Was Mikhail Gorbachev a success, or failure?
Political leaders are people, and people are complex. To some their actions are heroic, to others, villainous. They might be praised abroad, and derided at home. Mikhail Gorbachev is no exception.
Gorbachev, the former Soviet Union (USSR) leader who helped end the Cold War and bring down the Berlin Wall, died this week at the age of 91.
In Canada, the CBC turned to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (another political figure with a conflicted legacy) to describe Gorbachev’s legacy to a new generation of Canadians with no memory of the Cold War.
Mikhail Gorbachev was, “a visionary and a man who helped change the world,” says his longtime friend and colleague Brian Mulroney, reported the CBC.
In the West, Gorbachev is widely hailed as a hero. But to those in the former USSR, which he couldn’t keep together, his legacy is more complicated.
Writing in Canadian Dimension, University of Ottawa professor Paul Robinson says Gorbachev’s grasp of economics was “sketchy,” and contributed to the Soviet Union’s collapse.
“He tinkered with the economy by attempting to meld state planning with certain attributes of free markets in accordance with the ideas of what was called ‘market socialism,’” writes Robinson. “Market socialism proved a disaster. Instead of making enterprises more efficient, the introduction of market elements simply undermined the few advantages that planning provided.”
In recent years, commentators have said the roots of the Russian invasion of Ukraine go back to Gorbachev’s time.
Many Russians ask themselves what Gorbachev got in exchange for surrendering the Soviet’s empire in Eastern Europe. “Most importantly, they note that he failed to get a written guarantee that NATO would not expand eastwards. Historians disagree as to whether NATO leaders gave verbal promises in this regard, but it is certain that nothing was ever put on paper. Rarely has somebody given up so much and got so little in return. The sense of bitterness that resulted has soured Russian-Western relations ever since,” says Robinson.
He concludes that Mikhail Gorbachev meant well. But in the process of working for peace and prosperity he unleashed hidden forces that destroyed the system he hoped to revive. “For better or for worse, we are still living with the consequences today.”
- Read “Mikhail Gorbachev’s misunderstood legacy” by Paul Robinson, published on September 1, 2022 by Canadian Dimension
(Cover: MOSCOW – NOVEMBER 13: The first President of USSR Mikhail Gorbachev presents his book With myself in Moscow House of Books, November 13, 2012 in Moscow, Russia. Via Shutterstock)