"We can't go on living like this."
In September 1978, Leonard I. Brezhnev made a minor decision that would start in a fundamental shift in the history of the world. His decision, the decision that would eventually effect virtually all in the civilized world, was typical of Brezhnev. This decision was a compromise, for that was how he had attained his power. Brezhnev's careful compromise would eventually lead to the relatively peaceful break up of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War, and allowing the information age to begin -- a great deal sooner than any one could have imagined at the time.
Brezhnev, perceived as the tough, all powerful Communist leader of the Soviet Union, had been actually slowly firming up his tenuous control of his leadership. The death of a powerful Politburo member, Fedorov Kulakov had left a vacancy in both the Politburo and Central Committee of the Communist party. Brezhnev, although the most powerful Communist leader, had not completed the installation of all his cronies into the Politboro. Although Brezhnev thought highly of Mikhail Gorbachev, Brezhnev would have preferred to have one of his allies appointed to Kulakov's position of head of agricultural department in the Central Committee. However, to get his man Tikhonov as a candidate member of Poltiburo, Brezhnev needed the support of the other powerful Politburo members, Suslov and Andropov. To cement their support, Brezhnev decided to approve their recommendation of Mikhail Gorbachev to be appointed to the Central Committee.
Mikhail Gorbachev, unknown at the time, was very different from all his communist brethren. He was a rare Idealist in a sea of Guardians. In addition, he was much younger and energetic than his comrades in the higher echelons of the Communist elite.
The political structure of the Soviet Union was percieved as a monolith. An iron wall, with no visible cracks in the unity of conformity. This "wall" was result of one man, Joseph Stalin, who had shaped the political landscape of the Soviet Union far beyond his death.
Stalin had taken control of the Soviet Union's political process in the 1920's; and with the death of Lenin, Stalin killed all opposition to his will. He created a political process that by Darwinian rules eliminated, from the political part of society, practically all people with other temperaments except Guardians. He had taken a political system unleashed by the revolution of 1917 and had turned it into a killing machine. Stalin's social process would insert complete control of politics into all of Soviet life. In addition, this process would weed out any person in the political part of the society that had an inner sense of direction or principle, other than self-preservation or political opportunism. The communist party was populated by the vast majority of conforming Guardians, bereft of hardly any Idealists, Rationals, or Artisans.
The process and structure of the political system under Stalin demanded complete obedience. People with principle or independence either did not participate in politics and speaking out, or they were killed. Any person who dared speak out in the political and social arena was killed. People that were naturally competitive or ambitious, but willing to follow the will of Stalin were subject to powerful shifts in political power created by Stalin purges and most were caught in the everchanging tide of Stalin's political swamp.
With the death of Stalin the purges stopped, but people within the political system continued to demand conformity. The accumulation of privilege for the Communist party members attracted people that were good at preserving the status quo and fitting in the political scheme of things. Guardians naturally continued to dominate the political part of Soviet society. Nevertheless, a few young people growing up in the post-Stalin era would enter politics that would have a true belief in socialism and a sense of idealism. An intelligent and idealist personality with the strength of a hardworking peasant background might be able to survive and with luck could rise in the party. Such a person was Mikhail Gorbachev.
"I am speaking about the priority of universal human values."
Mikhail Gorbachev: A different personality
Nobody in the world in 1985 had any understanding of Mikhail Gorbachev. He was not like any of his predecessors. He wanted to change the system significantly. Gorbachev alone was the institigator of change in the Soviet Union, which eventually resulted in his own loss of power. More important, Gorbachev, even though he was against succession from the Soviet Union, did not resort to military force to preserve the Warsaw Pact or preserve the Soviet Union. Brutal suppression of Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet states by Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev made everybody distrust and fear the Soviet leaders. What makes Mikhail Gorbachev different from his predecessors and comrades in the Central Committee and the Politburo? Mikhail Gorbachev is different because he does not have power or prestige as his main goal in life. He is an Idealist.
Did Mikhail Gorbachev make a difference in history? The answer to this question is a resounding yes. The rapid demise of Soviet Union, ending the Cold War and discrediting socialism, ushered in the globalization of finance, the information age, and the rise of the Internet. The polarized world of the Cold War would not have allowed the globalization of world wide communication.
Like most of history, we will never know what would have happened if Brezhnev had chosen a different method in promoting his cronies. We do not know whether Mikhail Gorbachev would have another chance to become a member of the Central Committee or if he had another chance when that would been. Suslov, the most powerful sponsor of Gorbachev's candidancy died in 1982. In hindsight, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the release of the Eastern Bloc countries looks as ineventable given the economic failure of the Soviet system. However, how the break up occurred and when it happened would a critical importance on how the world would be changed. If Gorbachev had not gotten in the Central committee at the time he did, would he have eventually? What would the world be like if the break up of the Soviet Union in 2010 or 2020 without Gorbachev at the helm?
"I believe everything is clear."
said Andrei Gromyko to Mikhail Gorbachev just before Gorbarchev assumed the Chairmanship. A clearly ambiguous statement by cautious Gromyko, quietly ushered in a fundamental change in the world.
The stagnation and the disorder of Soviet economy accelerated in the 1970's and early 80's. The Iron Curtain could not hide that the Soviets were badly behind in economic development compared to the West. Concentrating on heavy industry and defense, the economic failure of the Soviet system became worse and worse. The pervasive deception of bogus state production quotas made the Kremlin leaders vaguely unaware of how bad the economy was in reality. In a land that just as rich as the US midwest, the agriculture production was falling because of wasteful, ineffective, and perverse state planning, producing food shortages that required importing grain from the USA.
The rapid succession deaths of the Soviet Union's ageing ruling elite, starting in the 1980's with Suslov, Kosygin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Ustinov, and Chernenko, signalled a problem with the political system molded by Joseph Stalin in the 1920's. Nobody in the party hierarchy ever retired voluntary. Privilege and corruption of the party 'nomenkatura' had alienated the Soviet people from believing in the system. Only two things that prevented the demand of change was fear of speaking out and the expectation that nothing could ever change for the better. Stalin's ghost still had a hold of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev's loyalty to his mentors, uncorrupted scruples, and hard working style had gained respect in the higher echelons of the party, especially from Andropov. Gorbachev was promoted by Andropov because of his hard work, loyalty, and they had a geninue friendship. Gorbachev was promoted by Andropov to second in command and in effect directed the business of Politburo a great deal of the time because of the sicknesses of Andropov and Chernenko. By the time of the death of Chernenko, there were no obvious candidates besides Gorbachev. None of the members of Politiburo had leadership qualities; and only one, Tikhonov, had the notion to try to take the top spot. But Tikhonov was not seen by many of the Politiburo as a viable candidate, for he had derived his power from being a lacky for Brezhnev. With Andrei Gromkyo's help, Gorbachev assumed the role as General Secretary of Communist Party. He was the leader of the Soviet Union.
There has never been a US President that was an Idealist, because of the rough and tumble of democratic politics. In the post-stalin, Soviet system, an Idealist could rise in special circumstances. Gorbachev said that if anybody had objected, he would not have taken the top post.
We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us
- Common joke in the Soviet Union
"We had to awaken society from its lethargy and indifference as quickly as possible and involve the people in the process of change" said Gorbachev.
Nobody in USSR or the West recognized at first that there was a fundamental change taking place when Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union. The world was used to the hard-nosed totaliatrian regimes that had, and could, brutally repress its own people and any other peoples it had under its control. How did Gorbachev bring about a peaceful transformation of the soviet society when in the previous eight decades millions had been killed by direct or indirect orders of the Soviet leadership?
Gorbachev did exactly what he had done before he had attained power, except he had the perceived power to do anything he wanted because he was the leader of the Soviet Union: in effect the Czar of Russia.
"I gave them Freedom."
Any Soviet leader was expected to install his people in key positions. Gorbachev replaced the most obvious ageing members of the Politboro with younger people that were open to reform. As in everything, Gorbachev, an idealist, exhibited a great deal of tact and compassion when informing the departing members of Politiburo. He confronted Tikhonov, over eighty and showing signs of senility, still wanting to continue, and anxious about the uncertainity of retirement. Gorbachev politely asserted Tikhonov need to step down and promised him that he could retain his perks of office.
Gorbachev had a great desire to reach the common people and have a dialogue with them. He realized Perestroika -- the process of change must be started from above. He had to teach the people about democracy -- real democracy not just using the rhetoric that had been used in the Soviet Union since Stalin had taken control. Rather, Gorbachev went through towns and villages carrying his message of change -- real change. It was difficult to get the people to talk, they had been use to keeping their thoughts to themselves and had seen the negative consequences of speaking out. Gorbachev was candid and encouraged discussion. As time wore on, Gorbachev promoted people that were willing to change the system and not interested in maintaining the status quo. One such person was Boris Yeltzin.
Initially, the Soviet people did not open up -- for they had been taught not to state their opinions. However, Gorbachev persisted in trying to talk to the people directly. Time and time again Gorbachev would start a dialog with ordinary Soviet citizens when he would visit local factories or farming combines. Many times the lower officials escorting Gorbachev in his visit would try to prevent Gorbachev from extended dialog by trying to intercede in the discussion. Gorbachev, politely, but firmly would quickly put the official in his place. The common people noticed.
Idealist Overview |