The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

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

13 Evaluating Gorbachev as Leader

GEORGE W. BRESLAUER

...

... The quality of leadership can only be evaluated relative to one's conception of the magnitude of the task, the magnitude and mutability of the constraints on change, and the magnitude of the divergence from the traditional, and currently available, skills and mentality required to carry out the task in the face of those constraints. In sum, to what extent was the exercise of leadership, and of the leadership strategy adopted by the person in question, a necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition for realizing the results witnessed to date?3


ESTABLISHING BASELINES FOR EVALUATION

This question sensitizes us to a related methodological concern: the baseline for judging accomplishment. Should we focus on the extent to which the current situation diverges along several value-dimensions from the situation five years earlier ? Or should we focus instead (or in addition) on the extent to which the current situation falls short of our (or the leader's) vision of the desired future?

If the past is our baseline, and if we postpone the problem of determining Gorbachev's distinctive contribution to the outcome, it is easy to sum up what has changed in the past five years. This is the least taxing approach to evaluation, and one that predominates in public discourse. Domestically, we have witnessed: (1) desacralization of the Brezhnevite political-economic order, including the official principles and mind-set that underpinned it: the leading role of the Party; the "community of peoples"; pride in the system's achievements; optimism about state socialism's potential; commitment to class struggle abroad; and a national security phobia that justified a repressive, militarized regime; (2) legitimation in principle of movement in the direction of a market-driven economic order, a multi-party system, and the right to secede from the Union; (3) changes in policy and structure that have greatly decentralized political initiative, have created more open and competitive political arenas, have moved far toward disenfranchising the nomenklatura, and have swept radical majorities into power in the governmental councils of major cities; (4) changes in economic policy that have allowed the emergence of a legal private sector (the "cooperatives") that has recently burgeoned and currently employs more than 4.6 million citizens; (5) changes in cultural policy, and in policy toward dissent, emigration, travel, religion, and association that have vastly increased the amount of political freedom within the Soviet Union; (6) changes in foreign policy that have opened the USSR to Westernizing political, cultural, and economic influences; (7) changes in foreign policy

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