I read the reports on the death of former Russian prime minister Boris Yeltsin this week with mixed feelings. The man who delivered the coup de grace on the communist party’s hold on the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, hastening that superpower’s disintegration. The capitalist West hailed him as a hero, but socialists view his acts with ambivalence.
In 1991, the year Yeltsin took over control of Russia from then communist party chief Mikhail Gorbachev, I was just back to the mainstream after my second arrest in 1988 and a stint in the military camp for more than a year. I would soon try to grasp what was happening to the communist movement worldwide in that decade, with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall.
I was particularly interested with Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost, which lead to the weakening of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As a former member of the local communist party, I was interested in how the “advanced detachment of the proletariat” set up by V.I. Lenin as an organization hewing to the principle of democratic centralism could be restructured and “democratized.”
Gorbachev failed miserably, providing the Chinese Communist Party with a lesson on how to continue holding on to power while at the same time bringing the country to a capitalist path and economic growth. His successor, Yeltsin, was no Deng Xiaopeng, and his rule from 1991 to 1999 merely ensured that Russia’s status as world power would drop considerably and giving the United States the swagger as the only superpower left.
The demise of the Soviet union and the fall of socialist governments in many of its client states has given critics of the communist ideal the ammunition to denigrate it. Of course, I believe that the principles laid down primarily by Karl Marx and Fredreich Engels are still valid, but Yeltsin and the others made many people believe otherwise. Which is sad.
–-Candido O, Wenceslao, April 27, 2007