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Question 4 Lesson 6
When is it better to be
Was Gorbachev right to reform the Soviet Union?
The Situation: Russia 1985
In 1917 Russians overthrew their absolute monarch the Czar and replaced him with a “dictatorship of the workers”.
Russia became known as the Soviet Union and a series of “dictators” took power from the “workers” and ruled the
country as if they (the dictators) were absolute monarchs. The Soviet Union was supposed to be a “workers Paradise” founded on a command economic system where everyone might not get what they wanted, but everyone would
get what they needed. Unfortunately this command economic system had broken down and instead of everyone getting what they needed it seemed as if no one got anything at all. There were long lines for basic needs like toilet paper and bread and items like blue jeans were considered a luxury. To achieve this politically the leaders of the USSR
employed a secret police force against their people, basic natural rights were denied, there was censorship of speech
and the media and those who disagreed with the government were often rounded up in the middle of the night and
either shot or simply disappeared. Adding to this the Soviet Union was also involved in a global competition for
worldwide dominance with the United States known as the Cold War. Both the US and the USSR were spending
billions of dollars on nuclear missiles and weapons systems that could destroy the entire world in an instant. Complicating the situation in Russia even further was that since 1979 Soviet troops had been fighting in Afghanistan trying to spread Soviet rule into Central Asia, meanwhile the U.S. was spending a billion dollars to arm Afghan guerilla
fighters to stop the Soviet invasion.
Based upon the situation above list four problems in Russia in 1985
Problem #1:
Problem #2:
Problem #3:
Problem #4:
A New Leader:
In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became the 7th leader of the Soviet Union. As
we saw above he has quite a lengthy “to do” list as the new Soviet Premiere
(leader). Based upon the information above and the charts below make a
plan for Mr. Gorbachev. What would you do to save his/your country?
Comparison of the U.S. and Soviet Economies in
4 Trillion
2 Trillion
% of GDP
Spent of
Non Defense
GDP in $$$
3.3 Trillion
Your Plan:
1.4 Trillion
USSR in 1985:
● Economic System:
The Soviet People
Total Population:
272 Million
Total Military
6 Million
Total # of political
2 Million
Total # of News
Total # of Political
● Political System
● Rival
● Biggest Spending
Gorbachev’s Plan:
Perestroika: This was Gorbachev’s plan for the Soviet economy.
Which problem does this
Which problem does this
START Treaty:
Which problem does this
Withdrawal from Afghanistan:
Which problem does this
Perestroika was designed to give more local and individual control of the economy. It allowed small elements of
capitalism and market forces into the economy. In effect it turned the Soviet Union from a
Command Economy toward more of a mixed economy (on its way to a market economy.)
The government maintained a lot of control over production but individuals gained much
needed control over their economic decisions.
The Russian word for openness this was Gorbachev’s plan to reform the government and allow for more freedoms. Censorship rules were relaxed, citizens were allowed
to vote in local elections and they would eventually be allowed to vote in local elections that
included multiple political parties. The secret police was reigned in stopped from randomly
arresting and executing political dissidents.
Gorbachev and America’s President Reagan built upon earlier treaties from the 1980’s (SALT—Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to reduce the number of nuclear weapons being built and deployed) to control arms. The START treaty (eventually
signed in 1991) rid the US and the USSR of 80% of their nuclear weapons. (Note President
Obama and Russian leader Medvedev signed START III in 2009 and we are awaiting ratification by Congress to continue the work of nuclear arms reduction.)
Gorbachev begin the Soviet withdrawal
from Afghanistan which was eventually completed in 1989.
What did Gorbachev get for his plan?
Breakup of
the USSR
Almost immediately after
Gorbachev relaxed the grip of
the secret police and allowed
local elections leaders in the 15
republics that made up the Soviet Union demanded their independence. By 1992 there was
no such thing as the Soviet Union, instead it had been replaced
by 15 independent and loosely
affiliated nations. Today the 15
former Republics are independent countries and they are no
longer even loosely affiliated .
1991 Hardliner
Coup de’ Tat
Former Communist officials in
the army seized
an opportunity in
1991 and had Gorbachev arrested
and sent tanks to surround the
Russian parliament building in
Moscow. The coup failed when
the soldiers refused to open fire
on their fellow Russian citizens,
Gorbachev was released but a
new hero, the Russian President
Boris Yeltsin emerged as the
leader of the Russian movement
for reform.
Time Magazine
Man of the
In 1990 Gorbachev
received this prestigious honor.
Among other things Time said
this about the Soviet leader
“Gorbachev is a visionary enacting a range of complex and
sometimes contradictory roles.
He is simultaneously the communist Pope and the Soviet Martin
Luther, the apparatchik as Magellan and McLuhan. The Man of
the Decade is a global navigator.”
What do you think Gorbachev
should have gotten?: