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Factors leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union

Summary:

The collapse of the Soviet Union was caused by several factors, including economic stagnation, political corruption, and the costly arms race with the United States. Additionally, nationalist movements within various Soviet republics and the policies of openness (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika) introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev weakened central control. These elements collectively undermined the Soviet state, leading to its dissolution in 1991.

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What caused the collapse of the Soviet Union?

The collapse of the Soviet Union was caused by a number of factors.  The general idea, though, is that the Soviet Union collapsed because its communist system was not able to keep its people prosperous or happy.

The Soviet system gave its people very few rights and freedoms.  It was a totalitarian society in which obedience to the state was expected at all times.  This might have been sustainable if the people enjoyed material wealth and were, therefore, relatively happy.  (We can see that China has, so far, been able to remain viable with an authoritarian state because it is experiencing economic growth.)  However, the Soviets were not able to provide material wealth.  Their inefficient economic system was able to keep up with the US in military terms, but was not able to provide consumer goods while it did so.

Because the Soviet economy was stagnating and people were unhappy, it was clear that reform was needed.  Mikhail Gorbachev tried to provide such reform, but people were, by that time, fed up with the system and the whole edifice collapsed when he stopped using the power of the state to suppress dissent.

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What were the major factors that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc?

There are disputes over this issue, particularly over whether Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev was more responsible for the fall of communism.  I would argue that Reagan and Gorbachev's actions were proximate causes.  The real root cause of this collapse was the fact that the Soviet system could not provide for the material or political desires of its citizenry.

The Soviet system was very inefficient.  It was not able to produce enough goods and services to give its people a good standard of living.  At the same time, the political system was very repressive.  It did not afford people the ability to have their voices and their frustrations heard in any meaningful way.  This meant that a great deal of dissatisfaction had built up in the populace of Eastern Europe by the 1980s.  When Gorbachev instituted his reforms and/or when Reagan put more pressure on the Soviets by ratcheting up the arms race, the communist system collapsed.

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What caused the collapse of the Soviet Union?

One of the greatest contributing factors to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe is the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Historians assert that the reasons for the wall's fall are many and complex; however, many also assert that the greatest contributing factor was an announcement made by Guenther Schabowski, East German government spokesman.

J. D. Bindenagel, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin at the time, gives us his account of events leading up to Schabowski's announcement and the consequences. East Germany lawyer and negotiator Wolfgang Vogel informed Bindenagel that the Russian communist leaders had proposed lifting travel restrictions from East to West Germany in response to Germans' demands for more freedom. They had hoped that more freedom to travel would satisfy the demand for more freedom. Soon Guenther Schabowski made the official announcement on television about "travel law reform" (Bindenagel, "The Fall of the Wall: An Accidental Revolution?"). The plan had been to make it easier for East Germans to acquire visas to travel into West Germany. When asked when reforms would go into effect, he replied "immediately" (Bindenagel). No one would have predicted that his word "immediately" would have incited East Germans to storm the wall, leading to a revolution and demolition of the entire Berlin Wall.

Immediately prior to the fall of the wall, in February 1989, "Round Table Talks" in Warsaw, Poland, concerning labor strikes led to "free elections for 35% of the Parliament, free elections for the newly created Senate, a new office of the President, and the recognition of Solidarity [an underground labor union] as a political party" ("Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, 1989"). Meanwhile in Hungry, a multiparty system with elections was being established. By summer in 1990, all of Eastern Europe's "communist regimes" had been "replaced by democratically elected governments" ("Fall of Communism").

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What led to the collapse of the U.S.S.R.?

The story of why the USSR collapsed begins in 1985 with the election of Gorbachev as Secretary General. He was young, energetic, and promised more openness, or Peristroika. At the end of 1985, Gorbachev appointed Boris Yeltzin to the head of the Moscow Communist party. Yeltzien will become extremely important as events progress into the 1990’s.

Gorbachev begins instituting reforms, showing the world that his concept Perestroika is no lie. His support remains high inside and outside the Soviet Union. Yeltzien meanwhile is sacked after his reforms go too far. He vows revenge against Gorbachev for the sacking even thought the secretary allowed him to stay in Russia.

Sensing their time is near, Soviet satellites begin making overtones about independence. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all begin forming political parties with independence on their mind. Ethnic violence breaks out in the Baltic, another sign of Soviet power weakening. Gorbachev continues with his reforms despite opposition starting to flare up.

Gorbachev creates a new congress in 1989 which becomes very popular with the people. Yeltzin is elected to this parliment, bringing him back into power once again. Econmic problems begin hitting, caused in part by US spending on defense. The costly war in Afghanistan is ended, and Gorbachev begins dissolving the Warsaw Pact. Poland votes out the communists in June. Hungary opens its boarders to the west in September. These would have been unthinkable in the past, but Perestroika has allowed all of these reforms to occur. Soon the Berlin Wall falls and Czechoslovakia and Romania gain independence.

By 1990 the economy is worsening, and Gorbachev’s support begins to slip. He tries to shore up support by allowing multiparty politics, but this backfires when Yeltzien is elected president of Russia. Gorbachev is now on equal terms with his rival.

By this time hardliners have had enough. Hoping to restore the Soviet Union’s power, they stage a coup in 1991 while Gorbachev is gone. Ironically it is Yeltzien who gathers the people and organizes a massive political resistance to the coup. He becomes a political superstar for this moment, and uses his newfound power to force the Communist party to cease all activities in Russia.

Gorbachev resigns as party secretary. The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine all meet and agree to dissolve the USSR and recognize the independence of the satellites who have declared independence. That is how the Soviet Union fell.

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