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

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Fri Aug 19 07:24:32 PDT 2011

I wrote:

> My impression (which I admit, is not based on any profound study
> of the subject) is that Gorbachev neglected his duties as a political
> organizer, that he got a bit too in love with himself as a result of
> Western adulation, that he thought his charisma and sophistication
> would do the job for him, that he underestimated those lacking his
> worldliness. After what happened to Trotsky in the late 1920s, he
> should have known better.

I failed to note here the obvious connection with the piece in the Guardian. In that piece, Gorbachev himself is quoted as saying that he regretted most: "The fact that I went on too long in trying to reform the Communist party." So, the Guardian's Jonathan Steele continues: "He should have resigned in April 1991, he said, and formed a democratic party of reform since the Communists were putting the brakes on all the necessary changes." He had a political instrument unfit to the task of reform and he wasn't capable of building an alternative one.

One only has to contrast his paralyzing hesitation with Lenin's fierce tactical decisiveness. At almost every significant political crisis in Russia or in the Russian and international social-democratic movement -- before, during, and after November 1917 -- Lenin was totally willing to take whatever political and organizational sharp turn might be required. He was entirely willing to shake off, break up with, even discard, partially or entirely, old comrades and political organization wholesale. Krupskaya's memoirs are very telling on this regard. It wasn't without tremendous personal pain, but the guy had that kind of fortitude. When Lenin died, even before Stalin gained the upper hand, the whole gang (including the Left Opposition) deified (or refused to oppose the deification of) the existing political apparatus, to such extent that made it very hard for future leaders to be able to bring it down to earth again. The means got out of control and became an end in itself.

Given the stakes in 1988-1989, as Gorbachev admits, a significant disruption of the political status quo, a break up with the apparatus, regardless of form, was indispensable. Why assume that the old apparatus was going to fit the job of uprooting the conditions that fed it? All this is, of course, Monday-morning quarterbacking. Again, it is for the sake of learning and riveting the lessons.

Now, aside from the logistics of the failure, there were serious issues with the *content* of the reforms as Gorbachev intended them. I seem to remember well that, in the book Perestroika, where Gorbachev outlined the reforms, there were disturbing elements (more hinted that overtly stated) that were simply the codification of the prejudices of politically backward sectors of the Soviet population (including a good chunk of the urban intelligentsia). In fact, it is clearly that Gorbachev shared some of these prejudices himself. Instead of stating clearly that there was the need for tactically retreating on this or that front on the grounds of rationalizing the use of their scarce resources, he not so subtly pandered and affirmed the underlying sentiments. I'm here referring to fostering illusions about the benign character of global capitalism, the ideological justification of social inequality, technocratic tendencies, and a certain kind of Soviet (multi-)nationalism. Also, there was no need to disarm unilaterally (ideologically speaking) by failing to insist on the soft underbelly of global capitalism (the underdevelopment of the 3rd world). At a time when one of the poorest regions in the world (Central America and southern cone of Africa) were fighting brutal reactionary forces propped up by the U.S. (and Israel), Soviet diplomatic solidarity faltered.

There was a clear feeling, fostered by the document Perestroika and accompanying political posturing, that Gorbachev was willing to throw (economically speaking) the Soviet Union's less fortunate allies and (politically speaking) the whole underdeveloped world under the bus, all for the sake of an illusory break with the rich capitalist West and for the sake of pandering to the prejudices of some people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that international solidarity was being a drag on their own progress. In spite of those issues regarding the content of the reforms, I don't think there were many people in the Latin American left that didn't want Gorbachev to succeed. Of course, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had a right to revise the terms of their alliances, but -- frankly stated -- *the way* Gorbachev conducted this affair amounted to a political capitulation before capitalism and a betrayal of internationalism.

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