- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Mar 1988, p. 308-318
- Rodionov, Alexei Alexeievich, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The process of "perestroika" currently underway in the Soviet Union. What perestroika is; its many meanings. Perestroika as a revolution: a "decisive acceleration of the socioeconomic and cultural development of Soviet society which involves radical changes on the way to a qualitatively new state". Perestroika as an urgent necessity. Why it was such an urgent necessity. Also the necessity for "Glasnost" and democratization. Interpretations of perestroika in the West. Conducting reforms in accordance with the socialist choice. The Soviet society in its new stage of development, restructuring and renovation. Political results. Changes in work, administration, the mechanism of management. New principles of wages. Results in the field of economy, with some figures. A detailed discussion of the reforms and their results. Measures taken as the first steps toward democratization. Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet leadership and its conclusions as to what is needed. The need for politics to be based on reality. Talks and the result of the talks in Washington on the issues of reduction of strategic offensive weapons. Trade and economic relations between the Soviet Union and Canada.
- Date of Original
- 24 Mar 1988
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- Full Text
- THE PROCESS OF PERESTROIKA
Alexei Alexeievich Rodionov, U.S.S.R. Ambassador to Canada
March 24, 1988
Chairman: Ronald Goodall, President
I have always thought that Canada was a fortunate country. Canada has British, French and other European links and shares a common heritage with the largest English-speaking industrial nation, the United States of America. Canada was always well placed to benefit from technological and management advances developed in Europe and the U.S. Canada was always able to take, adapt and improve upon the best ideas of both worlds, the old and the new.
Canada is, however, sandwiched between two of the world's major powers, one to the south, one to the north. Across our northern border washed in summer by the Arctic lies the U.S.S.R., a vast country with a fascinating history, an interesting present, and a promising future.
A tremendous political and military power was commanded over the centuries by rulers such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and, recently, by the victors of the 1917 revolutions.
A wonderful cultural maturity was reached in the 19th century. Great poetry and novels were written by authors such as Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov. Great music was composed by men such as Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. Ever-popular ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker were written and danced.
Today we dream of visiting the canals of Leningrad, the Venice of the north, and of having the opportunity of photographing St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow.
We have embarked upon a transpolar ski expedition with our Soviet neighbours, a 2,000-kilometre trek from the Soviet island of Dikson, across the pack ice, around the North Pole, aiming for Cape Columbia on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island. We meet regularly in the ice hockey arena and, of course, we met many times in Calgary. May I congratulate you on your achievements at our Winter Olympics. Today we are intrigued by the new initiatives announced by our neighbour and recently have added two more words to our vocabulary: "glasnost" and "perestroika."
Canada once again seems to be well placed to benefit from another of its neighbours.
Alexei Alexeievich Rodionov was born in the Gorky region of the Russian federation. He is an economist who graduated from the Moscow Financial Economics Institute and the diplomatic academy of the U.S.S.R. ministry of foreign affairs. Ambassador Rodionov has been in the diplomatic service for 25 years, approximately 20 of those years as an ambassador of the Soviet Union. He has been Soviet minister-counsellor to India and ambassador to Burma, Pakistan and Turkey. He has been Soviet ambassador to Canada since November 1983. Ambassador Rodionov was also minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and a member of the collegium of the U.S.S.R. ministry of foreign affairs.
Ambassador Rodionov participated in a number of international conferences, and was a member of the Soviet delegation to the general assembly of the United Nations. He is married with two children and five grandchildren.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ambassador Alexei Rodionov who will address us today on "The Process of Perestroika."
Ambassador Alexei Rodionov
First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address such an illustrious audience. In my presentation I will dwell on a subject which attracts much attention in the West. This subject is the process of perestroika which is presently underway in the Soviet Union.
What is perestroika? It is a word with many meanings. But if we are to choose from its many possible synonyms the key one which expresses its essence most accurately, then we can say this: perestroika is a revolution. A decisive acceleration of the socioeconomic and cultural development of Soviet society which involves radical changes on the way to a qualitatively new state is undoubtedly a revolutionary task.
Perestroika is an urgent necessity arising from the profound processes of development in our socialist society. This society is ripe for change. It has long been yearning for it. Any delay in beginning perestroika could have led to an exacerbated internal situation in the near future, which, to put it bluntly, would have been fraught with serious social, economic, and political repercussions.
We initiated perestroika because we needed it. We could not live any longer in the way we had been living before. Of course, economically, we could have continued to move by the force of inertia. We could have still shown some growth and ensured a 2 or 3 per cent rise of the national income. But that is not the point. We tried to take a fresh look at our society as a whole, and the major conclusion we came to was that the potential of the socialist system was not being utilized fully in terms of both the human factor and a planned economy. So we took a look at our society in an attempt to understand it and to find out for ourselves what kind of society we lived in. Glasnost and democratization were essential for this. These, of course, are complex and extremely deep-going processes. Their purpose is not to shake our society. We want to understand our society and, on the basis of an objective analysis, to build up a concept and then make our way through this very complicated period stage by stage.
The quest is not an easy one, and it is not always easy for us to assess our historical past. We have not yet sorted out everything. But over these 21/2 years we have formed a view of the society we live in and tried to take a look at the future and the roads we will follow. We are moving ahead. The process is far from simple, but we will go along the chosen path. There is simply no alternative.
There are different interpretations of perestroika in the West, including Canada. There is a view that it has been necessitated by the disastrous state of the Soviet economy and that it signifies disenchantment with socialism and a crisis of its ideals and ultimate goals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are conducting our reforms in accordance with the socialist choice. We are looking within socialism, rather than outside it, for the answers to all questions that arise. We assess our successes and error alike by socialist standards. Every part of our program of perestroika - and the program as a whole is fully based on principles of more socialism and more democracy - will proceed toward better socialism rather than away from it. Any hopes that we will begin to build a different, non-socialist society and go over to the other camp are unrealistic and futile.
The Soviet society has entered a qualitatively new stage of its development, a stage of restructuring and renovation. The January plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee confirmed once again the vital necessity of the strategic course of accelerating social and economic development and transforming all aspects of our society's life. The ultimate goal of reorganization is to resolutely overcome stagnatory processes, to impart the most advanced forms of social organization to socialism, to realize to the fullest possible extent the creative potential of the socialist system.
The overall political result is that noticeable changes are taking place in the life of the Soviet society, that positive tendencies are gaining momentum and that a new moral atmosphere is taking shape. There is a reassessment of values, while openness, truthfulness in the evaluation of phenomena, intolerance of shortcomings and a desire to set things right are being asserted as vigorously operating principles.
Work has begun to radically transform the material and technical base, to achieve a profound reconstruction of the national economy on the basis of scientific and technological progress; changes have been made in structural and investment policy.
Major measures are being taken to improve administration, the mechanism of management. New principles of raising wages have been worked out and are being implemented, unjustified restrictions on individual labour have been lifted, the organization of cooperatives in various spheres of production and services is being encouraged.
The restructuring has already produced concrete results in the field of economy. The industrial output in 1987 registered a growth of 8.9 per cent. Agriculture is developing more steadily. The annual grain production has exceeded 210 million tons. Real revenues of the population are on the increase. Labour productivity has risen considerably in comparison with the appropriate figures of the previous year.
A radical economic reform is being carried out in the Soviet Union. The essence of what we plan to do throughout the country is to replace predominantly administrative methods by predominantly economic methods of management.
The reform provides for fundamental changes in every area, including the transfer of enterprises to complete cost accounting, a radical transformation of the centralized management of the economy, fundamental changes in planning, a reform of the price formation system and of the financial and crediting mechanism, and the restructuring of foreign economic ties. It also provides for the creation of new organizational structures of management, for the all-round development of the democratic foundations of management and for the broad introduction of self-management principles.
We fully understand that an accelerated onward movement today is possible only in conditions of maximum activization of the human factor and the further development of socialist democracy. Therein lies the essence of the party's policy of deepening the socialist self-government of the people.
We have started this process. All spheres in the life of society are being democratized.
Of primary importance is the development of democracy in production and the consistent introduction of truly selfgovernment principles. We proceed from the necessity to create such conditions that will give every worker a sense of being the true master of his plant. An important role in this connection is played by a law on the state enterprise which gives general meetings and councils of work collectives decisive powers on matters pertaining to production, social, and personnel issues.
The crucial question of the development of democracy in production is the introduction of the system of electing heads of enterprises, shops, and departments. Transition to new methods of economic management, economic cost accounting, self-financing and self-repayment put this task on a practical plane.
We consider refining of the Soviet electoral system a key element of the democratization process. The changes in this system are taking place to give the elector the opportunity to express his or her attitude to a larger number of candidates, to rid the voting procedure of a number of elements of formalism. The development of democracy also concerns the innerparty life, the activity of trade unions, public organizations. In our view all these measures are needed to secure the consistent expansion of the social base of Soviet democracy to the more active participation of every citizen, representatives of all sections of the population, in restructuring, in state and public life.
These measures are only the first steps aimed at the renovation of Soviet society on the principles of socialism, which is unthinkable without democratization. The democratization process is not a "reaction" to the demands of Western countries, a concession to outside pressure, or a movement to "civilized democracy."
Further democratization is a natural process motivated by the vital requirements and principles of internal developments, but not by the desire to receive somebody's approval.
The new atmosphere in the Soviet Union is, perhaps, most clearly manifest in glasnost. We want more openness about public affairs in every sphere of life.
Glasnost is a vivid example of a normal and favourable spiritual and moral atmosphere in society which makes it possible for people to better understand what happened to us in the past, what is taking place now, what we are striving for and what our plans are and, on the basis of this understanding, to participate in the restructuring effort consciously.
Democratization of the atmosphere in society and social and economic changes are gaining momentum largely thanks to the development of glasnost.
It is no longer a question whether we will continue the policy of glasnost through the press and the other mass media and with the active participation of citizens. We need glasnost as we need air.
I would like to point out once again that the policy of broadening glasnost and developing criticism and selfcriticism, rather than playing at democracy is a matter of principle for us. We regard the development of glasnost as a way of accumulating the various diverse views and ideas which reflect the interests of all strata, of all trades and professions in Soviet society. We won't be able to advance if we don't check how our policy responds to criticism, especially criticism from the ordinary citizen, if we don't fight negative developments, don't prevent them, and don't react to information from the people.
Glasnost, criticism and self-criticism are not just a new campaign. They have been proclaimed and must become a norm in the Soviet way of life. No radical change is possible without it. There is no democracy, nor can there be, without glasnost. And there is no present-day socialism,nor can there be, without democracy.
The period our country is living through can be described as a turning point. A new ideological and moral atmosphere has been established in society. People's activity, vigour are growing, their rich intellectual potential is unfolding.
A theoretical and political program of restructuring has been worked out. Its key directions are democratization and radical economic reform. We used the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution to thoroughly assess our past, draw lessons and analyse the restructuring drive as a natural stage of development, linked in transition to modern forms of organization in socialist society.
Naturally, there have been and will be difficulties. Many of them were engendered by contradictions during the initial, transitional period of restructuring. Inertia, the habit of thinking and working in old ways and, in some people, an unwillingness to keep abreast of the times and the fear of losing privileges made themselves felt. There have emerged leftist, avant-garde sentiments and aspirations to do everything in one stroke, and ensuing panic and disappointment in the event of failure. Conservatism and skipping stages are two sides of the same coin. Objectively, they mean dragging up the past and leading toward the revival of command-and-administer methods.
The restructuring process is directly connected with Soviet foreign policy, predetermines the further advancement of our peace offensive by interlinking the peaceful character of the Soviet foreign and domestic policy. We need normal international conditions for our internal progress. But we want a world free of war, without an arms race, nuclear weapons and violence, not only because this is an optimal condition for our internal development, it is an objective global requirement that stems from the realities of the present day.
But our new thinking goes further. The world is living in an atmosphere not only of nuclear threat, but also of unresolved major social problems, of new stresses created by scientific and technological advancement and by the exacerbation of global problems. Mankind today faces unprecedented problems and the future will hang in the balance if joint solutions are not found. All countries are now more interdependent than ever before and the stockpiling of weapons, especially nuclear ones, makes the outbreak of war, even if unsanctioned or accidental, increasingly more probable, due simply to a technical failure or human error.
In short, the Soviet leadership has come to the conclusion that there is a need for new political thinking. Furthermore, we are vigorously seeking to translate this new thinking into action, primarily in the field of disarmament. This is what prompted the foreign policy initiatives the Soviet Union has offered the world.
For all the contradictions of the present-day world, for all the diversity of social and political systems in it, and for all the different times, this world is nevertheless interconnected and interdependent. We are all passengers aboard one ship, the Earth, and we must not allow it to be wrecked.
Politics should be based on realities. And the most formidable reality of the world today is the vast military arsenals, both nuclear and conventional, of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A.
This places on those countries a special responsibility to the whole world. In this connection I would like to briefly touch upon the Soviet-American summit in Washington.
Undoubtedly the summit became a major event not only in our bilateral relations with the U.S., but also in world politics in general. The talks in Washington have, on the whole, justified our hopes. The results of the summit have marked the beginning of a new very important stage in international relations. The main outcome is the signing of the INF Treaty. This is the first step toward real destruction of the nuclear arsenals. The treaty has shown the possibility of a reversal of the arms race toward disarmament. Now the point is to preserve the atmosphere which made it possible to conclude the treaty, to continue to act constructively and consistently.
The intensive talks in Washington centred on the issues of 50 per cent reduction of strategic offensive weapons. Both sides were able to make considerable progress in this matter and agreed to speed up the work on completing a draft treaty so that it could be signed preferably during the next summit in the first half of 1988.
There was also a useful exchange of views which served to clarify each other's positions concerning regional conflicts, the development of bilateral ties, and human rights. On some of these aspects it seems likely that both sides could identify a specific solution.
A useful result of the Washington talks is that we have been able to formulate a kind of agenda for joint efforts in the future. This puts the dialogue between our two countries on a more predictable footing and is undoubtedly constructive.
In general, the talks in Washington helped considerably to improve the atmosphere in the world at large and in America itself in terms of its more correct and tolerant perception of the U.S.S.R. But it is so far too early to speak about a drastic turn in our relations.
Today the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. are closer to the common goals of strengthening international security. But the goal is yet to be reached. There is still much work to be done, and we must get down to it without delay.
In conclusion, I would like to use today's meeting as an opportunity to dwell on the issues of trade and economic relations between the Soviet Union and Canada.
The Soviet side attaches great importance to the development of trade and economic ties with Canada regarding them as a solid material basis for political relations between our countries. We believe that good economic ties contribute to a better mutual understanding between sides which in its turn facilitates the solution of political problems.
The Soviet side is prepared to develop broad and versatile economic and trade relations with Canada on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, to search for new progressive forms of those relations.
This is especially important in the light of a drastic reconstruction of the whole system of trade and economic ties of the Soviet Union with foreign countries which opens new promising prospects of enhanced cooperation in this field. For example, the ongoing reform gives more freedom of action and flexibility to Soviet enterprises regarding the establishment of direct ties with their foreign counterparts and makes it possible to create joint ventures with participation of foreign capital in the Soviet Union.
Many Western companies, particularly those which have long-standing trade and economic links with Soviet organizations have shown interest in those new forms of economic cooperation. In the past six months alone, proposals for joint ventures have come from over 200 firms, and about 40 ministries in the Soviet Union are considering them.
We hope that Canadian companies will take an active part in the creation of joint enterprises in the Soviet Union. For my part I can assure you that corresponding proposals submitted by Canadian firms will receive careful consideration from the Soviet side.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the Soviet side is prepared to further expand Soviet-Canadian trade and economic ties, to actively search for ways of improving the overall balance and structure of our mutual trade, and in particular, to increase the share of machinery and equipment in it. For a solution to those tasks we are counting on the understanding and active cooperation of the Canadian side both on the governmental and private levels. Thank you.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Brig.-Gen. Stephen F. Andrunyk, a Past President of The Club.