The Fall of Communism in Russia


      The Reasons for the fall of Socialism/Communism and the Troubles 
of Starting the New Democratic System in the Russian Federation "Let's 
not talk about Communism. Communism was just an idea, just pie in the 
sky." Boris Yeltsin (b. 1931), Russian politician, president. Remark 
during a visit to the U.S. Quoted in: Independent (London, 13 Sept. 

      The fall of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union was more 
than a political event. The powerful bond between economics and 
politics that was the integral characteristic of the state socialist 
system created a situation that was unique for the successor states of 
the Soviet Union. The Communist regime was so ingrain in every aspect 
of Soviet life that the Russian people were left with little 
democratic tradition. Russia faces the seemingly impracticable task of 
economic liberalization and democratization. This is combined with the 
fact that the new administration must address human rights issues, 
such as living conditions and the supply of staple goods in this new 
form of administration makes the prospect of a full democratic switch 
seemingly impossible.

      To fully understand the scope of the transference of governing 
power in the Russian Federation, one must first look at the old
Socialist/Communist regime, to see the circumstances under which it 
fell gives a good view of why this transference is almost impossible.

      In the beginning Communism seemed to the people of Russia as a 
utopian ideal. The promise of the elimination of classes, of 
guaranteed employment , "The creation of a comprehensive social 
security and welfare system for all citizens that would end the
misery of workers once and for all." Lenin's own interpretation of the 
Marxian critique was that to achieve Communism there would first have 
to be a socialist dictatorship to first suppress any dissent or 
protest. Through coercive tactics this new government seized power and 
in 1917 Lenin came to power. Under his "rule" the Soviet Union 
underwent radical changes in it's economic doctrines adopting a mixed 
economy which was termed the New Economic Policy also referred to as 
NEP, this economy called for some private ownership of the means of 
production, but the majority of industry was made property of the
people, which meant the majority of the means of production was 
controlled by the government. Lenin's government made many 
achievements. It ended a long civil war against the remnants of the 
old Czarist military system and established institutions in 
government. During this period, and in fact throughout the majority of 
the Communist rule, censorship and the subordination of interest 
groups such as trade unions was imposed to stop dissension and 
increase conformity to the new governments policies.
      Lenin died in 1924, and was quickly followed by Joseph Stalin as 
head of the Soviet Communist Party, the oppressive reforms started by 
Lenin were continued and at length became completely totalitarian. 
Stalin became the most powerful man in Russia. He controlled to bulk 
of all the political power and with that he started a ruthless 
campaign of removing all opposition to the Communist rule. During this 
period called the "Great Purge" Stalin systemically executed anyone 
who stood in his path. Millions of people were arrested and either 
harassed or killed. The economic status of the Soviet Union was yet 
again changed and the entire system became controlled by the 
government. All private ownership ended. A mass program of 
industrialization was commenced, and the strength of the Soviet 
Military was substantially increased. The citizens during this period 
endured great hardship. Agricultural production output diminished 
resulting in food shortages, these shortages were enha! nce by the 
mass exportation of food, this was done to pay for industrial imports. 
Stalin also put the production of what he called production goods such 
as manufacturing machinery over basic consumer goods such as clothes 
and other staples. During this period the Second World War broke out 
and drained most of what was left of the already impoverished state. 
Yet after the war national unity was strengthened as well is the 
Soviet military machine. The Soviet Union became a super power, the 
U.S. being the only country more powerful than it. 

      After the death of Stalin in 1953 Nikita Khrushchev became First 
Secretary of the Communist party. Stalin's death marked the end of 
supreme power for the head of the party, and Khrushchev condemned 
Stalin's actions as unnecessary and harmful to the process of moving 
the Socialist government to it's goal of pure Communism. During this 
period the public was given a say in the government, albeit an 
extremely minor one, and the judicial system eased it's aggressiveness 
allowing a defendant a better chance of defending themselves. 
Khrushchev concerned himself with bettering the plight of the 
individual, attempting to increase the supply of food and making goods 
such as home appliances, making automobiles somewhat available, and 
providing more housing. A new policy of efficiency and quality control 
was brought in. Leadership was somewhat decentralized to allow common 
managers and directors more power to run their production units. 
Although Krushchev started a process of slight reform he was dismissed 
due to in part a massive shortage of grain and dairy products, and the 
fact that he had started to seize more power and "His efforts to 
streamline party organizations produced chaos and conflict among party 
administrators." He was also blamed for the Russia "defeat" during the 
Cuban Missile Crisis, and of not accomplishing anything toward the
reunification of Germany under East German rule. After the ousting of 
Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev became the Soviet Communist Party 
Secretary General in October of 1964. Under his administration the 
majority of the decentralization of power was destroyed bringing a 
centralized form of control back into effect. Krushchev's denouncing 
of Stalin's policies was criticized and slowly some of Stalin's 
political disciplinary policies were restored. Stalin was named a war 
hero. There began an outright attack on dissidents from the literary 
and scientific community. During this time there was an inefficient 
use land, labour and resources which resulted in an economic 
slackening. In this time what was supposed to ultimately be a 
classless society became classed as bureaucrats were paid for loyalty 
with material wealth, allowing them a better standard of living, 
because of this public interests were placed secondary to personal 
gain. The 1980's saw a dramatic drop in the Soviet citizens already
impoverished standard of living. This caused strikes and public outcry 
against the administration which threatened the stability of the 
Soviet Union. The people were angry at the fact that the Communist 
Party had not lived up to what it had promised which was in return for 
their obedience they would receive employment, free health care, and a 
level of comfort. March 1985 marks a turning point in the Communist 
rule of Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev is elevated to the position of 
General Secretary. He is aware of the current social upheaval 
occurring and that change must occur if Communism is to survive. He 
begins a program called "Perestroika" which was the organizational 
restructuring of the Soviet economy and government apparatus. 
Gorbachev discovers that this change will depend on other changes, 
among others a more tolerant and open political environment , more
public influence over governmental and military institutions. This 
called for major long term change of the political system. He
began a policy called "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 rebirth of the Soviet economy and 
ideal. State control was lo! osened and individual initiative 
encouraged. He expanded the authority of the Soviet presidency and 
transferred power from the Communist party to popularly elected 
legislatures in the union republics. In international affairs, he 
withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan, normalized relations with 
China, signed a series of arms control agreements with U.S. Presidents 
Ronald Reagan and George Bush. 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. The hard-liners, who 
included many top government officials, staged a coup in August, 
placing Gorbachev under house arrest, but within three days the 
reformers had restored Gorbachev to power. He immediately resigned as 
Communist party general se! cretary, suspended party activities, and 
placed reformers in charge of the military and KGB. After allowing 
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become independent republics. 
Nationalist forces became stronger in the republics as the year went 
on. The USSR voted itself out of existence in December 1991, and 
Gorbachev resigned his position as president of the USSR. Under the
Communist Regime there were immense social problems. In the period 
before Gorbachev all religion was dismissed. Although the citizens 
were still allowed to practice their religion it was made extremely 
difficult for them by the government and the official attitude towards 
religion was that it was a relic of the past and Atheism was 
encouraged. There was a substantial amount of alcoholism mostly due to 
the living and working conditions. There was also a substantial amount 
of crime. There was extreme discrimination against women. There was a 
strong sexist attitude and women found it hard to find decent 
employment, and most women were expected to also take care of 
household duties as well. Women were also very scarce in government. 

      Relations among the different ethic grouped which lived within 
the Soviet Union were very tense and sometimes openly hostile.
The fact that the Russian language was the language in which all 
political transactions had to occur in and it was encouraged to
be learnt, with the purpose of trying to make a single Soviet culture 
made this tension even stronger. The education system in the Soviet 
Union also caused tension because it was set up around a motive to 
teach students to be obedient to the Communist Party and to be Atheist 
among other things. Also students were assigned jobs when they 
graduated and this caused considerable stress on them because they had 
to take the job assigned to them, and if it was an undesirable one it 
could ruin their chances for advancement in the future. This was such 
a tense issue that graduates were sometimes prone to commit suicide. 
The health care system was under funded. Most hospitals were under 
staffed and the equipment was outdated, medical supplies were also 
scarce. This lead to the gradual decrease of the life expectancy of a 
citizen. Poor standards of sanitation and public hygiene lead to an 
increased annual death rate and a drop in the birth rate. 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 by the Russian 
Republic's Supreme Soviet in 1990. He immediately resigned from
the Communist party and declared Russia's independence. In 1991 he 
became the first President of the Russian Republic by popular vote. He 
helped found the Commonwealth of Independent States, which ended any 
attempts to preserve the USSR. He moved to end state control of the 
economy, privatized most industries and among other things outlawed 
the Communist Party. 

      Beginning in 1992 the conflict between Yeltsin and his political 
opponents intensified. Yeltsin suffered a series of defeats at the
hands of the Russian Constitutional Court, chaired by Valeriy Zorkin. 
The court overturned Yeltsin's decree creating a Russian ministry of 
security and internal affairs and lifted portions of Yeltsin's ban on 
the Soviet Communist party. In 1993 the court repealed his ban on the 
National Salvation Front, a communist-nationalist organization that 
had called for Yeltsin's removal. In 1993 Yeltsin announced on 
television that he had issued a decree declaring special presidential 
rule. But when the decree was published there was no mention of 
special presidential powers. Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoy sharply 
criticized Yeltsin for issuing the decree and for using a referendum 
to gain popular approval of reform policies. Yeltsin asked Rutskoy to 
resign as vice president, and when Rutskoy refused, Yeltsin removed 
Rutskoy's powers of office, despite p! rotests by the Supreme Soviet. 
Yeltsin won the support of the majority of Russian voters who 
participated in the April 1993 referendum, but the referendum did 
little to end his power struggle with parliament. In September, 
Yeltsin attempted to break the power deadlock by dissolving parliament 
and calling for new parliamentary elections. "In turn, parliament 
voted to impeach Yeltsin and swore in Rutskoy as acting president. Led 
by Rutskoy and chairman of the Supreme Soviet Ruslan Khasbulatov, 
hundreds of legislators and anti-Yeltsin demonstrators occupied the 
parliament building in Moscow. On September 28 Yeltsin ordered troops 
to barricade the parliament building, and in the following week 
security forces, acting in support of Yeltsin, clashed with 
pro-parliamentary demonstrators, who were mainly hard-line Communists 
and nationalists. On October 4 Rutskoy and Khasbulatov surrendered. In 
February 1994 they were granted amnesty by the lower house of 
parliament, despite Yeltsin's opposition." In December 1994 Yeltsin 
sent Russian military forces into the region of Chechnya, which had 
declared its independence from Russia in 1991. Since that time Russia 
had made only minor military efforts to reclaim Chechnya. This use
of military force is an example of the fact that true democracy can 
not exist in Russia, these tactics are Soviet-era coercive measures. 
During the bombing of Grozny Russian-speaking suffered as much as the 
natives. This was demonstrated the worst of the Yeltsin Regime. 
Yeltsin was using the war to expand his political base and appear as a 
strong leader. Over 20,000 civilians died during this conflict, which 
in a sense achieved nothing. 

      The Russian economy has been put through sweeping reforms which 
have only proved to through it into disarray. This mainly due to the 
fact that because the Soviet government has no experience in 
Democratic/Capitalist styles of governing, and the 70 plus years of 
Communist rule has left a huge dent in the Russian economy. The old 
style of government has left behind a legacy of corruption, price 
distortions, inefficient public industries and financial instability. 
This, combined with the need for much more extensive political reform 
makes this task almost impossible. The process of democratization of 
Russia occurred to quickly. This was done in the hopes that the fast 
privatization of industry would hinder any chance of re-nationalizing 
the economy, and basically forcing this new change. At the same time 
privatization has contributed greatly to the popular belief that this 
new system is unjust. State assets were distributed disproportionately 
to insiders, to people willin! g to circumvent the law, and in
some case to criminals. Official corruption and the lack of enforced 
laws and clearly defined property laws has lead to public dissension. 
One of Yeltsin's greatest mistakes was moving economic reform ahead so 
quickly while not addressing the need for immense political reform at 
the same time. 

      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. There has been recent improvements in the 
distribution of wealth. There have been improvements in the 
privatization process, especially in the building sector, this could 
bring the expansion of small-scale property ownership, which is also 
an important step towards private ownership. There is also a stronger 
entrepreneurial spirit among lower class society. Yet with the lack of 
any experience in private proprietorship and private business 
practices the population of the Russian Federation is still not taking 
to the new system. For too many years it was imprinted on them that
everything must be publicly owned. Much of this can to attributed to 
the Communist tradition of not communicating with the public, which is 
a core part of any democratic system, the public participation and 
communication in and with government. With the apparent lack of public 
participation in government, and in turn the lack of communication by 
the government with the people we can see that the Russian Federation 
is far from being democratic. The government acted too quickly in it's 
economic reforms with not enough practical experience in 
Democratic/Capitalistic to pull it off. We saw that some of the major
contributing factors in the fall of communism was the dissension of 
the citizens due to the fact that the government did not live up to 
it's promise of a better life and the failure of the government to 
properly deal with social problems. The other factors were economic, 
many of which we can see are apparent in the new system. In it's 
current situation we are seeing the same factors. Unless these 
problems are addressed quickly and resolved effectively we will see 
the decline of yet another Russian governmental system. On looking at 
the past we can see that the Russian public must overcome many hurdles 
in order for them to truly embrace Democracy and enjoy the promises of 
a better life that it has made. The government must promote the
education of it's citizens and communicate more efficiently with them. 
There is a long road ahead for the Russian Federation in this enormous 
task, and at this time it almost seems impossible. 


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