Have to say I'm grappling with this one. Why? There's a saying, and if the saying doesn't already exist I'll be the first to say it, that Communism looked better the further you got from Moscow. Soviet Communism was, from all indications, the most fucked up, the worst police state, the worst censorship, the worst restrictions of liberties, barring states like Romania and Albania, the worst run economically, the worst bureaucracy, corrupt Party apparatus, on down the line. The satellite states of Eastern Europe were much better. The Communist states of the Third World, North Korea excluded, had the potential to be much better than Eastern Europe. The movements which people in Western Europe were pursuing, the Eurocommunists, were probably the best, although people in Italy are surely critical of the former PCI for good reason.
Which is not to endorse these tendencies but just to point it out.
So.....the Soviet Union itself. I think I'll have to go with what Agursky, my frequent reference because of his excellant book "The Third Rome", implied when he connected nationalistic-bolshevik trends which were present before the revolution, present in the early years after the revolution, and which were pretty much explicitly endorsed during the Stalin period, down to the present (1986 for him), which is to say that at some point, the Soviet Union became just plain old Russia and ceased to be socialist in reality.
One could say that this happened after Khruschev was ousted.
Following this line of thinking, which is conjecture, one could say that the reason Gorbachev was resigned to see the Soviet Union end, was that the damage of the Brezhnev years was so great that real hope for socialist reform declined to non-existence. Perestroika and Glasnost were tried, and were great things, but I think the assesment of them which said that they opened the door to the dissolution of the Soviet state were correct. It probably would have taken much more serious reform to make the Soviet Union function in any sort of honest way. Which wouldn't have happened without some sort of strong hand.
Going with this line of thinking one could say that, yes, Glasnost was something which the party elite believed in because, as the party, the system actually worked in some logical way for them. Of course they'd see it as something which could be reformed.
But if what Agursky says, which is basically that at some point the non-socialist trends in Russia pretty much overwhelmed whatever else was going on, is correct then that was just a pipe dream.
The rest of society may have experienced the Soviet Union as Russian autocracy with a new face and a new ideology but not quite that better than what it experienced before.
I mean, to read the official stuff the Soviet Union was putting out in the seventies is to get the persistant question in one's mind of "And these are lefties? These are the people who are advocating for radical social change? They appear more like teachers' pets who got along to get along"