Glasnost and Perestroika

Mikhail Gorbachev's Revolutionary New Policies

Mikhail Gorbachev
Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of an official visit to London. (April 7, 1989). (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in March 1985, the country had already been steeped in oppression, secrecy, and suspicion for over six decades. Gorbachev wanted to change that.

Within his first few years as general secretary of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev instituted the policies of glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring"), which opened the door to criticism and change.

These were revolutionary ideas in the stagnant Soviet Union and would ultimately destroy it.

What Was Glasnost?

Glasnost, which translates to "openness" in English, was General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy for a new, open policy in the Soviet Union where people could freely express their opinions.

With glasnost, Soviet citizens no longer had to worry about neighbors, friends, and acquaintances turning them in to the KGB for whispering something that could be construed as criticism of the government or its leaders. They no longer had to worry about arrest and exile for a negative thought against the State.

Glasnost allowed the Soviet people to reexamine their history, voice their opinions on governmental policies, and receive news not pre-approved by the government.

What Was Perestroika?

Perestroika, which in English translates to "restructuring," was Gorbachev's program to restructure the Soviet economy in an attempt to revitalize it.

To restructure, Gorbachev decentralized the controls over the economy, effectively lessening the government's role in the decision-making processes of individual enterprises. Perestroika also hoped to improve production levels by bettering the lives of workers, including giving them more recreation time and safer working conditions.

The overall perception of work in the Soviet Union was to be changed from corruption to honesty, from slacking to hard work. Individual workers, it was hoped, would take a personal interest in their work and would be rewarded for helping to better production levels.

Did These Policies Work?

Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika changed the fabric of the Soviet Union. It allowed citizens to clamor for better living conditions, more freedoms, and an end to Communism

While Gorbachev had hoped his policies would revitalize the Soviet Union, they instead destroyed it. By 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and by 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. What had once been a single country, became 15 separate republics.