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'I should have left the Communist party'

Politicians rarely admit mistakes, but Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev always was in a different class.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2011 00:29 IST

Politicians rarely admit mistakes, but Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev always was in a different class.

So it is not surprising that, as he looked back on his six tumultuous years in power at the head of the Soviet Union, he was willing to count the errors he had made.

He named at least five mistakes that led not just to his own downfall 20 years ago; they also brought the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of an unregulated economic free-for-all that turned a few Russians into billionaires while plunging millions of people into poverty.

Asked to name the things he most regretted, he replied without hesitation: "The fact that I went on too long in trying to reform the Communist party." He should have resigned in April 1991, he said, and formed a democratic party of reform since the Communists were putting the brakes on all the necessary changes.

By the spring of 1991, Gorbachev was caught between two powerful trends, which were narrowing his room for manoeuvre.

On one side conservatives and reactionaries in the party were trying to reverse his policies; on the other were progressives who wanted to establish a full multi-party system and take the country towards market reforms.

About the Communist party central committee meeting in April 1991, Gorbachev said: "The Politburo sat for three hours without me. I was told they criticised me and the discussion ran loose. Three hours later they invited me back and asked me to withdraw my resignation. During that time my supporters in the central committee had opened a list and more than a hundred people put their names behind the idea of creating a new party."

When the central committee resumed its session, tempers had cooled, Gorbachev withdrew his resignation and no one wanted the issue put to a vote.

In his memoirs, Gorbachev wrote: "Today I often wonder whether I should have insisted on resigning the post of general secretary. Such a decision might well have been preferable for me personally. But I felt I had no right to 'abandon the party'."

But today Gorbachev's doubts have gone.

"I now think I should have used that occasion to form a new party and should have insisted on resigning from the Communist party."

Guardian News Service