This article recounts the origins of Soviet “new thinking” as a case study of how Soviet intellectuals sought to redefine national identity in response to the West. It demonstrates that new thinking was fundamentally normative, not instrumental, insofar as it was developed in a period (1950s–1960s) when “socialism” was thought to be materially outperforming capitalism. It also demonstrates that new thinking decisively affected Soviet policy in the second half of the 1980s. Putting forth a socialization argument to show how newthinking ideas originated in the post-Stalin period within a community of intellectuals, the article charts the growing influence of these intellectuals through the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid-1980s, when Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party and empowered many of the new thinkers as advisers, their liberal, Westernizing ideas played an indispensable role in shaping his reforms. The analysis focuses on mechanisms of identity change at two levels: that of the community of reformist intellectuals, and that of the Soviet Union itself. The analysis challenges realist and rationalist views that new thinking was largely instrumental. Until the Gorbachev era, Soviet reformers advocated new-thinking ideas often at the risk of their personal, professional, and institutional interests.

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