The Power of Ideas and the Power of Appointment

Archie Brown

in The Gorbachev Factor

Published in print August 1997 | ISBN: 9780192880529
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598876 | DOI:
The Power of Ideas and the Power of Appointment

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A back‐handed tribute to the power of ideas had been paid by the Soviet leadership prior to Gorbachev's coming to power through the lengths to which they went not only to promote official Marxism‐Leninism but also to keep out of circulation any heterodox political ideas. Gorbachev embraced new concepts more boldly than any previous General Secretary and engaged in a sharp struggle with conservative opponents of change within the Soviet establishment to have thinking that was radically new in the Soviet context accepted and acted upon. To some extent, the fresh ideas were codified into another orthodoxy known as ‘New Thinking’ or ‘New Political Thinking’, but the new openness meant that this was a fast‐changing body of doctrine, in which, for example, an endorsement by Gorbachev of ‘socialist pluralism’ quite rapidly was broadened into advocacy of ‘political pluralism’. Gorbachev's power of appointment went hand in hand with his support of new ideas. He was able to change the balance of influence before he could alter the balance of power, for he had a much freer hand in choosing aides and advisers than he had in elevating an ally to the Politburo. His changes to that body were also important, however, especially his rapid promotion of Alexander Yakovlev. Gorbachev's own ideas evolved in his discussions both with domestic advisers and with foreign politicians, especially such West European social democrats as Felipe Gonzalez. Conceptual change is an important species of political innovation in any society, especially in a system, such as the Soviet one, in which all political actions were required to adhere to an officially sanctioned ideology. Support for perestroika (reconstruction), democratization, pluralism, and glasnost (openness, transparency) and other heterodox ideas amounted to a conceptual revolution that had profound implications for Soviet politics and society.

Keywords: advisers; conceptual revolution; democratization; glasnost; Felipe Gonzalez; Mikhail Gorbachev; New Thinking; perestroika; pluralism; Alexander Yakovlev

Chapter.  22946 words. 

Subjects: Politics

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