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Chinese and Soviet reform in the 1980s: Part - I

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As 2019 is coming to a close, looking back at two important personalities who died this year – Li Peng and Anatoly Lukyanov – here are some thoughts on Chinese and Soviet politics in the 1980s.

The deaths of Li Peng and Anatoly Lukyanov in 2019 offer us an excuse to review the politics of China and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and with the benefit of hindsight try to understand what was happening that transformed the Chinese and Soviet economies and politics with far-reaching ramifications.

First, we need to be clear about the roles of the top management in a communist country. This is important because the designations of president, prime minister, and general secretary of the party are at times confusing in terms of actual power.

Similarly, terms such as ‘politburo’, ‘presidium’, ‘Supreme Soviet’, and ‘central committee’ are also not clear to many observers. In most cases, communist parties are led by a general secretary. For example, in the Soviet Union a de-facto leader was not necessarily head of state or head of government. Mostly, it was the general secretary (GS) of the Communist Party who sometimes also held the post of head of government or head of state. The head of state was the chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, somehow equivalent to a president in other countries.

The Supreme Soviet was the primary legislative body, like the National Assembly in Pakistan. The chairman of the Supreme Soviet was like the speaker of the National Assembly. During the Soviet revolution in 1917, Lenin was the party leader who also became the head of the new Soviet government after the success of the revolution. The position of the GS did not exist at that time but Stalin gradually consolidated his position in managing day-to-day party affairs and then after the death of Lenin remained GS of the party from 1924 to 1952.

After Lenin’s death, Rykov was head of government (PM) from 1924 to 1930 an then Molotov from 1930 to 1941. Stalin was........

© The News on Sunday