January 30, 2012

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader and first constitutional president, on the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of Soviet Russia, argues (The Nation, 1/15/2012, p.10-12)  that “a secure and just world order was missed.”

Western commentators, Gorbachev observes, tend to celebrate the collapse of the USSR of Stalin and Brezhnev as having occurred in December 1991. This is viewed in the West as the ending of the Cold War.  This view, Gorbachev’s suggests, is not historically accurate.  He notes that he and President Bush, after difficult discussions a few years prior with President Reagan regarding nuclear weapons and conventional arms control, the two superpowers had achieved mutual trust.  President Bush at the Malta Summit in December 1989  stated that “our two nations no longer regarded each other as enemies.”   That indicated,  in Gorbachev’s view, “the cold war was over“.  Not as most Western commentators had it, or have it, that it occurred with the breakup of Soviet Russia in December 1991.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 until the dissolution of Soviet Russia in 1991 Gorbachev points to the  cooperation with the West after decades of tension in Europe. This led to “peaceful change in Central and Eastern Europe”, unification of Germany, and rebuffing Saddam Husein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The United Nations,  Gorbachev concludes, was in place as a tool to resolve and prevent international conflicts.

What were the results of the dissolution of the Soviet Union within Russia?  Gorbachev, “last leader and first constitutional president” of Soviet Russia, stressed  perestroika –  evolutionary reform to reshape Russia into a democracy. Perestroika, 1985 to 1991, urged “political pluralism and free elections” and the fostering of “market economics”.   Gorbachev concludes that  in spite of many gains it proved impossible to reform the Communist Party.  The breakup of Soviet Russia was not due to any foreign power. A failed coup in August 1991 by anti-perestroika conservatives weakened his hand.  Prior to the coup in Mach 1991 with a referendum the electorate approved perestroika and the renewal of Soviet Russia. Gorbachev became the constitutional president of Soviet Russia.  However, a ” history shaping event took place surreptitiously at a secluded hunting lodge in the Belovech Forest . .  . . on December 8, 1991 when heads of three of  fifteen Soviet Republics led by Boris Yeltsin of Russia”  arranged the abolishing of the Soviet Union. The collapse of Soviet Russia was an internal affair and did not  mark the end of the cold war. American political elites with “triumphal euphoria” and a “winners complex” declared “victory” in the cold war which, in fact, had ended two years prior. America and its allies soon expanded NATO, a military alliance, eastward close to Russian borders and, thus, undercut and weakened the United Nation’s role in international affairs. Subsequently  the European Union (EU) was enlarged  in an eastward direction. A democratic common European home, Gorbachev concludes,  must be built not only from the West but also from the East including Russia.

Both Soviet Russia and the West, Gorbachev continues, needed a change in thinking The West, however, insisting on its “purported victory in the cold war” saw no need to alter cold war thinking as to approach, use of military force,  and methods of political and economic pressure. One model applied to everyone making the United Nations and the Security Council expendable. Some American “pundits” came to view America not only as a superpower but a “hyperpower” able to create “‘a new kind of empire'”. This project failed as miliary intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan shows.  “The erroneous interpretation of the end of the cold war, Gorbachev concludes, resulted in the disappearance from the world arena of a strong partner with its own views -the reforming Soviet Union.”


Several weeks ago Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in the Nation ::  “The end of the Cold War is our common victory” and, he observes, it occurred in 1989.  A google search indicates most comment or scholarship has 1991 as the date.  What might one conclude?  My mantra –  “that of which we are most certain of that be most critical..”  With regard to historical interpretation and critical thinking I have written:  “the participant in his/her time is convinced of objectivity and interpretation of contemporary event or value . . . . he (she(depends on his perception of value and moral certainty which gives meaning to his (her) life – (it is) hard to shake biases and prejudices.”   What is needed  is “an objective comprehension of (Gorbachev’s) past” when critiquing Gorbachev and “his climate of opinion”. One should take seriously the results of  perestroika (1985 -1991) within Soviet Russia  and the Malta Summit in December 1989. On that occasion President Bush declared: “our two nations no longer regarded each other as enemies  .  . . . (we are at) the threshold of a  broad new era of US – Soviet relations”. In the late spring of 1990 when on a visit to Washington  and the US Gorbachev stated: “The Cold War is now behind us. Let us not wrangle who won it”. Surely Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms proved his undoing in the sense that it soon led to fifteen independent republics as result of the dissolution of Soviet Russia.  One should set aside the “wrangle” and give Gorbachev due credit fo his role in ending of the Cold War.

The quote above see Home Page tab – Audio and Written Lectures under Written Work – “The Freedmens’ Bureau and the Problem of Reconstruction History” .  an example of historiography, or  analysis of the history of history.

Published by profbartling1

Retired professor Concordia University, St. Paul, Mn. Taught mainly American History. Also taught in other areas of history, philosophy, and theology,

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