Looking back at Soviet Union’s implosion
Soviet Union’s birth and death — Note for school students
The Soviet Union .. Understanding its rise, glorious existence and its self-destruction (implosion)
The Soviet Union does not exist today. So, you will see it in old world atlases, not in the modern ones.
The Soviet Union was officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Countries / regions that made up the Soviet Union (USSR) …
1. Russia (Main region)
Soviet Union was a huge landmass stretching from eastern Europe in the west to the Sea of Japan in the east, and from the Arctic in the north to Afghanistan in the south. [Sea World Atlas in the internet.]
It was a very powerful country with huge resources and a military force equal to or even stronger that of the United States of America. It had thousands and thousands of nuclear bombs, rockets, ships, guns and fighter planes. In resources such as crude oil, natural gas, coal, iron ore, diamond, forests, lakes and rivers, it was a very rich country.
In space, it was possibly a step ahead of America. Its huge industries making iron and steel were an envy of the whole world.
Its military and political influence was apparent in far-off Africa, Asia and Latin America.
America and its western allies like Britain, France, Germany, Italy etc. were very afraid of the Soviet Union’s military capabilities. Its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) were capable of destroying any western city in minutes.
So, why did it collapse so suddenly. It all happened in a few weeks, without a single bullet being fired. There was no military attack on it. So, who destroyed it? The answer is – its own citizens and leaders destroyed it. But, why?
To understand it, one needs to examine how it was born and how it was brought up.
If you see the modern world map, you will see that Russia still stands in its original place. It has inherited the legacy of the Soviet Union. All other regions like Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus etc. are all there, but as fully independent sovereign countries.
Why and how these small countries came to join the Soviet Union, and why did they leave so promptly? Why did the Soviet Union allow them to leave?
All these things make us suspect that possibly there was something wrong in the birth, nurturing and management of the Soviet Union. What were those factors?
Birth of the Soviet Union …
The Soviet Union was born on December 30, 1922. Russia and three other republics formed the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began with Russia (main constituent) and three other republics: Belorussia, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian Republic (composed of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).
Logically, the new communist state was the successor to the Russian Empire. It was the first country in the world to be based on Marxist socialism.
What are the meanings of ‘Soviet’ and ‘Marxist socialism’?
Soviets … It means ‘council’ in Russian. Soviets were elected bodies. Soviets were representatives of workers, peasants and soldiers in a given locality. Rural soviets were a mix of peasants and soldiers. Urban soviets were a mix of industrial workers and soldiers. The Soviets consisted of volunteer members.
Marxist Socialism .. It is the other name of ‘Communism’. It is a system of society and government, where
a. No one is allowed to buy and posses wealth like house, flats, land, agricultural farm, factories etc. All such wealth is the property of the nation, not of any individual.
b. No private business small, medium or large can be started and run by an individual – not even a laundry or a provision shop or a restaurant. All such activities are run and managed by the government. In other words, communism does not allow private entrepreneurship.
c. Even schools, colleges, newspapers, Radio stations and TV channels are owned and managed by the government.
d. Communists do not believe in god. So, temples, mosques and churches are not encouraged.
e. No freedom of expression is allowed under communism. You can not criticize the government even mildly and indirectly.
All these appear to be too oppressive and unwelcome for most of us. But, communism has its good sides too. These are ..
a. There is no unemployment under communism. Everyone is guaranteed a job.
b. Everyone is guaranteed some minimum housing. With this, he gets free healthcare, free public transport, heavily subsidized food and clothing, recreation etc.
c. Education even to the highest level is completely free. The system of heavy donation or high fees is not there.
d. All men and women are treated strictly equally. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, skin color is not allowed.
Karl Marx, a German, is considered the founder of Communism.
How was such a revolutionary political philosophy born…..
During and after Industrial 1760AD to 1840AD, the world saw many mind-boggling changes. The main among them was the mass invention and introduction of high productivity machines that were earlier done by hand. Jobs like weaving of cloth, making of agricultural implements, production of utensils, making of armaments etc. began to be done by machines. The rich people having capital set up factories to produce vast quantities of goods and make large profits by selling them all over the world.
The more the factory-owners produced, the more profit they made. To run these factories, the owners (capitalists) employed workers who came mostly from the countryside. They were not educated or very intelligent. They were forced to work long hours in the factory to maximize production. The harder they worked, the more their owners (capitalists) made them to work.
Gradually, they became tired, sick and injured with no appreciable increase in their income. It was exploitation at its worst. Only a limited number of people (capitalists) benefited. They became wealthier. The workers got little from such creation of wealth because they had no means to demand and protest.
Slowly, the greed of the capitalists began to affect the whole society. Education, healthcare, recreation, culture, arts etc. became the rich capitalists’ exclusive right. The poor workers remained uneducated, sick and poor.
Gradually discontent grew. Workers resented such oppression. The owners hit back by throwing the protesting workers out of their jobs. The social relationship between the poor workers and their rich employers became unsustainable. The whole society became melting pot of intense anger, revenge, greed and exploitation.
Many intellectuals that include writers like Charles Dickens (author of Oliver Twist, Hard Times etc.) raised their voice against such exploitation of large number of the poor under-privileged citizens by a few rich privileged few.
Karl Marx, a German thinker, was also very disturbed to see such inhuman exploitation of poor and voice-less people. After thinking over the matter very deeply, he concluded that it is the wealth in private hands that was causing all such inequality and greed-driven industrial activity. Same exploitation was also happening in the field of farming. A few land-owners were making the poor peasants toil in the fields mercilessly. A good part of the harvest was being taken away by the land-owners, leaving little for the people who actually worked in the fields. These people remained poor for generations with no access to education and a better standard of living.
Seeing all these, he decided that land ownership was at the root of such exploitation. Put together, productive assets of a country like its industrial factories and the agricultural lands, instead of making the life of people easier, was perpetuating exploitation, oppression, and inequality. He, therefore, felt that such assets must go to the hands of the government (so, the whole society), rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few people.
Like this, his ideas of communism (known as socialism too) took shape. Many intellectuals agreed with him and actively supported him. Many others dismissed his philosophy as impractical and un-warranted.
Nevertheless, Karl Marx propounded his communist ideology with great conviction. He published numerous books during his lifetime, the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867–1894). These two books are considered the Bible of Communism (also known as Socialism).
Who ruled Russia and why did he allow the Communists to take over the government …
Before the communists took over, Russia was ruled by the Czars. These emperors belonged to the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia for centuries before being forced out by the communist leaders.
The Czars wielded absolute power in their hands. They were so arrogant that they felt they were the representatives of God. Hence, they had unquestioned right to rule over the country. With such a mindset, they became detached, indifferent and intolerant of any criticism. To bolster their ego, they loved military adventures which were very expensive and totally unnecessary.
The Czars ruled with an iron hand. All protests were very brutally suppressed. A group of sycophants and favour-seekers surrounded him, cutting him off from the situation in the ground. The ministers were either incompetent or too afraid to give judicious advice to the emperor.
Because of Russia’s long involvement in war, the government’s treasury was fast becoming empty. Quite foolishly, Russia did not industrialize itself like the other European powers like England, France and Germany. This made the Russian economy inherently weak. Then the droughts used to come periodically bringing great hardship to the farmers community. As a country Russia was too large and far-flung. Those days, tele-communication and fast transport were non-existent. This made the central authority under Czar quite weak and ineffective in dealing with rebellion in remote areas.
The wars were very ruinous. They drained the country of money and man-power. The government began to increase tax rates to mobilize revenue, but the general citizens, already burdened with heavy taxation, refused to pay fresh taxes.
There were protests against the Czar. It became more and more violent. The Czar could not control the rising protests. Finally, he had to abdicate his thrown. Later, he was killed.