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The Fall of the Soviet Union

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The Fall of The Soviet Union

    The Soviet Union, born in 1917, officially called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It quickly established itself as a one-party state, governed by the communist party. In the same year of 1917, Vladimir Lenin led a party called the Bolsheviks who overtook the Provisional Government that came into power after the abandonment of Tsar Nicholas II. As a result of this, it was called the October Revolution, where the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was formed, which then kickstarted the commencement of a civil war between the revolutionary ‘Reds’ and the counter-revolutionary ‘Whites’. By 1922, the Red Army had successfully conquered several territories held by the previous Russian Empire with the help of local communists, establishing the Soviet Union with the coalition of Russia, Ukraine, Transcaucasia, and Byelorussia. As Joseph Stalin came to power in April of 1924, the Soviet Union would then later proceed to unify neighboring states, however, at this point in time, most of the issues were domestic. One of the prominent issues was political paranoia sweeping the empire and killing those who failed to commit to the state ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Despite the corruption that was unfolding inside the government, the previous Economic Policy was replaced by a highly centralized command economy, basically dictatorship like North Korea, which brought a rapid period of industrialization and collectivization. This brought citizens into industrial cities opening up the job market, and pulled the Union out of its agricultural roots and brought it to a status of industrial power. Notably, most of the republics of the Soviet Union were formed during Stalin’s reign with the capture of Berlin in 1945. After the death of Stalin, the economy continued to bloom up until the peak of the Cold War as the tension between the Soviet Union and the Western states that united by the signing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization heightened. By the mid-1980s, the economy took a turn for the worst and plummeted at an abrupt rate, and as a final solution, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev advanced the pace in the political and economic liberalization of the Soviet Union serving as one of the final contributing factors in the collapse of the great empire. Nonetheless, Gorbachev’s actions were only a few of the last domino's in the fall of the Soviet Union. Based on these predicaments with respect to a sequential time lapse, it is irrefutable that the Soviet Union collapsed due to economic stagnation, Gorbachev’s reforms, and the loss of nationalism in Eastern Europe.
        Initially, the Soviet Union went through a period of rapid economic growth beginning as early as 1928 with an estimated average annual growth rate in gross national product (GNP) of 5.8%. These statistics continue to remain at a balance level as by 1950 it held a GNP of 5.7%, and eventually by 1960 it dipped to 5.2%. At the time, the short-lived success of the Soviet Union’s command economy was mostly due to the strict control that was imposed by Communist party officials. By setting social and economic objectives, instituting regulations, and governing economic activity through insurance directives. This way soviet leaders were able to decide on the state’s economic targets. In fact, the Soviet Union was able to obtain vast information which aided its advance in centralization, production and distribution, thus, allegedly surpassing any Western market economy. In addition, the adoption and implementation of Western technology undoubtedly played a key role in the industrialization and urbanization of the nation, however, its modernization was achieved at the expense of personal consumption of the citizens. Despite its prior gains, the Soviet economy began to suffer major losses as the average GNP growth dropped to a staggering 3.7% annual rate between 1970 and 1975, and by the 1980, the GNP growth rate hit an all-time low of 2.6%, pushing the Soviet Union into a period of economic stagnation which it would never recover from. By the turn of the new decade, the Soviet Union experienced one of its primary financial black holes in the face of the crude oil market. With oil sales at its peak in the early 1980s, Soviet leaders were certain that the power of their nation lies in their natural resources, however, later on into the 1980s proved otherwise as oil prices plummeted irreparably. Not only was oil the main export of the Soviet Union, it also served as the central source of hard currency. The loss of the most abundant and valuable resource of the empire was reflected in the lives of the citizens as many lost their jobs in the industry. Outside of Soviet Russia, the oil trade with satellite countries (countries surrounding the Soviet Union) became nearly non-existent spiraling the Republics into an industrial despair. Over the course of the next 15 years, the weakened oil trade would respectively weaken the network and relation of Soviet Russia and its satellites altogether. The crash in oil productivity was directly affiliated with insufficient investments and lack of modern technology that was required to harness oil fields that were difficult to reach. Furthermore, at an attempt to modernize its economy the government was borrowing large loans from the Eastern Bloc. In due time, these two factors propelled the Soviet Union into external debt, as by 1989, oil earnings were $13 billion and net debt totalled at $44 billion, and by 1991, the external debt had risen to $57 billion. By this point in time, German banks refused any further loans and in turn, demanded payment, thus playing a vital role in the Soviet Union’s collapse. Additionally, the Soviet Union’s downfall could be traced back to the years following the end of the second world war. After the destruction of Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 by American atomic weapons, both the Soviet Union and the United States of America were launched into a new era of paranoia and fear which would ultimately end in November of 1990 with the signing of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. However, prior to the agreement, this time period was known as the Cold War as both leaders acted with fear and distrust of one and another. Having witnessed the scale of the catastrophe that took place in Japan, the Soviet Union became well aware that the United States possessed substantial nuclear power, and more importantly, the Soviets took the atomic bombings as a warning to respect America’s directives in the reconstruction post world war. Undeterred by the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement) treaties that were imposed to limit nuclear arms and freeze the number of ballistic missile launchers at existing levels, both nations quickly moved out of detent. With the enactment of the Truman Doctrine and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the Soviet Union was relentless on being on par with the United States’ nuclear status as even the slightest misunderstanding could mean extinction for either or both of the nations. Nonetheless, it was evident for both sides that the Soviet Union was struggling financially to stock up on nuclear power as by 1964, the United States possessed 2,416 launchers and 6,800 warheads compared to the Soviet Union with its sheer 375 launchers and 500 warheads. In spite of its weak start, the Soviet Union did manage to obtain 2,490 launchers by 1982, trumping the United States 2,032 launchers, however, this came at a fatal price as it pushed the Soviet Union towards economic annihilation. By 1985, the United States was spending 6% of its 5 trillion dollars of GNP on military whereas the Soviet Union was spending approximately a quarter of its 1.4 trillion dollars on defense. Towards the end of the Cold war in May of 1985, Soviet leaders came to the full realization that they were hurling their empire into economic ruins, and more notably, the United States have been aware of the Soviet Union’s debt all along, only to drag them along in a dead-end competition. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union had been overtaxed due to the Cold War confrontation, yet, they were still not able to rival with Ronald Reagan’s (U.S President) Strategic Defense Initiative or the ‘Star Wars’ program. After the arms race came to an end, the Soviet Union was stripped to its financial core just as the economic structure was completely obliterated. Along with the economic plunge of the nation, the daily life of a common citizen barely met the criteria of ‘provided for’ as food production hit a new low with the turning of each decade. Although healthcare was ‘free’, the quality was extremely poor and barely acceptable as very few doctors had knowledge of their profession. At home, no more than 6% of the population had more than one room as many resided in apartment blocks which lacked electricity or heating and it was not unusual for residence areas to be ‘run down’ by Western standards. In terms of technology, only 9% of all citizens had cars as technological advancements or the very idea of telecommunication induced paranoia in Soviet officials as a counter-revolutionary was always on the horizon. All in all, the dissatisfaction of Soviet citizens was swept under the rug for most of the century, however, just as the Soviet Union declined as a world power, it becomes apparent that a main component in the dissolution of the empire lies in the voice and actions of the citizens.
        Following the economic disasters, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev came into power as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March of 1985 before serving as the country’s Head of State up until 1991. He was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, and one that was determined to bring change. During the beginning of his reign, the Soviet economy was becoming more stagnant by the minute as military spending increased exponentially since Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative was still deemed as a threat, while Soviet citizens were aggravated due to their poor living standards and lack of freedom. To counter these problems, Gorbachev introduced a dual policy that contained an overlapping concept, Perestroika and Glasnost. With these two reforms, it was in his intentions to bring about individual freedom, bureaucratic transparency, and to rebuild the communist system. Enacted in 1987, Perestroika was a policy with the objective of restructuring the Soviet political and economic system. This new policy gave power to private ministries allowing them to take independent action and brought forth market reforms. Gorbachev had the vision of a flourishing markets and sought to protect properties through the rule of law by establishing resources in private properties, eliminating subsidies in both the consumer and producer, and keeping taxation to a minimum. Perestroika was not able to abolish the command economy, but to integrate socialism in a more efficient manner into the system and meet the needs of Soviet consumers. However, Perestroika was never able to take full effect and transform the economy the way Gorbachev intended. Instead, many of the economic reforms had no consistent guideline and the planning was reduced to nothing but half measures. Reforms that were supposed to restructure the law on individual economic activity and state enterprises was more theology based than common sense and even if Perestroika was implemented in an ideal society, the results were far from what Gorbachev had initially predicted. The radical ideas that Gorbachev imposed combined with the fast-moving pace of a project with no solid foundation soon led to a revolt across the Soviet Union. Citizens came to the realization that the process it took to spring Perestroika action depleted the nation of its natural resources and destroyed any chances of keeping up with western technology. Not only did this reform obliterate the economic system it was supposed to fix, it increased the already present tension within the social and political system. As Soviet Russia’s citizens grow their resentment towards their government, constituent Republics began to resist the notion of change. A new wave of ‘freedom of thought and speech’ among the citizens. In his planning, Gorbachev envisioned that his citizens would utilize their profound right and discuss methods to improve their weakened economy and unjust political and social structure. Much to his dismay, many citizens used this opportunity to voice their concerns and animosity towards the authoritarian government. It became quite clear that the working class was displeased with the facade “workers’ paradise” that the Soviet government enforced, as wages were stagnant, housing was run-down, and vehicles were an anomaly. In the meantime, Soviet youth were finally able to vocalize their frustrations with the restrictions on their sources of entertainment, mostly involving the lack of media, whereas the Republics demanded autonomy from Russia. As the voices grew louder across the Soviet Union, many revolutionaries took to the media of not only the Soviet Union’s, but those of other countries, to report any information they have accessed on the government’s doings. While at the same time the state had no control over what was shown on the media anymore. As information about the previous Soviet leader, Stalin, was released, citizens soon came to full knowledge of the mass murders and dishonesty that the government had exercised in the past decades, thus, fueling their anger and demand for a free and just society. Although Gorbachev intended the transparency of the Soviet Union to improve the Communist party and leadership of the nation, it created a backlash that moved the nation closer to freedom, and ultimately, it played a fundamental role in the collapse of the strict government.
        At last, the Soviet Union is left with nothing more than an irreparable stagnant economy and a revolt within its own borders and in satellite countries, all willing to accept nothing less than a democratic government. As the 11 former Soviet Republics sign the Commonwealth of Independent States, they formally departed from the Soviet Union, thus, in that exact moment, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Four days after the signing on December 25, 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from office as it was no longer possible for the Communist party to contain the population. Along with Gorbachev’s resignation, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time that day, formally and officially declaring an end to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and in another sense, the end of a long bloody era. Looking back at the past 74 years the Soviet Union was in power, it appears that all victories and catastrophes alike were precursors to the fall, and like a domino effect, one led to another up until Christmas day of 1991. Nevertheless, this leaves historians to ponder if the Soviet Union was already on the path to collapse the day it was born.



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