This film chronicles a 1989 trip made by a group of labor historians to Donetsk, Ukraine after the first mass strike in the USSR since the 1920s. Prepared to videotape interviews with retired workers, they unexpectedly gained access to the coal miners who had just concluded their historic strike.
PERESTROIKA FROM BELOW presents the miners' story through their own voices. With passion and remarkable candor, the strikers - often Communist Party members - express their dissatisfaction with their corrupt union, providing sharp contrast to the propaganda films edited into this program. At the workers' last meeting, miners challenge their long-time union boss on vacations, housing, even refrigerators. Demanding accountability, workers attack their leaders for abusing privilege. When they show little remorse, the miners take action.
"A remarkable experience in oral and visual history-in-the-making; it is not only an exercise in journalistic reportage but also an example of instant historical interpretation."—Slavic Review
"Taking an investigative look at Soviet miners 'from the inside out,' the documentary raises some important questions for discussion by viewers as well as by students of history, questions about the meaning of communism under Lenin and Stalin, about rate-setters in the tradition of the 'Stakhanovitees,' and about Joseph Stalin and the postwar reconstruction of the Soviet Union... The film vividly conveys the views of rank-and-file workers, toward 'perestroika,' views which often diverge from those propagated by current high-level Soviet reformers... As Walkowitz and Abrash clearly demonstrate in their video, Soviet miners are finally awakening after years of deprivation and subdued resignation, working to improve conditions of their life and work. In the process they are learning the basic principles of worker solidarity through social interaction, struggle, and negotiation."—Anatoli Ilyashov, The Public Historian
"Remarkable... [PERESTROIKA FROM BELOW] offers a rare insight into the process of popular engagement that has been called forth by Gorbachev's program for change... The intimate perspective of PERESTROIKA FROM BELOW will be fascinating and instructive to scholars and the general public alike."—Laura Engelstein, Princeton University
"There is a lot of important material here - the sort of evidence of people's behavior that we do not get from the papers, Soviet or Western."—Alexander Dalin, Stanford University
"The quiet strength and incredible personal dignity of these men will surely make a strong impression on students."—G.E. Snow, Choice
"Today's workers are clearly impatient with the failure of reality to live up to the past promises, and these remarkably candid scenes and interviews provide interesting insights into working conditions in the Soviet Union."—Landers Film & Video Reviews
"The video exposes the massive political and economic problems facing much of the Soviet economy - problems that the miners alone, even with political savvy and unity, will not be able to address alone."—Pat Aufderheide, In These Times