The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

Synopsis

For half a century the Soviet economy was inefficient but stable. In the late 1980s, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it suddenly collapsed. Why did this happen? And what role did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms play in the country's dissolution? In this groundbreaking study, Chris Miller shows that Gorbachev and his allies tried to learn from the great success story of transitions from socialism to capitalism, Deng Xiaoping's China. Why, then, were efforts to revitalize Soviet socialism so much less successful than in China? Making use of never-before-studied documents from the Soviet politburo and other archives, Miller argues that the difference between the Soviet Union and China--and the ultimate cause of the Soviet collapse--was not economics but politics. The Soviet government was divided by bitter conflict, and Gorbachev, the ostensible Soviet autocrat, was unable to outmaneuver the interest groups that were threatened by his economic reforms. Miller's analysis settles long-standing debates about the politics and economics of perestroika, transforming our understanding of the causes of the Soviet Union's rapid demise.

Excerpt

Amid the thousands of protesters who assembled on China’s Tiananmen Square in May 1989, just weeks before the Chinese government sent troops to crush the demonstrations, one person held a placard that declared: “We Salute the Ambassador of Democracy.” The envoy that this protester saluted was neither an activist, nor a dissident, nor from a country renowned for human rights advocacy. It was Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The type of democracy he offered was not Western-style liberal capitalism, but market socialism. Chinese students took trains from far-flung provinces just to see him. Gorbachev inspired China’s protesters on Tiananmen Square because the Soviet leader’s struggle to refashion the USSR’s centrally planned economy and authoritarian political system mirrored their efforts in China. Reformers in both countries, protesters believed, were fighting similar battles.

Gorbachev arrived in Beijing on May 15, 1989, shortly after protesters began massing on Tiananmen Square, just two weeks before the Chinese leadership’s fateful decision to send in troops. The visit, which marked the restoration of normal relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the USSR, had been planned long in advance. Chinese leaders intended to welcome the Soviet delegation in front of the eastern gate of the Great Hall of the People. But an unexpected influx of 200,000 protesters onto Tiananmen Square spoiled those plans. Instead, embarrassingly, the welcome ceremony was held in the airport. After a two-hour delay the ceremony finally began, as a band played each country’s national anthem and the army fired a 21-gun salute. It was a fitting welcome for a head of state, except for one detail: in the rush to reshuffle the ceremony, someone forgot the red carpet.

That was an apt metaphor for the ambiguity with which Beijing greeted Gorbachev, the Soviet superstar. His meeting with Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who was drawing China away from central planning and toward a market economy, was the first high-level summit of Soviet and . . .

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