Remember the Real Gorbachev?

In an article published July 13, quoted former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as saying the United States was arrogant and wanted to impose the American way of life on other nations. Other media outlets quickly picked up the story and painted the ex-Communist chief as the man responsible for the destruction of the Iron Curtain and the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War with the West. Headlines read, “Gorbachev Criticizes America” and “Gorbachev Thawed Cold War-Scolds Americans.”

But what struck me most about the article was Gorbachev’s claim that he had not given up on democracy in Russia, and one day hoped his grandchildren would “âÂ?¦live in a democratic countryâÂ?¦.” If his statements are sincere, then Gorbachev must have experienced a serious change of heart in recent years.

The article, and the follow-on stories, completely disregarded the fact that Gorbachev was a model member of the Communist Party for his entire political career. He firmly believed in the principles of Marxism – Leninism and remained a convinced Communist even as the Soviet Union was breaking apart around him.

As a third-generation Communist, Gorbachev joined the Komsomol (Youth League) at the age of fourteen. He applied to join the Communist Party as a full member at nineteen, and was accepted at age twenty-one. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a full member of the Politburo in 1980, at age forty-five.

When he was elected General Secretary in 1985, Gorbachev inherited a severely depressed Soviet economy that had been completely stagnant for the past twenty years. He implemented extremely limited reforms in the hope of stimulating economic growth in order to strengthen the Communist system.

When these reforms failed to produce a fiscal recovery, Gorbachev launched a more extensive restructuring of the Soviet economy, known as perestroika, coupled with a new “openness” campaign, or glasnost, designed to encourage support for his policies by making the public aware of corruption and his efforts to solve the country’s economic woes.

The restructuring and openness campaigns were meant to save the Communist structure by changing it for the better, and by promoting the leading role of the Communist Party in society. In instituting his reform efforts, Gorbachev never contemplated weakening his party or giving up absolute power.

As the reform efforts continued to falter and the Soviet financial system continued to slide out of control, the failing economies of the satellite states in Eastern Europe could no longer be afforded. Gorbachev had no choice but to let go of the drag of the Soviet periphery. He surrendered territory for time, doing nothing to stop the breakup of his buffer with the West, even as he suspended reforms at home in an attempt to maintain his grip on power.

Gorbachev tried to save the Communist Party’s standing by personally appointing allies to the Politburo, the Central Committee, and to local party leadership positions, circumventing the electoral process he had instituted. He clamped down on Soviet society and touted the primacy of the Communist Party in a return to dictatorial control. But it was too late.

Ultimately Gorbachev had to accept the reality of his situation. Glasnost and Perestroika had set in motion forces that he could not contain, resulting in the surrender of Eastern Europe, the demise of the Communist Party, and the complete dismantling of the Soviet Union.

It is true that Mikhail Gorbachev ended the Cold War by allowing the breakup of the Soviet Union. But it wasn’t because he wanted it that way. It wasn’t because he had dreams of a democratic Russia where his grandchildren would live in freedom and prosperity. It was because he was powerless to stop the forces he had created when he attempted to save his beloved Communism by changing it for the better.

Greg Reeson is a freelance writer living in Fort Lee, VA. His writings have appeared in The New Media Journal, The Land of the Free, The Veteran’s Voice, The American Daily, The American Chronicle, Associated Content, and Opinion

More of his writings can be found at

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