Perestroika in the USSR 1985–1991: Causes, Major Stages and Consequences

The restructuring of the USSR in 1985-1991 - large-scale changes in the economic, political, and also ideological life of the country, achieved through the introduction of radically new reforms. The goal of the reforms was the complete democratization of the political, social and economic system that developed in the Soviet Union. Today we will learn more about the history of Perestroika in the USSR in 1985-1991.


The main stages of the Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991:

  1. March 1985 - early 1987 The slogans of this stage were the phrases: “acceleration” and “more socialism”.
  2. 1987-1988 At this stage, new slogans appeared: “publicity” and “more democracy”.
  3. 1989-1990 Stage of "disorder and hesitation." A single former camp of perestroika split. Political and national opposition began to gain momentum.
  4. 1990-1991 This period was marked by the collapse of socialism, the political bankruptcy of the CPSU and, as a consequence, the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The reasons for the restructuring in the USSR

The beginning of major reforms in the Soviet Union, as a rule, is associated with the advent of M. S. Gorbachev. At the same time, some experts consider the “father of Perestroika” of one of his predecessors, Yu. A. Andropov. There is also an opinion that from 1983 to 1985, Perestroika experienced a “embryonic period”, while the USSR was entering the stage of reform. One way or another, due to the lack of economic incentives to work, the ruinous arms race, the huge expenditures on military operations in Afghanistan, and the growing backlog of science and technology from the West, in the early 1990s, the Soviet Union needed a large-scale reform. The gap between the slogans of the government and the real situation was huge. Mistrust of the communist ideology grew in the society. All these facts became the reasons for Perestroika in the USSR.

Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991

Beginning of change

In March 1985, Mikhail S. Gorbachev was elected to the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU. The following month, the new leadership of the USSR declared a course for the accelerated development of the country in the social and economic sphere. From this began the real restructuring. "Publicity" and "acceleration" as a result will become its main characters.In society, it was increasingly possible to hear slogans like: “we are waiting for changes.” Gorbachev also understood that changes are urgently needed by the state. From the time of Khrushchev, he was the first General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, who did not disdain to communicate with the common people. Traveling around the country, he went out to people to ask about their problems.

Working on the implementation of the course set for the development and implementation of Perestroika reforms in the USSR in 1985-1991, the country's leadership came to the conclusion that the branches of the economy should be transferred to new ways of managing. From 1986 to 1989 laws on state enterprises, individual labor, cooperatives, and also on labor disputes were gradually issued. The latter law provided workers with the right to strike. Within the framework of economic transformations, the following was introduced: state acceptance of production, economic accounting and self-financing, as well as the appointment of directors of enterprises based on the election results.

We have to admit that all these measures not only did not lead to the main goal of Perestroika in the USSR in 1985-1991 - positive improvements in the economic situation of the country, and also worsened the situation.The reasons for this were: the “dampness” of the reforms, a significant expenditure of the budget, as well as an increase in the amount of money in the hands of ordinary people. Due to state deliveries of products, communications established between enterprises were violated. The lack of consumer goods has increased.

Perestroika: "publicity" and "acceleration"


From an economic point of view, Perestroika began with the "acceleration of development." In the spiritual and political life, so-called “publicity” became its main leitmotif. Gorbachev declared that democracy is impossible without “glasnost”. By this he meant that the people should know about all state events of the past and the processes of the present. The ideas of changing “barracks socialism” to socialism with a “human face” began to appear in journalism and statements of party ideologues. Culture in the years of Perestroika of the USSR (1985-1991) began to “revive”. The government has changed its attitude towards dissidents. Camps for political prisoners gradually began to close.

The “publicity” policy gained special momentum in 1987. The legacy of the writers of the 30s-50s, and the works of Russian philosophers, returned to the Soviet reader.The repertoire of theatrical and cinematographic figures has expanded considerably. Processes of "publicity" found expression in magazine and newspaper publications, as well as on television. The Moscow News weekly and Ogonek magazine were very popular.

Political transformation

The policy of Perestroika in the USSR of 1985–1991 assumed the emancipation of society, as well as its deliverance from party care. As a result, the question of the need for political transformation was put on the agenda. The most important events in the internal political life of the USSR were: approval of the reform of the state system, the adoption of amendments to the constitution and the adoption of a law on the election of deputies. These decisions were a step towards the organization of an alternative electoral system. The supreme legislative body of power was the Congress of People's Deputies. He nominated his representatives to the Supreme Council.

Causes of Perestroika in the USSR

In the spring of 1989, elections were held for members of the Congress of People’s Deputies. The congress included a legal opposition. In its head were put: world-renowned scientist and human rights activist Academician A. Sakharov, former secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee B.Yeltsin and economist G. Popov. The spread of “publicity” and pluralism of opinions led to the creation of numerous associations, some of which were national.

Foreign policy

During the years of Perestroika, the course of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union radically changed. The government abandoned confrontation in relations with the West, ceased to intervene in local conflicts and revised its relations with the countries of the socialist camp. The new vector of foreign policy development was not based on the “class approach”, but on universal human values. According to Gorbachev, relations between states should have been based on respect for the balance of national interests, the freedom to choose development paths in each individual state and the collective responsibility of countries for solving global issues.

Gorbachev was the initiator of creating a pan-European home. He regularly met with the rulers of America: Reagan (until 1988) and Bush (since 1989). Politicians discussed disarmament issues at these meetings. Soviet-American relations were unfrozen. In 1987, agreements were signed on the destruction of missiles and missile defense.In 1990, politicians signed an agreement to reduce the number of strategic weapons.

In the years of Perestroika, Gorbachev was able to establish trusting relationships with the heads of the leading states of Europe: Germany (G. Kohl), Great Britain (M. Thatcher) and France (F. Mitterrand). In 1990, the participants in the European Security Conference signed an agreement to reduce the number of conventional weapons in Europe. The USSR began to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan and Mongolia. During 1990-1991, both the political and military structures of the Warsaw Pact were dissolved. The military bloc, in fact, ceased to exist. The policy of "new thinking" brought fundamental changes in international relations. This was the end of the Cold War.

Years of adjustment

National movements and political struggle

In the Soviet Union, as in a multinational state, national contradictions have always existed. They gained special momentum in the conditions of crises (political or economic) and radical changes. While engaged in the construction of socialism, the government paid little attention to the historical features of the peoples.Announcing the formation of the Soviet community, the government actually began to destroy the traditional economy and life of many peoples of the state. The authorities put particularly strong pressure on Buddhism, Islam and Shamanism. Among the peoples of Western Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic states, who joined the USSR on the eve of the Second World War, anti-socialist and anti-Soviet sentiments were very common.

The peoples deported during the war years were greatly offended by the Soviet power: Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingushs, Karachays, Kalmyks, Balkars, Meskhetian Turks and others. During the Perestroika period in the USSR of 1985-1991, there were historical conflicts between Georgia and Abkhazia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, and others.

The "publicity" policy has given the green light to create nationalist and national social movements. The most significant of them were: the “Popular Fronts” of the Baltic countries, the Armenian Committee “Karabakh”, the Ukrainian “Ruh” and the Russian community “Memory”. The masses were attracted to the opposition movement.

Strengthening of national movements, as well as opposition to the Allied Center and the power of the Communist Party was the decisive factor in the crisis at the top. Back in 1988, tragic events unfolded in Nagorno-Karabakh.For the first time since the civil war, demonstrations took place under nationalist slogans. After them, pogroms occurred in the Azerbaijani Sumgayit and Uzbek Ferghana. The climax of national discontent was armed clashes in Karabakh.

In November 1988, the supremacy of republican law over all-union law was proclaimed by the Estonian Supreme Soviet. The following year, the Verkhovna Rada of Azerbaijan proclaimed the sovereignty of its republic, and the Armenian public movement began to advocate for the independence of Armenia and its separation from the Soviet Union. In late 1989, the Communist Party of Lithuania declared its independence.

Stages of Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991

Election 1990

During the election campaign of 1990, the opposition between the party apparatus and the opposition forces was vividly expressed. The opposition received the Democratic Russia electoral bloc, which became for it just the organizational center, and later turned into a social movement. In February 1990, many meetings took place, the participants of which sought the elimination of the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Deputy elections in Ukraine, Belarus and the RSFSR were the first truly democratic elections. About 30% of posts in the highest legislative bodies were received by deputies with a democratic orientation. These elections have become an excellent illustration of the crisis of the power of the party elite. Society demanded the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union, which proclaims the supremacy of the CPSU. So in the USSR began to form a multiparty system. The main reformers, B. Yeltsin and G. Popov, received high posts. Yeltsin became chairman of the Supreme Council, and Popov became mayor of Moscow.

The beginning of the collapse of the USSR

Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the Perestroika in the USSR of 1985-1991 are often associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It all started in 1990, when national movements began to gain increasing momentum. In January, as a result of the Armenian pogroms, troops entered Baku. The military operation, accompanied by a large number of victims, only temporarily distracted the public from the issue of the independence of Azerbaijan. At about the same time, the Lithuanian parliamentarians voted for the independence of the republic, as a result of which Soviet troops entered Vilnius.Following Lithuania, a similar decision was made by the parliaments of Latvia and Estonia. In the summer of 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Russia and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted declarations on sovereignty. In the spring of next year, independence referendums were held in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia.

Autumn 1990. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was elected president of the USSR at the congress of people's deputies, was forced to reorganize the authorities. Since then, the executive bodies have been directly subordinate to the president. The Council of Federation was established - a new deliberative body, which included the heads of the Union republics. Then began the development and discussion of a new Union treaty regulating relations between the republics of the USSR.

Culture in the years of perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991

In March 1991, the first referendum in the history of the USSR was held, in which citizens of the countries were to speak out on the preservation of the Soviet Union as a federation of sovereign republics. Six union republics (Armenia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Georgia) of 15, refused to take part in the referendum. 76% of respondents voted for the preservation of the USSR. In parallel, an All-Russian referendum was organized, the results of which introduced the presidency of the republic.

Election of the President of Russia

On June 12, 1991, the national elections of the first president in the history of Russia were held. According to the results of the vote, this honorary post went to B. N. Yeltsin, who was supported by 57% of voters. So Moscow became the capital of two presidents: the Russian and all-union. Coordinating the positions of the two leaders was problematic, especially given the fact that their relations were far from being the most “smooth”.

August coup

By the end of the summer of 1991, the political situation in the country was greatly aggravated. On August 20, after heated discussions, the leadership of the nine republics agreed on the signing of a renewed Union treaty, which, in essence, meant a transition to a truly federal state. A number of state structures of the USSR were eliminated or replaced by new ones.

The party-state leadership, having considered that only drastic measures would lead to the preservation of the political positions of the Communist Party and the cessation of the collapse of the USSR, resorted to power management methods. On the night of August 18 to 19, when the President of the USSR was on holiday in the Crimea, they formed the State Emergency Committee (State Committee for Emergency Situations).The new committee declared a state of emergency in some parts of the country; announced the disbandment of power structures that were not in line with the 1977 Constitution; prevented the activities of opposition structures; banned meetings, demonstrations and rallies; took tight control of the media; and finally sent troops to Moscow. A.I. Lukyanov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, supported the State Emergency Committee, although he was not included in its composition.

B. Yeltsin, together with the leadership of Russia, headed the resistance of the KGPP. In an appeal to the people, they urged him not to obey the illegal decisions of the committee, interpreting his actions as an anti-constitutional coup. Yeltsin was supported by more than 70% of Muscovites, as well as residents of several other regions. Tens of thousands of peaceful Russians, expressing support for Yeltsin, were ready to stand up for the defense of the Kremlin in arms. Frightened by the outbreak of civil war, the State Emergency Committee after three days of confrontation began to withdraw troops from the capital. On August 21, members of the committee were arrested.

Gorbachev and Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991

The Russian leadership used the August coup to defeat the CPSU.Yeltsin issued a decree according to which the party should suspend its activities in Russia. The property of the Communist Party was nationalized, and the funds were arrested. The liberals, who came to power in the central part of the country, took from the leadership of the CPSU the levers of control of the security forces and the media. The presidency of Gorbachev was only formal. The main number of republics refused to conclude a Union treaty after the August events. Nobody thought about “publicity” and “acceleration” of Perestroika. On the agenda was the question of the future fate of the USSR.

Final decay

In the last months of 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed. The Congress of People's Deputies was dissolved, the Supreme Council was radically reformed, most of the Union ministries were liquidated, and an inter-republican economic committee was created instead of the cabinet. The USSR Council of State, which included the President of the Soviet Union and the heads of the Union Republics, became the supreme body for the management of domestic and foreign policy. The first decision of the State Council was the recognition of the independence of the Baltic countries.

December 1, 1991 in Ukraine held a referendum. More than 80% of respondents spoke in favor of the independence of the state. As a result, Ukraine also decided not to sign the Union Treaty.

On December 7-8, 1991, B. N. Yeltsin, L. M. Kravchuk and S. S. Shushkevich, met in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. As a result of the negotiations, the politicians announced the termination of the existence of the Soviet Union and the formation of the CIS (Union of Independent States). At first, only Russia, Ukraine and Belarus entered the CIS, but later all the states that had previously been part of the Soviet Union, except for the Baltic states, joined it.

Results of Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991

Despite the fact that the Perestroika ended disastrously, a number of important changes in the life of the USSR, and then of its individual republics, it nevertheless brought.

Positive results of restructuring:

  1. The victims of Stalinism were fully rehabilitated.
  2. There was such a thing as freedom of speech and opinion, and censorship was not so rigid.
  3. One-party system eliminated.
  4. Now you can easily enter / exit to / from the country.
  5. Army service for students in training was canceled.
  6. Women are no longer held in prison for adultery.
  7. Rock was allowed.
  8. The Cold War has formally ended.

Of course, the Perestroika in the USSR of 1985-1991 had negative consequences.

Here are just the main ones:

  1. The country's gold and currency reserves declined 10 times, which caused hyperinflation.
  2. The country's international debt has grown at least three times.
  3. The economic growth rate of the country fell almost to zero - the state simply stopped.

Well, the main negative result of the Perestroika in the USSR 1985-1991. - the collapse of the USSR.

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