Russia’s HistoryJoseph 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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Minton F. Goldman, Russian and the Eurasian Republics – Building New Political Orders. PP 14-25 and 34-45.