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Gorbachev and Yeltsin as Leaders

Author: George W. Breslauer

Cambridge University Press, 2002

Below are chapter headings. My interest in this book is Yeltsin, the man whom Gorbachev blames for the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Yeltsin is another person with common weaknesses becoming a big force – a heroic force some would say – by following his nose rather than aiming at the grandiose. For some the grandiose hero in ending the Cold War is Ronald Reagan. If you study the Reagan presidency you will find that he was not planning the collapse of the Soviet Union. He wanted Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. He described the Soviet Union as the "evil empire" and he put pressure on the Soviet Union in the area of military technology. But it was Yeltsin more than any other single person who broke up that empire – with the help of millions of Soviet citizens who had discarded Communism as a hope for their future. George Breslauer writes mainly about politics within the Soviet Union, but he gives some credit to Reagan for putting pressures on Gorbachev. He notes that Gorbachev had choices to follow aside from Reagan's pressures and that one of these choices was to keep Soviet socialism alive and the "evil empire" intact.

Yeltsin was a provincial, born in 1931 in Sverdlovsk, on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains. He was a construction engineer. Breslauer describes him as having been "impulsive, temperamental, easy to offend, and very sensitive to slights." Yeltsin liked being on top, and, after having reached "the limit of upward mobility within his trade," he joined the Communist Party, a necessary move if he were to advance further. As a Party member in 1976, at the age of forty-five, Yeltsin became the Communist Party boss (First Secretary) for the province of Sverdlovsk. He was a man with drive, a workaholic. He ran the province of Sverdlovsk with "pressure, threats, and coercion." He also obeyed Party orders from above, for example he bulldozed the house where Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered. Also, Yeltsin shunned the use of big cars. He liked appearing as one of the common people (as did Mussolini), and he was puritanical when it came to using one's position for personal gain.

Enter Gorbachev. In 1985, Gorbachev was the new General Secretary of the Communist Party. Gorbachev and his associates were trying to lift the Soviet economy out of its doldrums. They noticed that Yeltsin was a hard-working fighter against corruption, and in 1985 they brought Yeltsin to Moscow as secretary of the Central Committee for Construction. Yeltsin obeyed and left behind his position as top dog in Sverdlovsk. Now he was under the shadow of big-city sophisticates and Party intellectuals such as Gorbachev. Yeltsin was unlike Gorbachev in that Gorbachev was smooth, happy, tempered, had studied philosophy, was dedicated to Marxist-Leninism and inclined to blend his decisions about small matters with abstract theory. Gorbachev had been in Moscow and exposed to its culture since 1950, at the age of nineteen. Yeltsin had come to Moscow at the age of fifty-four – a country bumpkin.

Yeltsin worked hard to prove himself, and six months later he was appointed as the Party boss in Moscow. Yeltsin advertised self-sacrifice by riding city buses. He talked with commuters, visited factories and stores and gathered information on deficiencies. He is described as having cut through bureaucratic red tape to get fresh vegetables to Moscow markets. He arrested hundreds of officials whom he had decided were corrupt. He verbally attacked city bureaucrats. He criticized state-run television programming. Yeltsin found that those he had hired to replace corrupt officials turned out to be corrupt as well. He advocated the elimination of special privileges for Party members – such as special stores for them.

On October 21, 1987, Yeltsin resigned, complaining that economic reform was proceeding too slowly and that a Gorbachev associate had been blocking his attempts to improve the lives of Moscow's common folk. Yeltsin saw Gorbachev as long-winded in his speeches and too much in favor of half-measures. Gorbachev wanted smooth and measured transition and disliked Yeltsin's public pronouncements. Yeltsin had made himself more popular with common people, who were turning against Gorbachev for his economic failures – while Gorbachev was becoming increasingly popular abroad. From Moscow, Yeltsin ran for a seat in a "congressional election" and won in a landslide.

In 1989, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were seeking independence. Communist regimes in East Europe fell that year, as did the Berlin Wall. In 1990, Yeltsin was elected speaker of the Russian republic's legislature, and that year he quit the Communist Party. In 1991 he became the first elected president of Russia. In August, 1991, came the so-called coup against Gorbachev. Yeltsin, somewhat diffident, was pushed into becoming the leading figure against the coup and became a central figure standing atop a tank near the capital building in Moscow. The coup failed. Yeltsin led Russia to independence from other Soviet republics.  In December, former Soviet Republics, Russia among them, met and signed a "Declaration of the Commonwealth of Independent States" – a confederation of the former Republics. The Soviet Union was no more.  Gorbachev was forced to resign a post that no longer existed. Russia took over the former Soviet Union's seat at the United Nations.

Chapter headings:

1. Leadership Strategies after Stalin
2. Gorbachev and Yeltsin: Personalities and Beliefs
3. The Rise of Gorbachev
4. Gorbachev Ascendant
5. Gorbachev on the Political Defensive
6. Yeltsin versus Gorbachev
7. Yeltsin Ascendant
8. Yeltsin on the Political Defensive
9. Yeltsin Lashes Out: The Invasion of Chechnya (December 1994)
10.Yeltsin's Many Last Hurrahs
11. Explaining Leader Choices, 1985-1999
12. Criteria for the Evaluation of Transformational Leaders
13. Evaluating Gorbachev and Leader
14. Evaluating Yeltsin as Leader