Lecture 23 – The Collapse of Communism
Fall 1989 – the world watches in amazement as the Eastern Bloc dissolves. The government is
replaced by non communisms in peaceful fashions, excluding Romania.
• Soviets lose their monopoly of power in 1990
December 1991 – USSR broken up into independent republics
• The collapse was a long time coming, but came as a shock.
• The two year process of dissolution brought the biggest changes since 1945
• Ideology could not suppress national interests and bitter resentment
 Why did Gorbachev offer new hope to the USSR in 1985?
• Came into power after 21 years of old and corrupt leadership
− Yuri Andropov had been old KGB, Konstantin Chemenko was also extremely
old, both died very soon.
1. Started to think that they should elect a younger party secretary, someone who wouldn’t
die right away.
2. The economy was stagnant and inefficient outside of oil and vodka,
− Could feed itself, but couldn’t distribute food to the empire so they still imported
− A lot of dissatisfaction with the system of shortages and rationing. Black market
reigns, lawless conditions.
− The new generation of Gorbachev and his advisors, were willing to experiment
with market reforms.
3. The soviet foreign policy
− 1979 USSR invades Afghanistan to rescue the communist government and begins
a long distance guerrilla war
− This intensified opposition at home
− Brezhnev tried to resume the arms race and outspend the USA, but that didn’t
4. The empire was degenerating, especially in Poland
− Protests in the 1970’s over rising food prices
− Always very uneasy relations
− Polish communist state tried to keep peace and ran up huge debts importing
consumer goods from the West to stop shortages
− At the end of the decade the USSR tried to collectivize livestock and Poland saw
a rise in Polish solidarity. − Summer of 1980 they couldn’t stop the strike wave – soldiers, clergy, and police
join the strikes.
− Solidarity led by Lech Walesa – the first autonomous trade union was recognized
by the communist state in the E. Bloc, although the union had to recognize
− The movement was driven underground in 1981 by Marshall law – the credibility
of the Polish government and the USSR is gone though
− It only leads to further crisis and leaders demand for new market reforms.
How was Gorbachev different?
• At the young age of 54, he embodied a new generation
• He was devoted to Lenin – he had been 25 when Khrushchev de-Stalinized
• Was a sympathizer with Dubček – encouraged reform, although never a turn to Western
capital – he never imagined that reform would cause the collapse of the USSR
• Two part to his policy – openness and restructuring
Openness – Glasnost
1. Transforming passive subjects into responsible citizens. Prisoners are let go.
2. Taking responsibility for things like the massacres of soldiers and stopped denying the
3. Ended state practice of habitual secrecy
• Was hard after events like Chernobyl, that exposed environmental nightmare
• Opened the media up to discussing social and political issues
Restructing – Perestroika
• Social and economic reforms
• Decentralizing the economy and planning
• Initiatives to businesses and farms
• New political bodies – Congress of the Peoples’ Deputies, which was elected became an
alternative power base
• New office of the president, which was elected by the congress – the secretary is no
longer the only leader – Gorbac