Gorby can be assessed by examining his contributions to both national and international history

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Mikhail Gorbachev
Gorby can be assessed by examining his contributions to both national and international history.
National Contribution:

Collapse of the USSR through perestroika

  • “Restructuring” which aimed to reform the inefficient Soviet economy

  • Gorbachev introduced reforms to expose the command economy to a modest degree of internal and external competition in an attempt to create a “socialist market economy”, with an emphasis on full-cost accounting within a planned economy (Christian)

  • Kaiser explains that Gorby’s “halfhearted” reforms weren’t taken far enough which weakened the Soviet system by prompting economic decline (0.5% economic growth in 1986)

  • Perestroika  economy stuck in limbo between market and command

  • Ultimately Gorbachev failed to reform the economy enough, dismantling much of the old planning system without putting anything in its place (Christian)

  • Volkogonov: “his chief failing was to imagine that it was possible to make reforms and still preserve the Communist system”

  • "...the process of perestroika was an attempt to transform a sluggish, dogmatic, bureaucratic, command system in the direction of a sort of liberalism." (Volkogonov)

Destruction of the Soviet Bloc [glasnost and democratization]

  • Introduced glasnost and democratization in an effort to “mobilise the human factor”

  • People and the press - honest discussion about the problems of the Soviet Union. However, glasnost became a process that was beyond anyone’s control

  • Kaiser - once nationalities were able to speak their minds, organize politically and express their opinions, the days of the Soviet Union were clearly numbered

  • Democratization reforms, inadvertently encouraged nationalistic and anti-Soviet attitudes in Soviet bloc and Union. Early 1989, the Gorby did not take action after the election of a non-communist prime minister in Poland. Gaddis: this acted as a signal to the Soviet satellites that they could break away from the Soviet bloc without military ramifications. By January 1990, every pro-Soviet government in Eastern Europe had fallen.

  • Shows his lack of military action to maintain his nation’s security and power – i.e. he was a dud.

  • Lack of military action can also be seen through the Soviet Invasion Afghanistan – didn’t remove troops immediately. Shows that he was governed by practical concerns – USSR couldn’t afford it $ $ $

  • He couldn’t “go hard” on them, like he did in the Baltic states because the USSR could no longer withstand the economic demands from the arms race

  • Kaiser - ‘what he offered was too little and it came too late.’ By December 1991, the USSR had collapsed

  • Gorbachev was ‘blinded by idealism or wishful thinking’

  • He overlooked the evidence of ethnic conflicts within the Soviet Union’s satellite states, and thus, made a significant contribution to collapse of Soviet bloc  Soviet Union

International Contribution:

End of the Cold War

  • Prompted the end of the CW through:

Better relations with the West

Gorbachev also played an enormous role in reducing the arms race. Made great steps towards improved relations with the West through disarmament agreements and by attending summits with Reagan, i.e. Geneva

  • In 1991, Gorbachev signed START 1, the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history. INF treaty [in which year?!?!]

  • Gorbachev further contributed to the reduction of tensions through pulling out Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989

Collapse of Eastern Europe/Soviet Union

  • Sinatra doctrine and denunciation of Brezhnev doctrine acted as a catalyst for the fall of the empire, and subsequently the SU

  • Colton - “Gorbachev’s reforms put an end to the Cold War and…he is thus one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century”

Random Historians on Gorby:

Robert A. Kaiser [the best]

  • ‘Perhaps [the Soviet Union] was always doomed. Ironically, Gorbachev’s reforms hastened its demise’

  • ‘Throughout all of this Gorbachev never lost his faith in communism’

  • ‘He could begin the process of reinventing his country, but ultimately at the critical moment he failed to reinvent himself.’

  • ‘Events raced ahead of him; He never caught up’

  • ‘As he conducted his revolution, Gorbachev improvised, reacted… But there was no blueprint, just guiding principles’

David Christian

  • ‘Glasnost’ was rather ambiguous’

  • Translated into English into ‘openness’ but this is necessarily what Gorbachev wanted’


  • “Gorbachev’s policies eventually turned out to be not only more radical, but more revolutionary, for they ended destroying the system they were intended to save”

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