The end of USSR did not happen overnight but rather in stages namely politically and economically, specifically the end of the command economy, the discrediting of soviet/ communist ideology, the decline of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the disintegration of USSR into the 15 states which occurred on 25 December 1991. The implementation of glasnost and perestroika, the collapse of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, Reagan’s Arms Race, the rise of nationalist movement in USSR all contributed to the collapse of USSR by hastening the speed in swhich the USSR collapsed.
However, the rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin was the most important as it nailed the final nail into the coffin of USSR, ensuring the collapse of the USSR as a political entity, dissolving it into the 15 states on 25 December 1991. Reagan’s Arms Race (RAR) hastened the collapse of the command economy and therefore the collapse of the economic aspect of the USSR. RAR was basically the intensification of the USA’s military build up, which had begun in the final years of the Carter Administration.
The most ambitious program was the 1983 Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), which was an outer space missile defence program that could destroy missiles in flight. This prompted Gorbachev to take less confrontational foreign policy that would allow him to decrease expenditure on defence and allow him to focus on reviving USSR’s economy. He did this by withdrawing troops from Eastern Europe which hastened the collapse of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe.
RAR had hastened the collapse of the command economy as it had drove Gorbachev to quickly implement perestroika to revive and attempt to strengthen USSR’s economy. The implementation of perestroika hastened the collapse of the command economy, which was a key part of the USSR. It must be noted that the command economy was flawed and it would have collapsed eventually, however perestroika hastened the collapse. Perestroika theoretically was introduced to decentralize the economy and market forces. However, it was not as radical as it was in theory.
Changes were largely limited to decentralizing the existing economic system and streamlining its management as well as building a better labour force. However, perestroika was flawed as Gorbachev had not focused on the agricultural sector as crops had a short shelf life and facilities to store the grain was poor. Transportation of crops was inefficient causing crops to die and be wasted. This led to USSR having to import their food stock from overseas which increased USSR’s national debt. By 1989, basic necessities vanished from stores and many lost their jobs.
The population were mainly concerned with putting bread on the table so these developments angered the public. This was exacerbated by Glasnost which revealed the problems of the command economy. This hastened the collapse of the command economy as by 1991, inflation had reached 250% proving that Perestroika was of no use and merely worsened the current economic situation in USSR. Perestroika also hastened the decline of the CPSU as it was proven the government was inept at providing for the people.
The implementation of glasnost had also hastened the collapse of the political aspect of USSR, specifically the decline of the CPSU and the discrediting of Soviet ideology. Glasnost introduced free speech and political pluralism into the Soviet system, it was meant to invigorate the CPSU and the moribund Soviet system by opening up more opportunities for debate. Glasnost also introduced the relaxation of censorship of information. This led to the hastening of the decline of CPSU as people were now able to contest the single party that once ruled over the state with an iron grip.
The flaws of the CPSU namely corruption and inefficiency was open to criticism and people began to turn away from the CPSU to alternative political parties due to the new political freedom. The media and intellectuals were also allowed to openly debate the shortcomings of the CPSU. Glasnost had also hastened the discrediting of Soviet ideology as now due to relaxed censorship laws, the ills of the Soviet society and it’s political-economic system were exposed and subjected to domestic and international scrutiny and criticism, and it exposed the Soviet ideology to be flawed and not as pristine as the CPSU had disguised it to be.
The discrediting of the Soviet ideology would have happened eventually because the Soviet ideology was flawed and doomed for self destruction but Glasnost merely hastened the discrediting. Glasnost had also allowed for the nationalist movement to emerge quicker than expected which laid foundations for the rise of Yeltsin and therefore the rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The collapse of Soviet hegemony had quickened the collapse of USSR in the political aspect specifically the decline of CPSU and the discrediting of Soviet ideology.
As part of his New Political Thinking, Gorbachev had allowed for reform initiatives in Eastern Europe. This led to revolutions to happen in Eastern Europe and within the span of a year, by 1989, the communist regimes of Bulgaria, Hungary etc. collapsed. The collapse of the Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe was because after joining the Eastern Bloc, the Eastern European economies stagnated and the people’s basic needs were not met which led to growing resentment of the people and laid the foundations for the revolutionary forces to emerge.
This hastened the collapse of USSR as it hastened the decline of the CPSU, the lost of the Eastern Bloc was a huge blow to the CPSU as it showed that CPSU had no longer the power to control its satellite states in Eastern Europe. The collapse of Soviet hegemony quickened the collapse of the USSR as Soviet ideology was discredited because the international prestige of communism was tarnished, as USSR was not able to control their satellite states. And as an ideology that focused largely and emphasized on unity, it was a humiliation that the Eastern Bloc crumbled so quickly and that communism in Eastern Europe declined so quickly.
This led to a rift in the CPSU itself, resulting in the August Coup which indicated clearly to the people that the CPSU was falling apart and all the more strengthened their support of the leaders of the nationalist movement in USSR namely Yeltsin. The rise of nationalist movement had hastened the collapse of USSR in the political aspect. The USSR was a union of republics that was made of many ethnic groups. The different republics all had nationalist ambitions and wanted to break away from the USSR to be their own independent state.
USSR was also not a voluntary union of equal states based on Soviet ideology but it was actually a forced union of states which were also not on equal footing. Any demand for equal rights were crushed brutally by the CPSU. The different ethnic groups were also very resentful of the CPSU and Soviet ideology as it suppressed their ethnic identity and replaced it with a common ‘russian’ ideology. Glasnost allowed for the airing these grievances and allowed the rise of nationalism to emerge quickly.
This led to the hastening of the collapse of the USSR through the discrediting of Soviet ideology as Soviet ideology was slowly being eroded and being replaced by nationalist ideologies. The collapse of USSR was also hastened because the rise of the nationalist movement led to the decline of the CPSU as people were no longer supporting the CPSU as through Glasnost, they could vote and support for alternative parties. This laid the foundation for the rise of Yeltsin which led to the rivalry between Yeltsin and Gorbachev which ensured and triggered the collapse of USSR into the 15 states.
The rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin was the most important factor which contributed to the collapse of the USSR. Gorbachev and Yeltsin were two very different revolutionists, the former started a revolution to strengthen communism and the latter a revolutionist who wanted to end communism and an independent state for Russia. Yeltsin was an rival to Gorbachev as he was the leader of the liberals who had managed to secure a majority in the legislature of the largest republic. Gorbachev’s own authority had weakened because of the impacts of the policies he implemented and the loss of the satellite states in Eastern Europe.
This resulted in 1991 August Coup in which the hardliners in the CPSU attempted to revert USSR to the state it was before Gorbachev’s policies were implemented, and Gorbachev was put on house arrest. Yeltsin encouraged the people to protest against the coup, this was a turning point as the Emergency Committee was supposed to clear away Yeltsin’s supporters but failed. This showed the CPSU was weak and poorly organized, it also showed Yeltsin that the people would not accept communist rule ever again and rode on the revolutionary wave.
When Gorbachev returned to Moscow, he faced another coup led by Yeltsin which led to the CPSU being dissolved. This truly caused the collapse of USSR as the main thing that held the strict structure of USSR together was dissolved, and therefore there was nothing holding the USSR together anymore. Therefore, I conclude that the rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin was the most important in the collapse of the USSR as it had triggered the CPSU being dissolved which was the most important thing holding the USSR together, while the other factors merely sped up the process of the collapse of USSR.