Courtesy Reuters

The Soviet Union today is a radically different place from what it was five years ago when Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party. Admittedly, Gorbachev promised then that his goal would be to reform Soviet economic and political life. But the Soviet people had heard similar promises before, almost all of which had ended up unfulfilled. No wonder few anticipated that in a few years the Soviet Union would in fact legalize the formation of such un-Soviet institutions as cooperative and private businesses, joint ventures with foreigners, and economic autonomy for several of the Soviet republics. It would have been even more farfetched to predict that there would also be glasnost, secret ballots, the disappearance of the secretariat of the Communist Party, the creation of a Supreme Soviet and a presidency that would usurp much power from the Central Committee and the Politburo, calls for regional secession

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  • Marshall I. Goldman is the Kathryn W. Davis Professor of Soviet Economics at Wellesley College and Associate Director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard University. This article is adapted from a paper prepared for the John M. Olin Critical Issues Seminar.
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