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The 30th Anniversary Of The End

dedicated to my respected teacher, Dr S Datta Gupta, the (Retired) Surendra Nath Banerjee Chair of Political Science of University of Calcutta, and one of the most distinguished scholars of Marxism…

Dr Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, the noted Indian Marxologist and former Head (Department of Political Science) of the University of Calcutta, had visited Tbilisi in November 1980 to attend a three-day Indo-Soviet Joint Dialogue. In the Georgian capital, he met Alexander Chicherov, an expert on India who was close to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU). It was the final phase of (Leonid Ilyich) Brezhnev Era. During their meeting on the sidelines of the Dialogue, Chicherov mentioned to Professor (Retired) Datta Gupta: “Friend, you may be overjoyed to see the Soviet System… you know that this system will break down soon. Its fall is inevitable, irresistible.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, an article – written by Dr Datta Gupta – came out in the Bengali-language daily Anandabazar Patrika on January 24, 2022. In the article, he mentioned that the collapse of the Soviet Union (on December 26, 1991) was indeed inevitable. The irony of history is that although Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (b. March 2, 1931) had made a serious attempt to control the situation after coming to power in 1985, by adopting the policies of Glasnost (increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities) and Perestroika (a political movement for reformation within the CPSU) in order to open a new perspective of Socialism, his policies clashed with the established structure of Socialist System. The crisis that had ensued the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev has been considered as one of history’s Disreputable Statesmen. The easiest way to address the issue was to blame Gorbachev for the collapse of the Soviet Union, instead of discussing and analysing the series of events in a proper manner. To cover up the flaws and limitations of a system, experts made a person responsible for the disaster, ignoring the fact that reasons for this collapse were historically rooted in the complex evolution of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union.

Dr S Datta Gupta

Former Chairperson of the KGB Yuri Andropov (June 15, 1914 – February 9, 1984) rightly realised that the economy had become stagnant, corruption rocked the CPSU, and the Kremlin suppressed people by rejecting the idea of autonomy during the long tenure of Brezhnev (1964-82) as Chairperson of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. When he became a strongman after the Brezhnev Era, Andropov took various initiatives in order to liberate the Soviet System from the path followed by his predecessors. However, his death changed the scenario. Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (September 24, 1911 – March 10, 1985), the successor of Andropov and a close aide of Brezhnev, also tried to follow the steps taken by his predecessor. After his demise in 1985, young Gorbachev became the President of the Soviet Union. However, the Conservative members of the Central Committee, who were followers of Brezhnev, were unhappy with the CPSU’s decision to appoint Gorbachev as President.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev’s initiatives were based on Andropov’s unfinished programme. He declared a war against the bureaucracy inside the CPSU, as he believed that Democratic Centralism had encouraged the practice of de facto Bureaucratic Centralism in the party. Instead, Gorbachev welcomed the Freedom of Expression within the party, self-criticism, opinions of party units at grassroot levels, and recognition of the Soviets without the influence of the party. He redefined the role of the party by giving priority to the voice of the working class, instead of the top party leadership. Gorbachev further drew a line between the party and the State, making it clear that he wanted to establish Socialist Pluralism. He even urged experts to rewrite the history of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union. In order to do so, the experts identified the elements of Democracy in Vladimir Ilyich Lenin‘s works, and rejected the monolithic views of Joseph Stalin. As Gorbachev’s Soviet recognised the lost voices of Democracy, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin and other outcast leaders found their places in the pages of history books.

Unfortunately, this Process of Democratisation triggered a deep crisis. According to Dr Datta Gupta, the concept of Pluralism gave birth to three warring factions in the CPSU. Gorbachev and his followers backed Pluralism, but opposed the Multi-Party System and anti-Socialist activities. However, another group, led by Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (February 1, 1931 – April 23, 2007), favoured the Market Economy and Capitalism. Meanwhile, the third group consisted of the Ultra-Conservatives, who were totally against programmes implemented by Gorbachev. The conflicts between these three groups became public at sessions of the Congress of People’s Deputies and also at the 28th Party Congress (1988). It not only triggered the collapse of the Soviet Economy, but also encouraged the separatists in different Soviet Republics. With this, the Brezhnev Doctrine, according to which the Soviet belonged to the people, proved wrong. As per the Brezhnev Doctrine, any threat to Socialist Rule in any state of the Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe was a threat to them all, and therefore justified the intervention of fellow Socialist States. However, Regional Nationalism clashed with Russian Supremacy or Control, and people realised that even Socialism was not free from Conflict and Enmity. The Soviet’s relations with Eastern European countries, too, deteriorated, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During this period of time, strong anti-Soviet protests in countries, like Romania and Poland, brought the entire Socialist Bloc to the brink of collapse.

Boris Yeltsin

Gorbachev had two options to resolve the conflict. He could acknowledge the reality, as no one listened to his plea for ensuring the integrity of the Soviet Union. The other option was to use force. He did not use force, as he learnt a lesson from the past experience in Eastern Europe (Hungary in 1958 and erstwhile Czechoslovakia in 1968). As a result, the Eastern European countries, except Romania, successfully avoided violence and civil war after the end of Soviet rule. However, the situation in the Soviet Union took a different turn, with the Conservatives in the CPSU, with the help of the Red Army and some KGB officials, staging a military coup in August 1991. They attempted to seize power by placing Gorbachev under house arrest. This event was an indication of the official collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The detention of Gorbachev created a political vacuum in the Kremlin, and Yeltsin, a staunch supporter of Market Economy, stole the show. He successfully presented himself as the face of Democracy by opposing the Military Rule.

Before the release of Gorbachev, Yeltsin snatched the power from the heroes of the Military Coup. It was no longer possible for Gorbachev to hold the post of General Secretary of the CPSU, which was part of the anti-Democratic Military Coup. His resignation, collapse of the CPSU, and Yeltsin’s rise to power were just a matter of time. Gorbachev made an attempt to ensure the humanisation of Soviet Socialism through the democratisation programmes; however, the Socialist Dictators took advantage of this, allowing Yeltsin to replace Gorbachev. Yeltsin abandoned Socialism, and established Capitalism. Gorbachev, who became a villain, could avoid the situation, had he joined the military coup, led by Boris Pugo, Gennady Ivanovich Yanayev, other ministers, military leaders and some officers of the KGB, and broken the Yeltsin faction in the CPSU.

Looking back at the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years later, one can recall great Indian Poet and Philosopher Rabindranath Tagore‘s (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941) warning in his ‘Letters from Russia‘ that “Myriad-minded man would not last“. Chicherov’s warning in the 1980s coincided with the infallible utterance of Tagore in the 1930s. Both the warnings were seen to be true in 1991.

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