Mikhail Gorbachev, the last ruler of the USSR, has died at 91.
On the one hand, that sounds pretty good. A long life, a long career, world fame, a one-time politician, then a popular public speaker and leader of a think tank. He outlived his wife by over 20 years, and stayed active and vocal until the end. In many ways, it sounds like a life that one would envy, doesn’t it?
What kind of a politician was he? And what kind of think tank did he run? What did he stand for in life? What did he advocate for?
Mikhail Gorbachev was a Soviet politician. Not an American, not a European, but a Russian apparatchik in the days of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – the enemy of the free world for half a century.
In the days of his rise to power, the USSR was not only oppressing its own people, it was spreading communism globally, through sponsored insurgencies all over the Third World.
He wasn’t chosen by the people, as in a real republic, but by communist party leadership. The politburo that elevated Gorbachev to the role of dictator is the same politburo that was led for decades by Leonid Brezhnev – the politburo that selected Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.
That politburo would not have selected Mikhail Gorbachev unless they were certain that he was their kind of guy, capable of their kind of rule.
The American Left welcomed his elevation to the office. They were excited to see a relatively young Russian dictator, after three old men in a row. They were overjoyed to hear his clever public relations style, designed as much for 1980s western ears as for Russian ears, his method of repackaging Soviet rule in such PR-focused terms as “perestroika” and “glasnost” (restructuring and openness).
This wasn’t the first time the USSR had pretended to change without really changing. Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet rulers always claimed to be reformers – packaging every slight modification of the dictatorship as a new five-year plan.
In truth, perestroika and glasnost were simply that, just another meaningless five-year plan, repackaged with brighter and more colorful advertising. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” And it was glowingly lapped up by the eager western press.
During the brief Gorbachev era, the great leaders of the West, especially Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II, finally managed to break the will of the Soviet apparatchik class, to the point at which the Russian bureaucracy finally buckled in view of a popular uprising in 1991.
Many in the West credit Gorbachev for smoothly enabling that transformation; but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Gorbachev wanted the Soviet Union to remain what it had always been: a top-down communist dictatorship, spreading its philosophy of domination across the world. And if he had ruled a decade or two earlier, there would have been no change at all.
The fact that the Russian people – and their many satellites – were finally freed from that evil empire, and more importantly, the fact that the rest of the world from the USSR’s continuous sponsorship of global warmongering, is entirely due to the resolve of the West, and to the good fortune that Gorbachev’s era just happened to coincide with the moment in time when Russia was opposed by a united, courageous, and visionary opponent: the Western conservative leaders of the 1980s.
So, let us not be overly complementary in our memory of Gorbachev. He did not welcome Boris Yeltsin‘s arrival on the scene. He did not welcome the break up of the USSR.
For the rest of his life, Mikhail Gorbachev regretted being the failure who enabled Lenin’s and Stalin‘s dream of global communism – at long last – to fail and crumble to the ground.
Gorbachev was, after all, overthrown by the people of his country. He did not willingly go gently into the night.
And in the post-dictatorship phase of his life, he continued to do his best to spread communism in the modern way, the way most welcomed by those in the West: by championing environmental extremism, the new home of Marxist ideology.
Gorbachev spent his last decades, in fact, as a corporate shill for the carbon neutral crowd, the climate change hoaxers, the nuclear disarmament pacifists.
But at least, as a Russian dictator in the line of Lenin, Stalin, and Kruschev, shouldn’t he at least be complimented, and thanked, for not ordering a massive crackdown as the Russian people rose up in opposition in 1990 and 1991?
Sure, if it was his choice.
But it wasn’t.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the news coverage of the era will remember Soviet tanks moving into the captive nations, attempting to put down the freedom movements in the Baltics, especially in Lithuania. We remember satellite nations calling for independence, and Gorbachev resisting them. We remember seeing tanks in the streets of Moscow… an army moving into its own cities, to put down a rebellion… at the government’s orders.
We remember the image of Boris Yeltsin, climbing atop a tank and reminding the soldiers that these were their fellow Russians… courageously exhorting them to consider that their duty was to support the uprising, not to crush it. The soldiers only refused to crack down because they sided with the people, not because the politburo issued any standdown orders.
We remember those two exciting years in which the satellites declared the USSR to be dead, and announced a new alliance, a Commonwealth of Independent States. And we remember Gorbachev doing his best to resist these changes at every turn, trying new tricks, new alliances, new compromises, all blessedly doomed to fail.
Boris Yeltsin was the hero of the hour, not Mikhail Gorbachev.
So let us not deceive ourselves in mourning a 91-year-old dictator. He was nothing but a communist, through and through. To the end.
For those of us old enough to remember the era, it is interesting to reflect back, and recognize how our memories of Gorbachev are all tied to American events and American heroes.
In the 1980s and 90s, the West was again in its ascendancy. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher‘s leadership, in particular, had been winning the world PR war against the Russian and Cuban troops who had for decades been spreading communism across the globe. We in the West were finally on the offensive, alerting the world to the dangers of communism in no uncertain terms, proudly championing the human rights guaranteed by western republics, boldly boasting the economic freedom that only capitalism can provide.
While Western leftists welcomed Gorbachev – and imagined him to be a bright new face for Marxism – saner, more rational observers recognized that he was merely a younger representative of an old, corrupt and evil cult. Gorbachev was no hero; he was merely the last gasp of a doomed and malevolent regime that had killed tens of millions of its own people and countless millions of other innocents around the world.
In fact, it is refreshing, that most our memories of Gorbachev are all tied up with our memories of our own great leaders of the era.
We remember President Reagan being asked, in a famous press conference midway through his presidency, as the Russian regime had already cycled through Kruschev, Andropov, and Chernenko, if he was ever going to meet in person with a Soviet ruler. The Gipper responded with playful exasperation that he kept TRYING to schedule a meeting, “but they keep dying on me!”
We remember the famous Reagan-Gorbachev summit, on a cold winter day, when President Reagan showed up coatless, looking happy and vigorous in his business suit, as Gorbachev, twenty years his junior, was bundled up in a heavy winter coat and fur hat. That unmistakable juxtaposition of a vibrant West and a shivering, weakened East, could not have presented a clearer symbol of the world situation at the time.
We remember Gorbachev offstage, hundreds of miles away, the day that Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Berlin, and commanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It is the sentence with which Americans most remember Gorbachev‘s name, and he wasn’t even a part of the scene in person.
And as Ronald Reagan left the American political scene, Rush Limbaugh burst upon the scene with his huge nationwide radio program. So, our last memories of the Gorbachev years are remembered in similar anecdotes from the Excellence in Broadcasting Network.
We remember that whenever Gorbachev was in the news, Rush would present it as an update on his show, titling the leftist worship of the man as what he called a “gorbasm.”
We remember the birthmark on Mikhail Gorbachev‘s forehead, and how Rush would jovially kid that whenever western liberals were getting especially devoted to their dear leader, his birthmark would broaden and more closely resemble the map of the United States.
First President Reagan, and then Rush Limbaugh. Both of them were able to use both the reality and the aura of Mikhail Gorbachev as a foil, to illustrate the weakness and foolishness of communism, to make the case for liberty both at home and across the world, and to pave the way for a better, safer world in the future, one spared the ever-threatening presence of Moscow on the scene as a distant, terrifying spectre.
That’s not the legacy that Mikhail Gorbachev intended to leave… But, more than anything else, it is to Ronald Reagan’s credit that it’s the legacy he left.
Copyright 2022 John F Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.
A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.
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