Gorbachev and His Policies – History Essay
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931- ), was the leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1985 to 1991. He was the last leader of that country and the
key figure in the liberalization and subsequent disintegration of Soviet and Eastern European Communism. Gorbachev set out to reinvigorate the Soviet system but inadvertently destroyed it. His policies aimed to calm tensions with the West, mainly the United States. Gorbachev made a crucial contribution to the end of the Cold War, which had divided the world since the late 1940s.
In November 1978, Mikhail Gorbachev moved to Moscow to become Central Committee secretary responsible for Soviet agriculture. In 1979 he also became a candidate member of the CPSU’s Politburo, its top policy-making body. In October 1980, at the age of 49, Mikhail Gorbachev was made a full member of the Politburo, thus becoming the youngest member of the Communist Party’s inner circle. Gorbachev soon climbed to the top of the communist hierarchy at a time of political intrigue among the Soviet elite. The Soviet elite were concerned that the country’s economic problems as well as others were becoming more intense. Brezhnev, who died in November 1982, was briefly replaced by Yuri Andropov and then by Konstantin Chernenko. Andropov then made Gorbachev his second in command, and Gorbachev took on a more active role within the Politburo. Although Andropov saw Gorbachev as his heir, the Soviet leader was unable to move Chernenko out of the line of succession before his death in February 1984. Chernenko replaced Andropov as Soviet leader, but he also died not more than one year after taking office. After Chernenko’s death, Gorbachev quickly became a favorite of the Politburo and Central Committee and was appointed general secretary of the CPSU. This marked Gorbachev’s beginning as the new leader of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985.
After taking office, Gorbachev soon moved young, energetic politicians into key positions. Gorbachev also made numerous changes on lower levels of the power structure.
Along with the personnel changes, he pushed to get rid of corruption and incompetence within Communist Party organization. Gorbachev also moved for a campaign against alcohol consumption, and undertook a review of the USSR’s declining economic situation. In 1986
Gorbachev’s policies took on a serious turn. He would be forced to recast his reform program as one of comprehensive rebuilding of society and economy and declared that openness had to be adopted in the media and in governmental party organizations. In January 1987 Gorbachev came out in favor of democratization of the Soviet regime. Nine months later Gorbachev had a dispute with Boris Yeltsin, CPSU leader for the city of Moscow, who wanted faster reform. Though this dispute had effected Gorbachev for months, in 1988 however he renewed his efforts. This initiated a reevaluation of Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian rule and pushing for further liberalization of other major Soviet institutions. These changes were soon approved at a conference in June and July of that year.
In September of 1988 Gorbachev became chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, an equivalent to the head of state. Despite Gorbachev’s successes, he felt his reform efforts were being obstructed by the Communist Party organization. Under his leadership the first real competitive elections were held in March and April 1989, the first in the USSR since its founding in 1922. In March of 1990 Gorbachev again made serious political changes. Gorbachev persuaded the congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would separate the executive branch from the legislative, and to also elect him as president. This would make Mikhail Gorbachev the first and, as it would turn out, the only president of the USSR.
Gorbachev’s economic reforms seriously lagged far behind his political. Back in 1987 the CPSU voted toward a market economy, but very little progress was ever really made. The most important change was the allowance of small businesses and cooperatives to either exist inside state enterprises or separate from them. But disagreements on the inside prevented the adoption of a realistic reform program for the economy as a whole. This deadlock, led to a severe economic crisis by 1990. The effects of this crisis included declining production, growing inflation, shortages of consumer goods, labor unrest and, most importantly, a widespread loss of confidence in Gorbachev’s ability to handle economic issues. It would be soon realized that this would lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
By late 1990 Gorbachev was under pressure from two factions. In the face of these pressures, a weakening Soviet economy, and growing political instability, Gorbachev allied himself temporarily with party conservatives and security organs within the Soviet government.
On August 24, 1991 Gorbachev resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party. Within several days, all party activities had been suspended. Over the next several months, Gorbachev struggled to uphold a weak federal union, a transitional central government, and a place for himself within it, but he was unable to accomplish any lasting agreements. By October, all republics except for Russia and Kazakhstan had declared their independence from the USSR. Then on December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus declared the USSR defunct and announced that they were forming a loose alliance called the Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president on December 25 in a solemn television address, and the USSR ceased to exist.