The Guardian June 23, 2004

Book review by Peter Symon

Socialism Betrayed
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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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.

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