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Glasnost and Perestroika

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was engulfed by a multitude of problems. The economy, especially the agricultural sector, began to fall apart. The country lacked technological advancements and used inefficient factories, all while consumers were buying low-quality products and suffered from a shortage of social freedoms.  To reform the distraught Soviet Union, the democratization of the Communist Party was promoted through Party Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev‘s policies of “perestroika” and “glasnost.”  

Perestroika refers to the reconstruction of the political and economic system established by the Communist Party. Politically, contested elections were introduced to reflect the democratic practices of Western society and allow citizens to have a slight say in government. Economically, Perestroika called for de-monopolization and some semi-private businesses to function, ending the price controls established by the government for the past seven decades. The goal was to create a semi-free market system, reflecting successful capitalist practices in the economies of Germany, Japan, and the United States. Unfortunately, such an economy took time to thrive, and people found themselves stuck in a worn-out economy, which led to long-lines, strikes, and civil unrest.

The term “Glasnost” means “openness” and was the name for the social and political reforms to bestow more rights and freedoms upon the Soviet people. Its goals were to include more people in the political process through freedom of expression. This led to a decreased censoring of the media, which in effect allowed writers and journalists to expose news of government corruption and the depressed condition of the Soviet people. Glasnost also permitted criticism of government officials, encouraging more social freedoms like those that Western societies had already provided. Yet, the totalitarian state present since 1917 was difficult to dismantle, and when it fell apart, citizens were not accustomed to the lack of regulation and command. The outburst of information about escalating crime and crimes by the government caused panic in the people. This caused an increase in social protests in a nation used to living under the strictest government control, and went against the goals of Gorbachev.
These policies were in effect from 1985 to 1991, when Boris Yeltsin became Russia’s first popularly elected president. He then formed the Commonwealth of Independent States. Reconstructing the organization of the Soviet Union proved difficult and the effects were mixed; while more social freedoms were permitted, the economy was in deterioration and social unrest was growing among the people. Glasnost and Perestroika eventually helped cause the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, which had lasted from 1945 to 1991.

Researched by Sasha Gitomirski
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


"Perestroika." - Travel and the Outdoors. Web. 4 May 2010. <>.

"Russia :: The Gorbachev Era: Perestroika and Glasnost -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 04 May 2010. <>.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. "Perestroika and Glasnost." Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Web. 14 May 2010. <>.



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