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.
Yet evidence is now accumulating that, independent of the dissidents, a group of party apparatchiks with powerful sponsorship began working to effect reforms from within the system over thirty years ago. The advent of glasnost and the publication of memoirs and interviews by the people who surround Gorbachev have made it clear that perestroika itself was merely the most dramatic expression of the long-standing desires of the intra-party reform group, or perestroikists, and that the chaos that has followed is, in part, their legacy.