Gorbachev and Islam, reconsidered in 2010

Irish Political Review is a magazine which has been in existence since 1986. It was a follow-on from the Irish Communist. There was much interesting material produced in Irish Political Review, both stimulating to thought and giving an account of what was happening in society. At this lapse of time, the Irish Political Review provides a historical record of what happened a generation ago. Problems proposes to issue selections of articles from these early magazines, not necessarily because it would stand over every word that was said, but as an aid to recalling what is in many ways a different world.

 “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci.

Introduction To “Gorbachev, The Soviet Crisis And The Rise Of Islamic Politics”

There are two thoughts that strike me about the articles in this issue, which I wrote in 1988: the first is how different the world was then; the second is that the elements that would determine the nature of present day politics were already in place all those years ago.

In 1988 the world was divided into two blocs. Each bloc competed against the other for political, ideological, economic and military supremacy. In retrospect this geo political system was quite benign even though it might not have appeared so at the time. Each super power was constrained in its imperial actions by its rival. The US had received a bloody nose in Vietnam and it seemed that further US imperialist intervention would only be by proxy.

A second element of the system was that the Western bourgeoisie was under pressure to look after its working class as a means to diminish the appeal of communism.

All of this was in the process of unravelling back in 1988. At the time the new seemed to presage a better world. Gorbachev heralded the end of the cold war and the associated dread of a nuclear conflagration. There were precious few Gramscian “morbid symptoms”. Some people feared that Soviet leaders in a reversal of Lenin’s dictum would turn their internal crisis into a world crisis, but such fears were never realised.

The articles in some ways were prescient, in particular about Islam. However, I was wrong about Gorbachev. I had assumed that he was more worldly and devious; that, notwithstanding the enormous challenges, the Soviet crisis would be managed in an orderly fashion.

Recently, I reviewed a biography of Francois Mitterrand (Irish Political Review, January 2009). The book gives some very revealing insights into Gorbachev. Contrary to my impressions in 1988 the Soviet leader comes across as being very naive, especially about the West. By contrast, the book quotes the Austrian Socialist Prime Minister Bruno Kreisky to the effect that Yuri Andropov was the “strongest Soviet personality since Lenin”.

We will never know what the world would have looked like if Andropov had either lived longer or succeeded Brezhnev earlier. And so we are left with the world as it is rather than what might have been.

I had not anticipated how thorough and complete the collapse of the Soviet Union would be or the deleterious consequences.

The USA was no longer constrained in its imperialist actions. She had learned the lessons of Vietnam. The draft was abolished and therefore imperialist wars could be fought by the American working class without the inconvenience of middle class college student protests.

Working class politics in the West declined. Neo conservatism and the values of the market were to reign supreme.

But perhaps the line of development set in train by the collapse of the Soviet Union is now at an end. Russia has re-emerged as a significant global player if not a super power. The USA and Western Europe are in the midst of a severe economic crisis which will have political ramifications. The rise of China seems inexorable as does the ideological appeal of Islam which is not dependent on the fortunes of a State.

The old is dying and the new has yet to be born!

John Martin,  November 2010


This article appeared in September 2010, in Issue 3 of the new series Problems magazine.  It was an introduction articles from 1988 from Irish Political Review.  You can find more at the Problems page[1] on the Labour Affairs website.


[1] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/problems-magazine-older-issues/