James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6


The USSR during the "Perestroika" years.
14.1. The USSR during the era of "stagnation" (1960s-80s).

In the final years of his tenure, Nikita Krushchev began to acknowledge a crisis state in the broader economy of the USSR that had led to a decline in standards of living. On the 14th of October 1964 at a plenary session of the Central Committee of the CPSU, he was removed from his post of First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. Leonid Brezhnev then became the first (then General) Secretary of the Central Committee. A.N. Kosygin was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

The largest economic reform in the post-war period was that of 1965. Conceived under Krushchev and carried out under the leadership of A.N. Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, it affected management, industry, construction, and agriculture. Under this reform, economic councils were abolished and ministries restored, returning to the principle of sectoral economic management. The second aspect of the reform was the introduction of cost accounting, i.e., the notion of economic independence of enterprises, whose activities were then assessed on the basis of the volume of products sold and the amount of profit. In order to provide economic incentives, enterprises were permitted to use profits to create special funds - perhaps a fund to provide material incentives for workers and employees; a fund for sociocultural needs and housing construction; or a fund for the development and technical needs of the enterprise.

Generally, enterprises that switched to the new system improved their performance, and indeed this occurred in the aggregate as well: during the period 1966-70, the volume of industrial production grew by 1.5 times. Roughly 1900 large enterprises were built, most notably the Volzhsky Automobile Plant in Togliatti, KamAZ, and others. The reform, however, was not pursued further and throughout the 1970s a general decline in the rate of overall economic development began.

The period of the 1970s and early 1980s is, in the history of Soviet society, characterized generally as a period of stagnation due to the continuation of the socioeconomic and political model of the 1930s (as well as the the personalities of Brezhnev and his circle). Major sectors of the economy remained fuel and energy and military-industrial complexes. Oil and gas production in Western Siberia developed rapidly. By 1980, the USSR's fuel and energy complex accounted for 10% of global production. But the income was used inefficiently: for investments in capital projects left unfinished; for Western equipment; and for imported food.

Standards of living in the USSR slowly rose until the mid-1970s, and then remained relatively constant for over five years. Salaries increased. Investments in healthcare, education, sports, and recreation continued. Most social benefits were entirely free.

A general decline in basic economic indicators began after 1970. Between 1965-85 the growth rate of national income fell from 7.7% to 3.8%. The growth rate of labor productivity also declined from 6.8% to 3%.

From the latter half of the 1970s and onward, the general state of agriculture in the USSR had acquired a character of constant crisis. Growth rates of agricultural production fell from 4.3% in the 1960s to 1.4% in the early 1980s. Population growth and a decline in the absolute rate of agricultural production aggrevated the problem further.

Concentration of funds in heavy industry and the expensive military and space programs of the USSR limited opportunity to solve many social problems. By the early 1980s, the USSR lagged behind advanced countries in consumption of traditional products and in the structure of daily nutrition.

On the initiative of the Party, the policy of de-Stalinization and criticism of the personality cult was abandoned, and a return to certain elements of Stalinism in ideology, culture, and public life was planned.

In 1977 the new Constitution of the USSR was adopted. In it (Article 6) the monopoly position of the CPSU as the "guiding directional force of Soviet society" was fixed officially as "the core of the political system". Over the previous 20 years, the ranks of the CPSU have increased from 12.4 million (1966) to 18.3 million (1985). As before, party leadership exercised ideological control over public life through party and social organizations, preserving the ideological dictatorship of the CPSU. In efforts to stabilize society to some degree, the party also abandoned the utopian idea of an imminent transition to communism accompanied by the subordination of the state. In its place, the new Constitution included the notion of "developed socialism".

The Constitution also decleared the appearance of a "new social and international community - the Soviet people" in the USSR. In context, this signified that all national contradictions within the USSR had been overcome, and that a final rapprochement of the socialist nations and peoples had developed. Under these conditions of fully developed socialism, the CPSU had also become a "party of the whole people", in which the Soviets were truly Soviets of People's Deputies.

At the same time, the system of governance in the country became closed and conservative. Leaders permanently held posts for 15-20 years, often until their deaths; average age of nominees to positions was nearly 57 years. As such, it became increasingly inaccessible for younger candidates. During this period the influence of a small circle of members of the Politburo - KGB head Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister D.F. Ustinov, and Minister of Foreign Affairs A.A. Gromyko - grew substantially.

After the death of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982, the post of General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee was occupied by Yuri Andropov (November 1982-February 1984). Following his death, the post was taken up by a close associate of Brezhnev, Konstantin Chernenko, who died in March 1985. In April 1985, Mikhail S. Gorbachev assumed the post of General Secretary, and promised a policy of reform to the USSR's economic system.

14.2. The concept of "accelerating" the socioeconomic development of the USSR, and its results.

Key in Gorbachev's reform strategy was the acceleration of the USSR's economic growth along with scientific and technological progress. The most highly-prioritized task in economic transformation was accelerated development in the machine-building industry. In pursuing this goal, a major task at hand was that of fighting alcoholism and drunkenness among workers, and strengthening production discipline. Quality control was strengthened significantly, though the concept of acceleration did not yet yield noticeable results.

In 1987 a new economic reform was proposed, providing for the expansion of enterprises' independence and for the revival of the private sector through the development of cooperative movements; by reducing the number of ministries and thereby decentralizing management; and by more deeply integrating Soviet enterprises into the world market.

In agriculture, efforts were made to equalize the interests of the five main forms of farm management in rural areas: collective farms, state farms, agro-combines, cooperatives, and independent farms.

In 1987, the Law on State Enterprise was adopted. Enterprises received economic independence, including the right to foreign economic activity and the creation of joint ventures. Under the Law on Labor Collectives, a system of elections for heads of enterprises and institutions was introduced.

In 1988, both the Law on Cooperation and the Law on Individual Work Activity were adopted. These laws created opportunities for lawful private business activities in the production of over 30 distinct types of goods and services.

Following some initial successes since 1990, an overall reduction in industrial production began. During the summer of 1990 a course was adopted for a gradual transition to a market economy over the next several years.

Not long thereafter a second plan was produced in contrast to the intentions of the Soviet leadership. Developed by academic S.S. Shatalin along with G.A. Yavlinsky and B.G. Fedorov, the plan, which became known as the "500 Days" program, aspired to fully implement a transition to a market economy in 500 days. In order to accomplish this, privatization and decentralization of the economy would be conducted; then, a removal of state price controls; then, structural reorganization of the economy would be undergone and then, social support would be solicited from the population as a condition of reform. Under pressure from conservatives, M. Gorbachev refused to implement this program, while B. Yeltsin (at that time Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR) supported it.

14.3. Perestroika (rebuilding) of the political system of the USSR.

During the years 1987-88 M. Gorbachev set out to restructure the political model of the USSR and create "socialism with an human face". Known broadly as "Perestroika", this restructuring included a number of liberal-democratic principles: parliamentarism, the protection of civil and political rights, and the market economy. For the first time, the goal of creating a civil legal society in the USSR was actively proclaimed.

Democratization and glasnost became guiding principles of the new conception of socialism. In March 1990, the sixth article of the Constitution of the USSR on the leading role of the CPSU - which effectively legislated the Communist Party's monopoly on power - was abolished, creating the possibility to transform the USSR into a multiparty state. As a result, between 1989-91, many new parties were formed: the Communist Party of the RSFSR, the Russian Communist Workers' Party, the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, the Social-Democratic Party of Russia, the Socialist Workers' Party, the People's Party of Free Russia, the Russian National Council, the Russian National Union, the Liberal Democratic Party, and so on.

Some structural changes were also made to the government of the USSR. The Congresses of People's Deputies were re-established as the highest legislative body of the country, while the Congress itself was formed by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. In the spring of 1989, multi-party elections of people's deputies of the USSR were held under a new election law. Another major change was the introduction of the institution of a presidency. In March 1990, the Third Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR elected Mikhail S. Gorbachev President of the USSR. In December 1991, presidential elections were held in most of the Union republics. On the 12th of June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the RSFSR.

The years of 1989-91 were a period of active activity of political forces in opposition to Mikhail Gorbachev. Among them were A.D. Sakharov, B.N. Yeltsin and others who ultimately demanded the dismantling of the unitary state.

14.4. Dissolution of the USSR.

The USSR was organized as a unitary federation with a strictly unified, centralized system of state and administrative management. Its composition included 53 national-territorial entities - union and anonymous republics, autonomous regions, and districts. In the USSR, 101 ethnic groups were distinctly identified.

The USSR throughout its existence created conditions favorable to national development. Ethnic groups were guaranteed territorial autonomy, education and activities of cultural institutions within their own languages, as well as the creation of their own local power structures and national nomenclatura (one factor that historians now allege contributed to the future disintegration of the Soviet Union).

Under these circumstances, the national question in the USSR was considered to have been addressed "completely and finally". The new Constitution of the USSR, adopted in 1977, proclaimed a new international community - the "Soviet people" - united under developed socialism.

The USSR was a multinational state. Russians accounted for 51.3% of the population and occupied 3/4 of the territory of the USSR. Yet at the same time, they did not officially enjoy any advantages over other nations and nationalities. Additionally, the RSFSR never maintained its own republican communist party; its governing apparatus was administered directly from the Central Committee of the CPSU. As a result the RSFSR became more closely associated with the center of the union state, and the nature of relations between the republics reflected this. But at the same time the RSFSR bore a greater burden for the overall federal budget than other republics, and so standards of living did not materially differ between republics in the aggregate.

Alterations in the national borders of the various ethnic autonomies along with mismatches of ethnic and political statehood led to territorial disputes between ethnic groups and future conflicts between Chechnya and Dagestan, Chechnya and Cossacks, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, and so forth. The overarching concept of national minorities as being administratively subordinate, as well as the permeation of Russian culture, raised interethnic conflicts to a tipping point by the end of the 1980s.

Under the conditions of economic crisis that befell the USSR in the late 1980s, the process of its gradual disintegration began. Greater political freedoms under the new multi-party system led to formation of nationalist movements in republics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Georgia) that maintained strong separtist sentiments - the National Fronts. In 1989-90, the Baltic republics, and others shortly thereafter, adopted declarations on national sovereignty. At the same time a crisis of communist ideology began, followed by the disintegration of the CPSU. During this period the Communist Party of the Baltic republics also disengaged from the CPSU, re-establishing itself as an independent Communist Party apparatus separate from the RSFSR.

Mikhail Gorbachev therefore faced the problem of reforming the USSR and securing a new agreement between the republics. Prior to these efforts, the maintenance of federal power was accomplished by force (in April 1989 in Tbilisi; in January 1990 in Baku; and in January 1991 in Vilnius and Riga). Therefore on the 17th of March 1991 a referendum was held in the USSR on the subject, during which the absolute majority of citizens voted for the preservation of the union state in an updated form. The agreement eventually signed in April 1991 in Novo-Ogarevo, as well as a subsequent draft agreement on the establishment of a Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, provided for greater autonomy to the republics and transformed the role of the central power from that of a manager into a coordinating one.

The signing of a new union treaty had been scheduled for the 20th of August. With intent to restore the central power of the USSR and prevent the agreement from being signed into law, the conservative wing of the USSR's leadership announced the creation of the State Committee for Emergency Situations and conspired to remove Gorbachev from power via a coup (19-21 August). Nevertheless the coup failed, with conspirators strongly rejected by wide swaths of the public, while having also been defeated in a governance sense by Boris Yeltsin and other members of the RSFSR's leadership.

On the 23rd of August 1991, once the coup had been suppressed, Mikhail Gorbachev refused the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee and announced the dissolution of the CPSU. The Union Cabinet was quickly dissolved, and in September - the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. In November 1991, the Communist Party was banned on the territory of the RSFSR. The result was a total collapse of the Communist regime in the USSR.

These events quickened the pace of separtism in the USSR. The three Baltic republics declared their secession from the USSR immediately after the failed August coup. Other republics passed laws proclaiming their sovereignty, making them effectively independent from Moscow.

Real power in the republics was then concentrated in the hands of national presidents. On the 8th of December 1991 at the Belarusian meeting in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, without the participation of Mikhail Gorbachev, the leaders of Russia (Boris Yeltsin), Ukraine (Leonid Kravchuk), and Belarus (S. Shushkevich) announced that the USSR had ceased to exist. At the same time, they signed the Agreement on the Establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States, now also known as the Belovezhskaya Agreeement.

On the 21st of December, in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, eleven other former union republics became signatories to the Belovezhskaya agreement. On the 25th of December, President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev resigned.

For the USSR, the consequences of dissolution were extremely serious for all peoples of former union republics. For Russia, the consequences were a 33%+ reduction in overall economic potential, the loss of half of its seaports and merchant fleet, and direct access to world trade routes to the West and to the South. Dissolution also violated many historical political, economic, and cultural ties between the republics. Another consequence of the disintegration of the multinational state was aggrevation of interethnic relations on the territories of post-Soviet republics, leading to territorial conflicts in many regions of the former USSR and creating a problem of refugees. Also notable was the problem of the Russian-speaking population, almost 25 million people, in the newly-independent national republics.

14.5. Changes in the external politics of the USSR.

Main priorities in Soviet foreign policy after 1985 were the East-West detente through disarmament negotiations with the United States; settlement of regional conflicts; and receiving recognition from the existing world order while expanding global economic ties.

In this vein, during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev a new foreign policy concept formed that became known as "new political thinking". Primarily, it rejected the idea of splitting the modern world into two opposed sociopolitical systems (socialism and capitalism) and instead viewed the world as integral and indivisible, proclaiming the priority of universal values over classist, nationalist, and ideological values.

At this new stage, Soviet-American bilateral relations occupied a central place in Soviet diplomacy. One notable result of these negotiations was the Treaty of the 8th of December 1987 on the decommissioning and destruction of an entire class of nuclear weapons: medium-range and short-range missiles. The USSR eliminated its missiles in Siberia and the Far East that had previously been directed against Japan, South Korea, and China, after which it retained a military advantage in tanks and personnel while NATO maintained nuclear superiority. In 1991, the Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-1) was signed, putting an end to the period of confrontation.

At the same time, challenging economic circumstances forced the leadership of the USSR to seek economic assistance and political support from the G-7 countries (USA, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan).

In January 1989, the USSR signed the Vienna Declaration of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. As a signatory, the USSR made commitments to guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to bring its laws and practices in line with international laws. Following this, as well as the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, a decree on departure and entry of Soviet citizens to and from the USSR was also adopted: due to concessions on the Soviet side, the flow of tourists and businesspeople in and out of the USSR had increased many times.

In 1989, a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Central and Eastern Europe began, thereby sharply decreasing the opportunity for the Soviet authorities to weigh upon the politics of the nations of the Eastern bloc. As a result, revolutions occurred in 1989-90 in Poland, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Albania. In 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) absorbed the GDR entirely with the consent of the USSR. This and other radical changes in the countries of the Eastern bloc became major contributing factors in bringing an end to the Cold War.

In 1991, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact Organization were dissolved, striking a significant blow to the USSR's national interests in Eastern Europe. The subsequent liquidation of the Soviet military presence in Asia and Africa, as well as the reduction in aid associated with those interests also weakened the USSR's geopolitical influence significantly.

Furthermore, on the 15th of February 1989, the Soviet Union completed its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where they had been stationed for nearly a decade, with over 13,000 casualties in total along with over 37,000 wounded. In December 1989 the Second Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR adopted a resolution condemning the war in Afghanistan and recognized the Soviet Union's participation in it as a massive political mistake. Nevertheless, the withdrawal from Afghanistan made possible a renewal in dialogue between the USSR and China.

The foreign policy course dictated by Mikhail Gorbachev was neither direct nor easy. The deterioration of overall economic conditions forced the USSR to make many concessions to the West in hopes of receiving financial assistance and political support. At the same time, withdrawal from Asia and Africa along with a loss of dominance in Eastern Europe had substantially dampened domestic enthusiasm for Gorbachev and his policies. By the end of the 1980s, the USSR's weakened international stance and loss of prominence as a superpower was becoming increasingly visible. This met with significant discontent and resistance within certain circles of Soviet society.

14.6. Changes in the cultural and spiritual life of the USSR.

Perestroika brought out new trends in the cultural and spiritual life of Soviet society, of which one important trend was the reassessment of Soviet history. Literature played a role in this process, as did publications in magazines such as "Ogonek", "Novy Mir", "Znamaya" and others with a mass readership. A wide range of previously closed topics were now on the table, so to speak - reassessments of the results of the revolution, the role of Lenin and Stalin in the history of the country, themes of repression and emigration, etc. All this led to the creation of new historical knowledge.

Rehabilitation was carried out for many names whose lives and work had previously been struck from the history books: N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, L.D. Trotsky, B.A. Antonov-Ovseenko and others. Interest in pre-revolutionary history also increased noticeably, necessitating the re-publication of works of S.M. Solovyov, S.F. Platonov, R.Yu. Vipper and others.

For the first time, the government recognized the Russian diaspora as part of national cultural heritage. One particularly special place in the history of that diaspora is that of the theoretical heritage of Russian philosophers: N.A. Berdyaeva, V.V. Rozanova, G.P. Fedotova and others; and historians L.P. Karsavina, G.V. Vernadsky, and others.

Many formerly-banned works of fictional literature were moved to open public access from the closed collections of Soviet libraries. Among them were works of A.P. Platonova, N.I. Gumilyov, as well as those of I.A. Brodsky, A.I. Solzhenitsyn, and others.

The years 1986-87 are a major turning point in the prevailing circumstances of religion and its believers in the USSR. Restoration of churches began; Sunday parochial schools began to spread, and Christian culture and cultures of other faiths began to spread once again. Representatives of the clergy had the ability once again to openly express themselves in the press, on radio, and on television in regards issues of morality, upbringing, and charity. The 1000th anniversary of the baptism of Rus in 1988 was celebrated as a national holiday, preceeded by a meeting of Mikhail Gorbachev with Patriarch Pimen and the Patriarchal Synod in its entirety. In October 1990, the law "On Freedom of Conscience" was adopted.

With Perestroika came a major, broad awakening of public consciousness in which the people were now able to openly express their views on various problems of state policy through rallies, referendums, and elections to legislative bodies through the multiparty system that had just taken root in the USSR. This in turn led to rapid growth in many forms of activity in civil society. With the end of Perestroika, however, came many unfulfilled hopes and disappointments and, in many minds, an ideological confrontation had arisen that radically split society and gave way to a transition to a new stage of cataclysmic reforms.