On My Country and the World


Author: Mikhail Gorbachev

Columbia University Press, 2000

Looking back to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Gorbachev writes that "one thing can be stated absolutely and definitively," that is that the Bolshevik revolution "was historically inevitable." Gorbachev, as much as I like him as a man, is a naive historian. He goes on to ask, "Was there, could there have been, an alternative to October?" (By October he means the Bolshevik rising in October, 1917 – November by our calendar.) He should have worded his question differently, asking whether it was also inevitable that the uprising took the shape that it did.

Gorbachev does not answer his question adequately. But he does regret that a consequence of the uprising was civil war, with patriotic Russians fighting patriotic Russians. Too bad "the inevitable" happened, with Lenin able to talk his comrades into a coup, rather than allowing the Constituent Assembly to become established as had been promised. Gorbachev sees Lenin as believing that he made mistakes in making the revolution. He appears to be still a believer in Lenin. The revolution, he writes, "played a civilizing role."

Is socialism dead? Gorbachev does not think so. "I am convinced," he writes, "that the socialist idea is inextinguishable." He is slow to define socialism but describes it as an ideal embodying "social justice, equality, freedom, and democracy." He sees capitalism and socialism as not a dichotomy – skirting over the standard acceptance of the difference between these two: socialism being public ownership of the means of production and capitalism being private ownership of the means of production. He does contrast liberalism with socialism, describing liberalism as having the same roots as socialism but liberalism being individualistic.

Gorbachev mentions that he had worshipped Stalin up to Stalin's death, when he, Gorbachev, was a university student. He notes that Stalin's death was for him, as well as for much of the nation, a shock. The ideology of the Communist Party had nothing in it that married totalitarianism with the revolution. To the contrary it was believed that the revolution was supposed to make people more free. And, according to Gorbachev, the impulse to freedom after Stalin led to "a choice in favor of democracy and reform."

Gorbachev is sorry that the Soviet Union fell apart. He sees it as not having been an evil empire. Every republic within the Soviet Union had "the constitutional right to self-determination," he observes. He describes himself as having supported a republic's legal break from the Soviet Union – one that involved the expressed will of the people. The policy of his government, he writes, "was oriented toward a peaceful, political resolution of the situations that had developed." He is still waiting for researchers to disclose exactly who was behind the violence that preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev is not very kind towards Yeltsin, describing Yeltsin and his supporters as having wanted to break up the Soviet Union in order to acquire power for themselves. (What happened to class analysis: Yeltsin serving the petite-bourgeoisie, capitalist imperialism  or whatever?)

Gorbachev gives himself some credit for the end of the Cold War.  He mentions that his belief in ending the Cold War had been dismissed by some people in the Soviet Union as utopian and unrealizable. He also mentions the response by advisors around Reagan who at first dismissed his proposals as propaganda. The real breakthrough, he writes, "occurred at the Reykjavik summit meeting with President Reagan."