Throughout history, the Soviet Union was the European country, in which occurred the most political, social and economical changes, that forever shaped the face of Russian society. The most evident and important change occurred in 1917, when Russia underwent one of the most important revolution in our times that resulted in a whole new ideology which was Communism. This new regime quickly spread to other countries like Poland, Checkoslovaquia and China.
But it wasn’t as strong and as popular as it seemed because in less that a century this new political system, which underwent numerous changes with new concepts as Perestroika and Glasnost, quickly developed problems, which eventually led to its fall. To fully understand the fall of Communism, one must understand its roots and the circumstances under which it fell.In the beginning, Communism seemed for the people of Russia as a “utopian ideal” political system, with numerous benefits as the elimination of classes, of guaranteed employment and “the creation of a comprehensive social security and welfare system for all citizens that would end the misery of workers once and for all”. Lenin, the leader of the Communism movement, thought, that to create the ideal Communism regime, one must suppress all protest, and govern in a certain dictatorship.
“Through coercive tactics”, this new government seized power and in 1917, Lenin came to power.Under his rule, the Soviet Union underwent radical changes in it’s economic policies, adopting a mixed economy, which meant that most of the means of production was controlled and seized by the government. After Lenin death, in 1924, a new leader came to power of the Communist Party, this time much more “strict” and cruel, and soon became the most powerful man in the Soviet Union. This man was named Joseph Stalin that soon started a campaign to eliminate all opponents, called “the Great Purges”, that systematically executed anyone who was opposed to his ideology.
During this period, millions of Russians were arrested or executed. Also Stalin, changed once again the economic policies by this time taking control over everything, which became the government’s property. Its during this period that Wold War II broke out, and soon drained the Soviet Union of its already weak state. But after the War, “national unity was strengthened as well as the Soviet Military machine”, and it soon became a super power, with only the U.
S as more powerful than it.After World War II, the Soviet Union was in serious difficulties, with, first of all, the huge number of deaths (17 million) and the huge amount of homeless (20million), but also with the very serious economic consequences, with huge amounts of assets spent on the war, and the huge amount of destruction. All this meant that the Soviet Union had to organize a program of reconstruction that would require great effort of the population, that were increasingly frustrated about their current way of life.As a result the Soviet leaders were faced with a difficult situation, on one hand, if they returned to their “prewar methods”, they would aggravate the already severe strain on the Russian people and would again be in a conflict with the rest of the World, while on the other hand, if they would change their strict policies, they would contradict the principles of “Marxism-Leninism” that might weaken the Communism regime.
So Stalin’s single minded character decided to stick to the old ways, and to give himself total control of the USSR and to all the countries that “had fallen under his domination at war’s end”.As a result, the population of the Soviet Union, became more and more frustrated about the way they were treated and became more and more suspicious about Stalin’s role in the “Great Purges” of the 1930’s. After the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Krushchev became first Secretary of the Communist Party. Stalin’s death marked the end of a supreme power for the head of the party, and Krushchev condemned Stalin with his goal of attaining Pure Communism.
Krushchev, unlike his predecessor, give the people of Russia a bigger freedom of speech and eased the judiciary system to permit the people to defend themselves better. He also concerned himself, with attempting to increase the supply of food, making goods such as home appliances, making automobiles somewhat available, and providing more housing. Although Krushchev started a process of slight reforms, he was dismissed due in part because of a massive shortage of grain and dairy products, and the fact that he had started to seize more power and “his efforts to become administrators.He was also blamed for the Russian “defeat” during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not accomplishing anything toward the reunification of Germany under East German Rule.
After the “ousting” of Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev became the Soviet Communist Party Secretary General in October 1964. Under his administration, the majority of the decentralization of power was destroyed bringing a “centralized form of control back into effect”. Also Brezhnev restored some of Stalin’s disciplinary policies, and named him a war hero.During his leadership, Brezhnev ” led the Soviet Union toward a form of socialism that stressed stability and relative egalitarianism.
” He began to do some economic reforms, and worked to increase the supply of food and increase productivity in industries. During his leadership, the standards of living increased during the first years, but soon declined in the 1970’s, and “consumer goods and agricultural products became scarce. ” He also aggravated the economic difficulties by increasing the spending on military and space programs.The 1980’s saw a dramatic drop in standards of living of Soviet people.
This caused strikes and public “outcry” against the administration which threatened the stability of the Soviet regime. The people were angry at the way the Communist Party had governed their country and were disappointed that the Party had “not lived up to what it had promised”, who promised to create a better way of living. March 1985 marked a turning point in Russian history, with the nomination of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party.Aware of the Soviet Unions social and economical problems, Mikhail Gorbachev decided that a change must occur to restore order.
During his speech in February 1986, he introduced the notion of two new terms that would forever change the face of the Soviet Union, these two terms were known as: Perestroika and Glasnost. These two terms, where introduced to try to save the Soviet Union, which was in a rapid downfall mainly because of two reasons, which were first of all an economic disaster and second a political one.Gorbachev stated that “the past reforms hadn’t worked because they didn’t stress the involvement of the people in modernizing and restructuring the country. ” The Soviet Union economy was extremely weak because of massive investments that the Soviets put into the development of their military to try to equalize the one of the Americans.
Almost two thirds off all the Soviet revenues where put into the military which completely drained the Soviets of their wealth and halted their economical progression.Also, on the political side, ever since the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union has known very old and incompetent leaders like Andropov or Chernenko, who only deepened the Soviet Union crisis by badly governing their country and my making numerous wrongful decisions. Glasnost which meant “openness”, was a radical change, in the previously Communist policies, which were very strict and cruel over any opposition. This new reform had for objective, to discuss the past errors and the current problems, and to “open contemporary problems to public criticism”.
There were little limits to this permission, but “a whole range of views were discussed”, in the press, literature, the theaters and in numerous films. All along, the purpose of glasnost was simple and straight: to expose the social problems, and to try to solve them, and to give the public a chance to express their feelings so that there could be necessary changes made. The real test for Glasnost was made when a nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl in 1986, which created a huge mediatisation of the disaster by the Soviet press, which after this disaster ” became increasingly bold in reporting such phenomena”.Accidents, demonstration and critical opinions were all mediatised, in less than 2 years the Soviet media was open as its Western neighbors.
The second of Gorbachev’s reforms was called “Perestroika” which meant “restructuring” and “reformation”. This reform had for goal to improve and restructure the Soviet economy which was very weak. Its main ideas were stricter labor discipline, suppression of corruption, allowance of private businesses and cooperatives, and farmers and individuals could now lease land and housing from the government. It also created a multicandidate elections.
Gorbachev stated in his book: “New thinking of Our Country and the World” that “Perestroika is an urgent necessity arising from the profound processes of development of our socialist society. Thus society is ripe for change. It has long been yearning for it. Any delay in beginning Perestroika could have led to an exacerbated situation in the near future, which, to put it bluntly, would have been fraught with serious, economical, and political crises.
” By stating this Gorbachev wanted to tell the people how serious the social and economical problems were and unless a change was made, their would have been severe consequences.In this reform, Gorbachev also wanted for the first time in the Soviet Union history to seek help from the international front: “We say with full responsibility, casting away false considerations of prestige that all of us in the present-day world are coming to depend more and more on one another and are becoming increasingly necessary to one another”. Basically Perestroika for him was a reform that focused mainly on two aspects: economical, where he introduced the free enterprise, (which was controlled earlier by the state), he reintroduced private ownership and he decentralized the system’s action.While on the political side, he declared free election and created a representative parliament that better represented the countries needs and demands.
Gorbachev’s reforms, who at first seemed very logical to the Soviet Union restructuring, soon faced some serious difficulties. On one hand, Glasnost which allowed the freedom of speech meant opening to the public the Soviet Union’s past and present history, which exposed the whole extent of failures in economic performance. This meant telling the truth about crime, of poverty, of the failure of the health system, of alcoholism and the Soviet defeat during the Afghan war.All of this took the people of the Soviet Union by surprise, which created mounting tension and frustration.
Consequently, their was the creation of radical reforms leaders including Moscow Party chief Boris Yelsin, who criticized extensively Gorbachev and his reforms. Also, the government of the “Soviet satellite states” in Eastern Europe who were equally criticized and subjected to the same rising public tension, collapsed one after the other in a “rapid series of revolutions culminating in the fall of the Berlin wall. Perestroika also faced serious consequences. The main problem with this reform was that it was almost impossible to change radically the Soviet Union’s previous economy, and that the “transition to a market economy was just too complex for a easy solution”.
The production and distribution of consumer goods collapsed. This reform who destroyed the old centralized economy, created a new free market economy, which created important problems like the worsening of food shortage and the huge inflation of the price of free market products.This created a panic of the consumers who drained the stores of their products, “leading to ever increasing hoarding and shortages”. To become more efficient, factories fired employees which created the first unemployment since the 1920’s and which created numerous strikes that criticized Gorbachev’s reforms.
It got so severe that by autumn 1990, the USSR suffered from a food shortage crisis due to problems in transportation, and in dealing with a rising black market. All of these problems finished by a rapid response in the Liberals of Moscow who made pressure on Yelsin “for even quicker modernization”.This included a multi-party system, a market economy and the increase of civil liberties for all Soviet citizens, who where more and more aware of the terrible crisis their country was facing. But on the other side, were the Communist who were preparing themselves to revive the “old order”, “the Stalinist order”.
On August of 1991, “hard liners”, who included many top government officials finally acted, staging a coup and by imprisoning Gorbachev. They right away declared a state of emergency and began the preparation for a new communist dictatorship.But it wasn’t as easy as they thought, because they were stopped by the public opinion, who had enough of their old regime and, thanks to Glasnost and Perestroika, had absolutely no desire to revive Communism. In three days the reformers had restored Gorbachev to power, but he immediately resigned as Communist Secretary, suspended party activities and placed reformers in charge of the military and KGB.
After allowing Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become independent republics, nationalist forces became stronger in the republics as the year went on.The USSR voted itself out of existence in December 1991, and Gorbachev resigned his position as president of the USSR. Gorbachev “had fallen victim to those forces which he had helped to release through Glasnost and Perestroika”. The problem was that these two reforms were like bombs, they provoked at the same time approval, but also and mainly created reaction.
Boris Yelsin was named President of Russia by the Russian Republic’s Supreme Soviet in 1990. He immediately resigned from the Communist party and declared Russia’s independence.In 1991 he became the first Russian President by popular vote. He helped found the Commonwealth of Independent States, which ended any attempt to revive the USSR and he moved to end state control of the economy.
He also privatized industries and among things banned the Communist Party. Russia has tried to restructure its economy a multitude of times, but, because of its lack of experience in Capitalist styles of governing, and the 70 years and more of Communism rule, it has left behind a legacy of corruption, “price distortions”, and unstable finances.The Capitalization of Russia occurred to quickly, and with not enough planing. The Russian economy is in great difficulty today, and the standard of living for the average citizen is as low if not lower than during the Communist period.
This has created many social problems, which threaten today Yelsin’s whole cabinet. Religious and ethnic “animosity” and the lack of proper education in this new political and economic system has lead to public frustration and discontent and a rise in alcoholism problems.But there have been improvements in the distribution of wealth and in the privatization process, especially in the building sector. There is also a stronger entrepreneurial spirit among lower class society, but there is still not enough experience in private ownership and business to shake Russia out of its present crisis.
We saw that the reason of the fall of Communism was the “dissension of the citizens due to the fact that the government did not live up to it’s promise of a better life”, and the economic problems than we can see are apparent in the new system.In it’s current situation we are seeing the same factors, and unless these problems are not resolved quickly and effectively we might see the decline of another Russian political system. Russia is too much corrupt and too much attached to its old ways, it must learn to educate and restore in a society so that it learns the ways of capitalism. There is a long road ahead for the Russian people and at this time it almost seems impossible.