Soviet Union


Stalin (1927-1953) led the Soviet State through the challenges of World War II.

Although the war was a terrible drain on the already impoverished and exhausted
society, it resulted, paradoxically in strengthening the Soviet dictatorship.

The war distracted the Soviet people from Stalin's excesses in previous years
and generated patriotism and national unity. It also greatly strengthened the

Soviet military. The Soviet Union emerged from the war as second in power only
to the United States. (Dr. Minton F, Goldman) So what were the factors that
contributed to the collapse of the super power and what is preventing Russia
from re-entering the international community as a stabilized independent
country. In the beginning, Communism seemed to be the utopian ideal for the
people of Russia because it promised elimination of classes, guaranteed
employment, and gave hope that "The creation of a comprehensive social
security and welfare system for all citizens that would end the misery of
workers once and for all." In 1917, when Lenin came to power the socialist
dictatorship underwent radical changes in it's economic doctrines adopting the

New Economic Policy giving control of the majority of means of production to the
government. Lenin's government made many achievements and in fact throughout the
majority of Communist rule, censorship and subordination of interest groups was
imposed to stop dissension and increase conformity to the new government's
policies. After Lenin's death in 1924, his predecessor Joseph Stalin continued
his reforms and at length became completely totalitarian making himself the most
powerful man in Russia. Stalin began the Great Purge (campaign of removing all
opposition to the Communist rule) in which millions of people were arrested and
either harassed or killed. The economic system was changed so that the
government controlled the entire system. All the private ownership ended,
industrialization was commenced, and the strength of the military was
substantially increased. During this period, agricultural production output
diminished resulting in food shortages. These shortages were only enhanced by
the mass exportation of food. Stalin also put the production of manufacturing
machinery over basic consumer goods and other staples. To top things off, the

Second World War broke out and drained most of what was left of the already
impoverished state. Although Russia came out of the war a super power, the death
of Stalin in 1953 marked the end of supreme power for the head of the Communist
party. For the next several years, Russia went through different leaders trying
to find one to save the suffering society. Khrushchev achieved minor reforms,
but was dismissed due to shortages in grain and dairy products and his blame for
the Cuban Missile Crisis. Leonid Brezhnev reversed most of the progress made by

Krushchev and restored many of Stalin's political disciplinary policies. During
this time, there was an inefficient use land, labor and resources, which
resulted in an economic slackening. Bureaucrats were paid for loyalty with
material wealth and public interests were placed secondary to personal gain. In
the 1980's, the already impoverished standard of living for Soviet citizens
dropped dramatically. This caused strikes and public outcry against the
administration, which threatened the stability of the Soviet Union. The people
were angry because in exchange for their obedience, the Communist Party had
promised them employment, free health care, and a level of comfort. None of
these promises was fulfilled. When Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary in

1985, he began a program called "Perestroika" which was the
organizational restructuring of the Soviet economy and government apparatus. He
also began a policy called "Glasnost" to support the restructuring.
"Glasnost" which emphasized openness with regard to discussion of
social problems and shortcomings. The purpose of these reforms was to elevate
the Soviet standard of living in order to reaffirm the citizenry's loyalties to
the Communist Party and to enable the restoration of the Soviet economy and
ideal. State control was lessened and individual initiative encouraged. He took
many different steps to ease international affairs as well. However, during this
period of change, strong nationalistic opinion started in the republics of the

Soviet Union causing major upheaval. In 1991, as the Soviet economy
deteriorated, Gorbachev faced competing pressures from hard-line Communists,
from free-market reformers,and from nationalists and secessionists seeking
independence for their republics. Gorbachev suspended party activities, placed
reformers in charge of the military and KGB, and allowed Estonia, Latvia, and

Lithuania to become independent republics. The USSR voted itself out of
existence in 1991, and Gorbachev resigned as its president. Under the Communist
regime, there were immense social problems. In the period before Gorbachev, all
religion was made extremely difficult to practice by the government. There was a
substantial amount of alcoholism and crime mostly due to harsh working and
living conditions. There was extreme discrimination against women due to a
strong sexist attitude. This made it extremely difficult for women to find
decent employment, especially since they were also expected to keep household
duties, and women were very scarce in government. Relations among the different
ethnic groups, which lived within the Soviet Union, were very tense and
sometimes openly hostile. The education system also caused tension because it
was set up to motivate students to be obedient and Atheist, among other things.

Students were also assigned jobs upon graduation, and if they did not accept the
designated position, it could damage their advancement opportunities in the
future. Graduates were sometimes prone to suicide because of this. The health
care system was under funded. Most hospitals were under staffed and the
equipment was outdated, medical supplies were also scarce. Poor standards of
sanitation and public hygiene lead to an increase annual death rate, a drop in
the birth rate, and a decrease of the life expectancy of a citizen. All of these
factors in a way, lead to the disintegration of the communist Regime, taking
into account all of the social problems and the years of mismanagement of the
countries resources, we can see why the economy slowed and citizen support for
the government diminished. Boris Yeltsin was named President of Russia in 1990
and immediately declared Russia's independence. He also moved to end state
control of the economy, privatized most industries and among other things
outlawed the Communist Party. Under Yeltsin and its other leaders, the Russian
economy has been put through many reforms, which have only proved to throw it
into disarray. This is mainly due to the Soviet government's lack of experience
in Democratic/Capitalist governing and has to huge dent in the economy left
behind by years of Communist rule. Currently, the Russian economy is in
disarray, and the standard of living for the average citizen is as low if not
lower than during the Communist rule. This had bred many social problems, which,
in effect, mirror those of the Communist administration. Religious and ethnic
animosity and the lack of proper education in this new political and economic
system has lead to public discontent and a rise in the alcoholism problem. The
elimination of the middle class resulting in extreme wealth for a select few,
and bitter poverty for the masses along with the collapse of private banks
eliminating the savings of millions of people. There is an apparent lack of
participation by citizens in the government and in return a lack of
communication by the government with the people. With the instability of

Russia's government widespread corruption that leaves power and decision making
to organized criminal groups such as the Mafia, the world can see that Russia
has a long hard road to Democracy.


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