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Perestroika (Soviet postage stamp, 1988)

Perestroika (also listen to perestroika , Russian перестройка ? / I 'rebuilding', 'reshaping', 'restructuring') describes the process initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev from the beginning of 1986 to reorganize and modernize the social, political and economic system of the Soviet Union , which was initiated by the unity of the CPSU was ruled. Audio file / audio sample

The process was closely related to the spread of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the Soviet Union under the catchphrase glasnost (after the Russian word for 'openness' and 'transparency'). The term referred to large parts of society and in a broader sense meant the democratization of the state from 1986 onwards. Perestroika initially included relaxation of party directives in the policy of the central administration economy . As of 1987, companies were allowed to make their own decisions. This was a significant turning point in the era of socialism , when the first elements of the market economy were introduced.

Objectives and implementation

Starting position

When Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the CPSU in March 1985 , the economic situation in the Soviet Union was rather unsatisfactory. Economic growth has declined since the second half of Brezhnev's tenure . When Gorbachev took office, the growth rate was just over two percent. This was comparable to the USA (3%) or the European Community (1.6%), but it did not correspond to the self-imposed goals of the CPSU. In many areas of the economy, production figures fell, and the quality of the products often did not meet international standards. There was an inefficient and non-transparent shadow economy .

Agriculture was unable to supply the population adequately. Losses had to be recorded from the scarce production because the transport and storage system was inadequately developed. The cultivation of the areas that were granted to collective farms as private parcels (5% of the production area) could not compensate for the weaknesses inherent in the system.

Science and technology also did not correspond to the general development. The falling number of citations in science journals is a sign of the downward trend. The Soviet Union was increasingly unsuccessful in the important high-tech area. In return, spending on the military and armaments put a strain on the already tense economic and research situation. The Soviet-Afghan war intensified this negative development. The general corruption and the black economy could not be contained in Yuri Andropov's time. The administration and management lacked the necessary qualifications to lead the country and the economy, as party work, target fulfillment and loyalty to the line were important virtues. Reliable information about the state of the country was only partially available.

Gorbachev and his advisors knew that things were going badly and that quick action was required. He and the reformers in the party banked on reforming the party, state and economy.

In the run-up to the reforms

Given such a long stagnation in the party and in the Soviet Union, the two reform fields glasnost and perestroika required considerable preparation and personalities who were able to develop, explain and implement the reforms. The reformers appointed by Gorbachev to the Secretariat of the Central Committee or the Politburo of the CPSU included: a. Yakovlev , Medvedev , Sagladin , Frolov and Slunkov . Economists and scientists such as Abalkin , Pavlov , Sitarjan, and Popov supported the new course. Prime Minister Ryzhkov welcomed the reform approach, other politburo members acted hesitantly.

As early as 1983, the rights of companies had been strengthened on a trial basis in some areas. In July 1985 this system was extended to companies in other areas such as mechanical engineering or the food industry. In 1986 the Politburo decided against embezzlement, bribery and extortion with only moderate success. At the beginning of 1987 the conversion of the economy was to be extended to all businesses. The economic situation in these areas initially improved slightly, but then suffered a major setback by 1987.

The reform discussion began in April 1985 under the heading of "acceleration of socio-economic development", in November 1985 the Politburo approved the first steps "on further improvement ...", at the beginning of 1986 the term acceleration was increasingly replaced by perestroika, and in mid-1986 the discussion intensified. Finally, at the January 1987 plenary session of the Central Committee, a bill on economic reform was approved. In March 1987 the reform concept was further developed. In the plenary session of the Central Committee of the CPSU in June 1987, Gorbachev presented his "basic theses", which represent the political basis of economic reforms. In July 1987, the preparatory process in the Central Committee was largely completed and the laws were then initiated.

Implementation and results

The intended reorganization of society was announced by Gorbachev at the January plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU on January 28, 1987.

In domestic politics

From mid-1988, perestroika was supposed to give socialism a democratic face, primarily through free elections , the separation of powers and the expansion of the rule of law , and thereby stabilize the entire Eastern Bloc , while maintaining the privileged position of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) . The domestic political reforms were also described by Gorbachev with the slogan Demokratisaziya (Russian: Демократизация, "democratization").

At the 19th party conference of the CPSU in June, the body made up of Gorbachev and intellectuals decided to convene a people's deputies congress as the highest legislative authority. A third of the 2250 members are in fact to be delegated by the party, but elections with several candidates - not several parties - were introduced at the local level. This open election campaign, with debates being broadcast directly on television, caused great astonishment among the population. Gorbachev hoped to break up encrusted political structures in this way and thus to find more support for his reforms in the political apparatus.

In foreign policy

In order to create greater prosperity for the citizens of the USSR in the long term, the policy of détente should be continued and the arms race between the USSR and the USA ended. On December 8, 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty , which included the dismantling of all medium-range missiles in Europe. At the same time, negotiations on the START I treaty were resumed in 1985 . In addition, the Soviet Union drastically reduced military support for communist rebel movements in the countries of Africa and Latin America and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 (see Afghan Civil War and Soviet Intervention ). The United Nations should also be more closely involved in this context .

The communist form of government was no longer decisive. With the abolition of the Brezhnev doctrine , every socialist state was free to decide which state ideology to follow. Gorbachev said that if a state should decide to turn away from socialism, the Soviet Union would not intervene. This also encouraged the countries allied with the Soviet Union to reform.

In business

In July 1987, the Supreme Soviet passed the "State Enterprises Act", which allowed state enterprises to tailor their production to actual needs. The companies still had to fulfill government contracts, but were otherwise able to produce and sell according to their ideas. The law made companies responsible for their own finances: they had to cover their expenses (wages, taxes, materials and debts) with income. They could also freely negotiate prices with their suppliers. The government refrained from continuing to save unprofitable companies from imminent bankruptcy. The law also shifted control of companies from ministries to elected workers' collectives. The task of Gosplan (Государственный комитет по планированию, State Committee for Planning) was to define only general guidelines and priority national investments, not detailed production plans.

The “Law on Cooperatives” came into force in May 1988. For the first time since Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP), private companies were again allowed in the areas of services, production and foreign trade. Originally the law included high taxes and employment restrictions, but was later corrected so as not to restrict activities in the private sector. Under these provisions, cooperative restaurants, shops and manufacturers became part of the Soviet economy.

Gorbachev brought perestroika into the foreign trade sector of the Soviet Union to an extent that Soviet economists at the time described as daring. His program essentially eliminated the Foreign Trade Ministry's trade monopoly at the time . Industrial and agricultural ministries no longer had to turn to the bureaucratic organizations of the Foreign Trade Ministry, but could handle foreign trade independently in their area of ​​responsibility. In addition, regional and local organizations were allowed to conduct foreign trade. These changes were an attempt to remedy a major grievance in Soviet foreign trade: the lack of contact between Soviet end users and suppliers and their foreign partners.

Gorbachev's most significant foreign trade reform allowed foreigners to invest in the Soviet Union - in the form of joint ventures with Soviet ministries, state-owned companies or cooperatives. The first version of the Soviet “joint venture law” came into force in June 1987. It allowed a foreign share of no more than 49 percent in the joint venture and required that the chairmanship and management be occupied by Soviets. After potential Western partners complained, the government allowed foreigners a majority in and control of the joint ventures. Under the terms of the “Joint Venture Act”, the Soviet partners provided labor, infrastructure and a potentially large home market. The foreign partners provided capital, technology, economic expertise and, in many cases, products and services.

Gorbachev's economic changes did not bring about a fresh start in the country's sluggish economy in the late 1980s. The reforms decentralized many things, but fixed prices remained, as did the non- convertibility of the ruble and government control over much of production.

In mid-1988, Gorbachev formulated his concept for the "transformation of economic relations" with the following five points:

  1. Overcoming the alienation of man from property
  2. Democratization of production. Reform of planning and administration, cooperation, etc.
  3. Goods-money relationship, market.
  4. Decentralization of the economy.
  5. Social justice problem



Resistance and approval
In conservative party circles, anti-perestroika groups also developed. In March 1988, Nina Andreyeva formulated the negative attitude in the newspaper Sovetskaya Rossija in the article "I cannot give up my principles". However, there was still unity in the Politburo to enforce perestroika. The XIX. As expected, the CPSU party conference in June 1988 confirmed the economic reforms that had been initiated. State and party functions are to be unbundled. However, the first signs of a structurally conservative opposition were visible.

“That the birth of the market economy program turned out to be so difficult was to a certain extent due to increasing differences with the democratic opposition and part of the public,” Gorbachev describes the development.

At the XXVIII. At the CPSU party congress in July 1990, the conservative forces around Kryuchkov , Slunkov, Yasov , Vorotnikow and Baklanov already gained the upper hand, while Boris Yeltsin joined neither the reformist nor the opponent wing. The implementation of perestroika on the Union countries resulted in endless negotiations and delays. At the end of 1990, the Union countries sought more independence and a new Union Treaty, and the reforms were delayed. It was not until March 1991 that the cabinet passed a resolution to reform prices.
August coup and its aftermath
In June 1991 Prime Minister Pavlov tried unsuccessfully against Gorbachev to have powers transferred to the government. With the August putsch in August 1991 and the initiative of the union countries to dissolve the union, the attempts to push through the economic reform in the USSR under socialist auspices ended. The one-party rule of the CPSU ended in 1990. In December 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved .

Foreign policy

In his deliberations, however, Gorbachev did not consider that the mood in the Eastern Bloc was already simmering. A reform will on the part of the Soviet Union acted like a signal to the people and led them to demand more and more freedoms after reforms in the entire sphere of influence of the USSR and finally made it possible for them to end the isolation by the Iron Curtain , thus shaking the entire Eastern Bloc system and to experience the " Revolutions of 1989 ".


Gorbachev's new economic system was neither plan - still a market economy . It caused the Soviet economy to go from stagnation to decline. In 1991 the Soviet gross domestic product fell by 17 percent. Open inflation was a big problem - between 1990 and 1991 consumer prices in the Soviet Union rose 140 percent.

Under these circumstances the general quality of life decreased. The public was used to the scarcity of durable goods, but under Gorbachev food, clothing, and other everyday goods also became scarce. With Gorbachev's glasnost creating a more liberal atmosphere and more readily available information, public discontent with the economic situation was more evident than ever before in the Soviet Union. The Soviet philosopher and writer Alexander Zinoviev introduced the term "catastroika" for it.

The foreign trade sector also showed signs of decline. Hard currency debts grew and the Soviet Union, which used to repay its debts, accumulated significant arrears until 1990.

According to Gorbachev's assessment in March 2010, the reforms came too late and the shock therapy practiced afterwards did even more damage to Russia.

Historical parallels

On Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP) 1921–1927

In the words of his biographer György Dalos, Gorbachev strove for “certain repetitions of Lenin's reforms from the early 1920s”. The New Economic Policy (NEP), which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin introduced in the young Soviet Union from 1921, is one of the models of perestroika.

Lenin's NEP allowed private companies, the pursuit of profit, foreign capital and elements of the market economy - and could certainly go hand in hand with “capitalist conditions of exploitation”. Land, central economic control and large-scale industry - the “ command heights of the economy ” - should, however, remain in state hands and under the control of the Communist Party.

On China's economic model since 1978

Two newspaper articles by the German agricultural scientist Theodor Bergmann point to parallels between the early Soviet NEP and the “socialist modernization” in China, which began in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping . In addition, the Swiss lawyer and sinologist Harro von Senger documented that in 1978 statements by Lenin on the NEP were quoted in Chinese newspapers - to justify the change from the “class struggle” to the “socialist modernization”.

On the economic models of Vietnam and Laos since 1985/86

NEP-like concepts, i.e. socialist market economies under the leadership of the respective Communist Party, also exist in

  • Vietnam with the policy of " Doi Moi " (renewal) since 1986 and
  • Laos with the "New Economic Mechanism (NEM)" since 1985.

See also

Representations of actors


  • Archie Brown: Seven Years That Changed the World. Perestroika in Perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-928215-9 (collection of essays).
  • Karl Held : The life's work of Mikhail Gorbachev. From the reform of “real socialism” to the destruction of the Soviet Union. Munich 1992, ISBN 3-929211-00-9 .
  • Matthias Schmitt : The east business of tomorrow. Glasnost - Perestoika - Uskorenje. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1988, ISBN 3-7890-1619-5 .
  • Philip Wimmer: The reception of the ideology of perestroika by the KPÖ from 1985 to 1990. Dissertation, University of Vienna, 2003.
  • Frank Umbach : The red alliance. Development and disintegration of the Warsaw Pact 1955 to 1991. Christoph Links, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-86153-362-6 (also dissertation, University of Bonn, 1996), especially pp. 321 to 600.
  • Байков В.Д. Ленинградские хроники: от послевоенных 50-х до "лихих 90-х". М. Карамзин, 2017. - 486 с., Илл. ISBN 978-5-00-071516-1 in English: Leningrad Chronicles: from the postwar fifties to the "wild nineties", Baikov VD ( online ).

Web links

Wiktionary: Perestroika  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Speckmann: Cold War: Gorbachev gave the Soviet economy the fatal blow. In: . February 7, 2011, accessed October 7, 2018 .
  2. ^ Vlg. The Soviet Union 1917–1991, Manfred Hildermeier, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich, 2001 ISBN 3-486-56179-0 .
  3. Mikhail Gorbachev: Memories ; S. 390, Siedler-Verlag, Berlin, 1994, ISBN 3-88680-524-7 .
  4. Mikhail Gorbachev: Memories ; S. 549, Siedler-Verlag, Berlin, 1995, ISBN 3-88680-524-7 .
  5. Mikhail Gorbachev: Perestroika Lost. The New York Times , March 13, 2010.
  6. Christhard Läpple: Interview with György Dalos on February 23, 2011. Second German television (ZDF).
  7. See e.g. B. György Dalos: The curtain rises - the end of dictatorships in Eastern Europe . C. H. Beck Verlag, ISBN 978-3-406-60714-1 , p. 23.
  8. Cf. Georg Fülberth: Socialism . Cologne 2010, p. 51.
  9. ^ Theodor Bergmann: People's Republic in Transition and Step-by-Step Construction . Young World November 22nd and 23rd, 2010.
  10. Harro von Senger: Stratagems - life and survival lists from three millennia , volume 1; 1988 (12th edition 2003), page 200.
  11. Rodric Braithwaite (British Ambassador to Moscow from 1988 to 1992): Gorbachev's Coup (review ( memento from December 25, 2007 in the web archive )). In: Moscow Times , September 12, 2007. Susanne Schattenberg: Review of: Brown, Archie: Seven Years That Changed the World. Perestroika in Perspective. Oxford 2007 ( Memento of January 12, 2012 on the Internet Archive ). In: H-Soz-u-Kult , February 19, 2010.