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The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy

Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

By Chris Miller

264 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 graphs, 1 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3017-5
    Published: December 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3018-2
    Published: October 2016

New Cold War History

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Awards & distinctions

One of the Top 20 Books for Understanding China, China Economic Quarterly

For half a century the Soviet economy was inefficient but stable. In the late 1980s, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it suddenly collapsed. Why did this happen? And what role did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms play in the country's dissolution? In this groundbreaking study, Chris Miller shows that Gorbachev and his allies tried to learn from the great success story of transitions from socialism to capitalism, Deng Xiaoping's China. Why, then, were efforts to revitalize Soviet socialism so much less successful than in China?

Making use of never-before-studied documents from the Soviet politburo and other archives, Miller argues that the difference between the Soviet Union and China--and the ultimate cause of the Soviet collapse--was not economics but politics. The Soviet government was divided by bitter conflict, and Gorbachev, the ostensible Soviet autocrat, was unable to outmaneuver the interest groups that were threatened by his economic reforms. Miller's analysis settles long-standing debates about the politics and economics of perestroika, transforming our understanding of the causes of the Soviet Union's rapid demise.

About the Author

Chris Miller is assistant professor of international history in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
For more information about Chris Miller, visit the Author Page.


“Miller helps readers understand why communism survived in China but encountered an abrupt and amazing collapse in the former Soviet Union. Highly recommended.”--Choice

“Miller’s work goes a great distance in bettering our knowledge and understanding of the politics behind the Soviet economic collapse.”--Reviews in History

“Using new archival material, Miller demonstrates that Gorbachev was always much weaker than many realized.”--Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

“An important contribution to our understanding of the Sino-Soviet interaction and the forces that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.”--The Russian Review

“Miller brings together politics, ideology, and, most importantly, economics to explain one of the most dramatic and consequential developments in recent history--the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of China. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in not only the history of the Cold War, but also the future of the world that awaits us.”--Serhii Plokhii, author of The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

"The Soviet collapse was the unexpected denouement of the ‘short 20th century,’ but Miller shows that it was not something willed by Mikhail Gorbachev alone. Rather, the powerful vested interests that resisted fiscal reform--the military and the KGB, the collective farm lobby, and the energy industry--were the real causes of the Russian Katastrophe. This is a meticulous autopsy on homo sovieticus.”--Niall Ferguson, author of The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West