Primary Source

The Soviet Union over the Next Four Years


In early 1989, shortly after President George H. W. Bush had taken office, the office of US ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack F. Matlock sent this message to the attention of the new National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft. The message details the strains placed on official Marxist-Leninist ideology by the the most recent economic reforms implemented by Gorbachev. Many of these had been "market" reforms in line with neoclassical economic theory, which were an awkward fit with the Marxist view of history, which viewed capitalism as something that happened before socialist state planning, not after. Thus, according to this document, Soviet leaders were mostly staying on the safer ground of attacking the excesses of Stalin, and selectively reading Lenin, and rehabilitating dissident Soviet thinkers who had been discredited in earlier periods. Market reforms in the Soviet Union, the document suggests, while breathing new life into the economy, were laying bare the intellectual failings of Soviet Marxism and thus damaging the legitimacy of the government.

The second part of this message is concerned with internal domestic reforms. The author makes it quite clear that America's main interest in Soviet domestic matters is how they are likely to constrain Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet Union, the author argues, must make "painful" reforms to its domestic economy over the next four years or face collapse. But the more ambitious these reforms, the more they will be opposed internally, either by sections of the population or of the government or military. The outcome of the reforms will ultimately be the result of these conflicts. The author's central prediction—that the process would be messy, but that the Soviet leadership would survive—was wrong.

U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, "The Soviet Union over the Next Four Years," Making the History of 1989, Item #132


Moscow Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "The Soviet Union Over the Next Four Years," 3 February 1989, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

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