Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, President of the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died yesterday in Moscow aged 91.
By Alexander Iturbe
Western media pay tribute to him as “one of the most important men in world history at the end of the 20th century“. In Russia and within the former USSR, his memory is not so pleasant.
Gorbachev was born in the Russian hinterland. He joined the Komsomol (Communist youth) at a very young age during the absolute domination of the country by the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus. He went on to an extensive and successful career in the Communist Party (CPSU), culminating in his election as General Secretary in 1985. Shortly afterwards he was also elected president of the USSR.
The historical perspective allows us to understand that Gorbachev’s rise to top of power represented a very precise project: to restore capitalism in the former USSR. That is to say, to transform a centralised, state-planned economy into what is euphemistically called a “market economy” (in the service of capitalist profits). This project was called Perestroika.
This was one of the alternatives forecasted by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in his book The Revolution Betrayed in the 1930s: either the working class would throw the Stalinist bureaucracy out of power and return to the path of building socialism, or this bureaucracy would end up restoring capitalism.
Gorbachev’s project was to follow the model that had been applied in Deng Xiaoping’s China in the late ’70s: to restore capitalism in partnership with imperialism, while maintaining control of the state apparatus by the Communist Party. However, while in China the model had been entirely successful, in the former USSR it became very complicated.
On the one hand, a dispute arose between different factions of the bureaucracy over both the pace of the restoration process and the usufruct of its benefits. On the other hand, the masses in the USSR came out to confront the economic and social consequences of the restorationist measures and the loss of achievements they entailed, and also to demand greater democratic freedoms after decades of Stalinism.
As a result, the Stalinist-restorationist regime of the CPSU collapsed and in 1991 the USSR was dissolved. The process had already spread to other countries of the so-called Eastern Bloc: for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany under imperialist rule.
The struggle between the factions that disputed the spoils of restoration became more intense and violent. A situation that came to an end with the dominance of Vladimir Putin’s faction after the counter-revolutionary war in Chechnya. In this sense, we can say that at the service of a group of bourgeois oligarchs, Putin and his dictatorial regime are one of Gorbachev’s heirs.
As we have said, capitalist restoration resulted in the loss of the working class and the masses’ achievements in areas such as public health and education or the right to work. In macroeconomic terms, between 1985 and 1991 the GDP fell by 11% and the value of the rouble against the dollar fell a hundredfold. For the workers and the masses, these figures had a very harsh meaning: a sharp fall in life expectancy, a shrinking population, and an exponential increase in social scourges such as alcoholism and prostitution….
Meanwhile, imperialism paid tribute to Gorbachev for “services rendered:” it awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990; Portugal decorated him with the Grand Cross of the Order of Freedom in 1995… After his failed attempt to return to Russian politics (his presidential candidacy obtained barely 1% of the votes in 1996), he created a foundation with his name and devoted himself to giving lectures around the world, receiving tens of thousands of dollars for each one of them.
The figure of Gorbachev gradually faded from the front pages of the media; he was only remembered on the anniversaries of historic events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the dissolution of the USSR. Today, the imperialist media pay tribute to him and shed a tear in his name. We repudiate his disastrous role in history as the representative of a bureaucracy that ended up liquidating the most important experience that, until now, humanity has produced in its attempt to advance towards socialism. We shed not a single tear at his death. On the contrary, as a poet said, “These are not the dead we mourn.“