Soviet Union


Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. The Soviet Union had a stagnant economy and a crumbling political system. Gorbachev introduced two policies he hoped would reform the political system and help the USSR become a more prosperous nation.

Gorbachev's glasnost plan called for political openness and eliminated remaining traces of Stalinist repression, such as the loathed 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, much like modern China. The policy-making committee of the Communist Party, the Politburo, would still control the direction of the economy. Yet the government would allow market forces to dictate some production and development decisions.


During the 1960s and 1970s, the Communist Party elite rapidly gained wealth and power while millions of average Soviet citizens faced starvation. There were frequent shortages of food and consumer goods, such as clothing or shoes.

Younger people saw the extreme wealth of the Politburo and refused to adopt Communist Party ideology.

The USSR also faced foreign attacks on the Soviet economy. In the 1980s, the United States isolated the Soviet economy from the rest of the world and helped drive down oil prices. The Soviet Union's oil and gas revenues dropped dramatically.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev's reforms actually contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. A loosening of controls over the Soviet people empowered independence movements across Eastern Europe.

Political revolution in Poland in 1989 sparked other, mostly peaceful revolutions across Eastern European and led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

An unsuccessful coup by Communist Party hard-liners in August 1991 diminished Gorbachev's power. Boris Yeltsin led democratic forces to the forefront of Russian politics.

On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as leader of the USSR. The Soviet Union ceased to exist a week later.

Source: Soviet Union
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