AS YOU may grapple with guesses, regarding whom you think we may have in mind, who “so changed the world”, in the 20th Century, two words might serve as reminding-catalysts. Think of “Glasnost”, openness, and “Perestroika”, restructuring. They are words of Russian origin. If you should still be lost, just stay un-nervy, or better put, sinewy, you should soon be at home.
If you were born anytime not too long before 1917, and you have managed to stay alive, you must be part of a genre that has been privileged to observe one nation, composed of fifteen Republics. Or you read something like the “USSR”, in full, “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” This was a group of Republics, forcibly put together by monarchies, since centuries, the last of whom were the Romanovs, personified by, or in Czar Nicolaus II, who with his entire family did not survive the Bolshevists Revolution, which overthrew him in 1917. The Revolution was led by a Russian “dissident” by the name of Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov (Lenin). With him were “comrades” like Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin.
Not to be forgotten are philosophers like Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx. The two German intellectuals had worked on politico-economic concepts, which, when put into practice, would change the world order, hitherto seen as exploitative, especially since the Industrial Revolution in Europe, capitalism. The change talked about, as proclaimed, was believed to be for the better. Lenin returned from his Swiss hideout as the overthrow-process was broiling, and for the Czarist Government, there was nowhere to go.
By October 1917, it was all over. Without any time-wasting, an autocratic system was put in place. It took away all liberties, and established a central control of the economy, (command economy). Casualties began to mount, either as “prisoners” or executed. Two million such victims had been registered when Lenin was struck by “stroke” in 1922, and finally dying in 1924. Stalin, the most cunning of Lenin's associates, was able to edge out comrades like Trotsky, and Beria.
It was in the Southern part of Russia, in the village of Privolnoe, in 1931, that a baby boy was born, the third and last child to a rustic family. His name was Michael Gorbachev. He was too young to be enlisted into the Red Army, when Hitler occupied in 1941, the part of the country where his family lived. Graduating from the Moscow State University however, in 1955, after five years of studies in Law, he joined the Communist Party as soon as possible in his early years.
In 1970, he was promoted First Secretary of the regional branch of the party, and rose to Central Committee membership in 1978. Then, 1979 saw him leap even higher to the Politburo, and by 1980 he was already among the ruling class of his country, rising to top positions in the Central Committee. Gorbachev had married a young, intelligent and attractive lady, Raisa Maximovna Titorenko, whom he had met two years before he would graduate from university. They were blessed with an only child, a girl, Irina. It is also said that the intellectual wife had tremendous influence in shaping this man's career in the communist hierarchy.
Soviet leaders had ruled, since the take-over, as if by destiny, for long periods, (Stalin, from 1924 to 1954, Nikita Segeyevich Krushchov, from 1954-64, Leonid Breznev, 1964-82). Thereafter, it seems the destiny of the Soviet people had grown very impatient with time. Andropov, who took over from the veteran Breznev, lasted only three years in office, until death, “the leveler,” snatched him away. Chernenko, after him, had a lesser bargain with luck, or death. He died barely a year after occupying the top-most seat at the Kremlin.
It seems all had to do with elements - the stars and destiny - and these had prepared everything for the man, later to be given the pet-name “Gorbie” by the East Germans. The secret ballot, which elected him, was won in his favour, according to reliable sources, by a margin of not more than three votes.
But, it was enough to bring the man into power, who would change the world like never seen before since 1917. Had his rival, Viktor Grischin, won the race, a hardliner by every standard, who is said to have pledged to be a Bolshevist, even after his death, who knows…? The stars had decided that night, to save mankind a from Soviet-style Communism for too long.
Gorbachev, whilst among the apex of the Politburo, unlike his predecessors, had been made to travel to the West extensively for his country. France, Italy, Canada, and lastly, England, in 1984, just a year before he would ascend to utmost power. The ebullient politician, in his travels had been very observant, watching and admiring capitalism, without looking suspicious in anyway, when back home. He had lost a brother at the hands of the Bolshevists, and another brother had sat in conditions similar to the much-feared Gulac Achipelago. He had also remained cognizant of the failed attempt at reforms initiated by Krushchev early in 1964. It was an attempt, with the strategy at discrediting Stalin. It failed, and Premier Nikita K. lost his position thereupon.
Gorbachev had to tread more cautiously. His super-intelligent spouse would help him shape the new course. For decades, the Soviet Union had produced military hardware for one-third of the world, including China, the Middle East, (Egypt mostly), but the Republic of Yemen too. Latin America was a big recipient area, and especially so, after the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, which overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959. This kind of trade in military hardware had brought into the national coffers more ideology, of which the Soviet Union was already so rich in, than cash. America, as the fiercest Super-power competitor, was richer by light years. The Soviet Union had got her hands and feet in the Afghan quagmire, and like the similar situation in Vietnam, where only a decade previously, America had lost several trillion US Dollars, plus 50,000 young American lives, the Soviets, after entering Kabul in 1979, had been cashing in casualties, which not even the repression in place, since Stalin, could contain.
Jimmy Carter, and a few Western Allies, boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, in protest. The Soviets, on their part, did not go to Los Angeles in 1984. The world had become a less secure place for everybody, but, for the Soviets, an increasingly dire state of poverty, in spite of industries. It was in this era that Gorbachev was ushered into the driver's seat of his country's “combine harvester.”
He had in his extensive travels, compared notes between the system he lived in, and those he had visited.
He started to ask pertinent questions as to why, in spite of the plethora of scientists and natural resources, his country was not as prosperous as the USA, for example. The prosperity he was soliloquizing in was happiness for the man/woman in the street. Soviet scientists, especially of Jewish origin, were risking it all, and defecting to Israel. One such prominent Physicist, Alexander Saccharov, had become outspokenly an embarrassment for his country. He lived in a one-room apartment in Moscow with his family, and, just be reminded, he was a Nobel Prize career.
Above, and over all that, Gorbachev had gotten knowledge that his country was broke, and he increasingly “refused” to understand why! (To be continued next week)
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