Emergence of the Modern World

Gorbachev and Perestroika

In 1985, Soviet leader and Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail S.
Gorbachev announced perhaps the most far-reaching plan for his country\'s
economic restructuring. This plan, called "Perestroika", was a set of
strategies aimed at resolving the gap in scientific and technological
development with the West by initiating economic reform in the Soviet
Union. The meaning of Perestroika was best defined by the Party Plenum
of January 1987:

"Perestroika is the decisive defeat of the processes of stagnation, the
destruction of the braking mechanism, the creation of a reliable
and effective mechanism for increasing the pace of the social-economic
development of society. The main idea of our strategy is to unite the
achievements of the scientific-technical revolution with a planned
economy and to bring into action the entire potential of socialism."

What this means is that Perestroika was an effort to keep up with the
Western world by initiating what was to them drastic economic reform.
They tried to implement basic capitalist structures and means of
production. However, it couldn\'t reconcile itself with the power
structures of Soviet Communism.

The whole idea of Communism is all people are equal and all needs are
taken care of. It did not work that way. Under Soviet Communism, all
are poor, and there are a privileged and rich few that call the shots
and keep the opposition under its thumb. The economy was failing and
people were unhappy.

Perestroika would try to change that. According to Gorbachev in his 1987
book Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, "In the
past 15 years, the [Soviet] economy had declined by more than
one-half...and had fallen to a level close to economic stagnation."
There were two main reasons why the Soviet economy was doing so poorly.
First, there was the chronic overspending on the military-over 18
percent of the GNP by 1980! This was partially due to the Cold War\'s
arms escalations, but also to quell any potential opposition. Second,
the Soviets could not keep up with the widening technological gap with
the West, due to the fact that they never did adopt modern production

These strategies, known as Toyotism, provides for a profit oriented
economy where things are only produced when they are needed and there
was to be no stock reserves. It is a production system dictated by
demand. It went against the basic tenets of the Soviet political
economy, which involved mass stockpiling of such things as arms to
protect against potential enemies. It failed, not surprisingly, because
you can\'t completely change the main tenets of the old system and yet
try to keep the skeleton of it still in place.

Traditional Russians today who look back on the \'good old days\' blame
Gorbachev and Perestroika for his part in the collapse of the Soviet
Union. They think him as sort of a villain who reversed seventy or so
years of hard work and started the dismantling of the
Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist totalitarian state. But looking back, it was
doomed to fail anyway.