Book review by Peter Symon
Behind the collapse of the Soviet Union
by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny This is yet another analysis of what will undoubtedly continue to be a topic of discussion for many years to come. The authors hope their book will contribute to the discussion of the "reckless ways" that wrecked the world's first socialist state. They quote Fidel Castro: "Socialism did not die from natural causes: it was a suicide". But was it suicide or was it murder? Before coming to this question again — something about the book. Socialism Betrayed traces the many circumstances and deviations that undoubtedly contributed to the final overthrow of socialism and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union into many supposedly independent republics. It identifies many contributors to this "greatest tragedy of the 20th century" from Stalin, Krushchev, Brezhnev, through to Chernenko and Gorbachev. This is not to suggest equal blame by any means. No-one can suggest that those that preceded Gorbachev had a mission to destroy socialism although they also contributed by numerous and various errors to the final outcome. The only General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to come through with good marks in the period since the death of Stalin is Yuri Andropov. He unfortunately only lived for about 15 months after his election to the top position before dying of a kidney complaint. He did not have time to put the Soviet Union on a path that would have corrected many of the errors made by his predecessors but his program gave great promise that the party and government would return to the task of building an improved socialism. Declared support Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985. At first he declared his support for the policies that had been outlined by Andropov but by the end of two years there was a sharp turn towards the mistaken polices of Krushchev and those put forward by Bukharin in the early years of the Soviet Union. The authors say that Krushchev's ideas "consistently leaned toward social democracy, sowed the seeds of later problems, and created a precedent for Gorbachev's even more extreme views and policies". The book traces the many economic, social and political policies initiated by Gorbachev that finally led to the victory of counter-revolution, the dismantling of socialism and the restoration of a crude, savage and brutal criminal capitalism on most of the territory of what made up the Soviet Union. Socialism Betrayed gives many references and policy statements that are invaluable in tracing the pattern of betrayal. We are again introduced to "perestroika" and what it really meant, to Gorbachev's supposed "new thinking", his promotion of a bourgeois form of democracy, his actual promotion of national conflicts within the Soviet Union and the dishonest promotion of cooperative ownership which in practice was a hidden form by which capitalist ownership was consolidated. In foreign policy Gorbachev advanced a policy of unprincipled compromise with US imperialism and systematically brought an end to the assistance that the Soviet Union had given for many years to other socialist countries and to the national liberation movements of third world countries. Soviet troops were withdrawn by Gorbachev from Afghanistan to appease the US. We all know now what tragedies have overtaken that country following this act of betrayal. An unprincipled deal was made with US president Reagan over the question of nuclear weapons and the Soviet army was seriously weakened while the US imperialists gave nothing in exchange. By your side At the time of the first Gulf War Gorbachev is reported to have remarked to James Baker the Secretary of State at the time: "I want to emphasise that we would like to be by your side in any situation". Of course, Gorbachev did not act alone. During the period in which he stated his adherence to the policies of Andropov, Gorbachev brought his own men into the leadership of the CPSU — Shevardnadze, Yeltsin, Aganbegyan (an economist), Yakovlev (an ideologist) and many others. All played considerable parts in the Gorbachev betrayal. While there are numerous references to ideology in the book, there is little explanation of how the policies implemented by Gorbachev deviated from the fundamental principles of Marxism- Leninism and this I think is a weakness of the analysis. The policies adopted are well set-out and reflect the deviations from dialectical and historical materialism — the philosophy of Marxism. Different interpretations The authors set out a number of different interpretations about the events that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union — some by writers who are pro-Soviet and others who are anti-Soviet. The authors write: "in some writers, a stress on Gorbachev leads to seeing in his actions a longstanding, preconceived plan. The weight of evidence, however, seems to point more toward a shallow leader who acted rashly, impulsively, and contradictorily." "Gorbachev's policies may not have been inevitable but they were no accident either." But is it correct to also say that "possibly Gorbachev himself lacked an awareness of the full implications of what he was doing"? This returns us to the question — was it suicide or was it murder? There are a number of remarks in the book that call for a comprehensive follow-up: * What are we to make of an assessment made by one of Gorbachev's closest supporters that "Gorbachev had only contempt for the CPSU" and, when it was suggested by supporters that he should resign his position as General Secretary he remarked: "they try to persuade me to abandon the general secretary post. But remember: that mangy dog can't be let off the leash. If I do that, the whole enormous thing will be against me." * Gorbachev had kept in touch with leading figures of the Czech counter-revolution from his student days. * Yakovlev, Gorbachev's principle ideologist who was put in charge of the Soviet media by Gorbachev had spent a number of years in the West, "more than any other Politburo official". In 1983, Gorbachev visited Canada and spent a week with Yakovlev before he became General Secretary. Was it to lay the plans of what subsequently happened? Can do business Although it is not mentioned in this book it is timely to recall the remark of Margaret Thatcher when Gorbachev visited London (before becoming General Secretary). He had a meeting with the then Prime Minister of England and Thatcher said publicly that "he (Gorbachev) is a man we can do business with". Did Margaret Thatcher know something that others did not, even at that time? It should also be recalled that the counter-revolutions in eastern European socialist countries coincided with visits to those countries by Gorbachev. He was also in China at the time of the Tienanmen Square uprising. Were Gorbachev's visits the signal for these counter- revolutionary events which were undoubtedly helped by the intelligence organisations of the imperialist countries? Let it be recalled that Shevardnadze made the remark that his greatest achievement was the dismantling of the German Democratic Republic and east Germany's incorporation into capitalist west Germany. A final question And a for final question that the book raised in my mind, remembering that the long-term objective of imperialism was always to defeat the Soviet Union and strangle socialism. This could not be done militarily because the Soviet Union had become too strong militarily. It could not be done economically because the socialist system had become deeply entrenched in the life of the Soviet people and the country was also endowed with rich resources. It could not be done merely by propaganda although millions of dollars were spent by Radio Free Europe and other agencies to subvert the thinking of the Soviet people. None of these options were feasible. But if people were found who could work their way into the top leadership of the CPSU and proceed to sabotage socialism from that position, even while proclaiming that their aim was to build a "better socialism", the job could perhaps be done from this vantage point. If the scenario that Gorbachev had become an arch-enemy of socialism even in his youth is made the starting point, many of the policies and the personal behaviour of Gorbachev fall into place. Given the experience and capacity of Western intelligence agencies in bringing down governments it would stretch credulity to breaking point to think that they would not have been advising Gorbachev (and others) on a regular basis throughout his years as General Secretary. His and their actions were played out using the many objective circumstances, the policy weaknesses and growing dissident forces that previous regimes had unleashed. In these circumstances Gorbachev becomes not a misguided, confused and weak personality that he is sometimes painted but the most successful Machiavelli of all time. The people of the former Soviet Union assessed him well. From initial enthusiastic support they quickly came to reject and then condemn his leadership. When he stood for election to the position of president in 2000 he received a less than one percent vote. In recent times, Gorbachev has been paraded at public forums throughout the Western world appearing at some with Norman Swarzkoff the commanding general of the US forces who invaded Iraq during the first Gulf War. More recently he attended the funeral of Ronald Reagan. Nice company to keep, indeed! Gorbachev had returned to his spiritual home.
* * *Socialism Betrayed, International Publishers, New York, pp 230, available from SPA Books, $18 plus $2.50 p&p.