The Reasons For the Fall of Communism and the Troubles With A Democratic 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. 1989). 

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 ma! ny 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 sligh! t 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

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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