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Perestroika

PERESTROIKA

Perestroika was the term given to the reform process launched in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Meaning "reconstruction" or "restructuring," perestroika was a concept that was both ambiguous and malleable. Its ambiguity lay in the fact that it might convey no more than a reorganization of existing Soviet institutions and thus be a synonym for reform of a modest kind or, alternatively, it could signify reconstruction of the system from the foundations up, thus amounting to transformative change. The vagueness and ambiguity were initially an advantage, for even the term reform had become taboo during the conservative Leonid Brezhnev years after the Soviet leadership had been frightened by the Prague Spring reforms of 1968.

Perestroika had the advantage of coming without political and ideological baggage. Everyone couldin the first two years, at least, of the Mikhail Gorbachev erabe in favor of it. Its malleability meant that under this rubric some urged modest change that in their view was enough to get the economy moving again while others who wished to transform the way the entire system worked were able to advance more daring arguments, taking cover under the umbrella of perestroika. Within Gorbachev's own top leadership team, both Yegor Ligachev and Alexander Yakovlev expressed their commitment to perestroika, but for the latter this meant much more far-reaching political reform than for the former. Once political pluralism had by 1989 become an accepted norm, perestroika as a concept had largely outlived its political utility.

For Gorbachev himself the term "perestroika" meant different things at different times. Initially, it was a euphemism for "reform," but later it came to signify systemic change. Gorbachev's views underwent a major evolution during the period he held the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and that included the meaning he imparted to perestroika. In an important December 1984 speech before he became Soviet leader, Gorbachev had said that one of the important things on the agenda was a "perestroika of the forms and methods of running the economy." By 1987 the concept for Gorbachev was much broader and clearly embraced radical political reform and the transformation of Soviet foreign policy. Gorbachev's thinking at that time was set out in a book, Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World. While the ideas contained were far removed from traditional Soviet dogma, they by no means yet reflected the full evolution of Gorbachev's own position (and, with it, his understanding of perestroika). In 1987 Gorbachev was talking about radical reform of the existing system. During the run-up to the Nineteenth Conference of the Communist Party, held in the summer of 1988, he came to the conclusion that the system had to be transformed so comprehensively as to become something different in kind. In 1987 he still spoke about "communism," although he had redefined it to make freedom and the rule of law among its unfamiliar values; by the end of the 1980s, Gorbachev had given up speaking about "communism." The "socialism," of which he continued to speak, had become socialism of a social democratic type.

Perestroika became an overarching conception, under which a great many new concepts were introduced into Soviet political discourse after 1985. These included such departures from the Marxist-Leninist lexicon as glasnost (openness, transparency), pravovoe gosudarstvo (a state based on the rule of law), checks and balances, and pluralism. One of the most remarkable innovations was Gorbachev's breaking of the taboo on speaking positively about pluralism. Initially (in 1987) this was a "socialist pluralism" or a "pluralism of opinion." That, however, opened the way for others in the Soviet Union to talk positively about "pluralism" without the socialist qualifier. By early 1990 Gorbachev himself had embraced the notion of "political pluralism," doing so at the point at which he proposed to the Central Committee removing from the Soviet Constitution the guaranteed "leading role" of the Communist Party.

Even perestroika as understood in the earliest years of Gorbachev's leadershipnot least because of its embrace of glasnostopened the way for real political debate and political movement in a system which had undergone little fundamental political change for decades. In his 1987 book, Perestroika,

Gorbachev wrote: "Glasnost, criticism and self-criticism are not just a new campaign. They have been proclaimed and must become a norm in the Soviet way of life . There is no democracy, norcan there be, without glasnost. And there is no present-day socialism, nor can there be, without democracy." Such exhortation was alarming to those who wished to preserve the Soviet status quo or to revert to the status quo ante. It was, though, music to the ears of people who wished to promote the more rapid democratization of the Soviet system, even to advocate moving further and faster than Gorbachev at the time was prepared to endorse.

If perestroika is considered as an epoch in Soviet and Russian history, rather than a concept (though conceptual change in a hitherto ideocratic system was crucially important), it can be seen as one in which a Pandora's box was opened. The system, whatever its failings, had been highly effective in controlling and suppressing dissent, and it was far from being on the point of collapse in 1985. Perestroika produced both intended and unintended consequences. From the outset Gorbachev's aims included a liberalization of the Soviet system and the ending of the Cold War. Liberalization, in fact, developed into democratization (the latter term being one that Gorbachev used from the beginning, although its meaning, too, developed within the course of the next several years) and the Cold War was over by the end of the 1980s. A major aspect of perestroika in its initial conception was, however, to inject a new dynamism into the Soviet economy. In that respect it failed. Indeed, Gorbachev came to believe that the Soviet economic system, just like the political system, needed not reform but dismantling and to be rebuilt on different foundations.

The ultimate unintended consequence of perestroika was the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Liberalization and democratization turned what Gorbachev had called "pre-crisis phenomena" (most notably, economic stagnation) during the early 1980s into a full-blown crisis of survival of the state by 19901991. Measuring such an outcome against the initial aims of perestroika suggests its failure. But the goals of the foremost proponents of perestroika, and of Mikhail Gorbachev personally, rapidly evolved, and democratization came to be given a higher priority than economic reform. At the end of this experiment in the peaceful transformation of a highly authoritarian system, there were fifteen newly independent states and Russia itself had become a freer country than at any point in its previous history. Taken in conjunction with the benign transformation of East-West relations, these results constitute major achievements that more than counterbalance the failures. They point also to the fact that there could be no blueprint for the democratization of a state that had been at worst totalitarian and at best highly authoritarian for some seven decades. Perestroika became a process of trial and error, but one that was underpinned by ideas and values radically different from those which constituted the ideological foundations of the unreformed Soviet system.

See also: democratization; glasnost; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; new political thinking

bibliography

Brown, Archie. (1996). The Gorbachev Factor. New York: Oxford University Press.

English, Robert D. (2000). Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gorbachev, Mikhail. (1987). Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World. London: Collins.

Gorbachev, Mikhail, and Mlynar, Zdenek. (2002). Conversations with Gorbachev: On Perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hough, Jerry F. (1997). Democratization and Revolution in the USSR. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Matlock, Jack F., Jr. (1995). Autopsy of an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. New York: Random House.

Archie Brown

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perestroika

perestroika (pər´ĕstroy´kə), Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s. Perestroika [restructuring] was the term attached to the attempts (1985–91) by Mikhail Gorbachev to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist party organization. By 1991, perestroika was on the wane, and after the failed August Coup of 1991 was eclipsed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the establishment of the Russian Federation, and other dramatic political, legal, and economic changes.

See M. Gorbachev, Perestroika (1988); E. A. Hewett and V. H. Winston, ed., Milestones in Glasnost and Perestroyka (1991).

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perestroika

pe·re·stroi·ka / ˌperəˈstroikə/ • n. (in the former Soviet Union) the policy or practice of restructuring or reforming the economic and political system. First proposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 and actively promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika originally referred to increased automation and labor efficiency, but came to entail greater awareness of economic markets and the ending of central planning. See also glasnost.

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perestroika

perestroika (in the former Soviet Union) the policy or practice of restructuring or reforming the economic and political system. First proposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 and actively promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika originally referred to increased automation and labour efficiency, but came to entail greater awareness of economic markets and the ending of central planning. The word is Russian, and means literally ‘restructuring’.

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perestroika

perestroika (Rus. reconstruction) Adopted by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, perestroika was linked with glasnost. The restructuring included reform of government and the bureaucracy, decentralization and abolition of the Communist Party monopoly. Liberalization of the economic system included the introduction of limited private enterprise and freer movement of prices.

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perestroika

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