Russia 1917-85- fall of the USSR

Long term economic weakness

  • Gorbachev became General Secretary in 1985, and the economy was already in decline
  • there was a growing crisis in agriculture cause by state inflexibility and inefficiency
  • most members of the Politburo ignored the crisis, except for Gorbachev
  • a period of trial and error followed, which ended in the dismantling the Soviet economic system, resulting in the economy to plunge into chaos
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Gorbachev's initial economic reforms

  • campaign to attack alcoholism
  • by the mid-1980s, alcohol accounted for 15% of all household spending
  • the tax revenues that the government earned from alcohol fell markedly
  • Twelfth Five-Year Plan (1986-90)
    • increased investment for acceleration in production
    • projects led to overspends
    • equipment was out of date and breaking down
    • focus remained on quantity rather than quality
  • Between 1985 and 1986, the deficit of the Soviet economy rose from 2.4% of GDP to 6.2%
  • Perestrokia- economic restructuring
    • Encouragement of joint ventures, January 1987- allowed foregin firms to establish businesses in the USSR. Moscow got its first McDonalds in 1990
    • Law on State Enterprises, June 1987- allowed loosening of state control over wages and prices, but undermined Gosplan
    • Co-operative legalised, 1988- allowed small-scale private enterprises to be established
  • Impact of Perestroika
    • Food production showed a small but insignificant growth rate from 1% to 2% between 1986-87
    • Enterprises still subject to state interference
    • Products diverted to co-opertaives who would charge far more than shops, resulting in deals being made with rich city authorites
    • uncertainty over supplies resulted in hoarding
    • by 1990 there were nearly 3000 joint foreign ventures in the USSR, but most were small scale operations that didn't impact the economy much
    • Price of oil fell- by 1984, oil and gas accounted for 54% of Soviet exports
    • reforms had weakened the appartatus of state planning but provided little to replace it
  • State Commission on Economic Reforms issued a report that concluded that a more radical solution was needed
  • 500 Days Programme was recommended, but it divided central Party leadership and national republic leadership, causing the economy to collapse
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Gorbachev's initial economic reforms (2)

  • Impact of Perestroika
    • Food production showed a small but insignificant growth rate from 1% to 2% between 1986-87
    • Enterprises still subject to state interference
    • Products diverted to co-opertaives who would charge far more than shops, resulting in deals being made with rich city authorites
    • uncertainty over supplies resulted in hoarding
    • by 1990 there were nearly 3000 joint foreign ventures in the USSR, but most were small scale operations that didn't impact the economy much
    • Price of oil fell- by 1984, oil and gas accounted for 54% of Soviet exports
    • reforms had weakened the appartatus of state planning but provided little to replace it
  • State Commission on Economic Reforms issued a report that concluded that a more radical solution was needed
  • 500 Days Programme was recommended, but it divided central Party leadership and national republic leadership, causing the economy to collapse
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Interpretations of Gorbachev's economic reforms

  • interpretations have been influenced by the attitudes of historians to communism as an economic system
  • many historians believe that communism was inherently weak and economic failure was inevitable
  • historians in the politcal left view it more positively
  • economic failure would not have brought the fall of the USSR alone
  • Gorbachev faced an unfavourable international climate
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Glasnost and the need to reform the Party

  • Glasnost- policy of openness that encouraged the population to put forward ideas and show initiative
  • complaints about housing, investigations into Soviet history and Stalin's mass terror, enviromental issues
  • Soviet Government failed to report an accident at the Cherbobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, resulting in people who were living in toxic areas being evacuated too slowly, which then resulted in an increase in leukemia and birth deformities
  • Over 60,000 groups holding informal meetings demanding political reform
  • Glasnost resulted in criticism of the Party and Gorbachev
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Gorbachev's attempts to reform the Party

  • Gorbachev wanted to seperate party and state, which he attempted to do at the Nineteenth Party Congress in June 1988, with little success
  • more finance was allocated to the Soviets to shift the power to them from the Party
  • The departments of the Central Commitee were reduced from 20 to 9, and six new commissions were created
  • attacks of corrupt Party officials were popular with the public but caused resentent within the Party
  • In early 1987, Gorbachev discussed the idea of secret ballots for multiple candidates with the Central Committee
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Interpretations of Gorbachev's failure to reform t

  • Failures to reform thr Party both alienated liberals and conservatives
  • radical reformers realised that th Party woudn't carry through their desired reforms
  • conservatives alienated due to the work of Stalin and Glasnost being undermined
  • arguments between liberals and conservatives in the Politburo led to factions
  • Article 6 abolished- it stated that the Communist Party was the leading force of the Soviet Union
  • By the end of 1990, the Communist Party was powerless
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Interpretations of Gorbachev's failure to bring ab

  • historians agree that the failure of Gorbachev to reform the Communist Party damaged his authority, but there's less agreement over whether this left him aeverly weakened
  • essentialist historians take the view the Party was impossible to reform because Communism could only result in a totalitarian state
  • western historians view the reforma as well meaning but unlikely to bring success
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Ending of the Brezhnev Doctrine

  • it had enforced Soviet control over Eastern Europe
  • was formulated after Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968 after their communist government tried to introduce liberal reforms
  • the USSR spent $40 billion every year on propping up other communist states
  • Gorbachev refused to keep the population under control with force
  • the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1989 meant that people in Eastern Europe could choose their own governments
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Consequences of the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine i

  • there was increasing pressure for change in Eastern European countries, driven by nationalist sentiment
  • communist rule was associated with Soviet control
  • The Eastern European leaders who wanted to resist reforms could no longer rely on Soviet military intervention
  • As a result, communist regimes in Eastern europe collapsed as national groups asserted their independence
  • In Poland the communist governemnt allowed the independent workers' organisation, Solidarity, to stand in elections- in following elctions, Solidarity beat the Communist Party in a landslide victory and the Communist Party collapsed as an organisation
  • The USSR did nothing to prevent these events
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The communist collapse spreads

Hungary

  • The pressure for reform came from the Communist Party, and in 1988 their leader, Janos Kadar, was sacked

East Germany

  • East Germany had been particularly reliant on Soviet support
  • After mass demonstartions Egon Krenz, the East German leader, opened access across the Berlin Wall on November 9th 1989

Romania

  • afflicted by weaknesses such as food shortages, lack of consumer goods, a repressive government and lack of real democracy
  • By December the army was no longer willing to support their leader, who fleed by helicopter but was caught, arrested and executed

Gorbachev's foreign policy was a key factor in encouraging independence in satellite states

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Growth of Nationalist sentiment within the USSR

  • Enviromental concerns- provided a focal point for local people to rally against the central government in Moscow
  • Insecurity of local Party leaders- Brezhnev allowed them to live a comfortable lifestyle, but feared the Gorbachev's reforms threatened this
  • Culture and language- at the time there was a near even split of 145 million Russians and 141 million non-Russians. These nationalities had a strong sense of their own cultural heritages
  • Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania):
    • viewed the Soviet Union as an occupying force
    • they had higher levels of education
    • amongst the more economically developed regions of the USSR
    • In August 1988, Popular Fronts were established in all three republics , which won in majority elections to the Supreme Soviets in 1990
    • In August 1989, on the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, there was a mass demonstration for independence
  • These states had little experience of independence
  • The nationalist resurgence was complicated by by the large number of people who didn't live in their ethnic homeland
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Interpretations of nationalism in the USSR

  • Western historians have tended to neglect the developments that happened in the individual republics of the Soviet Union
  • Where they have been used it has been to study the rise of nationalist movements against communism in Eastern Europe
  • the events in Eastern Europe were not replicated by events in the USSR itself
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Interpretations of Gorbachev's responsibility for

Failings

  • no clear idea on how to solve the economic problems of the USSR
  • made naive assumptions about the iompact of his policies
  • attacking his own power base without ensuring an adequate replacement
  • his reforms tended to raise people's expectations without politcally satisying them
  • didn't anticiapte the collapse of Eastern European governments with the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine
  • gave mised messages in his speeches
  • he was hesitant at key moments in making crucial decisions

Attributes

  • intelligent and had personal charm
  • refused to use force to impose his will
  • there were international factors that could not be forseen
  • the economy was alrady weak when he came to power
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The role of Yeltsin in the collapse of the USSR

  • Yeltsin was removed from the Politburo in 1988 and used his time out of the spotlight to establish links with other reformers and critics of Gorbachev
  • In March 1991, 200,000 people gathered to support Yeltsin
  • He used his position as Mayor of Moscow to to secure 89% of the vote in Moscow
  • He resigned from the party in July 1990
  • The Congress decalared that its sovereignity took precedence over that of the Soviet Union
  • The August coup was a last ditch attempt to preserve the rule of the Communist Party
  • Yanaev announced that Gorbachev was ill (actually under house arrest) which was followed by a series of repressive measures including a ban on strikes and demonstrations
  • By the summer of 1991 the monopoly of the Communist Party was offically ended 
  • Yeltsin implemented the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991 and the Soviet Union was no more
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Interpretations of Yeltsin's role in the collapse

  • views of this depend on whether the writer supported Yeltsin's more liberal reforms or not
  • His supporters saw him as a leader who had the solutions to the problems of the time
  • Yeltsin was unable to deal with the economic problems that had faced Gorbachev
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