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What is Perestroika?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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Perestroika was the name for the programs that began to reform the bureaucracy and economy of the U.S.S.R. in 1987. Translated to English as “restructuring,” perestroika was implemented by then Soviet leader, and soon-to-be President, Mikhail Gorbachev. Originally meant to represent reform in labor efficiency, the program came to spell out an increasing of awareness in economic markets, and was soon adopted as the official policy of the Soviet government. It was hailed by some as a democratic movement toward reform, and by others as a failed economic policy.

During a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the governing body of the country, Gorbachev laid out the Russian plan for perestroika. He introduced in his plan a future funneling out of the Communist leadership of the country, and ways of increasing the autonomy of the local governments. He tried to move Russia back to its position of superpower status experienced from the 1940s to 1970s. Trying to keep up with the still-booming United States and Japanese economies, perestroika tried to move away from the centralized economic policies prevalent under Stalin.

The policies of perestroika disassociated Russia from old Marxist-Leninist policies, toward a reality of openness and transparency, rule of law, checks and balances, and pluralism. The program allowed political debate and opposition in the country, and paved the way for a new capitalist economy. This new economy under perestroika, however, plunged the country into economic depression and crisis, from which the Soviet Union would eventually crumble in 1991.

The reforms implemented by perestroika pushed much of the control of the country out of the reach of practical Communist methods. These new methods and a new reliance on non-Communist practices allowed the Russian people, through perestroika, to emerge from the Cold War a mere four years after its implementation, though at the price of the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. A people now free under democracy, were without much of their empire and a failing economy.

Though the program did spell a new era in the country’s history, many criticized its motives. Obstructed by much of the economic bureaucracy, perestroika was seen as a way for Gorbachev to improve his political position by presenting a democratic façade. However it was seen, perestroika was a failure as an economic policy, pushing the country into over inflation, but succeeded in introducing democracy and a new Russian way of life and government.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jun 28, 2011

I think "perestroika" has become a commonly used term now for reform. I have run into several articles in newspapers which talked about reform in places like China and Cuba and used "perestroika." But it's talking about reform within a Communist government or society specifically, not just any kind of reform.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 28, 2011

Yes, perestroika promoted pluralism and development but it still did a lot of things wrong. Even though Gorbachev had good ideas for the economy, he didn't do much to change how the system was running administratively.

The command system in Russia was practically unchanged after the fall of the Union. So even though there were some great ideas and projects, it wasn't implemented the way it should have been because Gorbachev was still worried about disciplining the Russian people.

If his intention was really to make Russia a democracy with an open and flourishing economy, he wouldn't have tried to impose Soviet policies even though Soviet Union no longer existed.

By bear78 — On Jun 27, 2011

There are a lot of criticisms about perestroika and how it impacted the Russian economy and led to the fall of the Soviet Union. But I honestly can't imagine it going any other way. I think that the Russian society was so tired of the Soviet system, that reform and change became absolutely necessary.

I read that one of the major problems of the Soviet government was the fact that government employees were incredibly old, I think the average age was 70! Most people died while they still held their positions. This means that there was absolutely no innovation and little or no change in the way things were run.

And from what I read about the economy of the Soviet Union, it was pretty bad even before perestroika. Not only did the Soviets have to spend huge amounts of money for defense due to the Cold War with the U.S., but there was also a large black market and corruption that was eating away at the economy.

I don't think that perestroika is responsible for the bad Russian economy nor the fall of the Soviet Union. It coincided with these events, but I don't think that it caused it.

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