In a vindication of his sweeping economic and political reforms, Mikhail Gorbachev withstands severe criticisms from his opponents and is re-elected head of the Soviet Communist Party by an overwhelming margin. Gorbachev’s victory was short-lived, however, as the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991.
Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985 and immediately began to push forward with reforms in both Russia’s domestic and foreign policies. On the domestic front, he argued for greater economic freedom and a gradual movement toward free market economics in certain fields. He also demanded more political freedom, and released a number of political prisoners. In his foreign policy, Gorbachev sought to thaw Cold War relations with the United States. He indicated his desire to work for substantive arms control measures, and began to curtail Soviet military and political involvement in nations such as Afghanistan and Angola. By 1990, many people celebrated Gorbachev as a savior for bringing true reform to the Soviet Union.
At home, however, Gorbachev was reviled by many Russian hard-liners that castigated him for weakening the hold of the Communist Party and for weakening its military power. During a Communist Party congress in July 1990, Gorbachev fired back at his critics. “There is no way to bring back the past, and no dictatorship–if someone still entertains this crazy idea–will solve anything,” he declared. As for his domestic reforms, Gorbachev noted, “This is already a different society” that needed different policies. In response to the charge that he had been “soft” in dealing with anticommunist movements in Russia’s eastern European allies, he shouted, “Well, do you want tanks again? Shall we teach them again how to live?” With Gorbachev’s words ringing in their ears, the delegates to the congress re-elected him as head of the Soviet Communist Party.
Gorbachev’s success, however, was extremely short-lived. While many applauded his reforms, by 1990 the Soviet Union was suffering from terrible economic problems, increasingly angry internal political squabbling, and a general feeling of uneasiness among the Russian people. In December 1991, with most of its eastern European allies already having overthrown their communist governments and with the Soviet republics seceding from the USSR, Gorbachev resigned as head of the Party and as president. With his action, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.