Gorbachev: Analysis Of Three Books About Gorbachev

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Gorbachev: Analysis of Three Books About GorbachevThe history of the Soviet Union is complicated and fascinating. In the courseof only seventy years this country has seen the development of the totally newsystem of state, economic growth, the growth of hopes for the 'brighter future',and then the sudden and expected by no one collapse of the whole system leadingto chaos, wars, and confusion. One period is especially important in order torealize how did things finally started to change after the seventy years ofblindly pursuing the dream of communism which left the Soviet Union in a verybad economical and moral state, and this period is called perestroika, Russianfor restructuring. The main figure behind this process which began in 1985 isMikhail S. Gorbachev who became General Secretary of the Communist Party of theSoviet Union Central Committee in March 1985.

The three books that concentrateon the 'Gorbachev phenomenon' were all unfortunately written before perestroikawas finished, so they do not analyze the consequences that it had for the SovietUnion as well as for the whole world. On the other hand, all three of thesebooks do a good job in explaining the changes that took place in the course ofthe first three years after Gorbachev came to power and why were these changesnecessary. The first book 'Gorbachev' was written by Zhores A. Medvedev in 1986 and hencethe author is concentrating on the first year of the new course in Soviethistory. The book itself basically consists of two parts: the first part wherethe author describes the 'making of a General Secretary', and the second partentitled 'Gorbachev in power' which describes Gorbachev's first year in theoffice. The first part of the book gives a lot of background information whichallows the reader to see the stages in development of the Soviet leader fromchildhood and youth to second-in-command

One thing I found to be particularlyinteresting in Medvedev's description of Gorbachev's youth and that is thetheory that living with a Czech intellectual for five years changed the futureSoviet leader in such a way that he became more 'westernized' which 'indirectlyprovided the Soviet Union with a new style leader'. Medvedev says that duringthe time from 1950 to 1955 when young Gorbachev attended the Moscow StateUniversity and had to share the room with a Czech student Zdenek Mlynar he was'profoundly influenced' by the 'culture and attitudes of a traditionally Westernnation'. This influence lasted for years and the fact that Gorbachev has become'westernized' in his appearance, manners, dress and the 'image he projects oftolerance and cordial behavior, all the small signs which mark him as differentfrom the usual Komsomol and Party boss', is according to Medvedev due to a greatextent to the fact that Mlynar was Gorbachev's roommate (Medvedev, 1986, p. 43).Although the first part of the book is certainly interesting and important Iwould like to concentrate on the second part of the book since it is directlydeals with the subject that interests me most, that is the years when Gorbachevwas in power and the development of the new course in the Soviet life calledperestroika. From just reading the first paragraph it is obvious that theauthor approves of the new leader. Medvedev writes: 'For the first time inSoviet history, the leadership succession has meant more than the arrival of anew leader and the possibility of the implementation of the new policies. TheGorbachev succession marks the appearance of a new political generation whichdiffers from the old guard in style, knowledge and historicalvision...Gorbachev represents a younger post-war political generation, ageneration which started its professional Party or state career during the moreliberal Krushchev era' (p.

165). Medvedev quotes some of the very enthusiasticWestern newspaper comments which called Gorbachev a 'bright, incisive, brisk-mannered man', with 'high intelligence, considerable organizational abilities, political acumen'. According to the author no previous Soviet leader hadreceived so much immediate publicity and such an enthusiastic welcome from thegeneral public. 'Gorbachev's popularity was closely linked to his energetic, charismatic, competent and obviously intelligent personality', says Medvedevwhich led to this immediate acceptance of Gorbachev as leader (p. 183).

Inspitethe fact that Gorbachev's new style was popular, some of his methods found lessfavor. A lot of his actions were purely administrative, imposed from abovewithout any discussion and seemed coercive and disciplinarian to some people, especially to intellectuals who expected liberalism. Medvedev seems to justifyGorbachev's first decrees since they were 'not designed to impress intellectuals, but rather aimed at improving a sick economy' (p. 184).It was very interesting to read about the 'battle against the bottle' whichGorbachev started immediately. For him vodka was a 'public enemy number one',the cause of increasing crime, poor productivity, an increasing number ofproblem children of alcoholic parents, reduced life expectancy and alcohol-related health problems, all of which created a heavy burden on the nationaleconomy. Some of the measures that were taken by the government were increasingthe drinking age from 18 to 21, alcohol could no longer be sold in ordinary foodstores, special wine shops would not be permitted to sell any alcohol before 2PM, stiff sentences were introduced for private stills. But the anti-alcoholcampaign quickly has became unpopular and 'has created a degree of socialtension' which led to the canceling of the whole campaign by the government (p.189).

During his first year Gorbachev made some big changes in the agriculturalsector of the Soviet Union. The decision was made to allocate annually from onemillion to one million two hundred thousand allotments to citizens. Medvedevsees this decision as 'Gorbachev's second personal initiative which had a realpractical and positive impact on the quality of people's lives. The garden co-operatives reduced the pressure slightly on state retail sales of vegetables andfruit, particularly in small towns' (p. 201).As for the domestic policy, according to Medvedev, Gorbachev's first year inpower was marked by 'unprecedently large changes in the personnel of thePolitburo and government and the rapid formulation of economic targets andmethods of economic development for the next 15 years.

In all other respects, however, the changes in domestic policy were merely cosmetic' (p. 208). Policieswere better presented, the style was more modern, but there was little in thecontents. Gorbachev has introduced very few social and political changes in hisfirst year in office. Medvedev argues that this was due to the fact thatGorbachev, as a professional Party official understood that liberalization ordemocratization may turn against him (which is exactly how everything worked outsome five years later, but of course Medvedev did not know this for sure back in1986). Also Gorbachev's new team had absolutely no desire to make the systemmore liberal. In the last chapter Medvedev talks about Soviet new diplomacywhich was created by Gorbachev in his first year in the office. First of all, Gorbachev's charm, sense of humor, prompt responses, attempts to find convincingarguments 'suddenly introduced the human factor into East-West confrontationwhich in itself served to reduce tension.

Gorbachev clearly did not resemble aperson who was waiting for the opportunity to drop a nuclear bomb on the West'(p. 228). For Gorbachev two main issues were the problem of the arms race andAfghanistan, where the war had gone for two long and there was no end in sight. Gorbachev wanted to accelerate economic development and the main task of hisdiplomacy was the reduction of the cost of the foreign policy and that meantsubstantial arms reductions. In his book Medvedev makes an assumption that theSoviet government would not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and Gorbachevwill be aiming for a 'quick military end to the war' - assumption that proved tobe wrong. On the other hand the author is right when he predicts the gradualthawing of the Soviet-US relations, thawing that started in Geneva with Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations and continued throughout Gorbachev's rule.

In hisconclusion Medvedev makes a statement that 'it has been abundantly clear thatGorbachev is neither a liberal nor a bold reformist. He prefers smallmodifications, administrative methods and economic adjustments to structuralreform.. it is a mistake to expect too much from Gorbachev' (p. 245). Thisstatement, as we all know, quickly proved to be wrong. The second book titled'The Gorbachev Phenomenon' was written by Moshe Lewin in 1988, two years afterMedvedev published his work and therefore it gives the reader a betterperspective on what happened while Gorbachev was in power.

Lewin's book isstructured very similar to the first book that I described above. It alsoconsists of the two parts: one deals with the history of the Soviet Union before1985, and the second part, entitled 'The New Course' discusses the changes thattook place in the country after Gorbachev became the General Secretary. Rightfrom the start the author says that the Soviet Union is on the 'verge ofimportant changes in the way it conducts its affairs, maybe in the way it is run.. Russia is now entering a crucial new stage and is therefore, in manyrespects, just a beginner' (Lewin, 1988, p. 1). Lewin follows Medvedev's stepsin describing the new Soviet leader and uses all kinds of approving terms suchas 'bright', 'intelligent' and 'incisive'. But unlike Medvedev Lewin makes anargument that the main reason for perestroika was not the individualism ofGorbachev but rather the crisis that had been created by the mechanisms ofeconomic management that had emerged in the 1930's and were still powerful.

Healso talks about the enormous role of the people who were 'placing pressure onthe governing model, insisting that each sphere of action receive the attentionit needed and that new institutions and new methods be created to serve the newsocial forms. The system needed to loosen up' (p. 112). The answer to people'spressure Gorbachev began his new line which was characterized by an appeal forfrankness. The leaders were ready to face the truth and report to the countrythat the system was in a bad shape. This was particularly true about theeconomy.

As the Party Congress put it : 'The production relations that existcurrently, the system of husbanding and managing, emerged, in substance, inconditions of extensive economic development. Gradually they became obsolete, lost their stimulating power and turned, in many ways, into a hindrance' (p.115). This new line did not stop with criticisms of the management of theeconomy. Ideology and ideological life were also described as being in shambles. The leaders admitted that Soviet people did not believe official statements andideological dogma was a powerful obstacle to the country's development. Thiswas the beginning of the new page in the history of the Soviet Union whichbecame known all over the world as glasnost. Together with the appeal for glasnost - a slogan but also a pledge to easecensorship and facilitate the access to information - there was a call foruskorenie, a 'speeding up of the pace of economic development, esp...

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