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The Collapse of the Soviet Union

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                In the late 1991, the world was amazed at the fall of one of the most powerful countries in the world. The Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 states which marked the ultimate end of cold war. The western countries considered the collapse of the Soviet Union as a major step towards the realization of freedom and democracy in the formerly communist country. Capitalistic countries led by the US rejoiced at the collapse of their major rival in the global supremacy since the end of the Second World War (Wilson, 2002). The collapse led to the end of over four decades of tension in the world between the two superpowers. The collapse of the Soviet Union had numerous impacts on all corners of the world. It led to the restructuring of world alliances between countries. However, the greatest question has always been what led to the collapse of one of the world superpowers. The answer to this question has puzzled scholars for almost two decades since its collapse. There is no doubt that several political, cultural and economic factor led to the historic collapse (Cold War Museum, 2010)

    This paper will discuss several factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The Collapse of the Soviet Union

                The Soviet Union was established on the foundations of the Russian empire after the revolution during the First World War. The Soviet Union therefore covered more or less the same territory that was under the Russian empire. However, the new administration was based of socialism ideologies which turned the Soviet Union into a communist country. These socialistic ideas were aimed at reducing the national differences as opposed to a form of governance based on centralized system. Within a short time, the Soviet Union had been converted into a totalitarian state with a communist government in full control over the territory (Winters, 1999).

                However, the plans of establishing an all powerful socialistic state was faced by many challenges which could not enable the nation exist for at least a century. The first mistake made by the Soviet Union administrators was them not taking into consideration the ability of the different ethnic community living in the country to live together in harmony. The creation of the Soviet Union created a Russian state which made it difficult to assimilate other ethic societies which composed over half of the state’s population. This was followed by numerous economic challenges as a result of the war culture adopted by the communist state which was opposed by the western powers. The economic decline in the second half of the 20th century and the negative effects of the cold war eventually made reforms inevitable resulting into the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Richard, 1999).

                Many scholars are for the argument that economic challenged that faced the Soviet Union in the cold war era was the immediate cause of its collapse. This was due to the direct impact of intense competition from capitalistic economies in the west. The western economies led by the United States were determined to bring down the socialistic economy through all means. They used all methods to out compete the Soviet Union in the international market including imperialism and exploitation of smaller economies. The western imperialism created the need for the people in the Soviet Union to import goods in large quantities from the western countries to meet the needs of the modern lifestyles. Consumers in the Soviet Union could not buy clothing and electronic made in the country because all the production aimed at supplying their products to the military. To make the matter worse, there were no exports to the other parts of the world to balance the trade. These economic factors resulted into massive economic problems which are believed to have had a major contribution to the collapse of the Soviet Union (Grant, 1997).

                These economic challenges become unbearable as a result of other political and cultural factors that threatened the union with collapse. The worsening economic situation in the union affected the Soviets psychologically.  The social effect becomes worse as policies implemented by the political leaders failed. The Chernobyl atomic power plant disaster as well as the war in Middle East was also a depressing to the majority of people in the Soviet Union (Gilbert, 2002).

                Since its establishment, the Soviet Union had adopted a war culture which has been considered to be one of the factors that led to its collapse. The use of secrets, dishonesty in information and propaganda was a major aspect in the Soviet Union war culture.  This created a pessimistic society due to contradictions and lack of reliable information from the government or the media which was under the control of political leaders. The people in the country had lost hope in the government and the Russian believed that they could not receive any news or truth from the government nor from the media. The problem was aggravated by the effect of the western media which spread propaganda against the communistic leadership in the Soviet Union. The government lost support from the majority which threatened it with disintegration (Strayer, 1998).

                The secret dealings of the government spread of propaganda and unreliable information had far reaching economic and political implications. There is evidence that secrecy and restriction of access to information and movement by the public is a characteristic of a militaristic and bad government that ruled the Soviet Union. This culture resulted into a breakdown of the social and economic structure in the country since different institutes and government agencies could not communicate effectively. Rule by command adopted by the communistic government and the culture of war limited economic development in the country (Smith, 1994).

                By the time the last leader of the soviet union Gorbachev came to power in the mid 1980’s, the country was already in a big mess with the economy of the country having stagnated. The economic and political challenges that faced the country needed to be addressed immediately if the Soviet Union had to survive. This led to the two tiered policies which were introduced by the new administration to avert the situation and bring about reforms. These reforms aimed at ensuring the freedom of speech was guaranteed and rebuilding of the economy. However, these interventions came far too late. The new administration did not read the moods of the public and the possibility of unleashing the bad moods in the public as a result of the freedom of speech being guaranteed. The political emotions and feelings in the public had been accumulating for almost half a century. The economic reforms proposed by Gorbachev’s administration did not give the expected results. The freedom of speech given to the public and the failure of the new administration to deliver in the promise of improving the economy resulted into intense criticism of the administration by the public (Fazackerley, 2010).

                The changes in the policies in the new administration led to the reluctance of the Soviet Union government to use its military force to stop the revolutions that took place in Europe in the late 1980’s. This further weakened the powers of the country in the region. This included the collapse of communist government in Eastern and Central Europe which were considered satellite states and the unification of Germany. These revolutions result into demands from within and without for government structures reforms in the Soviet Union. The non Russian communities all over the country started craving for independence from the Russianized Soviet Union. The future of the country was uncertain after the attempted military coup in august 1991. Although the coup was not successful due to lack of support from the public as well as the entire military, the communist party was unable to restore their control in the country after the coup. In December 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed peacefully after all the non Russian societies declared independence (Langley, 1997).


                In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet Union was considered to be the most stable communist country in the world. However, the Soviet Union adopted a communist war culture which eventually led to its collapse. The economic, political and social challenges that faced the Soviet Union as a direct consequence of the cold war between the communist powers and the capitalistic powers led to the collapse of one of the world superpowers.


    Cold War Museum, (2010). Fall of the Soviet Union, retrieved on 12th May 2010 from:

    Fazackerley, C. (2010). The Collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 3639230167 VDM Verlag

    Gilbert, M. (2002). The Routledge Atlas of Russian History. London: Routledge.

    Grant, T. (1997). Russia, from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, London: Well Red Publications,

    Langley, A. (2007). The Collapse of the Soviet Union: The End of an Empire, ISBN 0756520096, Compass Point Books

    Richard, S. (1999). The Rise and fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991. ISBN 0-415-12290-2, Routledge,

    Smith, B. (1994). The collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 1560061421, Greenhaven Pr.

    Strayer, R.W. (1998). Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Understanding historical change, ISBN 076560003X, M.E. Sharpe,

    Wilson, S. (2002). Fall of the Soviet Union, retrieved on 12th May 2010 from:

    Winters, P. A. (1999). The collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 156510997X, Greenhaven Press,


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