[lbo-talk] Gorbachev: I Should Have Left the Communist Party Earlier

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Wed Aug 17 19:36:24 PDT 2011

Bhaskar Sunkara wrote:

> If Gorbachev is a footnote, he's the footnote that played the biggest
> role in prematurely ending the short twentieth century.

It would be nice if you explained this statement in clear terms, because it reads to me like utter nonsense. Here's my opinion stated in plain prose, without cryptic poetry:

In historical terms, Gorbachev is a big *loser*. Granted, as a person, he seems like a nice and reasonable human being. May God bless his soul. And history gave him a very bad hand. But *that* is exactly what defines great leadership! By definition, great leaders inherit messes. If they didn't -- and if they didn't turn things around -- then they would not be great. Actually, great leaders ascend to power *because* the status quo fails to deliver, *because* there are big messes to clean up. Great leaders are eager to clean big messes. By the way, Yeltsin was another big loser, and without the redeeming personal qualities that Gorbachev does seem to possess.

Mutatis mutandis, Obama, whom I've compared to another big loser (Kerensky), is following up on Gorbachev's tracks. Obama also seems like a reasonable and decent person. But last time I checked, at least, he doesn't seem to know why and how his mojo got lost. Contrast with Putin and Medvedev who, until now, are highly regarded by the common person in Russia. I regarded their leading the reconstruction of the Russia's economy, with all its warts, as a significant accomplishment. And to see how invidious Putin and Medvedev's success feels to the U.S. establishment, read yesterday's first-page piece in the NY Times, where the author of that piece of State Department propaganda is forced to admit between lines that Putin and Medvedev enjoy high levels of popular support. The last paragraph, which undoes most of the piece, is a jewel.

Now, let's see again: What did Gorbachev accomplish for the common person? The collapse of the Soviet Union, which he allowed, was un unmitigated disaster for the people of the former Soviet Union, with reverberations that are not entirely alien to what happened in the U.S. and Latin America in the 1990s (and in the U.S. in the 2000s). The people who suffered that disaster in situ -- the theft of public assets, the deterioration of economic conditions, the disintegration of basic social bonds, etc. -- are still dealing with that trauma. The human cost is very hard to estimate. It is true that the Soviet Union was in a very bad spot when he assumed the role of secretary general. Things had to change, one way or another. But, again, that's what gave him the chance to become a great leader. He failed. That doesn't mean that you or I would have done better, had we been on his fateful shoes. But if we have hindsight, let's use it! That's what history is for -- to learn from it.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list