Why Did Communism Fail in the Soviet Union?

The fall of the Berlin wall[1] preceded numerous reforms that eventually saw the collapse of Soviet communism and a sect of communist countries but this was not the end of communism in itself, as communism like capitalism continuously reinvents itself as it has been witnessed in other countries like China. Yet, in itself, the failure of the communist system in the Soviet Union was not merely political and economic but also a moral failure. Indeed, communism survived in the Sovenient Union for about 7 decades and its failure was not envisioned. This paper seeks to question the fall of communism considering its strength.

Communist states typically referred to themselves as socialists rather than communists As envisioned by Marx, communism was underpinned in the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism,[2] which is interpreted as supreme leaders stand as the guide to all policies of a regime, a one party system that holds monopolistic control of the economy and mass media and an ostensible commitment to developing superior human beings. Communism survived in the Soviet Union for long periods mainly because it projected the image of power and strength. Dallin (1992), attributed its stability to control and coercion that was exhibited by the agencies in control as well as ability of the Soviet Union to somehow manage to meet the vast demand of its populous. On the other hand, Malia (1999) suggests that the repressive regime survived partly because of the tyrant leaders who were powerful enough to dissolve any opposition by continuously using intimidation. Indeed, the Soviet era is claimed as being an era of genocides and mass killings of civilians by the governments, destruction of population through man made hungers, deportations, imprisonment and forced labor.[3] Yet, the regime survived. Scholars believe that the repressive regime survived because of the determination of the rulers to stay in power given their ability to crush the opposition by using intimidation at high and constant levels. [4]Moreover, this system successfully indoctrinated its population such that they remained passive.[5]

Despite its capabilities and supremacy communism in the Soviet Union nonetheless failed. While there is no single explanation as to the end of communism in the Soviet Union, the consensus among historians is that the disintegration of the Soviet Union significantly contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Insofar, the system being rejected by the vast majority was the leading cause of the collapse of the system, nationalistic resentment over the cultural and political domination of the Soviet was also a significant component.[6] In essence, disenchantment with the system was far comprehensive in countries where the policies were imposed such as the East of Europe than in the Soviet Union where the populace had resigned to accepting the communist policies. Other popular explanations to the fall of the system include economic stagnation as well as Gorbachev’s policy of the freedom of expression commonly referred to as glasnost. [7]As the argument follows, the Soviet Union also faced abominable economic problems from famine, persistent shortage of housing, and consumer goods that endangered the survival of the system. Nevertheless, the increased freedom of expression in the mid-1980s generated more open discontent from people who felt that their grievances were not isolated. Furthermore, the system failed to meet the needs of the population with time as the population grew. The uprising and unrest of Eastern Europe deteriorated the supremacy of the system in Eastern Europe. Aside from these, the arms race from Afghanistan and America further intensified the economic burden that further increased the discontent because of more mediocre living standards. Richard Pipes, explains that in addition to the proximate causes, the underlying reason for the collapse of the system “was the utopian nature of its [the regime’s] objectives.” [8]This is because the Soviet Union pursued unfeasible and unpopular goals from times immemorial. The utopian efforts, therefore, led to a waste of resources, false political propaganda, and increased coercion and ruthlessness from Lenin and Stalin. According to Malia (1999), miscalculation of national identity, lack of strong connection among the soviet led state blocs and support of western democracy among some of the elites in the government were paramount to the disintegration of both communism and the Soviet Union.[9]

In conclusion, although communist ideals died in the Soviet Union, some countries have regained the trend from the development of some capitalistic states such as the Soviet Union. Some countries have thus been able to create communist states with capitalistic democracies, by avoiding freedom of expression and the factors that disintegrated communism. While others have been stuck in the previous ideals. However, the most important one Russia has regressed to aggressive nationalism and authoritarianism. On a positive note, following the disintegration of communism, the population in those countries experienced spectacular improvements in their standard of living.

Bibliography

Alexander Dallin: “Causes of the Collapse of the USSR,” Post-Soviet Affairs, no. 4. (July-September 1992), p.282.

Malia, Martin. Russia under Western eyes from the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1999.

Richard Pipes, “The Fall of the Soviet Union” The Collapse of Communism, pp. 42, 46

Ronald Grigor Suny, “The Empire Strikes Out: Imperial Russia, “National” Identity, and Theories of Empire,” A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin, Ronald Grigor Suny and Terry Martin, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Stephen F. Cohen, Soviet Fates, and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

Weber, Max. [1930] 2006. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcott Parsons. London: Routledge


[1] Germany was reunified following the fall of the Berlin wall. This in turn triggered the collapse of Soviet led communist blocs and later resignation of Gorbachev and disbandment of the head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic.

[2] Alexander Dallin: “Causes of the Collapse of the USSR,” Post-Soviet Affairs, no. 4. (July-September 1992).

[3] Malia, Martin. Russia under Western eyes from the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Ibid

[4] Ronald Grigor Suny, “The Empire Strikes Out: Imperial Russia, “National” Identity, and Theories of Empire,” A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin, Ronald Grigor Suny and Terry Martin, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)

[5] ibid

[6] Stephen F. Cohen, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

[7] Glasnost is a Russian word that translates to transparency or openness, equal to freedom of expression.

[8] Richard Pipes, “The Fall of the Soviet Union” The Collapse of Communism, pp. 42-46.

[9] Malia, Martin, 1999.