Who was Mikhail Gorbachev?

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2 Who was Mikhail Gorbachev? Gorbachev was born in 1931 in the village of Privolnoye in Stavropol province. His family were poor farmers and, at the age of thirteen, Mikhail began working on the farm. In the 1950s, he studied law at Moscow University but, after graduating, he returned to Privolnoye, working as an active Communist Party Official. He was eventually promoted to the central committee of the Communist Party, with responsibility for agriculture. At the age of only 49, he became a member of the Politburo (the executive committee for a number of communist political parties). He was deputy leader during Chernenko s brief period in power, succeeding him as leader in He served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until In September 2008, Gorbachev and the Russian billionaire, Alexander Lebedev, announced that they would form the Independent Democratic Party of Russia together.

3 Economic Problems What problems did Gorbachev face? The main problem was that the Soviet Union was trying to be a superpower with an economy that could not sustain this position. To pay for its foreign policy, the Soviet Union needed to make money abroad, but it had few saleable exports, other than grain and raw materials. In addition, Soviet manufactured goods, such as cars, for example the Lada, were often of a poor quality and could not be sold to the West. The Soviet Union was not self sufficient in food: In , the gap between grain produced and grain needed was around 44 million tonnes. Social Problems The declining economy also affected living standards and there were chronic shortages of almost everything. This lead to a thriving underground economy. The Soviet economy could not produce what the citizens of the USSR wanted and the younger generation in the Soviet Union compared life to that in the West. Many Russian workers, depressed with their lifestyle, turned to alcohol, especially vodka and life expectancy had declined from 64 years old in 1964 to 62 years old in 1980, largely as a result of alcoholism.

4 What problems did Gorbachev face? 2 The cost of the Cold War The problems of the Soviet Union were worsened by its commitments abroad. Since the 1950s, vast amounts of money had been spent trying to compete with the USA. The space race and the nuclear arms race placed fat too great a strain on the Soviet economy. The Soviet Union had financially supported other communist regimes in eastern Europe and, more especially, in Cuba (from 1977 onwards). The invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent struggle to keep control, was a further massive drain on Soviet finances. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was running a 35,000,000,000 rouble ( 7 billion) annual budget deficit. Political Stagnation The economic problems were made worse by the political situation. Khrushchev has been the last leader to try, unsuccessfully, to tackle the Soviet Union s economic policies. His successor, Brezhnev, was less inclined to reform, in order to maintain the support of member of the Politburo. Therefore the Soviet Union stagnated during his leadership and the economic problems worsened.

5 What were Gorbachev s aims and policies Gorbachev set out to confront the problems that Brezhnev had avoided. He came to power with two main aims, which were Perestroika and Glasnost. Perestroika Perestroika referred to economic restructuring in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev believed that the Soviet Union could only survive if the economy was completely rebuilt, doing away with the strict state control of the economy, which had existed since Stalin s rule over Russia. Other features included: Workers were allowed to set up co-operatives, laws were passed to weaken the control of the Communist Party, an end to monopolies and an introduction of competition to encourage private enterprise and kick start the economy. Glasnost Glasnost referred to the new sense of openness, both within the Soviet Union and also with the West. Gorbachev relaxed control over the media and arts. The powers of the KGB were restricted (it was eventually abolished) and open criticism of the government was allowed. Free elections for local government were held in Gorbachev realised that the Soviet Union s survival depended upon the West. He needed investment, new technology, but most of all arms agreements, which would allow him to reduce the Soviet Union s massive defence spending. In 1989, he removed Soviet troops from Afghanistan to reduce military spending.

6 Why did Gorbachev s policies fail? Gorbachev s policies did not solve the economic problems of the Soviet Union. It was a case of too little, too late. The problems of the economy were too great and had been building up since the 1950s. He was faced with powerful opposition from leading members of the Communist Party who resented his attempts to westernise the Soviet Union. The majority of the Soviet People were unable or unwilling to adapt to his changes; they were used to dictatorship and thus had no experience of democracy and freedom. The policy of Glasnost, giving people freedom, backfired on Gorbachev; instead of making the Soviet people accept communism, it encouraged them to demand more. Greater freedom also encouraged the states that made up the Soviet Union to demand self-government and independence. Russia was made up of numerous different peoples, many of whom resented being controlled by Moscow and having to follow Russian customs and language. Fundamental to the success of Gorbachev s economic policies, was much needed financial help form the West, in the form of loans and investments from Britain and USA. However, the Western powers had no intention of rescuing his reforms. They thought that the discontent and chaos would lead to the end of communism and of the Soviet control of Eastern Europe. They were right.

7 How did the communist state collapse? Gorbachev s reforms brought a wave of criticisms and unrest, which surprisingly quickly brought his own downfall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. End to Soviet control of Eastern Europe In March 1989, Gorbachev announced that the Red army would no longer prop up communist regimes and the countries of Eastern Europe took advantage of this: - In Poland, free elections we held and the first non-communist leader was elected. - East Germans marched to the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall. The guards threw down their weapons and join in with the demonstrations and the Berlin wall was demolished. - There were enormous demonstrations in East German cities when Gorbachev visited. These were followed by huge demonstrations in Czechoslovakia, which opened its borders to the West and allowed the formation of new political parties. - In Bulgaria, large-scale demonstrations against the communist government took place, in Hungary free elections were held and the Romanian dictator, Ceauşescu was overthrown and shot dead by a firing squad, along with his wife, Elena. The break up of the Soviet Union Glasnost had encouraged independence movements in the states that made up the Soviet Union. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were the first to demand independence in 1989, closely followed by Azerbaijan in 1990, where there was rioting.

8 How did the communist state collapse? 2 In May the Russian Republic, the largest within the USSR, elected Boris Yeltsin as speaker. Yeltsin, in turn, said that there was no future for the Soviet Union and encouraged the various states to break from it. In July, the Ukraine declared its independence and other states, like Georgia, followed. The fall of Gorbachev In February 1991, Yeltsin openly attacked Gorbachev and sparked off massive demonstrations, which forced Gorbachev to call in the troops. Eventually, however, Gorbachev backed down, leaving Yeltsin in a very strong position. Yeltsin persuaded Siberian coal miners, striking for greater freedom, to return to work. Then the first strike against Gorbachev came from communist hardliners and military officers. In 1991, they had enough support and organised a coup to take over the USSR and Gorbachev organised a conference to discuss the future of the Soviet Union. The plotters included Gorbachev s prime minister, Pavlov, and the head of the armed forces, Dimitry Yazov. On 2 nd August 1991, they kept Gorbachev prisoner in his holiday home in the Crimea and tanks and troops were sent onto the streets of Moscow. On 19 th August 1991, Radio Moscow announced that Gorbachev had been replaced by Vice-president Gennady Yanayev and a state of emergency was declared.

9 How did the communist state collapse? 3 Gorbachev was saved by huge crowds who gathered in opposition to the coup, led by the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, who had emerged as a popular opposition leader. The coup soon collapsed and the coup leaders flew back to the Crimea to see Gorbachev. Yeltsin s supports, however, got there first and brought him back to Moscow. The leaders of the coup were arrested and sent to jail; at least two committed suicide. Real power now lay in the hands of Yeltsin. He was seen as the saviour of the revolution. Yeltsin humiliated Gorbachev in front of the Russian parliament, pointing out that he had chosen all the coup leaders himself. The end of the Soviet Union The failure of the coup meant an end to the Soviet Union. The separate states were no longer prepared to form part of the Soviet Union. In a televised speech on 25 th December 1991, Gorbachev announced the end of the Soviet union and, lacking power and support, resigned. In the democratic presidential elections for Russia, in June 1991, Yeltsin won 57 per cent of the popular vote. In 1992, the states that had made up the Soviet Union agreed to join the Commonwealth Independent States (CIS). The Russian Confederation was made up of more than 50 autonomous regions and republics, many of whom took the opportunity to try to break away from Moscow.

10 The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the East In 1986, Gorbachev met with Ronal Reagan and agreed to remove Intermediate Range Missiles (SS-20s and Cruise missiles). The Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty was signed in Further talks were held to discuss the reductions in conventional forces. But before these talks reached any conclusion, the Eastern Bloc disintegrated and the Soviet Union did nothing to prevent this. Gorbachev was not prepared to use force to try to keep the countries of eastern Europe under control, and in any case, the Soviet Army was unwilling to act; its morale had been destroyed in Afghanistan and many solders had not been paid for over six months. Soviet troops were withdrawn from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which had been occupied since 1945 and the countries became independent again. (Note Slides 7 & 8). In 1989, Communist rule collapsed in Poland and Lech Walesa became President in 1990, after the first free elections. In November 1989, the Communist governments of East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria all resigned. In December 1989, the number dramatically increased when Nicolai Ceauşescu, the Romanian dictator, was overthrown and shot dead by a firing squad along with his wife. During the same month, Gorbachev met with George W. Bush, the new US President, and they declared that the Cold War was over.

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