Gorbachev: Analysis of Three Books About Gorbachev

The history of the Soviet Union is complicated and fascinating. In the course
of only seventy years this country has seen the development of the totally new
system of state, economic growth, the growth of hopes for the "brighter future",
and then the sudden and expected by no one collapse of the whole system leading
to chaos, wars, and confusion. One period is especially important in order to
realize how did things finally started to change after the seventy years of
blindly pursuing the dream of communism which left the Soviet Union in a very
bad economical and moral state, and this period is called perestroika, Russian
for restructuring. The main figure behind this process which began in 1985 is
Mikhail S. Gorbachev who became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union Central Committee in March 1985. The three books that concentrate
on the "Gorbachev phenomenon" were all unfortunately written before perestroika
was finished, so they do not analyze the consequences that it had for the Soviet
Union as well as for the whole world . On the other hand, all three of these
books do a good job in explaining the changes that took place in the course of
the first three years after Gorbachev came to power and why were these changes
necessary.

The first book "Gorbachev" was written by Zhores A. Medvedev in 1986 and hence
the author is concentrating on the first year of the new course in Soviet
history. The book itself basically consists of two parts: the first part where
the author describes the "making of a General Secretary", and the second part
entitled "Gorbachev in power" which describes Gorbachev\'s first year in the
office. The first part of the book gives a lot of background information which
allows the reader to see the stages in development of the Soviet leader from
childhood and youth to second-in-command. One thing I found to be particularly
interesting in Medvedev\'s description of Gorbachev\'s youth and that is the
theory that living with a Czech intellectual for five years changed the future
Soviet leader in such a way that he became more "westernized" which "indirectly
provided the Soviet Union with a new style leader". Medvedev says that during
the time from 1950 to 1955 when young Gorbachev attended the Moscow State
University and had to share the room with a Czech student Zdenek Mlynar he was
"profoundly influenced" by the "culture and attitudes of a traditionally Western
nation". This influence lasted for years and the fact that Gorbachev has become
"westernized" in his appearance, manners, dress and the "image he projects of
tolerance and cordial behavior, all the small signs which mark him as different
from the usual Komsomol and Party boss", is according to Medvedev due to a great
extent to the fact that Mlynar was Gorbachev\'s roommate (Medvedev, 1986, p. 43).

Although the first part of the book is certainly interesting and important I
would like to concentrate on the second part of the book since it is directly
deals with the subject that interests me most, that is the years when Gorbachev
was in power and the development of the new course in the Soviet life called
perestroika. From just reading the first paragraph it is obvious that the
author approves of the new leader. Medvedev writes: "For the first time in
Soviet history, the leadership succession has meant more than the arrival of a
new leader and the possibility of the implementation of the new policies. The
Gorbachev succession marks the appearance of a new political generation which
differs from the old guard in style, knowledge and historical
vision....Gorbachev represents a younger post-war political generation, a
generation which started its professional Party or state career during the more
liberal Krushchev era" (p. 165). Medvedev quotes some of the very enthusiastic
Western newspaper comments which called Gorbachev a "bright, incisive, brisk-
mannered man", with "high intelligence, considerable organizational abilities,
political acumen". According to the author no previous Soviet leader had
received so much immediate publicity and such an enthusiastic welcome from the
general public. "Gorbachev\'s popularity was closely linked to his energetic,
charismatic, competent and obviously intelligent personality", says Medvedev
which led to this immediate acceptance of Gorbachev as leader (p. 183). Inspite
the fact that Gorbachev\'s new style was popular, some of his methods found less
favor. A lot of his actions were purely administrative, imposed from above
without any discussion and seemed coercive and disciplinarian to some people,
especially to intellectuals who expected liberalism. Medvedev seems to justify
Gorbachev\'s first decrees since they