New Political Thinking

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The phrase "New Political Thinking" (or, simply, "New Thinking") was introduced in the Soviet Union early in the Gorbachev era. While to some observers it seemed no more than a new twist to Soviet propaganda, in fact it represented an increasingly radical break with fundamentals of Soviet ideology.

The New Thinking linked Soviet domestic political reform with innovation in foreign policy. Gorbachev was in a minority within the Soviet leadership in espousing ideas that were radically new in the Soviet context. However, he was able to draw on intellectual support from research institutes in which fresh ideas had surfaced but had hitherto lacked political support where it matteredat the top of the Communist Party hierarchy. With the institutional resources of the general secretaryship at his disposal, Gorbachev was able to give decisive support to innovative thinkers and to legitimize new concepts. Initially, as in Gorbachev's 1987 book, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, the new ideas were already revising previous Soviet ideology in significant ways; but a year or two later they had gone much further, amounting to a conceptual revolution that shook the Soviet system to its foundations.

It was in 1987 that Gorbachev first used the term "pluralism" in a positive sense, albeit in a qualified form as "socialist pluralism" or a "pluralism of opinion." Hitherto, "pluralism" had always been a pejorative term in the Soviet lexicon, condemned as an alien and bourgeois notion. Once the taboo on praising pluralism had been broken, articles on the need to develop pluralism within the Soviet Union began to appear, often without the "socialist" qualifier. By 1990 Gorbachev himself was advocating "political pluralism." Another concept on which an anathema had been pronounced for many years was "market," but againfor example, in his 1987 bookGorbachev embraced the idea of a "socialist market." Before long other contributors to the growing debates in the Soviet Union were advocating a market economy, some of them explicitly differentiating this from socialism as they understood it.

The New Political Thinking could, in its earliest manifestations, be seen as a new Soviet ideology, a codified, albeit genuinely innovative, body of correct thinking. It gave way, however, to a growing freedom of speech and of debate both within the Communist Party and in the broader societya new political reality that partly resulted from the boldness of the intellectual breakthrough.

Among the new concepts that were given Gorbachev's official imprimatur between 1985 and 1988 were the principle of a state based on the rule of law, the idea of checks and balances, glasnost (openness or transparency), perestroika (literally reconstruction, but a term that became a synonym for the radical reform of the Soviet system), democratization (which initially meant freer discussion within the Communist Party but by 1988at the Nineteenth Party Conferencehad come to embrace the principle of contested elections for a new legislature), and civil society.

The New Political Thinking represented no less of a break with the Soviet past in its foreign policy dimension. A class approach to international relations was explicitly discarded in favor of the idea of all-human interests and universal values. The idea of global interdependence superseded the zero-sum-game philosophy of kto kogo (who will crush whom). Whereas in the past the "struggle for peace" had often been a thin disguise for the pursuit of Soviet great-power interests, the new thinking endorsed by Gorbachev stressed that in the nuclear age peace was the only rational option if humankind was to survive. This provided justification for a new and genuinely cooperative approach to international relations.

See also: democratization; glasnost; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; perestroika


Brown, Archie (ed.). (2004). The Demise of MarxismLeninism in Russia. London: Palgrave.

Chernyaev, Anatoly. (2000). My Six Years with Gorbachev. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Gorbachev, Mikhail. (1987). Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World. London: Collins.

Nove, Alec. (1989). Glasnost in Action. London: Unwin Hyman.

Palazchenko, Pavel. (1997). My Years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze: The Memoir of a Soviet Interpreter. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Yakovlev, Alexander. (1993). The Fate of Marxism in Russia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Archie Brown

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New Political Thinking

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New Political Thinking