Evaluating Mikhail Gorbachev

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Evaluating Mikhail Gorbachev


  • Gorbachev was surrounded by a paradox, he wanted to reform communism but assisted in its collapse

  • His policies had unforeseen consequences

  • Gorbachev had made many mistakes; these mistakes include depleting of state revenues without producing long-term gains in output. The growing queues and scarcities were just one sign of economic deterioration that could be tracked back to Gorbachev’s policies. Westwood states, “The decline in Gorbachev’s reputation was largely due to his inability to improve the economic situation”.

  • Gaddis elaborates he did not know what the new path should be. This irrefutably led to his lack of contribution to his nation resulting in increasing economic problems. Gorbachev was recognised for pouring enormous energy into the shattering status quo without specifying how to reassemble the pieces.

  • Furthermore, the political liberalization had fatally undermined popular trust in government, paralysing its efforts to make more radical economic changes.

  • Thus Gorbachev’s inability achieve economic sustainability was a negative contribution made to his nation.

  • Gorbachev’s personal leadership was one of the factors that led to the end of the Cold War. The USSR could not compete economically with the West and became exhausted by debt, corruption and stagnant communist practices. It could not keep pace with the more efficient and far richer United States and its allies. Gorbachev’s promotion of perestroika to reform communism promoted new ways of thinking which Soviet citizens used in a democratic way to destroy communism rather than to save it or perfect it as Gorbachev envisioned.

  • Gorbachev did not destroy communism, as the system was doomed and was likely to fall apart even without his changes. There were a number of reasons for this e.g. growing nationalism as a part of decolonisation, totalitarian political power was not flexible to the social and economic needs of its citizens

  • The end of cold war gave Gorbachev an opportunity to reform communism without pressure from the tensions, but the momentum of glasnost and perestroika was too great and allowed the democratisation process to ultimately destroy communism

The democratic reforms which he had implemented to reinvigorate communism had ultimately contributed to his demise by undermining domestic support and tolerating opposition which would have previously been ruthlessly thwarted.

  • More of an idealist than pragmatist failed to see the need for change, blinded by his vision of a romanticised communist Russia.

Arms Race

  • Reagan also said that Marxism-Leninism would be left “on the ash heap of history” and predicted that Easter Europe and the SU itself would experience “repeated explosion against repression”.

  • Gorbachev recognized that he had to get President Reagan on side and break his perception of the SU as an ‘evil empire’, and he used the summit meeting at Reykjavik (1986) to convince Reagan on his genuine interest in ending the arms race and restructuring their relationship on a collaborative basis. While the summit did not produce and agreement, it changes the way the two leaders saw each other and humanized Reagan in Gorbachev’s eyes. Reagan also modified his assessment of the SU and gradually became the leading dove of his administration.

  • Some historians can argue Gorbachev is judged through the versatile changes made in foreign policy. He is appreciated for ending the vicious cycle of distrust and threats with the West whilst replacing it with a new spiral of trust and reassurance. Le Feber signifies this change in his statement “he was opening windows that had been sealed for seventy years”. Gorbachev’s “new thinking” led to the reduction of armaments, eventually withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, and cuts to commitments in leftist movements in the Third World. Thus Gorbachev was commended for taking actions to reduce external spending in order to strengthen the Soviet economy and in addition, creating a relationship of trust with the West.

  • However, in contrast, it can be further argued by historians such as Robert Service that during this relationship of trust with the west Gorbachev “overlooked the internal necessities” of the Soviet compound. Resulting in his lack of attention to internal problems faced by the SU

  • His contribution was seen in the arms race as he contributed significantly to a reduction in armsThe Reykjavík Summit 1986

  • His contribution was later seen again as Gorbachev believed that if the arms race ended he would have the resources needed to promote perestroika. Thus, this lead to the treaty to eliminate intermediate range nuclear forces, signed in 1987. Signalled the end of the Cold War.

  • Lead to better relations between leaders

  • Consequently the United States and the West reduced its belligerent stance towards the Soviet Union.

  • The turning point in the Cold War came when Gorbachev assumed power in March 1985. He had already publicly declared that a détente was possibly. His economic plans now made detente necessary. Gorbachev completely reversed soviet doctrine. Moscow had argued that only socialists would survive nuclear war. Gorbachev said it would no spare no one- not even socialists. “Security” he announced, could “only be resolved by political means” not military face offs.


  • Late in 1988, at the United Nations, Gorbachev announced unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The last troops left Afghanistan a year later, in February 1989.

Eastern Europe

  • Initially Eastern Europe had based the communist empire for geopolitical reason as it was a security buffer zone, economically efficient as it provided trading partners and merely because of political reasons such as defence and the Warsaw pact. However, due to economic instability and the new thinking in Russia, Eastern Europe saw this as a time to break away from communism.

(Why was this Gorby’s fault? Gorby did not use force, promoted new thinking, new policies which is why Eastern Europe instigated this break away).Thus, the external empire of communism fell as the Baltic States declared their sovereignty and independence.

Historian Christian- “Once it became clear that the conservative communist governments of Eastern Europe lacked the support of the reformist government of the Soviet Union, they became more vulnerable than ever before”

  • Gorbachev deliberately underscored his previous position in a speech in Finland, declaring that “the Soviet Union has no moral or political right to interfere in the affairs of its Eastern Europe neighbours.” It marked the replacement of the Brezhnev Doctrine with the Sinatra Doctrine, allowing countries to do things “their way”. This change in foreign policy lead to the end of Cold War

  • The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe weakened Gorbachev’s resolve and his ability to maintain this commitment to party dominance.

  • Gorbachev’s catalyst role in the demise of the USSR is not shared by all historians

  • Gorbachev dithered in contradictions without resolving them. The largest was this: he wanted to save socialism, but he would not use force to do so. It was this particular misfortune that made these goals incompatible- he could not achieve one without abandoning the other thus he gave up an ideology, an empire, and his own country in preference to using force.

Random Gorbachev information

  • The more Gorbachev tried to put things right, the better he grasped how bad things were

  • At the central committee plenum of April 1989 Gorbachev admitted: “None of us had a good knowledge of the country we live in”. This observation was confirmed when the country they lived in fell apart after they attempted coup of August 1991.

  • The Stalinist model had long outlived its utility and was ready to collapse after doing immeasurable damage to the country.

  • Operating from a position of profound weakness, they tried to establish the Soviet Union as a superpower equal to the United States. They could succeed only in the realm of military might, and only at immense cost. Soviet government’s routinely spent a quarter of their resources on their military establishment. This squandering of the nation’s wealth over more than 40 years certainly hastened the collapse of the Stalinist system.

  • He called himself a socialist even is he embraced free market economic reforms that looked more like capitalism than socialism “Socialism...is entrenched among the people” he said.

  • Overall Gorbachev is remembered historically for his contribution to external issues rather than improving the condition of his nation for the better. His inability to improve national economic conditions is somewhat referable to his lack of positive contribution nevertheless Gorbachev is commended for building a relationship of mutual trust with the west and his commendable reluctance to use force.

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