Understanding an old enemy


       The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev, Polity Books, US $25.00, Pp 400, May 2016,        ISBN 978-1509503872

Russia is an important country to the United States for many reasons. Most importantly, Russia is the only country that has the potential to reemerge as the other super power. Yet, there are not many good books on new Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev’s The New Russia is probably the best book in many years. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of opening up the Soviet Union, known as Perestroika, later led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and turned the former Soviet republics into capitalist democracies. In The New Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev discusses the problems and failures New Russia faces and how they can be solved. Gorbachev says the problems and failures New Russia faces include social polarization, the huge gap between rich and poor, corruption, the dominance of the bureaucracy, and deindustrialization of many regions of Russia.

Gorbachev convincingly argues that the problems are not solely socio-economic. Even more damaging are the deformation of the political process, falsification of election results, armed conflicts and the growth of criminality. He writes, “In the light of the situation today, I consider one of the main lessons of Perestroika and the period that followed to be that evolutionary change is preferable to the radical, revolutionary approach. Those initiating change may set themselves what are essentially revolutionary tasks, but should remember that the best way of achieving them is through evolutionary reform. That is the only way of obtaining genuine sustainable results.”  Gorbachev warns that change is rarely painless. It affects people’s lives and interests, and that is why we need to do everything possible to mitigate painful consequences. There should be no attempt to go for a ‘big bang’ at the outset.

Gorbachev argues that solutions have to come from within Russia. He says that reform cannot be carried out using a stereo type, in accordance with Washington Consensus or the recipes of the International Monetary Fund. That is only too reminiscent of our own attempts to graft the soviet model onto other countries. Foreign advisers rarely have an understanding of the obstacles from history and the particularities of the culture, and mentality of the nation where the reforms are being conducted. He admits that the reformers in his administration in the second half of the 1980s did not take full account of them either. He writes, “That was even more true of the radicals who came to power after us… The changes that will come in Russia and that she so desperately needs cannot and should not be a repeat of Perestroika. There is no question, however, but the change will come, and the longer they are delayed, the more painful they will be.” Just like Perestroika, these changes will come about not in a vacuum, but in the context of all the other processes taking place in the world. These are primarily the ongoing process of globalization and the accelerating pace of changes that the world’s politicians are struggling to keep up with. They are the search to find responses to the global challenges of security, poverty and the environment.

In the words of Gorbachev, the economic crisis that began in 2008 is “the crisis of a civilization.” He writes although it may seem to be over the worst, politicians should not allow themselves to be fooled. There is an urgent need to devise a new model for global development. If we stay with the present model, the world will be doomed to further worsening and aggravation of global threats and challenges. The economy and politics are now linked even closely. If globalization leads us further towards a world economy of super-profits and hyper consumption, and world politics fails to find a path towards a more just and secure world order, mankind will face a period of global chaos and social upheaval. These cautions are not alarmist, not panic-mongering, but the apprehensions of someone who has seen and experienced much in the course of his life.

The New Russia is a very insightful book that gives a deep understanding of a country we consider an enemy but know very little about. It is one of the best books on Russia in many years. It is packed with knowledge, analysis, and new perspective on Russia. Both students and experts will hugely benefit from reading this. It is a must-read for Western policy-makers on Russia. Reviewed by Jonathan Craig