“We learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.”
History has proved at times that numerous empires and civilizations have been eradicated from the world map and today there remains can only be found in the texts and sculptures which are being discovered in the excavations at various sites throughout the world. The present day Russia too, has evolved after the fall of many such kingdoms and races which existed there in their respective periods. It is the successor to the former Soviet Union, which in turn came to existence after the fall of Russian Empire after the glorious “Revolution of1917”, which lasted for 5 years giving rise to a politically reorganized Soviet Union. The Russian Empire too, was one of largest empires that ever existed in the human history, surpassed in landmass only by British Empire and Mongolian Empire.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in short known as the Soviet Union or Soviet Russia, was a constitutionally socialist state that existed between 1922 and 1991. Since from its inception, the Soviet Union had a single party system which was dominated by the Communist Party of Soviet Union till its end, when the economy finally collapsed leading to the evolution of a further new politically and economically oriented Russian Federation. The motto of Soviet Union was “Workersoftheworld, Unite!”. This popular slogan of the time adapted from TheCommunistManifesto (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The state ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxist-Leninist ideology of Socialism. But since the theory of Communism and Socialism failed throughout the world, the Soviet Union too was not an exception. This article deals with those policies and circumstances which led to the fall of once acclaimed as a superpower of the world, USSR, which along with its Eastern Bloc was one of the two factions in the Cold War, but ultimately lost in the end, having been hit by economic stand still and both domestic and foreign political unrest.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its collapse in 1991, is credited by many as one of the most significant reason for the collapse of USSR. By the time of the 1985, when he rose to power, the country was in a situation of severe stagnation, with deep economic and political problems which sorely needed to be addressed and overcome. Recognizing this, Gorbachev introduced a two-tiered policy of reform-
- On one level, he initiated a policy of ‘glasnost’, or freedom of speech. This policy was in the sharp contrast of the Laws of Socialism.
- On the other level, he began a program of economic reform known as ‘perestroika’, or rebuilding, without structuring a concrete plan to overcome the economy from political and economic stagnation.
What Gorbachev did not realize was that by giving people complete freedom of expression, he was unwittingly unleashing emotions and political feelings that had been pent up for decades, and which proved to be extremely powerful when brought out into the open. Moreover, his policy of economic reform did not have the immediate results he had hoped for
and had publicly predicted.
The Soviet people consequently used their newly allotted freedom of speech to criticize Gorbachev for his failure to improve the economy. The political reforms he introduced were carried on in four phases, with each phase having a significant role in uprooting the economy, bringing an era of the hard core Communists to an end, which finally shattered the confidence of other sustaining Socialist regimes in the world.
b) The Cold War:
The period of Cold War of 1985-1991 began after Gorbachev ascended to the throne of USSR. Since he started introducing Capitalist reforms in the Soviet economy (Perestroika) and promoted liberalization of politics (Glasnost), both contrary to the fundamentals of Communism, he is foremost credited for the rise of Cold War. Since Gorbachev was elected at the time when the Soviet Union had successively lost its three elderly leaders, he fully enjoyed the opportunity to cherish the authority of solely framing the policies as there was no leader of his stature to counter his liberalizing views and capitalist approach.
The devastated economy of USSR, facing massive economics difficulties, was primarily interested in reducing the arms race with United States. But the then U.S. President, Ronald Regan, was bullish on increasing the arms build-ups to make U.S. the most powerful nation on the earth. This prevented the already trembling economy of USSR, to control its military budget, continuing the competition which ultimately proved fatal to its economy.
And as the result of this Cold War, the already introduced political and economic reforms, which could change the scenario of the Soviet economy other way round, also were not able to bear fruitful result, as was expected earlier. This race for arms led to the collapse of Soviet Bloc in 1991, which was so devastated at the time that it was unable to pay salaries to its public servants and had so much debt mounting on it that the economy seemed to be in the everlasting depression. This further problematized the situation when the disintegration of the Soviet Union began on its peripheries in the non-Russian areas.The first region to produce mass, organized dissent was the Baltic region, where, in 1987, the government of Estonia demanded autonomy. This move was later followed by similar moves in Lithuania and Latvia, the other two Baltic republics.
c) Soviet War in Afghanistan:
History has proved that wars have dismantled various unbeatable economies and led their state to failure because of huge financial outflow, which is one of the basic properties of any war. It was one of the worst decisions in the Soviet history that Leonid Brezhnev, the then Soviet Union President, had taken in 1979, to extend the Soviet support to the then Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. It was the last nail in the coffin of USSR. As a result of this, his tenure is often being criticized for marking the beginning of a period ofeconomic stagnation, overlooking serious economic problems, which was already foreseeable at that extent,which finally led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
It seemed then that whole of the world had joined the war against the forces of Soviet Union and Afghanistan, some of which included the stalwarts like United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and all the fundamentalist Islamic forces. The worst part of the war was the ideological impact of the war throughout the world which opened the doors of shame and humiliation to the Soviet Union which was at the frontier of the lost ally. The Islamists who fought also believed that they were responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. Osama Bin Laden, for example, was asserting the credit for “the dissolution of the Soviet Union … goes to God and the mujahedeen in Afghanistan … the US had no mentionable role…” But on the global front, U.S. was taking the full credit for the defeat of Soviet Union, and its defeat in the war made U.S. more haughty, aggressive and arrogant.
d) Fall of the Berlin Wall:
The Berlin Wall was a literal wall that was erected between divided East and West Berlin. West Berlin was under the sovereignty of the German Federal Republic (West Germany), while East Berlin belonged to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In German, it is called the “die Berliner Mauer,” or simply “die Mauer”. Citizens of Soviet Bloc countries did not enjoy the freedom to travel to the West, but they did enjoy some freedom to travel within the Soviet Bloc.
The fall began with the opening of the Hungarian- Austrian border in August 1989. More than 13,000 East German tourists fled from Hungary to Austria. Spurred by the Glasnost programs of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, East Germans took to the streets against their own government in October. Deeply unpopular and no longer enjoying the military support of the Soviet Army, long time East German dictator Erich Honecker resigned office, but even that could not placate the anger the populace with the East German Communist regime.
The Wall was breached by a mass demonstration on November 9, 1989, and it soon became clear that no one in the East German government would take responsibility for ordering the use of lethal force. Lacking any real sources of legitimacy beyond force and fear, the East German government soon collapsed. In the following weeks, the wall was breached in multiple locations as Germans on both sides attacked it with hammers and picks, but the symbolic date forthe fall has always been November 9th.
Just as the Berlin Wall was the great physical symbol of the IronCurtain and the oppressive Soviet Bloc that lay behind it, the fall of the Berlin Wall stands as the symbol for the collapse of Soviet Communism. More substantially, the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the quick demise of the Communist regime of East Germany and other East European Communist states, and resulted in the reunification of Germany as a whole. Soon every communist state in the Soviet Bloc, including the Soviet Union itself had collapsed.
e) U.S. Policies & its ‘Dominance’:
When President Gorbachev was struggling to keep the economy upright, United States President, Ronald Reagan tried his very best to off-track the Soviet economy so hard, that it must collapse. He initially misleads the Soviet policymakers by increasing the pile of arms stock in his warehouses, so that the Soviet’s may also join the competition and their already shattered economy collapse. Later when the Soviet’s lost the Afghanistan war, and was struggling very hard to come up with its economic failure, Mr Reagan further stressed their efforts by using his influence over the Saudi’s. He persuaded the Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, to increase their production of crude oil, so that its price in the global market may fall down and the second major producers of crude oil, the Soviets may find it very hard to sell their oil at the price of Saudi’s.
The problem with the Soviets was also that they couldn’t increase their production of oil, which was basically due to two reasons. First was that they had the long-term objective of preserving the crude as an asset for their future sustenance, while the second reason was that the Soviet Union was so devastated that it was not even in the position to invest the extra capital needed to increase the production of crude oil in its existing facilities. This is termed as one of the greatest conspiracies in the modern international arena, which acted as a catalyst in the dissolution of the largest territorial regime of the Soviet Union. This in turn helped the United States to gain a monopolistic paradigm in the world scenario, which until now is unchallenged and has placed the United States, the largest economy of the world till now, as an undisputed leader.