The Collapse of Communism

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

The Gorbachev Revolution

Mikhail Gorbachev was a different kind of Soviet leader. He recognized that the Soviet Union could not remain politically and economically isolated and that the Soviet system had to be changed if it was to survive.

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The key pieces to Gorbachev's plan for the survival of the Soviet Union were a series of reforms:

When Gorbachev took power he knew that the Soviet Union would have to change if it was to survive.

  • Central planning in a modern industrial economy brought many inefficiencies.
  • The factory management system provided little incentive to make technological improvements and every incentive to hide factory capacities to ensure low quotas
  • The socialist farm system was inefficient – there were poor worker incentives and storage and transportation problems.
  • The Soviet State could no longer afford the high defense spending that went along with the Cold War.

He believed that his reforms were necessary and used his leadership and power to attempt to implement them. The policy of glasnost made it possible for people to more freely criticize the government's policies. When people realized it was safe to speak out, the calls for change became more insistent. The gradual market reforms and decentralization of the economy (perestroika) were too slow and failed keep pace with the crisis and his people's demands. The Soviet Union was suffering a deterioration of economic and social conditions and a fall in the GNP.

Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia

Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia in 1968 put down an uprising


The Brezhnev Doctrine allowed armed intervention where socialism was "threatened by counter-revolutionary forces," primarily Eastern Europe

The renunciation of the Brezhnev Doctrine released the Eastern European states from Soviet domination and lifted the Iron Curtain. The communist rulers of these states could not survive without the support of the Soviet Union.

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and communism collapsed in Eastern Europe. This improved relations with the West and progress was made in Arms Control talks but this only angered the hard-line conservatives and further weakened Gorbachev's position.

fall of the Berlin Wall
Ecstatic West Germans take apart the Berlin Wall

His attempts to reform the Communist Party were a failure. Change was too slow to keep pace with events and he was continually hampered by his need to give in to the hard-liners in order to retain power. As communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, reform of communism within the Soviet Union became unlikely.

Soviet poster
Soviet poster showing the flags and people of the Soviet Republics

With the iron grip of the centralized Soviet state relaxed and the growing failure of the state to adequately feed and clothe its people, nationalism in the republics surged and separatist movements threatened the very existence of the Soviet Union.

The now weak Soviet state was unable to prevent the separation of the republics, and even the republic of Russia turned away, choosing Boris Yeltsin as its leader. Gorbachev found that there was no Soviet Union to be the leader of, and retired into private life. The cold war was over.

Gorbachev won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He brought a peaceful end to the cold war, and dramatic change to his country's economy, though not in the way he intended.

End of M.A.D: The Cold War exhibit

The Cold War

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