Extract from Mikhail Gorbachev’s memoirs
3 Gorbachev mentions what he thought was quite a paradox, where 85% of those elected to the CPD were Communist Party members, but there was a deep routed sense of defeat and ‘failure was in the air’. Gorbachev states, “the Government was now becoming completely legitimate”, which begs the question, was the government illegitimate? In comparison to this Yeltsin argues that the Soviet regime was illegitimate and in decline. He states “we are the only country on Earth trying to enter the 21st century with an out-of-date 19th century ideology… the last inhabitants of a country defeated by socialism”.
Even though Yeltsin thought that “no relationship of mutual trust could be built up” with Gorbachev, he did praise Gorbachev on the actions he took, such as the decision to broadcast the entire meeting of the CPD on national television. “Those 10 days were more informative to the people than the last 70 years” claims Yeltsin. He goes on to say “on the day that the Congress opened they were one sort of people, by the time the session had closed, they were different people”. Yeltsin is a down-to-earth realist who understands the situation and is repeatedly positive and upbeat about the shift in openness.
He argues “the most important thing that had been achieved by this point, was the awakening of the people from a state of lethargy”. Yeltsin, who wanted to see free elections to the Supreme Soviet, also wanted to join it, but this was systematically blocked. Alexei Kazannik, a deputy from Siberia who was elected to the Supreme Soviet, however, withdrew his candidacy in favour of Yeltsin. Gorbachev said that he “considered the election of Yeltsin to the Supreme Soviet to be useful”; although it’s not clear whether or not these were feelings were genuine for his colleague, or a fear for Gorbachev.
Gorbachev continually goes on about the sentiments of ‘cautious modernisation’, and believes that the CPSU could reform. He goes on to talk about the way in which the ‘elections’ should be treated, and that it should be a message of what people want, and how those needs should be met. Additionally, and in retrospect, Gorbachev claims to have held the ‘administrative and party structures’ in contempt, for as he put it, “applying the brakes” far too often. The “election has shown for whom the bell tolls”, declares Gorbachev, with many of those in the upper echelons of the Communist Party now facing political uncertainty.
However, the actions he took against the party and the justifications he offered for the actions he did not take, were insufficient to convince many of his critics, including Yeltsin, that he had truly discarded his old party loyalties. Yeltsin, for example, argues, “The situation cannot be saved by half measures and timid steps”. He goes on to say that the CPSU is a contradiction in terms with most of it’s members now “poles apart ideologically”, demonstrating his firm belief that the “party domination of the state had become a fading reality”.
Yeltsin wrote his autobiography when he still was a “revolutionary” in Soviet politics, and he tried to portray himself as an upstanding, hardworking man of the people, who the electorate can appeal to and also relate to, and someone they can entrust with political power. Yeltsin is clever enough to manipulate the growing consensus of disillusionment with the Soviet system, and is eager to paint himself as the saviour of the Russian Republic.
He states that he wanted “stability in Russia, no great leap, just stability”, before going on to write about himself as the “legally elected leader of the legally elected parliament, of the largest Soviet republic”. Yeltsin, however, has every right to discuss the future of democracy and reform in the Soviet Union, speaking as if significant political power was imminent, whereas Gorbachev, with his repeated references to so-called grand designs on radical reforms within the Union, is largely self-contradictory.
On the one hand he talks about “Marxist dogma having been beaten into their heads” (conservatives within CPSU), and yet felt it “dishonourable, dishonest, and even criminal to defect to the ‘other camp’ at this point”. He would argue that the “days of party dictatorship were over! ” all the while his orders and directives would be rather consistently fanning the flames of tension and instability. Gorbachev has a very unclear recollection of his role as Secretary of the CPSU and Chairman of the Congress of People’s Deputies, and the extent to which he may or may not have played a crucial part in the reformation of the Soviet Union.
The fundamental problem with his approach to modernisation was that he was unwilling to give up or supply enough political power, to meet the demand of those who had already developed a taste for it. He opted instead for a half-baked approach, hoping that the implementation of the People’s Congress would be enough of a compromise, to quench the ‘Yeltsinite’ thirst for greater freedoms and socio-economic reform. The extract from Gorbachev’s memoirs is a clear indication if any were needed that he is still fundamentally convinced of his political generosity, and that he was “unnecessarily” punished for not going far enough.
Gorbachev’s attitude is that who he had given powers and privileges too, should not be ungrateful and he feels compelled to argue his case that Yeltsin, Afanasiev, Palm, Popov, Sakharov and others, that he’d termed the “radical democratic opposition”, were in the business of deliberately “expanding their fight and undermining the foundations of power”. One cannot just rely on these two articles, as it is unreliable as they are both autobiographies.
However, they do give us the facts behind the scenes and tells us how deals are struck and a characteristic insight on both individuals. Overall, both articles offer differing opinions of the Soviet Union political system during the transition. The establishment of the Congress of People’s Deputies, and subsequently the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, as well as Yeltsin’s repeated calls for greater economic, social, and political reforms, are carefully laid out in a structured, and sometimes overly broad text.
Gorbachev, on the other hand, is immediately on the defensive, desperately trying to provide moral justification either to the reader, or on a more subconsciously personal level, to himself, not only for the series of reforms that the articles appear to address, but quite possibly in an attempt to justify his tenure in office as the last Soviet dictator. Yeltsin, as a political revolutionary, places particular emphasis on key issues fundamentally important to the Russian cause, hoping to gather greater momentum, for his genuinely radical pro-democracy agenda.
Gorbachev, however, with little to prove in terms of political capability and without an electorate, or a people to try and win over, attempts rather flaccidly to salvage his reputation, and possibly justify winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He has the nerve to criticise Yeltsin and the democratic reformers for not providing Russia with a Constitutional Monarchy, but an absolute one, all the time neglecting to make clear where and when the Gorbachevian brand of totalitarian rule would fall.
Word Count: 1982 BibliographyBoris Yeltsin – Against the Grain (1996) John B. Dunlop – The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire (Princeton University Press 1993) Mary McAuley – Soviet Politics 1917 – 1991 (OUP 1992) Mikhail Gorbachev – Memoirs (1989) S. White, G. Gill and D. Slider – The Politics of Transition (Cambridge University Press 1993) 1 John Dunlop – The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire pp. 1 2 Mary McAuley – Soviet Politics 1917 – 1991 3 S. White, G. Gill and D. Slider – The Politics of Transition (Cambridge University Press 1993).