But, Gorbachev’s solutions perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness), the main pillars of his reform agenda, broke open a Pandora’s box. Under the reform regime, all aspects of policy-making underwent an upheaval. This includes radical changes in economic, social, political and foreign policy domains. Each fed off the other, so that the reform process assumed a will of its own, so much so that it eventually overwhelmed central institutions. In other words, Gorbachev’s program to salvage the socialist system also brought its collapse. This was first manifest in Eastern European countries of the outer empire in 1989, and two years later it triggered the collapse of the USSR, taking out Gorbachev from power and creating 15 newly independent states. (Morewood, 1998, p.33)
It later emerged that despite articulating right ideas of radical reform, there was no overall strategy to implement those ideas. In other words, there was no road map to adhere and verify with. The internal political maneuverings within the Communist Party was also distracting Gorbachev. For example, Gorbachev needed to deceive the conservatives lest they depose him before his programs took effect and started showing results.
“He thus began cautiously: a slogan, `Acceleration’, to revitalise the economy; all anti-alcohol campaign intended to improve worker productivity; new superstructures, like Agroprom, to inject life into the command economy’s over-bureaucratic system. More significant reforms only began in 1987 after the early initiatives were deemed to have failed. The anti-vodka campaign, for example, proved a disaster: it served only to fuel the black economy which produced illicit liquor to meet demand and led to Gorbachev being derided as `Lemonade Joe’ and `the Mineral Water Secretary.’ Tile campaign, however, was only abandoned in 1990. Nor were consumer goods becoming more available. In fact they became scarcer and queues at shops lengthened.” (Hylarides, 2008, p.378)
Political analysts such as Mark Almond have hinted that a slightly different approach to the reform process could have fetched very different results. In hindsight, Gorbachev would have been prudent to have adopted the Chinese framework for liberalizing the economy, which would have given him greater control over the political change process (glasnost). Instead, what actually happened was that perestroika and glasnost were at conflict at several places: while the economy stuttered and stopped growing, political reform took on a life of its own and got out of control. Gorbachev was pressurized for true democracy and religious freedom, even as calls for national sovereignty became more vocal. The latter eventually gained sufficient momentum that the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1989.
Hylarides, Peter. “Mikhail Gorbachev and Perestroika.” Contemporary Review Autumn 2008: 377+.
Morewood, Steven. “Gorbachev and the Collapse of Communism.” History Review (1998): 33+.
Willerton, John P., Mikhail Beznosov, and Martin Carrier. “Addressing the Challenges of Russia’s “failing State”: the Legacy of Gorbachev and the Promise of Putin.” Demokratizatsiya 13.2 (2005): 219+.