Gorbachev, Lenin, and the Break with Leninism

By Brown, Archie | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Gorbachev, Lenin, and the Break with Leninism


Brown, Archie, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: The author examines the paradox of Mikhail Gorbachev's esteem for Lenin in combination with his growing rejection of Leninism. While Gorbachev still held the office of general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, he embraced ideas fundamentally at odds with those of the Soviet Union's principal architect. The focus of Western writers on Gorbachev's 1987 book, Perestroika." New Thinking for Our Country and the World, as a major source has been simplistic and misleading, obscuring the radicalization of Gorbachev's political ideas from 1988 onward. Drawing, inter alia, on previously unused archival documents, the author demonstrates how Gorbachev's views moved closer to those of Eduard Bernstein, a democratic socialist thinker whom Lenin despised, than to Leninism. Given the institutional power Gorbachev wielded until late in the perestroika period, his embrace of concepts radically at odds with Leninism was of critical importance, opening doors which had remained firmly closed for decades.

Keywords: Bernstein, Bolshevik, command-administrative system, democratization, Gorbachev, Lenin, Leninism, perestroika, pluralism, socialism

In a highly authoritarian political system, with great power vested in the office at the top of the political hierarchy, the values, policy preferences, and personality of the holder of that office are liable to make a bigger difference to major policy outcomes than the personality, values, and preferences of the head of government within a democracy. The constraints on the latter will be far greater--not only from members of his or her party, but also from opposition parties, the legislature, the judiciary, organized interests, and public opinion, to name the most obvious. That is not to say, however, that the power of the top leader in an authoritarian system is entirely unconstrained. If the authoritarian system is a) highly institutionalized and b) highly ideologized, then there are likely to be quite serious obstacles in the path of major innovation of even the topmost leader. In particular, it will be very risky for him (I do not add "or her," for male leadership is ubiquitous in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes) to attempt to change the basic tenets of the system's legitimating ideology or its institutional norms.

These factors all apply to the case of Mikhail Gorbachev and the transformation of the Soviet system. When Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, he attained the office which commanded greater institutional resources than any other within the country. Yet this was in a thoroughly consolidated authoritarian regime--in the classification of Linz and Stepan an example of "post-totalitarianism" (1)--in which the top leader was accorded great authority provided he played by the rules of the game. There was an important precedent in the post-Stalin Soviet Union illustrating the potential vulnerability of even the supreme leader. Although Nikita Khrushchev did not challenge the norms of the system to anything like the extent to which Gorbachev was subsequently to do, his frequent reorganizations of the party and state structures and an unwillingness to work through the established bureaucratic channels led to his removal from the leadership in October 1964 on the instigation of the leading members of the Politburo, (2) backed up by the Central Committee as a whole. (3)

Gorbachev was always conscious of the fate of Khrushchev and of his need, therefore, to persuade other members of the ruling oligarchy to embark on far-reaching reform. He could not simply introduce radical change by fiat, although he had a power of appointment which enabled him gradually to change the composition of the top leadership team. Even that power was by no means unconstrained. Promotion to the highest executive committee within the system, the Politburo, was by a process of collective co-option, in which the pool of talent was restricted to people who were already members of the Central Committee (chosen at five-year intervals at party congresses). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Gorbachev, Lenin, and the Break with Leninism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.