Gorbachev, Leninist party-state, Taiwan, and the choices leaders make: World history classroom

12/7/1988 President Reagan and Vice-President Bush meet with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev on Governor’s Island New York


Gorbachev visited Taiwan Republic in 1994, and gave a speech at the Legislative Yuan. I don’t recall any hysteria from western talking heads or Beijing …. Not sure if this was before or after his Pizza Hut commercials ….

Because I never believed the Cold War ended, much less that ‘we’ won, I ignored the incessant arguing in the west over who should get the credit. Though as a subset of the anti-anti-communism in the west, I have been fascinated by the western adoration for Gorbachev, the kind of cult of personality that no mortal human could possibly live up to, and wondered to what degree the adoration is about Gorbachev, and how much is a dig at Reagan. This is where, and not shocking if you have been following closely how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been covered differently in the west versus the less credulous, more realistic Ukrainian, Baltic, and eastern European press, reminders from these victims of Soviet communism with less fond memories of Gorbachev provide a useful antidote.

I think this is a fair assessment. Gorbachev rose through the ranks of a totalitarian communist system, anointed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to be their dictator. So I have never had illusions about how he came to power, and what that meant. However, on a range of behavior of communist dictators that one would reasonably expect, Gorbachev must be given credit for taking the least bloody route while facing the final collapse of the Soviet Union – i.e., by his decisions, lives were spared. This is particularly important when comparing Gorbachev’s decision with that of the Chinese communists.

Interesting too, to think of different global examples of this cruel and inhumane Leninist party-state – Gorbachev’s Communist Party of the Soviet Union; Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-Kuo, and Lee Teng-hui’s China Kuomintang, and the Chinese Communist Party. And to compare similar Leninist reflexes – authoritarian, paranoid, corrupt, secretive, bloody. And to see different paths chosen by different leaders at key historical moments. The China CCP chose in 1989 to murder students and civilians. And their subsequent policies of techno-authoritarian control were reflections of the Chinese communists not wanting to repeat Gorbachev’s “mistakes.” Whereas Gorbachev’s CPSU and Lee’s China KMT in the 1990s accepted democratization and electoral competition relatively peacefully. The China KMT after Lee and Russia after Gorbachev both had adjustment problems, too complicated to get into here. Though thus far Taiwan-the-democratic-nation has fared far better than Russia’s stillborn democracy. At key historical moments, a brave and clear-eyed leader is needed to prevent a bloody massacre – that part of history is basically luck. What would have happened had Gorbachev accepted the institutional impulse of his CPSU and resorted to a bloody crackdown in Eastern Europe and USSR? Or had he tried to engineer a war against NATO to save his communist empire? What might have happened if Dr. Lee coveted wealth and power more than he did and engineered a way for his Leninist China KMT party-state to operate a Singapore-style ‘soft’ authoritarian technocratic state?

Other world history cross currents and sidenotes on the Leninist party-state. Without Sun Yat-sen turning to the Soviet Union for aid the re-engineered China Kuomintang may not have survived. And without the military academy that the Soviets sponsored, which produced so many early China KMT and CCP military leaders, the latter-day anti-communist Chiang Kai-shek probably would not have been able to seize leadership of the China KMT. Chiang’s eldest son Chiang Ching-Kuo, the last dictator over Taiwan, was sent to study in the USSR and briefly held hostage by Stalin. And Lee Teng-Hui was rumored to have flirted with Marxism during his college years as a Taiwanese subject of the Japanese empire. One should also note: that the two shrillest, most narrow-minded, hardliner extremist ethnonationalist political parties of modern China, KMT and CCP, are both products of an alien, Leninist ideology-structure. Ironies of history abound ….

Which got me thinking about Nelson Mandela. Not quite the same storyline as the Leninist parties, but with a lifetime of suffering and cruelty wherein when he came to power historical precedence would have easily predicted something far more vengeful and bloody. And I have always marveled at and pondered on how Mandela managed to do the exact opposite – to have the discipline and moral-ethical fortitude to choose to use his credibility to spare his long-suffering nation decades of chaos and violence. To lead his people to a path of peace and reconciliation.

This is why history and studying human behavior are so much fun. One can track data, one can study patterns – yet history is full of these blink of an eye, contingent on personality and luck choices individuals make. What would China and the world be like now had the students of Tiananmen survived and if some of them are now leading their nation? What might have been. 1.9.2022

© Taiwan in World History 台灣與世界歷史. This site grants open access for educational and not-for-profit use. Maps and illustrations are borrowed under educational and not-for-profit fair use. If you are the rights holder and prefer to not have your work shared, please email TaiwanWorldHistory (at) Gmail (dot) com and the content will be removed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.