Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism

Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism

Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism

Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism

Synopsis

Mikhail Gorbachev and Zdenek Mlynar were friends for half a century, since they first crossed paths as students in 1950. Although one was a Russian and the other a Czech, they were both ardent supporters of communism and socialism. One took part in laying the groundwork for and carrying out the Prague spring; the other opened a new political era in Soviet world politics. In 1993 they decided that their conversations might be of interest to others and so they began to tape-record them. This book is the product of that "thinking out loud" process. It is an absorbing record of two friends trying to explain to one another their views on the problems and events that determined their destinies. From reminiscences of their starry-eyed university days to reflections on the use of force to "save socialism" to contemplation of the end of the cold war, here is a far more candid picture of Gorbachev than we have ever seen before.

Excerpt

This book, based on conversations between Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Zdeněk Mlynář, is an important historical document. It provides insights into the evolution of the political ideas of two highly intelligent people—from dogmatic Communism to Communist reformism (or revisionism) to a social democratic understanding of so. cialism When one of those concerned played the decisive role in the pluralization of Soviet politics and in the ending of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, that gives an especial significance to how his way of looking at the world gradually evolved.

There are critics of Gorbachev who have denied that his ideas shifted fundamentally on the grounds that he continued to express a commitment to “socialism.” Such criticism represents an all too common failure to understand the gulf separating the “socialism” of orthodox Communism, based on Marxist-Leninist ideology and the monopoly of power of a highly disciplined ruling party, from the “socialism” espoused by West European mass parties that throughout the greater part of the twentieth century competed, generally successfully, with Communists for the support of working-class and many middle-class voters.

A misunderstanding of social democracy is widespread both in Russia and the United States, for neither country—unlike the majority of European (especially West European) states—has had a successful social democratic movement or party. During the perestroika period the late Alec Nove drew attention to the growing number of ideologues of the market economy to be found in Russia who had taken to “denouncing the West European welfare state in the crudest Chicago terms” and who “seem to see not only Swedes but even the West German social democrats as dangerous lefties who desire to travel the road . . .

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