Reading the obituary of Mikhail Gorbachev in the NYT yesterday reminded me of how exciting it was when Gorbachev, the newly elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, stepped on the international stage. In contrast to his earlier predecessors, he was full of energy, unscripted, and relatively young. He offered fresh ideas to democratize and restructure socialism, while unapologetically rejecting dogma, wrapped up in the language of Marxism Leninism.
He also challenged the logic of the Cold War, insisting on the existential imperative of peace and disarmament and an end to political blocs. “Nuclear war,” he said, ” should never be fought and can never be won.”He didn’t achieve his goals, but I attach the main responsibilty for this failure – less to Gorbachev – and more to the the dogmatic and self serving resistance of much of the Soviet Party leadership at various levels to social renovation and democratization, not to mention U.S. leaders who were resolute in their determination to “win” the Cold Wa
At the time of the implosion of the Soviet Union, I didn’t think along these lines. But it wasn’t too long after that world shaking event (and the bitter split in the Communist Party here in December 1991) that I began a rethink of the Soviet experience, marxism, and the party’s politics, culture, and history.
If I were asked to sum up what conclusions I reached it would be this: our theory – Marxism-Leninism – was too rigid and formulaic, our analysis too loaded with questionable assumptions and wishful thinking, our methodology too undialectical, our structure hyper centralized, and our politics drifting from political realities. Thus, standing in place didn’t seem like a viable option. Not everyone agreed, but that is another story for another time.