Dear Mr. Gorbachev,
Many years and miles lie between you and I, and we do not share language or culture. We are not compatriots, nor was I an anonymous face in the crowds that met you in the world’s capitals. I am, however, both a beneficiary and admirer of your attempt to bring into existence a more peaceful world. So I write to you today, to congratulate you on ninety-one years of life, work, and thought.
I was born the same year you were removed from office, 1991; the end of history, I was told. Since then, I have grown up into a world you helped shape, while you, growing old, have witnessed so much of your work unravel. When the Soviet Union fell, sages proclaimed that liberalism would conquer the Earth and capitalism would conquer the soul. But the promised peace dividend was never reinvested, and today the world hears again the rumble of guns in Europe.
Had your project carried on, perhaps today I would be thanking you for banning the bomb, for building a ‘common European home’, for reviving the social democracy, and for global pacts to heal Gaia. Well, you did have a famous work ethic, but I should not ask so much of one man. Today, on your ninety-first birthday, you should be content to reflect upon an already formidable legacy: you, Gorbachev, ended the arms race, you allowed the peaceful unification of Germany, and you made Perestroika and Glasnost a reality for millions, however short-lived they were.
You may lament that the world today does not resemble the one you envisaged in your 1988 speech to the United Nations, in which you encouraged your counterparts to work together to “end to the era of wars, confrontation and regional conflicts, aggression against nature, the terror of hunger and poverty”, but you can take heart in the thousands, millions of young people who have taken up these banners. If in Stavropol you spurred on young Komsomol comrades to improve the lot of their neighbours, then today your life’s example compels my generation to play a greater part.
And it is not just the ideal you inspired, but the practice you demonstrated. As leftists perhaps our favourite past-time is to debate the better course between idealism and pragmatism, between reform and revolution, between change from within and without, but you knew that reality is far more complex than our own chosen dogma. As you said, “Life is much richer and more complex than even the most perfect plans to make it better. It ultimately takes vengeance for attempts to impose abstract schemes, even with the best of intentions.”
You came of age in a world that had, as you put it, “abandoned basic human values” in the name of a Communism which, instead of justice and equality, had “brought about repression of human dignity.” Sixty years later, I came of age in a world that has done the same in the name of Capitalism. To be on the left in this new world is to live an eternal defeat, but you showed that even against seemingly impossible odds, hard work, perseverance, and hope can make change. Thank you Gorby, for your life’s work and example, and happy birthday!
2 March 2022