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  Wikipedia: History of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)

Wikipedia: History of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)
History of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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 This article is part of the
History of Russia series.
 Early Russian East Slavs
 Kievan Rus'
 Khazaria
 Muscovy
 Mongol invasion of Russia
 Imperial Russia
 Russian Revolution
 Russian Civil War
 Soviet history (1917-1927)
 History of the Soviet Union (1927-1953)
 History of the Soviet Union (1953-1985)
 History of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)
 Commonwealth of Independent States
 History of post-communist Russia
 List of famous Russians

The rise of Gorbachev

Although reform stalled between 1964-1982, the generational shift gave new momentum for reform. Changing relations with the United States might also have been an impetus for reform. By the Reagan years in the United States, the abandonment of Détente would force the Soviets to greatly improve their productive capabilities in order to reciprocate the new arms build-up, especially amid talks of "star wars" missile defense. By the time Gorbachev would usher in the process that would lead to the political collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant dismantling of the Soviet administrative command economy through his programs of Glasnost (political openness) and Perestroika (economic restructuring), the Soviet economy suffered from both hidden inflation and pervasive supply shortages.

Perestroika and Glasnost

Gorbachev instituted a number of political reforms under the name of Glasnost, these included relaxing censorship and political repression, reducing the powers of the KGB and democratisation. The reforms were intended to break down resistance against Gorbachev's economic reforms, by conservative elements within the Communist Party. Under these reforms, much to the alarm of party conservatives. Competitive elections were introduced for the posts of officials (by people within the communist party).

Gorbachev's relaxation of censorship and attempts create more political openness. However had the unintended effect of re-awakening long suppressed nationalist and anti-Russian feelings in the Soviet Union's constituent republics. During the 1980s calls for greater independence from Moscow's rule grew louder, this was especially marked in the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in other Soviet republics such as the Ukraine and Azerbaijan. These nationalist movements were strengthened greatly by the declining Soviet economy, whereby Moscow's rule became a convenient scapegoat for economic troubles. Gorbachev had accidentally unleashed a force that would ultimately destroy the Soviet Union.

On February 15, 1989, Soviet forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union continued to support the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan with substantial aid until the end of 1991. In 1989 the communist governments of the Soviet Union's satellite states were overthrown one by one with feeble resistance from Moscow.

By the late 1980s the process of openness and democratisation began to run out of control, and went far beyond what Gorbachev had intended. In elections to the regional assemblies of the Soviet Union's constituent republics, nationalists swept the board. As Gorbachev had weakened the system of internal political repression, the ability of the USSR's central Moscow government to impose its will on the USSR's constituent republics had been largely undermined.

Yeltsin and the dissolution of the Soviet Union

On February 7, 1990 the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party agreed to give up its monopoly of power. The USSR's constituent republics began to assert their national sovereignty over Moscow, and started a "war of laws" with the central Moscow government, in which the governments of the constituent republics repudiated all-union legislation where it conflicted with local laws, asserting control over their local economies and refusing to pay tax revenue to the central Moscow government. This strife caused economic dislocation, as supply lines in the economy were broken, and caused the Soviet economy to decline further.

Gorbachev made desperate and ill-fated attempts to assert control, notably in the Baltic Republics, but the power and authority of the central government had been dramatically and irreversibly undermined. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared independence and pulled out of the union. However, a large part of the population of the Lithuanian SSR comprised ethnic Russianss, and the Red Army had a strong presence there. The Soviet Union initiated an economic blockade of Lithuania and kept troops there "to secure the rights of ethnic Russians." In January 1991, clashes between Soviet troops and Lithuanian civilians occurred, leaving 20 dead. This further weakened the Soviet Union's legitimacy, internationally and domestically. On March 30, 1990, the Estonian supreme council declared Soviet power in Estonia since 1940 to have been illegal, and started a process to re-establish Estonia as an independent state.

Also amongst Gorbachev's reforms, was the introduction of a directly elected president of the RSFSR (Russia). The election for this post was held in June 1991. The populist candidate Boris Yeltsin, who was an outspoken critic of Mikhail Gorbachev, won 57% percent of the vote, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Former Prime Minister Ryzhkov, who won 16% of the vote.

On August 20, 1991, the republics were to sign a new union treaty, making them independent republics in a federation with a common president, foreign policy and military. However, on August 18, a group of Gorbachev's ministers led by Gennadi Yanayev, backed by the KGB and military, staged a coup d'état. Gorbachev was held prisoner in his summer residence on the Crimean peninsula (Ukraine), and martial law was declared in Russia on August 19. Large groups of soldiers controlled Moscow, but no politicians were arrested. During this time, Estonia declared its independence on August 20.

Boris Yeltsin and the semi-democratically elected Russian parliament opposed the coup, and the coup makers gave up on August 21, the same day that the third Baltic Republic, Latvia, declared its independence. Immediately after the coup had failed, and before Mikhail Gorbachev returned to Moscow, the power vacuum was filled by Boris Yeltsin, Boris Yeltsin immediately signed a decree banning the Communist party throughout Russia, this ban was soon extended throughout the Soviet Union. Thus 70 years of Communist rule effectively came to an end.

On December 21, 11 of the 12 remaining republics (all except Georgia) founded the Commonwealth of Independent States, effectively ending the USSR. On December 25, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president, and on December 26 the Supreme Soviet officially dissolved the USSR.

Restructuring the Soviet system

For details see the main article History of postcommunist Russia.

To eliminate the distortions of the Soviet administrative command system in the transition to capitalism, Yeltsin's shock program, employed days following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, cut subsidies to money-losing farms and industries, decontrolled prices, moved toward convertibility of the ruble, and moved toward restructuring the largely state-owned economy. Existing institutions, however, were abandoned before the legal structures of a market economy that govern private property, oversee the financial market, and enforce taxation were functional, despite the fact that the two major components of a macroeconomy are a banking system and the state budgetary system.

According to market economists, the dismantling of the administrative command system in Russia was supposed to raise GDP and living standards by allocating resources more efficiently. It was supposed to create a movement outward towards production possibilities by eliminating of central planning, substituted by decentralized market system, eliminating huge distortions through liberalization, providing incentives through privatization. Instead, over half the population is now impoverished in a country where poverty had been largely non-existent, life expectancy has dropped, and GDP has halved.

The People's Republic of China, sustaining one of the world's highest rates of per capita GDP growth over the past two decades, in contrast, has maintained public ownership while avoiding the rigidities of planned economic decision-making since the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping. Peasants are largely in charge of economic decision-making at the countryside (still home to the majority of China's population), not planners. In turn, they are able to spend their surplus capital on consumer goods. Socialist enterprises at the local level, known as Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs), and state-owned enterprises are also profit-maximizing and thus capable of deciding for themselves the source of inputs, the destination of outputs, the amount of funds geared toward labor allocation, and what to produce. Subsides, however, still prop up many money-losing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) which are often still overseen by planning ministries. While mainland China has not reached the high level of industrialization and urbanization as rapidly as seen in the Soviet Union under Stalin, it seems to be avoiding the Soviet economy's record of poor productivity and rigidity seen since the late 1970s.

Thus, socialism is not necessarily the economic system that failed in the Soviet Union, but rather a system of administrative command or planned economic decision-making. The more complex the Soviet economy grew under the auspices of the planners, the more unfeasible it simply grew to plan every economic decision in the highly industrialized nation covering such a huge geographical expanse. Planning might have transformed a nation of peasants into an industrial superpower, but it failed to supply all the goods demanded by a population growing accustomed to increasingly better living standards once the economy had achieved a high level of industrial development.

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