The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy
Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR
UNC Press 2016
New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network December 29, 2016 Marshall Poe
One of the most interesting questions of modern history is this: Why is it that Communist China was able to make a successful transition to economic modernity (and with it prosperity) while the Communist Soviet Union was not? In his excellent book The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR (UNC Press, 2016), Chris Miller offers a convincing explanation for the divergent paths of these two Marxist-Leninist powers. Miller shows that Mikhail Gorbachev knew well about the on-going Chinese experiment, and he modeled much of what he attempted to do on it. Yet, as Miller argues, Gorbachev faced much stiffer political and ideological opposition than the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, did. In the USSR, the Party was stronger and there were powerful institutional-economic interests standing in his way. In addition, Soviet socialism had “worked” for masses of ordinary citizens in a way that Chinese socialism had not; many “Soviet people” believed in the Soviet system and were very skeptical about the idea of adopting a new economic order. Caught between powerful elites and relatively satisfied regular folks, both of whom were beholden to the old ways, Gorbachev’s reforms didn’t really stand a chance.