USSR project questions:

1. What role did Gorbachev's domestic policies (specifically perestroika and glasnost) play in the deterioration of the Soviet Union?
2. Specifically, what were three goals Gorbachev attempted to accomplish with perestroika?
3. List three significant events that lead to improved relations between the Soviet Union and United States.
4. What were two major treaties signed between the USSR and USA during Gorbachevs time as General Secretary?
5. What was the significance of the timing of Gorbachev's policy of Glasnost?


Mikhail Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in a peasant town near the city of Stavropol. In 1952 Gorbachev joined the Communist Party and attended the Moscow State Universitygorbachev1.jpg to receive a degree in Law. He became the Head of Agriculture in his region, and achieved great success, directing the attention of high members within the Communist Party. Gorbachev worked his way up through the Communist Party, recognizing many of the failures and inefficiencies present in the Soviet Union at the time, until 1985, in which he was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. Throughout his term as head of the Communist Party, Gorbachev realized many of the problems within the Soviet Union, and attempted to find new solutions to these problems within the Soviet Union. Gorbachev introduced the revolutionary policies of Glasnost and Perestroika into the Soviet Union, bringing about wide sweeping change and reform within the Soviet Union. Six years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the central command economy that had prevailed throughout the Soveit Union gave way to the democratic, transitional economy seen today. In 1990, Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing about an end to the Cold War, and has become a hero figure in the Western countries for his revolutionary reforms. On the home front in Russia however, Gorbachev has been blamed for putting the Soviet Union into a position of economic hardship, and lost much respect, and support of the former Soviet people. In 1991 Gorbachev was forced to resign as president of the non existent Soviet Union.

Domestic Policy

Perestroika (restructuring) was a policy that Gorbachev laid down in an effort to spark the stagnant Soviet Union economy. This was an effort to ease the Soviet union out of a soley communist regime and introduce some of the ideas of a market economy. Soviet Union had been experiencing economic troubles and without reform they would not be able to maintain their high level of economic output and with adaptation to the technological advances of the era they were doomed to failure. Gorbachev’s major goal in the implementation of this policy was to make the Soviet economy on par with the west. Under perestroika an emphasis was placed more on individual and market instead of public and central. Enterprises were encouraged to become self-sufficient, people were allowed to own land, and the roles of the states corporations such as Gosplan were minimized. For instance, in January of 1988, the Law on Tate Enterprises was implemented, which allowed enterprises to establish the majority of their own prices and wages. Individual initiative also became an increasingly important component in the economy. Some other examples of actions taken through Peretroika include the introduction of multicandidate contests and the secret ballot in elections for some party and government posts. Although perestroika did help to encourage foreign investment, it also led to increased black market activity. When the government increased the amount of money being printed, products could be sold for more outside the boundaries of the "official economy". Many of the free-market mechanisms and economic reforms that were introduced encountered resistance from party and government bureaucrats who were unwilling to surrender their control over the nation's economy.

The policy of perestroika is depicted as the major corner stone in the collapse of the Soviet Union because it changed the economy from a centrally planned economy to one that was a mixture of central planning and market which did not work.

Some of Gorbachev's major goals with perestroika were clearly defined in his public speech before perestroika was put into action:

"Perestroika means overcoming the stagnation process, breaking down the braking mechanism, creating a dependable and effective mechanism for acceleration of social and economic progress and giving it greater dynamism.
Perestroika means mass initiative. It is the conference of
, socialist self-government, encouragement of initiative and creative endeavor, improved water and disciplined, more glasnost, criticism and self-criticism in all spheres of our society. It is utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity.
Perestroika is the all-round intensification of the Soviet economy, the revival and development of the principles of democratic centralism in running the national economy, the universal introduction of economic methods, the renunciation of management by injunction and by administrative methods, and the overall encouragement of innovation and socialist enterprise.
Perestroika means a resolute shift to scientific methods, an ability to provide a solid scientific basis for every new initiative. It means the combination of the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution with a planned economy
Perestroika means priority development of the social sphere aimed at ever better satisfaction of the Soviet people's requirements for good living and working conditions, for good rest and recreation, education and health care. It means unceasing concern for cultural and spiritual wealth, for the culture of every individual and society as a whole.
Perestroika means the elimination from society of the distortions of socialist ethics, the consistent implementation of the principles of social justice. It means the unity of words and deeds, rights and duties. It is the elevation of honest, highly-qualified labor, the overcoming of leveling tendencies in pay and consumerism. . . .
I stress once again: perestroika is not some kind of illumination or revelation. To restructure our life means to understand the objective necessity for renovation and acceleration. And that necessity emerged in the heart of our society. The essence of perestroika lies in the fact that it unites socialism with democracy and revives the Leninist concept of socialist construction both in theory and in practice. Such is the essence of perestroika, which accounts for its genuine revolutionary spirit and its all-embracing scope.

The goal is worth the effort. And we are sure that are effort will be a worthy contribution to humanity's social progress."

The perestroika reforms began the process leading to the dismantling of the Soviet-era command economy and its replacement with a market economy. However, the process arguably exacerbated already existing social and economic tensions within the Soviet Union, and no doubt helped to further nationalism among the constituent republics, as well as social fragmentation. The economic chaos that began with perestroika helped both to empower organized crime and allowed businessmen with the right connections to amass great personal fortunes as Russia's oligarchs. The economic freedoms instituted by Gorbachev under perestroika and the problems caused by these reforms arguably helped to begin the unraveling of Soviet society and hastened the end of the Soviet Union.

"Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev's reformers" Joesph Gibbs


Glasnost "freedom of speech." Or “openness”the policy of Glasnost was implemented by Gorbachev in an effort to gain support for perestroika and encourage the citizens of the Soviet Union to participate and provide insight into the system. Gorbachev believed that if he was more open with the public, it might help lessen the corruption of the Soviet government and the Communist Party.This adapted tool of Leninist media control became not only a part of perestroika, Gorbachev's plan to rejuvenate Soviet ideology during the 1980s, but also an independent concept that redefined how the USSR's media were employed as an instrument of leadership. The main point of this program was the adoption of a policy of “liberalized information flow aimed at publicizing the corruption and inefficiency of Brezhnev’s policies” (country Although the intentions of Glasnost were to encourage support for domestic social and economic programs, Glasnost ultimately caused a lot of questioning surrounding the “Stalinist system,” Lenin, and what had traditionally been accepted by the people. Under the policy of glasnost, the citizens of the Soviet Union were given more freedoms and were provided with access to documents and history that had previously been with withheld from the general public. As previously-banned literary works were becoming available to the general public, newspapers began recounting stories of Stalin-era acts of cruelty, concentration camps, and mass graves.Another major effect of glasnost was the release of thousands of political prisoners and dissenters from the Gulags. By revealing communist party crimes against the Soviet people, especially the peasant population, Glasnost further undermined Soviet federalism and contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union.This was Gorbachev's way of being more open with his people without completely divulging any secrets or information. The policy of glasnost is viewed to be another key corner stone in the collapse of the Soviet Union because it provided even greater freedoms and they even had to face media problem now due to their greater freedoms.

Demokratizatsiya (democratization)

This program called for “the infusion of democratic elements into the Soviet Union’s sterile, monolithic political process”( country studies). Multicandidate elections were introduced; Gorbachev hoped that these elections would bring new life to the party, more members prepared to support his institutional and policy reforms.


Foreign Policy

Allowance of countries to withdraw from USSR (Self Determination)

The allowance of the secession of the Soviet Satellite states by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was an unprecedented change in Soviet foreign policy, and sparked broad changes within the USSR, that eventually led to it's collapse. Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors from Stalin down allowed the countries within the Soviet Sphere of Influence to exercise their right to seceded from the USSR, and become an independent nation. He hoped to create a "commonwealth of sovereign socialist democratic states, free to follow their own path to socialism." The beginning of this process came early on in Gorbachev's reign, in which he began to allow parties within the Satellite States to choose a multi party system, as opposed to the previous single party state. In these reforms Gorbachev also allowed non communist parties to run for election through popular vote. In almost all of these states, non communist parties won elections, and began making new reforms on their countries. Further changes came from the allowance of the German people in Berlin to decide their fate; not the Soviet government. The Berlin wall was torn down, and many Germans from East and West were once more reunited. Not all forms of secession were peaceful however, as in a number of countries police forces, and former government officials attempted to remain or regain power. This resulted in the violent suppression of revolutions in Eastern countries such as Germany, Lithuania, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Gorbachev protested against the use of force in most of these uprisings, and advocated for a peaceful transition towards these new reforms. Through the policies of Glasnost, the Soviet Union had banned the policies of media censorship, and allowed revolutions within the Satellite States to be viewed by the general public. Strikes were called upon, and other forms of nationalism were broadcast uncensored for the first time in Soviet history, leading to many more forms of unified resistance to Communist governments, and eventually forcing them to resign, or allow general elections for the people. Hungary, and the Baltic States took great advantage of this new freedom, and organized an effective union of the people within these states to revolt against the government, as well as initiate some economic reforms. Following in quick succession, the Satellite States all throughout the Soviet Union began declaring their independence from the Soviet Union, and their desire to achieve complete autonomy from the USSR. Gorbachev, seeing his ideas of a common wealth of cooperative Soviet States fading began to authorize the use of force to retain the separating countries. Gorbachev shut down oil and gas lines to Lithuania, and supported an attempt at a communist takeover. This sudden, contradictory shift from his previous polices led Western countries to withhold aid to the USSR, and diminished his image in the eyes of the public. As nationalism began to take root in Russia herself, with Boris Yeltsin leading a radical movement for democratic reforms, and a attempted coup by hard line communists, the Soviet Union was truly fractured. Following his kidnapping by communist rebels, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of a non existent Soviet Union.Gorbachev.jpg

When Gorbachev took control over the Soviet Union, he came into a very disorganized, and economically fractured economy. The country was still involved in the war in Afghanistan, the Reagan administration was beginning the Star Wars program, and the Solidarity movement in Poland had given rise to some democratic capitalist reforms. The economy of the Soviet Union was in a state of collapse, with the standard of living for soviet citizens about a third of that seen in the Western countries. People throughout the Soviet Union desired wide sweeping change, to overcome the stagnant economy. Gorbachev came into power with a number of goals, some being the establishment of a "market socialism," mainly to replace the failing collectivized agricultural system. Gorbachev wanted to improve the productivity, and efficiency of factories, and other industries abroad, and attempted to do so through the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika Gorbachev also had goals of establishing better relationships with the nations of the west, and bringing an end to the military conflict that was proving detrimental to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev from the beginning was an educated man, and a great supporter of the principles of self determination. He wanted to end much of the corruption and strife that was present within the Soviet Union. Gorbachev started by initiating a number of reforms to the Soviet Union; allowing alternate parties to gain power, cessation of censorship of the media, and the allowance of more freedom within the governments of the Satellite States. These reforms quickly grew into secessionist revolutionary fervor, and started mass riots and demonstrations throughout the Soviet Union. With these uprisings came a surge of nationalism within these states, and the desire within the people for self determination was fueled. At the same time, Gorbachev was trying to improve relations with the western nations, especially the United States. He developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan, and began to open up the possibility of economic aid from the United States, but only in return for the continuation of self determination, and the allowance of countries within the USSR to choose their own governments and reform systems. Gorbachev agreed to these terms and was able to receive aid for the troubled Soviet Union, until he went back on his policies, and tried to secure control over Lithuania. Like the rest of the Satellite States Russia herself had the desire for capitalist reforms, and freedom from the Soviet Union. Revolutions were taking place in the Motherland, in attempts to reignite Russian culture, as opposed to Soviet. Gorbachev agreed to free elections for the Russian people, leading to the first elected President of Russia, and a new and more powerful influence over Russia. In the end, the Soviet Union was completely fractured, with Russia, the driving country now an independent state, there was no real power or unity left in the Soviet Union. The USSR officially ended with the resignation of Secretary Gorbachev, and the banning of the Communist party. The fires of revolution unleashed by Gorbachev spread throughout the Soviet Union, leading to the free, and independent transitional states that we see today.
"The Collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union" By: William E. Watson
"The End of the Cold War" By: David Pietrusza

Relations Outside of Europe

Gorbachev’s axiom for foreign policy was “New Thinking.” His basic principles strewed away from the Marxist-Leninist concepts of conflict between capitalism and communism and focused on moral and ethical principles to solve global issues. Gorbachev employed political influence, making efforts to enhance diplomatic relations and economic cooperation rather then pursue militaristic relations, as had been the focus of past leaders.

The relationship between the Soviet Union and United States began to improve as a product of Gorbachev’s foreign policy. In 1987, the Soviet Union yielded on the long-standing issue of intermediate-range nuclear arms in Europe; at the Washington summit, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), eliminating all intermediate- and shorter-range missiles from Europe. In April 1988, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed an accord, with the United States and Soviet Union as guarantors, calling for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by February 1989. The Soviet Union subsequently met the accord's deadline for withdrawal. By the 1990’s the Soviet-U.S. relationship had improved to such an extent that Gorbachev characterized it as almost a “partnership.” President Bush noted that the relationship had "moved a long, long way from the depths of the Cold War."

Gorbachev additionally pursued closer relations with China. The improved Sino-Soviet relations drastically affected the resolution of several issues, such as; Soviet support for the Vietnamese military presence in Cambodia, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the Soviet troops and presents of weapons deployed along China’s northern border. Gorbachev’s initiative to resolve these issues led to the Chinese government meeting with him in Beijing in May 1989, the first meeting since the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950’s.

The foreign policy of Gorbachev won him much praise and admiration. For his efforts to reduce superpower tensions around the world, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1990. The New Thinking’s appeasing policies toward the West and the loosening of control over Eastern Europe and the Satellite States along with improving the Soviet Unions acceptance among other nations ultimately led to the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War.

Treaties Signed (Summitry)

INF Treaty

The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty was signed by Gorbachev and Reagan on December 8, 1987. The plan was to completely destroy the opponent’s ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles within a range of 500 – 1500km. Some of the benefits of signing this treaty were that it gradually reduced tensions between the superpowers, and allowed for a safer world as a result of the reduction in nuclear weapons. Due to the signing of the treaty, 2692 missiles were destroyed.
The effects that the signing of this treaty had on the U.S.S.R were that it limited military security because not only could the nations not only use missiles if attacked, but they could not produce missiles either. In a sense, an increase in tension or caution was the result of the signing of the INF treaties because it made the oppositions fear what the other side may have in plan. Could the other side be cheating? For example could they be cheating by saying that they won’t use intermediate-range Nuclear forces when in actuality they go ahead and use the missiles? So in addition to undermining national U.S.S.R. safety the U.S.S.R also experienced an increase in tension because they had no idea if the U.S.A would keep faithful to the treaty or not and if they didn’t then the U.S.S.R would not have the necessary military power to defend themselves from an attack.
Mikhail Gorbachev & Ronald Reagan

The aim of the Strategic arms reduction treaty was to further reduce the superpowers’ nuclear weaponry as a means of establishing world peace. It was the first agreement between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union to actually reduce their weapons rather then just talks about reducing the rates at which they reduce their weapons and was signed at July 31, 1991.
The effects that the signing of this treaty have on the U.S.S.R are that it is a more comforting approach to indicating a relax in tensions in comparison to the INF because since the INF was signed, neither the U.S.A nor the Soviet Union attacked the opposition. In addition to relaxing tensions, START also affected the U.S.S.R in a positive way as he signing of the agreement indicating a mutual understanding of the national security of the oppositions country and therefore it indicated a gradual community spirit forming between the U.S.A and the U.S.S.R

Gorbachev and the Soviet Economy's Role in the Collapse of the USSR

The fall of the Soviet Union is often attributed to Gorbachev, as he was in power during its collapse, and resigned as the last President of the Soviet Union. However, the already battered economy of the Soviet Union due to the Cold War may have already doomed it to failure, even without Gorbachev's influence.

Gorbachev was different from previous Soviet leaders as he presented new ideas about foreign policy collectively known as "new political thinking". The policies of glasnost and perestroika are parts of this line of thinking. In the past, there was only one centralized government that did not have to answer to anybody, even its people. When Gorbachev introduced the policy of glasnost, it allowed for a new legislature to be elected by the people. It was to be called the Congress of People's Deputies, and Gorbachev convinced the Soviet Party to create it 1988. Now, the people had a group of elected officials that made big decisions, and were fully accountable to the people. A year later, this policy of glasnost also allowed for freedom of speech and freedom of publication, as critics of the Soviet party spoke louder and previously banned written works were allowed to be printed. When Eastern European states of the USSR pined for independence, Gorbachev refused to use force to keep the countries in, and thus the great Soviet Union started to break up. During this time, Boris Yeltsin was elected by popular vote to be the chairman of the Congress of People's Deputies. Eventually, the loss was to great to bear for the Union, and a coup was staged by conservative communists in August 18, 1991, with Gorbachev being put on house arrest. It ended only four days later, on the 22nd when protests from the citizens persuaded the "putchists" as they were called, to call off the coup. Taking this opportunity, Yeltsin, along with the leaders of Belarus and the Ukraine, formally dissolved the Soviet Union. On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

From the 1950's to the 1980's the Soviet Union was in a state of economic decline and was technologically behind other countries. The life expectancy was lower, alcohol consumption rates were higher, and infant mortality rates were higher as well. Although these were grave problems for the Soviet Union, the nation itself wasn't in a crisis. The economy deteriorated in the background, partly due to lower production in all industries and the Soviet Union's need to keep up with the West in terms of military might. The incessant pumping of money into the defense budget, coupled with dissatisfaction and impatience from both the Soviet party and the general population in regards to the economic stagnation, the Soviet economy was in a very vulnerable and fragile position.

It could be said that both Gorbachev and the economy were both equally to blame. The economy, already in shambles due to stagnation and the USSR's attempts to keep up with the US's arms race, could not handle the strange direction that Gorbachev's perestroika presented. Most of the economic factors were now controlled by market forces, but yet other factors were still controlled by the government, i.e. prices. This situation eventually brought on the economic downfall of the Soviet Union, and its eventual dissolution.