Obstacles to democratization and pre‐conditions for transformative change are examined, as are changing evaluations of Mikhail Gorbachev. The weakness of the dissident movement in the first half of the 1980s and the modesty of expectations of change when Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as Soviet leader are noted. The radicalization of Gorbachev's policies is related to his learning process, to the strengthening of his political power between 1985 and 1988, and to societal pressures. Gorbachev outwitted the traditional holders of institutional power who imposed constraints upon the General Secretary's freedom of action but he was also responsible for the creation of new countervailing powers, more broadly based than the old ones, which ultimately undermined his institutional authority. The diversity of view within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became increasingly apparent as the novel phenomenon of a serious reformer in the Kremlin allowed these divergent opinions to come out into the open.
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