Soviet Union's Collapse

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Soviet Union's Collapse

Soviet Union Collapse


The collapse of Soviet communism may be seen as the unintended consequence of the reforms known as 'perestroika' undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev who was chosen as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in March 1985. The word 'perestroika' means reconstruction in English. What Gorbachev was supposed to reconstruct was the Soviet economy that by 1985 had become stagnant. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to stimulate the economy through administrative measures including exhortation (uskorenie), an anti-alcohol campaign, and quality control inspections, it became clear that the real obstacle to improving the economy was the system of central economic planning inherited, essentially unchanged, from the Stalin years. Under central planning, all important economic decisions are made not by the market, but by the state. Over the years this had resulted in a huge and cumbersome bureaucracy, located in Moscow and overseen by the national leadership of the CPSU whose approval was required before any enterprise could take action (Langley 2007, 45). The need to decentralize economic decision-making was finally addressed by Gorbachev in the Law on State Enterprises adopted in June 1987.

Law on State Enterprises

In retrospect, the Law on State Enterprises was a relatively modest effort to give enterprise managers a greater say in making economic decisions. However, the implications of the Law were threatening to those in the party-state bureaucracy who had a vested interest in preserving a status quo from which they derived great power and privilege and these people found ways to sabotage the law. By 1988, it became clear that to undermine resistance to his economic reforms, Gorbachev would have to reform the political system as well (Marples 2004, 63). His goal was to replace people opposed to his reforms with those who would support them. In June 1988, at the Nineteenth Party Conference of the CPSU attended by delegates many of whom had been chosen because they were supporters of perestroika, Gorbachev proposed political reforms that he argued would democratize the political system. The most radical of these called for an unprecedented degree of competition in the election of deputies to the national legislature in 1989 and to republican and local legislatures in 1990.


Elections were held in spring 1989 to a new national body called the USSR Congress of People's Deputies (CPD). The elections were remarkable for the degree of political contestation that took place and for the fact that many of the party and state leadership, known in Russian as the nomenklatura, were defeated. Equally remarkable was the opening session of the Congress held in May 1989 during which top CPSU leaders, including Gorbachev, were publicly taken to task for some of their policies before a national television audience. The main job of the Congress was to elect a new permanently functioning parliament called the Supreme Soviet (as before) and a Chair for this body. But, in a clear break from past practice, none of the votes taken on these questions were unanimous ...
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