Economic and political reforms simultaneously

Was Gorbachev mistaken in trying to carry out economic and political reforms simultaneously? ;"Formulating the long term and fundamental tasks, the Central Committee has been consistently guided by Marxism – Leninism, the truly scientific theory of social development… It derives its vitality from its everlasting youthfulness, its constant capacity for development… " (M. Gorbachev, Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 27th Party Congress, Novosti Press Agency, 1986, p. 7)

These words were not written in the revolutionary fervour of 1917, by young and hopeful Communists anticipating the construction of a new and just society, but in 1986, for an address to the 27th Communist party Congress. In this address, Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to persuade the leaders of the Soviet Union to gain a new vitality, to "accelerate the socio – economic development of our society. " (ibid p. 7) By no means was Gorbachev looking to destroy the Communist system.

Merely five years later however, in December 1991, it collapsed entirely and the USSR ceased to exist. How could have a reformist programme, which was sincere, seemingly realistic, and backed by such optimistic charisma and intelligent leadership have failed so dramatically? Was it the programme itself, its implementation or rather more systemic aspects that were to blame for the failure of Gorbachev's reforms? Did the failure stem from a crucial misunderstanding of socio – economic and political development? Was it from trying to do too much or from doing too little?

Gorbachev's address to the 27th Party Congress in 1986 made many references to his continuing dedication to the ideals of Marxism – Leninism, but also displays a frank understanding of the political, social and economic realities of the time. "The modern world is complicated, diverse and dynamic, and shot through with contending tendencies and contradictions. " (ibid p. 9) Although he still speaks of "… a struggle that is inevitable so long as exploitation and exploiting classes exist," diplomacy rather than confrontation was to represent the new way for the USSR.

In foreign relations, as in internal affairs Gorbachev sought a new path characterised by moderation and pragmatism rather than strict dogma. In the 'political' sphere, Gorbachev's emphasis was on the need for democracy – the embodiment of his criticism of Khrushchev. This call however was thoroughly framed within a socialist picture: "… when we say that socialism great potential is not being used to the full in our country, we also mean that the acceleration of society's development is inconceivable and impossible without a further development of all the aspects and manifestations of socialist democracy.

" (ibid p. 69) Gorbachev saw democracy, and the ability of working class people to have in say in their government, as the incentive needed for people to undertake responsibility for their actions. Inherent in this aspect of Gorbachev's manifesto was also a call for de – centralisation, a reassertion of the importance of local Soviets, which had provided the thrust for the revolution in 1917. The Soviets were now to accommodate worker's complaints and served an economic purpose in allocating funds and co-ordinating the service sector on a more localised basis.

The key phrase that encapsulated many of Gorbachev's ideas on political reform was of "people's socialist self – government. " (ibid p. 69) The iron law of Moscow dictat, totally unresponsive to the needs of the population, would be replaced by sympathetic federal administration which would command legitimate respect and provide initiative. Democracy was seen as a moral and legal necessity, and "a major lever for strengthening socialist legality. " (ibid p. 77) True democracy, of course, includes freedom of speech, an issue also outlined by Gorbachev.

"Broader publicity is a matter of principle to us. It is a political issue. Without publicity there is not, nor can there be, democracy… " (ibid p. 76) He saw this as not a fundamental departure from the established system, but a reformation of its most basic principals: "Communists want the truth, always and under all circumstances. " (ibid p. 76) Rachel Walker though is cynical of the feasibility of this half – way arrangement, "In short, Gorbachev's solution was to try to marry two different and rather incompatible political traditions, the Soviet and the liberal democratic…

" (R. Walker, Six Years that shook the World, Manchester University Press, 1993, p. 121) Gorbachev's economic policies were also contained within the established status quo of basic ideals in the Soviet Union. Its economic problems, and they were numerous and wide – ranging, were acknowledged by Gorbachev, in contrast to his predecessors. He considered quite rightly that the Soviet economy in 1985 was at a point of pre – crisis, but the problems were notably blamed upon the fault of individuals and their negligency.

There was no general criticism of the command economy, and the state bureaucracy which stagnated much of the Soviet Union's economic and social development was blamed on Stalin's and Breznhev's mismanagement. There was no belief in a more systemic root of the problems at this stage. Gorbachev promised significant improvements with the economy under his leadership: "By the end of this century we intend to increase the national income nearly twofold while doubling the production potential. " (M.

Gorbachev, Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 27th Party Congress, Novosti Press Agency, 1986, p. 32) Changing the patterns of investment, diverting money from the vast military for example towards the consumer sector, and improving efficiency were to be the themes of Gorbachev's program. He continually emphasised also the need for the Soviet Union to develop technologically and scientifically and in fact strangely saw these advances the bedrock for socio – economic change.

"The way out, as we see it, lies in thorough modernisation of the national economy on the basis of the latest scientific and technological advances… " (ibid p. 36) Collective ownership too (or more strictly speaking, state ownership) was to remain intact, but with more direct control by the people who worked in these industries. Here was a policy where democratic principles were applied to the economic sphere: "You cannot be a master of your country if you are not a real master in your factory or collective farm, in your shop or livestock farm. " (ibid p. 72)

This idea is representative of, in my opinion, the crux of Gorbachev's basic reforming philosophy, and embodies the fundamental misunderstanding wherein the crux of his failure lies: although Gorbachev may have reformed many of the imperfections of the system, his continuing insistence of working within the boundaries which already existed prohibited real development. The use of politics to attempt to improve the economy, the tactic which characterised much of the perestroika programme, was flawed from the beginning, Gorbachev displaying a naiveti?? which many observers have noted as crucial.