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What were Gorbachev's intentions when he launched Glasnost and Perestroika, and how far did he achieve them?

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Introduction

What were Gorbachev's intentions when he launched Glasnost and Perestroika, and how far did he achieve them? In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the Communist Party. Gorbachev soon embarked on an ambitious plan to make economic and social changes to the Soviet Union. How far Gorbachev intended his reforms to go is still a matter of debate. In reality, the changes made within the country had extremely far-reaching consequences, leading ultimately to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Two of Gorbachev's key policies were "Perestroika" (restructuring), and "Glasnost," literally meaning openness. Perestroika was principally an attempt to revive the Soviet economy, which had stagnated under the Brezhnev period (1964-1982). With Perestroika, Gorbachev sought to promote modernisation in industry in order to increase productivity. Glasnost was Gorbachev's policy of relaxed government control of political freedom. For most citizens, Glasnost meant that criticisms of the current system could be voiced, especially in the press, without fear of punishment.1 However, Gorbachev increasingly found himself caught between criticism by conservatives who wanted to stop reform and liberals who wanted to accelerate it.2 Despite these seemingly radical moves, it is argued that Gorbachev was in fact more cautious than he seemed. The first two years of Perestroika were principally a period of analysis and experimentation.3 Gorbachev encountered considerable opposition from conservative elements of the Communist Party for his entire period in power. ...read more.

Middle

However, these goals conflicted with each other. Modernisation meant abolishing outdated factories and techniques, but in order to meet increased demands for high quality consumer goods, all available production facilities would be needed.22 To diminish the role of central administration, by curtailing the role of Gosplan, Gorbachev granted independence to several major industries, putting them in charge of obtaining their own raw materials and determining prices for their finished goods. However, this led to higher costs for products and the public was highly critical of increased prices. Writing in Sovetskaya Rossiya in 1990, Gorbachev explained: "at first we had the desire to achieve a new level of productivity and growth of national income. It did not work...we became convinced nothing would work unless we changed the economic relations themselves."23 Here, Gorbachev may have been excusing the fact that once the changes began, they could not be restrained by regime-led reform, as Gorbachev had intended: Gorbachev's strategy, says Richard Sakwa, was based on the CPSU retaining a predominant role, but the Party was to guide rather than lead.24 Attempts to modernise the economy under Perestroika led to a growing democratic movement calling for modernisation of the entire system, especially the political system. A member of the Politburo of the time, Vladimir Dolgikh, says that it was put to the Politburo in 1988 that they ought to make a stand for or against a multi-party system, since it was already being raised in the press. ...read more.

Conclusion

"Empty store shelves and housing problems," stated a Soviet economist, "have made the process difficult, but something absolutely vital has taken place in Russian terms: a change in our way of thinking."44 According to this statement, Gorbachev achieved his intention of freedom of expression on the part of the Soviet people. Even if Gorbachev had intended to move towards a more pluralistic political system and a partial market economy, he did not achieve his aims in the way he had intended. His earlier insistence that the CPSU should have a leading role in the reform process gave way to the unprecedented rate of democratisation. The new political structures became increasingly dominated by more radical politicians, and Gorbachev found himself in the centre, no longer leading the reforms but acting as a conciliator between the conservatives and the radicals, who wanted to go much further than he did.45 Gorbachev ultimately did not achieve what he set out to do as the Soviet leader, which was to save the country's existing social and political system by reforming within, using the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. Despite cautiousness in the beginning, Gorbachev certainly unleashed powerful forces of change. Gorbachev himself summarised the results of all his policies: "Having embarked upon the road of radical reform, we have crossed the line beyond which there is no return to the past...things will never be the same again in the Soviet Union."46 In fact, four months after an attempted coup against him in August 1991, Gorbachev resigned as leader on 25th December, and as a result, the Soviet Union collapsed. ...read more.

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