Study Guide

Perestroika

by Mikhail Gorbachev

Perestroika Essay - Critical Essays

Perestroika

Perestroika means restructuring. It is Mikhail Gorbachev’s label for the revolution in beginning and resolving the Soviet Union’s internal problems as well as international conflicts. The General Secretary stresses that perestroika does not abandon socialist principles; rather, it reinvigorates the “moral and labor energy” unleashed by the October 1917 Revolution but recently dissipated by mistakes and human fallibility.

Economically, perestroika means decentralized production. To cut waste and improve quality, work collectives will produce goods in response to actual orders (not production goals), embrace full-cost accounting (pay their way or close), and modernize equipment. Socially, perestroika means democratization. To revive declining public morale and morality, local soviets in responding to workers’ ideas will make more decisions about daily life. In foreign affairs, perestroika means accepting realpolitik. All nations, socialist or capitalist, have political and economic interests that need to be accommodated; these interests come before ideological competition.

Throughout, Gorbachev’s hero is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: not the fossilized Lenin of ideological rigidity, but the pragmatic revolutionary who knew when the War Communism of 1918 had to yield to the New Economic Policy of 1921. Gorbachev portrays socialism as a commitment governing practical adjustments to changing realities rather than as a constant state defined by fixed principles.

PERESTROIKA is an unusual Marxist political manifesto, directed toward outsiders rather than believers. While praising industrialization and collectivization, it is silent on the “withering away of the state.” Although filled with Soviet cliches about the hard decision already made and the harder work ahead, it is disarmingly frank in its appraisal of Soviet and American motives, prejudices, and shibboleths. Gorbachev makes numerous challenging assertions: for example, he explains why a conventional war between superpowers is no more winnable than a nuclear war and how one superpower can test the other’s proposal to see if it is only propaganda.

PERESTROIKA offers Gorbachev’s open agenda and a starting point to reflect upon his hidden one.