The Collapse Of The Soviet Union
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The end of the Cold War and Collapse of Soviet Union are probably the most serious changes happened in the World political stage after the two World Wars. Some authors like Fukuyama called the end of the Cold War-"The end of History". Even this assumption of Fukuyama was too naive, we can admit that the Collapse of Soviet Union was the "end" of the battle between two ideologies. Or with other wards, Communist eastern ideology lost the battle against the Western capitalist World. As a result, there were many economic and political changes happened in the World, after 1990. And probably most of the people would not agree with the assumption that Mikhail Gorbachev was not only the person, who introduced to the World the "New World Order", but with his actions he was the "Trojan Horse" for his own country.
However, Gorbachev was only one part of the game. His just had to bring the Soviet Union to his end. Nevertheless, I believe that the main reasons for this collapse have formed decades before Gorbachev, probably with the beginning of existence of the Soviet Union. In this essay are argue that is more simple, but not exactly accurately to believe that the failure of the Soviet Union was coasted mainly because economic or social changes. I rather think that although economic and social changes reflected the Soviet Union, especially the last 10 years, there were two more circles or moments, that effected negatively, and later crushed the Soviet system. For me these circles are: Economical and Political International Situation from the early 1980s; Problems from inside the Soviet Union, and lost of power over the masses; long term ideological and institutional changes: The Russian Elite and their propaganda.
But before I start my analysis for each circle, I would like to quote Jeremi Suri, who says:
"Some observers underestimated the magnitude and implications of Soviet internal decline during the 1980s. In retrospect, however, many agree that domestic weaknesses destabilized Moscow's empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War were not inevitable, but a conjunction of internal dificulties and external pressures"(Suri, J., 2002).
2. Economical and Political International Situation from the early 1980s
Probably in this stage I should start with one of the most important reason for the beginning of new economical era for the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. In my opinion that was the oil crashed in the market, causal mainly from well played American game over Kuwait, which was at that time one of the biggest exporter of oil. Many historians claimed that USA pushed Kuwait to drop suddenly the price of oil, in order to affect one of the main resources of many for the Soviet Union. Certainly, this move from USA plunged into despair one economic, which was already suffering from many other economic problems. It is obvious that this situation cost the Soviet Union independency from the West. Some statistics says that after the collapse of the oil market, the Soviet Union took billions from Western Banks(including USA), in order to keep the economic stable. So, from that moment the Soviet Union was never again economically in depended from the Capitalist country.
Despite the economic problems from the early 80s of the 20th century, I argue that the Soviet Union already lost his battle with the West, even before that. The first indication for problems inside was the conflict in Czechoslovakia during the so-called period "the tumultuous Prague Spring of 1968". Many historians indicated that, that was the first critical moment between SU and USA. Therefore some argued that the USA policy before and after the conflict was aggressive and suspicious. In his book Kenneth Skoug(Former Foreign Service Officer in Prague at that period) explains that In May 1968 National Security Adviser Walt Rostow proposed giving Moscow a "private signal of concern about troop movements near Czechoslovakia"(Skoug 1999). In this case we can suggest that the SU was acting in order to prevent his territory from American intervention. But even if this is the case, still this conflict was one of the first indications for problems inside and outside.
"SOVIET INVASION OF Afghanistan, 1979, BECOMES RUSSIA'S VIETNAM". Many historians use this assumption to clarify the war in Afghanistan (1979). In that year the SU invasion in Afghanistan fizzled out, the way the War in Vietnam did. Again we can argue that USA used his influence over Pakistan, and helped Muslim Afghan resistance. However, the Russians last the war, because they could not predict the consequences of starting this invasion. Also, they overestimated their potential as a World leader, and underestimated their opponents, nevertheless the fact that USA will try to get involved in this war. The war in Afghanistan proved highly costly and unpopular in the Soviet Union itself and eventually the Soviets withdrew, leaving the country embroiled in its own civil war. It was this invasion which would precipitate the fall of the Soviet Union: the inability of the Soviet Army to rely on any but its White Russian troops in the conflict exposed the searing racial and ethnic divisions which would later give rise to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Of the many factors which forced events in the 1980s, which I already described, particular important is also the "Helsinki Final act, happened in August 1975. Many historians do not even play attention to this act, but in my opinion this act was one of the most notable achievements of "détente". In 1970 SU was still strong economical and political, and this act truly represent the most material political agreement between East and West. In his book- "The end of the Cold War and the Cause of Soviet Collapse", Nick Bisley explained that "the significance of the Helsinki was in fact twofold. First, it provided a means with which people could measure Soviet action and find it wanting. Second, and less obvious, was that it represented an acceptance, however shallow in the first instance, of key liberal principles of international relations, principles which had hitherto been anathema to Soviet concepts of World politics"(Bisley 2004). According to Bisley's opinion, SU showed indications for liberalization on his policy, and even some historians believed that the Helsinki act was victorious for the East. I believe that this agreement was the first serious indication for weaknesses inside SU.
3. Problems from inside the Soviet Union, and lost of power over the masses
One of the famous Soviet economist Latsis said about the Soviet economy: "the gloomy background of the worsening market situation ... has a depressing effect on people." It is true that the last 20 years from his existence, the SU was isolated from the West(especially after the conflict in Czechoslovakia), and as I explained this was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the system. However, the historians, such as Latsis, claimed that the Soviet Union lost his power over the masses in the late 70s and especially 80s, with unpopular acts, like the War in Afghanistan and the undeveloped economic. In fact, during the Stalin's period most of the people in Russia still believed that they have everything that they needed at that time. Therefore, the Soviet Government kept their power over the masses mainly with repressions and public propaganda. However, the last 15 years of the SU new elite appeared and that were people, which wanted to bring the Western liberal system over the Eastern communist ideas. Because of these elite, the people in the Union started to have new expectations in connection with the West. The people living in the Soviet Union nonetheless had highest expectations about their "Empire". The Chernobyl atomic power plant and the war in Afghanistan only put more pressure over the government in USSR.
Another factor was the lack of honest information, the secrecy and propaganda that is central to the culture of war. As contradictions mounted the Soviet people became more and more cynical about the propaganda of government-controlled media. It was common to hear the Russian people say that you could find truth anywhere except in Pravda and the news anywhere except in Izvestia.
We should mention also the fact that the SU developed its own military industrial complex. Many years the ordinary people suffered from the idea, that the SU must be equal to the USA military power, and probably if we have to be honest, in some periods they succeed with this(especially between 1960-1970). However, the price for this game was too costly for the people inside the "Russian Empire". Some economist says that over 70% of the budget was spent for military purpose. That was affordable for capitalist economy like USA, but for non open market like SU, that was one catastrophe, which provoked people even more.
4. Long term ideological and institutional changes. The Russian elite and their propaganda.
After the era of Brezhnev and the death of two Soviet leaders just in three years, in 1985 the "politburo" appointed the 56 years old Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary. Many western historians called Gorbachev "hero", in some eastern countries his actions are still unpopular. I personally argue that Gorbachev was pushing to the edge the Soviet Union, and he was chosen very carefully to do that. In fact, the way that SU collapsed, and the way that the West coutries accepted this, for me is one proves that they knew what will happened in 1990. I think that in 1989, when some of the countries from the Soviet block started their protests, one country that invest more than 70% in military forces and weapons, could deal with some of these conflicts. Or unless they could try? In his book Haynes described and argued that the Gorbachev was responsible for the collapse of the SU with his "perestroika" and "glasnost":
"Gorbachev's reforms themselves undermined some of the principle features of socialist rule in the USSR, e.g. atheism, mono-ideological control, one-party state, economic monopoly and the suspendability of law. Gorbachev's ideology itself - his focus on 'all-human values' instead of the class struggle, the rule of law, international peace and proper parliamentary representation have more resonance with John Stuart Mill than Karl Marx 4 - Gorbachev was subconsciously moving the USSR in this ideological direction(Haynes 2002)".
Probably, if these reforms had started in the early 70s, than the people, the system and the different ethnic groups could accept it. However, for Gorbachev it was too late, and he knew it. These reforms allowed the problems of the USSR to be uncovered and become public knowledge. "Glasnost" was part of the so-called "democratization" and Gorbachev believed that giving legitimately to the media in Russia will make people feeling freer. It is true that in the Soviet Union previously during the Stalin and Brezhnev periods, the history, radio and newspapers were controlled from the Government. However, it was foolish for Gorbachev to believe that if he expose the "ugly" truth from the past, people will suddenly became happy and free. As history showed what happened was the failure of the Soviet Union, and the new World order appeared.
I should also explain how the second part of the so-called "democratization"- 'Perestroika" failed so miserably. First of all Gorbachev never planned to remake the Soviet system he merely wanted to modernise it. I must admit that one good thing that he tried to do was to curb the production and sale of alcohol, problem that fundamentally affected Soviet people during the past few decades. However, the result was different from the expectations. Whit this act of "perestroika" Gorbachev inadvertently forced production of alcohol underground. Like America during prohibition the Mafia took control and has plagued Russia ever since. Other measures introduced under perestroika were leasing land to farmers (all land was owned by the state), allowing loss making factories to go bankrupt and limited numbers of private enterprises to open. McDonalds even opened a branch in Moscow although its prices were out of reach for the average person.
Nevertheless, the Soviet Union collapse and as I mentioned, Gorbachev was the main reason for that. The failure of "Perestroika" was, because he overestimated the ability of the Soviet people to adopt the Western capitalist system. Gorbachev shows himself as an inept planner and of being incapable of making much needed decisions.
One of the biggest mistakes of Gorbachev was due to announce a new union treaty giving the Russian elites opportunities to forced revolution. Some historians argue that the so-called Russian elite formed during the 60s, when Stalin was no longer able to prevent the formation of people, with Western ideas and plans for revolution. During the Stalin and Brezhnev period, the existence of people with different ideas and different attitude was almost impossible, because the formation of elites was perceived as a huge treat for the wholeness of the Union. However, such elite was formed and sent in Western Europe and USA in order to adopt the ideas of Capitalism and than bring this ideas back to the Union. Gorbachev completely underestimated this people and their ideas for revolution, and on the end that was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. With "Perestroika" and "Glasnost" Gorbachev actually gave more civil right to the Elites and the best example for that is Boris Yeltsin, who was the leader of the revolution. The role of Yeltsin is best described by James Graham in his book "The Collapse of the Soviet Union":
"The biggest mistake the coup instigators made was failing to arrest Boris Yeltsin. Free he was able to lead resistance against the State Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR, the name the hardliners gave themselves"(Graham 1999).
Certainly, if Yeltsin was arrested before he had the chance to push on the Russian people to revolution, and if Gorbachev was more radical in his actions giants the Elites, probably the Soviet Union would not collapse on that year. However, I am far from the assumption that, if this had happened, the Soviet Union would survive. Probably, if it was not Yeltsin some one else could be on charge, because Yeltsin was only one person from many others from the Russian elite.
For some scholars the collapse of the Soviet Union was result from the failure of the Union to reform his economic and social systems. In my essay I argued that the End of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union were well planed from USA and the western Capitalist countries, which used their economical, social and political propaganda to effect over some of the countries inside the Union. The capitalist realized that the communist system had many disadvantages, especially from economic and social prospect, and their purpose was to show these people, that in the World there was not only communist systems, but also systems that provides people with more economic and social right. Indeed I believe that the Soviet Union collapse not only because it was pushed from outside factors, but mainly because the reforms in the social and economic systems, started from Gorbachev, came too late, when the people did not want any more change, but revolution. For me Gorbachev was the main key for the collapse of the Union. Even, if we assume that hi had good ideas, ideas which could transformed the Soviet Union from isolated "Empire" to something more, for me hi did non have political will and support from his own people, to save and avoid the failure of the system. In his book "Why did the Soviet Union collapse" Robert Strayer describes the role of Gorbachev:
"For some scholars Gorbachev was an instrument rather than the source of change. Other argues that Gorbachev was the more or less inevitable product of social changes-urbanization, education, that created irresistible pressures for democratization"(Strayer 1998).
Even if we disagree with Fukuyama, who says that "the end of the Cold War is the end of History", we should admit that the existence of the Soviet Union was one unique part of our modern history, and even with his disadvantages, this "Empire" changed forever the International history. For good or bad, only the time will show.
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