35 years ago, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was about to commence its XXVIIth party congress. Party congresses were rare events, held regularly only every five years. They thus marked an important occasion for the Soviet leadership to talk about past successes and lay out future plans. The XXVIIth party congress was the first one headed by the new general secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. He set out an ambitious reform agenda. For the next years, the Soviet Union – and the world – would talk about glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). This post is going to cover three questions: What did those terms mean? Which consequences did the policies that Gorbachev set in motion have? And, a question that is especially important to board gamers, who are used to assess events and policies by their strategic value: Were those policies beneficial?Continue reading
There had been uprisings against socialist rule in Eastern Europe before 1989. However, when things threatened to get out of hand, the Soviet Union would send tanks to quell the revolts (most famously in Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968). 1989 was different. The Soviet forces remained in their barracks as the wave of revolution washed all Communist governments in Eastern Europe away. How did that happen? Why did the Soviet Union just watch while their Eastern European empire slipped away? After having previously examined the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Western governments in 1989, this article will deal with the role of the Eastern European leaders (especially in the Soviet Union) in 1989. First, we’ll look at the remarkable changes Mikhail Gorbachev brought to the Soviet Union, and then at the erosion of Communism under the economic circumstances of the late 1980s.
The first article in this series dealt with the peoples of Eastern Europe as the agents of change in 1989. Not all explanations for the collapse of Communism center on them, though. Especially in Western Europe and North America, the role of Western governments in the end of the Cold War has been surveyed thoroughly. Paradoxically, there are two diametrically opposed explanations how Western governments might have enacted the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe – by confrontation or by cooperation with the East. We’ll look at both in this article. Continue reading