"Gorbachev: His Life and Times"

September 15, 2017

William Taubman, the Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, and Pulitzer Prize Winner, discusses his newly released book, Gorbachev: His Life and Times, with Pavel Machala, the Charles E. Merrill 1908 Professor of Political Science.

Video Transcript

As probably you all know, this person over there doesn't need any introduction. This person over here does need some introduction. I am Bill Taubman's friend. I have been his friend for 40 years. He's the one who hired me, who called, and he first spoke with Susan, when we were in Baltimore and wanted to know how to pronounce my last name. And I said oh, here it goes, my job. So, when I spoke with Bill on the phone I said, well, pronounce it anyway you want.

He wanted to -- he insisted on pronouncing correctly -- so I gave him one of my three correct pronunciations of my last name. He still has it.

My name is Pavel Machala, and I came ten years later, in 1977, so Bill has been here for 50 years now. And so, it's a big anniversary. The second major book on a second major figure in Soviet history, and Bill has been also amazing colleague, teacher, a scholar.

Some of my colleagues are great in one or the other, I mean either, but Bill managed to transcend the boundaries of teaching and research, and managed to do so effortlessly. Those of you who know how Bill writes, you know it's always a pleasure to read his works. I have learned so much from him. I have always been amazed about his wisdom, and more important thing, I always was amazed how patient he is in producing major works.

This first work on Khrushchev was a best-seller, not only in English but in other languages, including Czech. I had to import some copies there. The second book I read, I read three times. First as a draft, which I forgot to finish, so by the time I wanted to finish it, I told Bill, I'm on the way to finishing, he said, don't bother, I have a new draft. So, I read the second draft and finally, just over the last five days, I read this final version, which is just stunning. It's even better than what I thought was the last draft I read. Bill, congratulations.

Thank you.

But more importantly let me quiz you first. You know I'm a stickler and sucker for footnotes or endnotes. Do you know how many endnotes you have in your book? No. Guess. 900? No. 1500? More. 2000? More. 2500? Little bit less. 2300 footnotes. Or Endnotes.

Are you trying to hold down sales? 

I should probably because there are -- well -- how many? Quite Over 80 pages of footnotes or endnotes. So yes, it's heavier as a result of your notes, but it's heavier for purpose. You know those of you, and I'm one of those idiots, those of you who will read and follow the notes, you learn far more because you will see, you will understand the voices, you will understand, imagine those individuals who are making those observations, and so the book begins to be full, at least for me, far more meaningful with those over 2000 endnotes that you did not know that you had.

I'm going to break in with something that Jane, my wife, who taught here for many years, teaching Russian at Amherst... these days we're not doing the Russian translation, but there are two translators in Moscow who are working on it, and they are asking me to give them, insofar as I can, the Russian originals that I translated into English. So that rather than retranslate them back, they can print them. And I unfortunately was not smart enough to save all of those original Russian things. Now it's ok if they're in books because my multiple footnotes, as Pavel says, will take them back to the books where they can find a lot of the original quotes, but a lot of things come out of interviews that I did, mostly with Jane, with Gorbachev himself and a lot of other people, friends, allies, adversaries, relatives, and I have the text of those, but that's not easy. I have to go through all of these texts looking for a line here, a line there, and of course people in an interview are often rambling, and there's a lot of, you know, and this and that, the equivalent of that in Russian, so I have to clean it up in Russian, I think, although this is a philosophical question. Do they get quoted as they said it, or as it would be polished? So, this is just a tangent really having to do with footnotes, and Russian, and problems involved in writing a book like this. Well, another good reason to have endnotes, footnotes, in important books. People can trace the origin. Not only your thoughts, but the original translated text from which you are depending.

Speaking of untranslated text, I know that the book is in the process being translated into Russian as you just reminded us, but therefore Mikhail Gorbachev hasn't read it yet.

I sent him a copy.

In English?


This copy?

Yes. Of course. I sent up a copy, and I heard back from the woman who's the executive director of his foundation, and we dealt with a lot in in working on this, and she said he congratulates you "from the heart," and he looks forward to reading it in Russian once it's translated, and once he does, he looks forward to giving you his "impressions" and that's a nice neutral word. I spend a fair amount of time imagining his "impressions" and what they might be.

Actually, I was going to ask you, what do you think is going to be Gorbachev's response, reaction to your book. Is he going to love it, hate it?

Bill] Neither, I think. I think anybody who's having his or her biography written…just imagine, any of you, somebody comes along to write your biography, and asks you to tell them everything you can and provide them with everything you can, and interviews, your friends and your relatives and all the rest, and you wonder, what is this person writing? What's he going to say, or she say in the end, and probably it's inevitable that it's not exactly what you would wish them to say. So, I think it's inevitable he will be disappointed in some of the things in it. On the other hand, there are people in this room, whom I won't name, who've read it, and think I'm too nice, too soft on him, and then there are people who think I'm too hard on him. So, I have tried to be objective.

Now that word is a tricky word these days. Can anyone be objective? What does it mean? Aren't we all subjective? But as best as I can, as hard as I tried, I tried to tell it objectively, and I hope he appreciates that. I think he will. I think he will. But he'll still have reservations.

Let me make a prediction. He will love your book. Just remember, just before we came to this hall, you wondered how many people will come. I said we're full. It's full.

That's not going to predict his reaction. In fact, Pavel, your being from Czechoslovakia originally, puts you geographically and even politically, within what used to be called the Soviet camp, although you never were entirely...ok but, and I don't want to say Russians are different, because there is no such thing really as national character anyway, but Gorbachev, in his own country has been subject to slings and arrows without end, both while he was in power and ever since. He is despised by probably, although I haven't measured it, the great majority or majority of his own people. It's so bad that his daughter, to whom he is devoted, as he was to his wife, and relied on both of them while his wife was alive and then on his daughter, well after Raisa died. She actually spends most of her time now in Germany partly because of medical issues involving her husband but partly because she I believe couldn't take it anymore. So for a man who's had that much insult and enmity, I think he probably wants and needs, praise, and I praise him, a lot, but maybe not enough.

Well, I hope that you will judge. I do think that you praise him, that you put in a very balanced and very profound way. That's why I love your book so much. It shows depiction of a world historical figure. You call him a tragic hero, and I and you end, actually, the book, the last sentence in your book refers to Gorbachev as a tragic hero who deserves our understanding and admiration. This is a profound and powerful statement with which you finish.

But I know, since we just had dinner together, that you have doubts about the word "tragic." I disputed -- Bill and I had, he began our conversation two hours ago at Formosa, and we...

It's amazing we have anything left to say.

Well we do have plenty to say. I have quite a few questions for you. And I wanted, I was a little bit uncomfortable with that last sentence because I thought it was unnecessarily modest, describing not Gorbachev sufficiently, deeply, because the rest of the book such as that Gorby tried impossible and fail at I think...

Pavel's position in this Formosa conversation was that if he tried to achieve the impossible and failed, that's not tragic because it was predictable I suppose. I'm not sure that's comfort to the person who tries it, and I know in Gorbachev's case it wasn't comfort, but I also think it's tragic not only because of the forces he faced which overwhelmed him in the end, but because his failure or insofar it as it was a failure in the end was partly the result of his own flaws, and in that sense he's a tragic figure and that then raises the question of what those flaws were and that drew me in the book to an attempt to describe his character, his personality. And it's complicated. I do the best I can, but I think the thing that leaps out at me, that leapt out at me was his confidence, his overconfidence that he could do what in retrospect looks to many people to be impossible. And then there were various tactical errors he made along the way which also reflected his overconfidence. One of them was the sense that the card line communists whom he was trying to bring along with him, by hook or by crook, by persuasion or discipline of the Communist Party, that they had no choice but to follow him because they were lost without him. And up to the very moment of the attempted coup against him in August 1991, he thought they wouldn't do it, or couldn't do it. When there are all kinds of warnings he got, including from Matlock the American ambassador, that it was coming, so he underestimated them and overestimated his ability to handle them. And similarly, he over estimated his ability to handle Yeltsin, who was the real-- the one who brought him down in the end. He thought Yeltsin was a pain, a difficult person. In some ways, not unlike the orange haired president of a certain country. Although of course he didn't know that at the time, but it turned out that Yeltsin outthought him. So, in these tactical ways as well as in this overarching strategic sense that he could democratize Russia, he was overconfident. And one more thing about this, therefore when things began to fall apart, it had a devastating effect on him as a character, and that in turn led him to make mistakes which deepened his troubles. So. I think he's a tragic figure in that personal sense as well as in the result which might have been impossible to begin with.

Bill, you know very well that I don't normally read biographies. I am NOT into personalities and psychology of individual statesmen, politicians. I like to think in larger categories like mode of production, ruling classes...

Mode of production. I've heard that before.

Class interest, and other similar terms for which I don't need to know the individuals, even amazingly important historical figures, because I often see them as a vehicle of the historical forces, a reflection of the times that, for which, to which they were suited to be key actors. But I always admired your ability to convince me that I'm wrong about under estimating individuals in
studying politics, and I worried that you were right. But I wondered whether you will agree with me that this overconfidence that you see in him as contributing to his tactical mistakes, tactical mistakes, not strategic mistakes, is due in part, if not to the greatest degree to his early childhood. You know I'm now going where I would never go. I couldn't care less about childhood. But I wonder whether one weather based, because you start really with his upbringing and I wonder whether the source of the tragedy that you say was not his mother.

I avoid that kind of conclusion at all costs. I don't consider myself a psycho-biographer in the sense that I'm not a psychologist, but I'm an amateur having taught about ten years with a member of the Amherst psychology department, Amy Demarest, an expert on personality. We taught a course called "Personality and Political Leadership," and we tried to understand leaders, and one of the things I learned in that course animated me in this endeavor and that is that not all leaders are the same. Some leaders have more power than others, and some leaders you can say more than you can about others, that you sense that their personality is driving what they do with their power and I think Gorbachev is a classic example. He is the leader after all of a totalitarian or shall we call it post-totalitarian system, and as such he has tremendous power when he comes in in 1985 to do good or evil, and then the second very important thing is, what he chooses to do is unique. Nobody else in his leadership group, very few people in the in the whole elite, would have tried to do what he tried to do. So, you have to ask yourself the question why did he try to do this, and you have to wonder the extent to which it reflected his character, and I think it did. He was an idealist. He was a dreamer in a way. He was a liberal, very rare if not entirely unheard of at the top of the Soviet system.  Well how did he get to be such a person? Then you go back as, Pavel suggested I did. You go back to his childhood and you try to figure out how he became the man, how he became the gravedigger of the Soviet system. And what you discover is, you discover many things and I won't try to sum them up. After all, you're here to buy the book.[Laughter.] I take that back. But he grows up a kind of golden boy in a Soviet village. He's a terrific student. All the girls like him. His teachers love him. He breaks records at the harvest using a combine with his father. He gets a medal, the second highest medal in the Soviet Union, the medal of the Red Labor Banner. He goes off to the University. He's greeted as a kind of country bumpkin, but he turns out to have a brain, and he becomes a kind of intellectual. And then he goes back to Stavropol, which is the city nearest where he grew up, and all the other people there who were working along with around the world. He's viewed as the most popular man in the Soviet Union, and a great world statesman, and then suddenly things fall apart. And if he doesn't handle things falling apart as well as he should, it's partly because he has expected too much and therefore their failure to work out in the way that he wants is crushing. And I think, so what I'm saying is that both the aspiration to do what he wanted to do and then the troubles he runs into and the way he copes with those troubles, all are in a way a reflection of his character, and that's why a biography of such a person is so tempting to try to do.

it's interesting because in one of your concluding chapters, either you or someone else asked Gorbachev whether he's happy, and he says that he is happy, and you wonder whether he is telling you the truth, or if he's telling the truth, how can a tragic hero be happy after the tragedy. But based on what you just said, I wonder whether it doesn't make perfect sense for someone who had such sense confidence about himself, as you described, in youth, childhood youth, as a young [indistinct] and then member of the political elites of the Soviet state. Whether it's not normal for someone who continued to exude optimism, would continue to exude optimism even after he failed in impossible.

Once in a while he describes himself as too self-confident. In fact there's a passage which I came upon rather late in my research but to which I attributed a lot of importance. It's at the end of the introduction which is kind of short, and he says: "I say, whatever term one uses Gorbachev was extraordinarily sure of himself, but when asked what characteristics he found most off-putting in another person to whom he has just been introduced, he answered self-confidence, and what in general irritated him most in other people -- haughtiness," and then I wrote: "Did he feel threatened by other self-assured men?" Men because in the Soviet Politburo there were no women. "Or did he see himself and others and not like what he saw." And I in the course of the book I come upon moments where I think I see doubt and insecurity sort of glinting against the background of this confidence, and this overconfidence, but the way he describes himself most often, when asked about himself, is he says I'm an optimist, and so there is a certain plausibility to what you're saying, and I think he probably has mostly convinced himself that he is happy, even after everything that went wrong, and even after all of the all of the hatred for him that he's encountered in his own country and even after his daughter has mostly moved to Germany. I think he's probably convinced himself that he's happy just as he convinced himself that he could succeed in transforming Russia and democratizing it in five or six years. But in a way, there must be, under the surface of that confidence and optimism, there must be a kind of aching sense that things have not ended well.

Interesting that you say so because just few days ago you wrote a little piece published in Washington Post titled "Why Gorbachev Likes Putin More than You Might Expect," and I when I read that article I said: did I forget what Bill said in the first draft? Is this a departure from what you devoted your time to, and then when I read the book and came to the concluding two chapters, I realized that you are saying the same thing about Putin that you already say in this article published few days ago in Washington Post, that Putin actually, that Gorbachev actually has high esteem of Putin. You quote someone referring...you refer to an article in which Gorbachev is being quoted as saying that Putin belongs in to three of the most important statesmen of this current era, one of them being Ronald Reagan, Margot Thatcher, and Vladimir Putin. And so, I wonder whether actually, if you forgive me, whether actually this view that Gorbachev holds of Putin, doesn't also suggest that Gorbachev himself has reason to be happy and optimistic because despite the fact that he himself personal failed, his story goes on, and Putin represents merely a slower version of the march of Russian history towards democracy and decency that Gorbachev himself hope...

I certainly don't see it that way, and I don't think he sees it that way even though I think this is another example of his convincing himself of something about which at some level he has doubts. I go back for first of all to the fact that I think he hungers for respect of his country's president since so many of its citizens seemed to have no respect for him. Jane and I went to his 75th birthday party, Gorbachev's, some years ago, 11 years ago now I guess, in Moscow. It was in a quite nice banquet hall on a big avenue, and there were a fair number of important Russians there, mostly his former colleagues and friends. A couple of months before Yeltsin had had his 75th birthday party at the Kremlin with Putin as the toastmaster. So, I think Gorbachev not only craves respect, but I think he wants to preserve his influence. He's 86 years old. He's frail, but he's still a politician, and he wants to try to advise insofar as the president will listen, advise the President. But beyond that are the larger issues that you raise, and I think Gorbachev learned a lesson from what happened under him which is Russia didn't seem, well didn't seem, Russia was not ready for what he had hoped it would be a process of rapid democratization. Well if it wasn't ready, what was the alternative? Well the first alternative was chaos under Yeltsin who was the president for most of the 1990s. And after chaos Gorbachev thought it needed a certain amount of strong hand rule of the kind that Putin was going to give it, and so Gorbachev endorsed him in the 2000 election for President, and he said -- and it's in my book – that Russia needs a certain amount of authoritarianism, not too much, but a certain amount. And then he was asked, do you think Putin is basically a Democrat, and he said, I believe he is. I think he misjudged Putin. Turned out Putin was not, and Gorbachev, Gorbachev's opinions, expressed over time, registered Putin's change. He became very critical of Putin, said some very lacerating things about Putin and his politics and his party, but even now, as late as April 2017 he was asked whether he still trusts Putin by a German newspaper, and he said yes, I still do. So, he has learned a lesson. He does believe it's going to take time. He's even said it might take as much as the whole 21st century for Russia to become democratic. He has quoted Moses saying Moses got it right when he said the Jews had to wander in the desert for 40 years to get rid of the legacy of Egyptian slavery. So, Gorbachev has been sobered up by what happened. But I don't think that I don't think that's the same -- whoops -- [brief video malfunction] that can't be Putin. [laughter]

I don't think so. 

But I don't think that's quite the same thing as saying that he has decided that things have worked out well after all.

No, I don't mean to say that, but I'm just using your words. Somewhere in the concluding chapters your choice quote Gorbachev saying that there is glasnost in Putin's Russia, that glasnost is not dead and Putin, and Gorbachev didn't suggest that compared to the period of Brezhnev era, there is more freedom in Russia and therefore we measured by these larger historical yardsticks. For Gorbachev, Putin doesn't represent disaster that follows his demise as leader of the Soviet Union, but use the term that I like to use when I have no idea what else I'm saying, dialectical continuity.

I'm glad you mentioned that because I think the image we have in the United States about Putin's Russia is too bleak. I mean the situation there is bleak, in many ways, for many people, but you can still travel which you couldn't do freely under Brezhnev. There are still, there still is at least one newspaper which Gorbachev actually co-owns, Novaya Gazeta, which speaks its mind openly. There's at least one radio station echo -- Echo of Moscow -- which is able to dissent. There are other ways in which it is easier, well economically of course it's much easier now for people than it was under Brezhnev, although as a result of sanctions and the dropping price of oil and gas, it's gotten harder. So, I think we have to remember that and I have to say this is not as an expert on Gorbachev but just as an American citizen, when Congress, when people in our Congress preface every mention of Putin's name with the word "thug" or "murderer," I shrink back because even though he may deserve some of that, I don't think it's quite, he's quite that ogre and furthermore I don't think you do business, if you want to try to do business with a leader of another great country, by prefacing every mention of his name as thug and murderer. Forgive me for a little bit of extracurricular politicking. Maybe we should think pretty soon, Pavel, of opening it up. I was going to selfishly talk forever. I have so many questions. But I realize this is your show. So, I will just I will just ask one more question, and that links to what we have what you said about Putin. Gorbachev not only is not as harsh on Putin as some others have been and as some people who think that he should have should be if he were honest with himself, but he's very harsh on the West. He's very harsh on Americans, on George Bush, first Bush. He is very harsh on how he was betrayed by the Western leaders who lionized him, who I'm only quoting what you say in the book -- who were praising him, but as Gorbachev in your book says, they were just taking him to the cleaners. They were trying to weaken Russia, according to Gorby himself. He's disappointed that the world, the new thinking didn't blossom into form of [indistinct] Universal [indistinct] -- two big names in one sentence -- that the world continues to be driven by geopolitics and narrow power political interests. That the United States became a unipolar actor. He resents that as much as Putin. The Americas [indistinct] in the world so I wonder whether actually the Putin, the Gorbachev debt you write about, has not learned his lesson, that he not only tried impossible but he trusted those, not only trusted Russian public, which seemingly suggests that the Russian public has to be go through several generations before he can enter the promised land, but they also trusted Western leaders who promised a lot.

I see where you're going and in a way it leads back to the to the point which you didn't quite make but I think you were heading there at the very at the end which is that he might one of the reasons he might admire Putin is he has come to think that for dealing with the West, a man like Putin may be necessary, and that his own -- Gorbachev's own approach of counting on the West, believing in the West, trying to join the West, which he actually tried to do, physically, wanting to be part of the West, was rejected by the West. And that's one of the things that I talk about it in the book, and there are really two phases here. One is 1989 when Bush has just come in, the first Bush, and the other is 1990-91. 1989 was the moment I think when Bush and his people, Cheney, Scowcroft, Gates made a mistake. Reagan. you will remember, at the end of 1988 or even before that, in Moscow, in the summer, asked in the shadow of the Kremlin, do you still view Russia, the Soviet Union, as an evil empire said no that was another era, another time. Reagan embraced Gorbachev and what he was doing, and Bush told Gorbachev when they met on Governors Island in New York City at the end of 1988, Reagan, Gorbachev, and Bush, but that he was going to pick up where Reagan had left off. There's even a moment where he says to Gorbachev at that moment, I better do it because if I don't, Reagan's going to be on the phone from California telling me what are you doing pick up the pace. But then Bush comes in as President and he calls a halt, a pause, he declares a pause in US-Soviet relations so he can reassess what's been going on, and this is because the people around him are telling him Gorbachev is a smiley-faced communist. He sounds nice, he smiles, but he's not to be trusted, he's not the real thing. Well in the book I try to argue that by that time they should have known he was the real thing. He was on his way out of Afghanistan. There had been elections or about to be elections for a genuine Parliament, mostly free elections. He was cutting back troop levels all around in Europe. But nonetheless they stiffed Gorbachev for half of 1989, and there was no summit following on the three that Reagan had had in rapid succession until the very end of 1989. This was a moment when Gorbachev could have used and expected to get the support that he had been promised and he really didn't get it. Now after that Bush came around and they met many times and Bush openly and warmly and enthusiastically endorsed what Gorbachev was doing, and Gorbachev himself, and that one Gorbachev over. But then at the end in 1990 and 1991 Gorbachev wanted money. He was really hoping for a Marshall Plan to help Russia and Bush was the one who kiboshed it. The Germans might have been willing -- they did a lot and they would have done more. The French would have done more. The British would have done more. The Japanese held back because of the dispute about the northern islands which we won't go into, but Gorbachev didn't get the money he wanted and the main thing that happened was Germany -- the reunification
of Germany and its, and Gorbachev's acquiescence in its being a member of NATO. The West didn't expect that to happen. They were stunned at when Gorbachev agreed to all of this. Gorbachev thought he had a promise from James Baker the Secretary of State that if he agreed, NATO would not expand one inch to the East, and as we all know it expanded thousands of miles, all the way to the to the Baltic borders of Russia. Maybe that's not thousands, certainly hundreds, and potentially into Ukraine and Georgia which we talked about doing although it hasn't happened. So, all of this has made Gorbachev angry in retrospect and that anger is probably fueled in part by his sense that he was taken for a ride and he allowed himself to be taken from a ride. So that's his anger and it may very well account for some of his feeling that if Putin is giving the West a hard time, the bastards deserve it.

On that note… [laughter]

[Gestures to the audience for questions.]

I'm from China, and it's really interesting to hear about the Russian side of things.  My friends and I we came here half an hour early to hear you talk. So, my question is, I've always wondered how essential is Gorbachev's role in dismantling Soviet Union, and if had never come into power, would there just be another idealist like him to replace him? How inevitable? And also, I guess a related issue, do you know how he felt about the alternative path China has taken.

How central was Gorbachev to what happened and if he hadn't been the Soviet leader where would the Soviet Union be today, or would there be a Soviet Union and what would it be like right? This is another one of these counterfactual questions or calling forth speculation as to what would have happened. I think most people who look at it most experts, quote/unquote, believe that if he hadn't tried to carry out the radical reforms that he did the Soviet Union could have lasted for another 10, 15, 20, who knows, 25 years. It would have probably looked more or less like the Brezhnev years which in retrospect a lot of Russians think was, if not a golden age, then at least a better time than Gorbachev brought them, where Yeltsin brought them. But I think most people will also think, well I shouldn't say, a lot of people would also think that at some point the Soviet Union would have crashed and it would have crashed differently from the way it did under Gorbachev. It would have crashed more like Yugoslavia with a kind of all-out, no-holds-barred war between Russia and Ukraine, for example, resembling the Serbs and the [indistinct]. It might have looked like Romania where in the end you know they hung Ceaușescu and his wife and there was a kind of bloodbath. So that's the way the speculation goes. Who knows, but he certainly was crucial because if he hadn't been there and they tried to get rid of him in 1991, they would have had, they would have turned back the clock to where it was when he came in with moderate changes. Now the second question was what does Gorbachev think of the Chinese? I haven't talked to him about that recently. I know he was, as you may remember, in Beijing at the time of Tiananmen Square and he was horrified, although he didn't say so publicly, and I think the spectacle of what happened there while he was in the city, the crushing of that demonstration, and of the Chinese democratic movement, encouraged him to accept without attempting to crush the democratic movement in Eastern Europe which was occurring at about the same time 1989, so it had that immediate effect. But I don't know exactly what he would say today about the Chinese. Any other questions. Yes. (Audience member] How different was it writing about a living figure than writing about Khrushchev?

How different was it writing about Gorbachev as compared to Khrushchev? There were advantages and disadvantages to me as a biographer in both cases. In the case of Khrushchev, the disadvantage was that a lot of people were dead. [laughter] The advantage was that the people who were still alive were willing to talk openly and candidly. In the case of Gorbachev a lot more people were alive but some of them were more guarded in what they said. I remember a case where I called up on the telephone in Russian a former Minister of the Interior and head of the KGB, Vadim Bakatin, and I said to him, in Russia, I'm an American professor writing a biography of Gorbachev and I'm wondering whether you would have the time and the interest for me to be interviewed by me, and his answer was I have the time but not the interest. [laughter] And I'll compare this actually, it doesn't quite fit my comparison, but in the case of Khrushchev I found in the year 1999, maybe it was even 2000, the man who had been the head of the KGB at the time Khrushchev was ousted in October 1964, and I called him up on the telephone and I asked him the same question, although it didn't say time and interest, I said would you be willing to be interviewed, and he said we have paid me 250 dollars? [laughter] It was a bad time, and I paid him $250,
and I got some nice cookies and tea out of it as well. Yes.

Hi. You were raising the question about readiness for democracy especially in the context of Russia. And you said that it might take the entire 21st century. My boyfriend, who's Russian, and I speak about that a lot, and we sort of have the hypothesis that what makes a country ready for democracy is essentially a level of grassroots involvement, so things like, in America, that people, you know sit, on the school boards and that in schools, you have student governments and all of those kind of things, that almost get people in the habit of, you know, thinking democratically, and that then build the foundation for democracy. But I was wondering what your thoughts are like what are the missing pieces that make Russia ready for democracy and when or how we might achieve that.

Good question. In the late 19th century after centuries of Czarist rule they began to develop the beginnings of a kind of civic life and civic culture. There was [indistinct] as they were called. People began within limits to participate. They even after the 1905 revolution had a parliament called the Duma which is called now which Nicholas the second allowed but then limited. And then of course came the revolution, and came Stalinism, and came totalitarianism, and all of this was brought to an end. It got to the point where it was even dangerous to whisper in an apartment what you were really thinking with the telephone covered to prevent it from being overheard. It got to the point where you could be denounced by friends and neighbors and even occasionally relatives for things you had said or even hadn't said if they wanted to get your apartment after you were picked up and herds in the middle of the night. So, it was only you know slowly to some minimal degree under Brezhnev, you could talk a little bit more if you kept your nose clean. There was no arbitrary terror. They arrested people who were critical and dissenters but not people who kept their mouth shut. Then under Gorbachev every thought everything but almost everything became possible. Took people a long time to get used to it, to believe that they could do it and wouldn't it wouldn't be punished for it they began to do it. I had a student here whom I won't name who wrote a wonderful thesis about, in effect, under, in that period, the beginnings of a civic culture and interest groups in effect and all the kinds of things that that you're talking about. And this continued to some extent under Yeltsin maybe even expanded, and but now they're sort of back, not to Stalin, not even entirely to Brezhnev as I was saying, but there are NGOs, but Putin passed a law that NGOs who accept money from outside have to declare themselves to be foreign agents, a terrible term because that was used about people who were arrested and liquidated in the 30s. So, you're right and that, and I had hopes in the beginning because I read every speech of Putin's early on, and I had another student who wrote a thesis about Putin and read all his speeches too and you could see that he was paying lip service to this idea. And my thought at that time was that if he will allow it at the grassroots, it won't hurt him, you know he can control the television. He controlled the press, but just allow it on environmental and other issues and it will slowly grow and lead at some point in a way that he can tolerate if he's still around to greater democracy. But he's cut back on a lot of that too. What else do they need? I don't know. This really takes me beyond my subject. They're probably people in this room who are real experts on democracy and what is the social prerequisites for democracy. I see some of them, so I won't try to answer it because I see we're also coming up on the time when we are supposed to close. But we can take one more question maybe say we'll take two.
Michael Claire, yes?

First thanks for your comments as an American citizen about not burning bridges to Moscow and Putin at this time when there's so much at stake, so I want to thank you for that. My question is this: did Gorbachev tell you anything about Afghanistan that his experience about Afghanistan especially now when the U.S. is going back even deeper into Afghanistan. What were his lessons?

I didn't talk to, we didn't talk, Jane and I, to him about Afghanistan that much in part because it was so clear in the documents I looked at. I mean I read notes of Politburo meetings in which they talked about Afghanistan, and they said pretty early on this is no good, this is a bad mistake. We've got to get out. I even learned from somebody who's close to Gorbachev that he had a kind of to-do list when he came in in March 85 and the first item on the top of the to-do list was exit Afghanistan. Of course, it gets complicated because they stay, they don't get fully out until 1989, and it's that whole process of saying, of realizing you need to get out, but not getting out quickly enough, is very reminiscent of Vietnam. A lot of people died in the intervening years especially Afghans but a lot of Russian soldiers as well. We got to know a leading general in the Soviet military who'd been very active in Afghanistan and we saw a lot of him in the early 2000s, and he was preaching to everybody he could get to listen that the United States was making the same mistake in Afghanistan that the Russians had made, the Soviets had made, and you can certainly make the case that it's still going on today which is not to say that if we got out everything would be terrific, but what happens in these cases is you get you get sucked in, you go in, you stay in, and you can't get out.

Bill, since I read your book very carefully, on page 376 and 77 there's an interesting discussion that you are offering that takes place in support for it Bureau and every political merit member for the recognizes how hopeless the Soviet situation Afghanistan is and for the very similar reasons that both Obama and Trump insists that they have to stay despite the fact that it's hopeless, we still continue to be there.  So, page 376 - 377.

Last question.

What do think role of Communists and communist ideology is in Russia today apart from inspiring nostalgia? The communist party I think, I'm looking around for the [indistinct] is the biggest party in Russia today I think, isn't it? Yeah but it doesn't win elections or at least not national elections. Putin's got it tamed. They follow his lead in Parliament. Communist ideology I think is, it was dying even before the Soviet Union died, and its real hardcore adherents are probably mostly older people. It's very poignant and sad. I think it's still the case that there can be demonstrations, Pro Stalin demonstrations, in Russia where you see these old beaten down people carrying banners praising communism and Stalin. I don't know am I wrong are there young people who are communist? No. so communism is not the problem today. There are lots of other problems.

Ok. Well, thank you guys for coming. [applause]