Gorbachev was a hero for some, a villain for others

Opinions tend to be divided on his legacy depending on which side of the ideological aisle you are on

By A. Sreenivasa Reddy

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Published: Wed 31 Aug 2022, 11:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 1 Sep 2022, 11:53 AM

Mikhail Gorbachev was one of a kind. As the leader of the former Soviet Union and the Communist bloc in the 1980s, he saw the future differently. The Communist system, which was at its height of power, was silently rotting within and was unable to compete with the capitalist world with constant shortages and queues at the supermarkets. Gorbachev, who was catapulted to the top position in the party, saw an opportunity and seized it. He unleashed what came to be known as perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a set of reforms designed to make the Communist system more efficient and responsive to the needs of the people. He believed that humanising the socialist system would cure it of its ills. He never disavowed the Communist ideal. On the contrary he wanted to realise its true dream. He was often compared to Nikita Khrushchev, the reformist leader who preceded him. Some even went to the extent of comparing him, rather incorrectly, to Leon Trotsky, the ideological rival of Vladimir Lenin, the man who led the Bolshevik revolution.

But the last Soviet leader became a victim of the forces he himself unleashed. His inexorable slide into oblivion is punctuated by several tectonic events — the collapse of the Soviet Union and liberation of Socialist countries from state-controlled economic systems. That was the end of the Communist system and the Cold War as we knew it.

The words — perestroika and glasnost — remained in currency in the English language much after he exited the political scene. Lexicographers will invariably refer to his legacy when they explain the genesis of these words. Gorbachev, who ambitiously sculpted a new future and failed, will be remembered at least for these unique Russian incursions into English language, if not for anything.

Many analysts often see the leader of the erstwhile Soviet Union as a tragic figure who unwittingly presided over the dissolution of a powerful empire. But many in the so-called free world hail him as a visionary leader who had ended, intentionally or unintentionally, a brutal and repressive system. Opinions tend to be divided on his legacy depending on which side of the ideological aisle you are on. But no matter where you stand in this polarised world of right and left, it is difficult to ignore or forget his role in history.

The Capitalist world gloated over the ‘defeat’ of the Communist world and lionised the leader who was responsible for it when the Soviet Union collapsed during the late 80s. Its ideologues, the most famous of them — Francis Fukuyama, talked of the ‘end of history’ and the ‘end of ideology’. They postulated that capitalism and western democracy would be the final form of society once Communism is defeated as an ideology. There will be no fundamental change in the way society functions, they opined. The so-called end of history was made possible only because of Mikhail Gorbachev. So for them, he was and will always be a hero much as he may have disliked it.

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