Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, born on the 2nd of March 1931 was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. Ruling as a the general secretary of the Commuinist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1985 to 1991 and president of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. He made huge efforts to democratize the Soviet Union’s political system and decentralize its economy, thus leading to the eventual downfall of commuinism and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 1990, for his policies (particularly Perestroika and Glasnost) and for ending the Soviet Union’s postwar domination of eastern Europe.
The problems facing Mikhail Gorbachev.
- The collapse of détente in the late 1970’s between the USA and USSR, led to a new and expensive arms race. Moscow lacked the financial means and the technology to build a system to rival President Reagan’s development of the Strategic defence Initiative or ‘star wars’ which was a plan for setting up nuclear and laser-armed satellites. In addition to this, Moscow also feared that SDI might tempt the USA to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USSR.
- The USSR was suffering from global over-stretch, as it was fighting both a war in Afghanistan and giving financial and military aid to left-wing regimes which had seized power in Angola and the Horn of Africa.
- The Soviet economy was also stagnant and desperately needed technological and financial input from the West as its industrial production rate had been dropping far behind the west since 1975.
- Issue of gerontocracy – ‘gerontocracy’ (rule by geriatrics) was a term used to describe Soviet leadership in the years 1980 – 1985- i.e the last years of Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko.
- Resuscitate the stagnant Soviet economy after its years of drift and low growth during Brezhnev’s tenure in power.
- Wanted to fight widespread Alcoholism in the Soviet Union.
- Focus spending on domestic issues as opposed to the arms race.
- He saw the 60 years since Lenin’s death as a betrayal of the revolution and so wanted to save communism.
- He also wanted more freedom for the common man.
- Pull the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
- Focused on making the Soviet system more productive and responsive.
Anti Alcohol campaign – Begun in May 1985 and it’s main goal was to fight widespread alcoholism from within the Soviet Union. This was achieved by raising prices of vodka, wine and beer. Their sales were restricted massively and it was enforced vigorously, cutting both alcohol sales and the Government’s revenue. Consequently, alcohol production migrated to the black market economy and dealt a serious blow to state revenue (a loss of about 100 billion rubles, according to Alexander Yakovlev). However, the program was very symbolic of the further change to come in the country.
Uskoreniye – was a slogan and a policy announced by Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on 20 April 1985 at a Soviet Party Plenum, aimed at the acceleration of social and economic development of the Soviet Union. It was the first slogan of a set of reforms that also included perestroika (restructuring), glasnost (openness), and democratisation (the transition to a more democratic political regime)
Perestroika – was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s and involved restructuring the economy.
Glasnost – Soviet policy of open discussion of political and social issues. It was instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s and began the democratization of the Soviet Union as well as the relaxing of censorship.
- The end of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
- Gorbachev’s domestic policies encouraged those in eastern Europe who wished to see liberalisation in their own countries.
- Unchallenged, the peoples of eastern Europe begun to choose their own governments, for example in 1989 Hungary adopted a multi-party system and Polish elections returned it to a non-communist government.
- Erich Honecker, the east German leader, refused to contemplate reform of any kind and his intransigence led to his removal by other members of the East German Politburo.
- Egon Krenz, the new east German leader refused to sanction wide spread repression, and amid the growing chaos, decided to open access across the Berlin Wall.
- On the 9th of November the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War in Europe was dismantled by ‘people power’.
- Collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet sphere of influence.
- Reunification of east and west Germany.