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Communism in the soviet union and why it failed

Communism in the Soviet Union and Why it Failed

Communism is defined as "a system of political and economic organization in

which property is owned by the community and all citizens share in the enjoyment

of the common wealth, more or less according to their need." In 1917 the rise

of power in the Marxist-inspired Bolsheviks in Russia along with the

consolidation of power by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, the word communism

came to mean a totalitarian system controlled by a single political party. This

came to justify that the means of production is controlled and the wealth is

distributed with the goal of producing a classless or possibly a stateless

society. The ideological meaning of communism arose in 1848 with the

publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They

believed that communism is inevitable and is an outcome of the historical

process. They believed that the "struggle between an exploiting class, the

capatalists at present age, and an exploited class, the workers, would enter a

crucial stage in the period of capitalism where industrialization occurs and

that the effects of industrialization is to heighten and intensify the internal

contradictions in capitalism." To put it bluntly they believed that the

ownership of industry would be in fewer and fewer hands where the workers would

plunge into a state of ever-increasing misery. These impoverished workers grow

in numbers and organize themselves into a political party which would lead a

revolution in which they dispose of the capitalists. The proletariat would

establish a society governed by a " dictatorship of the proletariat" based on

communal ownership of the wealth. According to Marx this phase of human society

is referred to as socialism. Communism is the final transcendence of this

revolution in which there is a break up and elimination of the state and no

class division. That is the primary reason that it was called the Union of

Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. What was the

problem with this system of government, if this is a workers paradise what

happened ? What did the Soviet Union do wrong to cause a breakdown of their

ideal system ? In this paper I will explore the rise of the Soviet power and

causes of the 1991 breakup.

The person who started the whole transition into a communist empire was Vladimir

Lenin. He felt that the working class was not capable of starting this

revolution on their own and needed a professional group of revolutionaries to

guide it. This led to Lenin and Bolsheviks coming into power in 1917. The

Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Communist party and under the leadership of

Lenin took control of government and outlawed all of the other political parties.

In 1918 they became the ruling party of Russia and formed a dictatorship so

they could ensure the Soviet transition from capitalism to socialism. The

communist party arose in opposition to both capitalism and socialists of the

Second International who had supported their capitalist governments during World

War I. The name communists was specifically taken to distinguish Lenin's

followers in Russia and abroad from such Socialists. Following their victory in

the Russian Civil War in 1918, the Soviet Communists followed a cautious policy

of limited capatalism during the New Economic Program until Lenin's death in

1924. Lenin's successor, Joseph Stalin, forcibly accomplished the transition

from capitalism to socialism. During his years in power the party grew from

about 470,000 to millions. He nationalized the Soviet industries and

agriculture. A rapid industrialization program was pushed on the people even

though they lacked materials. Police terror was also used to suppress dissent

and opposition. This became known as Stalinism.

Communist rule was confined to the Soviet Union until the end of World War II.

The Soviet Red Army liberated several countries in eastern Europe from the Nazi

Germany control. The soviets sponsored and helped form the communist

governments in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, East Germany,

and North Korea. Stalinism became the basic model for most of these new

governments. After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev began a rapid rise

and in 1956 repudiated Stalin's "tyrannical excesses" in his famous "Secret

Speech" at the 20th party congress. The next year he became the parties leader.

Krushchev ended the practice of "bloody purges" of the party membership, but his

rule aroused dissatisfaction among the other party leaders. He was kicked out

in 1964. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded him and was general secretary until his

death in 1982, when he was succeeded by Yuri Andropov. Andropov died in 1984

and the position was passed to Konstantin Chernenko. After Chernenko's death in

1985 the leadership was passed on to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Both as an ideology and a practical system for the organization of a state,

communism entered a period of crisis in the late 20th century. By the 1980's it

had become quite clear that state-owned systems of economic production were

unable to provide the same standards of living obtained in many countries with

free market economies. The unequal concentrations of wealth in capitalist

countries were matched by glaring concentrations of power in communist ones. It

had become clear that the maintenance of a one party communist rule tended to

limit personal freedoms in a way unknown in parliamentary democracies. The rise

to power in the Soviet Union of leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980's set

in motion a farther reaching reassessment of the efficiency of the communist

ideals and practices. In 1989-90 the communist parties of eastern Europe

abandoned their monopoly of power and the communist governments in these nations

either fell or submitted themselves to free multiparty elections. In the Soviet

Union Gorbachev's attempts to liberalize the Soviet politico-economic system

provoked that system's collapse altogether in 1991, after which communism

rapidly withered as a viable ideology in Russia and the other former Soviet


In the winter of 1990-91 many asked how the Soviet Union would end . While

Mikhail Gorbachev was arrested the real target escaped, Boris Yeltsin. The

failure was not only contributed to the myth surrounding the new Russian state

but it also pushed the Soviet Union beyond any parameters envisioned by the

process of reform they were attempting to stem. When Gorbechev came into power

he knew that his country was stagnating but they termed it a "pre-crisis

situation". They did not realize the depth of this problem and believed that

their nation only needed reform. Six and a half years later the Soviet Union

and Soviet Communism were dead.

The Soviet Economic crisis was clearly visible in the declining growth rates,

increasing scarcity of exploitable resources, and the worsening imbalance

between military production and that for the general economy, especially

consumer goods. The Soviet economy seemed ready and mobilized for war. In the

consumer sector a very large portion of the capital stock was not only under

productive but was also at the limit of its physical capacity. According to the

Russian Prime minister Ivan Silayev, "only 15 percent of investment in the

Russian republic went to consumer industries. Military industry, on the other

hand, was constantly being supplied with new technology." Several Generals,

especially ones involved in technical services, tried to break the hold of

traditional strategy that emphasized numerical superiority, only to be shot down

by high command.

The Soviet bureaucracies shifted from the Stalinist era into a more corporatist

system. They neglected their goal of service to the state and society in favor

of self interest. Political and economic corruption, which has existed

throughout Soviet History, increased systematically in the years prior to

Gorbachev. The size of the "second" or illegal "shadow" economy eventually

accounted for 25-30 percent of the market and became essential for the economy

to function as a whole. By the end of the Brezhnev era many politicians where

accepting bribes openly. This corruption of the bureaucracies only separated

them further from the people they where put in place to serve.

Not only was corruption a problem but the quality of leadership deteriorated as

well. This was not only true in intelligence and organizational talent but also

in a physical sense. Most of the members of the central committee were aged and

lacked spark. The respect and fear they once generated was rapidly declining in

an increasingly young and educated country. This weakness of political dissent

within the Soviet Union was also important to the crisis. It planted seeds of

antitotalitarianism and anticommunism in the native soil. Also the potential

for political action sunk to an all time low in the community.

The final problem that they encountered was in their relationships with other

nations and ethnic groups. This may have been the most potent flaw in their

system. Non-Russian ethnic regions contained under developed, peasant cultures.

These groups were able to resist with surprising force subordination to Russian

culture or submersion into the Soviet state. This lack of development led to

cultivation of old ethnic identities and the process of modernization only

created new strains.

The Soviet Union lost all of its internal vitality, the powers of the regime

were still intense. Decay was probably unavoidable but the disintegration did

not seem immediate. The counter actions to the already failing government are

what caused the final demise of the nation, the actions only accelerated the

demise of communism.

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