End of Cold War – Gorbachev & Soviet Decline

End of Cold War – Gorbachev & Soviet Decline

Glasnost, Peristroika, Reagan and Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

Although the communist parties of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries were dominated by men who were blind to the fact that their communist states were becoming weaker by the day, some of their members did see this and, just as importantly, wanted to take steps to reform communism to reverse this decline. The most important of these figures was Mikhail Gorbachev, who became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985.

Gorbachev is an interesting figure because, although in the West he is seen as a bit of a hero for his role in the end of the Cold War through the collapse of communism, really the goals of his reforms were to save communism by responding to protests against economic conditions and the lack of political freedom. Destroying it was really a bit of an accident on his part.

Gorbachev had two main ideas for reforming the Soviet Union:

1) Glasnost (openness)

2) Peristroika (restructuring).

The reforms were meant to enliven the failing Soviet economy by bringing in things such as competition, as opposed to the State controlling every aspect of economic life. Business competition was very much regarded as capitalist thing, so this was a bit of a controversial move.

A big part of Peristroika was also cracking down on the corruption that Communist Party officials across the country had been practicing for decades. The reforms were also supposed to make the Soviet political system more open, rather than the Communist Party operating secretively and behind closed doors, so that the country could be run more according to individuals’ demands.

Unfortunately, it was really a case of too little, too late. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states suffered a number of calamities during Gorbachev’s rule. And because Gorbachev was unwilling to use force to reassert Soviet control, unlike his predecessors, this time there was no holding back the protests.

The Decline of the Soviet Union

Falling behind the US

Russian Propaganda - History GCSE RevisionThe US didn’t actually have technology that could do all the things it claim to be able to do. But it didn’t really matter. The most important thing was that it was prepared to spend lots of money on giving the US more advanced nuclear weapons at a time when the Soviet economy was failing.

By the late 1970s the Soviet economy had fallen far behind the West; it couldn’t produce goods that anyone wanted to buy, and at the same time couldn’t even produce basic necessities at reasonable prices.

It was a similar story in the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries, where increasingly large numbers of people were becoming sick and tired of their rulers. The Soviet Union just didn’t have the money even to look after the military it already have, let alone improve it.

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