Pride and prejudice
Gorbachev made mistakes. Gorbachev had prejudices.The black-and-white monument to Khrushchev at the Novodevichy Cemetery reflects the mixed nature of Nikita Sergeevich, whose reign included the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising, the Novocherkassk massacre and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he provoked. Yet he gave freedom to and rehabilitated many innocent people tortured by a terrible dictatorship. He changed, albeit temporarily, the atmosphere in the country.
Gorbachev had, especially at the end of his reign, difficult episodes. For example, the January events in Vilnius in 1991 (Forbes: the clashes between supporters of Lithuanian independence on the one side and soldiers of the Soviet army and members of the National Salvation Committee on the other that took place less than a year after Lithuania declared it was seceding from the USSR). For the former regional secretary who had ascended to the Central Committee, many moves did not come easy. In particular, for a long time Mikhail Sergeevich wouldn’t acknowledge the existence of the secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He delayed acknowledging Katyn. Still, in the end he acknowledged both.
Mikhail Sergeevich clung to Lenin. This may seem ridiculous now. But he contrasted Lenin with Stalin, and that was no laughing matter and very serious. Gorby began a second de-Stalinization, which even Yeltsin couldn’t see to the end later.
While insisting on glasnost, Gorbachev long covered up details of the Chernobyl accident. Launching economic reforms, he got off on the wrong foot – he started pumping state funds into machine building. Despite uskoreniye, real reforms were delayed by a couple years. But starting from the June 1987 Plenum, they began. And then they slowed down. It was Gorbachev and his ministers who wouldn’t go through with liberalizing the economy. The consequences were dealt with by Yeltsin and Gaidar.
Gorby allowed elections, but with the so-called “Red Hundred” locked in. He unleashed democratic energy, freed Andrei Sakharov, but didn’t shield Sakharov from being smeared. He bathed in popularity, canceled Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution – guaranteeing the omnipotence of the party-state – but then didn’t dare to hold popular elections for the president of the USSR.
“Gorbachev's Dilemma:” he gave freedom to the media and more broadly to opinions while himself becoming a victim of this freedom. Yet he didn’t suppress it!
The republics left the Soviet Union, many cursing the empire and de facto occupation. But they were able to throw off the yoke of the empire only after Gorbachev actually allowed it. Rather, he allowed them to speak freely and assemble peacefully, without weapons, as part of the empire and the socialist choice. Without understanding the avalanche he had triggered.
He didn’t want to abandon socialism. He believed that the Union could be saved. It has become a commonplace that he destroyed it, and yet the empire, the last after the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and British, was falling apart in accordance with the inexorable logic of history. Gorby wanted to strengthen it by giving it freedom, but it immediately began to crumble like a badly baked pie.
Gorbachev was late. He withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan when the Afghan war itself was already morally corroding the USSR from the inside.
Mikhail Gorbachev ran ahead of the avalanche, pretending or even thinking that he was guiding it. However, it was already uncontrollable. In the end, he ran away from it, from this avalanche. The society was liberated faster than the state.