The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

GORBACHEV'S BRILLIANT AND BITTER VICTORY JULY 1990

Once again, Western experts are seen oversimplifying the nature of Soviet
events. As has been clear in previous snapshots, Gorbachev's victories were
rarely as straightforward as they appeared, and they always came at some
cost. Thus, the picture presented to the West, in all its black and white
clarity, was very different than that seen in the current snapshot, which is
textured with shadows and shades of grey.

Western experts and politicians are convinced that the 28th Party Congress was a great success for Gorbachev. The consensus is that Gorbachev consolidated his power and is poised to begin a new era in his reform movement. Even President Bush has proclaimed renewed confidence in Gorbachev's position. Indeed, although Gorbachev's dramatic career abounds with brilliant maneuvers against his foes inside the Kremlin, it is difficult to find another victory he so richly deserved. It was less a victory won by a man with access to all of the mechanisms of power than a victory by a shrewd political player who managed a checkmate in the midst of what seemed to be a losing game.

The Constituent Congress of the Russian Communist party, which had ended just days before the Party Congress began, provided high drama and sent chills through the country. The conservatives' success was so overwhelming that Soviet liberals such as Fedor Burlatskii began to talk of "the specter of Stalin that again hangs over the country" and of the prospect of returning to "the worst days of the Gulag."

General Albert Makashov's thinly veiled threat of a military coup was not only greeted with thundering applause from the delegates, but was swallowed by Gorbachev, who, looking rather confused, dared not react to the abrasive and arrogant speech. Makashov went so far as to almost openly name Gorbachev as the author "of a concept addressed to dimwits."

Attacks on Gorbachev abounded at the Russian Party Congress, with conservative Yegor Ligachev pledging "the coming feast on our street," and Ivan Polozkov, the newly elected first secretary, promising a crusade for the restoration of Communist ideals. Rather than fight back, Gorbachev instead professed his respect for the most reactionary wing of the Congress of the Russian party, the so-called "Leningrad Initiative Congress."

Thus, when the All-Union Party Congress began its work a few days later, the conservatives, led by the Russian Communist party, seemed to have matters well in hand. Gorbachev failed to placate his conservative opponents

-145-

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