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The Collapse of the Soviet Union

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  President Reagan has rightfully received a lot of credit for ending the “Cold War” with Russia.  Based on my reading, Gorbachev deserves at least equal credit.  By 1989 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Communist Party had been the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union for 72 years.  Although the Communist Moscow Central planning system was able to build and operate the country’s heavy industries, it was never able to adequately make quality consumer products and services such as housing, food, clothing, household appliances, and medical care that the people demanded.  The central planning system failed miserably. By 1989, through television and information technology, the people saw daily how much better people in the West lived then they did.  After World War II, the Eastern European countries had been occupied and forced into the Soviet Union by military force.  By 1989, they desperately wanted out.  To his credit, Gorbachev recognized he had two choices: either let them go peacefully or use military force to suppress them which no doubt would have resulted in the death of millions and those left would never be satisfied and loyal to the Soviet Union.  He let them go peacefully.  That took great courage because the hardline communist threatened the lives of Gorbachev and his family.

I am reading Gorbachev’s memoirs and would love to see him receive proper credit for his courage and humanity.  That will never happen with Putin in absolute power of Russia for life and Gorbachev and his family still living in Russia.

When Gorbachev came to power in 1985 as party General Secretary, that was the most powerful position in the party and government.  He recognized the US and Soviet Union had reached a dangerous level of nuclear weapons and feared the two countries would blunder into a nuclear war that would destroy both countries and the human race.  He worked hard at negotiating a nuclear weapons limitations agreement with Reagan.  The first conference was about to end with no progress when the two took a walk and agreed on the key principles they needed to resolve and a schedule to continue negotiations until an agreement could be reached.  There was much distrust on both sides that had to be overcome to do so.

In 1985, Gorbachev also knew the party had failed over its 71-year rule as the absolute ruler of the country.  He knew the country had to progress to a democratically elected government and a free-market capitalist economy.  However, Russia had been ruled by absolute power Tsars for centuries and the people had no concept of democratic self-rule. The Party continued the absolute rule.  For centuries of Tsar rule, the economy had never been a free market capitalist system.  Instead, it was a Tzar monopoly system where the Tzar granted an exclusive license for his supporters to dominate each industry.  Gorbachev and his party supporters decided to make the transformation to a democratically elected government and a free market economy in small incremental steps over several years.  They feared a sudden abrupt change would lead to chaos and revolution.  That failed.  In fairness, the sudden abrupt change would probably have also failed.  However, at least that would have gotten the pain over quickly.

Gorbachev’s job was more difficult because, after 20 years of Stalin’s oppressive, absolute rule that caused so much pain and suffering for the people, the party had distributed power and authority over a vast bureaucracy of officials and bodies.  Gorbachev had to persuade that vast bureaucracy to support his changes before he could act.  He had great opposition on every change.

Unfortunately, free democratic elections only lasted until Putin took over.  His clique controls the election process and vote count and the elections are a sham.  Russia is not a free-market economy.  Putin also controls it as a monopoly as the Tzars did for centuries.

Author:  Ralph Coker is a retired petroleum refinery plant manager.  He writes on business, economic, military, and political topics.