skilfully used the fear of both the alleged Soviet intervention and the economic collapse which, after all, he contributed to considerably. Many Poles abandoned any hope for change, assuming that the regime can be neither civilised nor – the more so – defeated. One should either emigrate or try to somehow plan own life.
Despite the enormous advantage over the subject society, communists were perfectly aware of the incoming economic disaster. Not only did the relevant departments in the Kremlin alert about it, but also the party think tanks in the Eastern Block, such as the Institute for Forecasting in Prague and the Institute of Financial Research in Budapest. Both still in 1986 recommended the controlled transition of planned economy to a free market, which gave the party nomenclature a chance of enfranchisement and maintaining control over the economy, and as a result over the state.
In Poland, since the mid-80s, the foundations of the future nomenclature capitalism has been built, forming companies formally trading with the West, which were actually a tool of special services reaping fat profit from this activity. Jadwiga Staniszkis has even coined the term Generation '84 – that is a group which was prepared to play the role of technocrats managing the economy.
Among those sent to the West to learn to act in new conditions Staniszkis included, inter alia, Marcin Święcicki and Leszek Balcerowicz. After 1987, the special services, especially the military ones, took control of the flow of public money into new private ventures. Primarily, commercial banks formed on the basis of branches of NBP were to serve this purpose.
In the Soviet Union – as proven by Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky – the principles of bandit capitalism of the 90s were formulated already in 1988, when secret instructions of the Soviet Politburo allowing commercial activity of the party were issued. At the same time, also the Komsomol received wide powers related to economic and financial activity. It is then that the biggest Russian oligarchs began their careers. Suffice it to mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky who, as a young activist of the Komsomol, opened the Menatep bank, lending support to high activists of the party and the KGB officers in transferring gigantic money from the party treasury to private accounts abroad. It is obvious that no one would be able to open a bank in the Soviet Union without the support of the authorities and the KGB.
Constructive opposition urgently needed
In order for this arrogant pillage to remain unnoticed, it was necessary to divert society's attention with political changes. Picking up a constructive – in other words, controlled – opposition began, and where there was none, e.g. in Bulgaria, special services created it from scratch. Everything on the initiative of the Kremlin, covered by it. In the Soviet Union itself, already on the second day after striking out of the constitution the monopoly of the communist party the grouping of Vladimir Zhirinovsky was established. As the late Mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak claimed, the decision on the creation of Zhirinovsky's party was taken in February 1990 by Mikhail Gorbachev personally. The idea was for the new grouping to divert society's attention with its nationalistic and aggressive rhetoric and “canalise” its moods, as well as to serve as a bugaboo in negotiations with the West.
Controlled pluralism was supposedly to be a return to the “sources of Leninism.” Gorbachev clearly imitated Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP) of the early 20s, which allowed the Bolsheviks survive the most difficult period and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the West. No wonder that the republican Popular Front, opposition organisations formed of the inspiration of the authorities and under the control of the KGB, mushrooming in the late 80s, were referring to the “Leninist” concept of self-determination, of course within the Soviet Union.
The “Leninist” economic liberalisation in the USSR initially was limited only to the legalisation of the cottage-industry activity, and only in time off work – after all, there still was the compulsion of employment. Later, the creation of company cooperatives was allowed. These modest solutions which allowed people earn additional money to a small salary and supplement the most serious shortages on the market also served covering up the gigantic material operations which occurred in the grey zone controlled by the authorities.
Everyone was to get their share in the capitalism being formed, whereas the size of this share depended on the position in the hierarchy of power. This economic model was pursued throughout the Eastern Bloc.
Therefore, the controlled revolution was – under the cover of economic liberalisation – to create a new model of ownership in which the existing nomenclature and special services would maintain control over the economy in the free market conditions. In turn, political liberalisation was to help legitimate this process and gain support of both own society and the West.
There are indications that already in 1984 the Soviets tried to communicate with the Americans to end the arms race devastating their economy. After taking power in 1985, Gorbachev put forward the concept of a “common European home,” which he presented to Ronald Reagan during their first meeting in Reykjavik in 1986. It assumed disarmament in Europe, which would mean for Americans – not less and not more – the liquidation of all of their military bases on the continent. Interestingly, at first Reagan was willing to agree to Gorbachev's trick. It was put out of his head by his advisers.
However, Gorbachev still tempted. The liberalisation of the economy, especially the democratisation of politics in the Eastern Bloc, was to persuade both the Americans and the Western Europeans that the Soviets are changing and they can be negotiated with. The Kremlin counted on the fact that the controlled revolution would make it credible in the eyes of Western Europe. The concept of the “common European home” assumed gradual integration of the Soviet Union and its satellites with the rest of Europe. This integration would mean, however, pushing Americans overseas, the liquidation of NATO and – as a result – widening influence of the Kremlin across the continent.
The issue of Germany was crucial here. Gorbachev was hoping to lead to its unification on his own terms, that is, in exchange for the destruction of the Berlin Wall he planned to demand the withdrawal of western Germany from NATO and the formation of a neutral, unified German state, favourable to Moscow. This plan was born back in the head of Stalin, however, despite the blockade of Berlin in 1948, the dictator could not implement it because of the strong response of the Western Allies. Later, this idea was revived in 1953 by Lavrentij Beria, however, it ended up on the fall of Beria and workmen's uprising in the GDR. Anyway – contrary to what people use to think today – it is hard to call Gorbachev's strategy defensive. In reality, it was an attempt of an offence, except that not by military force, but through manipulation and diplomatic measures.
It was difficult, however, to push the integration of the West with the regimes of Honecker, Ceausescu and Zhivkov. That is why they had to disappear. In exchange, the Soviets needed a submissive, fully controlled opposition. In other words, the revolution prepared in 1989 was not to liberate the Eastern Bloc from the Soviet domination, but on the contrary – it was to strengthen it and expand, if all went well, the whole continent.
The Soviet plan could have been a success on the condition of maintaining full control over all its elements. Already since 1987 special envoys of Gorbachev began wandering around the “fraternal countries:” Alexander Yakovlev, considered the main architect of perestroika and Vladimir Kryuchkov, chief of the KGB.
Kriuchkov recommended comrades from the Eastern Block, especially from Hungary and Poland which were the first to comply with the new guidelines from Moscow, to perform a “review” of the opposition existing in their countries in terms of its usefulness in the controlled revolution being prepared. It was then that the famous conversations between SB Colonel Jan Lesiak and Jacek Kuron began, which were used by the communists – regardless of Kuron's intentions – to outline a list of potential partners with whom the authorities could communicate in the future. Earlier, there was a broad amnesty for political prisoners which, though forced by the pressure from the United States, could not be published without the consent, and perhaps even encouragement, of the Kremlin.
Pole, Hungarian and reforms
In Hungary, at the same time, the newly appointed Prime Minister Karoly Grosz announced on television that the democratic opposition (that is, the constructive one) is striving – like the government – for socialism and therefore it should be included in the public life. As a result already on 27 September 1987 the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) was formed, and soon invited to participate in the Patriotic People's Forum (equivalent of the Polish PRON). The MDF was led by party reformer Zoltan Biro and all opposition movements were officially invited to participate in the Democratic Forum, hoping that this way it will be possible to control them.
Even the right-wing Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) established in March 1988, which at its dawn demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary (and – what is characteristic – neutrality), the same year became a part of the Council of Youth Organisations controlled by the Hungarian Komsomol.
Changes were completed by the removal of Janos Kadar, governing Hungary since 1956, from power, replacing him with Karoly Grosz and taking the portfolio of Prime Minister by reformer Miklos Nemeth. The latter appointment followed directly the visit of Yakovlev in Budapest. In November 1988, Nemeth announced multi-party elections, and one of his ministers clarified that after the elections new political movements “must be ready to cooperate with the party and refrain from creating challenges for its power.” Thus, the postulated model of pluralism assumed the existence of opposition which does not threaten the dominant position of the communist party. As we know, in Poland this demand was met thanks to contractual elections, which gave two-thirds of seats in the Sejm to communists. Everything in accordance with the recommendations flowing from the Kremlin.
In the case of Poland and Hungary, Moscow had it easy inasmuch as the local communists mostly presented the “reformatory” attitude and did not oppose the plans of top-down revolution. However, it should be noted that Jaruzelski was very concerned for his position and in 1987 his closest environment was analysing the possibility of introducing a variant of “Chinese capitalism” under the dictatorship. This, however, would be an action contrary to the intentions of the Kremlin, so Jaruzelski – wanting to stay in power – could not implement any own ideas. He only cared that the representatives of the KGB did not contact the opposition directly behind his back. He was effective in this regard, hindering attempts made by the Russians to reach Adam Michnik and invite him to Russia for a long time (Michnik visited Moscow and talked to the local politicians in 1989 – a week before electing Jaruzelski president).
Sensitivity of Wojciech Jaruzelski was understandable inasmuch as the KGB openly supported the “reformatory” groups and the opposition in Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the GDR, so wherever the party hardliners remained in power. In order to force these hardliners into submission and resignation internal conflicts were stirred up. In Bulgaria, Turkish population was instigated and an opposing environmental movement, the so-called Ekoglasnost, completely controlled by the Russians was organised. Todor Zhivkov, ruling Bulgaria with a heavy hand, did not dare to protest against the new “bottom-up” initiatives, even though they were clearly aimed at removing him from power. Eventually, the matter was tackled by the intervention of Soviet ambassador Vladimir Sharapov who, on 7 November 1989, told Zhivkov bluntly that from the following day his duties will be performed by Petar Mladenov, former Foreign Minister, anointed by Gorbachev. Zhivkov stepped down without a murmur.
Russians and their local allies had more problems in Romania where, first, local Hungarian minority in Transylvania was instigated, and finally a revolt was provoked which ended with a fast – just in case without a trial – execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Power was seized by the KGB appointees, led by Ion Iliescu.
The entire operation failed only in Cuba where the military putsch organised with the Kremlin's help was prematurely exposed and its participants – senior officers – were put before the firing squad after charging them falsely with participation in drug trafficking.
Wrong corpse, wrong track
In Czechoslovakia, it was also necessary to resort to provocation to get rid of Milos Jakes leading the local communist party. As can be seen in the archives, in 1988 Alexander Yakovlev visited Prague and told his interlocutors that Moscow was critical of its military intervention of 1968. He clearly encouraged to repeat the Prague Spring and try to re-introduce “socialism with a human face,” suggesting that this time the attempt would enjoy Kremlin' favour. He even reached up to the Czechoslovak Prime Minister from the period of the Prague Spring, Czestmir Cisarz, and was convincing him to return to the political scene.
Yakovlev's visit was partially a success, which was the replacement of the hard hat Lubomir Strougal on the position of Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia with Ladislav Adamec close to Gorbachev. It was in the environment of Adamec that the preparations for removing Jakes and conducting a controlled revolution began. Appropriate plan was prepared by the Czechoslovak secret police already in the summer of 1989. It assumed the organisation of a provocation which would instigate so far passive society to act against the secretary of the party. Communist secretaries of the period of the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek and Zdenek Miler, were expected to become the new leaders. The latter, as an immigrant and a signatory of the opposing Charter 77, was considered the favourite.
The operation was carried out in November 1989 under the direct supervision of representatives of the KGB. During a student demonstration in Prague, which – interestingly – was joined by local members of Komsomol, an agent of the secret police pretending to be a student played the role of a fatality of scuffles with the police. Allegedly, immediately after the “incident” the killed person was taken to the ambulance and transported to an unknown location. Then, a wave of rumours spread around Prague, and then the whole country, about the killing of a student by the regime. It was enough for frightened Jakes to resign just a week later.
The plan could succeed to the letter, if not for the fact that Mlynarz brought by the secret police from emigration came to Prague too late to play any role. Eventually, oppositionist Vaclav Havel became president, and Alexander Dubcek had to settle for the position of the head of the refreshed parliament. Initially, Havel worked well in the designated role. In December 1989, he declared that he respects the membership of Czechoslovakia in the Warsaw Pact only so long as both military blocks – i.e. the Warsaw Pact and NATO – are dissolved. This was perfectly in line with Gorbachev's concept of the “common European home.”
Since so far everything was going just as the Kremlin had planned, why did the top-down revolution instead of strengthening the Soviets ultimately led to their fall in 1991? There are several reasons. Americans and West Germans once again opposed Moscow in the matter of unification of Germany. Ultimately, it was the FRG that – on its own terms – absorbed the former GDR. The staging of social rebellion also quickly slipped out of Moscow's control. Planners from the KGB underestimated the concealed, but common in Central Europe, aversion to communist regimes. It is worth reminding that both in Hungary and in Poland the communists assumed victory of their protégés in the elections. It turned out that people waken up from the lethargy took the opportunity and took the initiative from the hands of the hated power. The top-down revolution broke down as soon as it spread among broad masses of people.
Gorbachev miscalculated and lost. However, this does not mean that Moscow accepted defeat. Today, once again it is trying to get back to the game, this time under new conditions using slightly different arsenal of measures.