#AceHistoryNews – RUSSIA:March.24: Thirty years ago on March.11 the Kremlin, the Soviet Politburo unanimously elected its youngest member, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the pinnacle of Soviet power General Secretary of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
This election ushered in the "perestroika" period of revolutionary change, which led to the end of the Cold War, democratization of the Soviet Union, and ultimately to the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire.
Gorbachev had come to Moscow only a few years earlier, in 1978, to serve as the party secretary for Agriculture. His rise was indeed meteoric. Under General Secretary Yuri Andropov (1982-84), Gorbachev essentially became number two in the party and a perceived successor to Andropov.
From modest beginnings at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in 1986, perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of economic, political, and social restructuring, became the unintended catalyst for dismantling what had taken nearly three-quarters of a century to erect: the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist totalitarian state.
The world watched in disbelief but with growing admiration as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, democratic governments overturned Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Germany was reunited, the Warsaw Pact withered away, and the Cold War came to an abrupt end.
In the Soviet Union itself, however, reactions to the new policies were mixed. Reform policies rocked the foundation of entrenched traditional power bases in the party, economy, and society but did not replace them entirely. Newfound freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion, the right to strike, and multi-candidate elections undermined not only the Soviet Union’s authoritarian structures, but also the familiar sense of order and predictability. Long-suppressed, bitter inter-ethnic, economic, and social grievances led to clashes, strikes, and growing crime rates.
Gorbachev introduced policies designed to begin establishing a market economy by encouraging limited private ownership and profitability in Soviet industry and agriculture. But the Communist control system and over-centralization of power and privilege were maintained and new policies produced no economic miracles. Instead, lines got longer for scarce goods in the stores, civic unrest mounted, and bloody crackdowns claimed lives, particularly in the restive nationalist populations of the outlying Caucasus and Baltic states.
On August 19, 1991, conservative elements in Gorbachev’s own administration launched an abortive coup d’‚tat to prevent the signing of a new union treaty the following day and to restore the party’s power and authority. Boris Yeltsin, who had become Russia’s first popularly elected president in June 1991, made the seat of government of his Russian republic, known as the White House, the rallying point for resistance to the organizers of the coup. Under his leadership, Russia embarked on even more far- reaching reforms as the Soviet Union broke up into its constituent republics and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States.
According to the documents as well as diaries and memoirs, Gorbachev was a straight arrow, not a dissident, but a reformer within the system. His top priorities were to reform the Soviet economy, end the war in Afghanistan, and end the nuclear arms race to direct the peace dividend to domestic reform.
It helped him that at the time, the entire Soviet elite was ready for change and saw in him the potential to make the Soviet system stronger and more vibrant. The documents published here show Gorbachev’s first efforts to achieve his goals from the conversation with Afghan Communist leader Babrak Karmal to the launch of the anti-alcohol campaign, to the first conversation with President Ronald Reagan.
This selection of documents from all seven years of the perestroika era attempts to give the reader a sense of the scope of this revolutionary transformation, not just of the Soviet Union, but of the world.
The documents cover the most important issues that confronted Soviet leaders in this period the reform of the Warsaw Pact and relations with socialist allies from the beginning and to the crumbling of the Pact, arms control and the key U.S.-Soviet interactions, relations with West European countries, and Soviet activities in the Third World.