Today, one of the greatest political leaders of twentieth century, Mikhail Gorbachev is 84 years old. I have great admiration for him. But he is also kind of a tragic figure. He was a reformer, but I fear his timing was wrong. He wanted to turn the Soviet Union into a social democracy. But the west was intent to do to this project what it helped Pinochet do to Chile. Russia because a kind of anarchy where the state control of the economy was replaced by an oligarchic control of the economy.
In particular, I think we ought to all agree that Boris Yeltsin is one of the great villains of the second half of the twentieth century — worse even than Thatcher and Reagan. But they are all of a kind. I remember back many years when Putin first showed up on the political scene. He was immediately vilified in the west for fighting the oligarchs. The implication is that the oligarchs were some kind of oppressed minorities. What they were rather were corrupt power brokers who — with Yeltsin’s help — stole huge amounts of wealth from the Russian people. So standing up to them rightly endeared Putin to the Russian people.
Of course, Putin has shown himself to be similarly corrupt and incompetent. But there hasn’t been nearly as much at stake as there was under Yeltsin. And Putin has at least done good things in terms of stabilizing the country. His handling of Ukraine has been stupid, however; he used it to get domestic support at the cost of international enemies. And I’m sure that domestic support will be temporary. In partial defense, the west was only too happy to jump all over him; but he should have realized that.
Gorbachev is a true Russian patriot. He is not a Yeltsin or a Putin, who I think represent the worst instincts regarding political power. This isn’t to turn Gorbachev into some kind of teddy bear. He did, after all, reach the very top of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But some people are better able to maintain their ideals. And he is not just critical of modern Russian. According to Wikipedia, “Gorbachev calls for a kind of perestroika or restructuring of societies around the world, starting in particular with that of the United States, because he is of the view that the late-2000s financial crisis shows that the Washington Consensus economic model is a failure that will sooner or later have to be replaced.” I find it interesting because there is still so much self-praise in the west about the fall of the Soviet Union. But the truth is that feudalism was a terrible system that still “worked.” The cracks in capitalism are obvious to anyone who is willing to look.
Happy birthday Mikhail Gorbachev!