Mikhail Gorbachev was the last General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and Premier (or actually “President”) of the Soviet Union before it collapsed and crashed. He died at the age of 91.
Someone who has written quite a bit about Gorbachev is Yuri Maltsev, an economics professor closely associated with the Mises Institute and previously an economist with the Gorbachev Soviet regime. Maltsev defected to the U.S. as the Soviet Union was collapsing and crashing.
Gorbachev is being praised as having been a “reformer,” even by some libertarians, but Maltsev has told us a more realistic story. I have linked to this before, this article by Maltsev on the real Gorbachev. It is actually the introduction to the book, Requiem for Marx, edited by Maltsev.
Here are some quotes from the article:
Gorbachev too tried to save communism through other means. That was the original point behind glasnost and perestroika (and probably why these petty measures were so heralded in the West). Even the KGB understood the need for reform. As the chief ideologue of the KGB, Philip Bobkov, has said, “The KGB understood very well, back in 1985, that the USSR would not be able to make further progress without perestroika.”
By the people in the Soviet Union Gorbachev was rightly considered to be just another Communist Party hack. His “reforms” were never fundamental, but only expedient measures to preserve the centrality of the Soviet Communist Party and to salvage what was left of the socialist system. Gorbachev was only willing to “reform” when the world was falling apart around him.
He was in a good position to know better. He was from a peasant family in South Russia, where he witnessed first hand the malnutrition, hunger, and even starvation that socialism caused. His grandfather was killed in Stalin’s purges, so he knew the brutality of Communist politics. Yet he chose to make politics his life’s work. For Gorbachev, the exercise of power has always been more important than good sense or morality.
It was a Western fantasy that the man named to be general secretary of the Communist Party would not be a devoted Communist. As in joining a street gang, you must demonstrate that you are absolutely loyal to the club (and all its associated crimes) and that your conscience can be overridden. During Gorbachev’s long political climb, he passed more than one hundred such political and security clearances.
The main difference between Gorbachev and his predecessors was that he was smarter and smoother. He was also the first one with a university education: a masters in law and a masters in agriculture. Given Soviet education, that is probably why the first thing he did was ruin the agricultural distribution system.
While he was in agricultural school in Stavropol, Russia, he was chief of the local Communist Party. His colleagues report that he ordered his professors to come from the university to Gorbachev’s office to tutor and test him.
Gorbachev became secretary of agriculture under the Yuri Andropov regime, and endeared himself to the Party Secretary by promoting a cult of Andropov. He promoted films about him and mandated that streets be named after him. Andropov returned the favor by promoting Gorbachev in the Party bureaucracy. Of course, Andropov is one of the most hardened of all Soviet leaders. As ambassador to Hungary, he ordered the invasion of that great country in 1956, and while head of the KGB in 1968, he persecuted dissidents by the tens of thousands (including Solzhenitsyn), presiding over the darkest period in KGB history.
Later, Gorbachev became secretary of ideology during the Chernenko regime, and as early as 1984, he was making overtures to Margaret Thatcher. What Thatcher did not know, or refused to believe, was that Gorbachev’s goal was to save Soviet communism (meaning the power of the Party) and given the dire circumstances he faced, that meant “reform.” Yet a reformist communist is only marginally better than an orthodox one. His goals and methods should have been condemned, just as one would condemn a successor to Hitler who claimed to be a “reformist Nazi.”
Gorbachev never learned economics in school. In all my dealings with him, I never saw even a slight flash of economic insight, or even any desire to learn more about economics. He preferred to think like a communist: everything can be done by issuing orders, no matter how perverse, contrary to human nature, and brutal they may be.
Beginning with the day he assumed power, he positioned himself as an opponent of freedom and the market. He singlehandedly destroyed what little market activity existed in the Soviet Union, wrecked the already-miserable lives of the public, presided over appalling violence against innocent people in the Baltic states, and openly supported old-guard communists. Yet the Western media decided not to be skeptical about his aims.
Then Gorbachev began a campaign against “dishonest income.” Like Stalin and Khrushchev before him, he declared all sources of income other than official salary to be an evil to be stamped out. For example, if a person rented a room out in his house, he received “dishonest income” and all parties would be severely punished. The problem was not a single person in the Soviet Union was untainted by unofficial economic activity. The official economy did not produce enough of anything desirable, so if a person was untainted, he was probably already dead.
Party bureaucrats bulldozed thousands of gardens in the backyards of peasant’s homes, often filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. “Illicit” farmers’ markets were closed. The bureaucrats cracked down on such activity as currency exchanges and unofficial transportation. Chaos reigned in the housing market, where the penalty for renting out an apartment for profit would be to have your whole home confiscated.*
[*Wait a minute. How is this different from America’s various “blue” states and local communities in USSA right now?]
For a study on the right way to de-socialize or decentralize a “union” of states that shouldn’t exist in the first place, read Murray Rothbard on that.