chapter  13
22 Pages

Reforming the System, Destroying Its Fundamentals

WithVladimir Shlapentokh

Likening the problems of the country to diseases in a living body, it is important to distinguish between chronic and terminal illnesses. According to the "public discontent theory", with its focus on economic failures of the system, perestroika was essential for calming a dissatisfied and potentially hostile population. The first theory pointed to the demoralization of apparatchiks, their corrupt activities and the ensuing degradation of the entire political system. The main problem with this theory is that prior to perestroika the apparatchiks were not even close to advocating the idea of privatization. Gorbachev had to drag them into public activity. It was not until 1987—1988, when the system was moving toward self-destruction, that dissidents became serious actors in political life. The real cause of perestroika stemmed from the leadership's ambition to preserve the military parity between the USSR and the West, which had been attained in the mid-1970s.