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Was the Soviet System Reformable?


Stephen F. Cohen presents a critical analysis of the prevailing view that Mikhail Gorbachev's six-year attempt to transform the Soviet Union along democratic and market lines proved that the system was, as most specialists had always believed, unreformable. Ideological, conceptual, and historical assumptions underlying the nonreformability thesis are reexamined and found wanting, as are the ways in which generalizations about “the system” and “reform” are usually formulated. Cohen then asks how each of the system's basic components—the official ideology, the Communist Party and its dictatorship, the nationwide network of Soviets, the monopolistic state economy, and the union of republics—actually responded to Gorbachev's policies. Citing developments from 1985 to 1991, Cohen argues that all of those components, and thus the system itself, turned out to be remarkably reformable. If so, he concludes, most explanations of the end of the Soviet Union, which rely in one way or another on the unreformability thesis, are also open to serious question.

Five distinguished scholars respond to Cohen's article.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David Rowley , “Interpretations of the End of the Soviet Union: Three Paradigms,Kritika 2, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 414n9

Beryl Williams's review of John Keep , Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union, 1945-1991, in Russian Review 56, no. 1 (January 1997): 143

Archie Brown , TheGorbachev Factor (New York, 1997)

Yanni Kotsonis , “The Ideology of Martin Malia,Russian Review 58, no. 1 (January 1999): 126

Peter Kenez , “Dealing with Discredited Beliefs,Kritika 4, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 369

Joel C. Moses , “Soviet Provincial Politics in an Era of Transition and Revolution, 1989-91,Soviet Studies 44, no. 3 (1992): 479

Matthew Wyman , Public Opinion in Postcommunist Russia (New York, 1997), chap. 7

John Miller , Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of Soviet Pozuer (New York, 1993), 201

John Gooding , “Perestroika as Revolution from Within: An Interpretation,Russian Review 51, no. 1 (January 1992): 3657

Archie Brown , “From Democratization to ‘Guided Democracy,'Journal of Democracy 12, no. 4 (October 2001): 35

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Slavic Review
  • ISSN: 0037-6779
  • EISSN: 2325-7784
  • URL: /core/journals/slavic-review
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