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The Withering Away Of…

For the world, it seemed that Socialism withered away in the late 1980s. It was not a great time for the Leftists across the globe. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (March 2, 1931 – August 30, 2022) was the one who is said to have triggered the end of the 74-year-long Socialist Era in the erstwhile Soviet Union. The demise of the last Soviet leader on August 30, 2022, at the age of 91, has reminded the global community of the fact that a person is always remembered, if s/he plays a huge historical role.

Time and again, history has proven that no crucial work is done by a single person, as time and context shape that person and her/his role to a great extent. In the 1980s, the death of Socialism was surely turning out to be inevitable, barely visible and indirect. It can be said that Gorbachev merely ensured the end of an era. Neither the open air of Glasnost, nor the Perestroika restructuring programme was his sole achievement… however, the last President of the Soviet Union deserved credit for ending the conventional Socialist System in the 20th Century. He also deserved credit for ending the four-decade-old Cold War. Then, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) became the Russian Federation, the unification of Germany took place, an open air swept entire Europe, and the conflict between the former Socialist World and the US eased. In other words, global stability, as well as the status quo, changed with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Had Gorbachev contested elections, he might have won in any country, except Russia. In the new post-Soviet Russia, Gorbachev made no attempt to become a glorified hero. Compared to other contemporary statesmen, his role was remarkably selfless. The radical camp of the Communist Party wanted to stage a coup, and imprison him. His political downfall happened very quickly, as the concerned authorities in the Kremlin removed him from power immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He could not face the economic challenges either. However, Gorbachev used to respect his political rivals and opponents, including Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (February 1, 1931 – April 23, 2007), the first President of Russia from 1991 to 1999. He hardly ever exhibited any lack of courtesy. This is quite important, especially in today’s context, when the value of showing courtesy in politics is constantly decreasing.

Gorbachev’s greatest failure might have been that his reform programmes failed to improve the social and economic condition of the Soviet Union. It is because he had implemented those programmes forcibly. The lack of institutions, necessary to make those reforms worthwhile, also hampered the transition of the Soviet. The direction in which the country was supposed to move forward after 1990-91, is yet to be seen in the vicinity of the destination of its transition. President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the shadow of the Soviet Union, arguably in a more terrible form.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

History has never been a one-way traffic, as it flows in many directions, as well. If Moscow has failed to follow the path of change, the value of that path does not decrease. Maybe Berlin, Prague, Tbilisi and Sarajevo have done it, to a large extent. Although the present generation does not have any idea about it, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak and Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn know at what cost the new path has been achieved.

When Gorbachev breathed his last at a Moscow hospital on August 30 (2022), he was far away from the brightest moments of his life. This is certainly an anti-Soviet scenario, as leaders in the Soviet Union used to enjoy power and privileges till their final days, or else they would have tragically lost their lives. Gorbachev was lucky in that sense. After he resigned as the last President of the Soviet Union on Christmas night in 1991, his critic Yeltsin became the President of the Russian Federation. With this, Gorbachev became a common man overnight. Those in their 30s today shall recognise Gorbachev from advertisements of a major US pizza vendor, or a handbag manufacturer. Little do they know that had this man not been in the Kremlin in the 1980s, the Cold War could have heated up at any moment. Had that happened, there might have been a huge question mark over the existence of many generations.

Watch: Gorbachev seen in Pizza Hut commercial

It is difficult to identify Gorbachev’s brightest hour. He did not rule the Soviet as long as Stalin, or Brezhnev. During his six-year tenure as the President of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev’s contribution to Global Peace in the post-war world is unforgettable. He was definitely a reformer, but not from the perspective of Capitalism. Neither he wanted the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor the abolition of the Communist Party. Gorbachev just wanted to give Socialism a humane face, as he used to believe that Socialism was the most necessary system to get rid of economic inequality.

The last President of the Soviet Union also believed that Global Peace was necessary, else most of the taxpayers’ money would be spent on procurement of arms. It would also be difficult to invest in other important sectors, like education, health and services. After becoming the President in 1985, he found that the erstwhile Soviet Union used to allot 26% of its GDP for the defence sector. Born in a poor peasant family in the vast steppes of southern Russia, he had spent his childhood working in the fields with his father Sergey Andreyevich Gorbachev, even 20 hours a day. Hence, he never followed the theory before launching any programme. After taking charge of the party and the Government in 1985, he decided his course of action on the basis of his own experience.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Gorbachev assessed correctly that the Soviet Government used to allocate money as per the wish of some influential people. He further realised that people did not stage protests against this, because there was no transparency in the Soviet System. Hence, he adopted the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. However, he could not facilitate the restructuring of the economy, due to the strong obstacles made up of vested interests. Surprisingly, within five years, the then Prime Minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao, and his Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh were able to implement the economic reform programmes successfully. Interestingly, the people of the Soviet Union welcomed his policy of Glasnost.

His other success was to holding the election of the Supreme Soviet in front of television cameras in 1989. It was for the first time that the discussion and voting of the Supreme Soviet were telecast live on television. In a condolence message after the demise of Gorbachev, Novaya Gazeta (an independent Russian newspaper known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs that was founded by the former Soviet President) wrote: “The political monopoly of the Communist Party was broken, along with the mystery of its power.

Gorbachev delivering a speech at the 11th Congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in East Berlin, 1986

Like Gandhi or Tolstoy, Gorbachev used to worship Peace. Perhaps, he was the first Soviet leader who realised that the US would never reduce its own stockpile, if the Kremlin kept on increasing its nuclear armaments. Hence, he stressed on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and urged other countries to sign the same. His appeal reportedly influenced Heads of two strong Governments: the then US President, Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gorbachev’s main aim was to establish a peaceful and just society; and he earned credit for his efforts. Although Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, he did not achieve full success. He mistakenly believed that all US Presidents would be visionaries, like Reagan. Reagan’s successor George Bush wanted the Soviet Union to get erased from the world map quickly. However, the emergence of Yeltsin as the President of the Russian Federation failed to change the Russian psyche. For that, Russia needed to reduce its nuclear arsenals, and overcome its world power attitude.

Its consequences are now evident. Russian President Vladimir Putin is of the opinion that the Soviet Era was the Golden Age of his country. Chinese President Xi Jinping, through his ideology, has shown that Dictatorship and Militancy are integral parts of Socialism (or Communism) in the 21st Century. Had George Bush not been so keen to get applause, Gorbachev might have been in power for a few more years. Perhaps, Gorbachev would have been able to initiate a global nuclear disarmament process from Moscow. The US, Western Europe and China would have joined that process.

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