Everything you know about the collapse of the soviet union is wrong

Introduction

More than its famous vodka, the Soviet Union has had an equally intoxicating story to tell. Today, the USSR is most associated with the Cold War but there’s more to that than meets the eye. The adage that says, “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” encapsulates the history of Russia that is both colorful and grim.  This is precisely the life of the communist superpower called the Union of Soviet Socialist of Russia. The USSR was born out of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 which catapulted Lenin into power (Weiss, 4) early into the twentieth century. Then, right before the century ends, one of the world’s nuclear superpower died a painful death – by its own hands. The USSR was a fruit of a revolution and through revolution it fell to the grounds, rotted away and disintegrated.

The Collapse of USSR according to Leon Aron

Successful revolutions bank on the element of surprise. Rebels and insurgents launch surprise attacks on government institutions while disillusioned or greedy government officials launch a coup d’état in an attempt to snatch political powers by force. However, nothing beats the USSR when it surprised the whole world by its unexpected demise.

Leon Aron, author of the article entitled, “Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union is Wrong,”  discussed extensively that, “In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” He claims that even the Soviets themselves were not expecting the eventual demise of their country.

Then he argued that observers and power players lacked the foresight to predict the demise of a big country and government despite the presence of many tell-tale signs that were available shortly after the election of Michael Gorbachev into power. Such signs which could have been used as a tool to gauge the health and viability of the country were all ignored totally by everyone include the “shortages, food rationing, long lines in stores, and acute poverty.” But then again, Peter Rutland, a distinguished professor at Wesleyan University was quoted as saying that, “Chronic ailments, after all, are not necessarily fatal.”

The author argued further that the arms race of the cold war as well as the war against Afghanistan took a huge toll on the Soviet Union’s coffers, draining much needed resources towards the maintenance of healthy soldiers on the battlefront as well as the strengthening of its arsenal, particularly its nuclear capabilities. Aptly, he also acknowledged that a mere fiscal deficit will not warrant the disintegration of a country. A country can go bankrupt to the neck but still remain intact. As such, there is a need to also recognize the other “structural reasons – economic, political, social – why the Soviet Union should have collapsed as it did.”   

However, Aron contends that the real culprit behind the “unexpected” demise of the nuclear superpower that also excels massively in the field of arts and the strategy game of chess is neither the people’s struggle for their basic subsistence nor the politician’s struggle for power. Rather, the former USSR imploded because of the citizen’s hunger for a moral government headed by a  moral leader.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic fell on its knees at the weight of its moral “sins”. No less than Gorbachev proposed for “a reappraisal of values and their creative thinking.” He admitted that moral decadence is gnawing at the foundations of the Kremlin much rapidly than any other issues it was facing. Hence, Gorbachev bravely declared that “we couldn’t go on like that any longer, and we had to change life radically, break away from the past malpractices.”

There is a need for moral change. And change they did. Union of Soviet Socialist Russia is no more.

Critique:

Leon Aron opened his paper by positing that the collapse of the former archenemy of the USA was unforeseen and caught everyone by surprise. He painstakingly tried to convince his readers that none of the other world superpowers – with their wide network of intelligence personnel, official diplomats included – were able to foresee what was forthcoming. He cited several declarations from both the government and the press that the USSR’s collapse was a big surprise. But I beg to disagree.

The government of the United States of America had long prepared for the coming of “The Day”. The USA got an insurance long before the USSR showed apparent signs of illnesses. Like an estranged brother, the US government took the necessary precautions and secured its interests in the event that the inevitable happens and the balance of power is tipped.

As a matter of fact, as early as 1989 when the divisive Berlin Wall was torn down into pieces (Weiss, 32), the CIA was already making reports to the foreign policy think tanks about a broiling crisis in the Soviet Union which could escalate into an implosion of the USSR. In response to these reports, the administration of George W. Bush created a high-level group headed by no less than Condoleezza Rice, the incumbent Director of the NSC Soviet Affairs. The top-secret contingency group was tasked to draw plans in preparation for “the possibility of a Soviet collapse and its potentially bloody consequences.” As a result, the US government was able to move along and cope better with the transition of Russia because it was able to “seal as many advantageous agreements as possible with Gorbachev government” (Webster).

However, I do laud the author for bringing to the fore an virtually untold version about the cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union. History books always blame it on the failure of communism as an ideology and on the communist regime as a form of government. The article subject to review was long but it can really be summarized into just one sentence: Everything you think you know about the collapse of the Soviet Union is wrong because it was not caused by a political or economic revolution, rather, it was the result of a cultural and moral revolution waged by the people who wanted their humanity back. Aron quotes Gorbachev as saying:

“The Soviet model was defeated not only on the economic and social levels; it was defeated on a cultural level. Our society, our people, the most educated, the most intellectual, rejected that model on the cultural level because it does not respect the man, oppresses him spiritually and politically.”

Indeed, when the communist hardliners who were unhappy with Gorbachev’s reforms tried to unseat him in a coup d’etat, he found support and protection from the “average Soviet citizens rising en masse to successfully topple the coup leaders and restore Gorbachev, though much weakened, to office. In 70 hours, 70 years of communism in the Soviet Union was undone.” (Sullick, 1).

Aron paints another picture of the Soviet Union, far removed from the grim pictures of cold-blooded communist leaders and sullen faces of men and women trapped within a communist world. A chapter that tells of a moral revolution lead by no other than President Gorbachev is indeed a welcome change to the aisles upon aisles of books and literature about the communist superpower that has been threatening the world with its nuclear weapons that could annihilate the earth.

Conclusion

The Soviet Union may be a thing of the past, buried deep into the twentieth century as a distant history. Much has been said and done about how bad communism as practiced in the former USSR and how bad these communists are. But if there is any new information that says otherwise, we ought to listen to those little voices even if tempered with our prejudices. We owe it to the brave men and women who risked their lives in order to bring down a regime that oppresses them and threatens the whole world. We owe it to them who did not only end the reign of USSR; they also ended the Cold War.

Indeed, we could be wrong about what we think about the collapse of the Soviet Union. The moral revolution that bought down the oppressive USSR also brought peace to the world, albeit only insofar as the Cold War is concerned. But it is peace nonetheless.

Works Cited:

Aron, Leon. Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong. Foreign Policy, July/August 2011. Accessed on December 7, 2011. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/20/everything_you_think_you_know_about_the_collapse_of_the_soviet_union_is_wrong

Sulick, Michael. As the USSR Collapsed: A CIA Officer in Lithuania. Studies in Intellegence. Central Intelegence Agency. Accessed on December 7, 2011. Available at https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no2/html_files/CIA_Lithuania_1.htm

Webster, William.  Transcript: US Intelligence and the End of the Cold War. Texas A&M University, Opening Dinner, November 18, 1999. Accessed on December 7, 2011. Available at https://www.cia.gov/news-information/speeches-testimony/1999/dci_speech_111999lunch.html

Weiss, Kathryn and McFaul, Michael. Domestic and International Influences on the Collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) and Russia’s Initial Transition to Democracy (1993). Center on Democracy, Development, and The Rule of Law. March 2009. Accessed on December 7, 2011. Available at http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/22468/No_108_Stoner-Weiss_domestic_and_international_influences_on_collapse_of_USSR.pdf

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