The Russian Empire was brought to an end by the 1917 Russian Revolution. This was followed by the Russian Civil War, which led to the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union in 1922. While the Cold War dragged on, flaws started to develop in the façade of the Soviet Union.
In this article, we discuss the disintegration of the Soviet Union and how it resulted at the end of communism and political, economic, and sociological transformations. This led to significant conflict and change both in the former Soviet Union and in Western Europe, among other places.
The Disintegration of the Soviet Union
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a loose confederation of 15 republics led by Russia. From 1922 to 1991, when it was fragmented into smaller groups, the USSR was a powerful bloc with enormous sway over world affairs.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union occurred during 1988–1991. It was followed by internal political, economic, and ethnic disintegration within the USSR, which led to the end of the Soviet Union’s existence as a sovereign state.
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev sought to end the Era of Stagnation by reforming the Soviet political and economic systems. Gorbachev was forced to retire as President and as a member of what remained of the parliament to publicly recognise the Union’s disintegration.
To understand the disintegration of the USSR, we need to understand the history of the Soviet Union.
The History of the Soviet Union
The USSR was created after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It formed a communist super-state with its far-flung provinces in 1922. Vladimir Lenin was the first leader of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was designed from the start to seem like a society that practised ‘real democracy’.
But, as time passed, it revealed itself to be authoritarian. Only one party was permitted to exist—the Communist Party—and it required total loyalty from every Russian citizen. After coming to power in 1924, Stalin instituted a totalitarian rule in its fullest form. The state directly influenced Russian society, including political and social life and economic, administrative, and industrial activities. Anyone who disagreed with Stalin was either sent to a labour camp (Gulag) or killed on the spot following a show trial.
Mikhail Gorbachev and the Glasnost Era
When Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet Union’s premier in 1985, he inherited a stagnant economy and a political apparatus that made changes difficult.
Gorbachev implemented two programs to convert the Soviet Union into a productive state to moderate the situation.
- The first was ‘glasnost’, or political openness. He abolished the prohibition on publications that had been put in place because they contradicted communist beliefs. He granted new liberties to all people of the Soviet Republics.
- The second set of programs was dubbed ‘perestroika’, which referred to economic transformation. It abandoned the previous command economy doctrine by permitting private property ownership and company establishment while promoting foreign investment in Soviet firms.
These changes, however, were both inadequate and arrived too late because the economy was shattered beyond repair. Rationing, food shortages, and long lines for critical items seemed to be the sole outcomes of Gorbachev’s new policies, adding to public dissatisfaction with his leadership. The disintegration of the USSR began from here.
Causes of the Disintegration of the Soviet Union
Following World War II, Germany was split into the communist Soviet Union and capitalist Western regimes. The fall of the Berlin wall triggered a chain of events that ultimately became the cause of the disintegration of the USSR.
Weakness in the Economy
This was one of the primary causes of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The main source of unhappiness among the people in the USSR was the economy’s weakness. There was a severe scarcity of consumer goods. The following were the causes of economic weakness.
- Massive military expenditure
- Upkeep of satellite states in Eastern Europe
- The economically-weak Central Asian Republics that remained in the USSR
For over 70 years, the communist party rule (one-party control) became dictatorial. Corruption, nepotism, and a lack of openness were all prevalent. Gorbachev’s decision to allow multi-party elections and establish a president for the Soviet Union started a lengthy process of democratisation that finally destabilised Communist authority and led to the Soviet Union’s demise.
The Emergence of Nationalism
The rise of nationalism in nations such as Russia, the Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Ukraine, Georgia, and others was the most significant and direct cause of the USSR’s breakup. National pride was high in the wealthier sections of the USSR but not in the Central Asian republics.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union took place between 1988 and 1991. After then, the USSR’s political, economic, and ethnic fragmentation ended the Soviet Union’s existence as a sovereign state. Former General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev aimed to overhaul the Soviet political and economic structures. After World War II, Germany was divided between the communist USSR and the capitalist West. The fall of the Berlin Wall started a series of events that led to the Disintegration of the Soviet Union. Economic weakness, political stubbornness, and the growth of nationalism were the causes for the disintegration of the Soviet Union or the disintegration of the USSR.