In January 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), introduced ‘democratizatsia’ (democratization) of the Soviet Union, which was to accompany ‘glasnost’ (openness) and ‘perestroika’ (restructuring) introduced in 1986 and 1987. These steps were meant to inject some life to a failing system.
The Soviet Union was burdened with the inherent problems of central planned economy and heavy industrialization, including mismanagement, shortage and low quality of commodities and bureaucracy. Also the Cold War was squeezing the resources of the country. The Soviet Union could ill afford to keep up with the arms race by diverting money which could have improved the living conditions of her people. Also, the satellites in Eastern Europe and other allies and proxy wars were also becoming a liability which the country could not afford.
Gorbachev’s answer was to be to end the Cold War and save the vital resources to improve the lot of his people and restructure the economy of the country. Increasing openness was meant to bring up the inefficiencies, corruption and mismanagement of the people at responsible positions. By this, Gorbachev wanted to bring in fresh blood while removing the old guard in political and economic spheres.
Over the next few years, central planning was relaxed, private property was allowed and free elections were held. However, the economy failed to recover and the internal disputes became acute. The Soviet Union, supposedly a union where scores of nationalities lived in harmony and equality was actually a ‘prison of nations’. These nations slowly threatened to break lose. As Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern Europeans brought down the dreaded Communist regimes, people inside the Soviet Union also wanted more freedom than Gorbachev wanted to allow.
Gorbachev may have understood the dilemma he was in much later, when events went out of control. Whether he restructured or not, the Soviet Union was doomed to fail as the system had been proven wrong. An attempt by the old guard to restore the Soviet Union before the advent of Gorbachev was the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union. Thereafter, the fall of the union was a mere formality.
The euphoria of the Western nations at their victory over communism was to be short lived. Capitalism has also proven to be inadequate to alleviate the lot of the people as can be seen in the economic recession in Europe and the United States. Also, the emergence of a new China which is ‘communist in politics and capitalist in economics’ and the reemergence of a new capitalist Russia has changed global politics. Unlike the Soviet era, now the Russians are competing the West in their own game, rather than following communism. It can be said that glasnost opened up the problems in Russia and thereby opened Russia to capitalism and perestroika destroyed central planning and ultimately has created an oligarchy.