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The Last Heir of Lenin Explains His Reform Plans: Perestroika and Glasnost (1986) Mikhail Gorbachev

The collapse of the Soviet Empire, which began in 1989 and culminated in 1991, caught most scholars and policy analysts somewhat by surprise. Many had been predicting its collapse for so long that they failed to notice the rapid unraveling of the system, while others were so ideologically committed to the socialist experiment that they were just as blind to the unraveling. Such an event did not take place overnight, although the accession to power of Mikhail Gorbachev (b.1931) and his reformist program was certainly the catalyst. There were, however, long-term trends that, in hindsight, were visibly straining the Soviet system: urbanization, higher levels of education and aspirations among the professional classes, economic strains resulting from the Cold War arms race, and resistance to Soviet rule throughout the Soviet bloc. When Gorbachev came to power in 1985, the economy was in disastrous shape as the Soviet Union had become engaged in another furious round of the arms race prompted by the Reagan administration's military buildup. In addition, Soviet society was wracked with various ills ranging from rampant alcoholism to absenteeism at the workplace. Gorbachev, rejecting the hard-line policies of his predecessors, ushered in an era of reform that included a new openness with the West (glasnost), as well as domestic economic and political changes (perestroika). It seems clear that Gorbachev was not out to destroy the socialist society of the Soviet Union but to correct what he saw as the problems afflicting it. In the end his reforms were too successful for his own good. In 1991, the Soviet Union, of which he was the president, ceased to exist; he now makes a living as a consultant and is very popular on the public lecture circuit. In this selection, excerpted from his Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (published in the United States in 1987), itself an example of glasnost, Gorbachev discusses the need for, and goals of, perestroika.

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Source: Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (New York: Harper & Row, 1987).
Perestroika is an urgent necessity arising from the profound processes of development in our socialist society. This society is ripe for change. It has long been yearning for it. Any delay in beginning perestroika could have led to an exacerbated internal situation in the near future, which, to put it bluntly, would have been fraught with serious social, economic and political crises....
...In the latter half of the seventies--something happened that was at first sight inexplicable. The country began to lose momentum. Economic failures became more frequent. Difficulties began to accumulate and deteriorate, and unresolved problems to multiply. Elements of what we call stagnation and other phenomena alien to socialism began to appear in the life of society. A kind of "braking mechanism" affecting social and economic development formed. And all this happened at a time when scientific and technological revolution opened up new prospects for economic and social progress....
An absurd situation was developing. The Soviet Union, the world's biggest producer of steel, raw materials, fuel and energy, has shortfalls in them due to wasteful or inefficient use. One of the biggest producers of grain for food, it nevertheless has to buy millions of tons of grain a year for fodder. We have the largest number of doctors and hospital beds per thousand of the population and, at the same time, there are glaring shortcomings in our health services. Our rockets can find Halley's comet and fly to Venus with amazing accuracy, but side by side with these scientific and technological triumphs is an obvious lack of efficiency in using scientific achievements for economic needs, and many Soviet household appliances are of poor quality.

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