Kotkin, Stephen. Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1979-2000. New York: Oxford University Press. 2001.
Chapter 1: History’s Cruel Tricks
In the first chapter of his work, Kotkin argues that, in the years after the war, the Soviet Union entered a slow but steady economic decline, which could not be stopped even by its oil export. He also argues that due to the global oil crisis, the Soviet Union, and other oil exporters saw a financial boom which transformed their economy, but only temporarily, because the oil output decreased steadily and because of the fact that much of the Soviet Union’s industry had been politically-driven and had become obsolete. However, as the author shows, the country’s major dilemma was in the absence of liberal institutions which would allow markets to function.
Chapter 2: Reviving the Dream
In the second chapter, Kotkin’s main argument is that, despite the economic failure, the new generation of politicians and Soviet citizens continued to believe in the ideals of socialism and yearned for its reformation. This is because, the author further argues, after the war, the Soviet propaganda managed to inspire its citizens once again, to strive for a glorious nation, more advanced and just than the capitalist ones. Then, Kotkin portrays Gorbachev as a representative of this new generation, by arguing that his travels made him aware of the backward state of his country, but also of the hostile nature of the relationship with the satellite states, and these led him to pursue a more humane type of socialism.
Chapter 3: The Drama of Reform
Chapter 3 of Kotkin’s volume puts forward the argument that Gorbachev began a series of economic and social reforms in order to save the Soviet Union from collapse, but his efforts only made the situation worse and alienated people from the socialist ideology. In addition, Kotkin shows that the industrial planned economy, which had catapulted the country to the superpower status, was the reason for the economic downfall. Gorbachev’s attempts to reform certain aspects of the planned economy were useless and the only solution seemed to be, reintroducing the capitalist mechanism which socialism had destroyed.
For Kotkin, glasnost was also put in practice out of necessity in order to make the system work. He however shows that, learning that they had been deceived, people quickly became disillusioned with socialism. Furthermore, that author claims that the younger generations were not interested in reforming socialism, but in introducing capitalism altogether while people in the autonomous provinces and satellite states tried to become independent. The author finally claims that, while the true problem was that it was impossible to ‘democratize’ socialism in order to make it work, Gorbachev declared until the end that the only problem with implementing perestroika was the opposition of the conservatives.
Chapter 4: Waiting for the End of the World
In this chapter, Kotkin argues that the putsch and counter-putsch in Russia hurried the demise of the Union, even as they were meant to avoid it. The author shows in this respect that, after East Berlin gained its independence, it became obvious that the Union itself was in danger and the states of the Union tried to gain their independence as well, encouraged by Gorbachev’s ‘humane’ socialism and non-intervention policies. Furthermore, Kotkin presents Boris Yeltsin emerging as a rival for Gorbachev by identifying himself with the plights of the folk and he shows that Yeltsin became the Russian people’s elected president, next to Gorbachev.
Chapter 5: Survival and Cannibalism in the Rust Belt
In this chapter, the author argues that the story of Russia’s economic reforms demonstrates that the problem consisted in the poor management of the existent institutions and the lack of other necessary ones. He expand upon this idea by showing that the post-communist era saw mass impoverishments in Russia, while the former Soviet elites continued to get rich by taking advantage of the chaotic economic situation, and the people were broke and were facing famine as in times of war. In order to transit from Soviet centralized economy to capitalism, the author shows, Russia needed intense liberalization but at the same time, better government regulation to avoid abuses.
Chapter 6: Democracy Without Liberalism?
Kotkin here strongly argues that liberalism is a fundamental basis of democracy because it regulates the creation and application of the law, as well as the respect of the law by all bodies of the state, whereas in the Soviet Union, the government could ignore any law and could control the legislature. However, the author identifies another problem, namely Russia’s conception of presidency, which constituted a separate branch of the government; the president was “the ruler of those who governed”. The federal political structure of Russia weakened the connections with Moscow, and allowed each republic to gain more autonomy from the federal government, and even to elect its own president. For this reason, the author claims, in each republic, the old order was maintained by the elites in power and a system of eighty-nine mostly disconnected fiefs stopped the implementation of liberal institution outside Moscow.
In order to demonstrate his points, Kotkin explains in detail how Russia’s transformation involved using the inherited KGB and judiciary system in warfare among the top businessmen and politicians in the country. Much –necessary legal reforms were implemented non-uniformly across regions but efforts were made to implement legal reforms particularly because of business and economic interests. Therefore, Kotkin proves that, even though in appearance, Russia was democratic, in practice, the lack of liberal institutions and practices made it merely a shadow of the dead soviet system. In the author’s view, Russia demonstrated that in lack of efficient governing institutions, a liberal state could not emerge.
Chapter 7: Idealism and Treason
In this concluding chapter, the author argues that perestroika was not only about winning the competition against global superpowers but it was also about regaining the ideals of the October revolution, when socialism prevailed, namely those of creating a more just society than that of the capitalist countries. However, the author also argues that the Soviet collapse was imminent once perestroika and glasnost were initiated because the discrepancy between the obsolete socialism and flourishing capitalism then became obvious. Finally, Kotkin claims that Gorbachev’s romantic socialist ideals, but also his strategic skills, explain both his ascension to power, and what he did once he got it.
Kotkin develops his argument by showing that perestroika was a success in both the fact that the elites avoided the mobilization of the massive military power in order to save the Union, but also in the fact that they willingly destroyed the system in search of a new form. The Soviet Union had an incredible military power which it could have used as it disintegrated but Gorbachev’s reforms ensured peaceful transition from socialism to democracy and independence. Finally, the author concludes that the world’s self –assumed pride or guilt concerning Russia’s transition was exaggerated because in reality, it was a collapse for which Russia alone was responsible and capable to solve. While Russia struggles to regain its greatness for the author it is clear nevertheless, that it cannot do so by any process of world integration, as it does not have a place in any of the major blocks.
McNair, Brian. “Glasnost, Perestroika and Soviet Journalism.” Glasnost, Perestroika and the Soviet Media, 43-64. New York: Routledge, 1991.
In chapter 4 of his book, McNair argues that Glasnost was one of Gorbachev’s strategies to return socialism to its initial ideals by means of criticism, access and political pluralism. The author however focuses in chapter four on criticism, which was meant to help the Soviet system to constantly regulate itself, while the propaganda vehicle was still well and functional and yet, it had its limits.
As the author tries to show throughout his chapter, criticism in the media touched various fields, such as economy, crime, natural disasters or ethnic conflict. However, the author claims that critical glasnost had a limit, not being allowed to touch the actions of the general secretary Gorbachev, and excluding any remark to Lenin, the founder of Soviet socialism. Also, the author identifies another limit in the tradition of the ofitsioz or protocol items which informed the citizens on the official party formalities continued to remain untouched, which journalists labeled a mirror which reflected old thinking.
Laqueur, Walter. “Glasnost and Its Limits”. Commentary, 86, no.1 (1988):13-23..
In his article, Laqueur argues that, although glasnost can be interpreted as a step towards democracy, it is not the same thing but on the contrary, the existence of democratic freedoms would make glasnost unnecessary. The author also claims that, glasnost however opened the most interesting chapter in Soviet history in many ways, by creating a channel of dialogue and criticism between the public and the leadership.
Brown, Archie. “The Power of Ideas and the Power of Appointment.” The Gorbachev Factor. 89-130. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
In his book, Brown argues that Gorbachev altered the Soviet system to a greater extent that he had anticipated, particularly since the population was in 1985 largely satisfied with their situation. However, the author shows that, although the Soviet system seemed stable to the majority, it was both in need for fresh thinking, and very vulnerable to it. Furthermore, in this respect, he shows that, while Gorbachev was right to attempt to transform the system, there was not a pressure upon him to do so and in fact, the oligarchs would have preferred that the situation stayed unchanged. Moreover, the author claims that Gorbachev’s reforming plans were in fact a evolution from above in the sense that it did not start within the population but within a small circle which had Gorbachev in the middle.
Brown, Archie. The Gorbachev Factor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Kotkin, Stephen. Armaghedon Averted. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Laqueur, Walter. “Glasnost and Its Limits.” Commentary 86, no.1 (1988):13-23.
McNair, Brian. Glasnost, Perestroika and the Soviet Media. New York: Routledge, 1991.