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Gorbachev and the paradoxes of failure


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El Norte de Castilla, El Diario Montañés, El Día, Diario de Navarra, La Voz de Avilés and El Comercio.

Pablo Perez |

Full Professor of Contemporary History

Mihail Gorbachev did the typical degree program of a very dedicated member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), went all the way to its cima in 1985 and was instrumental in bringing about the demise of both the party and the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991. Outside his country he has been and continues to be admired as a decisive reformer and a man of peace who deserved the award Nobel Prize for that degree scroll. Inside, many considered him to be the manager of a disastrous policy that unraveled the country - the great country they were convinced to be - and of provoking nationalist wars that have not yet ceased. The interesting thing about the case is that it was all that.

As in any dictatorial system, his achievements rested on his ability to flatter the party hierarchy. He knew how to appear orthodox and confident, and also dynamic, innovative, and able to look to the future of communism for improvement. His mentor, Yuri Andropov, was a man of long experience, director of the KGB, the very powerful political police, from 1967 until 1982, when he became head of the USSR.

Gorbachev grew up well informed. He knew the political ins and outs of the country, and he knew how badly his Economics was doing despite the fact that it appeared in the cima of its world and arms power. The red military leadership had sounded the alarm: the problem was not one of investment, it was one of structure. The Western Economics was dynamic and creative, innovative, and the Soviet one the opposite. Either a serious reform was undertaken or military disaster was on the way.

Andropov undertook some reforms to remedy that painful status, but he barely had time to outline them because of his poor health. He died in 1984 and was replaced by Chernenko, who was in even worse health: he died the following year. Gorbachev was the undisputed candidate to replace him.

The flamboyant and - at last - young and healthy leader of the motherland of communism set about the task with enthusiasm. He announced major reforms and his desire to remake the country by means of perestroika, a term which in Russian means conversion in an almost religious sense, translated very technocratically as "restructuring". He knew that economic changes had to be accompanied by political changes. The Soviet system functioned as a pyramidal mafia in which corruption was omnipresent, with those at the bottom systematically bribing those at the top to ensure clientelistic favor. It was necessary to return to Lenin and to "true" communism, synonymous with undoubted success.

He was confident that his first economic reform program would remedy status within a year or so. As soon as it was implemented, the status worsened markedly. The turmoil continued for several years until something less cosmetic and more profound was implemented. By then things were even worse. Discontent was growing irremediably.

The regional party leaders soon became aware of the danger they were in and began to defend their prerogatives and their autonomy: this was the beginning of the disbanding, the nationalist escalation and the birth of a new oligarchic system.

Abroad, Gorbachev needed to resize a foreign policy that was unsustainable due to its cost. There he did achieve what his predecessors had tried without success: to get closer to Westerners, to seduce them instead of confronting them, to appear attractive. The success of his image was spectacular until he achieved the so-called Gorbymania in Germany, won over Margaret Thatcher, reached an understanding with Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl, and obtained substantial credits and economic advantages from them. In return, Gorbachev gave smiles... and disarmament. There was something else: he was convinced that the West would not attack. This deactivated the Cold War mechanism after 1988.

The European satellite republics, which he asked to sustain themselves and freed from the doctrine of limited sovereignty, accelerated the changes, especially in Poland, soon followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the GDR. It was to Gorbachev's credit that he renounced the use of force to hold them back when, contrary to what he thought would happen, they repudiated socialism in semi-free elections.

Gorbachev appeared as a bearer of freedom outside, while inside he was the bearer of new problems. Separatisms spread inside the USSR and, after a timid attempt to repress them, he resigned himself to consenting to them. Those who wanted to preserve the USSR attempted a coup d'état in August 1991 to prevent it. It failed: Russia itself caught the separatist virus, distanced itself from the USSR and emptied it of content. Gorbachev's reformist dream vanished. His failure opened the door to bright new opportunities for his external adversaries and his forced servants. They would remember him as a brilliant reformer misunderstanding his failure.

Its history attests to the failure of communist ideology in the Soviet world and the rise of the image in the West.