We know for sure now that Gorbachev has not been getting a fair shake. His critics have claimed that he is moving the Soviet Union toward dictatorship and that he doesn't understand democracy.

Well, they are wrong, and the reason we know is that Gorbachev just announced the creation of a 5 percent sales tax! It will be imposed on sales of "production and technological commodities, consumer goods, work and paid services," according to the state news agency, Tass.It will raise the 3-ruble price of a pack of Soviet cigarettes by 15 kopecks. A kopeck is a hundredth of a ruble. The average Soviet monthly wage is only 257 rubles, or $411 at the official exchange rate.

Gorbachev hopes the sales tax revenues will help the poor and stabilize the monetary system.

Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't. It seems that most Russians don't have many rubles to spare these days, and that the addition of a sales tax might just make matters worse.

But the important thing is that Gorbachev clearly understands that every successful democracy must have a sales tax.

To see what I mean, we have to go back to the foundation of our country. The American colonists rebelled against British rule because they didn't like the Stamp Tax.

All documents, including bills of sale, contracts, licenses, diplomas and almanacs, were taxed under aegis of the Stamp Tax. Its power even extended to the unpredictable - such as playing cards and dice.

Even though the British were used to it, the Americans weren't - and they thought it was oppressive.

It was the closest thing to the modern sales tax that they could come up with in those days, and the colonists detested it - enough to commit acts of violence against Americans who agreed to be stamp distributors for the British.

The Americans were also opposed to taxation without representation.

Actually, historians have suggested that the so-called sacred principle was a smoke screen. Even if the British had been progressive enough to grant the Americans representation, it is unlikely they would have liked the taxes.

The colonists just didn't want to be taxed - period.

Miraculously, they won the revolution.

True to principle, they avoided taxation under their first system of government, the Articles of Confederation. But it didn't take long for them to realize that it was virtually impossible for a central government to succeed without the power to tax.

Passing the hat just wasn't enough.

So when they drew up a new constitution, they started taxing. In fact they even started taxing people who had no representation - like the District of Columbia.

Which was OK as long as the people doing the taxing could prove that they were not British.

In spite of various protests over the years, the sales tax and the income tax became traditionally acceptable in the 20th century. A few fanatics complained that they were oppressive, regressive, unconstitutional or undemocratic - but the arguments didn't stick.

Democracy and taxation became as readily identifiable as love and marriage.

Those who criticize the sales tax today argue that it is the worst and most unfair tax because it hits everyone equally. At least the income tax is graduated according to income level, even if it has loopholes designed for the rich to slip through.

No one who frequents a store can escape the sales tax, no matter what his income level.

Which brings me back to Gorbachev. He created the sales tax in the Soviet Union by edict, meaning he has some distance to go to catch up to us - but a sales tax there means that democracy can't be far behind.

The only thing that concerns me is that Gorbachev doesn't know enough American history to remember the immortal words of Chief Justice John Marshall: "The power to tax is the power to destroy."