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Was Gorbachev mistaken in trying to carry out economic and political reforms simultaneously?

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Was Gorbachev mistaken in trying to carry out economic and political reforms simultaneously? ;"Formulating the long term and fundamental tasks, the Central Committee has been consistently guided by Marxism - Leninism, the truly scientific theory of social development...It derives its vitality from its everlasting youthfulness, its constant capacity for development..." (M. Gorbachev, Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 27th Party Congress, Novosti Press Agency, 1986, p. 7) These words were not written in the revolutionary fervour of 1917, by young and hopeful Communists anticipating the construction of a new and just society, but in 1986, for an address to the 27th Communist party Congress. In this address, Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to persuade the leaders of the Soviet Union to gain a new vitality, to "accelerate the socio - economic development of our society." (ibid p. 7) By no means was Gorbachev looking to destroy the Communist system. Merely five years later however, in December 1991, it collapsed entirely and the USSR ceased to exist. How could have a reformist programme, which was sincere, seemingly realistic, and backed by such optimistic charisma and intelligent leadership have failed so dramatically? Was it the programme itself, its implementation or rather more systemic aspects that were to blame for the failure of Gorbachev's reforms? Did the failure stem from a crucial misunderstanding of socio - economic and political development? Was it from trying to do too much or from doing too little? Gorbachev's address to the 27th Party Congress in 1986 made many references to his continuing dedication to the ideals of Marxism - Leninism, but also displays a frank understanding of the political, social and economic realities of the time. "The modern world is complicated, diverse and dynamic, and shot through with contending tendencies and contradictions." (ibid p. 9) Although he still speaks of "...a struggle that is inevitable so long as exploitation and exploiting classes exist," diplomacy rather than confrontation was to represent the new way for the USSR. ...read more.


His 1984 visit to Britain for example had greatly impressed Prime Minister Thatcher. "Someone we can do business with," was her estimation, all the more striking for her and her government's particularly unsympathetic view of the Soviet Union and its ideology. This groundwork was essential for The USSR's gradual integration into the capitalist world economy. The Law on State Enterprises, which came into operation in January 1988 greatly reduced the power of state planners and allowed company directors to tailor their production, via the discipline of the marketplace, to the demands of consumers. Profit could be controlled at the boss's discretion, a crucial shift from the downward flow of directives and output targets from Moscow that had characterised Soviet business practise previously. Nevertheless, the system was still inherently 'Soviet,' albeit in a slightly modified way. The 'commanding heights' of the economy, to use Lenin's phrase, were still state controlled, as were elements of business such as the hiring and firing of staff. Gosplan, the body which developed the plans and directives for the economy, still existed in 1987 and was continuing to develop plans for the economy. "These plans, however, were to be indicative rather than directive, that is to say, a somewhat flexible target, seeking to reflect both industrial and consumer demands." (M. Crouch, Revolution and Evolution, Philip Allen, 1989) This was an attempt at the 'third way,' in-between capitalism and socialism. As realistic and workable however as it seemed on paper, from the 1st of January 1988, the performance of the Soviet economy plummeted to new lows. Inexperienced directors, over - ambitious promises (Gorbachev had intended 60% of business to change over to his new system), spiralling prices thanks to monopoly domination and rapidly increasing unemployment (virtually unknown in the old Soviet Union) created an atmosphere of confusion and dislocation reflected in high inflation and stunted economic growth. The utter failure of this period was acutely illustrated by the ridiculous anachronism of ration cards and serious food shortages in 1990 - 91. ...read more.


Once glasnost was in place, although for example the Law on Press Freedom was not introduced until June 1990, the 'revolution from below' had begun. Continuing desires of Gorbachev's to protect elements of the old system - the elections of 1989 for example which were far from democratic - only served to frustrate public opinion further. He could not succeed in pursuing intrinsically opposed ideas simultaneously. I have attempted to argue throughout this essay that the problem was not that Gorbachev tried to carry out political and economic reforms simultaneously, but that many areas within his political and economic polices were simply not compatible. The command economy could not accommodate democracy, and the social democratic model in politics would not function without an overhaul in the thinking behind the economy. Gorbachev was in many ways a product of the Marxist tradition - he did not believe that many elements of the Soviet system were incompatible with the 'best practise' of the liberal nations; freedom of speech, the rule of law etc. He nevertheless failed to adhere to Marx's most basic assertion the humans will behave only as their circumstances force them to. "It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness." (K. Marx, Capital, The Modern Library, 1932, p. 10) Russian political culture would not be changed merely by an insistence from Gorbachev for increased responsibility; it required an economic, not political or moral incentive. Gorbachev succeeded in many areas, or at least laid very substantial groundwork to an eventual solution to the USSR's problems, but he failed in a fundamental sense because of his attempt to introduce aspects totally alien to the Soviet experience, into that very society which itself continued. I am not trying to argue the contradiction between democracy and socialism; capitalism has as many undemocratic elements, but the country that Gorbachev attempted to reform was very much a 'Soviet' one, undemocratic, oligarchic, inefficient and ultimately unmemorable. ...read more.

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