Monday, September 5, 2022

A few thoughts on the death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, who was buried in Moscow yesterday, was one of the truly heroic figures of our time.

Not many politicians can be said to have changed the course of world history and even fewer can be said to have changed it for the better. But Gorbachev succeeded in bloodlessly ending the Cold War and creating the circumstances in which democracy could thrive in countries previously under the iron grip of the Kremlin.

It’s true that other forces contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement, by mounting the first effective challenge against Soviet control in Eastern Europe, generated momentum for economic and political reform that culminated in the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Ronald Reagan played his part too, subjecting the Soviet Union to sustained economic and military pressure that exposed the weakness behind its belligerent posturing.

Gorbachev, although a committed member of the Communist Party, was smart enough to realise the game was up for Soviet totalitarianism. Just as importantly, he had the sensibility to manage its dismantling in a way that minimised the damage. He was the first Soviet leader since Khrushchev who seemed more or less human.

Most of all, he had the courage to do what needed to be done, notwithstanding the reactionary forces arrayed against him.

The great irony is that while he earned the respect and gratitude of the West for defusing the ideological tension that had dominated world politics since the 1940s, he was unloved in his own land. An opinion poll in 2017 showed that an overwhelming majority of Russians viewed him negatively.

That could largely be explained by the fact that neither democracy nor capitalism lived up to its promise in Russia. An open-slather economy allowed corrupt oligarchs to flourish and democracy never stood a chance after the chaos of the Boris Yeltsin years.

The result was Vladimir Putin. The Russian people wanted a strongman who promised order, and they got him. Russia today is almost as authoritarian as it was in the days of Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Information is tightly controlled, dissent is brutally suppressed and many Russians seem to like it that way. The evidence suggests that Putin understands his people far better than Gorbachev did.

But there’s another even bigger and more tragic irony that Gorbachev’s death forces us to confront. While we smugly complimented ourselves on winning the Cold War, the democratic, capitalist West was all along being systematically undermined from within by ideological forces far more insidious than Soviet communism.

Call it the culture wars, call it identity politics, call it wokeism, call it neo-Marxism … whatever the label, a multi-faceted assault on Western values has been fermenting for decades, mostly in our institutions of learning, and is now happening in plain sight.

It aggressively manifests itself in attacks on all the values that define Western society and culture: free speech, property rights, the rule of law, economic liberalism, history, science, literature, philosophy and, most damagingly, democracy itself. The attacks are sanctioned by our own institutions, including the media, and have largely gone unopposed by nominally conservative politicians who give the impression of being in a state of paralysis.

We watched enthralled as Gorbachev defied political gravity and neutralised what we regarded as a potential threat to the free world, but I wonder who will save us from the even more menacing enemy within.



Andy Espersen said...

“Mikhail Gorbachev, who was buried in Moscow yesterday, was one of the truly heroic figures of our time”. You are so right, Karl – great to read your comment on this event.

You are coming up with the most significant yardstick of all, namely what sort of human being he was. Gorbachev was a better human being than most : he was brave, he was humane, he was honest, he took life seriously, he fought passionately for what he genuinely believed in, namely communism. As it happened in the end, his dream proved impossible, simply because of the selfish nature of human beings.

That fantastic social-political dream "From each according to his ability - to each according to his needs" moved millions of people in the 20th century who recognised the immense social injustices around them. Their one mistake was that they had the hubris to believe change could be and should be achieved by governments bringing about their ideological ideas by brute force.

The Redbaiter said...

"I wonder who will save us from the even more menacing enemy within."

Many believe that saviour is Donald J Trump. From their frantic attempts to stop him from ever ascending the US Presidency again, it would seem a lot of the "progressive" left think he might be the one as well.

Trev1 said...

Absolutely Karl. George Bush Snr understood the importance of not humiliating the Russians but his successors did not. Western experts from international financial institutions unwittingly assisted in the transfer of vast state owned assets to the oligarchs and gangsters who formed an unholy alliance with the security services, whence came Putin. A generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, our own freedom has not been under greater threat since World WarTwo. That threat comes from well financed, ideologically driven politicians, media and universities who have successfully indoctrinated many of the coming generations. The outlook for freedom is bleak.

Richard Arlidge said...

What a superb, powerful piece, Karl. The only issue I'd have is perhaps the real thinking of the average Russian, for who can you really trust? We used to think we'd trust what was reported here, but my, how quickly that has changed. But yes, it will be interesting to see who our saviour will be and, of course, when that might be - a year or two, or (perish the thought) will it be decades? Hopefully sooner rather than later and apart from David Seymour, I'm not hearing much sense from the rest who do, indeed, seem to be in a state of paralysis.

Anonymous said...

Trevs_Elbow says:

Karl - Gorbi was a true communist, but ultimately unlike Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Andropov, Brezhnev, Mao, Xi he lacked the moral character to carry out what was required to protect the revolution

Well that is the really lefties view - the true believer in Socialism

What does Ken Douglas think about Gorbachev? After all Sir Ken as he is now, was a staunch follower of the Moscow party line iirc. As were a number of other Trade Union leaders in NZ like Bill Anderson

If you want to know where this woke BS has come from its basically the Communist Partys gift to the West - rotten seeds planted and cultivated in our Universities (and by this I mean UK and then into NZ) since the 1920's. It has sat and festered in academia for decades - metastasizing often and reaching virulence in the 1960's via post modernism....

In NZ we have a lot of people who see Socialism as a fair go, opportunity for the working class. I think you yourself fit in that category - soft left with liberal sentiments, with Labour the natural party to support based on that view. Opportunity for all is what this type of soft socialist wants, a fair go and no barriers to how far your talents can take while also providing a safety net for lifes genuine unfortunates...

The problem is true believers in real socialism see Socialism as a step on the road to full blown Communism. It is their religion and they will never stopped as they believe it is inevitable as set out in the Communist Manifesto. And true believers infest our academic institutions, the inner workings of the Labour Party, are out in the open in the Greens and are also now firmly entrenched in the Public Service and the Media.

Don't believe that? Well the Labour Party manifesto in 2014 state the Labour Party believes in Equality of Outcome, i.e. Communism and everyone get the same outcomes regardless of effort. That is not the soft socialists desired outcome

It sits in front of us - and the left true believers lie to your face that what you see is not real. Its gaslighting in a major way...

Gorbi open up the East... but frankly it would have been better for the West if he hadn't. The CCCP was a clear and stark message - this is what Socialism truly is. And since that stark illustration disappeared the West has drifted every further left towards a tyranny that should scare us all....

The Gulags where not an illusion - and the Covid event has shown how much the Left will condone subjugation of rights of free speech, freedom of association and a right to dissent.

Turn the tide by your personal actions everyday - push back and refuse to submit, or face the inevitable consequences of a One Party state

Doug Longmire said...

A very relevant article, Karl and four very relevant comments above.
We can all see it starkly apparent now that the woke, neo-Marxist culture (and now race) war is well under way here in our once proud and free nation.
The enemy within is carrying out nothing less than the destruction of our Western democracy.
The "co-governance"/apartheid regime is under way, with racial division being forced upon us, under the ludicrous revisionist pretense that is is required under the Treaty of Waitangi, when a simple reading of the Treaty document itself shows that "co-governance" is actually a BREACH of the terms of the Treaty.
Truly - these are dark days for the future of New Zealand !!

Karl du Fresne said...

Trevs_Elbow doesn't deserve to have his comment published here because he's too gutless to identify himself, but I've run it anyway for the sheer novelty of my being classified as a member of the soft left. How anyone could follow this blog and reach that conclusion defies understanding.

Doug Longmire said...

Yes - I have often wondered at the fact that the majority of bloggers on sites are anonymous, or use obvious false names.
What is wrong with them? If it's good enough for you, Karl, and for me to identify ourselves and say who we are, why are all these other brave bloggers so afraid?

Karl du Fresne said...

I received a subsequent comment from Trevs_Elbow suggesting I delete his earlier one, but I decided to let it stand because my only quarrel is with his ludicrous characterisation of me as "soft left".
On that note, Trevs_Elbow explains that his description of me was based on my published comments criticising the National Party. He therefore confirms my impression that he's one of those people who see politics in strictly binary terms - that is to say, if you don't like the National Party, you must be a Labour supporter. It's a very narrow and simplistic view, but one that's unfortunately shared by a lot of people.
Trevs_Elbow also explains that he doesn't identify himself because he's previously been harassed by lefties and been threatened with communications to his employers. But if you allow your opponents to frighten you into anonymity, they've won. Freedom of speech is wasted if you're not prepared to assert your right to use it.

Tom Hunter said...

I agree with some of what you say but only some, and my take on the guy is here at No Minister with Communist gets to live under Real Communism:

I actually liked the guy for his basic decency and smarts, although that decency did not stop him sending in KGB agents to Eastern block countries to do their usual job of killing “agitators”, until he realised it would also take tanks and troops, as in East Germany in ’53, Hungary in ’56, and Czechoslovakia in ’68, and decided he couldn’t follow in the footsteps of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. So yes, I’ll give him credit for not doing the worst he could have – but that’s pretty weak sauce even if it does testify to some basic human decency.

But as I point out with, of all things an article from the NYT (circa 1988 so a different era), Gorbachev lied and/or covered up about having political prisoners and Chernobyl until circumstances forced him to open up.

The Cold War ended because of the collapse of the USSR, which was definitely not by any design, let alone that of Gorbachev. He was a Communist who believed in the system to such an extent that he thought a bit of “opening” would save it. He was a Marxist who could not see all the lies on which the system was built and that opening up would reveal those lies and begin the process of destruction, Chernobyl being front and centre as an example of the whole, rotten system.
He ended the Cold War about the same way Robert E Lee ended the American Civil War

I also note the stupid, petty sneering comparisons that were done in the late 80's between the "youthful", "vigorous", "smart" Soviet leader and the "senile" "moron" leading the USA. In that respect the likes of the NYT and the rest of the MSM have not changed at all.

Anonymous said...

Trevs_Elbow: karl it is easy to say your piece when you have a somewhat secure income. I dont. I work in the gig economy ... The threat to income is real. Having said that i will refrain from commenting on your blog from now. You say i have a binary view. That is not hard to understand in an NZ context given the failure of MMP to deliver real choice that can stand on its own two feet electoral bar the Greens who are just Labours poodle. Add in that for the longest time it was a binary choice pre MMP abd your stated distaste for National on occassions it is easy to see why i see your as a natural member of the left.

Saying that i do appreciate you commentary on free speech and accountability...

I leave it at that


Gary Peters said...

Karl, it is easy for you state your views openly. For others, not so much.

You have standing in your industry and you are also at a point in your life where income is not such an issue. That is why I choose to comment on your blog under my own name, I don't care what others think.

As for being "soft left", it is a term I had not heard before but I do think the world is not hard left or hard right anymore and I have stated that often to anyone silly enough to listen. I favour a non intrusive government and freedom to live in the world the way I would like as long as doesn't impact too deeply on others. But I also favour supporting those that are unable to support themselves but I would like them to contribute back in some way. If that makes me "soft left" then so be it.

However, the world that Gorbachev has just departed is a very different one than that he left when he departed politics. I don't like it much and I am tired of the way the current government are behaving. Labels such as nazi or communist are irrelevant here. Even apartheid is irrelevant. We are on a path whereby we will have "elites" deciding what is right for us and what we can think. That needs to change and i really hope National and ACT are taking note.

boudicca said...

I had a Russian friend who was a Putin fan. She kept going back to Russia. I hope she's there now. No longer a friend!

Hiko said...

Karl That is one of the best of your posts and I thank you for it
The Russian people had a chance at freedom and Gorbachev was their gateway to opportunity
Western democracy took a lot of pain and time to achieve
Russians were unprepared for it as they had known nothing else but brutal totalitarianism.
They have a long way to go
The West must now ensure that Putin does not succeed in his unprovoked War of aggression to satisfy his paranoia

Odysseus said...

Gorbachev was not a saint. He believed firmly in Communism. To rise to the top in the Soviet Union you had to have stepped over a lot of bodies; the security services were omnipresent. Gorbachev himself authorized the bloody crackdown in Lithuania in the last days of the Soviet Empire.

Gorbachev was however an intelligent man. He realized the Soviet Union ("Upper Volta with rockets") could not compete with the United States without opening up the economy to market forces. And so he launched Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness). But the gap was too great. As an everyday example, in the Soviet Union shop assistants used abacuses to process a transaction and scribbled purchase orders on tatty scraps of paper that were passed back to a bloated bureaucracy; in America transactions were computerized with sales information flowing all the way back through the supply chain, so that another widjet could be almost instantly produced to replace the one you had just bought. The US economy was far more efficient and consumer-driven, and wealthy.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was hugely traumatic for Russians. Diseases like diptheria became rampant again. Basic foodstuffs were suddenly scare and poverty soared. The population declined and lifespans shrunk.

Gorbachev was loathed. An old joke from the time runs as follows. Slava and Alexei had been waiting in the bread line in the snow all day without success. The queue in front of them was seemingly never-ending. Finally Slava snapped and declared he was going home to get his gun and he was going to go and shoot Gorbachev. A few days later Alexei was standing in the same bread line when Slava turned up again. "What happened?", asked Alexei, "I didn't hear any news about Gorbachev being shot". "I tried", replied Slava, "I returned home and got my gun as I said I would and then I went down to the Kremlin to shoot Gorbachev". "So what happened next?", Alexei asked excitedly. Slava paused a moment and then replied despondently "When I got to the Kremlin I found the line of those queueing to shoot Gorbachev was just too long".

Russians have a wickedly ironic sense of humour. They also have a strong dislike of politicians and politics; they regarded politics 30 years ago as a dirty and dangerous business. So Democracy did not find fertile ground in Russia. In New Zealand we are lucky to live in one of the world's longest, continuous democracies but now we are facing our own challenges.

davi said...

Karl, for a very good read on Gorbachev try this - it is not long but does explain why Putin made no time for his funeral.