Since World War II Soviet society has been one of the most stable and politically quiescent in the world- There are three main reasons for this.
First, the Soviet regime has powerful instruments of control and indoctrination. Theseuge propaganda and censorship apparatus, an educational system that inculcates children with "socialistass organizations like the Young CVjnnun1st League that serve the same function, and an internal political police force that has vast repressive capabilities andetwork of informers In all institutions and enterprises-Second, for most of the time since Stalin's deathhe regime has provided its citizens with what rnost of them cherish abovepublic order, personal security,radual improvanent in the standard of living.
The diet has improved considerably and become more varied- Meat consumption, formost citizens regardey Indicator ofby aboutercent in. The quantity and quality of consumer goods improved markedly as well.
The system guarantees education, medical care, Jobs and pensions for all. However deficient these welfare services may be, many Soviet citizens have derived cemfort frcm the feeling that they do not have to fear the unemployment, periodic depressions, ruthless competition, and prohibitive medical expenses they associate with capitalism.
Until recently, the slate kept violent crimerunirnum, at least In public places. The population has been led to believe that strong law and order Is an inherent advantage of socialism over Western
capitalistSoviet propagandists portray as violent, degenerate and morally bankrupt societies.
for the small nunbers sent to Afghanistan, the regime has kept Soviet soldiers out ofopulation that lost millions of lives in World War II.
Third, habits and attitudes that are deeply rooted In Russian history make It easier for the regime to maintain social control.
The population lacks any tradition of individual rights or political democracy. Identifying Western liberty with social anarchy, and lacking any Indigenous democratic heritage, many Soviet citizens perceive no alternative to authoritarian rule. Never having participated In political life, they see the regimeorld apart and are extraordinarily apathetic toward "highIndividuality tends to be frowned on and social conformity encouraged-
Until recently, Soviet consumers had relatively simple needs. The country has only recently emerged as an urban, industrial society and many city dwellers are only one generation removed from the farm. Never having enjoyed material prosperity, the population hasigh level of endurance for deprivation.
Historically induced distrust between different groups In society makes it easier for the regime to use "divide and rule" tactics.reat psychological gulf separates the educated classes from the peasantry. The Russian intelligentsia has traditionally seen the lower classesdark" element, fearing that any "revolt of Ihe masses" would turn into an uncontrollable orgy of destruction. Class divisions have prevented any convergence of wrker and intelligentsia dissent.
The continuing vitality of Russian nationalismajor asset for the regimo. fvbst Russians oppose any significant Increase In autonomy for the non-Russian nationalities who now comprise over half the population. Many fear that any liberalization of Internal policy could unleash separatist strivings of the minor!ties.
Ivbreover, many Russians and other Slavs take pride In the USSR's superpower role and in Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe. onsiderable degree, the regime has succeeded in wrapping Itself in the flag and conditioning the population to believe that any opposition to the regime plays Into the hands of foreign emmies.
Despite these strong forces for social stability, developments over the past decade have weakened several props to the systan and given rise to greater public discontent about Internal conditions:
Brbst inportantly, beginning in thehe ccorxrny began to alow down, leadingirtual stagnation of consumption growth. Since this came on the heels of rapid advancements in consumer welfare In the Khrushchev and early Brezhnev years, many people had the feeling that their material circumstances were actually deteriorating and that the country was going backward.
The economic slowdown was accompaniedhrinking of opportunities for upward social mobilityardening of class lines. In the early decades of Soviet rule, rapid industrialIzation, the Stalin purges, and the manpower losses of World War II had created opportunities for huge numbers of enterprising individuals to vault themselves from one class Into another, to rise "from peasant to cenrnissar." Today the tIme^for_ioarlng careers and soaring hopes ts past.
Duringhe population beearne less Isolated from the outside world. With detente thereodest increase in trade with the West, tourism and emigration grew, and the regime temporarily stopped Janming Western radio broadcasts Into the USSR. At the same time, the spread of mass cctimunlcatlons brought Finnish television Into Estonian hemes and Polish television into Ukrainian hemes. As the regime's monopoly of information loosened, Soviet citizens were better able to ccmpare their lot with that of peoplesuch higher standard of living, and to gain access to foreign news; that enabled them to evaluate regime propaganda more critically.
the passage of time has had an effect on the population's outlook. The regime tries hard to keep memories of World War II alive bothymbol of national unity andeminder of how much life has improved since those days of hardship. But young people increasingly are ccmparing their situation not with the difficult Soviet past but with contemporary conditions in Eastern Europe and even in the capitalist West. Even many older citizens say that in the absenceational crisis they are tired of waitingcmorrow that never ccrnes.
n fact, not many Soviets any longer believe in the Ctanrunist
Unfulfilled regime promises (such as the promise in the
krrmunist Party Porgram of attaining the world's highest living
iSo ave made most citizens extremely cynical about
"Weot about how bad things are In the West, but here we have nothing at all." The vision of Oxrmunisminal social goal is "pie in the sky" as far
as most citizens are concerned.here hasecline in the level of fear, especially among young people who have no personal memories of the Stalin purges: They are - speaking out more freely in criticism of current internal conditions, as arc some skilled workers who feel their jobs are secureeriod of labor shortages.
corruption has grown throughout officialdom, the population has
increasIngly OCBH to rtwnt fly prlvllfgf of tin ruljnge. In somearty mombershlp card is derisivelymeal ticket." The growing awareness of corruption and nepotism even at the highest level--with Brezhnev's son and son-in-law being primeeroded popular respect for law and authority.
decrepitude of the senior Party leadership in recent years and especially the lackigorous General Secretary have damaged the regime's image and made the Politburo Itself the butt of numerous popular jokes.
onsequence of these developments, the mood of the Soviet population has shifted. The optimism ofas given way to deep social malaise. Soviet society has became more demanding, less believing and less pliable, as manifestedariety of related ways:
orker morale has fallen, increasing labor productivity problems. Nfany workers think there is little point in exerting themselves since wages are low even for high performers and therehortage of quality goods to buy anyway. So they do just enough to keep out of trouble, saying that "they pretend they're paying us and we pretend we're working."
population Is becoming increasingly materialistic, Infatuated with
More and more citizens are "dropping out" of public activities and pursuing more rewarding private affairs, such as trafficking on the black market. Thereroliferation of subcultures beyond the regime's purview, such as the hero worship of the Russian singer Vysotsky whose songs implicitly criticized official values and were consequently not recorded during his lifetime.
The alienation of Soviet youth, the wave of the future, la on the rise. Young people are not only increasingly preoccupied with whet the regime denounces as the "cult ofut some are engaging in various types of deviant and delinquent behavior--drlfting, dodging the draft, rejecting marriage, even experimenting with prostitution and Hare Krishna.
Although crime is not nearlyevel with that In the United States, It is growing significantly and toenage gangs have oven made their appearance In some cities. Theft from the state is widespread and is accepted as normal and even legitimate.
Alcohol abuse, Russia's national pastime and historical plague, has assumed alarming proportions. This "monstrouss the Politburo recently called It, contributes to Industrial accidents and crime, andajor reason that the USSR Is the only industrial nation In the worldeclining male life expectancy. Religion Is attracting increasing numbers of people In all age groups, and thero hasurgeoning of ernnlgratlon campaigns among
religious and ethnic minor!ties (Germans, Pentecostals, Greeks, and Armenians as well as Jews).
The USSR nowrug problem, pertly due to the exposure of soldiers in Afghanistan to drugs.conM-ripts In Afghanistan reportedly use drugs and seme carry their habits back to the USSR.
Sporadic labor strikes, nationality demonstrations and protests over food shortages have increased somewhat over the pastthe regime has in each instance been able to isolate the unrest and prevent its spread.
Seme Soviet leaders may not be fully aware of developments in their own society. Politburo members live, work, travel, eat and vacation in special facilities that insulate them fran the population. Grcmyko's daughter once said that her father had literally not set foot on the streets of Moscow in thirty years. Even Gorbachev's highly publicized forays into public have probably been carefully staged.
But Russian history has conditioned the leadership to recognize the dangers of ignoring popular attitudes altogether. They are keenly interested in obtaining reliable information about developments In society and have several channels for doing so.
Since Brezhnev's waning years, and especially since the onset ofsing
about the implications of low public morale both for econcmic performance and for political legitimacy. In Poland many Soviet officialsirror of their own society. They saw that the shortcomings of the regime in Polandorruption)triking .resemblance .to deflciencies In the Soviet
system, and thai sane of the conditions that gave rise to social turbulence In
Poland were similar In kind (although not in degree) to conditions In the
ecoiicmic and political situation in the USSR was not much better than
Leadership concern about societal problems may also be heightenedelief that the current US edninistratlon is attempting to undermine the USSR Internally by appealing to the Soviet population through radio broadcasting and other "subversive" activities, by upping the ante In military spending, and by selective use of economic sanctions.
ridespread concern within the Soviet establishmenj^at^ t
trying to bringollapse of the Soviet econcrny
The issue before the Gorbachev leadership isrontal attack on societal problems will prove more disruptive than attempting to maintain the status quo. Brezhnev harshly repressed all overt political dissent, but his basic strategy was to permit the polulatlon an expansion of dc facto freedom In private activities In exchange for political quiescence, lie probably believed that alcohol consumption, the black market, and even religion served as escape valves that diverted popular frustrations Into Innocuous channels. As one Soviet put it, "better that they be alcoholics thanrezhnev was probably also afraid that tightening up on discipline too much would run the risk of provoking labor strikes.
By contrast, Gorbachev seems to believe that if too many areas of Soviet life slip beyond direct regimehreat to overall control could develop and that, in any event, the economic costs of societal problems have be cane unbearable. His speechesone of urgency about the Interna) situationetermination to replace the relatively lax and indulgent
policies of the Brezhnev yearsightening of discipline across the
continuing the canpaign against official corruption that Andropov began, by enforcing higher performance standards for workers, by taking stern measures to curtail alcohol consumption.
At the same time, Gorbachev is attempting to improve the regime's public relations by cultivating the imageeader who Is both tougher and more open to the public. He wants to restore public optimism about the future but he also wants to keep popular hopes from getting out of hand. To this end, he is evidently working to reshape the Party Program to make Its goals for consumer welfare less ambitious but more credible and realistic.
In the end, whether or not Gorbachev is able to revitalize society will depend In large measure on economic factors and resource allocation decisions. Discipline and image building count for something in shoring up public confidence in the regime, but increased investment In consumer welfare would count for more.
Soviet Consumer Grinning and Bearing It
"If someone breathes on you and has onion on his breath, he Is living beyond his means."
"If you knock and they don't answer they ere drinking coffee."
Question: "What iseters long and eatsnswer: ineussian butcher shop."
Question: "Is it possibleorse to gallop frem Leningrad tonswer: "In theory yes, but in practice no- because the horse would be eaten along the way."
Question: "What was the worst thing about thenswer: "They left only enough meat to last forears."Original document.