Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War

Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War

Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War

Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War


An intriguing "intellectual portrait" of a generation of Soviet reformers, this book is also a fascinating case study of how ideas can change the course of history. In most analyses of the Cold War's end the ideological aspects of Gorbachev's "new thinking" are treated largely as incidental to the broader considerations of power -- as gloss on what was essentially a retreat forced by crisis and decline. Robert English makes a major contribution by demonstrating that Gorbachev's foreign policy was in fact the result of an intellectual revolution. English analyzes the rise of a liberal policy-academic elite and its impact on the Cold War's end. English worked in the archives of the USSR Foreign Ministry and also gained access to the restricted collections of leading foreign-policy institutes. He also conducted nearly 400 interviews with Soviet intellectuals and policy makers -- from Khrushchev- and Brezhnev-era Politburo members to Perestroika-era notables such as Eduard Shevardnadze and Gorbachev himself. English traces the rise of a "Westernizing" worldview from the post-Stalin years, through a group of liberals in the late1960s--70s, to a circle of close advisers who spurred Gorbachev's most radical reforms.


It is only by studying the minds of men that we shall understand the causes of anything.

—James Joll, 1914: The Unspoken Assumptions

In the early 1980s, superpower relations were at their lowest ebb since the Berlin and Cuban crises of the early 1960s. The painstaking gains of arms control were unraveling with “palisades of missiles” rising on earth and “space strike weapons” soon to enter the heavens amid mutual accusations of treaty violation and deceit. Détente's diplomatic and economic ties had withered in the aftermath of Angola and Afghanistan, and Soviet and U.S. proxies were now at war on three continents. Moscow saw an adversary engaged in reckless provocations and sweeping challenges to its legitimate interests, launching a massive arms race that at best sought to exhaust the USSR, and at worst was actually readying for nuclear attack. Its citizens were barraged with parallel images of Nazi and NATO aggression; Kremlin propaganda shrieked of a dying imperialism preparing “to take with it all life on earth.”

The view from Washington was not dissimilar—that of an “evil empire” increasingly repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Though ultimately destined for “the ash can of history,” the USSR was still on the march. Administration officials exposed its plots, denounced its barbarity, and debated its plans for nuclear war. Some more thoughtful analysts, though less alarmist, still viewed Soviet global power as on an upward trajectory. Others saw a chance for modest reform but, noting the strength of military-industrial interests and the depth of imperial commitments, agreed that there was little hope of détente's revival.

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