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 Republics.
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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