The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

1
1985-1986: Initial Steps Toward Modernization

Immediately after taking office in March 1985, Gorbachev signaled the Soviet Union and the world at large that he intended to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Yuri Andropov. That is, he intended to be a reformer, with an eye toward hastening technological progress and economic growth. It is no coincidence that his initial policy was dubbed "the policy of acceleration." None in Moscow or Washington doubted this young, dynamic general secretary's desire to halt the Soviet Union's technological and economic retardation, and none would forget his promise to those who supported him: to use the Soviet Union's technological advances to maintain military parity with the United States and to counter President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)--a program that impressed Moscow politicians far more than it ever impressed the American public.

Gorbachev's first economic initiatives--decentralizing management and increasing worker discipline and morale--strongly resembled those introduced by Andropov. Throughout 1985 and 1986, Gorbachev followed Andropov's lead, concentrating on administrative actions designed to force the Soviet people to work harder. He launched a harsh anti-alcoholism campaign, as well as a campaign to eliminate all "non-labor income." Both of these campaigns sought to focus the Soviet people's attention on socialist rather than hedonistic or private economic pursuits. These and other measures introduced by Gorbachev (including initiating state quality control in industry and reorganizing the bureaucratic management of agriculture) smacked of the practice and ideology of a socialist, totalitarian state.

In early 1986, however, a new tone emerged in Gorbachev's speeches on economic issues. Although he continued to praise socialist production relations and socialist property, and still called on the Soviet people to become

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