A Soviet War Veteran Speaks Out

By A.M. Star

When Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko died, a hastily called meeting of the CPSU Politburo voted five against to elect Mikhail Gorbachev as his successor. Coincidentally (?) three opponents of Gorbachev in the Politburo, among whom was Grigori Romanov, were out of town and not present at this all-important meeting and were not notified to come immediately.

Grigori Romanov once was a powerful figure at the highest level of the Soviet State. As a young man during the 1940’s he had fought the Nazi invaders in the defense of Leningrad. A committed Communist, he later rose trough the Party ranks to become the head of the Soviet Union’s second largest city, Leningrad, for a period of 25 years.

In 1983 he was summoned to Moscow by the then president Yuri Andropov and became a member of the CPSU Politburo. When Andropov died in 1984, Konstantin Chernenko took over. But he too was not healthy and passed away the following year. Grigori Romanov was considered one of the two possible successors to Chernenko; the other one was Vladimir Shcherbitsky. "No one seriously considered Gorbachev," says Romanov.(1)

On the day that Chernenko died (March 10, 1985–19.20 hrs) Romanov was in Vilnius, Lithuania with his wife. They had been given a trip to the sanatorium and could only fly back to Moscow on the following day. Two other Politburo members were also at that time out of town; Dinmuhammed Kunaev was in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan and Shcherbitsky was in the United States. If these three members (the usual size of the Politburo is about 14 full members) had been present at the meeting, as they could have been the following day – Gorbachev would never had been elected, says Romanov. "By the time we arrived in Moscow, the very next day, he’d already done it without waiting for us as Politburo rules demanded. That fast! That was it… He’d already cut the deal in secret with all of them. And you think that the timing of Chernenko’s death, I mean, was all accidental? (bid).

The fact that Gorbachev was not even seriously considered as the successor to Chernenko, appears to be supported by an article in 1992 in the New York Transfer News Service,(2) which wrote the following about Gorbachev’s performance:

"When Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CPSU, he had done little to distinguish himself with his comrades in the Central Committee or later in the Politburo. The highest-ranking job he held was that of a Central Committee secretary in charge of agriculture. He had earlier studied at the Stavropol Agricultural Institute where he obtained a degree in agriculture, to which he later added a degree in law. Thus, he was a lawyer and an agricultural official directly responsible from the Central Committee to the Politburo. His performance until then was, if anything, lackluster. Indeed, his last years in that post were characterized by agricultural failures attributed by the Soviet press to poor weather (!) They certainly did not add to his stature. Nothing he had done could recommend putting him on a pedestal above all the others."

Furthermore, an article in "Time Europe" of January 4, 1988, confirms that Romanov was the chief candidate for the top job.

But Gorbachev and his cabal appeared to have outmaneuvered his rivals. He succeeded because Chernenko died at a moment that his main rivals were out of town, either by pure luck or timing or "in a planned manner", as Romanov seems to suggest by his question – "Was the real timing of Chernenko’s death accidental?" There is no doubt that Chernenko was a sick man which he spent much of his last few months in hospital and that his death was not unexpected. The Soviet news agency TASS later released the text of his medical bulletin, which stated the following "following the manifestations of liver and pulmonary-cardiac insufficiency, Mr. Chernenko’s heart had stopped." But doctors do have a good deal control over the timing of a person’s death. Romanov could be right that the timing was not altogether "accidental".

Tom Paine,(3) writing in the "Cold War Series: Ten Years After" said about Gorbachev: " In order to trump his Politburo rivals, Gorbachev did every wild thing that he could think of, the better to be able to brand them all, quite inaccurately, as reactionaries, as Stalinists. In the process he ruined the Soviet economy, encouraged the nationalities to rise up against his enemies, and inadvertently(4) broke up the Soviet bloc in the attempt to remove Communist leaders who sided with his perceived enemies in Russia. Finally he started the process of breaking up the Soviet Union itself, in April of 1991, by initiating talks on a new Union Treaty. This was done in order to head off an attempt by the loyal members of Central Committee of the CPSU to remove him from power."

Not surprisingly, Romanov does not have a good word to say about Gorbachev. " He will pay for his sins! I can’t stand the sight of his pig’s mug. He’s a traitor A traitor to the Motherland! He’s sniveling about how no one here thanks him, about how ungrateful Russians are to him. To hell with Gorbachev! He started this disaster. He was a catastrophe, an ignorant peasant who had no right to come into the big city…" (1)

And so writes Andrew Meier in "Black Earth": "Now, in advanced retirement, far from his rarefied life among the Party, Romanov echoed the lament of many a common man in Russia. In the years after the Soviet collapse, he had found company. Romanov has no power now, but he took solace in the knowledge that millions of Russians share his views. His principle conviction – things were much better before – has become the motto of his generation."

(1) From the book "Black Earth", chapter 1-5 by Andrew Meier
NY Transfer News Service 1992, article by Sam Marcy: The Collapse of the USSR and the Destiny of Socialism"
Tom Paine is publisher of a Public Internet Journal
Personally I don’t believe that the break-up of the USSR was "accidental". Rather, it was planned by Gorbachev and Yakovlev and others for many years. (W.V.R.)

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