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"Gorbachev Factor"

Democratization soon blossomed into the golden age of glasnost, leading to the soaring circulation of newspapers and magazines and a general publishing boom. Soviet intellectuals—writers, journalists, economists, historians, and others—were at the forefront of the searching and uncompromising criticism of the “deformations of socialism” in the economy, politics, and culture. For the first time in seven decades they could analyze and criticize openly the defects of command-administrative socialism. Their efforts met Gorbachev’s expectations: the intellectual discussion was conducted within a socialist ideological framework, it shamed conservatives resisting the reform of the command system, and it helped to define the principles of an alternative model of “democratic socialism.”  

However, as the debate participants redoubled their efforts to find an alternative to the command system in Soviet history, probing ever deeper into the origins of Soviet socialism, they uncovered more and more facts, which showed clearly that the brutal suppression of dissidence and democracy was typical not just of the age of Stalin but also of the times of Khrushchev and Brezhnev and even under the “untouchable” Lenin. A pure and unpolluted spring of socialism, which could provide guidance and inspiration for a new generation of reformers, was nowhere to be found in Soviet history. The ever-growing number of intellectuals began to question the very proposition that it was possible to give socialism a human face or that “democratic socialism” could ever be built in the USSR.

Thus, the scathing criticism of the command system, sponsored and encouraged by the reformist Soviet leadership, soon began to break the confines of the perestroika ideological framework, leading to outright condemnations of socialism as a whole. The negative view of the potential of socialism to reform itself was instilled even further following the publication of the previously banned works of Russian writers, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrei Platonov, Evgeny Zamiatin, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. They brought home the message that from the very outset Soviet socialism was harmful and damaging to Russia. Some writers disagreed that there was any difference between Lenin and Stalin, or even between communism and fascism. Their literary works delivered a crushing blow to the ideology of reform socialism and made many people skeptical that democracy under socialism was in principle feasible to achieve.

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Political Reform


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
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