The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

By Alexander Dallin; Gail W. Lapidus | Go to book overview

4 Domestic and International
Factors in the Formation
of Gorbachev's Reforms

SEWERYN BIALER

Mikhail Gorbachev is now [1989] nearing the end of his fourth year in office and the Soviet Union is in a state of creative turmoil. What is presently happening in the USSR can best be described as a gigantic experiment that in practical terms touches virtually all fields of endeavor. Intellectually, the very system of Russian and Soviet ideas and traditions is being called into question. This experiment is only beginning. The society and the political system within which the experiment is taking place still remain deeply Soviet in all of this term's negative Stalinist connotations. To make a significant difference, to take hold and to change the Soviet system, the new course initiated by the general secretary needs at least another decade.

What has already happened in the Soviet Union in many areas is very exciting and truly remarkable. Gorbachev hopes to attain the most significant breakthrough in the economic sphere. Indeed, the rationale of his entire policy agenda is subordinated to the goal of modernizing the Soviet Union. Yet the most startling developments of Gorbachev's tenure are not in the economy but in the political and cultural areas where radical action came as a surprise. Unless Gorbachev is forced to reverse them, these measures will profoundly change the nature of the system he inherited.

The changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union have deep sources. In Western writings on Gorbachev's domestic and foreign policies and reforms, there is very often a tendency to ascribe these changes primarily or even exclusively to domestic factors. There is no denying that the domestic factors are fundamental in explaining Gorbachev's reforms. Yet without taking into consideration the international factors that inform his actions, the explanations and analyses remain one-sided. Only by understanding the interaction of domestic and international factors can we begin to grasp the nature of Gorbachev's revolutionary course.


DOMESTIC SOURCES OF SOVIET REFORM

The domestic factors that promoted radical reforms by Gorbachev fall into three categories. They concern first, the domestic performance of the Soviet system

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