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The Collapse of the USSR

Info: 2854 words (11 pages) Introduction
Published: 28th May 2021

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Tagged: International StudiesPolitics

Was the Collapse of USSR Inevitable?


The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 with the emergence of nine sovereign republics. The disintegration of the Soviet Union is one of the unfortunate and historical movements in world history because it was one of the superpowers during the cold war. The collapse of the Soviet Union is also one of the heating debates among scholars and journalists. Some argue that this collapse was inevitable while others are of the view that this was not inevitable. In this paper, the main argument is that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not inevitable. For this purpose, the policies of the leaders of the Soviet Union would be discussed in the paper. The main focus will be given on Mikhail Gorbachev because he introduced certain reforms in 1980 is after becoming president of the Soviet Union. In this paper, it is claimed that these reforms accelerated the process of collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The USSR collapsed in 1991 into 15 independent states (GRIN Verlag 2020). The collapse of the Soviet Union shocked the world because it was the superpower along with the United States of America at that time. the country was having enough military and nuclear power yet this power could not halt its disintegration. International political analysts present different views about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some believe that this collapse could be avoided while others disagree with this view and claim that it could not be avoided at any cost. to find a logical answer to this puzzle, it is important to discuss the policies introduced by Mikael Gorbachev during 1980s.

Mikhail Gorbachev came into power in 1985. When he became president of the Soviet Union the political and economic structure of the country was already in a bad situation. Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to revive the political and economic system in a positive manner. For this purpose, he introduced many reforms in the country. Two of these policies are of special importance to mention here these are the glasnost and the perestroika. According to Vijayachandran (2013) glasnost refers to openness by perestroika means restructuring. This is to refer to the economic and political reforms that were introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 with the vision of reviving the system and addressing the challenges. With the help of glasnost, Mikhail Gorbachev intended to introduce more transparency in the political system.

Glasnost was introduced in the late 1980s with the objective to revive the political system. It introduced certain reforms in the country including making the media more vibrant and free. The Soviet Union media was allowed to report the different issues going on in the country with more freedom. Vijayachandran (2013), claims that the state censorship and strict regulations were removed and more freedom was authorized to the media. As a result, the media started reporting about different issues that highlighted the internal or domestic problems of the country. For example, infant mortality at that time was rising in the country that was interpreted by media as an outcome of poor health infrastructure. Alcoholism was also increasing which was declared as another social evil in the country.

Similarly, life expectancy was decreasing for which the journalists would criticize the government authorities for their failure to improve the health infrastructure of the country. Moreover, the living standards would be compared with the Western countries and the journalists would criticize the Soviet Union responsible for providing poor standards of living to the public. All these domestic problems highlighted by the media created a sense of awareness and consciousness in the population of the Soviet Union. They soon came to realize that they were living in a poor situation where their health and social issues were being threatened or we're not protected by the government. Hence a sense of hatred and anti-government sentiments soon spread in the society. Another very important point in the context of glasnost is that Mikhail Gorbachev but if permitted the non-communist groups to participate actively in the upcoming elections. This reform was not supported by the communist parties because they were enjoying political power in the country for years. The permission to the non-communist groups to participate in the elections was taken as a threat to the traditional power base enjoyed by the communist parties. As a result of this, the communist parties expressed serious resistance against glasnost and protested his political ideology states (GRIN Verlag 2020).

On the other hand, perestroika was a different set of reforms that focused on the economic system. The economic system of The Soviet Union was characterized by communism for years (Pons 2014). Under which the economic and commercial activities in the country are controlled by the government. However, Gorbachev if wanted to remodel this economic system and replace it with capitalism. he introduced free-market reforms in the country and introduced a model that was based on a mixture of communism and capitalism. Capitalism is a completely opposite economic system to that of communism. In capitalism, the business and commercial activities in the country are not interfered by the government, and the people are allowed to freely conduct their business relations. As such the chances of individual development and social progress are higher in capitalism (Vijayachandran, 2013).

But it should also not be forgotten that the economic system of the Soviet Union was based on communism and whether successful or not the society was practicing this model for years (Pons 2014). Gorbachev made the mistake to replace this model with capitalism in which people were allowed to start their personal businesses and enjoy their profit. He also even allowed foreigners to participate in commercial activities going on in the country. The free market model is a successful one upon which the modern international market is based. The Western countries are also performing better as they are practicing the principles of the free market economy. Yet it could not prove effective for the Society of the Soviet Union because it was a challenge to the traditional economic system. Such a sudden change takes time to create a productive outcome in society. Glasnost and perestroika can be declared as two policies introduced by Gorbachev if which accelerated the process of collapse of the Soviet Union (Vijayachandran, 2013).

However, it would be unfair to put the blame for the disintegration of the Soviet Union on Gorbachev solely. Other leaders of the Soviet Union also adopted certain policies that paved the way for disintegration. For example, Leonid Brezhnev spent Billions of dollars in the arms race against the United States of America (Pons 2014). This was the time of the Cold War when the USA and the Soviet Union were involved in the ideological war. Soviet Union was in favor of communism while the USA wanted to spread capitalism in the world. Both the Superpowers wanted to expand their respective spheres of influence in the world. In this struggle, they adopted various strategies in which the arms race is one of the most important.

Now looking at did you have a political and geostrategic situation at that time Leonid had no other option but to continue the arms race. not only the ideological war was important for the Soviet Union but also the international power status as the superpower was at stake. In order to maintain its status as a superpower, the Soviet Union had to match the power capabilities of the USA. in this struggle, the country spent a huge sum of money just as the USA did. So keeping in view the context of the Cold War Leonid was justified to spend money on the arms race but at the same time, it can also not be denied that this money could have been spent on improving the living standards of people in the country. Leonid preferred the international interests at the expense of the domestic ones due to which the internal social institutions were weekend (Pons, 2014).

Going back towards the policies introduced by Gorbachev In 1988 the president had realized that he was losing power in the country. Different social and nationalist groups were rising within the country and world demanding reforms and civil liberties from the central government. At the same time, the Warsaw pact countries that were in the neighborhood of the Soviet Union were also demanding autonomy. When they realized that the Soviet Union was becoming weaker politically and economically they increased their demands for autonomy and sovereignty. this in turn inspired different groups within the Soviet Union and they also started demanding the right to self-determination.

Meanwhile, the countries where communist regimes were powerful such as Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary successfully toppled the communist governments and replace them with more democratic ones (Vijayachandran 2013). The spillover effect of this was felt in the Soviet Union was a different republic's desired to repeat the same. Meanwhile, in such a chaotic situation different ethnic groups also emerged and started demanding more political and cultural rights. Historians argue that some ethnic groups such as in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan were not given fair political representation in the Soviet Union. These groups also were denied their cultural rights as they could not freely practice their cultural traditions and values.  Rather they were forced to adopt those of The Soviet Union. Hence these groups also created ethnic tensions and violence with the objective to gain more political and cultural representation from the union. Ultimately the situation became worse and in 1991 The Soviet Union became weak politically and economically. as such it lost control over many parts of the country and finally, in 1991 it disintegrated.

Intentionalists and Structuralists

There are two groups regarding the collapse of the Soviet Union. One is called intentionalists while the second is called structuralists.  Intentionalists argue that the policies of the individual leaders make a difference in the collapse of the Soviet Union. This means the policies were not effective to halt the process of collapse. In this regard, the policies of glasnosts and perestroika are declared as responsible for the disintegration. These policies were not favorable for the Soviet society and hence, hit hard the economic and political structures. They created more grounds and increased chances of criticisms and anti-government sentiments.  They also believe that the nationalist forces in the Soviet Union were also responsible for creating social and ethnic tensions within the country. the elites in the Soviet Union are also held responsible for the collapse because they preferred and supported capitalism. Capitalism was preferred by them because it had the potential to provide them with more personal benefits. So the policies and strategies of the individual leaders in the Soviet Union are considered responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. This means according to intentionalists the collapse of the Soviet Union could be avoided if these policies were not adopted by the leaders.

On the other hand, structuralists present a totally different view of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. They believe that the disintegration was inevitable. According to the structural problems that had taken place in the country to such an extent that the collapse had to take place. For example, they believe that the minority ethnic groups in some parts of the country were not given fair representation in the political system. These groups despite numerous efforts could not attain a powerful position at the Central level due to which they became frustrated. Similarly, some ethnic groups could not practice their cultural values and practices in the country and were forced to adopt those of the Soviet Union. As a result of which these groups were denied their cultural as well as political recognition. Finally, they became so frustrated and educated that they started demanding c session from the union. Hence according to structuralists these structural problems for becoming stronger and stronger that ultimately led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The policies and strategies adopted by the leaders did not play an important role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This means that if Gorbachev had not introduced glasnost and perestroika still the country or the union had to face collapse in 1991. However, the findings of this research show that the intentionalists’ perspective is more logical as compared to that of the structuralists. It is argued in the paper that the collapse of the Soviet Union as a result of the policies introduced by its leaders. Because although Gorbachev was not aware of the negative implications of his reforms however it cannot be denied that these reforms disturbed the political and economic system in the country. The economic and political reforms introduced by Gorbachev were so contrary to the traditional settings that it created unrest in society. Gorbachev could have introduced some other reforms that would have slowed down the process of disintegration. It was also possible that the situation could have become productive and peaceful.


To sum up, it can be argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union could have been avoided. The policies of the leaders of the Soviet Union can be declared as responsible for creating a situation favorable for disintegration. This does not mean that the leaders wanted to disintegrate the Soviet Union in fact they were not aware of the negative implications their policies could bring. But it can also not be denied that the outcome of any event or incident greatly depends upon the policies. it is the responsibility of the leaders to take their country out of a troubling situation and put it on the right track. Mikhail Gorbachev also attempted to do so however his leadership proved week. His ideology did not work in the Soviet Union because he attempted to challenge the traditional political and economic system of the country. The idea to make the political system more transparent and the economic system more liberal cannot be criticized by any means. These are the ideas that are followed by the Western world where cooperation and development are deeply rooted. However, for the Soviet Union desired ideas could not prove effective. Therefore it can be argued that the policies by Gorbachev and other leaders of the Soviet Union proved as a source to accelerate the disintegration of the Soviet Union. With the different set of policies, there was a possibility that the unfortunate event could be avoided. Therefore the collapse of the Soviet Union was not inevitable.


The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Was the main cause a popular revolution?: A short overview, 2020. . GRIN Verlag. Retrieved 7 December 2020. https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=t1EAEAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Collapse+of+soviet+union&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjGsICP4LztAhVIRxUIHVEeCJIQ6AEwBnoECAgQAg#v=onepage&q=Collapse%20of%20soviet%20union&f=false

Pons, S., 2014. The Global Revolution: A History of International Communism, 1917-1991. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 December 2020. https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=Es9LBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA315&dq=Collapse+of+USSR+was+not+inevitable&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiprpak4LztAhWPQRUIHdW6AL8Q6AEwA3oECAMQAg#v=onepage&q=Collapse%20of%20USSR%20was%20not%20inevitable&f=false

Vijayachandran, K., 2013. Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism. Partridge Publishing. Retrieved 7 December 2020. https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=KTyVAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=glasnost+and+perestroika&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjNnvXo5bztAhVMUhUIHeRMAFoQ6AEwA3oECAQQAg#v=onepage&q=glasnost%20and%20perestroika&f=false

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