*Originally posted by Sam Stone *
**It wasn’t just defense spending. It was a number of things -
[li]Moral Approbation - Reagan ended decades of ‘appeasement’ with the Soviet Union, stepped up to the plate, and called them an evil empire. He gave moral support to dissident movements in the client states. The Soviets responded by eventually electing a leader who promised reforms - Gorbachev. But Gorbachev was a died-in-the-wool communist, who only wanted to reform things far enough to make them more efficient and take some of the pressure off the state. But once Reagan had a ‘modern’ leader to work with, he leaned on him. He went to the Berlin wall and yelled, “Mr. Gorbachev - Tear down this wall!”. The pressure was unrelenting, but Reagan and Gorbachev also got along very well, and between them achieved the first meaningful reductions in nuclear arms in Europe.[/li][li]Enhanced containment - Reagan stopped Soviet adventurism in the world. When a communist coup occured in Grenada, Reagan sent in the Marines to end it. He funded the contras. He made it clear that the Soviet Union could not win the expansion race. **[/li][/QUOTE]
[Note: I cannot spell Russian names accurately to save my life. I don’t even try for consistency, really - I figure that if I try a few different spellings, I’m bound to get it right eventually. You’ve been warned. )
A few nitpicks: Gorbachev was never “elected” - in fact, this contributed to the crisis of legitimacy which really hurt him later. Gorbachev allowed member republics of the Soviet Union to elect their own presidents, and a certain number (most, I believe) of seats in the new Congress of People’s Deputies were elected, and by the end of the Soviet Union the president of Russia (Yeltsin) was popularly elected. Gorbachev, however, never ran - the closest he got was when the Congress rubber-stamped him, and this was years after he took power.
Further, I would question whether the decision to put the Gorb-man in power was due in large measure to Reagan’s rhertoric. Folks, the leaders preceding Gorb were old, old men - when Breznev had taken over in the 60’s, one of the things he’d promised was to get rid of the fears regarding job security that Krushchev’s efforts to revitalize the Party had brought. Under Khruschev, people (very important people included) worried a lot about their jobs - this is probably one of the things (not the only one - cough cuban missile crisis cough) that led to Khruschev being ousted.
So Breznev came into power and said, in essence, “Don’t worry about your jobs, you can keep them until you retire or die.” And this doctrine extended all the way from the bottom to the top of the Soviet system - one of the things that led to the stagnation of the 1970s.
I’m sorry, I’m straying from my point - which is that the top leadership, too, got to stay in power until they died. Brez got old and died in office, Andropov was an old man when he took over and his kidneys failed within months. When he died after just a couple years in office, Chernenko took over - he lasted a year. Gorb took over after Chernenko bought the (collective) farm, in large part because he’d made a deal with Chernenko to support him if he’d get the support of Chernenko’s supporters after he died. (Oh, what a tangled web.)
So that’s the proximate cause of Gorb’s rise to power - but of course, there were loads of other reasons. For one thing, Gorbachev was a relatively young man - in his fifties. He wasn’t crippled by alcoholism and pills, as Breznev had been! His kidneys worked, both of them! To get an idea of how much this alone would have made him popular, consider this joke my prof told his class:
“Comrade! There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, Breznev is dead!”
“Yay! - what’s the bad news?”
“No one’s told him yet.”
Another reason for Gorb’s rise to power is simply that he knew the right people at the right time. High-ranking soviet officials brought up their underlings with them as their own fortunes rose - the Gorbster had been close to Andropov, part of his “nomenklatura” - sort of a political clique. He was also popular because of an earlier post he’d held, as leader of the Communist Party in Stavropole. This was near Kislovosk, a popular vacation spot for senior Party officials - and who made sure these vacations were always perfectly organized,e verything taken care of? Everyone’s favorite partymeister, Mikhail Gorbachev. This is really what brought him a large deal of prominance, and eventual promotion to the politburo - everyone knew and liked this guy.
It sounds weird, I know, but that’s the way things worked in the Soviet Union, according to my prof - if you knew the right people, and they liked you for whatever reason, up you went.
My point is that Reagan really had nothing to do with the Gorb-o-matic getting into power - he was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time, with the right connections. I could go even further into it, and if someone asks me to I will, but I think that’s the most important bits of the gist.
As for Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” - glasnost and perestroika produced very real, verifiable pressures for the Soviet Union to allow the reunification of Germany and the independence of any states that wanted it. Glasnost, for the first time, allowed a degree of criticism of the party that really undermined the doctrine that was taught in all schools in the Soviet union - that the Party knew best, that it understood the historical dialectic and was making the best decisions for the people. This wasn’t just for the benefit of gullible foreigners - the Soviet people really, truly believed this stuff. That was the source of the one-party system’s legitimacy. If you asked a Soviet citizen why he allowed the Party to rule him, most would say “why, because they know best!” But glasnost -“openness”, greater freedom of speech and press - exposed the errors and corruption in the party, showing that maybe the party didn’t know best. And then perestrioka - “restructuring” - was even worse, because it showed that decisions the party had made in the past, such as the collectivization of farms, were wrong and needed to be corrected.
Millions of people died under Stalin while he forced the collectivization of the farms. Admitting the party had been wrong here wasn’t just a forgivable policy mistake - it struck at the core of a Soviet citizen’s sense of history and what it meant to be a citizen of the Soviet Union. If the Party was not perfect, if it maybe didn’t know best or have some sort of special insight - then by what right did it rule?
That was the crisis of legitimacy that I mentioned earlier - and the source of it was largely domestic, NOT the result of Reagan’s speeches. Gorb tried to give the Soviet government legitimacy by allowing elections - but by refusing to stand for election himself, he made himself the least legitimate political figure in the Soviet Union.
One question, and then I’ll end this ridiculously long post - did containment of communism really matter for the domestic political stability of the Soviet Union?
Hopefully, this post makes some sort of sense. If not, I apologize.
Hmm. On preview, I see Gorsnak and Dissonance have already beaten me to some of these points. Screw it - I wrote this beast, and now you’re going to read it.