Builder and Destroyer: Thoughts on Gorbachev's Soviet Revolutions, 1985-1991

By Connor, Walter D. | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Builder and Destroyer: Thoughts on Gorbachev's Soviet Revolutions, 1985-1991


Connor, Walter D., Demokratizatsiya


The lapse of twenty years generally suffices to justify reexamination of statesmen's legacies-hence, Mikhail Gorbachev is due those that are now emerging, including the contributions in this issue. More specifically, it is roughly fourteen years since the Soviet collapse, and the extraordinary events and developments of 1985-91 are receding. Among them, one of the most extraordinary was the way Gorbachev exercised leadership. In the Soviet system, the degree of insulation of the top leadership from outside pressures was extraordinary, and that of the top leader, the General secretary, even more pronounced. The Gorbachev drama, with its mix of successes and ultimate failure, involves a leader who went beyond that insulation, and chose to act in ways, and in pursuit of objectives, that radically distinguished him from his predecessor and most of his colleagues.

The many accounts that trace his thoughts and political moves, and the unfolding developments of 1985-91 indicate that Gorbachev, over time, became more convinced that Soviet economic and political structures required radical surgery. Initially, he wanted to reform a Soviet socialism that he saw, in some sense, as an historic "choice" made in some manner by "the Soviet people." He would use formulations like this, somewhat confusingly, late into a political game that had seen him continually redefining what socialism actually meant-rhetoric would lag behind reality.

His general mindset, initially, was not one much attuned to the coercive (the October coup, the civil war) elements of that choice. Lenin remained the iconic ' founder, and the performance of the system and the people in World War II was confirmation of the historical "correctness" of the choice under the sternest of tests. Again, there is the continuing thread of discrepancy between the language Gorbachev used, including its ideological tint, and the content and tendency of his actions. To a degree, this was tactical-he could not show his hand to the party. But it also highlights the deficiency of the political vocabulary available to him in the mid-1980s, which made it difficult for him to express how far he was willing to go, or perhaps even to understand it, before the fact, himself.

At first, he was not that dissimilar from the Dubcek of 1968, who had worked on the smaller canvas of Czechoslovakia. On the domestic scene, Gorbachev reduced censorship, reformed the one-party system's operations to broaden the scope of political discussion and bargaining, opened elements of the system to new talent and, a bit later, introduced some market elements into the socialist economy. All of this may not look like much now. But for a Soviet leader, it was extraordinary. No predecessor had gone this far. None of his Politburo colleagues gave any indication that they might have done the same.

Leaders before Gorbachev kept a firm grip at home. Khrushchev was no liberator, although he introduced a post-Stalin era that saw no return to Stalinist terror. But those leaders sat atop not only the USSR, but the "external empire" of the Soviet bloc as well. They did tolerate some "variations" within the bloc. Since 1956, Poland had effectively mixed a New Economic Policy (NEP)-like modification of Soviet economics model with a consciously resistant society and the omnipresence of the Catholic Church. Long before the Solidarity years of 1980-81, Poland was a deviant case, endured by the Soviet leaders after Khrushchev because they, like he, found the prospect of dealing with Poland too daunting. In Hungary, a quiet moderation of the harshest methods had gotten underway earlier in the 1960s, and since 1968, it had operated with the most effective in-system reform-the "New Economic Mechanism"- of any satellite country. Mostly, the Kremlin had left Hungarians alone, just as they themselves downplayed the broader consequences at home, and implications abroad, of economic liberalization.

But in the end, if the Kremlin deemed it necessary to intervene forcefully, prior examples (Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968) indicated that they would, and that the West would live with it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Builder and Destroyer: Thoughts on Gorbachev's Soviet Revolutions, 1985-1991
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.