The Secret History of PerestroikaIssue: Spring 1991
When Mikhail Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union in 1985 almost no one in the West suspected that he would embark immediately upon a sweeping reform program, let alone that within three years that reform program would have developed a life of its own beyond his control. Subsequently, there have been various attempts to explain the appearance of perestroika--in terms of a worsening of the economic crisis, or Gorbachev's character and intentions, or the impact of the Reagan arms build-up--but they all see it as having appeared suddenly and essentially without antecedents. Indeed, the idea of the Soviet system having the capacity for radical self-reform--self-transformation even--was foreign to Western thinking, which tended to be very impressed by the system's capacity for, and will toward, self-perpetuation. It was commonly believed that only dissidents--who were, by definition, outside the system--advocated systemic reform of the Soviet Union.