The Gorbachev Leadership: Change and Continuity
Norma C. Noonan
Historians will remember Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev as the man who began a fundamental transformation of the Soviet Union by introducing new and exciting reforms prior to its collapse in December 1991. People around the world followed Gorbachev's progress, but few understood that, behind the facade of reform, the central infrastructure, and the republic-central, structures were disintegrating. How and why reforms began and progressed, how the system disintegrated, and how these developments affected women will be the focus of this chapter.
Gorbachev came to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party on March 11, 1985. From 1985 to 1991, Gorbachev and his advisers tried to reverse the pattern of stagnation of the preceding years. They did not realize how severe the crisis was or that the entire system was threatened from within (see Chapter 7). Gorbachev introduced seemingly innocuous reforms that proved cataclysmic, unleashing latent forces of discontent, which led to the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Serving as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev resigned his position only after a coup in August 1991. He became president of the USSR in 1988 but never stood for popular election. Gorbachev's resignation from the presidency on December 25, 1991, marked the final collapse of the Soviet political system. The last six dramatic years of Soviet history will forever be known as the "Gorbachev era."