In December 1991, the Soviet flag over the Kremlin was replaced by the symbol of new post-Cold War era—the Russian tricolor (White 54). Decades after a sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union, historians are still arguing whether policies and actions of communist leadership or Western diplomacy or other reasons such as the economic influence of the arms race caused the collapse. The aim of this paper is to explore different explanations of the end of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.
Ideology is one of the significant elements that contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. The political theory of Marxism-Leninism served as an ideological underpinning for the ideocratic system of the Soviet state (White 74). It extended to all social and political spheres of the Soviet Union leaving no space for competing ideas or political parties. However, neither citizens nor leaders were satisfied with the official ideology by the end of the 1980s (White 74). The living standards stopped improving before the end of the socialist society, making people question philosophical assumptions of the political doctrines of the Soviet system. Moreover, disillusioned with the idea of a “new historical community” (White 76) that was supposed to eliminate separate identities of different ethnic groups, the Soviet republics moved towards national self-determination often engaging in military conflicts and pogroms.
Cold War was another factor that substantially contributed to the end of Soviet rule. It was predicated on the ideological differences between communism and capitalism and started immediately after the Bolsheviks had succeeded in the revolution of 1917 (Williamson 14). The rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States intensified when Lenin refused to pay Russia’s debts. However, the hostility became even acuter after the end of the Second World War when Stalin demanded greater control over eastern Europe following the announcements of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in 1947 (Todd 227). It should be mentioned that Stalin was interested in controlling east European states even during the Second World War. He met with Churchill in 1944 and made an informal pact known as percentages agreement in which the percentage ratios of spheres of influence of the Soviet Union and Britain in Europe were defined (Todd 227). The conflicting aims of the United States and the Soviet Union created a “spiral of distrust” that was a driving engine of the Cold War (Williamson 14). Nonetheless, the Soviet Union leadership occupied by the desire to end the country’s economic isolation and to prevent military invasions from the West was forced to co-operate with the West.
The creation of NATO significantly affected the development of the Cold War in the period from 1948 to 1952 and contributed to the collapse of communism (Williamson 82). Military expansion of NATO was dictated by the need to counter the growing number of the Soviet troops. The United States shared some of the financial burdens of the rearmament. NATO’s formation pushed the Soviet Union to increase its military spending which created a substantial financial stress for the country’s economy (Williamson 96).
The last period of the Cold War was marked by a renewed arms race and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet troops (Williamson 260). The United States vehemently opposed the invasion and perceived it as an intention of the Soviet Union to spread its influence to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Therefore, President Carter banned grain exports to the Soviet Union as well as supported the mujahedin by sending them weapons, means of communication, and money.
According to Williamson, the deciding factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union was its economic weakness (271). Even though central planning functioned relatively well during the industrialization period, in the 1960s, the system became so bureaucratic and rigid that it significantly slowed down the growth of heavy industries (Williamson 271). The differences of the technology advancements between the two countries were the most apparent in the context of the production of consumer goods. It should be mentioned that the space race that started in the 1950s put a significant strain on the Soviet economy (Williamson 146). In an attempt to reach space before the United States who were seen as a technological giant in the post-Second World War world, the Soviet Union heavily invested in its space program (Williamson 146).
Multiple factors contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, it would be incorrect to suggest that either the foreign policy of the United States or the Soviet domestic failures were a decisive element in the collapse of communism. It could be argued that the demise of the Soviet empire was brought about by the growing nationalism, weak economics, single-party rule and the determination of the United States government to stop the expansion of communism.
Todd, Allan. The Modern World. Oxford University Press, 2011.
White, Stephen. Communism and its Collapse. Routledge, 2011.
Williamson, David. The Cold War. Hodder Education, 2013.