Brianna BraxtonProfessor Yanni Kotsonis/TA Joshua BlachorskyCultures and Contexts: Russia Between East and West15 December 2017The end of the Soviet Union was marked by the resignation of the final Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, on December 25, 1991. In this resignation speech, Gorbachev provided a brief explanation for the collapse of the Soviet system: “We had a lot of everything – land, oil and gas, other natural resources – and there was intellect and talent in abundance. However, we were living much worse than people in the industrialized countries and we were increasingly lagging behind them. The reason was obvious even then. This country was suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. Doomed to cater to ideology, and suffer and carry the onerous burden of the arms race, it found itself at the breaking point.”This statement indicated the presence of both internal and external pressures in the fall of the nation, leading into the rise of the present-day Russian Federation led by Vladimir Putin. According to Gorbachev, it was not only Communist procedure and governmental dominion that led to this point, but also the stress of competition with the United States regarding military and technological advancement. In scrutinizing the origins of these destructive forces, however, one may find that both the inherent and foreign struggles befalling the Soviet Union at this time were, at the core, derivative of the nation itself and its faults in leadership, its lingering “backwardness”, increasing social tensions, and the mechanics of the system itself. In the same speech mentioned previously, Gorbachev also seemed to absolve himself of blame for the disintegration of the system – despite acknowledging the criticisms toward him – by stating that, “destiny so ruled that when he found himself at the helm of this state it already was so clear that something was wrong in this country.” While there is truth in the claim of his inheritance of Soviet problems from his formers, it is critical to consider his failures to repair the conditions he was dealt. Gorbachev was a forward thinker, but lacked the undertaking to match his ideas. Gorbachev’s 1988 speech to the United Nations is a prime example of this; though he called to action all of its members in uniting to resolve global economic, environmental, and social issues, he provides few concrete and/or elaborate solutions. Further, he placed a particular emphasis on the necessity for political dialogue between nations regarding the aforementioned issues, but not quite stressing the need for these dialogues to produce comprehensive and efficient remedies. In an article from the Foundation for Economic Education titled “Why Perestroika Failed” discussing the shortcomings of one of the policies that Gorbachev does actually put into effect, Professor Peter J. Boettke of George Mason University states, “during his six years in power, Gorbachev introduced at least 10 programs for the “radical restructuring of the Soviet economy, not a one of which was implemented.” In the Soviet Union’s time of need, Gorbachev lacked the vigor and productivity of predecessors like Lenin and Stalin, his inert nature arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Further, the two major reforms Gorbachev managed to enact in effort to restore the state of the economy and Soviet socialism were greatly unsuccessfully. The first, Glasnost, or publicity/transparency, called for an end to censorship and offered the Soviet people more freedoms with the intention of limited Communist power. Moreover, under Glasnost the one-party rule was both weakened and endangered with the permittance of multi-candidate elections. Essentially, he introduced freedoms which had originally not been granted in order to uphold the system into that same system. Perestroika encouraged the privatization of commerce and a freer (though not completely free) market, a step towards a more democratized economy. Both of these policies boldly opposed the socialist principles set in place at the Soviet Union’s nascence, pushing the Soviet Union towards more western traditions and away from those fundamental to its system like collectivization. Of the failure of perestroika specifically, Boettke argued that the issue of economic policy was one of both Gorbachev’s lack of earnestness in imposing policy that is effectual in creating change, and of a contradiction between economics and politics. He says, “the benefits of public policy fell mainly on the only constituency that mattered: the party bureaucracy. From the nice dacha to special access to stores, the party elite were the primary beneficiaries of the system. Economic reform promised to disrupt this system and yield very real short-term costs,” supposing that, rather than effect change that might burden the elite, Gorbachev put little real effort into perestroika which did nothing but help occasion the collapse.