Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union. A former General Secretary of the Communist Party, he presided over the USSR as it attempted to restructure itself, yet ultimately crumbled. However, though Gorbachev’s failure to keep the politburo intact might seem to be an illustration of his ineptitude, it would be unwise to leap into such a conclusion. As the writers shall
Unlike his predecessors—Khrushchev, Brezhnev, et cetera—Gorbachev did not seek global military domination. Instead, he initiated policies aimed at reforming the Soviet Union from being a security threat to its near and far neighbors, into a state which devoted its resources for the betterment of its citizens .
Perhaps Gorbachev’s two most well-known policies are glasnost and perestroika. The former having the goal of pulling the politburo’s operations and decisions out of the shadows and into the eyes of the public. Whilst the latter was utilized as a system for reviving the collapsing Soviet economy, redirecting them from the path of constant production of missiles and other weaponries, towards more peaceful enterprises that seek nothing more than profit via peaceful means. Both these stances stood in stark contrast to the former policies enacted by the USSR, with many regarding them to be efforts at reaching pseudo-democracy .
We can now see that Gorbachev was somewhat of an anomaly in the Soviet Union. During his reign, the Soviets essentially ventured at leaving behind the Cold War, and by extension the nuclear arms race, to form a nation obsessed not with warfare but growth through tranquility and cooperation—both within and outside of its borders. At the end of the international saga, Gorbachev’s leadership arguably caused the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Again, seemingly a defeat on his part yet a loss which ushered in an era of living unafraid of the possibility of death at the hands of nuclear armaments .
At present, Gorbachev continues to tread on routes unfamiliar to Russian leaders. Today he struggles not to regain power, rather pave the way for the further democratization of Russia. On June 1st 2016, The New York Times published an article titled, “Reviled by Many Russians, Mikhail Gorbachev Still Has Lots to Say” which grants its readers a glance at the challenges he—as well as democracy—faces in his homeland.
In the aforementioned feature, Gorbachev speaks of how differently his fellow countrymen view him. Those who recognized the value of his endeavors near the Soviet Union’s collapse see him as a hero, particularly for enacting perestroika, the policy which allowed Russians to become more than mere pawns of the politburo. Sadly not all view him in such a complimentary manner, as many declare that he should be put on trial primarily for allowing the Soviet Union to fall. Others think of him as a traitor to the country, convinced that he degraded Russia, letting it be nothing more than a serf of the US right after the Cold War ended. Gorbachev was and perhaps still is deeply affected by how vicious Russia’s rhetoric about him could be, fearing that he might be publicized as a “foreign agent,” which basically means spy in Cold War lexicon. With basic logic alone, one could easily imagine how a state would treat spies in its midst, likely with a minimal punishment of imprisonment and at worst, death.
Despite these harassments aimed at him, that clearly induced a sense of terror within his psyche, Gorbachev did not halt his campaign for democracy in Russia. In a state known to host sham elections and authoritarianism , Gorbachev tried to establish democratic parties within Russia, not just once but thrice—in 2001, 2007, and 2009 . Although their effects on Russian politics are marginal at best, his perseverance to bring forth democracy in a land congested with tales of dictators reflect greatly upon his character.
Mikhail Gorbachev is both famous and infamous. Understood to be the bringer of peace, yet regarded as the sower of misfortune. Thus he is treated with love and contempt in near equal levels. However, he does not let the threats of others affect him. He permits fear within him yet marches onward, towards the goal of realizing democracy in Russia.
How should we then understand a leader like Mikhail Gorbachev? That is, how should we judge his worth in the context of leadership qualities? Many would quickly point at the downfall of the Soviet Union as a clear mark of that he does not have any redeeming qualities. After all, it is rare for the head of a state to enable the dissolution of his charge, rarer so when its ruination is done purposefully. Yet when one observes the state of the world during Gorbachev’s reign, one would be perhaps be able to understand why he made his controversial decision.
The Soviet Union was facing an economic collapse caused by years of producing items useful only in wartime. Its people were impoverished, with even those who are capable of designing and manufacturing nuclear bombs having wages comparable to farmers . When Gorbachev took the seat of General Secretary, the Union was practically bankrupt, with no private enterprises supporting its economy. Hence his conception of perestroika, with the addition of glasnost to abate the bubbling fury of Soviet citizens who were penniless due to the actions and decisions of statesmen. Moreover, the politburo was filled to the brim with corruption, securing most of the Union’s funds for the private use of select government officials. Gorbachev became captain of a sinking ship, one which despite his best efforts he could not save.
Without sufficient assets from inside the Union, Gorbachev needed some way to salvage his country; to at least not let it become one of the countless forgotten empires in history. His solution could only come from outside intervention, from the charity of the Union’s contemporaries. Yet with the Union being perceived to be a threat to global peace, it was unlikely that any would come to its aid. Thus Gorbachev made the unthinkably difficult call of completely demolishing the Soviet regime, and planted the seeds for a new government to take over—one which could sustain itself and not be seen as a menace. All the while aware of how the politburo and his countrymen would treat him as villain, a failure afterwards.
Mikhail Gorbachev is a leader who will do what he believes to be the right thing, no matter the consequences. He has proven his dedication to maintaining peace and improving the lives of his people during the Cold War, relinquishing all the power he had by doing so. And today, as he faces the challenge of bringing democracy into Russia, a task that very few think he could accomplish, he never wavered from his stance.
Gorbachev is an illustration of how leadership is not simply about maintaining power. But that it involves personal sacrifice, that the lives of those under you are your responsibility, and that when there is no easy way out even the most perilous roads must be taken. Put short, Mikhail Gorbachev is the kind of leader who will do all in his power, to protect the well-being of his people.