All Around the World


Mikhail Gorbachev & the End of Soviet Power

By: John Miller

John Miller was a British journalist who lived in the Soviet Union to survey for Reuters. Several other books he has written include All Them Cornfields and Ballet in the Evenings and the Chamdo Raid. His two children, Jane and Timothy, were born and raised in the Soviet Union.

Ushering a New Age

By: Evan Chen

What was Gorbachev’s role in the drama: playwright, midwife or prisoner, or all three?1 In Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of Soviet Power, author John Miller explains the significance of Gorbachev’s position as a pivotal leader of the Soviet Union. Throughout the book, Miller tries to discern if Gorbachev was trying to save the Soviet Union, or did he intentionally try to take down the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Drawing on an analysis of Gorbachev of what made him inherently different than the rest of the leaders and of his rather unique personality, Miller attempts to delve his personal motives for the audience to see. In a time when the government tried to limit the society, Gorbachev opened up new opportunities through the reforms such as glasnost and brought attention to the people. His perestroika, otherwise known as the reformation, played an important role in changing Russia and was essential in causing the chain of events that made Russia into what it is now. Communist or not, Gorbachev shifted Russia from the past, and connected it to the present timeline.

Miller starts off with a brief discussion about how the Soviet System worked, the problems during the Brezhnev reign that lead up to Gorbachev’s position, an overview of perestroika which is reconstruction, and the end of the Soviet Union itself. Having a heritage of being four-fifths rural and largely illiterate due to its “northern latitude and severe environment”, Russia in general remained largely uninterested in the idea of social and economic change.1 Rulers believed that there was a need to impose a harsh rule on these people, as a result because of Russia’s poor heritage yielding so little resources and an “untrustworthy” diverse population consisting of only up to 44 percent Russians.2 The Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the CPSU, soon rose out of society as a single-ruling party which imposed ruthless techniques to remain as a monopoly by imposing censorship, state ideology, creation of public organizations, and absolute control on the officer corps of armed forces and police. A system of appointing Communists to influential positions appeared at this time. This system was called “nomenklatura” or “list of names.”3 As a system, this was meant to solve one problem only: industrialization. During the Brezhnev reign, urban life was heading downward in a spiral which lead to a major agriculture subsidy to prevent a possible revolution from occurring because of the grim and harsh conditions of urban life. The social compact during this time was the idea of “pretend work”, in which the people would turn a blind eye toward the Party, and the Party would return the favor by staying out of the affairs of the people such as ethnicity and religion. Yet the flaw of this compact was due to its susceptibility of being interfered by new interest groups seeking out different ways to gain resources. Nomenklatura also had the susceptibility of corruption due to the immunity of the officials. Gorbachev later was chosen after the deaths of M.A. Suslov, Chernenko, and Andropov, a special circumstance due to poor health. Under Gorbachev, the words glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika were used more often as a result of the struggle for these two terms. Collapse came when the powers of the CPSU were taken away by the dropping of Article Six and the coup of August 1991, overthrowing Gorbachev.

The makings of Gorbachev, the agenda of the CPSU, and Glasnost are then analyzed Described as “unusually energetic” and “outgoing”, Gorbachev could be seen as a man with much potential as a politician.4 As a politician, he would criticize the dependence of the people on the government, deeming them “literally unfitted for independence.”5 Two central politicians played a role in the rise of Gorbachev: Kulakov and Andropov. Gorbachev was possibly favored by Kulakov in his will and Gorbachev had interests aligned with Andropov, which directly pointed to him once the need for a leader became clear. The incident of Chernobyl drastically decreased the public’s trust of the government and with that, Gorbachev utilized the glasnost policy to regain the trust of society. Although Gorbachev did this, the Party was beginning to oppose Gorbachev due to perestroika weakening their influence. Glasnost was successful in terms of opening up discussion of social problems, and Chernobyl allowed for more reports of accidents and current events. It gave more access to news and information, basically leading to a more openness of the freedom of the press. With the use of glasnost, came the new interest groups’ increased participation due to being given a voice without limits.

A deeper look is taken for perestroika, the relationship between Gorbachev and the CPSU, and the time during Gorbachev’s presidency. The creation of the March 1990 constitution clearly defined the legal and illegal powers of the government. The establishment of the presidency was an effort to challenge the CPSU’s powerful monopoly and it essentially replaced the monopoly at that time. In Gorbachev’s eyes, he saw the disappointment of internal reform of the CPSU, and concluded by challenging this monopoly with reform. Under perestroika, the CPSU was disseminated and had to struggle to live on as a party. During Gorbachev’s presidency, the Russian Republic included almost 50.8 percent of the total Union population.6 This was a time when the Republic was urging to go against Gorbachev with increasing opposition. The military was then disseminated as a result of the replacement of the Party. It was no longer a strong supporting force for the Party, and was deeply divided within its many ranks.

Finally, Miller describes the August Coup, the Union Treaty, and his opinion. The August Coup was sparked when Gorbachev decided to end perestroika and push more to the right. The coup was meant to save the CPSU, but instead destroyed everything and Gorbachev’s career. It was a complete disaster in terms of trying to revive the Party due to the help of Yeltsin (Leader of the RSFR), the Union Treaty, and Gorbachev pushing for Federalism. It brought modernity to Russia, but was lacking in some ways. After the signing of the Treaty, on January 1, Gorbachev and Yeltsin agreed for the end of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev would soon resign.7 John Miller, in his opinion, explains the communism that collapsed was actually Leninism. Leninism’s characteristics were extremely similar to the CPSU’s in terms of structure and programs. Miller also talks about how Perestroika was meant to destroy the Party peacefully with the use of glasnost. To him, the end of the CPSU was one of Gorbachev’s major achievements in his career. Gorbachev failed in some ways, because of his over-analysis, over-optimism, and was not good at working with his allies.

In the eyes of John Miller, Gorbachev led Russia onto a more democratic path. He notes Gorbachev’s weaknesses such as over-confidence and not being a good team-worker. Despite these qualities, he firmly believed that Gorbachev’s greatest achievement was in the breaking of the CPSU through perestroika. The extremely mono-organizational Party’s intricate connections of power could no longer be made into something as efficient as it once was before. Calling it “Gorbachev’s finest achievement”, there is an admiration for this one man taking down an entire system, and bringing Russia to a better path.8 Miller compares Gorbachev to one of history’s greatest men such as Julius Caesar, Diocletian, The Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm and the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was someone that paved the way for a better future.

As of background and the time period of the author, John Miller was a journalist that worked for Reuters. Living in Moscow for some time, there is no doubt that Miller had admired the Russians in some way. “Over the years, Moscow became less of a mystery to me: less suffocating, less fearful.” says Miller.10 As a person of British origin, Miller views the Soviet Union through the outsider’s eyes, because he never conformed to communism like the citizens were. Miller is then able to provide a more biased approach to democracy as a result of this little exposure to the ideals. Miller said that, “It (the system) was against everything—freedom, democracy, truth, religion, property, people, and more.”10 It is logical that Miller would praise the democratic system that way. As for the book itself, the book was written due to his extended stay in Moscow as a journalist. It seems that the general attitude of the time would be that people despised the Russians: “Russians are generally lazy, submissive, risk-averse . . .”10 But with the rise of democracy in Russia, Miller feels that the business side of Russia is growing with the new system. Again, another reveal of bias from Miller in part of the democratic system.

From professional book analyses of Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of the Soviet Power, it can be said that John Miller assessed Gorbachev as a person thoroughly. Sylvia R. Sipress explains that “a strength of the book is an early chapter entitled ‘The Making of Gorbachev’.”11 Stephen White of the University of Glasgow says that Miller’s interpretation of the collapse of the Soviet Union was mainly “personalist.”12 Yet Miller only offers a brief description of the actual system. Events mostly tie in with Gorbachev and it is him who sets events into motion. The main focus here is Gorbachev and his effort to save the Soviet system. Gorbachev is the main factor of what made Russia pull through this crisis. As a book, it acknowledges Gorbachev’s achievements but at the same time, does not acknowledge all of the systems’ faults which could be taken into more consideration. It is noted that the personality of Gorbachev that enables him to learn and improve and make rational decisions considering the future of the country.

As a book, it offers a critical review of Gorbachev as a leader. What was said from the professional book analyses can be agreed upon. Mikhail Gorbachev did usher in a new age for the Russians. Without Gorbachev, Russia would have gone onto a different and maybe darker path. It was just under the special circumstances that the position of responsibility fell onto him, and he changed Russia without starting a war, which is an achievement that could be recognized for. Changing systems usually is not without bloodshed especially for a country that large. Miller announced that Gorbachev was “the man whose initiative brought an end to the Cold War and freedom to Central and Eastern Europe.”9 His ideas of socialism still may exist, but his actions brought democracy to Russia and that’s what truly matters today. Miller called him a “reluctant revolutionary.”9 Gorbachev knew what had to be done and when the internal reforms of the CPSU did not work, he had to take it further and pave the way for a new Russia and even for the world. Even without trying to, he connected the past to a modern day Russia. He was the bridge in the gap between the old and the new without trying. Gorbachev was the one that made all of this possible for the present day Russia and the world. Gorbachev was different than the ones before him and did what had to be done. The special circumstances that arose in which he took place as leader is rather unique and historical. If the two leaders before him did not have health problems, he would have never became the leader of the Soviet Union. Even when he came into the Soviet Union as a leader for the first time, he was not acknowledged with influence. He had to build up his influence and then begin perestroika. He was not meant to have this position in the first place. With hard work, as it is part of his personality, he was able to bring great change and different points of view to Russia. Events only culminated in a way that gave him the opportunity to rule and turn out this way. It was never anticipated that Gorbachev would be leader at all. Despite all of his shortcomings such as being unrealistic and optimistic, he still took on the tremendous task that laid at hand and did what he can and although he was not great at it he did it successfully and saved the Soviet Union from falling apart from such revolution.

This book as a whole reflects the ease of tensions between the United States and Russia. Gorbachev brought the whole system down and by doing so, he allowed Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Republic to take his place and end the Cold War. If the Cold War did not end, the world today would have been much different. The United States was brought into a period of peace that it had not seen in a long time and bolstered the morale of U.S. citizens of that time. With the easing of tensions, Cold War backed countries by the U.S. or Russia could stop receiving support to boost tensions. Throughout the world, tensions would ease up due to the prominence of the two countries. Without the need to fight each other, the backed countries were tools that no longer needed to be used. This brought an era of communism scares to an end which had come out in history several times and had disastrous results. An example of this would be McCarthyism. McCarthyism left many U.S. citizens falsely accused under the trials of Joseph McCarthy. Thousands were left without jobs and it was not until the McCarthy-Army hearings when Joseph McCarthy was left disgraced and no longer trusted. The House of Un-American Committee is also part of this legacy. Many people would be brought in and questioned, especially in Hollywood and one wrong move would end that person’s career. Even further back would be the first Red Scare. The first Red Scare were the Palmer Raids in which the houses of suspected communists were raided. Unions at that time were also accused of being Communists and anxiety were at an all-time high. The first Red Scare, in fact, was triggered by the CPI of World War Two. With so much propaganda against Communism, people became paranoid. Other laws during wartime such as the Espionage Act, only fueled the fire even more. The fear of communism still pervades through popular American culture today. Communism had left a lasting mark wherever it went and it had only now finally ended for one of the world’s superpowers.

Mikhail Gorbachev and the Fall of the Soviet Union sheds light on how Gorbachev as a person managed to save the country and at the same time help the world have less tensions overall. Even if he did promote socialism, he achieved in bringing Russia onto a better path for both itself and the U.S. in a bloodless fashion that is worth commending.

[1] Miller, John. Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of Soviet power. New York, NY, St. Martins Press, 1993. 3.
[2] Miller, John. 4.
[3] Miller, John. 11.
[4] Miller, John. 54.
[5] Miller, John. 56.
[6] Miller, John. 157.
[7] Miller, John. 200.
[8] Miller, John. 205.
[9] Miller, John. 209.
[10] Russell, Steven. “Our man in Moscow.” East Anglian Daily Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017. .
[11] Sipress,Sylvia. Slavic Review. Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
[12] White,Stephen. The Russian Review. Wiley on behalf of The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review