I think a small comparison between the VKP(B) and the CPC may be useful to readers here.

Contrary to the CPC, the VKP(B) lost almost all of its original generation of revolutionaries and intellectuals in the Civil War (1918-1922). That included almost the entire original Russian industrial proletariat, which was decimated in a span of three to four years. The only survivors of the original Bolsheviks was the Politburo and its immediate circle, which were essentially isolated in the aftermath of the Civil War. To make things even worse, Sverdlov died tragically in 1919 (which, some say, opened the way to Stalin) and Lenin died prematurely in 1924. To put things simply, the situation of 1917-1924 was absolutely brutal, in the literal sense of the word - the mere fact the Bolsheviks survived must already be considered a miracle and an overachievement.

The CPC was also exterminated by Chiang Kaishek (Shanghai, 1927) and, even before 1927, they were systematically picked off by Chiang many times. However, that first generation of the CPC were actually very weak intellectuals and political leaders, borderline social-democrat pacifists. Chiang's extermination of the first communists opened the way for Mao Zedong to rise quickly during the first phase of the Civil War - for the simple fact he was killing his more moderate, social-democrat party competitors. Then WWII happened, and Chiang Kaishek's nationalists were decimated by the Guandong Army (the Army of the Japanese Empire in China), while Mao Zedong had essentially the opportunity to rebuild the CPC on his branch of communism, while developing and gaining support of the peasant class. Hardened by sheer natural selection, the CPC then humiliated the Nationalists in the second phase of the Civil War: if it was not for the Americans giving full air support, the war would have been over in 1946 instead of 1949, such a massacre it was (the Red Army had already destroyed the Guandong Army in 1945).

In other words, CPC got the timing of the maturation its finest generation of intellectuals right. They reached their political apex when the conditions were the finest, while the VKP(B) was the polar opposite. Besides, Mao lived a long life, long sufficiently to prepare the next generation (even then, there was a mini palatial war) while consolidated the base for socialist China; Lenin effectively only led the USSR as a whole for a little bit less than a year (he spent the last two years of his life in his bed).

The urgent situation of the 1930s led Stalin to do the polar opposite of what Mao did. He exterminated what was left of the Bolshevik leadership because of the tense prewar situation and, thanks to WWII, he never had any time to prepare the next generation. His political and economic reforms were definitive, but the central pillar was the politiburo, and there there wasn't any apt substitutes after he died, in 1953.

Also, contrary to the CPC, the VKP(B) never adapted the communist ideology to truly include the peasant class. The problem was that Russia was essentially a peasant empire, and the few original industrial proletariat, concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, were decimated in the aforementioned Civil War. The VKP(B) was essentially an urban party with an urban elite, in an overwhelming agrarian nation. The CPC elite was also urban, but the miracle of the Long March and the windfall of the capitalist self-destruction between the Japanese and the Nationalists during WWII gave them time to "become peasant" in the Northeast ("Yan'an Experience"). Krushchev was a peasant, as was Gorbachev (and also Brezhnev, if I'm not mistaken); they were ill trained ideologically because of the dire situation of the USSR during 1917-1945. I don't know if there's any statistic about this, but I would think that, after Stalin's death, almost the entire Bolshevik elite was peasant (gen. Chuikov, for example, was a literal peasant turned into a general by the Bolsheviks).

Turning the clock forward to 1989-1991, it's funny. The situation in China looks like almost a thing from the ancient legends of History: China was about to fall, as just one domino of the chain that started in the Iron Curtain. Western journalists already were in Beijing awaiting to cover it all in real time, just like they were doing in Eastern Europe. The CPC's Politburo was divided, many favoring the restoration of capitalism. In the direst moment of his political life, Deng Xiaoping personally went to talk to the Northeast divisions (of the 39th Army) - the most ideologically loyal to communism - and gave them an adlocutio. He was trying to convince them they should march to Beijing and kill their own people. Had those soldiers not being convinced, they would have probably mutinied and killed him (thus restoring capitalism in China). But they were. Deng probably used the Northeastern divisions as a thermometer of the masses: if they had no faith in socialism anymore, then socialism couldn't be saved in China.

Western sources stated the suppression of the liberal/capitalist revolt in the Tiananmen Square killed some 3,000 people. Evidence today indicate a lot less were killed: no more than 350. Westerners still worship this event as some heroic act of capitalist (freedom) resistance against communism. The Chinese treat it as some tragic and lesson-worthy event. Communists from outside China probably treat it was a decisive movement to save socialism during its darkest moment, by an exceptional leader. All of them are probably true, they are not mutually exclusive.

Whatever the morality applied, the results are not up to debate: China gained a lease of life in the next three decades, while Russia was reduced to just a shadow of even the late, moribund version of its precursor.

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Your line, "If Mikhail Gorbachev had maintained the Soviet Union (perhaps without the Baltics)" contradicts your own analysis of the break up of multiethnic states (at least, how I understood that analysis): that the states with the largest regional/ethnic income inequality came to an end which applied to both the SU and to Yugoslavia.

But yes, keeping the nationalist demon in a box and moving away from the SU model towards a more or less social democratic society with the SU (less Baltics) intact, would have been a blessing.

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Your list of mis-assessment of Soviet and Russian leaders by their predecessors is very entertaining. We could add that Lenin did have a correct view of what Stalin would be like but too late.

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What you described is a tragic character, where the greatest virtue is one’s downfall.

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The Global Times (the CPC's extraofficial newspaper) article on Gorbachev:

"Chinese observers express mixed feelings about Gorbachev, draw lessons from his immature policy of cozying up with West"


Confirms my opinion that China is the true successor of the Soviet Union after 1991, and that the end of the USSR was not the end of Socialism, but just another major lesson for the socialists (thus making the official neoliberal thesis of "The End of History" false).

The Chinese do look up to the Soviet Union as a model for themselves and of what can happen to them, not to any other nation.

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We should all wish to live in a normal country. By 1985, Gorbachev understood that, at least.

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Could you recommend some reading material on Gorbachev failures as a stateman ?

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Gorbachev is a textbook example of how people with principles tend to lose to people without them, because principles are constraining.

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This was a great critique of Gorbachev. But I think you're critique goes too far. Yes, the aftermath of USSR and its satellites were terrible, but from what I can see, Russia's GDP per capita is way better now than back then. It is not a horror that Gorby could not keep people under Russian bullying (Eastern Europe and most of the non-Russian Soviet Republics) or that its transition to better GDP per capita was rocky.

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Capax imperii nisi imperasset: a remarkably Tacitean assessment.

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