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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Perestroika : a new stage in Soviet reform Felton, Gregory


Perestroika, unlike previous attempts at economic reform, represents the beginning of a new era in post-war Soviet politics. If one were to categorize the major Soviet leaders since Stalin it would be more accurate to term Khrushchev a liberal Stalinist, Brezhnev a conservative Stalinist, and Gorbachev, may be properly classified as an anti-Stalinist. Gorbachev's accession to power represents the beginning of what might be termed post-post-Stalin reform. To illustrate the uniqueness of perestroika, this thesis is structured around a comparison of Gorbachev's economic, political, and social reforms with those of Nikita Khrushchev. A contrast with Khrushchev is necessary because it is impossible to determine the uniqueness of perestroika and to draw informed conclusions about Gorbachev unless the record of the first-post Stalin reformer is examined. Because Gorbachev and Khrushchev are both reformers, it is to be expected that they should share certain common objectives. But the similarities are far less significant than the differences. The differences between Gorbachev's and Khrushchev's approaches to reform are a function both of substantive policy differences and historical circumstance. Historical Context Khrushchev came to power at a time when the Soviet Union was weak relative to the United States. Externally, the most pressing need was for the Soviet Union to achieve military parity with the United States. Internally, Khrushchev's first years were ones of struggle for absolute leadership with other Politburo figures who had differing notions of reform. The world that Brezhnev and his successors bequeathed to Gorbachev bore little resemblance to the one which Stalin left to Khrushchev. By the time of Gorbachev's accession to power, the Soviet Union had become the military equal of the United States. Political Reform Khrushchev's main objective was to weaken the power of the bureaucracy largely in order to enhance his own personal power. Gorbachev's focus is less Stalin than it is the Stalinist system. The lack of subordination of political and economic reform to the pursuit of personal one-man rule marks perestzoika as a distinct improvement over de-Stalinization. Economic Reform In economic policy, Khrushchev followed Stalin's practice of meeting economic problems with administrative measures. Although Khrushchev made his reputation by denouncing Stalin's leadership, he did nothing to address the root of the Soviet Union's troubles—the Stalinist economic system. Perestroika is theoretically superior to de-Stalinization because Gorbachev eschews administrative tinkering in favour of economic change. Gorbachev has rediscovered the co-operative socialism and limited tolerance for free-enterprise of the 1920s. The implication of this return to 'Leninism' is an admission that the Stalinist system is a failure. CONCLUSION The essence of Khrushchev's reforms, and their subsequent failure, can be traced to his fixation with appearance over substance. For all of his 'liberal' reforms, Khrushchev is essentially a 'Stalinist' politician. Perestzoika is superior to de-Stalinization both because of historical circumstance and substantive philosophical differences. Gorbachev's return to Leninist principles effectively ends the period of reformed Stalinism. But the objective need for reform does imply its necessary success. There are many obstacles to effecting deep change in the Soviet Union, obstacles which cannot be surmounted soon. It cannot be expected that a people will cast off the habits of a lifetime. Nonetheless, Gorbachev's reforms are rigorous and potentially longlasting, as opposed to Khrushchev's 'administrative' changes which did not really address the flaws of the Soviet system.

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