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A Constructivist Analysis: Gorbachev’s New Thinking and the Role of Ideas In the End of the Cold War



While much research has been written on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, faulty historical memory, political purposes, and revisionism have often colored perceptions of events. My research addresses these perspectives by examining and analyzing the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev’s new thinking on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. I will argue that, while making positive humanitarian advances for the Soviet Union, in the end such democratizing agents as new thinking contributed to the collapse of the communist system. To address the new paradigm, I will employ the theoretical structure of constructivism that views the world as a never-ending social construction project of new ideas. This research will utilize two methodologies, qualitative and quantitative to explore what effect Gorbachev’s new thinking had on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
A Constructivist Analysis:
Gorbachev’s New Thinking and the Role of Ideas
In the End of the Cold War
David A. Schultze
Honors senior thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a School of
International Service degree in the Bachelor of Arts, American University
May 2009
While much research has been written on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet
Union, faulty historical memory, political purposes, and revisionism have often colored
perceptions of events. My research addresses these perspectives by examining and analyzing the
impact of Mikhail Gorbachev’s new thinking on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the
Soviet Union. I will argue that, while making positive humanitarian advances for the Soviet
Union, in the end such democratizing agents as new thinking contributed to the collapse of the
communist system. To address the new paradigm, I will employ the theoretical structure of
constructivism that views the world as a never-ending social construction project of new ideas.
This research will utilize two methodologies, qualitative and quantitative to explore what effect
Gorbachev’s new thinking had on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
To my amazing and beautiful wife Katya
Part I
Chapter 1
Research Agenda: Gorbachev`s New Thinking,
the Cold War, and the Fall of the Soviet Union....................................................................5
Chapter 2
Literature Review: Constructivism versus Realism,
Engaging the Debate on the End of the Cold War…………………………………….......10
Chapter 3
Research Design: Analysis of Political Speeches,
the Public Discourse, and Scholarly Interpretations……………………………………....15
Part II
Chapter 4
Gorbachev Constructivism versus Reagan Realism………………………………………21
Chapter 5
The Power of Ideas: The Speeches of Gorbachev………………………………………...27
Chapter 6
The Public and Scholarly Views on New Thinking
Public Sphere……………………………………..……………………………………………37
Discourse on the Scholarly Literature:
New Thinking and Reagan Revisited……………………………………………………..40
Chapter 1
Research Agenda: Gorbachev`s New Thinking, the Cold War, and the Fall of the Soviet Union
“If not me, who? And if not now, when?”
- Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev
Geneva, Switzerland in the autumn of 1985 was the first meeting between the Premier of
the Soviet Union Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev and the President of the United States Ronald
Wilson Reagan, two strong, influential leaders heading down the path of history diametrically
opposed to one another. Not long before, in March of 1983, Reagan had characterized the Soviet
Union as an “evil empire,” sending a clear message of confrontation to the leadership of the
Soviet Union and demonstrating the American intention to open up all fronts of the Cold War,
specifically an all-out economic attack in the form of a military build-up whose aim was, simply,
to outspend the Soviets into extinction.1 Conversely, in preparation for their first meeting in
Geneva, Gorbachev was already showing himself to be a new kind of leader, thinking and
planning new strategies, new paradigms of the Soviet Union in its relations with the West. Even
before Gorbachev had become party leader, he sought a new way to “humanize Soviet Socialism
through an emphasis on the ‘human factor’ (he wanted) to prove wrong the assertion that an
inhuman system cannot be humanized.”2 He had already instituted a unilateral moratorium on all
nuclear explosions and anti-satellite weapons and was coming to Geneva ready to propose
dramatic cuts in overall nuclear arsenals. During their first meeting, though no real specifics
1 David MacKenzie and Michael W. Curran, A History of Russia the Soviet Union and Beyond (London: Wadsworth
Publishing, 2002), 622, 681.
2 Richard Sakwa, Gorbachev and his Reforms: 1985-1990 (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1991),
were hammered out, even the Cold Warrior Reagan had to agree that a nuclear war could never
be won and could never be fought.3 Gorbachev’s new thinking was characterized by the simple
notion that a “nuclear war cannot be a means of achieving political, economic, ideological or any
other goals.”4 This sea change shocked the world. Indeed for anyone living at the time, suddenly
the impossible, an end to the constant threat of complete annihilation, seemed possible.
Gorbachev’s new thinking on domestic and foreign policy seemed to have limitless possibilities.
Soon there were free elections in Poland, the Berlin wall fell, and Germany reunified, all leading
to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in August, 1991.
The panoply of theories for the fall of the Soviet Union are many, and we in the United
States have grown up on the popular, uncomplicated and most ethnocentric theory of all, that
American democracy and military power were the overarching reasons for the downfall. Other
scholars suggest theories such as a long, slow economic and moral stagnation of the Soviet
system that constituted an inevitable collapse. I anticipate that through an examination of the
perceptions of both sides of the Cold War, Russian and American scholars, politicians, and
popular public discourse, will produce a concurrence of thought on the impact of Gorbachev’s
new thinking and the paradigm shift it represented in the end of the Cold War and eventual fall of
the Soviet Union? This research agenda anticipates answering the question: To what extent did
Gorbachev’s new thinking have on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union? I
will argue, first, that Gorbachev’s domestic reforms commonly known as Glasnost, “openness”
and Perestroika, “restructuring,”5 while intending to strengthen the country, were among the
3 Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World (New York: Harper & Row
Publishers, 1987), 225, 226.
4 Ibid., 140.
5 Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia:From Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin (London: Penguin Press, 2003),
primary reasons for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Second, my project will demonstrate
that Gorbachev’s new thinking was instrumental to the end of the Cold War.
This research question will be answered through a constructivist analysis in examining
the role of ideas in history. Social Constructivism, according to the Ohio State University,
International Relations scholar Alexander Wendt in his book, Social Theory of International
Politics, entails two basic views. These views are, first, “that the structures of human association
are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces, and second, that the
identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given
by nature,”6 the second being an especially important characteristic in the task of comparing and
contrasting the two perceptions of the Russian and American scholars’ opinions on the fall of the
Soviet Union. The deeper level of understanding provided by constructivism is necessary as it
goes beyond the realist ‘hard power’ to include ideas and understandings, the non-material
intellectual view of times, places, events and actors in an international scenario. It is a counter
response to the more straightforward, realist discipline of International Relations in terms of hard
power as a means to understanding the inner workings of the world.
A constructivist framework is also key as a way of connecting the former Soviet/Russian
and American/Western scholars through the intersubjective discipline of a shared understanding
of subjective views of the scholars chosen. The constructivist approach to examining process and
perception through discourse analysis will be employed to focus on how events unfolded, for
example, marking turning points in the media and other politician’s speeches when Gorbachev’s
new thinking entered into the public and scholarly discourse. This approach is invaluable in
6 Alexander Wendt. Social Theory of International Politics (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1999), 1.
establishing an area of common general consensus among the leading scholars and state and non-
state actors.
The course of the paper will start with an historical baseline of where the Soviet Union
and the United States stood, in terms of relations and old thinking, at the beginning of
Gorbachev’s ascension. The Constructivist process through discourse analysis of scholars and
politicians will be employed to engage the interpretations, motivations, influence, and perhaps
causation of the fall of the Soviet Union, behind Gorbachev’s new thinking.
The importance of the research has many angles, beginning with the issue of Tonypandy,
which is a term first used by the character Alan Grant in Josephine Tey’s 1951 novel, The
Daughter of Time, meaning a faulty collective memory of popular history or the accepted general
consensus of a misreading of history, a historical lie that is perpetuated and therefore seen as an
unquestioned truth.7 Essentially, is the American public’s view that President Reagan single-
handedly put an end to the Cold War through his strong anti-Soviet policies a fanciful legend or
political reality? The adage, those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to relive
them, is considered a foregone conclusion. Therefore, if we are misreading history and if the
lessons we are supposed to be receiving are from the wrong history or a propagandized history,
then we are left with a bastardized vision of reality from which to draw our source of problem
solving abilities.
As Russian tanks rumbled into South Ossetia and Georgia, is a new era of the Cold War
upon us? The Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney now openly seeks the inclusion of
both Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO, an act that can only alienate the Russians. As the
United States enters into what could be renewed confrontations, are we dooming ourselves to
7 Ken Conca and Geoffrey D. Dabelk, Green Planet Blues, 3rd edition (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), 45.
reliving the wounds and mistakes of the past? It becomes obvious how important is the need for
a clear understanding of exactly how and why the Soviet Union fell, not to bring Russia to its
knees again but to work together towards a more positive future for all of us.
Chapter 2
Literature Review: Constructivism versus Realism, Engaging the Debate on the End of the Cold
There are certainly many different variables involved in the end of the Cold War and fall
of the Soviet Union, from economic stagnation and material deprivation to roots in the historical
inhumane Lenin/Stalinist system. In this literature review, I will focus and engage on the
constructivist versus the realist debate on the end of the Cold War, by defining each of these
analytical languages of International Relations and describing how each frames the causes of the
end of the Cold War. This delineation of theoretical approaches is necessary in order to justify
the use of a constructivist analysis to address my research question.
Realism proposes general laws to explain International Relations events in terms
realpolitik, or the influence of the material world and military and economic power over ideals in
determining state actions. A large part of realism is the notion that states are rational actors, that
they pursue interests of self-preservation and the betterment of their society sometimes
Realists of note are former Secretary of State under President Nixon, Henry Kissinger,
who as a policy-maker epitomized realist theory in action. From Jeremi Suri’s paper, Henry
Kissinger and the Limits of Realism, his triangular diplomacy with the Soviet Union and the
People’s Republic of China, as well as the general conduct of détente, appear to confirm this
judgment. Kissinger’s writings have also furthered this perception through his constant
invocation of concepts like the balance of power, raison d’état, and linkage.” 9 Another realist at
8 Joshua Goldstein and Jon Pevehouse, International Relations (New York: Pearson Longman, 2007), 43.
9 Jeremy Suri,” Henry Kissinger and the Limits of Realism” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
International Studies Association (San Diego: March 22, 2006), 2.
the forefront of history is former ambassador, diplomat, and architect of the “containment”
theory for the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan, described by David Lorio as “a realist, a
conservative, a pragmatist, and a pessimist.”10 Another well known realist scholar is Professor
Emeritus of Political Science at U.C. Berkeley, Kenneth N. Waltz.
The overall angle from which Realists approach the Cold War debate is where and why
they failed to predict the end of the Soviet Union. Kenneth N. Waltz admits that his realist theory
does not “aspire to determine predictions of particular actions. And (realists) have generally been
reticent to draw policy prescriptions from their theories…and that his theory explains
continuities…recurrences and repetitions, not change.”11 However, that description is exactly
what a theory is supposed to do; it is a model for analyzing and predicting events. According to
Random House Dictionary, theory is “a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group
of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and
can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.”12
Waltz also goes to lengths to dispute that the realist version of the end of the Cold War is
obsolete in the article, Structural Realism after the Cold War. He stated that “the Cold War
ended exactly in the way realism would lead one to expect, Soviets trying to right its economy in
order to preserve its position (of power) in the world.”13 Professor of International Studies,
University of Denver’s Jack Donnelly in his book, Realism and International Relations, critiques
Waltz on the lack of realism’s ability to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union, Donnelly
explains, “When the Cold War order collapsed seemingly overnight…many sympathetic
10 David Lorio, “American Pessimist: George F. Kennan as Realist,” Paper presented to Annual Southwest Political
Science Convention (New Orleans: March 25, 2005), 3.
11 Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw Hill, 1979), 121, 69.
12 Jess Stein, ed. Random House Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1984), 1362.
13 Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism After the Cold War,” International Security 25, no 3 (Summer 2001), 8.
observers (to realism) began to look elsewhere-especially because the collapse was intimately
tied to ideas of democracy and human rights and processes of technological and economic
change, important concerns that were excluded by realism.”14 While explaining away a theory
based on whether or not it was successful in predicting the end of the Cold War is not entirely
fair, the point is that there are severe limits to the scope of realism, especially when confronted
with something that outside of realism seems completely rational, that a leader of a country
would propose radical changes, if radical changes were needed.
As Gorbachev’s new thinking removes hard power from the equation, one must look
towards a new theory to attempt to understand the events as they unfolded, constructivism. The
constructivist analytical language focuses on the social world of human awareness, ideas and
beliefs, and shared understanding. Constructivists are more concerned with how state actors
define their national interests, identity, and interdependency with other nations.15 Leading
constructivists include Alexander Wendt, currently the Ralph D. Mershon Professor of
International Security at Ohio State University. Wendt, in his book Social Theory of
International Politics goes so far as to suggest that the sudden, unpredictable nature of the end of
the Cold War had much to do with the rise of the constructivist school of thought.It seemed to
many that these difficulties (explaining the end of the Cold War) stemmed from International
Relation`s materialist and individualist orientation, such that a more ideational and holistic view
of international politics might do better.16
Other major constructivists considering the issue of the end of the Cold War are Florida
International University Professor Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, who first used the term
14 Jack Donnelly, Realism and International Relations (New York: University of Cambridge Press, 2000), 31.
15 Goldstein and Pevehouse, International Relations, 93.
16 Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics, 4.
constructivist, and University of Miami’s Vendulka Kubalkova. In their book, International
Relations in a Constructed World, they describe the benefits of a constructivist approach, noting
that it “tries to integrate and transcend the realist and idealist traditions.” Onuf, and Kubalkova,
cite the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci on his “counter-hegemony theory” and apply it
to Gorbachev’s new thinking, stating that the “only strategy for overthrowing hegemony is to
devise a counter hegemony using the same methods of construction and manipulation of a
consensus in society.”17 The advantages of a constructivist school of thought are the systematic,
yet socially aware, method of interpreting the role of ideas such as Gorbachev’s new thinking
paradigm. This is the main advantage in utilizing a constructivist analysis; the ability for
Gorbachev to approach problems from a unique angle is also the strength of the constructivist
school of thought which will be employed in my research.
The “game changing” nature of Gorbachev’s new thinking is addressed by Wendt in the
article, Anarchy is What States Make of it: the Social Construction of Power Politics, “as one of
the most important phenomena in (recent) world politics…Gorbachev want(ed) to free the Soviet
Union from the coercive social logic of the Cold War and engage the West in far-reaching
cooperation.”18 These identities can be altered through the power of ideas, leading to an
avalanche of changes. Gorbachev’s goal through new thinking was to change the attitudes of the
Soviet citizens and the world.
The break-up of the Soviet Union was caused to some extent by years and years of
stagnation. Gorbachev attacked this stagnation with a group of reforms such as glasnost,
17 Vendulka Kubalkova, Nicholas Ofun, and Peter Kowert, International Relations in a Constructed World
(Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 38.
18 Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is What States Make of it.” International Organization 46 no. 2 (Spring 1992), 419,
perestroika and new thinking that I will argue brought about the end of his presidency and the
Soviet Union.
Chapter 3
Research Design: Analysis of Political Speeches, the Public Discourse, and Scholarly
I will be using a constructivist analysis to answer the research question: To what extent
did Gorbachev’s new thinking have an impact on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the
Soviet Union? The methodology to be employed in my Research Design will be two-fold, mostly
qualitative, with supporting quantitative, to examine the impact of Gorbachev’s new thinking on
the end of the Cold War. It is important to note that there are many competing theories about the
reasons for the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. I am researching one reason
or cause, ascertaining to what extent did Gorbachev’s new thinking play in this historical event.
In this research design, I will address the qualitative and quantitative methodology to be
used and will define and justify discourse analysis from constructivist theory along with
definitions of Gorbachev’s new thinking and what constitutes the end of the Cold War and fall of
the Soviet Union. I will also conduct an interpretive analysis of the opinion polling quantitative
method used. This research will come from primary sources such as biographies and speeches of
Gorbachev regarding perestroika, glasnost and new thinking, and scholarly journals, such as
International Security and Political Science Quarterly. Finally, biographies, speeches and timely
newspaper articles from sources such as Post Soviet Press and Pravda archives will be used to
capture the first draft of history.
Constructivism has quickly become a major social theory or “debate” in International
Relations.19 It is a counter to the realist theory, centered on the system of anarchic power-based
states that rely on the self-serving rationality of their actors. The emerging constructivism theory
sets out a whole different paradigm, looking at the world as a far more socially complex and
socially driven place. Vendulka Kubalkova in her book, Foreign Policy in a Constructed World,
sites the use of the word “construction” to help create an understanding of constructivism; “a
19 Vendulka Kubalkova, Foreign Policy in a Constructed World (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), 19.
constructivist sees the world as inextricably social and material, that is, seeing people in their
world as makers of their world, and seeing the world as a never-ending construction project.”20
This concept of dramatic new social ideas shaping the world as a new paradigm is the draw
towards constructivism as a theoretical framework in which to address the issue of Gorbachev’s
new thinking, in a way that is not served well by the realist theoretical structures that would not
have a place for the concept of actors behaving in truly unexpected, non-traditional ways.
My methodology will be to separate the discourse into three areas, scholarly literature,
political speeches, and popular discourse, categorizing and juxtaposing them according to their
views in order to analyze the inherent rationality of each viewpoint. Discourse analysis for the
purpose of this research is defined as the discipline devoted to the investigation of the
relationship between form and function in communication.21 In scholarly literature, the goal is
to inform as objectively as possible, to frame the facts of an issue in the most straight forward
way, therefore discourse analysis, or looking behind the meaning of the words and finding the
relationship between form and function, is not as important as it is in political speeches where
meaning is hidden behind political agendas or in the public discourse where there are a myriad of
journalistic agendas behind the words, from profit motivations to seeking personal fame.
For the scholarly examination, I will compare and contrast former Soviet/Russian
scholars with American/Western scholars to ascertain commonalities and differences on opinions
about Gorbachev`s new thinking and the end of the Cold War. I will choose those scholars that
are generally considered to be experts on Gorbachev`s role in the end of the Cold War and
collapse of the Soviet Union. For example, I will analyze former Soviet scholar Vladimir
Zubok`s opinion that Gorbachev`s liberalization and democratization undermined the Soviet
20 Ibid., 58.
21 Jan Remkena, Introduction to Discourse Analysis (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004), 1.
system and brought about the end of the Cold War. In Zubok`s book, A Failed Empire: The
Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev, he notes that it was (not) Ronald
Reagan and his administration that overthrew the great Satan of Communism…Soviet
Superpower met its ends at the hands of its own leadership under the influence of new ideas,
policies and circumstances.”22 I will compare and contrast this reading with such scholars as
Alexander Wendt and other constructivist views from the literature review.
Second, I will examine the political speeches of Gorbachev that contain references to
new thinking to ascertain when and where it began to enter into the international public
consciousness. This will entail a close reading of Gorbachev`s Political Report to the 1986 27th
Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where the principles of new thinking were
first introduced,23 also the December 7, 1988 speech to the 43rd U.N. General Assembly Session
where Gorbachev calls for mutual cooperation to control the arms race. To fully analyze the
political rhetoric of speeches by Gorbachev, I will utilize Martin Reisigl`s approach from the
book, Qualitative Discourse Analysis in the Social Sciences of atransdisciplinary,
politolinguistic that brings together and connects rhetoric, critical discourse and concepts in
political science. Transdisciplinary perspective is a combining of rhetoric, political science and
linguistics, and politolinguistic refers to a differentiation among three aspects, polity, policy and
politics. Polity constitutes the formal and structural framework as being the basis for political
action. Policy manifests itself in areas such as domestic, foreign, economic and social affairs. It
is important to understand that political rhetoric has the goal of advertising political position and
22 Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to
Gorbachev (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2007), 303.
23 Kubalkova, Vendulka and A.A. Cruickshank. Thinking New About SovietNew Thinking
(Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California, 1989), 19.
maintaining power.24 This theoretical construct will allow me to get inside the meaning both
explicitly and not so explicitly stated in the speeches of Gorbachev.
Third, the popular cultural discourse will be addressed by choosing pre and post Soviet
collapse opinion writers from the New York Times, such Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Keller, the
Washington Post`s David Ignatius, and The National Review`s William F. Buckley. In addition
to these I will scour Russian news outlets such as Post Soviet Press and Pravda, including the
opinions of Russian writers such as Yevgeni Yevtushenko and Vladislav Zubok, choosing the
articles based on their timeliness and conclusions reached. These opinion pieces will help
determine the transitional impact of Gorbachev’s new thinking on the public from wariness to
possible acceptance of these new ideas. Using discourse analysis I will tease out the meaning
behind the opinions, ascertaining whether the writers understand the depth and potential impact
of this new Soviet mentality.
The quantitative aspect of polling data will not be used as an end in itself, but rather as a
tool to further illuminate the thoughts, opinions, and perceptions of Russians regarding the role
that Gorbachev and new thinking had on their lives, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of
the Soviet Union. Polling data is available at Russian Public Opinion Research Center and
FOM: Public Opinion Foundation, specifically percentages of Russians who felt Gorbachev was
responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union through his liberalization policies. An example
of opinions from FOM that illuminate how Russians see the world are that 29% of Russians now
believe the Cold War is over compared to 45% that believe the Cold War continues.25 This data
24 Ruth Wodak and Michal Krzyzanowski, Qualitative Discourse Analysis in the Social Sciences (New York:
Palgrave MacMillian, 2008), 96, 97.
25 Public Opinion Foundation (Russia), FOM, Do You Think the Cold War is Over or is it Still
Going On? June 6, 2002: (accessed Nov.29, 2008).
will add additional layers of insight into how the Russians viewed the events leading up to and
including the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev himself defines new thinking in his book, Perestroika: New Thinking for our
Country and the World, stating that “The fundamental principle of the new political outlook is
very simple: nuclear war cannot be used as a means of achieving political, economic, ideological
or any other goals.”26 In fact, new thinking, according to Kubalkova, was not announced as
items of an agenda, nor were its principles elaborated at the Congress. It was embodied in
occasional phrases or sentences, unobtrusively inserted in Gorbachev`s five-hour speech.27
There were ten points of new thinking, everything from the ecology to flexibility in international
relations. It was on nuclear war that truly a new direction was taken by a Soviet
leader.28Essentially, Gorbachev was unilaterally calling off the arms race. It is not enough to
understand what new thinking was but to examine why Gorbachev sought such a dramatic
change of the status quo of the Soviet Union when he did. Why will be determined by a
transdisciplinary, politolinguistic (as was previously addressed) examination of Gorbachev’s
writings and speeches leading up to his Presidency, revealing how he anticipated handling the
difficulties and stagnation of the post Brezhnev Soviet Union.
It is easy to place dates on specific events and label them as the end of the Cold War and
the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cold War certainly was over when the Warsaw Pact
dissolved in Budapest on 25 February 1991, when the “Protocol for the Termination of the
Defense Agreements Concluded within the Warsaw Treaty and Liquidation of Its Military
Bodies and Structures” was accepted.29 The Soviet Union as a unified nation was essentially over
26 Gorbachev, Perestroika, 140.
27 Kubalkova, Thinking New About Soviet New Thinking, 19, 20.
28 Ibid., 20-22.
29 MacKenzie and Curran, A History of Russia the Soviet Union and Beyond, 687.
when on April 23 1991, President of the USSR Gorbachev met with then leader of Russia Boris
Yeltsin and leaders of eight other republics at a dacha in the suburbs of Moscow at Novo-
Ogarevo and “agreed upon terms of a new union treaty that would create a loose federation in
place of the old Soviet Union.”30
The thrust of this work will not be so much answering a question, to prove or disprove a
hypothesis, but rather to illuminate the extent to which the constructivist role of ideas and the
constructing of a new paradigm had on the people of not just the former Soviet Union, but also
the world. Only a constructivist examination of the impact of Gorbachev`s new thinking can
focus on the social phenomenon of the events leading up to the end of the Cold War and the fall
of the Soviet Union. I believe it was Gorbachev, and not a faulty collective memory of popular
history such as the Reagan administration`s outspending the Soviet Union into oblivion.
Gorbachev should be recognized for his courage and insight in addressing the troubles in his
country using revolutionary ideas that place him alongside some of the most dramatic
unexpected changes in human history.
Chapter 4
Gorbachev Constructivism versus Reagan Realism
The history of Russia has also been a history of personalities and their ideas; mostly these
ideas were designed to oppress and control. From the Oprichniki of Ivan the Terrible to Lenin
and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Russian leaders have always found new and
Machiavellian ways to grab power and maintain control with a combination of fear and cult of
personality. Through this fear and personal attraction, the Russian people alternately have
30 Ibid., 688.
despised and idolized their leaders and ultimately fall in line. All of these leaders’ ideas were, in
one way or another, the removal of rights and power from the people, up until Mikhail S.
Gorbachev. The reforms of Gorbachev represented a fresh start after years of Soviet stagnation.
As was discussed in the research design of this work, I am embarking on a constructivist analysis
of the role of ideas in the fall of Communism and the end of the Soviet Union. The world has
seen that the role of ideas to construct and shape realities is vital, from the enlightenment
philosophy of Rousseau that led to the French revolution to the Neo-conservative policies of
George W. Bush that is the Iraq war. In short, ideas count.
This chapter will set the stage for the following political, public, and scholarly rhetorical
analysis and will focus on the perceived and literal role of Gorbachev’s new thinking and place it
in the context of other competing social constructions, specifically Reagan’s policies designed to
apply pressure on the stability of the Soviet Union. To answer the research question: To what
extent did Gorbachev’s new thinking have on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet
Union? For my purposes, constructivism will be utilized to concentrate on the role of the ideas,
identities, and discourse constructed by the actors, specifically Gorbachev and to a lesser degree
Reagan; it will facilitate the understanding of political behavior and the construction of social
reality as it relates to the society from which each personality or agent comes, and how this
reality is perceived by those in the society which leads to how they think, feel and respond, both
at the time and in retrospect. For the Soviet Union, the ideas were Gorbachev’s reforms,
perestroika and glasnost;, in the United States, they were confrontation through the anti-Soviet
policies of President Reagan. I anticipate answering the question as to who is more responsible
for the end of the Cold War. I will first provide an overview of the constructivist versus realist
paradigms and to what extent was the end of the Cold War due to Gorbachev’s reforms or new
thinking or Reagan’s military buildup and anti-Soviet policies.
Gorbachev’s reforms were most notably the concepts of perestroika, vast economic,
political and institutional reforms through the support of glasnost, meaning openness through the
public media, encompassing more freedom of the press and less restrictions on public opinion.31
Martin McCauley examines the intentions of perestroika in his book, Gorbachev, “restructuring
the economy, transforming industrial relations…the human factor: the need to make more
humane social and economic relations by moving away from technocratic management to
involving the labor force significantly in industrial production…this was intended to be intra-
systemic reform and was not intended to weaken the foundations of the socialist system.”32 The
intentions of Glasnost is discussed by Richard Sakwa in his book, Gorbachev and his Reforms:
1985-1990, discusses the markedly different direction that glasnost meant for the country,
Glasnost became the word to describe a broad range of policies designed to expose Soviet
society to criticism and self-criticism…Gorbachev abandoned the `newspeak` `propaganda of
success` style of earlier years to allow discussion of problems in the economy and society…
Glasnost exposed the extent of the crimes of the past and revealed the shortcomings of the
Constructivist Alexander Wendt in his article Anarchy is What States Make of It called
new thinking “one of the most important phenomena in (recent) world politics.”34 Wendt goes on,
using a constructivist worldview, to say that certainly one of the reasons for the end of the Cold
War was that the new paradigm created a breakdown of identity commitments inside the Soviet
Union that came about by a stand-down of an aggressive posture. Wendt goes so far as to state
31 Ibid., 630.
32 Martin McCauley. Gorbachev. (New York: Addison, Wesley, Longman Publishing, 1998), 57.
33 Richard Sakwa, Gorbachev and His Reforms: 1985-1990, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice hall, 1991), 65.
34 Vendulka Kubalkova, Foreign Policy in a Constructed World (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), 108.
that, “when Gorbachev ‘changed his mind,’ (about the nature of the relationship with the United
States) the Cold War ended…almost full credit goes for the victory of the United States in the
Cold War to the Soviets. The Soviets won it for the United States.”35
A surprisingly realist version of events comes from Gorbachev. In an interview with
Moscow Echo, he revisited the reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union and listed second, after
political infighting, the pressure applied by the Reagan administration, not through the Strategic
Defense Initiative commonly referred to as “Star Wars” or the MX missile system, but by
collusion with Saudi Arabia in bringing down oil prices and thus destabilizing the Soviet
economic base.36 Therefore, as the actions of the U.S. President were both real and perceived by
Gorbachev as an external pressure, there was an impetus in forcing reform. Therefore, Reagan’s
policies were a factor, and their role along with the role of Reagan himself must be a part of this
The research design of this paper noted that while there are numerous theories
surrounding the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism, the goal here is not
necessarily to attach a greater role of one of these theories over another, as certainly they all have
some merit. It is to understand that the theories and opinions on the end of the Soviet Union are
ideas, socially constructed ideas, and to attempt to ascertain that the true answer is not as
important as understanding the motivations and regimes in the agent/structure model of
constructivism that created these theories and explanations. For example, a long detailed
accounting of the power struggle between Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin and
Gorbachev would only be an explanation of how the Soviet Union fell, but not why. In order to
get to the why, it will be necessary to study the actors, Reagan and Gorbachev, to understand
35 Ibid., 117.
36 Mikhail Gorbachev, Tranlsted by Katya Schultze. “Interview with Vladimir Rizhkov Dec. 28, 2008,” Moscow
Echo << >> (Accessed Jan. 12, 2009).
their motivations. The psychological constructivist view of Giovanni Chiari and Maria Laura
Nuzzo notes “that the ordering and organization of a person’s reality is constituted by their
personal experience.”37 In these cases, it was Reagan and his motivation to confront Communism
and for Gorbachev, the motivation to institute reforms. Each of these leaders were on different
paths towards solving the problems of the Cold War and a possible “hot” nuclear war and a
Soviet Union tied to the ways of the of the old gerontocracy. Reagan sought a transformation of
the conflict through military buildup and confrontation around the globe where ever it might
occur, the “Reagan Doctrine,” which broke from the Truman Doctrine of containment.
Gorbachev’s solution to change was through powerful new ideas designed to restructure the
Soviet Union from within and to alleviate the pressures of the Cold War by challenging the status
quo of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and by focusing the resources of the Soviet Union
on the economy and institutional reforms and away from the path of nuclear confrontation.
Essentially, Reagan realism was up against Gorbachev constructivism or the power of ideas.
Though Ronald Reagan was at one-time a Roosevelt Democrat, he became a Republican,
and his political career was based on the issue of being tough on Communism. Earlier in his
career as an actor, he had had personal experience with Communism as a member of the left-
leaning Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences and Professions
(HICCASP) and the Conference of Studio Unions/Screen Actors Guild (CSU/SAG). He had
even briefly considered joining the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Reagan had
come under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) over the
issue of Communist influence in Hollywood. He saw how friends and co-workers had been
blacklisted, clearly chose to cooperate with HUAC, and turned dramatically anti-Communist and
37 Giovanni Chiari and Maria Laura Nuzzo. “Psychological Constructivisms: A Metatheoretical Differentiation,”
Journal of Constructivist Psychology 9, no.1 (1996):167.
became outspoken on the evils of Communism. Reagan developed a contempt for Communism,
“as a foreign ideology dedicated to the destruction of the domestic economic system…(and the)
threat the Soviet government might someday affect the United States.”38 Opposition to
Communism became Reagan’s political raison d’etre, according to John Patrick Duggins in his
book, Ronald Reagan. Reagan “found his vocation in the cause of anti-Communism. That
seminal issue carried Reagan from the 1940s, when he was an actor, to the 1980s, when he was
President.”39 The focus of Reagan’s political career forever became linked with confronting what
he perceived to be Soviet aggression, his black and white worldview can be characterized by the
1983 “Evil Empire” speech delivered to the National Association of Evangelists in Orlando,
Florida. Reagan discussed the Soviet Union by saying we should not “ ignore the facts of history
and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire…(we are in) a struggle between right and wrong
and good and evil.”40 It can be said that the approach Reagan took constituted a realist vision of
confrontation with the Soviet Union.
While it goes without saying that Gorbachev`s roots and motivations were completely
different than those of Reagan, yet he too had unpleasant memories associated with the
Communist Party, except in Gorbachev`s case it was an association of not belonging. When he
was a young man, his paternal grandmother, Pantelei “was arrested in July of 1937 and accused
of being a member of a `counter-revolutionary right-wing Trotskyist organization`...neighbors
began avoiding their house as if it were plague-stricken. The other boys in the village shunned
Gorbachev. Anyone associated with the family of an `enemy of the people` was courting arrest.
Gorbachev records that `all of this was a great shock to me and has remained in my memory ever
since. `41
38 Thomas W. Evans. The Education of Ronald Reagan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 125.
39 John Patrick Duggins. Ronald Reagan (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007), 83.
40 Ibid., 209.
41 Martin McCauley. Gorbachev, 15.
Gorbachev rose quietly through the ranks of the Communist Party, becoming a key ally
to Andropov, who became General Secretary of the Party after Brezhnev's death in 1982. At that
time in the Politburo, there began to gradually emerge a group of reform-minded politicians,
which included Gorbachev. According to some officials in the Central Committee apparatus,
Andropov proposed that in his absence the Politburo meetings be chaired by Gorbachev.
Following the death of Chernenko on March 11, 1985, the Central Committee plenum elected
Gorbachev General Secretary of the Communist Party.42
Even as Gorbachev was part of the Communist Party establishment, he found reasons for
concern. When he was “given the task of examining the possibility of increasing the price of
bread and cotton fabrics…(Gorbachev) asked to see the state budget and was firmly rebuffed by
Andropov: ‘The budget is off limits to you.’ Gorbachev discovered later that there was a large
budget deficit which was partly met by using citizens’ savings. (Gorbachev asked himself), how
was the budget to be balanced if only the general secretary knew about it?”43 After Andropov's
death, Gorbachev was a presumed rival to Konstantin Chernenko in the struggle to become the
Communist Party's General Secretary. During the short leadership of Chernenko, Gorbachev was
Communist Party Secretary in charge of ideology and informally the second most powerful man
in the Party. “On March 11, 1985, the Kremlin announced Chernenko’s death after only thirteen
months as General Secretary…only hours later Moscow confirmed that the Central Committee
had named Gorbachev first Party Secretary. Pravda’s front page featured Gorbachev’s reform
program; Chernenko’s obituary was relegated to page two. Gorbachev’s ascension confirmed a
decision evidently reached earlier.”44
42 MacKenzie and Curran, A History of Russia the Soviet Union and Beyond, 627-631.
43 Martin McCauley. Gorbachev, 42.
44 MacKenzie and Curran, A History of Russia the Soviet Union and Beyond, 628.
Gorbachev found himself as the head of a country that arrested his grandmother and left
him chastised as a boy; he would change the country and ideology that he loved in order to save
it. The motivations behind Gorbachev’s new thinking may be clear, yet the machinations were
difficult. His speeches and interviews will be analyzed in the following chapter to ascertain the
chronology of the development of new thinking.
Chapter 5
The Power of Ideas: The Speeches of Gorbachev
When Gorbachev took office as General Secretary, he saw that the situation in the Soviet
Union was such that there was no alternative but reform. From Richard Sakwa’s book,
Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990, he sites that “Thirty years of stalled economic reforms
following Stalin’s death led to stagnation. Sixty-five years of stalled political reforms following
the failure of the 1920 reforms have led to a profound moral, ethical, and social stagnation.
Gorbachev constantly argued that there was no time to delay and no alternative to perestroika. In
his acceptance speech for the presidency of the Supreme Soviet on October 1, 1988, he argued
that perestroika was ‘born through suffering.’”45
In analyzing the political speeches of Gorbachev, I will utilize aspects of the
transdisciplinary, and politolinguistic disciplines from Reisigl`s book, Qualitative Discourse
45 Richard Sakwa. Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990, 41.
Analysis in the Social Sciences. Reisigl defines the terms: Transdisciplinary perspective is a
combining of rhetoric, political science and linguistics, and politolinguistic refers to a
differentiation among three aspects, polity, policy and politics.46 Concentrating on this
theoretical construct allows for both the explicit and implicit meaning stated in the speeches of
Gorbachev to be examined. The rhetoric, political science and linguistics in all of his speeches is
important to analyze for indications of the mechanisms of how Gorbachev was promoting these
new ideas, as he was attempting to institute an entire new reality quite contrary to what had been
the status quo for decades. An analysis of these speeches will determine the underlying factors
and motivations that constitute new thinking that eventually laid the groundwork for the social
upheaval. I have chosen a chronology of tone and content, that is the evolution of rhetoric
becoming bolder and more complicated. The speeches chosen are a sample from the first days of
reform before Gorbachev was General Secretary, from one of the first times perestroika was
mentioned, the December 1984 Living Creativity of the People,” three speeches surrounding the
adoption of the reforms and their broader consequences (the more forceful May 17, 1985
inaugural speech at the Smolny Institute in Leningrad, the February 25, 1987 speech at the 18th
Congress of Trade Unions of the USSR, the October 1, 1987 Murmansk speech on USSR
Foreign Relations, and the September 11, 1989 Perestroika speech), all address the continuing
process of perestroika and attempts to sabotage efforts by international and domestic forces. The
final official speech proclaiming the dissolution of the Soviet Union will be examined; finally a
retrospective interview given to Zdenek Mlynar in the book, Conversations with Gorbachev, will
give insight into how Gorbachev views the failings of perestroika. These five seminal speeches
and interview began with an increasingly urgent rhetorical tenor and message, but then more
46 Ruth Wodak and Michal Krzyzanowski, Qualitative Discourse Analysis in the Social Sciences (New York:
Palgrave MacMillian, 2008), 96, 97.
melancholy and even regretful, followed by introspection, regrets, and a look at the inherent
problems of the Soviet Union.
At this early stage of his career, Gorbachev sensed a need for looking at the problems
confronting the Soviet Union with fresh eyes. In December, 1984 at a meeting in the Central
Committee, Gorbachev gave a report on the "Living Creativity of the People," in which he spoke
of the need to overcome dogmatic notions of production relations under socialism, to develop
economic self-government, support innovative initiatives, and increase openness and "socialist
democracy." The report, published only half a year later, contained the principal provisions that
were later to provide the basis for the program of perestroika.47 This speech by Gorbachev
already showed that he was not going to do things the same as the Soviet gerontocracy that came
before him; there were serious problems facing the Soviet Union and he meant to solve them, yet
he also understood that he needed to “sell” these ideas. He was not yet in power, nor did he see
himself in that position, so a slight masking of his true political agenda along with his true belief
in curing the ills of the Soviet society can be seen by his use of the “buzz words” of revolution
along with true reform meant to make the country competitive, “only an intensive economy,
developing on the basis of state-of-the-art scientific-technical base…can increase the welfare of
the worker.”48 The opening discussions of restructuring had a familiar rhetorical flare; as he was
not yet in power, he had to mask his agenda in the rhetoric of the revolution, but here was a new
message of reform.
The contrast of the "Living Creativity of the People," speech and the inaugural address at
the Smolney Institute in Leningrad was more than a difference in rhetorical tone. The speeches
went from a man who watched his words carefully to one who had suddenly received a great
47 Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Selected Speeches and Articles (Moscow: Progress Publishing, 1987), 464.
48 Edward A. Hewitt. Reforming the Soviet Economy: Equality versus Efficiency (Washington DC: Brookings
Publishing, 1988), 365.
burden of leadership and had no time to lose getting started with his programs of change. From
the Schmidt-Häuer, Huber, and Man book, Gorbachev: The Path to Power, “dressed in a well
cut dark-blue suit, Gorbachev pressed for a new beginning: ‘we must all change our attitudes,
from the worker to the minister, the Secretary of the Central Committee and the leaders of the
government…we must naturally give all our Cadres a chance, but anyone who is not prepared to
do so must simply get out of our way and must not be allowed to interfere.’”49 Here the tone is
more confident and secure, which parallels the content of either you are with us or you are
against us.
More than tone was apparent in Gorbachev’s speech, “Restructuring: A Vital Concern of
the People,” on February 25, 1987 at the 18th Congress of Trade Unions of the USSR. Here
Gorbachev spurred on the people while tempering great expectations, all the while in a re-
visitation of the more traditional Soviet style of rhetoric. From the book, Gorbachev: Speeches
and Writings Vol.2, “Of course we all want changes for the better, and as soon as possible. The
great goals which the Party has put forward and the increasing changes in the economic, social,
and political spheres have resulted in what may be called a ‘revolution of expectations.’ Many
want quick social and material returns…Let us be frank comrades, there is only one way in
which we can achieve acceleration and improve the quality of our entire life: that is through
efficient and highly productive work.”50 An analysis of this speech by Gorbachev sees a return to
Soviet style rhetoric, but also trying to be persuasive, as he was beginning the push for more
democratization. Robert Service describes the shift in A History of Modern Russia; Gorbachev
had called for changes in the party’s official ideas. ‘Developed Socialism’ was no longer a
topic…instead Gorbachev described the country’s condition as ‘socialism in the process of self-
49 Christian Schmidt-Häuer, Maria Huber, and John Man. Gorbachev: The Path to Power (London, UK: I.B. Tauris,
1986), 115.
50Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Speeches and Writings, Vol. 2 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1987), 165.
development’…he was suggesting that socialism had not yet been built in the USSR.
Democratization was now proclaimed as a crucial objective. This meant that the Soviet Union
was no longer touted as the world’s greatest democracy and it was the General Secretary who
was saying so.”51
The tone of the Gorbachev speech of October 1, 1987 again has a quality of self-
assurance and sagacity. He has absolute power and is delighting in changing the dynamics with
the West by approaching problems in new ways, so that the United States is genuinely
confounded. Gorbachev’s opening remarks assess the United States paranoid reactions to his
work for peace, “judging the situation only from the speeches made by top western leaders,
including their ‘program’ statements, everything would seem to be as it has been before: the
same anti-Soviet attacks, the same demands on us to show our commitment to peace by giving
up our orders and principles, the same confrontational language: ‘totalitarianism,’ ‘communist
expansion,’ and so on.”52 Gorbachev breaks many of the rules of diplomacy as he acknowledges
that many analysts see the economic costs to the Soviet Union and are encouraging the United
States to aggressively pursue costly programs that would force the Soviet Union to spend
treasure to maintain military parity with the United States on such systems as the Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) under the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). “Failure of the socioeconomic
policy being pursued by the Soviet Union under the leadership of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Soviet Government would accord with the U.S. national interests.
In order to ‘facilitate’ such a failure, the following is recommended: To speed up the programs of
costly ABM systems under SDI and draw the USSR into the arms race in order to hinder its
reconstructing; to allocate still more funds for the development of expensive high-accuracy
51 Robert Service, A History of Modern Russia (London: Penguin Press, 2003), 451.
52 Mikhail Gorbachev, “USSR Foreign Relations,” Vital Speeches of the Day 54, no. 5 (Dec. 15, 1987), 130.
weapons…militarist and anti-Soviet forces are clearly concerned lest the interest among the
people and political quarters of the West in what is happening in the Soviet Union today and the
growing understanding of its foreign policy erase the artificially created ‘image of the enemy’-an
image which they have been exploiting for scores of years.”53 The substance of this speech is
remarkable; the illusion that the military buildup undertaken by the United States caught
Gorbachev and the Soviet Union by surprise or that they were attempting to maintain military
parity and thus were already spending themselves into oblivion is dispelled by this speech.
Gorbachev knew that this was the propaganda that the Reagan administration dispensed, he was
simply ignoring it and proposing that the Soviet Union continue down the path of reform with
the quote from the same speech, “Well, it’s their business after all. But we shall firmly follow the
road of restructuring and new thinking.”54
From the standpoint of several years into the reform process, Gorbachev encountered
difficulties with the perceived radical nature of perestroika and expressed his concerns that many
feared the path taken was not working. In the speech given to the people of the USSR on
September 11, 1989, he again takes the tone of cheerleader, restating the necessity for the
continuation of perestroika against domestic forces of opposition, “Efforts are being made to
discredit perestroika from conservative, leftist, and sometimes unmistakably anti-socialist
positions…some are ready to give up perestroika and return to the past…Comrades, this is all a
very serious matter, and I want to express my position in no uncertain terms. True, perestroika is
meeting with many difficulties. But it is radical change, a revolution in the economy and in
policy, in the ways of thinking and in people’s consciousness, in the entire pattern of our life…
but perestroika has opened up realistic opportunities for society’s renewal, for giving society a
53 Ibid., 131.
54 Ibid., 132.
new quality and for creating truly humane and democratic socialism.”55 Whether it was these
international and domestic forces that helped to condemn perestroika or if fell under the weight
of its own ambitions is debatable, for Gorbachev, it was these forces that would eventually bring
about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev lost the political battle of his life, and the reins passed to Boris Yeltsin,
resulting in the unthinkable dissolution of the Soviet Union, splintering the country into fifteen
separate republics. Gorbachev’s Christmas 1991speech officially ended the Soviet Empire and
his hold on power, “Dear compatriots, fellow citizens, as a result of the newly formed situation,
creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, I cease my activities in the post of the
U.S.S.R. President. I am taking this decision out of considerations based on principle. I have
firmly stood for independence, self-rule of nations, for the sovereignty of the republics, but at the
same time for preservation of the union state, the unity of the country.”56 The tone of
Gorbachev’s speech was conciliatory and proud, maintaining how he behaved and the direction
he intended for the country were sound and true to his principles of democratization, “ The policy
prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, with which I cannot agree. And
after the Alma-Ata meeting and the decisions taken there, my position on this matter has not
changed. Besides, I am convinced that decisions of such scale should have been taken on the
basis of a popular expression of will.”57 His personal retrospection on his failings went hand in
hand with an assessment of the failings of the country. “Fate had it that when I found myself at
the head of the state it was already clear that all was not well in the country. There is plenty of
everything: land, oil and gas, other natural riches, and God gave us lots of intelligence and talent,
55 Mikhail S. Gorbachev, “Perestroika: The Socialist Renewal of Society,” Vital Speeches of the Day 58, no.2 (Sept.
1989), 5.
56 Mikhail S. Gorbachev, “Christmas 1991 Speech Dissolving the USSR.” The Public Purpose website, Belleview,
IL: <<>> (Accessed, Feb. 11, 2009.).
57 Ibid.
yet we lived much worse than developed countries and keep falling behind them more and
more.”58 Gorbachev posed the question of what exactly was wrong with the people of the now
former Soviet Union, the nature of problems in the country and his desire to change it through
the only way possible, reforms and new thinking. “The reason could already be seen: The society
was suffocating in the vise of the command-bureaucratic system, doomed to serve ideology and
bear the terrible burden of the arms race. It had reached the limit of its possibilities. All attempts
at partial reform, and there had been many, had suffered defeat, one after another. The country
was losing perspective. We could not go on living like that. Everything had to be changed
radically.”59 He clearly saw the events that took place ending the Soviet Union as a mistake that
would resonate for some time, and that if his reforms had had a chance to take hold, “The old
system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working, and the crisis in the society
became even more acute. The August coup brought the general crisis to its ultimate limit. The
most damaging thing about this crisis is the breakup of the statehood. And today I am worried by
our people's loss of the citizenship of a great country. The consequences may turn out to be very
hard for everyone.”60 At the end of the speech he again reverted to a conciliatory tone and hope,
yet with profound personal disappointment, he can foresee the troubles ahead, “I am leaving my
post with apprehension, but also with hope, with faith in you, your wisdom and force of spirit.
We are the heirs of a great civilization, and its rebirth into a new, modern and dignified life now
depends on one and all. Some mistakes could surely have been avoided, many things could have
been done better, but I am convinced that sooner or later our common efforts will bear fruit, our
nations will live in a prosperous and democratic society. I wish all the best to all of you.61
Gorbachev left feeling that he had been correct all along, that there were serious problems with
58 Ibid.
59 Ibid.
60 Ibid.
61 Ibid.
the Soviet Union and his attempts to change the country had been mired in politics and power
plays. He felt his goals were true, but did he understand that with the very things he was trying to
achieve, democratization and openness of dissent, he had sowed the seeds of the inevitable
collapse of a closed society.
A retrospective interview on perestroika was given to author Zdenek Mlynar in the book,
Conversations with Gorbachev, approximately a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In
this interview, Gorbachev had a tone of having been in the right all of these years, and that he
thought the trouble lay in not a drastic enough reform package, and the true nature of the causes
of the failing of the Soviet system was in the totalitarian aspects of the country, “I suffer…not
because I actually began the struggle for democracy and fundamental change of the Soviet
system. I do not regret that I began that struggle. It had to be done. Now with a certain distance
from those events, I of course see many things differently, but in my fundamental positions
nothing has changed: I would do it all over, and I would begin again with the struggle for even
more democracy, more socialism. However, my understanding of socialism would now be
different…today I would know that the goal had to be the removal of the totalitarian system, that
reforms in all spheres of life-from monopoly ownership up to and including the ideological
monopoly –would have to be more profound, more directed toward fundamental principles, but I
would not abandon the basic choice I made.”62 In retrospect, Gorbachev was struggling to make
peace with the idea that he was correct, perhaps a little naïve about the true nature of the
systemic problems associated with the nature of the Soviet system, yet still unable to see that
within the reformation process, if that involved democratization and a curbing of totalitarianism,
62 Zdenek Mlynar, Translated by George Fischer, Conversations with Gorbachev (New York: Columbia University
Press, 2002), 199-200.
that the very system he was trying to save would unrecognizably change. It poses the question,
what aspect of the Soviet Union was he trying to save?
Chapter 6
The Public and Scholarly Views on New Thinking
The Public Sphere
I will address public opinion not so much for answers, but for questions, and to put a
broader context into Gorbachev’s new thinking and what affect it had on the public, both in the
Soviet Union and the United States. An examination and analysis of opinions of perestroika both
at the time and in retrospect to detect the hopes for success and general attitudes of the people
about Gorbachev and his reforms are in order. First, a look will be taken at some opinions of
Soviet citizens just six months prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, from the Soviet Life
article, Refuting Stereotypes by Ada Baskina about a round table discussion between Soviet and
American sociologists on many topics, from their opinions of each other to their hopes for
Gorbachev’s reforms. When discussing the changes in the attitudes of Soviet citizens since
before perestroika, the Soviet sociologist replied that “This is the sixth year of perestroika.
Earlier (before perestroika) you would have seen restraint, an unwillingness to discuss politics,
and mistrust for people, particularly foreigners.”63 While it is difficult to speak for the entirety of
Soviet society, it is fair to say that in the eyes of many at the time, perestroika constituted a new
sense of hope not felt in years.
Years later however, the opinions of former Soviet citizens on Gorbachev had changed; a
look at opinion polls taken in 2002 will gauge the attitudes on Gorbachev and his reforms from
the standpoint of history. According to the Russia, the opinions of Russians toward
their former leader are generally negative, blaming him for the October 1993 violent incident
between Yeltsin’s forces and the Russian Congress of the People’s Deputies in Moscow:
Most interesting is the posing of the question. It is not simply stated that Gorbachev was
responsible in some indirect way; it is stated as fact in an undisputed way that the country is in a
state of general collapse because of Gorbachev. The next poll compares the perception of
strength by Soviet/Russian leaders; the emphasis is on concessions made towards the United
States. Gorbachev scores fairly low on the too hard, and fairly high on the too soft categories:
63 Ada Baskina, “Refuting Stereotypes,” Soviet Life (January, 1991), 23.
64 Slide 365, Updated February 18, 2009,
<<>> (Accessed February 21, 2009)
65 Ibid., Slide 331.
What these opinion polls taken in the present time seem to indicate is not that there is a
fairly poor view of Gorbachev; the point is that in the West it is a foregone conclusion that
the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union were perceived by everyone in
the world including the people of the former Soviet Union as a positive event. The image in
the Western mind is of people rejoicing as the shackles of totalitarianism were lifted from
their lives. In reality, there are many in the former Soviet Union that decry its demise, a
wave of nostalgia for the days when the Soviet Union was a superpower has emerged. From
the March 26, 2002 article, Russian Mentality: Uncertainty and Fatalism, In provincial
Russia, there is a lot of nostalgia for socialism. In the town of Michurinsk, the Tambov
Region, where a control group was polled, 74.4% of the respondents supported socialism
and only 25.6% supported capitalism.”66 Whatever hope and promise there had been in the
early days of new thinking and perestroika has turned into cynicism and a longing for the old
days, but the old days before Gorbachev, the days of Stalin and Brezhnev and Soviet
Russian citizens, in an unscientific poll, voted Stalin third most favorite Russian, from the
Reuters article, Dictator Stalin voted third most popular Russian. “The "Name of Russia" contest
run by the Rossiya state television channel over more than six months closed on Sunday night
with a final vote via the Internet and mobile phones. It drew more than 50 million votes in a
nation of 143 million. ‘We now have to think very seriously, why the nation chooses to put Josef
Vissarionovich Stalin in third place,’ prominent actor and film director Nikita Mikhalkov, one of
the contest's judges, said after the results of the vote flashed on a screen.”67 Why indeed, when
Gorbachev took power, he attempted to reform not only the structure of the state but also to
66 Pravda English Website, “Russian Mentality: Uncertainty and Fatalism,” March 26, 2002, <<>> (Accessed February 24, 2009.).
67 Dmitry Solovyov, “Dictator Stalin voted third most popular Russian,” Reuters News Service December 28, 2008.
reform the minds of the people, to allow them the ability to express themselves more freely, do
Russian citizens take the freedom given to them and democratically decide that what they really
want is to be ruled with an iron fist?
Discourse on the Scholarly Literature: New Thinking and Reagan Revisited
[Need to make more connections with Literature Review]
As there is such a wealth of material for the scholarly debate on the impact of new
thinking and perestroika on Soviet society and the part it played in bringing about the end of the
Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I will narrow the focus of debate on the Reagan
as the “winner” of the Cold War versus the impact of Gorbachev’s reforms as the overarching
cause. From the beginning of this project, my goal was to measure the effect of new thinking and
perestroika juxtaposed against the popular idea in the West that it was U.S. President Ronald
Reagan that had the greatest influence in the end of the Cold War.
The coalescence of the Reagan as Cold Warrior argument is illustrated nicely in the
Federalist Papers article “Ten Years After Reagan,” by Brad Smith; “Reagan’s approach to this
crisis was four-fold. The first step was to boost flagging spirits in the U.S. and elsewhere. This
Reagan did by denouncing the Soviet Union for what it was: an ‘Evil Empire.’ Next, Reagan
supported his rhetoric with a massive military build-up…the inadequacies of the U.S. military
demoralized and underfunded since the inglorious retreat from Vietnam…but more than that,
what Reagan recognized, that others had not, was that it was possible to win an arms race with
the Soviet Union. Reagan determined to spend the Soviets into bankruptcy. Finally, from the
position of strength he had created, Reagan negotiated…with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik
(and) proved far more successful in setting the stage for a peaceful end to the Cold War than
anybody had thought possible…with the Soviets outgunned morally, militarily, and at the
negotiating table, the Cold War came to remarkably swift end shortly after Reagan left office. It
was, for the U.S., a victorious end, and an end virtually no one--except Reagan--would have
predicted in January of 1981. Ronald Reagan deserves credit as a great wartime leader, as great
as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. Today, for the first time in two generations, the
United States doesn’t face the threat of sudden and massive destruction. When you go to sleep
tonight, secure in a peaceful dawn tomorrow, much of the credit must go to Reagan.”68
This analysis is the prototypical American conservative rationale for the fall of
Communism. There are two large problems with this analysis. The first problem with this line of
thinking is that the Cold War was not a war in the regular sense of a “hot” war, it was in fact a
war in the minds of men, a political construct that had more to do with political global influence
than a disagreement over any one specific issue. Short of a terrible accident, neither one of the
two countries was never going to initiate a nuclear war. Second, as was pointed out in the
Gorbachev speech at the 18th Congress of Trade Unions of the USSR, Gorbachev was well aware
of the attempts of the United States to try and “bankrupt” the Soviet Union through an enormous
military budget. According to Richard Led Nebow and Janice Gross Stein in their Atlantic
Monthly article, “Reagan and the Russians,” “The Soviet Union's defense spending did not rise
or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central
Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant
throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had
any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most the Strategic Defense Initiative
68 Brad Smith, “TenYears After Reagan,” The Federalist Papers, Colombus, OH: The Federalist
Society for Law & Public Policy Studies website.
<<>> ( Accessed Feb. 14, 2009.).
(SDI) shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for
developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.”69 While it may not be completely fair to
critique an article with such a broad ideological framework, it is necessary to set a baseline of the
“Reagan as Cold Warrior” mindset.
A more nuanced argument for why Reagan won the Cold War comes from the National
Review article, “Russian Revolution” by Dinesh D'Souza, “Reagan outlined his "sick bear"
theory (of the Soviet Union) as early as May 1982 in a commencement address at his alma mater,
Eureka College. He said, "The Soviet Empire is faltering because rigid centralized control has
destroyed incentives for innovation, efficiency, and individual achievement. But in the midst of
social and economic problems, the Soviet dictatorship has forged the largest armed force in the
world. It has done so by pre-empting the human needs of its people and, in the end, this course
will undermine the foundations of the Soviet system."70 This is the “Soviet Union is
unreformable argument” and while it has its merits, there are more points to consider. From the
Slavic Review article, "Was the Soviet System Reformable?" by Stephen Cohen, “while scholarly
"pessimists" maintained, as most Sovietologists always had, that the system could not be
reformed and Gorbachev would therefore fail, many studies conducted during the perestroika
years now took it for granted that "systematic change was possible in the Soviet context." An
American economist soon to be the top Soviet expert at the White House was even more
emphatic: "Is Soviet socialism reformable? Yes, it is reformable, and it is already being
reformed.”71 In what ways was the Soviet Union reformable? For example, was the destructive
inhumane ideology of the former Soviet union reformable? Consider the draconian methods
Lenin used to install the Bolsheviks and purge the intellectuals or Stalin’s “great terror,” Cohen
69Richard Led Nebow and Janice Gross Stein, “Reagan and the Russians,” Atlantic Monthly (February, 1994), 1.
70 Dinesh D'Souza, “Russian Revolution,” National Review (June 6, 2004), 1.
71 Stephen Cohen, "Was the Soviet System Reformable?" Slavic Review 63:3 (Autumn 2004): 460.
points out that “World theologies offer no such certitude about the role, duration, or resolution of
evil while allowing more room for alternatives and human choice than we find in this rigidly
deterministic sermon on the Soviet experience…if original sin forever disqualifies a political or
economic system from redemption, how did slave-holding America become an exemplary
democracy? Can it be plausibly or morally argued that an original Soviet evil was greater, more
formative, or more at odds with the state's professed values than was slavery in the United
States.”72 Then there is the question of whether or not the Soviet system could ever
fundamentally change, that the system simply would not accept reform. The “the old totalitarian
model, the argument that the Soviet Union was structurally unreformable comes in several
versions but evidently rests on a basic assumption. The monolithic communist ruling class, or
bureaucratic nomenklatura, would never permit any changes that actually threatened its
monopolistic hold on power and would therefore oppose all types of reform.”73 This too is a
flawed notion, as every one of the reforms of perestroika were brought before the Duma and
considered before being passed. The idea that the all powerful nomenkaltura resisted reforms is
simply not true. A final point on whether the Soviet Union was reformable is that a “referendum
was held in Russia and eight other republics in March 1991, which included 93 percent of the
entire Soviet population, 76.4 percent of the very large turnout, voted to preserve the Union-only
nine months before it was abolished. Two developments confirm the validity of that democratic
voting result for opinion in Russia. Even Yeltsin rose to electoral power in the Russian Republic
on the widespread aspiration for a reformed Soviet system, not its overthrow. And after 1991,
public regret over the Union's abolition remained very high, growing to nearly 80 percent in the
early twenty-first century.”74
72 Ibid., 461.
73 Ibid., 464.
74 Ibid., 466.
Therefore, the argument that the Soviet Union was somehow doomed from its inception
does not hold up well, and all the revisions of history that point to Reagan, while his policies
certainly applied pressure, as the lone defeater of Communism fail to understand that realist
attempts to force the Soviet Union into capitulation were impotent.
This research paper began with a question: To what extent did Gorbachev’s new thinking
have on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union? Specifically, was the Soviet
Union condemned from the beginning of these reforms due to an inherent structural and
institutional stagnation, or was it reformable. If it was reformable, which I have just addressed,
then what happened was not a historical inevitability but a political power play that went
Yeltsin’s way. There are essentially two tracks here; one states that Reagan’s anti-Soviet policies
and military buildup forced economic hardships for the Soviet Union so that the country
imploded from within. The second track states that the Soviet Union collapsed because as
glasnost or the “openness” reforms took hold, it opened the people’s eyes to the reality of the
country they lived in and this popular support brought a dramatic change. The collapse of the
Soviet Union stemmed from the very reforms, from the ideas of new thinking that were intended
to save it, and Gorbachev’s misunderstanding of the power of what he had started. How the
specific events played out to elect Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Federation which led
to the dissolution of the fifteen republics and the Soviet state itself is not as important in the
analysis as the fact that it was the power of democracy that turned the tables on Gorbachev and
his role as leader. The answer to the question as to what extent did Gorbachev’s new thinking
have on the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union? While making positive
humanitarian advances for the Soviet Union, in the end such democratizing agents as new
thinking contributed to the collapse of the Communist system. The freedom to think in a
democratic way led to the aspiration of more change which in the eyes of the Soviet people
meant democracy. Wrongly or rightly, they saw democracy as a cure-all for the problems of their
In conclusion, using the Human Needs Theory, which I would consider a constructivist
analysis as it is concerned with the broader social needs of people beyond the rudimentary needs
of clothing, shelter, and sustenance, to shed light on the problems in Soviet society that
Gorbachev was trying to address but was unable to keep the metaphorical dam from breaking.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow and the conflict scholar John Burton address human needs as
“the essentials that go beyond just food, water, and shelter. They include both physical and non-
physical elements needed for human growth and development, as well as all those things humans
are innately driven to attain.”75 If human needs theory is applied to the people of the Soviet
Union, they had security and family love, but they lacked many others including the following.
Self-esteem is the need to be recognized by oneself and others as strong, competent, and capable.
It also includes the need to know that one has some effect on her/his environment and has
personal fulfillment, the need to reach one's potential in all areas of life. Identity goes beyond a
psychological "sense of self." Burton and other human needs theorists define identity as a sense
of self in relation to the outside world. Identity becomes a problem when one's identity is not
recognized as legitimate, or when it is considered inferior or is threatened by others with
different identifications. Cultural security is related to identity, the need for recognition of one's
language, traditions, religion, cultural values, ideas, and concepts. Freedom is the condition of
having no physical, political, or civil restraints; having the capacity to exercise choice in all
aspects of one's life. Distributive justice is the need for the fair allocation of resources among all
members of a community. Participation is the need to be able to actively partake in and influence
civil society.76 All of these shortages of human needs they had lacked, some they had seen in the
movies that were no longer banned. People saw what they could not obtain under the
Communist system and though it turned out that they were wrong, they thought that the way to
obtain a better life was through a democratic change. They discarded Gorbachev and voted in
Yeltsin as President. Subsequently, the changes came too fast and democracy eventually failed.
75 John W.Burton, Conflict: Human Needs Theory (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 18.
76 Ibid., 21-23.
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... Its emergence is often associated with materialist scholars failing to provide a materialist reason behind the end of Cold War (Klotz & Audie, 1962). Gorbachev's new thinking demanded a constructivist approach to be able to fully understand the cause as to how the Cold War ended (Schultze, 2009). Alexander Wendt, a prominent figure in constructivism, in his book Social Theory of International Politics contends that the sudden and unforeseeable ending of Cold War is attributable to the growth of constructivism (Wendt, 1999). ...
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The rise of China as one of the great powers in the international politic has been the hottest topic in the 21st century. Following the economic reform led by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China re-emerges stronger than ever with its influences covering major parts of the world. One region particularly stands out since the prior dominance of United States therein, the South Pacific. The study of this research will be limited to 10 PICs recognising China, Vanuatu, Cook Island, FSM, Fiji, Niuee, PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Kiribati. Under the Western International Relations Theory (IRT) however, the rise of China is always seen in a rather malign manner. This research, therefore, contends that in order to fully understand China’s behaviour in the international community, we need to know how China perceives itself. By applying one of the most famous Chinese traditional school of thought, Daoism, this research aims to examine the strategy used in the expansion of China’s influence in the South Pacific. Daoism is symbolised with yin and yang, where the two elements are contradictory, yet they complement each other. Under the Dao dialectics, this research argues that China has been utilising a combination of two contradictory elements of power—soft and hard power—in expanding its prominence in the South Pacific region.
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