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Editor’s Note: The article below was published by Walden Bello in CommonDreams.org and although we agree with the essence of his approach, I’d like to share THREE reflections and each of you can make your own:

  1. I was in the USSR, studying for my doctorate degree -precisely in politics- when Gorbachev assumed the leadership of the Communist Party in 1985. I agree that Soviet socialism needed a structural reform, and perhaps even a radical one, although of course not one that would lead to the «savage capitalism» that came later and not only exacerbated the corruption of the system but also ended most of the social conquests so hard won by the Soviet people (Russians and the rest of the nationalities and ethnic groups that made up the Soviet Union).
  2. The West deified Gorbachev and praised their great ally Eltsin. Instead, they demonize Putin. It is logical: the first two destroyed the world balance of power between the so-called «Eastern» and «Western» blocs. Putin, with defects and virtues that I do not risk judging because I never know to what extent what the Western media say about him is true, stopped Russian clientelism to the West, recovered the pride of the great Russian people, and has contributed together with China, and to a certain extent, to break the imperialist hegemony of the United States, even having to forge certain alliances with «millionaire cronies» and using some methods that are considered «authoritarian» and «anti-democratic» by the West, unless when we use them ourselves disguised as «democratic» shock therapies, and then we consider them «a necessary evil«.
  3. Like the author, I too admire people who are «not afraid to ride tigers,» but only when the consequences affect them alone. When it comes to the future of nations and entire generations, you can neither play with the tiger, much less trust the wolves in sheep’s clothing. That is the great conclusion of the «Gorvachian disaster«, and the great LESSON that China and Cuba continue to give the world. No matter that it hurts whoever it hurts… Enjoy the article.

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The late Soviet leader ended the Cold War, but his botched reforms opened the way to Russia’s modern crony capitalism.

So what are we to say about Mikhail Gorbachev, who passed away on August 30?

This destructive process of sweeping away all the institutions of state socialism via radical privatization did not give birth to the free market capitalism that the ideologues of the IMF and their Russian acolytes desired. Instead, it gave way to a system where privatized assets passed into a few hands that had mastered the system of pirate capitalism.

So great was the pain, both physical and psychological, inflicted on the Russian people that when a “savior” from unbridled capitalism emerged from the ranks of the former KGB, the Soviet security agency, they embraced him. So associated in the Russian consciousness was the chaotic liberal democracy under Yeltsin with the economic shock therapy imposed by the West that they’ve tolerated Putin’s two decades of authoritarianism cum crony capitalism as a lesser evil.

The Chinese said Gorbachev’s lessons boiled down to three: 1) never trust the West; 2) reform the economy and allow the development of private enterprise, but keep the state in a leading role, and 3) make sure the Communist Party has a firm hold of the political process.

Now one may quarrel with one, two, or all three of these propositions, but it is hard to deny the results of this approach: the emergence of China as the world’s second-biggest economy, the reduction of poverty to less than 5 percent of the Chinese population, and a political system that is both stable and broadly considered legitimate within the country.

To be sure, there are problems that many points to, like environmental crises and lack of democratic participation, but the ordinary Chinese would probably respond: “Sure, we have many problems, but would we exchange this system for that of the United States? Of course not.”

The U.S. infrastructure and economy overall are in such a decrepit state that some Americans say all it takes to convince an American to realize that the Chinese system is superior is to take the high-speed train that travels the 819 miles from Shanghai to Beijing in just 4.5 hours. (Amtrak, by contrast, covers the 457 miles from Boston to Washington, D.C. in 7 hours—and it ain’t no point-to-point train!)

But back to Gorbachev. How should he be judged?

Certainly to the Western elite, he was and is a hero since he helped eliminate a major rival to capitalism. Progressives would probably say the Soviet system needed reform, but Gorbachev botched it and paved the way for Putin’s authoritarian and crony capitalist rule. And the Chinese would probably say he’s important as an example of how not to manage an economy and political system.

And what do I say?

I think Gorbachev was naïve in his dealings with Ronald Reagan and the West, who were not interested in Soviet reform but in bringing down the Soviet Union. But being a product of the Soviet system, he realized that he was unleashing a process in a complex system of control dominated by the gargantuan Soviet Communist Party that could only have unpredictable consequences.

Gorbachev knew he was riding the tiger. And while I may have had disagreements with some of his policies, I’ve always respected people who don’t fear riding tigers even when they know they might end up in them, as Gorbachev did.

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Cover image from the original article by Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

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