A political perusal of the collapse of the Soviet Union
Report of the Central Committee of the Peoples’ Libertaion Front (J.V.P.) Srilanka
A political perusal of the collapse of the Soviet Union The Great October Revolution that created Soviet Russia and later the Soviet Union as the first Socialist state of the world will mark the 100th anniversary this year. Also, the Socialist Soviet Union created by the Great October Revolution collapsed in 1991 and a quarter century has gone by since then. This is a good opportunity for a dialogue on why the Soviet Union collapsed and what were the reasons for such a breakdown. It is indeed important to discuss these matters especially at a time when imperialism and global capitalism is in crisis and the way has been paved for Socialism. During the last two and a half decades various individuals have come up with various definitions regarding the fall of the Soviet Union. Still they come up with many analyses. Most of these definitions have been carried out according to their class point of view and some of them have been done merely by tampering on the surface, lacking depth and apolitical. This is why correct analyses done with a Marxist – Leninist perspective are necessary. The intention of this article is to put forward a short and a concise view on how we comprehend the fall of the Soviet Union. Why did the Soviet Union, that built backward, tsarist, feudal Russia into a massive, strong, Socialist state to bring a revolution in science and technology, that defeated Hitler’s Nazism and liberated the world, that explored space first, supported without expecting any economic benefits in return not only Socialist countries but several backward, capitalist countries that showed allegiance to the Soviet camp, that challenged imperialism by being a powerful state and was building a new society and a new individual in the country collapsed in one night? It is a stupefying happening indeed. Many couldn’t comprehend the fall of such a strong state. This is why many come out with various reasons. However, there cannot be a result without a reason. There are many factors that affected the collapse of the Soviet Union. They spread from small simple reasons to large complex incidents such as conspiracies, betrayals, misunderstandings, wrong steps taken and theoretical derailments. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union is seen as an incident that occurred within a few days it is in reality a qualitative transformation of quantitative changes that had been happening throughout several decades. This is why it is necessary to study the real political reasons that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Understanding of this would not be difficult if we analyze the course of events based on a Marxist – Leninist stand.
“Historical experience teaches us that always, in all revolutions, at a time when a revolution takes an abrupt turn from swift victory to severe defeats, there comes a period of pseudo-revolutionary phrase-making that invariably causes the greatest 2 damage to the development of the revolution. And so, comrades, we shall be able to appraise our tactics correctly only when we set out to consider the turn in events that has hurled us back from swift, easy and complete victories to grave defeats.”(Extraordinary Fourth All Russia Congress of Soviets,March 14-16,1918)
Many Socialist countries including countries in East Europe crashed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We would pay our attention here to understand the main reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. It would help us to understand the whole. We can put reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union into two main categories. They are the internal factors of the Soviet Union and external factors. Although there are many big and small factors involved, studying the main factors would be sufficient for our task. The essence of the factors that influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union could be put in a nutshell as failure to continue Lenin’s guidance to solve issues confronted when building Socialism in a country with feudal characteristics and a backward economy where capitalism too had not been developed, theoretical weaknesses, lackluster support of the masses for Socialism, degeneration of officialdom, not expecting Socialism to collapse in the country, imperialist conspiracies and interferences.
Consolidating capitalism or achieving certain victories to counter-revolutionary moves are not incapable of occurring in a Socialist country. Socialism is not a definite social economic system. It is a transitional period. Socialism is the period in which capitalist social system with private property evolves into Communism – the social system with common ownership of property. Hence, during the Socialist transition period there is the danger of the collapse of a Socialist state due to errors that occur when building Socialism, going along the wrong track, counter – revolutionary moves, and imperialists’ conspiracies or due to all these factors. This hazard could be ended only when the World Socialist Revolution has been won and the Communist system has been established. Now, let’s find out how the Soviet Union that was passing through the Socialist transition period collapsed.
Not implementing Leninism correctly
Many issues were confronted when building Socialism in backward Russia, where not even capitalist development had not properly taken place. It is clear that Lenin prepared solutions and strategies to overcome these issues. Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) during 1919 allowing small scale private production and trade with the intention of raising production. It was only a temporary move. Also, in 1918 Treaties of Brest-Litovsk was signed with Germany as a strategic move to prevent Germany from invading infantile Socialist Russia. These two moves were carried out with the intention of increasing production and defending Socialism. Besides, in 1919 the 3rd International was built as an important move for the world revolution. For, the real protection for the Soviet Union and its existence depended on World Socialist Revolution. Lenin emphasizing that the existence of the Socialist Revolution in Russia depended on World Revolution prepared strategy for it. On 23rd April, 1918 Lenin said, “We are a revolutionary working class contingent that has advanced to the forefront, not because we are better than other workers, not because the Russian proletariat is superior to the working class of other countries, but solely because we were one of the most backward countries in the world. We shall achieve final victory only when we succeed at last in conclusively smashing international imperialism which relies on the tremendous strength of its equipment and discipline. But we shall achieve victory only together with all the workers of other countries of the whole world. … Our backwardness has put us in the forefront, and we shall perish unless we are capable of holding out until we receive powerful support from workers who have risen in revolt in other countries.”
Also Lenin, speaking on Treaties of Brest-Litovsk, said ‘We would be destroyed if a revolution doesn’t occur in Germany. Despite the Socialist revolution triumphing in any country, specially in a country like Russia that is far behind in development, it, by itself, cannot develop Socialism in the country and continue for a longer period amidst imperialist attacks or wait a long time till World Revolution.’ 3 Lenin saw this serious issue Socialism in Russia would have to confront. As Soviet Union, by itself, would not be able to continue defending Socialism, Lenin emphasized the necessity of World Revolution and carried out moves to achieve ‘Word Revolution’ to confront this situation.
- Establishment of the 3rd International in 1919,
- Presenting a strategy on ‘National Liberation Struggle’ for colonies and semi-colonies to win their Socialist Revolution,’
- Stating that states under feudal system could move over to Socialism avoiding capitalist development and presented the theory ‘Non-capitalist development path , were some of the measures taken?
However, after Lenin’s death the aforesaid strategies were changed or ignored due to theoretical and political derailments that occurred in the Soviet Union. Wrong decisions were taken and wrong strategies used. These maneuvers became distracters to drive away Socialism from its correct path. It is important to study them in detail. In short, they could be considered as internal and external factors.
The internal factors that influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union not only collapsed but was also made to collapse. Imperialism that strived to breakdown the Socialist state got the opportunity due to the internal issues and weaknesses that existed in the Soviet Union. Let’s discuss the main internal issues and weaknesses that influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union.
1. Abandoning the international and Internationalism
After Lenin’s death Stalin became the Leader of the Soviet Union and the Communist party. Stalin’s role in creating the Soviet Union, defending the Socialist state in Russia, leading the Soviet Union to victory in the Second World War and in industrializing the Soviet Union cannot be ignored.
However, in politics and state administration he was a stubborn beurocrat and ignored Leninist teachings and strategies. Weaknesses in his personal vision and the crises and challenges that existed in the infantile Socialist state would have been the reasons. Unfortunately, this cast away Leninist teachings and strategies set up targeting World Revolution while slogans contrary to Marxism Leninism on building Socialism in the Soviet Union were put forward. The beginning of this trend was when Bukharin introduced ‘Socialism in one country’ at the sixth congress of the 3rd International in 1928. This belittled Internationalism and international solidarity and promoted the ability of establishing Socialism in one country.
This was not an isolated slogan for, such slogans and strategies linked to this came up frequently. In the end it extended to the slogan to build a Communist society exclusively for the Soviet Union. This dream of Soviet Union achieving Communist system on its own weakened Internationalism. Also, at the 7the Congress of the 3rd International held between 25th July to 20th August, the Leader of Bulgarian Communist Party Georgi Dimitrov , who participated on behalf of Stalin, put forward the ‘People’s Front’ theory against fascism. The expressed intention of putting forward the theory was to build a people’s front against fascism. However, the slogan paved the way for many Communist Parties in the world to enter into capitalist alliances and class collaboration. It is this slogan that paved the way later for the anti-Marxist vision of dividing the revolution into stages of ‘National Democratic Revolution’ 4 according to Stalinism and ‘People’s Democratic Revolution’ according to Maoist teaching to achieve Socialism through stages. As such, in many countries where national liberation struggles were being carried out Communist Parties, instead of giving leadership to such struggles, handed over the leadership to united fronts lead by capitalist class. At the beginning – in 1927 united fronts were built within China guided by the Soviet Union. These united fronts, which harmed World Socialist Revolution, were seen in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin-America. Specially, when colonies in Asia and Africa struggled against the colonial domination and achieved ‘independence’ through national liberation struggles it was capitalist leaders who came to power in those new administrations. The Communist parties in these countries had to consider these leaders as progressives and support them. As a result Communist parties in these countries could not get power. The Socialist Revolution was partitioned into stages, the first stage was named ‘National Democratic Revolution’ or ‘People’s Democratic Revolution’ and Communist parties were goaded to set up fronts with so-called ‘progressive capitalist’ class. Capitalist class was progressive only at the inception of capitalist system. It was because they were loyal to the capitalist revolution. However, the capitalist class, in the situation where it has ended its development, is hostile to Socialist Social Revolution. Specially, in this era – the era of Socialist Revolution – the capitalist class is indeed reactionary. It, as a class, obstructs Socialist Social Revolution. Hence, the capitalist class has no revolutionary task in Socialist Revolution. The Socialist Social Revolution is the task of the proletariat. There is no revolution the proletariat could do with the capitalist class. Hence, the ‘united front’ theory is a diversion from Marxism Leninism.
Also, in 1943 while the Second World War was ending Stalin dissolved the 3rd International. With this the World Socialist Movement was denied the leadership it needed. This acutely harmed the World Revolution. Even after Stalin’s death in 1953 the deviation continued unabated. With the manifestation of Sino – Soviet controversy at the 22nd Congress of Soviet Communist Party in October, 1961, internal conflicts began to appear in the Socialist camp. This too harmed not only the Socialist camp but also the World Revolution.
Furthermore, Soviet Leader Khrushchev put forward the slogan ‘Communism in 20 years’. It was a complete diversion from Lenin’s and Marx’s teachings and fundamentals of Marxism and was an extension of Bukarin’s‘Socialism in One Country’ presented in 1928. The Marxist Leninist fundamental theory of ‘a Communist society cannot be built in one country’ was completely ignored and was distorted. Soviet leaders in the 1960s put forward a theory that Soviet Union had reached ‘developed Socialist state’ and it could never be reversed. The risk of protecting Soviet Union was thus abandoned and the World Revolution too was put aside. This was due to the myth of Soviet Union could achieve Communist state on its own.
This wrong slogan and policies affected drastically the Socialist path of the Soviet Union. This prevented World Socialist Revolution and the Soviet Union had to exist for a very long period among developed capitalist countries undergoing various conspiracies hatched against it. This was indeed disadvantageous to the Soviet Union.
With the assumption that the Soviet Union had reached developed Socialist state, it, on its own, weakened the proletarian state power. The best example is this viewpoint that came up at the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party held in October, 1961. It is the declaration that dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer necessary in the Soviet Union as “The dictatorship of the proletariat has completed its historical mission.” Khrushchev says, “When Socialism had triumphed completely and finally in our country and we entered upon the period of full-scale communist construction, the conditions which necessitated the dictatorship of the proletariat disappeared, its domestic purposes were fulfilled.” He further states, “The state, which arose as the dictatorship of the proletariat, has, in the new, contemporary stage, become a state of the entire people, an organ expressing the interests and will of the people as a whole.”
This is not Leninism but a complete distraction. It is abandoning Leninist teaching on state power. Although, Lenin had emphasized the necessity of proletarian state in transition to Socialism, it was totally ignored. This was very advantageous to the enemy when breaking down the Soviet Union.
Also, despite, the slogans and moves “peaceful co-existence” “détente “, during Brezhnev’s rule were seen as decreasing military rivalry among world powers and the risk of war, when looking from a Socialist point of view they were advantageous to imperialism. It was imperialism that got the highest protection and gained space for the struggle in the ideological front against the Soviet Union. Instead of leading the Soviet citizen towards building Socialism and defending it against imperialism, getting him to be vigilant and make him a militant, he was turned to a mere spectator, an onlooker who minds his own business according to peaceful co-existence. Later, Soviet citizens were pushed to the level of admiring the ‘so-called independence’ said to exist in imperialist western countries and various consumer goods. This is the situation that allowed the fall of the Soviet society before the very eyes of the Soviet people.
2. Stabilization of the bureaucracy
In addition to weakening and abandoning internationalism and the supremacy of the proletarian state power another reason for the fall of the Soviet Union is the emergence of the beurocracy during the Socialist stage. Lenin’s directions regarding the control of the beurocracy were ignored and this caused beurocracy to be entrenched in the Soviet Union. This distanced the party member from the leadership and the people from the party.
When compared with the relations Fidel Castro had with the people in Cuba and the example he gave opposing building personality cults, it is not difficult to know the nature of beurocracy of the Soviet leaders. These beureocratic leaders used their position, responsibilities to partake of privileges within Socialism.
Lenin saw the risk of beurocracy emerging when building Socialism in a country with regressive development and proposed programs to overcome it. Writing a letter to party congress held at the end of December in 1922 Lenin emphasized that “Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution.”
He proposed “increasing the number of C.C. members”, stating “Such a reform would considerably increase the stability of our Party.”
He says, “The danger of a split could be avoided, and this purpose, in my opinion, would be served, among other things by increasing the number of C.C. members to 50 or 100.”
Later, Lenin writes, “Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who is more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc.”
By this time Lenin was seriously ill having survived an assassination attempt and his proposals were not implemented. Lenin explained bureaucracy ‘as a parasitic, capitalist growth on the organism of the workers’ state, which arose out of the isolation of the revolution in a backward, illiterate peasant country.’
On the other hand Lenin had emphasized that beurocracy was not a personal error but it surfaces due to the backwardness of the culture of the society and the inability to give what is needed for everyone. The rise of bureaucracy was understood by Lenin as the 6 product of economic and cultural backwardness which was the result of the isolation of the revolution. A result of not taking measures to control beurocracy, it thrived.
The power in the Soviet Union, instead of becoming power of the people, became a power bereaved from the people. A contradiction between the people and the administration developed and dissatisfaction grew among the people towards the administration. It should not be forgotten that it was this officialdom that took over the communal or collective properties within the Soviet Union and made them their private properties when the Soviet Union collapsed. It is evident that imperialism and its agents utilized this conduct of the beurocracy, the dissatisfaction that grew among the masses and the mentality of appreciating western goods to corral the Soviet Union.
3. No socio- economic modernizations
The Soviet Union, at the beginning, showed a great development in science and technology and in making weapons and in its space programme. However, it seems that when producing essential goods it neglected certain necessary modernizations and changes. The absence of timely and essential socio – economic modernizations too would have been a reason for the challenges Socialism in the Soviet Union had to put up with. This doesn’t mean there were no development in science and technology in the Soviet Union. It existed with the Soviet Union at a level to beat the USA. However, in producing consumer goods and in certain products and services only the quality was considered without giving much thought to their looks. As such, the outward looks of capitalist products were able to attract the younger generation towards them. This helped imperialists to attract Soviet masses to capitalist commercial goods. Even advertisements advertising cool drinks broadcast via imperialist propaganda media were able to disorient the Soviet youth. Through these advertisements they saw capitalist world as a ‘wonderland’.
4. No contribution from the masses due to weakness of Socialist education
The absence of a continuous ideological struggle and a Socialist education and the weakness of the process to get the contribution of masses to build Socialism too were contributory factors for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The regard for Socialism of the younger generation had been weakened. It could have been due to the failure to take the ideology to the people continuously and the weakness in the process to inculcate the thought about Socialism. Despite the Soviet Union printing Marxist – Leninist literature on a large scale, owning the largest library in the world, inheriting the most valuable Socialist literature, it seems that it was not successful in instilling the value of the Revolution and Socialism upon the new generation and establishing the need to protect them. A paramount truth is the Revolution cannot be defended without the support of the masses.
This is what Fidel Castro said: “The Revolution should defend itself. That’s how it is protected. Having nuclear weapons or being rich would not protect it. We have confronted sanctions for 40 years. We came through a difficult period amidst various obstacles and harassment. No country could defend itself without the support of the masses. It needs people’s political will.”
The solutions the last Soviet leader Gorbachev put forward to find remedies for the bureaucracy that was being created in the Soviet Union , stagnation of the economy, decrease of efficiency in production establishments were “glasnost” (political openness) and “perestroika” ( economic restructuring).
He introduced “perestroika” as a new life to Lenin’s NEP (New Economic Policy) programme. However, due to these moves, specially due to “glasnost”, the Soviet state power was weakened. The weakening of proletarian state power that was necessary to build Socialism and maintain it was advantageous to the enemy. The inaction of the Soviet Red Army while the Soviet Union was 7 collapsing confirms this. It is evident that Gorbachev’s reforms were instrumental in turning the collapse of the Soviet Union that was deteriorating quantitatively to a qualitative one.
External factors that influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union
In addition to internal factors that influenced the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were external factors that made the collapse possible. There were certain factors that the Soviet Union had no control over them. There were also imperialist conspiracies.
1. Maintaining a Soviet friendly state network sabotaging the International
The 3rd international or the Comintern (Communist International) established under the leadership of Lenin in 1919 to give leadership to World Revolution was dissolved by Stalin when the second world war was coming to an end saying such an organization was not further necessary to give leadership to World Socialist Revolution. However, after the international or the Comintern was dissolved in 1943 Stalin formed an organization called ‘Comminform’ (Communist Information Bureau) in 1947. The parties and countries that belonged to this organization were Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia. However, due to contradictions with Tito, the Yugoslavian Leader, Yugoslavia was ousted from the organization.Later, after Stalin’s death; in 1956 Khrushchev dissolved this organization at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in1956.
Soviet leaders who dissolved the 3rd International in this manner and abandoned internationalism maintained a group of states friendly to them. A large amount of money was spent on behalf of this. Communist parties in the world were maintained with Russian assistance and they had to agree to policies and programmes of the Soviet Union and act as Russian branches in their countries. Of course this created a serious resistance. A situation existed where the labour and resources of the people in the Soviet Union had to maintain Communist parties and Socialist states in the whole world. Also, the yield of Socialism had to maintain capitalist countries that had become friendly with Soviet Union for their own interests. Undoubtedly, this would have become a burden the Soviet economy had to bear.
2. Class collaboration and weakening of left movements
Not supporting Socialism in capitalist countries due to having friendly relations with them and allowing the capitalist class to come to power through national liberation struggles were mistakes that were committed. Using the classifications ‘anti-imperialist’ and ‘antifascist’, the ‘progressive’ label was stuck to certain capitalist parties and leaderships in periphery countries of the world to have friendly relations with them. The Communist parties of the countries had been instructed to work side by side with such capitalist leader s and parties. These occurred not as strategic moves but as tactical moves. This merely maintained capitalist countries friendly to the Soviet Union but was not advantageous to World Socialist Revolution. It was a diversion from Leninism and was harmful to the World Revolution. The struggle for the Revolution took a back seat due to the friendly relations the Soviet Union had with Nehru in India, Bandaranayke in Sri Lanka, Anver Sadath in Egypt and such leaders in Africa.
3. Conflict and disunity in the Socialist camp
The conflict and disunity in the Socialist camp were the main reasons for its collapse. The main among them was the Sino – Soviet rift that began in 1961 and manifested in 1963. It split Communist Parties all over the world and later they acted hostile to each other. This allowed the USA to use China against the Soviet Union. Furthermore, dividing the left movement into Trotskyism, Stalinism and Euro – Communism was disadvantageous to the left. The Soviet Union had to spend immensely not on behalf of the social revolution but to maintain Soviet friendly Communist parties.
All this caused the Soviet Union to carry an unlimited and unnecessary economic burden. The International Communist Movement was factionalized and the countries that belonged to it were made underlings. This unprotective situation was advantageous to imperialists who were striving to topple Socialism.
4. Affects of imperialist conspiracies
Imperialists always conspired to breakdown the Socialist camp. They made use of the weaknesses and splits in the Socialist camp. A large amount of funds that could have been used on behalf of masses in Socialist countries had to be spent for the arms race that had to be maintained due to mass scale production of arms against the Socialist camp. Another factor for the breakdown of the Socialist camp is the conspiracy of the imperialists to enter communalism into the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries. As soon as Socialist state power weakened the Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 separate states, Czechoslovakia split into Czeck and Slovak and Yugoslavia broke away due to this imperialist conspiracy. Meanwhile, imperialists carried out a massive propaganda against the Soviet Union and Socialist countries, invented fabrications and deceived the masses. Religious organizations too were deployed in these vice moves. This was successfully carried out in Poland. Lech Wałęsa, traded union leader who became a capitalist leader later was manipulated by the Pope, who was Polish.
Also, anti – Stalinism that was within the Socialist camp was taken beyond theoretical criticism and used it as a standpoint against Socialism.
Imperialists’ agenda against Socialism manifested through several moves that were carried out including United States’ embargo against Cuba and invasion against Cuba in 1961, Grenada invasion in 1983, supporting Contra rebels against Nicaragua, building Muslim fundamental organizations in Afghanistan against soviet troops. All these contributed directly and indirectly to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When generally taken the collapse of the Socialist camp should be understood not as an accident or a treacherous act but as an occurrence that was caused by external and internal factors and developed quantitatively during an extended period of time. It is evident that the deterioration and diversion that occurred theoretically and practically as well as continuous conspiracies of the imperialists and attacks too were responsible. When did the theoretical diversion in the Soviet Communist Party and its deterioration begin? Form a Leninist point of view the truth is that theoretical diversion of the Soviet Union began with Stalin’s administration. The starting point of personality cult, beurocracy and theoretical diversions was Stalin’s administration. Thereafter, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev, these revisionist tendencies continued in various forms. The leader who came to power and who could be relied upon during this period was Yuri Andropov. He was an experienced person who had been the head of KGB for a long period. He came to power on 12th November, 1982. However, his term was limited for a year. As such, there was no time to get results from his appointment. Many suspect his sudden death and there are many who consider that his death was another step towards the conspiracy to topple the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union should be understood not subjectively but objectively and with historical situation; as qualitative steps of a process that occurred quantitatively. It is the imperialists who made the Soviet Union to collapse. Many who held responsible positions in Soviet administration knowingly as well as unknowingly leagued with imperialists at the last moment and contributed to the biggest betrayal. The masses or the Red Army didn’t seem to have comprehended the events. This is evident as they became passive onlookers while Soviet Socialism was being knocked over. They did so as they had been detached from building Socialism and the struggle to protect it. Inability to solve issues confronted when building Socialism in a backward state, waiting in the socialist transition stage for a longer period, theoretical diversions, deterioration of the beurocracy, the economic stagnation, 9 weaknesses in getting people’s contribution in building Socialism and the weakness of the proletarian state power to the level of not being able to protect the Socialist Revolution are some of the factors that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. Conclusion
In a situation where world capitalism is in crisis and the world is craving for Socialism, when the masses in countries, where Socialism existed in the past but capitalism has now taken over, are confronted with serious crises and the value, soundness and accuracy of Socialism are being well established, deploying these experiences for the greatest victory of Socialism is indeed the responsibility of all of us.
The Central Committee of People’s Liberation Front Srilanka 2017 JUNE