In my view it is still too early to make any definitive assessment. As a historian, I have to take a long-term view, and with Gorbachev that is not yet possible. When you make such an assessment, you have to ask: what did the person in question leave behind? We might, for example, take Khrushchev. Although many of Khrushchev’s reforms were unsuccessful, nonetheless a great deal of what he did remained. On the other hand, however much Brezhnev wanted to rehabilitate Stalin, and to restore certain of Stalin’s policies, he had only limited success.
You can call Gorbachev a great reformer, someone who brought about fundamental changes to the situation in the country and to the world. But we
When Gorbachev took power, our country was in a perilous condition. And when we look around us now, six years after Gorbachev began his reforms, what do we see? We are producing less in quantitative terms, and the quality of our output has not improved. People are working less well than they were before: only a few individual enterprises are working better. The performance of our agriculture has deteriorated; none of this sector’s underlying problems have been solved. The Union has fallen apart, split into a series of separate republics, and in many of these a similar process of disintegration is underway. The monetary system is disintegrating, and the rate of inflation is growing. Meanwhile, what has been gained? Now there is at least a certain democracy, freedom of speech and opinion, and of course this is good. But to a significant degree this occurred independently of Gorbachev; the situation in the country became so bad that people simply spoke out, and could not be stopped. He gave people opportunities which they took in ways that surprised and displeased him. Gorbachev introduced certain changes to official ideology, but did not carry them through to their logical conclusions. He proclaimed the advent of ‘new thinking’, but this was merely a slogan. There was talk of a new concept of socialism, a new approach, but this was not followed up. Electoral processes were established, but Gorbachev himself did not utilize them in a timely fashion, nor create the conditions where his project could benefit from them.
Gorbachev repeatedly initiated drastic changes of direction. In 1985 he began his reforms with an anti-alcoholism campaign. Using forcible and quite undemocratic administrative-command methods, he tried to wean people off vodka. There was also a campaign against smoking. What has come out of all this? Now people are drinking more. But the anti-alcoholism campaign helped bring about the collapse of the financial system, because the government drew a great deal of its revenue from the sale of alcohol, which is a state monopoly. Then in 1986 Gorbachev began a struggle against unearned incomes. It did not last long—about two months. There was supposed to be a campaign against speculators—somebody who obtained a sack of potatoes from his neighbour and sold them at the market would be regarded as a speculator because he sold them for more than he paid his neighbour. The markets stopped working, and the links between the countryside and the towns suffered. Then we saw a turnaround. When it became obvious that the government’s policies were arousing
In the countryside, Gorbachev sought initially to solve the problems through changes to the system of administration of agriculture, just as Khrushchev had done, without understanding that the critical thing was initiative from below, from the peasants themselves. Huge, unwieldy new administrative apparatuses were set up—Agropromsoyuz, Agroprom of the Russian Federation. These colossal administrative structures subsequently collapsed; today nothing remains of them. Tens of thousands of people worked for these organizations, but they hindered the development of agriculture rather than helping it.