The Soviet System: From Crisis to Collapse

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

27 Is Soviet Socialism Reformable?
ED A. HEWETT ... The Soviet Union began the decade in a state of political paralysis and economic stagnation, both of which posed an unmistakable threat to the basic foundations of the Soviet system. It ends the decade in the midst of a revolution beyond our wildest dreams, and certainly well beyond the hopes of virtually all Soviet citizens, whether they be Russian, Estonian, or Uzbek.And yet, the political renaissance—however breathtaking its pace and scope— has left the economy virtually untouched, the result being continued economic stagnation which threatens support for perestroika. It is clear to all now that the fate of perestroika, and the future course of East-West relations, rest on the ability of Soviet leaders to radically, but peacefully, transform the Soviet system. It is for that reason that I have chosen for my topic the question, "Is Soviet Socialism Reformable?" This is what Soviets like to call the "question of all questions."The conventional wisdom on this question, inside and outside the Soviet Union, is increasingly pessimistic. The core of what might be called "perestroika‐ pessimism" is a gloomy assessment of the prospects for economic reform which— possibly too briefly and unfairly—might be summarized in the following way:
1. ) Mikhail Gorbachev and his advisors have made terrible blunders, by underestimating the depth of the economic crisis, and by introducing half‐ hearted, inconsistent, and ultimately counter-productive economic reforms.
2. ) Now they are coming to their senses, having finally come to appreciate the need to throw away the old system and start over again.
3. ) But it is too late: the population has lost both its enthusiasm for reform and its faith in Gorbachev. They want results now.

I understand the roots of this pessimism. It is indeed tempting to give in to it. However, I am reluctant to embrace the pessimistic view, not because it is without foundation, but because it seems premature.

We and the Soviets are on poorly charted territory. No country has yet successfully dismantled a Soviet-type system, thus there is no experience to refer to in judging a particular approach. On such unfamiliar territory, judgements about whether things are going well or badly are hazardous, based, as they must be, on weak analogies, or on an analysis of the process itself, neither of which can support more than tentative conclusions.

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