Gorbachev’s maiden speech hints at reform (1985)

In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In his maiden speech, Gorbachev paid tribute to his predecessor, Konstatin Chernenko, and maintained his commitment to Soviet communism. But his speech also hinted at forthcoming economic reforms and hope of a nuclear arms reduction agreement with the United States:

“All of us, all our party and country are if deep grief. Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko, a true Leninist, an outstanding figure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet state, of the international Communist movement, a person with a responsive heart and of a big organizational talent, has passed away… Chernenko devoted all his efforts and knowledge to developing the economy of the country, raising the well-being and cultural level of the people, ensuring the security of the motherland, preserving and consolidating peace on Earth…

The strategic line worked out at the 26th Congress, at the subsequent Plenary meetings of the Central Committee with vigorous participation of Andropov and Chernenko, has been and remains unchanged. This is the line towards speeding up the country’s social and economic development, toward perfecting all aspects of the life of society. The point at issue is restructuring the material and technical base of production.

The point at issue is the perfection of the system of social relations, above all economic ones. The point at issue is also the development of the individual, qualitative improvement of the material conditions of his life and work, of his spiritual makeup. We are to achieve a decisive turn in transferring the national economy to the tracks of intensive development. We are bound to attain within the briefest period the most advanced scientific and technical positions, the highest world level in the productivity of social labour.

In the foreign policy sphere, our course is clear and consistent. This is the course of peace and progress. The first precept of the Party and the state is to preserve and strengthen in every way the fraternal friendship with our closest friends and allies: the countries of the great socialist community. We will do everything that depends on us to expand cooperation with socialist states to enhance the role and influence of socialism in world affairs. We would like a serious improvement of relations with the People’s Republic of China and believe that, given reciprocity, this is quite possible.

The Soviet Union has always supported the struggle of peoples for liberation from colonial oppression. And today our sympathies go out to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which are following the road of consolidating independence and social renovation. For us, they are friends and partners in the struggle for a durable peace, for better and just relations between peoples.

As to relations with capitalist states, I would like to say the following. We will firmly follow the Leninist course of peace and peaceful coexistence. To goodwill, the Soviet Union will always respond with goodwill, as it will respond with trust to trust. But everyone should know that we shall never waive the interests of our motherland and those of its allies. We value the successes of the relaxation of international tensions achieved in the 1970s and are ready to take part in carrying on with the process of establishing mutually beneficial cooperation between states, on the basis of principles of equality, mutual respect and non-intervention in the internal affairs…

Never before has so terrible a threat loomed so large and dark over mankind as these days. The only reasonable way out of the existing situation is an agreement of the confronting forces on an immediate termination of the race in arms, above all, nuclear arms, on Earth and its prevention in space. An agreement on an honest and equitable basis, without attempts at outplaying the other side and dictating terms to it. An agreement which would help all to advance toward the cherished goal: the complete elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons for good, toward the complete removal of the threat of nuclear war. This is our firm conviction…

Comrades, these days we feel still more keenly how mighty and monolithic the ranks of the Communists are and how united our Soviet people are. At the recent elections, Soviet people again expressed unanimous support for the course of our party and the state. This support is both inspiring and binding.

Today, the plenary meeting of the Central Committee placed upon me the complex and great duties of General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. I am well aware of the great trust put in me and of the great responsibility connected with this. In the forthcoming work, I count on the support and active assistance of the members of the Politburo and secretaries of the Central Committee, and the Party’s Central Committee as a whole. Your versatile experience is the gist of the historical experience of our people. I promise you, comrades, to do my utmost to faithfully serve our party, our people, and the great Leninist cause.”