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The Interwar Years
Interwar Years Project
League of Nations 1920-1925
Austrian Interwar Years
France during the Interwar years
The Treaty of Sevres and Neuilly
Mussolini's Conquest of Ethiopia
British Interwar Years
Hitler's Foreign Policies Prior to WW2
Origins and Development of Single Party States
Assasinations of Key Political Opponents in Stalinist Russia
Beginnings of Communist Russia
Fidel's Global Impact
Social Policies of Nazi Party
Economic Policies of Nazi Germany
Rise of the Soviet Union
Stalin's domestic policies
Stalin's foreign and domestic policies
Techniques of Dictatorships
The Soviet Union Under Stalin
Treatment of Women in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Was Lenin Right About Stalin?
The Platt Amendment
Mao and the PRC
World War II
Compulsory Billeting WWII
Fall of France
Nazi Occupation of Defeated Countries WWII
Resistance groups during World War Two
Role of the RAF (Royal Air Force) during WW2
Role Of Women in WWII
Social Consequences of WWII
The Ardennes Offensive
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
the evacuation at Dunkirk
The Second Great War
The Nuremberg Trials
The Battle of Britain
The V- Weapons
The Cold War
Berlin Blockade 1948-49
Brezhnev Foreign Policy
Cold War Major Developments
Cold War Key Developments
Cold War Origins
Cold War Superpower Relations
Cold War Events Timeline
Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
End of the Cold War
Politics 1950s and 60s
Policy Changes of Nikita Khrushchev
The Berlin Wall 1961
The Soviet Union under Brezhnev
The Soviet Union Under Stalin
The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe
Korean War 1950-53
The Vietnam War
Who Caused the Cold War?
Your Cold War (Interactive)
Stalin: 1941 to 1953
The Collapse of USSR
20th C. Social and Economic Developments in Europe and the Middle East
The Collapse of the USSR
the collapse of the ussr
The Collapse of the USSR
The Causing Factors
On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR, declaring the office extinct and ceding all the powers still vested in it to the president of Russia: Yeltsin. On the night of that same day, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. Finally, a day later on December 26, 1991, the Council of Republics of the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR
recognized the dissolution of the Soviet Union and dissolved itself (another chamber of the Supreme Soviet had been unable to work during some months before this, due to absence of a
). By December 31, 1991, all official Soviet institutions had ceased operations, as individual republics assumed the central government's role.
1. Theoretical Unpreparedness
Communists have been theoretically unprepared for the "success" of the cold war arms race of capitalism. They assumed that socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union, would be able to build socialism at the same time as they matched the imperialist powers in the arms race. In other words, they could have both guns and butter.
In retrospect, one can find a hint of warning in Engels' Anti-Duhring when he predicted the devastating effects of the arms race on the 19th Century European powers. He wrote in 1878.
Militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe. But this militarism also bears within itself the seed of its own destruction. Competition among the individual states forces them, on the one hand, to spend more money each year on the army and navy, artillery, etc., thus more and more hastening their financial collapse.
Indeed, with hindsight, we can see that the period of 1880-1929 was one in which the United States, with much lower per capita military spending, was able to overtake and surpass the European powers in technology and industrial production.
Marx saw that war is the ultimate example of unproductive economic activity and called it "the direct equivalent of a nation throwing a part of its capital into the water."
But he did not develop this theme in his economic writings. After all, the situation of a world divided into capitalist and socialist nations and engaged in an arms race was not fore-seeable at that time.
Lenin warned about the destructive effects of "war communism" in terms of the organizational structure of the Soviet Union,
but he did not live long enough to spell out an alternative policy in detail, or to see the devastating effects of military production.
And even today, in the Soviet Union, there is little evidence that Soviet economists have understood how the arms race has helped cause their economic stagnation, with its devastating political as well as economic effects.
We need a revision of Marxist economics that will account for new phenomena associated with the arms race. It needs to take into consideration the increased importance of science and technology in today's global economy. This is quite different from the time of Marx and Lenin. Then, the rate of technological change was increasing to some extent, but today it is doubling every few decades. This makes for an unprecedented acceleration of technology. As a result, there is an acceleration of economic change and, indeed, an acceleration of history itself.
2. Dumas' Analysis
I suggest that we begin from the theoretical concepts developed by Lloyd Dumas in his 1986 book, The Overburdened Economy.
To put the argument briefly, Dumas considers military production to be worse than unproductive activity -instead it is counter-productive (he uses the term "distractive"). He suggests that to evaluate an economy we should remove military production and unproductive activity from the Gross National Product (GNP). Instead, the overall economic calculation of a nation's economic performance should include only useful activity, that is, economic activity which produces goods and services that are directly useful to the standard of living, or that are used to produce such goods and services. He calls this measure the Social Material Product (SMP).
Once we reformulate our overall economic measure, we can classify labor in terms of its contribution to the SMP. There is productive labor (Dumas calls it "contributive") which adds to the SMP .There is unproductive labor (Dumas calls it "neutral") which neither contributes nor distracts (bureaucratic work, financial speculation, etc.). and, finally, there is counter-productive labor which Dumas calls "distractive," which takes technology and capital investment that is needed for useful production and diverts it to non-useful purposes, in particular, military production.
Although the Dumas thesis is new, we can see its roots in Marxist and pre-Marxist economics. Dumas acknowledges that he has expanded on a distinction made by Adam Smith between productive and unproductive labor. We find the same distinction by Marx in Capital where he separates the productive labor of agricultural, textile, mining, industrial, and household workers from the unproductive labor of the. ..
ideological classes, such as government officials, priests, lawyers, soldiers, etc., further, all who have no occupation but to consume the labor of others in the form of rent, interests, etc; and lastly, paupers, vagabonds and criminals.
The theoretical work of Dumas comes out of very practical experience. He was a student of Seymour Melman, who for decades has worked with trade unions, especially the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and elected officials, including George McGovern, Ted Weiss and Jim Wright, to formulate economic conversion planning and legislation. Melman has argued for decades that military production is responsible for the decline in U.S. infrastructure and industrial plant, with special emphasis on the machine tool industry.
3. Breakdown of Technology
Because of today's rapidly changing technology and globalized economy, it is in technology where military spending is most counter-productive. By conservative estimates, military research and development (R & D) accounted for 56 percent of U.S. Government R & D and 28 percent of total national R & D from 1970 to 1984.
The USSR traditionally has kept its figures secret, but they are probably even higher than those of the U.S. Recently, the Soviets published figures for their military budget for the first time.
According to a report, they have spent 3.1 percent of their military budget for R & D, a figure they consider comparable to the U.S. proportion, which they calculate as 3.3 percent of the military budget.
Both the USSR and the U.S. have lost out in the technological competition with Germany and Japan. And the reason is easy to see. During the period of 1970 to 1984, Germany and Japan spent only 6 percent and 1 percent respectively of their total national R & D for the military. As a result U.S. and Soviet goods cannot compete on the global market with those of Germany and Japan.
In the time of Marx, this would not have been as great a problem because technological change was slower and the economy less global. But today, the effect on the USSR is devastating. The USSR produces computers, hand calculators, audio and TV recorders, automobiles and machine tools which would have competed well if they had been on the market 20 or 30 years ago, but 20 or 30 years is like an eternity in today's marketplace.
The effect of technological lag on the U.S. economy is also devastating, but different than that on the USSR. Because of imperialism and its multinational ties, the capitalist class is able to profit from the arms race on the whole and deflect the losses onto the working class of the U.S. and third-world nations. More on that below.
The precise extent of the militarization of Soviet technology is difficult to determine because of their secrecy. Even the Soviet Foreign Ministry was unable to find out these figures, according to the head of their division of economic conversion, Ednan Agaev.
He estimated that in the Moscow area 85-90 percent of all scientific researchers are in the military sector. This seems too high, but a recent analysis in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that half of all applied R & D in the Moscow area is defense related.
The same article points out that Moscow has over 40 percent of the entire country's R & D organizations.
Seymour Melman makes the following observation about the counter-productive effect of military research and development in the USSR.
In 1959, he visited the dean of a top Soviet technical school in the process of studying their designs for machine tools. He saw state-of-the-art machine tools that could be mass-produced at competitive prices on the world market. Twenty years later he returned and found that there had been no progress. The dean told him that the Defense Ministry came each year and commandeered his best graduates.
4. Breakdown of Science
Civilian science and technology in the USSR has a problem of quality as well as quantity. I could see this in my own work over the years as an exchange scientist in programs with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Academy of Medical Sciences, and Ministry of Higher Education. The only colleagues who could obtain quality equipment and materials were the ones who had connections to scientists in defense industry. I found a normal range in intellectual talent among the civilian scientists with whom I worked, and a larger number of technical support personnel than in the U.S., but at the same time their scientific output was inferior. Soviet-made materials and instruments were generally inferior, and there was limited access to foreign-made equivalents. Libraries and technical education were inadequate. Under such adverse conditions, there was a tendency for the leadership of scientific institutes to exaggerate and distort their claims of scientific productivity.
In discussing technology, it is important to keep in mind that discoveries by basic scientific researchers are only the first link in the research and development chain. Applied research and development are then needed to devise materials and production processes so that the product can be produced at competitive prices. Further development is needed to explore applications and markets, including both domestic applications and export possibilities. Therefore, it turns out that the diversion of applied research and development is even more devastating than the diversion of basic research. In fact, it is applied research and development that has been diverted primarily in the U.S., and probably in the USSR as well. In the 1991 U.S. military budget, there are $36.8 billion allocated for applied research and only one billion for basic research. The Soviets have not published such a breakdown, but there is no reason to expect it to be any different.
The relatively low proportion of basic research in military spending refutes the argument of those who claim that technological "spin-off" from military research can make up for the drain on the civilian economy. Such spin-offs come primarily from basic rather than applied research and development, and that is only 3 percent of the total. Military secrecy is another factor which reduces still further the possibility of such spin-offs. The elaborate security measures that each country takes to hide its military secrets also hide the results of its basic military research from its own civilian economy. One could argue that in the long run these secrets leak out and make their contribution, but in the meantime there is a lag in their application. It is precisely this lag that puts a country at a competitive disadvantage in today's global market.
5. Resource Diversion
Technology is only the leading edge of a more pervasive counter-productive effect of military production. Dumas makes it clear that the diversion of all capital investment has a major counter-productive effect. The degree to which this diversion of capital investment occurs in today's economies is difficult to calculate with precision. Dumas notes that in the recession years of 1980-1982, U.S. military investments in plant equipment came to $3.3 billion, which amounted to 38 percent of all new investment in plant equipment in those years.
In a recent interview about economic conversion, Oleg Baklanov, Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, minimized its importance by claiming that Soviet defense industry makes up only 6.4 percent of the overall industrial assets of the country.
Some Western analysts claim that the figure is actually twice as high.
In any case, if those assets are allowed to drain the best scientists, engineers, materials, and machinery, then even 6.4 percent could have a significant counter-productive effect.
The counter-productive effect of military production shows up primarily in deficits of quality goods. But it shows up in services as well. For example, I have mentioned above the inferior technical preparation of many scientific support-personnel I encountered in the Soviet Union, which can be traced to technological lag in the educational system. Similarly, the medical care system although it is universal, has been increasingly unable to deliver services due to deficits in medicines and medical supplies such as disposable needles and syringes.
6. Unproductive Activity
Unproductive economic activity is built into the structure of capitalism. The capitalist class itself is an unproductive class, and it develops around itself other unproductive activities such as financial speculation, legal battles, and excessive, misleading advertising. According to Marxist economist Victor Perlo, half of all labor in the U.S. is unproductive. Included in his figure are all government employees, however, as the definition of "unproductive" is made very broad.
A narrower definition of unproductive activity is required by the Dumas formulation of a Social Material Product (SMP) as an alternative to the traditional Gross National Product (GNP). For Dumas, the SMP measures "the full output of the country's production system that involves the material standard of living." This includes useful services as well as production goods, and it includes unpaid labor as well as paid labor. Hence, in the Dumas formulation, productive labor includes all services that "contribute to increase either the present or future material standard of living." To give an example, many government employees who are classified automatically as unproductive by Perlo, would be classified as productive because they provide services which raise the standard of living.
The measurement of SMP as an alternative to GNP would prove useful to socialists and socialist countries, as it would give us a measure of the true health of an economy. For example, it would have made it clear that the Soviet Union's economy was failing a number of years ago when it was not providing needed goods and services to the people. The Soviet economy includes a large unproductive, non-military sector which shows up in GNP measures but would not show up in an SMP measure. I am reminded of the time I served as translator for an American group visiting an architectural institute near Kiev that produced blueprints for farm buildings. "How many people work here?" I asked. The answer was, "700." And how many such institutes are there in the Soviet Union that produce similar blueprints for farm buildings?" The answer was "several hundred." Each time I had to repeat the questions, because I did not believe the size of the numbers, but I was assured they were correct. And if Soviet farmers are anything like U.S. farmers, they wouldn't use the blueprints anyway!
A case can be made that militarization of an economy contributes substantially to the development of its unproductive bureaucratic sector as well as to its counter-productive sector. In the U.S., the "cost-plus" system of military contracts has become a leading source of capitalist profits and a model for other sectors of the economic system, Profit rates on military contracts are far higher than on civilian contracts, a fact that has often been documented.(17) But the problem runs deeper. There is enormous waste in a system that has no market competition and routinely solicits non-competitive, padded bids and routinely pays kickbacks and cost over-runs. These practices have become standard not only for defense contracts, but for other transactions of the military-industrial complex.
7. Militarization and Bureaucracy
In the Soviet Union, there has always been a link between militarization and bureaucracy. Lenin foresaw the problem developing and discussed it in his pamphlet introducing the New Economic Policy in 1921. He argued:
The tax in kind is one of the forms of transition from that peculiar War Communism, which was forced on us by extreme want, ruin and war, to regular socialist exchange of products.
Later in the pamphlet he criticized the growth of bureaucracy and called for the development of local economic initiatives as the socialist alternative. This was later debated between Bukharin and Trotsky. Trotsky took the principle of war communism to an extreme:
His concept of a system of command and coercion ...was aimed at a system of forced labour, of barrack-like social organization. ...This "mass of workers" was to be assigned rigid production quotas from above in the form of legally binding plans, to be fulfilled under threat of severe reprisals ...whereby deserters were to be sent to penal work teams and even to concentration camps.
Secrecy and restricted movement, the hallmarks of militarism and bureaucracy, pervaded Soviet society when I was working there. They hampered the work of the scientific institutes where I was located, even though they were not doing military research. As a result, I found that all levels of the system, from institutes to ministries, were isolated from each other, both by barriers to communication and by an attitude that one should mind one's own business. In the long run, these barriers to communication can be very destructive to scientific work and its applications.
From modest beginnings at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in 1986, perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev's program of economic, political, and social restructuring, became the unintended catalyst for dismantling what had taken nearly three-quarters of a century to erect: the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist totalitarian state.
The world watched in disbelief but with growing admiration as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, democratic governments overturned Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Germany was reunited, the Warsaw Pact withered away, and the Cold War came to an abrupt end.
In the Soviet Union itself, however, reactions to the new policies were mixed. Reform policies rocked the foundation of entrenched traditional power bases in the party, economy, and society but did not replace them entirely. Newfound freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion, the right to strike, and multicandidate elections undermined not only the Soviet Union's authoritarian structures, but also the familiar sense of order and predictability. Long-suppressed, bitter inter-ethnic, economic, and social grievances led to clashes, strikes, and growing crime rates.
Gorbachev introduced policies designed to begin establishing a market economy by encouraging limited private ownership and profitability in Soviet industry and agriculture. But the Communist control system and over-centralization of power and privilege were maintained and new policies produced no economic miracles. Instead, lines got longer for
in the stores,
t mounted, and bloody crackdowns
claimed lives (Afghanistan and Chernobyl Accident)
, particularly in the restive nationalist populations of the outlying Caucasus and Baltic states.
On August 19, 1991, conservative elements in Gorbachev's own administration launched an abortive coup d'tat to prevent the signing of a new union treaty the following day and to restore the party's power and authority. Boris Yeltsin, who had become Russia's first popularly elected president in June 1991, made the seat of government of his Russian republic, known as the White House, the rallying point for resistance to the organizers of the coup. Under his leadership, Russia embarked on even more far- reaching reforms as the Soviet Union broke up into its constituent republics and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States.
convened in Leningrad in October, 1990, by the conservative communist organization "Unity--for Leninism and Communist Ideals" demanded radical changes in Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika and its implementation. Participants in the conference accused Gorbachev of following a course that would restore capitalism in the Soviet Union, and they appealed to party organizations and members to demand convocation of an extraordinary Party Congress to remove Gorbachev from power. This resolution was given to the Central Committee on November 29, 1990, and assigned for action to two Politburo members by V. Ivashko, who notes on the document, "Please think about this, and let's talk."
During an interview in 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev is quoted as saying "I detest lies"
. It was this yearning for the truth that lead him to introduce the policy of glasnost literally openness in English. The liberal press exploited this leeway and continuously challenged its boundaries.
Whole periods of recorded Soviet history were changed by glasnost. Stalin, Brezhnev and Cherenko previously great leaders were unmasked as the brutal oppressive murders they really were. Only Lenin remained sacrosanct. Most telling of all, the school history exams for 1988 were cancelled. So much conventional wisdom was overturned in the preceding months that the existing Soviet history books had become useless. This change was not totally accepted by radicals or hardliners. The radicals wished to go further, faster and were exemplified in such illegal publications as Glasnost. Hardliners tried to retain their grip on people's minds by frequent attacks on the radicals in the conservative press. Prada the flagship Communist Party newspaper thundered "that extremists and nationalists were hiding their true face behind a mask of commitment to perestroika
. While glasnost did allow discussion to take place it is clear from the exert that controls were placed on the discussion. The arrest and harassment of the more radical papers staff and the removal of material from libraries still ensured the attacks found the right targets. The early years of glasnost and thus the early years of freedom of speech in the USSR are described and analysed in the exert.
The critical re-examination of history glasnost fostered was unprecedented in the USSR and affected every chapter of the country's history. Khrushchev had previously criticised Stalin however he only let out partial truths to help his own career. The difference this time was that a liberal press had been allowed to grow and flourish within the USSR. Ogonyuk a popular current affairs magazine had a circulation of three million by 1990. It was in newspapers, television shows and magazines like Ogonyuk that the USSR's past was examined and the real truth revealed to the Soviet people. The liberal press did not take long to turn its attention to the slowness in reform of the Soviet system.
Glasnost had broken free from its masters by 1989 and began to be used to criticise its creator Gorbachev. Anything was now fair game. The abolition of the Communist Party's leading role, the failure of perestroika and multi party democracy were openly discussed in the Soviet media. These ideas were undreamt of even a couple of years earlier. The turning point for glasnost was the Chernobyl nuclear diaster in 1986. Soviet authorities initially tried to cover up the catastrophe and remained silent for 48 hours. The silence was followed by complete honesty and unparallel information of the like that had never been seen in the USSR before. After Chernobyl environmental concerns became a favourite topic of the liberal press. The turning of Central Asia into a desert by diverting rivers to irrigate cotton plantations were just one example that shocked the nation. The people could not believe the incompetence of their Communist Party planners. As the truth came out piece by piece the Soviet people became more and more angry at their Communist rulers.
Glasnost allowed for the first time the facts to be presented. The Soviet people soon realised why so much had been kept from them for so long. The USSR was in a mess but for the first time the people knew the truth and were demanding answers.
In April 1986, Chernobyl' (Chornobyl' in Ukrainian) was an obscure city on the Pripiat' River in north-central Ukraine. Almost incidentally, its name was attached to the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant located about twenty-five kilometers upstream.
On April 26, the city's anonymity vanished forever when, during a test at 1:21 A.M., the No. 4 reactor exploded and released thirty to forty times the radioactivity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world first learned of history's worst nuclear accident from Sweden, where abnormal radiation levels were registered at one of its nuclear facilities.
Ranking as one of the greatest industrial accidents of all time, the Chernobyl' disaster and its impact on the course of Soviet events can scarcely be exaggerated. No one can predict what will finally be the exact number of human victims. Thirty- one lives were lost immediately. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, Russians, and Belorussians had to abandon entire cities and settlements within the thirty-kilometer zone of extreme contamination. Estimates vary, but it is likely that some 3 million people, more than 2 million in Belarus' alone, are still living in contaminated areas. The city of Chernobyl' is still inhabited by almost 10,000 people. Billions of rubles have been spent, and billions more will be needed to relocate communities and decontaminate the rich farmland.
Chernobyl' has become a metaphor not only for the horror of uncontrolled nuclear power but alsofor the collapsing Soviet system and its reflexive secrecy and deception, disregard for the safety and welfare of workers and their families, and inability to deliver basic services such as health care and transportation, especially in crisis situations. The Chernobyl' catastrophe derailed what had been an ambitious nuclear power program and formed a fledgling environmental movement into a potent political force in Russia as well as a rallying point for achieving Ukrainian and Belorussian independence in 1991. Although still in operation, the Chernobyl' plant is scheduled for total shutdown before the year 2000. The power station will be replaced by a thermal energy giant.
10. Ethnic Problems
The Soviet Union was the last great world empire. Its borders stretched from Europe to Asia, from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Within these borders lived 120 different ethnic groups divided into fifteen republics and various autonomous regions. Lenin believed nationalism would disappear under communism and a Soviet people would emerge. This proved to be fundamentally false and Russian nationalism and beliefs of superiority set the stage for ethnic conflict within the USSR.
The USSR was built on roughly the same territory as the Tsarist Russian empire. Joseph Stalin through brute force and the slaughtering of national elites welded together the different ethnic groups. The map shows that although a vast country over half the USSR was sparsely settled or uninhabited. During World War Two whole races were moved to uninhabited areas on suspicion of co-operating with the Nazis. This can be seen on the map by Germans (number 33) living in Central Asia. A total of 60 million people lived outside their republics. The roots of the Armenian - Azerbaijani conflict over the territory of Nagorno - Karabakh can also be seen clearly from the map. A pocket of Armenian people (31) is surrounded on all sided by Azerbaijani. The Soviet Union had a diverse range of ethnic peoples between its borders.
With a multicultural society, individual republic's demands for independence where always going to cause chaos in the USSR. Gorbachev could not let one territorial adjustment take place as there were 120 changes wanted by various ethnic groups. He often allowed the groups to fight it out sending in the army only when the demonstrators started demanding independence. It was to stop anti Soviet demonstrations that the military entered Baku leaving over 100 dead. Stained with the blood of its own citizens the military lost much moral authority. The violence only hardened the resolve of the republics to break away from Moscow. Independence demands often followed a pattern. Problems of language and culture were first followed by the truth about the past, then the environment, then the economy, then political autonomy, then the goal of sovereignty and finally independence. In this way the republics could build support for independence without having to face the full wrath of Moscow.
With a large number of people and entire races living outside their homelands ethnic conflict in the USSR only needed a spark to ignite. The spark was the economy's collapse. People became jealous and selfish of what other republics enjoyed. Russians realised they were one of the poorest people and started to complain. As did wealthier republics like the Baltic states who correctly suspected that they were being dragged down by the rest of the union. Such realisations could only in the long run lead to demands for independence.
11. War in Afghanistan
It may seem a bit far-reaching that a country like Afghanistan had any bearing on the fall of the Soviet Union. Anthony Arnold, however, compares Soviet Union with a sick old man and Afghanistan as the pebble which this exhausted sick man stumbled on and fell. One could easily dismiss Arnold's argument if he had been the only expert, or at least among the few writers who had articulated this point. But surprisingly, there are quiet a number of authors who suggest Afghanistan as one of the considerable factors in the demise of the USSR. Thus, in this paper I will put forward a number of factors which dealt fatal blows to the invincibility of the Soviet Union.
I would especially like to focus on the effects of the Afghan War in the Soviet Union's domestic dynamics and relate public opinion/opposition to the war, during and after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. But first, I would like to place Russia and Afghanistan in historical perspective. "Of all the burdens Russia has had to bear, the heaviest and most relentless of all has been the weight of her past" Tibor Szamuely, the Russian Tradition" (Arnold 17). Although one may not fully grasp this statement due to one's limited knowledge of Russian history, never the less, one can appreciate the implication in the context of the chapter (2) presented by Arnold on Russian history: Under the heel of the Golden Horde [a division of the Mongols which headed northward in the late 13th century and conquered lands from Central Asia up to Moscow] Russia missed out on the nation building era of Europe. Entering late in the European process (sixteenth century) Russian received the finished product and thus had to deconstruct the progress while playing catch-up. The defeat of Peter the Great in 1700 by the Swedish King, Charles XII, focused Peter's mind on domestic shortcomings. The Petrine reforms that followed covered about all aspects of Russian life. Peter's forceful, ruthless, and willful attitudes dragged the country toward progress. In 1712 Peter decisively defeated Charles; and by the end of his reign, some argue, that Russia won the fear, if not respect, of Europe- especially militarily.
Catherine the Great (1762-96) brought Russia closer to the European frame of mind. Under Alexander I (1801-25) Russia's skillful army defeated Napoleon in 1814. And its here when a group of officers known as Decemberists staged an unsuccessful coup against the state government. The Third Department [a direct ancestor of the KGB] of Nicholas I (1825-55) was established to stamp out nonconformity in Russia. Moreover, this reactionary regime rested in Slavophilism philosophy, which basically inherited the ideology that Russia had no need to borrow from the West in order to make herself known to the world - as had argued the Decemberists. Thus, the Tsar preached that Russia was uniquely capable of an orderly, benevolent despotism rooted in the Orthodox church. This ideology, however, was bypassed by Alexander II (1855-81) after the death of Nicholas I, who freed the 43 million serfs. Alexander also released the surviving Decemberists and eased censorship but refused to relinquish absolute power or grant a constitution to Russia. It is under him that the prestige of Russian military superiority comes to an end in 1854, when an Anglo-French army successively defeated the Russian army. Wanting an easy and low cost victory to improve its military image, Nicholas II turned to Asia and attacked Japan in 1904. Suffering a disastrous defeat Nicholas faced waves of strikes which paralyzed the economy. As a result a consultative parliament, the Duma, was established in May 1906. The new Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin, dissolved the first Duma, and enforced great reforms - but was finally killed in 1911 for being more effective then the Tsar, while disappointing the left and the right wings with his reform policies. Never the less, in October 1917, after an embarrassing defeat in World War I, the last of the Romanov dynasty, Tsar Nicholas II, was executed by the victorious Communists.
The contradiction between limited economic reform (which plagued Lenin, who reluctantly allowed a semi-Capitalism to revive the devastated economy) and continued political absolutism came to an end with the Stalin's launching of his twin drives of industrialization and collectivization, which saw the total defeat of limited economic reform. Needless to say that the World War II victory also contributed to this formula greatly; as Col. S. Kulichk in puts it "All vicarious war waged by Russia have led to a strengthening of totalitarianism in the country, and all unsuccessful ones have led to democracy... A strange interpretation of history, is it not?" (Arnold, 29).
Ironically, when the Soviet forces were compelled to withdraw from Afghanistan (April 15, 1989), the Soviet Union was beginning to undergo the initial stages of drastic reforms from above since the reign of Alexander II. At the eve of Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the rotting effects of absolute centralism and autocratic power on the national psychology [Stalinistic, old school philosophy] had resulted in corruption, non discipline, irresponsibility, and grassroots apathy, the same problems which had plagued Peter the Great's administration before the Swedish War in 1700. And much like Catherine the Great's Nakaz and the Potemkin villages, a glossy blanket of false propaganda had covered the domestic degeneration, arguably, well.
To make further parallels, as Nicholas II, who made the mistake of attacking the seemingly "weaker" opponent (Japan), Brezhnev invaded the "easy" Afghanistan, totally ignoring local history and traditional patterns. In the same light, Gorbachev, like Tsar Alexander, sought to preserve and even to increase his personal power and to maintain the organs of suppression which were so carefully nurtured by his predecessors. But his position was challenged by the old school hard lined conspirators in the 1991 failed coup, and was finally removed from power shortly after by Boris Yeltsin , a student of the new school of Russian thought.
On the other hand, Afghanistan became a unified country in 1747 under the leadership of an ethnic Pashtun leader, Ahmad Khan of the Sadozai (later named Durrani) clan of the Abdali tribe. It is under this tribe that the leadership of Afghanistan rested until the 1978 'revolution'. In the meantime, the expansion of Russia southward by early to mid nineteenth century posed a threat to the jewel of the British crown, India. The British predicted that Peter the Great's dream of expansion could endanger their possessions in India, thus adopted an anti-expansionist policy (against Russia) which made Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Tibet a fence around any further Russian expansion; and thus began "the Great Game".
In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan and occupied the capital, Kabul. In January 1842, out of 16,500 soldiers (and 12,000 dependents) only one survivor, of mixed British-Indian garrison, reaching the fort in Jalalabad, on a stumbling pony. Fearing another Russian influence, the British once again entered Afghanistan in 1878. In July 1880 the regiment was cut to ribbons, while 'Abd al-Rahman Khan became Amir of Afghanistan, but agreed to surrender Afghan foreign relations to the British. In 1919 (Third and last Anglo-Afghan War), under Amanullah Khan, Afghanistan reclaimed its foreign independence from the British, who were never to interfere directly into Afghan affairs again.
The question over the motive of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan may be raised. Different authors have put forward a long list of issues which may have enticed the Russian invasion, but they all agree that: both countries had long and close relationship with one another; and the government of Afghanistan was one of the first to recognized the Bolshevik regime. Afghanistan had the largest per capita economic aid program with the Soviet Union before the Communist coup; the Afghan military was trained in the Soviet Union, and finally because the U.S. didn't supply military equipment to the government of Afghanistan during Prime Minister (1953-63) and later President (1973-78) Mohammad Daoud's office.
The notion of self identify and nationalism which had popular appeal in the Middle East since the nineteenth century, reached Afghanistan in 1960's and created popular dynamics resulting in the evolution of the leftist and rightists parties. In 1964 a liberal constitution initiated by King Zahir, permitted multi-party elections in the Parliament and other government offices in Afghanistan. Moscow needed the service of an Afghan Communist party. Thus the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was established in January 1965 by a group of intellectuals. Meanwhile, Conservative Islamist opposition was formed during the 1960's when the Pakistani Jama'at-i Islami, headed by 'Abdul 'Ala Maududi, tried to establish a sister organization in Kabul, with the help of some theology professors (graduates of Al-Azhar University, Egypt) at the Theology Department of the University of Kabul, aiming to revive the ideals of Moslem Brethren. During the Soviet occupation and the civil war that followed these leaders emerged as the major players on the Afghan scene.
The PDPA split into Khalq [People] and Parcham [Banner] factions, but were reunited under close Soviet patronage in 1977. President Daoud tried to eliminate the PDPA in Spring 1978 by arresting its leaders. This action triggered a classic Coup de tat the next day. An armored brigade took over the presidential palace and killed everyone inside. Three days later the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was declared, and Nur Mohammad Taraki announced as the president. Although it is argued that Moscow did not directly trigger the coup, one can point out that it did nothing to prevent it either. Thus, the internal dynamics of the PDPA may have outpaced Soviet strategy. Regardless, the damage had been done.
The neighboring countries were not however greatly alarmed by the PDPAs take-over, because the regional balance of power still had not changed. Only Pakistan was worried about a stronger and tougher Kabul and thus supported the anti-government elements. The West, also, did not yet see the 1978 coup as a expansion of the Soviets toward the warm waters.
Hafizullah Amin's bodyguards assassinated President Taraki in September 1979 and he began a ruthless subjugation of the opposition which consisted of two-third of the country. Shaken by peasant revolts, urban upheavals and bloody internal feuds, the regime was on the verge of collapse when in December 27, 1979 the Soviets decided to intervene, killing Amin and replacing him with Babrak Karmal. After Karmal's failure to bring peace to the country, he was replaced by Dr. Najibullah in May 1986. He was to remain president until the Mujahidin coalition took power in 1992.
In establishing the parameters, one could not put a price on the casualties, however it is necessary to apply some numerical figures into it. In fighting the Soviets the Afghans suffered about two million dead (mostly civilian), an economic devastation, over five million displaced citizens, and such political and social disintegration that the very future survival of Afghanistan as a state is still questionable. The war, for the Soviets without much exaggeration, meant nothing less then national suicide, even if one counts Afghanistan as a catalyst for the breakup process of the Soviet Union.
Economically speaking, the cost of the war varies, according to the varying Soviet figures, but the most agreeable figure is given as $8.2 billion per year. As for casualties, it too is an arguable topic, due to the strict censorship of the Soviet Union. The official 15,000 dead is a gross underestimation. Experts agree that at least 40,000 - 50,000 Soviets lost their lives in action, besides the wounded, suicides, and murders. The ultimate political cost, however, was at least the breakup of the surface glaze which had hidden much of the internal decay for decades. This, in part, would not have been possible without the great contributions of communicational technology which became at the disposal of the populace [mostly after the Afghan War, i.e. fax machines and the free and uncensored Media (due to Glastnos)], all of which were capable of reporting the slightest news around the world and all over the USSR.
However, it is the social costs that I want to emphasize. Some of my sources have focused on different frames of social breakdown as a result of the war. I will go over all of them briefly. Corruption is on the top of every list. One example given by Arnold is that the price-tag for a medical exemption from Chernobyl nuclear cleaning, in 1987, was 500 rubles, and 1000 rubles to avoid going for military service in Afghanistan. Drugs were another problem facing the society upon the return of the Afghan veterans. Virtually all 546,200 troops who served in Afghanistan had the chance to experiment with drugs for the first time. Cheaper and easier to come by than alcohol in the Afghan bazaars, often drugs changed hand with guns and ammunition.
Yet a greater problem was the Afghan veterans, or afgantsy, who returned to a country which deemed their sacrifice a mistake. Most of these soldie rs suffered psychological problems, either by losing their minds or turning into a life of violence, including becoming involved with the local Mafia. Perhaps the sharpest criticism and opposition came from Andrei Sakharov, who on June 2, 1989, in the Congress of Deputies, shocked the nation and the deputies by calling the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan a criminal act and a war against an entire people. This is yet another example of a daring stand against the feared system; it is particularly interesting because the confrontation came from a distinguished political personality who was taking this stance.
On the civilian side, the people did not know of the 1979 invasion until three days after the invasion. And for the first year of the war the government denied any casualties in Afghanistan. In order to keep the war hidden the soldiers sent to Afghanistan were mainly chosen from the Baltic Sea area, Russia (Central Asia to a lesser extent) and were recruited from small villages. But even with assuming utmost precaution the government could not hide the invasion or its consequences.
Some sources focus on public opinion and the eventual escalation of protests during and then after the war, starting with underground papers and protest demonstrations at soldier's funerals and grave sites (which were on small scale during the war, however). Although any protest was being immediately and severely put down (for the very act of opposition against the political establishment was regarded as high treason) no force could control the popular discontent of the Soviets, thus, protests were becoming more frequent and better populated. "I believed - I really believed," said a retired Soviet schoolteacher, of her lifelong party membership, in Fall of 1990. A Russian biologist related in early 1992 that "they said we were the happiest people in the world. How were we to know differently?" (Arnold, 200). Such actions are indicative of not only the mass frustration but also of political break-down.
According to Arnold, the Soviet Empire stood on three pillars: Military, KGB, and Communist party, and argues that the Afghan War ate into these pillars thus weakening them to the point of break-down. For example, when key military and KGB commanders refused to follow Dmitris Yazov and Valdmiri Kryuchkoo's commands, in August 1991, to storm the Russian Parliament where Boris Yeltsin was holding out, it was a decisive signal that the chain of command had lost its effective control. Also noteworthy is that among the civilians who manned the barricades around the parliament building and defied the tanks, were a sizable contingent of the afgantsy.
A channel through which a number of the Soviet people expressed their anger, frustration, and discontent was the independent free press. In magazines like Ogonyok people's letters were being published and the journalists gave accounts of the war based on personal experience. Two of my source, Small Fires and The Hidden War mainly focus on such publications. To show veteran's discontent with the government, I am including part of a letter, written by an afgantsy Senior Lieutenant, to the Ogonyok magazine: ...I will send you a letter with all the details about how some there [Afghanistan] "did battle," received and then were deprived of battle decorations, falsified the lists of those who would receive decorations, redistributed equipment and personal gear, about what our superiors drank, what the higher-ups had for dinner and what the majority ate, where goods for the Afghan population disappeared to, how the officers made cripple of their soldiers and ignored murders and suicides, about the tragic events in battle that were committed with the full knowledge and under the orders of high officials, how we lived and how they, the "regimental elite," lived, about how lists of those decorated were not issued according to the rules because of the personal enmity of superiors to their subordinates, how housekeepers, bathhouse attendants, and gardeners were reward, and in general about anything and everything. (Borovik 286-7)
Economic devastation, political suppression, despotic rule, and forced virtues were Stalinistic old-school policies, which held the chains surrounding a society that no longer could be held from change. Afghanistan was a major factor in breaking the myths which had surrounded the Soviet Empire for decades. Acknowledging the speedy implementation of Prestroika and Glasnost, coupled with a breakdown of the economics and changing Soviet ideology were elements breaking apart the Soviet Union.
12. Baltic Independence
Under Joseph Stalin the USSR re-annexed the Baltic countries in 1940. The independence the Baltic states had enjoyed since the collapse of the Tsarist empire was over. The pretext for the invasion was the articles of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that acknowledged Nazi Germany's and the USSR's separate spheres of influence. Stalin promptly invaded Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and deported or executed anyone who held nationalist beliefs. Without national elites the USSR gained complete control over the Baltic people and the articles formed the basis of the post Second World War Soviet state.
The greatest change glasnost made to Soviet culture was the people no longer feared the state. Lithuanian people not only demonstrated but enjoyed their new found liberty. Demonstrators were often punished severely in the USSR and throughout the late eighties there was widespread official warnings of violence. The Lithuanian people were not deterred and the writer estimated 200,000 people risked their lives on that day alone. The demonstration was in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and marked the founding congress of Sajudis. This demonstration and the dozens like it were as much a celebration of the Lithuanian peoples rebirth of nationalism and pride as a protest against Soviet domination. The two went hand in hand as part of the Soviet suppression was the banning of patriotic songs and poetry. Sajudis as Mr Cornwell states started "as a ginger group for reform" soon grew in popularity and became a national front. It gained support from "old and young", Russians and ethnic Lithuanians alike. The mention of "Stalin's crimes against Lithuania" is particularly interesting. Stalin's crimes were suppressed and officially denied up until Gorbachevs appointment. Only glasnost allowed the sorry tail of horror to become known and openly discussed. The account is one of jubilation and courage by the Lithuanian people and of their pride in finally starting to throw off the Soviet yoke.
Lithuania and the other Baltic states Latvia and Estonia set an example of rebellion for the rest of the USSR to follow. In 1988 while the rest of the USSR was relatively calm the Baltic states were in open defiance of the Kremlin. On 24 August 1989 half the adult population of the Baltics formed a human chain stretching the entire length of the three republics to protest against the fiftieth anniversary of Soviet rule. The Soviet authorities such was their loss of touch with the average person viewed the anniversary as a celebration. In the parliamentary elections Sajudis swept the board. They were elected to the Supreme Soviet in Moscow allowing their voices to be heard nationwide through televised coverage. On 11 March 1990 by 124 votes to zero with six abstentions the Lithuanian parliament passed the Act of the Supreme Council on the Restoration of the Independent Lithuanian State. This shocked the Kremlin who replied in the only way they knew how. Tanks were sent in on the 22 March and five days later Soviet troops occupied strategic buildings. Estonia and Latvia were not far behind declaring independence on 30 March and 4 May respectively. Economic sanctions were applied but had no effect just like the military actions before them.
The Baltic republics blew a hole in the walls of the Soviet state. They had achieved the unthinkable by use of mere people power, along the way setting an example for the other republics to follow. National fronts were quickly established in most Soviet republics. Lithuania brought into the USSR by force had proved it could leave through mass protests and popular support for independence.
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