Exploring 5 Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union

1. Perestroika and Glasnost

Gorbachev’s glasnost plan called for political openness and eliminated remaining traces of Stalinist repression, such as the secret police. Newspapers could criticize the government, and parties other than the Communist Party could participate in elections.

Perestroika was Gorbachev’s plan for economic restructuring toward a hybrid communist-capitalist system. The Politburo, would still control the direction of the economy. Yet the government would allow market forces to dictate some production and development decisions.

By loosening controls over the people and making reforms to the political and economic elites, the Soviet government appeared weak and vulnerable to the Soviet people. They used their newfound freedom to protest the government, and in 1991, they successfully ended Soviet rule.

2. Aging Politburo Was Less Ideologically Pure

The Soviet Union founders were driven by an ideological purity tied to Marxism that could never be replicated by future generations.

The removal of Nikita Khrushchev in 1963 signaled a fundamental change in Soviet politics. The Politburo began to move away from Lenin’s vision.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a rapid increase in the wealth and power of the Party elite. While average citizens died from starvation, the Politburo enjoyed luxuries. The younger generation saw this and refused to adopt the Party ideology.

3. Western Aggression

Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981 making his intentions towards the Soviet Union’s “evil empire” clear.

Reagan’s leadership led to a massive increase in American military spending, as well as research into new and better weapons. The United States isolated the Soviets from the rest of the world economy, and helped drive down oil prices. Without oil revenue to support the economy, the Soviet Union began to crumble.

4. Guns and Butter

Every economy has a limited number of resources with which to make capital/strategic goods (“guns”) or consumer goods (“butter”) for the nation. If a nation focuses too heavily on guns, the people are left without the consumable goods they need. On the other hand, if the country produces too much butter, there are not enough resources to grow the economic capacity of the nation or protect it.

Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” were almost entirely driven by a need to increase the production of capital goods for the nation. The Soviet Union needed to industrialize to compete with the rest of the world, and they funneled all available resources into this goal. The Politburo never changed direction to increase the availability of consumer goods. Economic shortages undermined the argument for the superiority of the Soviet system, and the people cried out for a revolution.

5. Nationalist Movements

The fall of the Soviet Union can also be linked to the structure of the nation itself. The Soviet Union was a nation composed of 15 radically different republics. Across the nation there were dozens of ethnicities, languages, and cultures, many of which were incompatible with each other. Bullying of ethnic minorities by the Russian majority created tensions along the outlying provinces.

In 1989, nationalist movements in Eastern Europe brought regime change in Poland, and the movement soon spread to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. As these Soviet republics pulled away from the Soviet Union, the power of the central state weakened.

Historians continue to analyze the internal and external factors at play during this rich portion of world history and use this knowledge for economic and political decisions in nations around the world.

Source: Exploring 5 Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union
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