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Russia's Woodrow Wilson Has Arrived at His Versailles : Gorbachev: In his actions and thinking, the Soviet leader, like the former American President, may be on the road to disappointment.

April 15, 1990|Anatoly S. Salutsky | Anatoly S. Salutsky, a veteran Soviet commentator, writes on contemporary political and economic issues for a variety of Soviet newspapers and journals.

MOSCOW — Mikhail S. Gorbachev may well turn out to be the Russian Woodrow Wilson, a prospect not reassuring.

To be sure, Wilson's political philosophy and diplomatic maneuvering differ greatly from Gorbachev's. Yet the Soviet president, as was Wilson, is fond of moralizing. Most important, in their efforts to reshape international relations can be found disquieting similarities.

Wilson embraced the formidable task of replacing Pax Britannia with Pax Americana in the world order that emerged from World War I. Gorbachev's mission is no less daunting: finding a place for Russia at a time when the outcome of World War II is being reviewed. Admittedly, Gorbachev's job, to a large extent, is of his own making. His perestroika , whatever his intentions, has initiated the review. The resulting excitement in the diplomatic community is no less than it was in Wilson's time.

So which of two fundamental principles will triumph in today's global rearrangement? The classic balance of forces that gave the world 100 years of peace and then 45 more after the defeat of fascism? Or the Wilson-inspired system of international treaties that kept the peace for 20 years?

Despite the sweeping changes of the last five years, leaders in the West are again facing the dilemma that tormented President Wilson: strategic stalemate or Europe under German domination?

Wilson failed to resolve the dilemma because he did not take into account the true meaning and dimensions of the social revolution in imperial Russia. Specifically, the American President mistakenly placed all his eggs in the basket of the Russian bourgeois government. Competing political forces were not even studied. So when V. I. Lenin refused to become another Alexander Kerensky and pulled the Bolsheviks out of the war, Washington saw the act as unwarranted perfidy disrupting the "balanced emaciation" of both Germany and the entente.

Isn't something similar happening today? Do Americans accurately see Soviet reality? Are they overly captivated by the Western-like ideas of certain forces in Russia? Sometimes, one gets the impression that the loud cries of the new Russian liberals about "anti- perestroika chauvinism" rob America of its will to sort out objectively and independently the political balance here.

Still, Gorbachev would do well to learn carefully Wilson's lessons. In his unprecedented tour of Europe, Wilson neglected to include in his entourage a single Republican, a slight that not only ill-served him in Europe but back home as well. Gorbachev seems to have repeated this mistake by excluding people with independent views and character from his team. Loyalty to Gorbachev and his thinking seems to have been the primary qualification for sitting near the Soviet president. New ideas are generally not born out of such intellectual chumminess.

The main lesson that Gorbachev must learn from Wilson's fate is the importance of securing the political hinterland in one's country. At historical turning points, power struggles at the top do not necessarily lead to the shortest road to success. Consider Gorbachev's relationships with the top echelons of the Soviet Communist Party.

For decades, the upper echelons of the party machine and the Central Committee were steeped in the tradition of unconditional obedience. Gorbachev, himself a product of this system, skillfully exploited this reflex last year when he forced 130 members of the Central Committee to retreat into political limbo without so much as a murmur of protest. Since then, he has adroitly played the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet off against the party apparatus, achieving his goal of removing the Communist Party, in practical terms, from power.

But what has he truly won? Instead of being able to count on reliably obedient wills to carry out his vision, Gorbachev now faces a group of defiant and occasionally hostile deputies who nearly prevented him from becoming president.

On the surface, though, the power struggle seems over. Now president of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has the legal authority to introduce market forces into the Soviet economy without consulting the people and despite the December resolutions of the Congress of the People's Deputies.

After five years in power, the road--full of compromises, ideological zigzagging and diplomatic maneuvering--has brought Gorbachev to his Versailles, to the moment when the master plan of this extraordinary man is about to be fulfilled. Will it be as disappointing for Gorbachev as it was for Wilson?

Gorbachev appears to understand the danger. He senses the tremors of popular anger at the rapidly worsening living standards. He foresees the likelihood of national upheavals as a result of the forced introduction of a market-oriented economy. So Gorbachev has decided to mend fences with the party. Attempts by the radical historian Yuri N. Afanasyev to split it have been abruptly terminated.

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