Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This
submit to reddit

What Were Gorbachevs Reforms Trying To Achieve Politics Essay

To answer this question fully it is important first to note that the question is itself in two parts that are not necessarily linked, or dependant on one another. The achievements of Gorbachev’s reforms, do not necessarily have to be judged by Gorbachev’s own aims, but can judged for their success or failure on a wider scale. Gorbachev’s reforms promoted a move towards a market economy, openness in society and democratisation in the political arena. The reform Gorbachev initiated although arguably lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, marked a stark turning point in contemporary Russian history, where Russia and its former communist republics would embark upon the long natural path to a more democratic liberal society. This move towards a more liberal society may be part of the wider success of Gorbachev’s reform, however it is impossible to ignore that for Gorbachev himself, the purpose of reform was to secure the future existence of the Soviet Union, “they expected to see the Soviet Union well into the next millennium,” [1] thus reform in this sense can be viewed as an abject failure, due to Perestroika and its various affiliated reforms undermining the soviet model.

Gorbachev upon assuming power realised that the Soviet Union was objectively failing, not only on the global scale in terms of economic growth but socially and politically when judged by its own defining principles. Gorbachev himself recognised that, “any delay in the beginning of 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 crisis” [2] . Gorbachev proposed through perestroika reform in all spheres of policy, a radical way to reform a fixed system in itself. Gorbachev’s main aims were economic but this he felt could not be accomplished if not coupled with reform in all spheres of Soviet society. ‘Glasnost’ (openness) and ‘democratisation’ would provide new ideas and ideals for society, ending the era of ‘stagnation’ that had consumed the Union during the years of Brezhnev, reasserting the Union as a legitimate world power.

Arguably the main motivation for reform within the Union was the failing Soviet economy. “The basic charge was that the structures of economic management had remained largely the same to those created in the 1930’s, while the nature of the economic system had changed out of all recognition” [3] .This ineffective, overburdening central management Gorbachev blamed for bringing the economic system into decline.

The Union’s economy was hugely inefficient; producing much less compared to western rivals, the quality of this production was also of a much lower standard when compared on international markets. This inefficiency was largely the fault of planned nature of the Soviet system, which provided very little incentive for business to be creative and innovative in production when the sole goal of production was to meet centrally planned targets. This central planning bred ineffective, wasteful production; it was this inefficiency Gorbachev believed had become embedded within the Soviet economy during the Brezhnev era of ‘stagnation’, where growth rates had declined to almost zero. “The inertia of extensive economic development lead to an economic deadlock and stagnation,” [4] Gorbachev’s accusation was that economic stagnation promoted a loss of direction and value in society thus, if the Union could become prosperous economically this would inspire a reassertion of true Communist values.

“Gorbachev’s clear and overriding goal from 1985 to the beginning of 1987 was to achieve a rapid turnaround in economic performance,” [5] this was encapsulated in the policy of Uskoreniye or acceleration. Uskoreniye’s aims were simply to accelerate economic growth. The policy tackled underproduction and inefficiency in an almost traditional fashion, rather than the systematic reform that the system actually required. Levels of discipline increased, along with the increasing the quotas for consumer goods, however these increases were not demand related resulting in greater quantities of poorly manufactured goods being produced. This Early economic reform ultimately failed, “economic results in 1987 turned out to be worse than in 1986” [6] this failure Gorbachev attributed to the isolated approach of reform, that being within the largely unchanged, centrally planned economic system.

Gorbachev’s second more radical less isolated attempt at restructuring the soviet economy was through the ‘Law on State Enterprises’. This legislation initiated the first attempt to change the nature of the planned system through the introduction of limited market forces to stimulate economic efficiency. Individual enterprises through this law were no longer wholly accountable to central planning, setting their own wages and quantities of production based on consumer demand. The ‘Law on Cooperatives’ expanded this ethos further, allowing individuals to set up their own small to medium sized business with greater autonomy over production levels and wages. This saw for the first time reactionary consumer driven enterprises emerge within the Union, driven by demand rather than command.

This second round of economic reform targeted inefficiency for the first time at a structural level, the system it was hoped could be altered to provide incentive through “socialist competition” [7] . This concept of ‘Socialist competition’ within the economy can be seen as a far more radical concept than Gorbachev himself perceived. Gorbachev asserts still during this period that, “socialism can achieve much more than capitalism” [8] , however it is easy to see how reform of this competitive nature, violated many basic Soviet principles. Ultimately economic competition could never be married in harmony with a communist system and that “Reform during this period began to undermine the co-ordination of the systems central structures and the power control they could exert over the economy.” [9] 

Gorbachev’s economic reforms targeted reviving the Soviet economy, however eventually came to undermine in principle the argument for a Communist system. Economic Reform failed by Gorbachev’s own principles and reasons for reform. The soviet economy became stranded in a no man’s land between a command and demand system. Workers grew increasingly restless with low wages and unequal benefits inspiring revolt and strikes against the system. The economy itself objectively continued to fail despite more radical reforms, with Gross national product still falling by 10 percent in 1991 [10] , illustrating that the reform effort failed to deliver even the most basic objective results.

Economic reform however was not to be enacted in isolation, Gorbachev noted that society itself was “ripe for change” [11] , realising that the only way to ensure continued long-term economic success would be to tackle social problems in Soviet society. “Glasnost became the word to describe a broad range of policies designed to expose Soviet society to criticism and self-criticism” [12] . This reform policy was designed to reinvigorate the soviet system through discussion and openness within the media and public information, opening of chapters in history that had previously been altered or untold all together. Through exposing Soviet citizens to the horrors of the past, Gorbachev believed his own position within the system would be strengthened through gaining trust of the citizens by condemning and enlightening the horrors of previous administrations.“Working people must have the complete and truthful information on achievements and impediments, on what stands in the way of progress and what thwarts it” [13] .This, it was hoped would lead to a reassertion of Lenin’s values within the system and a return to a value driven prosperous Communist system.

Glasnost resulted in greater information flow within the Union, coupled with reduced censorship. Reports and newspapers began to publish information that was itself critical of circumstances within the union, leading the Union to critiqued more directly. Information regarding the extent of prostitution within cities directly targeted the Communist system. This type of activity had been previously attributed only to Capitalist Societies however, openness of information allowed for the first time the Union to be judged by its own principles, revealing the true extent of social circumstances within the Union. Thus rather than acting as an evaluative tool to re-mould Communism and reassert its core values, freedom of information increasingly provoked critique targeted at the system itself.

This new information circulation also provoked increasing criticism from the republics of the Union inspiring the rise of nationalism. This rise became a major contributing factor in why Glasnost as well as wider reform ultimately failed. Through opening information pathways, criticism from the republics was not targeted solely at the politics of the past, but instead towards the regime of the present along with the system in general. An all Union study of public opinion published in 1988 revealed that, “for 47 per cent of respondents in the Baltic self-determination was the key issue” [14] . This reveals the extent to which Glasnost failed in reasserting confidence with the policies, or existence of the Union itself. Gorbachev’s logic was that Glasnost would strengthen identity with the current regime, stimulating the production economically and reaffirming the principles of Lenin, leading to solidarity within the Union. However Glasnost failed to accomplish these objectives as did not reaffirm citizens to the Union, rather provided ammunition for the citizens to undermine and distance themselves from it.

Despite this objective way at evaluating glasnost based on its own terms, it is possible to see how the liberal democratic values such as freedom of the press were strengthened through Glasnost reform policies. Thus even though this freedom came to undermine the system, we can see that if liberalisation within the media and freedom of information hold intrinsic ‘good’ value through a move towards democratisation, Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms can be seen as having wider success in aiding the progression towards greater freedom within society.

The final element of reform targeted the political system encapsulated through the policies of democratisation. “One of the prime tasks of the restructuring effort, if not the main one is to revive and consolidate in the Soviet people a sense of responsibility for the country’s destiny” [15] . Political reform it was hoped would engage what is known as the ‘Human Factor’ once again instilling pride and patriotism within the Citizens of the Union for the political system.

Democratisation reform was aimed at promoting citizens to become more actively engaged with the political system itself, no longer would it be acceptable for “the party and its officials to stand above the law” [16] . Party officials would be able to be held accountable through, for the first time contested elections. This democratisation Gorbachev legitimised again, as in other reforms, through links with Lenin’s philosophy. The Union would be once again in the hands of the workers not elites thus, returning the system to true Communist values. This return consequently would inspire greater productivity, stimulating economic growth through the people of the Union having more influence over leadership and policy direction. This influence would bridge the gap between the rulers and the ruled that had grown through years of authoritarianism. Through reunification of the people with the system it was hoped people of the Union would be more productive, as through activating ‘human factor’ citizens would feel morally responsible for the destiny of the Union through their greater inclusion within the system.

Gorbachev’s democratisation reforms also revolutionised the political system structurally. The political structures of the union were reformed to transfer power away from the party and back into the hands of the Soviet people. This involved the creation of The Congress of People’s Deputies. This institution would bridge the democratic void, through being directly elected by free competitive elections and would hold pivotal power within the system, having the power to ratify and amend laws, along with being the body from which the Supreme Soviet would be derived.

This radical reform of the structural aspect of the Political system promoted free elections between a variety of candidates however, it is possible here to see that once again within a fixed system problems may arise when attributing so much power to the people at the Ballot box. Through competition and openness of candidacy within a competitive system it is no longer guaranteed that the current administration will remain unchallenged. Competition in election reinvigorates people’s desire to take an active role in politics and thus the Union but would the new breed of political representative be elected in favour of or in competition with the existing regime.

Democratisation reform ensured greater competition and accountability within the Soviet system aimed at reaffirming the ‘people power’ mantra on which the Union was based. Despite this however these reforms can be seen as once again undermining the system itself. “The introduction of competitive elections did not just change the people in charge of the Government it inevitably challenged the whole nature of the system itself. [17] Elections in this sense did not renew faith in communist values but gave citizens a mechanism by which to formally signal their disgust with the system. Handing more power back to the people of the Union promoted not the resurgence of true socialism, instead allowed citizens a forum through elections, by which they could legitimately undermine the system.

Democratisation through its coupling with Glasnost reform untimely brought the Union to its knees. Glasnost prompted the birth and emergence of new political debates and lead to a direct questioning of the soviet system. When coupled with democratisation and the ability for a more open election system promoting choice between candidates, it is no wonder that the Communist Party began to lose its power hold over the Union, suffering severe losses within the newly created Congress in the 1989 elections.

The renewed political structures allowed candidates who openly critiqued Gorbachev’s policies popular support and democratic legitimacy through election. Once again democratisation enabled republics to voice their discontent, resulting in the ascension of many nationalist and regional ambassadors being pushed into direct competition with Gorbachev, with the legitimacy of a popular mandate. Reform that promoted choice between candidates at the ballot box led to Gorbachev losing formal control over the Soviet Union. Representatives could be elected on a manifesto contrary to that of system; legitimacy of this manifesto was handed through the electoral system allowing popular support, inspiring revolution ‘from below’ that being revolution driven by people and not the administration.

Perestroika reforms for Gorbachev were ultimately initiated in order to save the Union from the brink of collapse, however rather that save the Union in many ways we can see how reform undermined not only Gorbachev’s aims but the system as a whole. In an ever globalising world Gorbachev saw the need for the Union to be competitive on the world market, thus needed to tackle the inefficiencies within the planned system. This however due to the failure of early economic reform could not be tackled in isolation but required stimulus from other policy spheres. It was these reforms in alternate areas of Soviet Policy that ultimately lead to perestroika failing and the implosion of the Union.

Glasnost promoted new political ideas into public discussion and the democratisation in the political system gave these new ideas legitimate political grounds. Perestroika literally “reformed out of existence” [18] , failing by Gorbachev own principles of reform, not reviving or reinvigorating the Union but instead destabilised it. Gorbachev's reforms constantly occupied a middle ground, they were neither a transformation to a fully market driven, liberalised system, nor a continuation or intensification of the centrally planned system.

Throughout the reform period Gorbachev genuinely believed that the fixed system could be changed without terminal damage, “It is wrong and even harmful to see socialist society as ridged and unchangeable,” [19] this idea however was fundamentally flawed as relied upon socialist society within the USSR being a natural occurrence. Once the citizens of the Union were introduced to alternative philosophies to the system itself and also gifted a platform to voice these views, the Union’s collapse was inevitable. Perestroika failed to reform the system as Gorbachev had wished, not because policy was too radical or conservative but because ultimately, citizens became dissatisfied with the system itself.

Despite the failure of Gorbachev’s reforms by his own aims and reasons for reform, it is possible to see how in being arguably responsible for the collapse of the Union reform had wider, more successful implication for the process of democracy in general. If we assume democracy and its affiliated attributes to have intrinsically good value it can be seen how Gorbachev’s reforms although he himself had not intended this to be the case, widened the scope irreversibly for democratic progression within Soviet Society. Economically enterprises relied on consumer demand and more choice became integral to the system. Socially, more information was available and news coverage became free and more liberalised. Politically, competitive fair elections with a variety of ideological candidates were introduced. Gorbachev and his reforms thus when taken out of the context of the pre-prescribed goals Gorbachev himself attributed to them, can be seen as having success for the progression towards democracy. “He presided over, and facilitated, the introduction of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, religious freedom, and freedom of movement, and left Russia a freer country than it had been in its long history” [20] , thus if we are not to judge perestroika by their own aims but in the wider context of a progression to a more democratic society, Gorbachev’s reforms can be seen as having greater success.

Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This

Share This Essay

To share this essay on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ just click on the buttons below:

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

Request the removal of this essay.


More from UK Essays

Doing your resits? We can help!