Monthly Archives: October 2016

Russia’s Autocrats Part 3 of 4





Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev 1931 –

He was the last of the Soviet Union’s leaders and served as Head of State from 1985 to 1991. He was younger than his predecessors and had traveled abroad and was therefore more open-minded. First he removed the Communist Party’s role in governing the State. In his attempts at being a reformer he introduced the concepts of “glasnost” (openness) which could also be translated as transparency and “perestroika,” a restructuring of the country’s political system. His aim was not to abolish the Soviet Union but to modernize it and stop its stagnation.

He was also eager to improve relations with the West. But events cascaded too rapidly past him. Caught in the increasing momentum, he was unable to apply the brakes and the unintended result was the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

His decision of not intervening in the affairs of the satellite Eastern Bloc countries (the Warsaw Pact Nations) resulted in widespread popular upheaval. These countries saw their chance to regain sovereignty. Ultimately, East Germany also rebelled and the Berlin Wall fell. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was underway.

A coup by hard-line Communists was attempted against Gorbachev in 1991. At this point a relative unknown named Boris Yeltsin stepped into battle. Atop a tank he harangued the crowd, condemned the coup, and attempted to save the situation. But Gorbachev, realizing he had lost control of events, ultimately resigned, and Yeltsin became the new national hero.

Boris Yeltsin 1931-

In June of 1991, Boris Yeltsin was elected by popular vote to the newly created position of President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Yeltsin was the first (and only) freely elected leader of Russia in its thousand years of existence. Hand-picked by Gorbachev to shake up the corrupt party system, he was an eager reformer. But he had the impossible task of moving the country from a centralized bureaucracy to a market economy. The change was too brutal. It was called “shock without therapy.”

There was massive inflation. The people lost their security and sense of stability. Chaos ensued. Yeltsin was also instrumental in letting the soviet republics leave the union and establish their separate autonomous nationhood. A civil war almost erupted.

Yeltsin was also a flawed, erratic and unpredictable agent of change. When a solid rock was needed, he was a vacillating and unstable vessel. The financial crisis and his bad health (attributed to alcoholism) forced him to resign. He was thus also the first leader to relinquish power voluntarily.

He left the country to an obscure bureaucrat named Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Russia’s Autocrats (part 2 of 4)

Lenin/Stalin Art

Lenin/Stalin Art

Lenin Stalin photo

Lenin Stalin photo

Alexander II (The Liberator) 1818 -1881 emancipated the serfs. He also abolished corporal punishment and reformed the educational and judicial system. He was assassinated for his pains and repression ensued.

In 1918, czarist Russia collapsed under its own flaws and inability to reform. Since the industrial revolution, the peasants and workers had become increasingly unhappy with the country’s backwardness. Western ideas were infiltrating Russia. This decay finally produced a socialist revolution as workers got politicized. The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. In 1917 Lenin returned from exile in Germany and took charge of the Bolshevik faction. Although a minority, they gradually gained ground. The October Revolution had begun. Under Trotsky, they staged a coup and captured the Government.

What happened then was a Civil War between the Reds and the Whites which lasted until 1922. The Reds were fighting for the Bolsheviks against the Whites, a loose coalition of opponents of the Revolution. The Reds proclaimed the Soviets (Workers’ Councils) as the new government of the country. A Provisional Government which had formed with Kerensky (affiliated with the Mensheviks) at its head was dissolved. Kerensky had to flee. He ended up in California at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University where he stayed for many years. The Bolsheviks were Communists. They transferred power to the All Russian Congress of Soviets. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (alias Lenin ) took over and gradually proscribed all competing political parties. The new autocrat had arrived. The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” swapped one form of autocracy for another.

From the beginning, the Soviet Union was ruled as a one party state by the Communist Party (erstwhile Bolsheviks)

Lenin died in 1924 and Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili (alias Stalin) came to power. He belonged to the militant wing of the Bolsheviks and had outmaneuvered his rivals to win the political struggle for control of the Party. Stalin forcefully transformed Russia into an industrial superpower. He engineered a brutal system of farm collectivization which led to widespread famines which killed millions. Stalin created a cult of personality around himself. Cities were renamed in his honor. Because of his World War II victory over Hitler, he is still idolized and revered today despite the unspeakable horrors of purges and executions, and the 20 million people who died during his brutal rule. His body was at first, embalmed and preserved in Lenin’s Mausoleum. The word “autocrat” seems inadequate to describe this man.

Enter a new “reformer”. Nikita Khrushchev (1894 1971) was “Premier” (First Secretary) from 1958 to 1964.He had emerged victorious from the power struggle triggered by Stalin’s death. On February 25 1956 he delivered his “secret speech” denouncing Stalin’s purges and ushered in a less repressive era. He believed Russia could match and overtake the United States and relaxed the strict rules on traveling abroad. After Khrushchev fall from power his protégé Leonid Brezhnev (1906 1982) emerged dominant. The country entered an era of rigidity and bureaucracy and typical “Cold War” posturing.