Charles E. Ziegler


     The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
     Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
     Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut · London / 1999









Gorbachev, Perestroika, and the Collapse of Communism     


The Soviet people are convinced that as a result of perestroika and democratization the country will become richer and stronger. Life will get better. There are, and will be, difficulties, sometimes considerable, on the road to perestroika, and we are not concealing that. But we will cope with them. Of that we are sure.

Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World

From its birth in the Revolution of 1917 to its demise at the end of 1991, the Soviet Union stood as the chief political, ideological, and military adversary of the Western democratic world. The Western democracies were constitutionally based systems embodying the concept of representative government, holding regular competitive elections for political office, respecting (in general) the rights and freedoms of the individual citizen, and promoting market economies with extensive private enterprise. By contrast, the Soviet Union and its East European colonies rejected the principles of "bourgeois democracy" as a sham, promoting instead the Marxist concept that the industrial working class should exercise political power without regard for the niceties of democratic procedure. The supposedly transitional phase of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" under Stalin solidified into a centralized, repressive dictatorship in which all facets of life--political, cultural, and economic-were regulated by the Communist Party and state bureaucracy.

The first indications of the economic problems that would eventually lead to Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms surfaced during Nikita Khrushchev's tenure as General Secretary, from 1953 to 1964. Khrushchev's ill-fated attempts at reform alienated much of the Party and government bureaucracy, and his successors, Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin, merely tinkered with the Stalinist structure of centralized political control and economic planning. A period of bureaucratic lethargy, what Gorbachev and the reformers would later call the "time of stagnation," supplanted Stalin's terroristic oppression and Khrushchev's poorly thought out experiments. Problems became more acute and obvious to younger, reform-minded Soviet leaders as the industrial economy could not keep up with the dynamic computer and information-driven economies of Europe, the United States, and East Asia.



MOUNTING PROBLEMS                                


There was no single factor that brought the Soviet system to a state of crisis. Economic problems were the most disturbing, particularly a steep decline in the gross national product (GNP) growth, to the point where the Soviet economy was expanding at only .5 to 2 percent annually in the early 1980s. If we consider the waste and inefficiency, routine distortion of production figures, continued population growth, and the fact that much of what was produced was of poor quality or not in demand by consumers, the record is even worse. A black market (underground) economy, comprising about one-fifth of total output, was a measure of the inadequacy of the legal economy. Absenteeism and alcoholism were common among workers. Most state stores closed early, so workers would often leave work early to do their shopping; daily shopping was necessary since there were no prepared foods and most homes boasted only compact refrigerators with little if any freezer space.

Soviet economic problems were complex, and resulted from the inherent difficulties in trying to operate a modern economy through central planning. First, the economy was extraordinarily wasteful--it took more than twice as much raw material and energy to produce finished goods in the USSR as it did in Western industrialized countries. Second, mostSoviet goods were of poor quality. They were not competitive on world markets, so most were consumed domestically or were exported to Eastern Europe or to developing nations. The only Soviet exports capable of earning hard currency were unprocessed raw materials--oil, natural gas, gold, timber, diamonds--and military weapons. Prices for Soviet goods were set arbitrarily, by a State Pricing Committee in the Council of Ministers, and so did not send accurate signals to either producers or consumers about their scarcity and value. Many food items, as well as transportation, education, housing, and medical care, were heavily subsidized. Other goods--luxury items, for example--were overpriced to discourage demand. Soviet consumers had extremely high savings rates because there was so little to buy. Banks offered low interest rates, and there was no Soviet stock market in which to invest, so stashing rubles under the bed was a common practice. State subsidies and the regime's claim that inflation did not exist under socialism meant running large budget deficits and incurring heavy foreign debt.

Strains also were beginning to show in the multinational fabric of the Soviet Union. Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians had never accepted their forced incorporation; Baltic emigré organizations lobbied Washington and other Western capitals to put pressure on Moscow. Much of the Soviet Jewish population left the USSR for Israel or the United States in the 1970s--over 50,000 in 1979 alone. In 1978 thousands of Georgian students marched in the capital, Tbilisi, after learning of plans to drop Georgian as the state language of the republic; Soviet authorities quickly gave in to their demands. Another disturbing trend, at least from Moscow's perspective, was a significant decline in birth rates among the Slavic nationalities. Birth rates were highest in Central Asia, where traditional extended families were still common. Demographers predicted that if trends continued, Russians would soon become a minority in the USSR. High population growth in Central Asia led to an imbalance between workers and industry--the jobs were concentrated in European Russia, but the labor supply was located in Central Asia. And an increasing proportion of draft-age recruits for the army came from Central Asia--close to one-third by the early 1980s. These young men were often not well educated, and many had only a weak command of the Russian language.

Another major problem was the economic and human costs associated with environmental pollution. Soviet economic development strategies had taken an extraordinary toll on the natural environment. Most of the major rivers and lakes were severely polluted from poorly treated sewage, industrial effluents, and agricultural runoff. In 1989 fully 75 percent of all surface water in the USSR was classified as polluted. Seventy percent of the volume of the great Aral Sea, which covered an area the size of West Virginia, was drained off to irrigate Central Asia's cotton crop. Cellulose plants built in the 1960s threatened beautiful Lake Baikal in the heart of Siberia, reservoir for one-fifth of the entire world's supply of fresh water. All major Soviet cities suffered from polluted air caused by coal-fired power plants and dirty industries. Strict laws on air pollution had been on the books since 1949, but were routinely violated. All the incentives were geared toward fulfilling quotas--managers were simply not rewarded for conserving raw materials or reducing emissions. Production always trumped the environment.

The costs of this cavalier attitude toward the environment were enormous. The Soviet fishing industry saw its harvests drop precipitously in the polluted lakes, rivers, and inland seas. Water contaminated by oil products, pesticides, and industrial wastes was responsible for hepatitis, cholera, and other water-borne diseases. Air pollution caused high rates of respiratory disease and eye infections in many industrial cities. Liberal use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture, and heavy industrial emissions, led to increased cancer rates, birth defects, and blood and liver diseases. The Soviet Union, alone among industrial nations, saw its infant mortality rate (an accurate indicator of the general health of a population) rise from 22.9 deaths per thousand live births in 1971 to 25.4 in 1987. Life expectancy among adults, another health indicator, also declined in the 1970s. Pollution, together with poor diet and heavy smoking and drinking, was responsible for this dismal record.

The Soviet economy had provided the population with a modestly improving standard of living ever since Stalin's death, but it could not match rising consumer expectations. Much of Soviet investment went to feed the huge military machine, which absorbed some 20 to 25 percent of total gross domestic product. As the United States retreated from international commitments following the Vietnam debacle, the Brezhnev regime increasingly resorted to military threats, and occasionally the direct exercise of military power, to achieve its foreign policy goals. In the latter half of the 1970s, Soviet officials confidently asserted that the "correlation of forces" in world affairs had shifted in favor of socialism and against the capitalist states. By the time of Brezhnev's death in November 1982, however, the Soviet Union confronted stubborn guerrilla resistance in Afghanistan (which the Soviets had invaded in 1979), a restive population in Poland (where the Solidarity movement had openly defied thegovernment during 1980-1981), and a conservative Reagan administration in Washington determined to rebuild America's military strength and confront the Soviet Union around the globe. Few Third World countries any longer admired the USSR as a model of development, preferring instead the example of newly industrializing and increasingly wealthy capitalist nations.

In sum, the early 1980s found an aging and unimaginative Soviet leadership facing intractable domestic problems and an increasingly difficult international environment. As the old guard died off or retired, a new generation of leaders, influenced more by Khrushchev's thaw than by Stalin's terror, moved into the highest echelons of power. Alexei Kosygin died in office in 1980; the Party's chief ideologist and reactionary, Mikhail Suslov, the "gray eminence" of Soviet politics, died early in 1982. Leonid Brezhnev died November 10, 1982, and conservative Politburo members chose Yurii Andropov, chairman of the KGB since 1967 and trained as a barge engineer, to be the new General Secretary. Andropov was clearly not the closet liberal some Western observers suspected (because he drank scotch and preferred jazz), but as head of the secret police he was well informed about Soviet social and economic problems. By contrast, most of the elderly leadership was insulated from the hardships of everyday life--the endless lines, poor-quality housing, crowded mass transportation, polluted rivers, and surly bureaucrats. Comfortable in their well-appointed Kremlin offices, spacious country dachas, and Zil limousines, Soviet leaders probably believed their own propaganda about how life in the Soviet Union was constantly improving. General Secretary Andropov realized that the Soviet economy was close to a state of crisis, and launched campaigns to improve labor discipline and deal with corruption and alcohol abuse.

However, Andropov died within a year, and the Politburo settled on Brezhnev's nondescript protégé, Konstantin Chernenko, as an acceptable transitional figure. Chernenko was a Party apparatchik of extraordinarily limited intellect and poor health; the more vigorous Mikhail Gorbachev, now second in command, often stood in for Chernenko when he was incapacitated. The Soviet intelligentsia, who had been cautiously optimistic about the possibility for change when Andropov was in power, were appalled. Reform was put on hold as the doddering Chernenko served out a painful thirteen months and then died of heart failure, having accomplished nothing. On March 11, 1985, after divisive wrangling, Politburo members appointed the relatively youthful (age fiftyfour) Mikhail Gorbachev General Secretary of the Communist Party.




GORBACHEV SUCCEEDS                              


The dramatic changes that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist empire cannot be attributed to any one individual or factor. Certainly Mikhail Gorbachev deserves much of the credit for initiating the reform process, but Gorbachev is not the entire story. Nor is it accurate to assert, as have some prominent American conservatives, that President Ronald Reagan's confrontational policies and accelerated defense spending, particularly in the form of his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, led to the collapse of the USSR. These factors played a role, but they were overshadowed by the critical importance of internal motivations. So many domestic problems had accumulated under Brezhnev--economic stagnation, technological backwardness, corruption, environmental pollution, growing cynicism and alienation, simmering discontent among the various nationalities--that the need for reform was apparent to all but the most obdurate ideologues.

Born in 1931 in the southern Russian region of Stavropol, Mikhail Gorbachev excelled in high school and entered prestigious Moscow State University in 1950. Unlike most Soviet leaders, who had received engineering or other technical degrees, Gorbachev studied in the law faculty. He was an ardent believer in communism, and Khrushchev's revelations at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 came as a great shock to him, as they did to many other young intellectuals of the time. After graduation he became head of the Komsomol youth organization for Stavropol city, then for the entire region. Gorbachev was active in Stavropol agricultural work, taking night classes in the subject, and, at age thirty-nine, became Party First Secretary for the Stavropol region, the equivalent of a powerful governor. As Party boss he often hosted the Moscow elite at Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Waters), a spa and resort. In September 1978 Brezhnev stopped in for a visit and was so impressed with Gorbachev that within two months he was appointed Secretary of the Central Committee in Moscow, with special responsibility for agriculture. The following year he was made a candidate (probationary) member of the Politburo; in 1980 he was promoted to full Politburo membership.

From the perspective of Gorbachev and like-minded reformers, the economy was the greatest weakness of the Soviet system. Top-heavy central planning, with its focus on generating ever larger quotas of heavy industrial products, was clearly out of sync with the modern electronic age. Shortly after Brezhnev died, the country's top social scientists hadbeen charged with developing a set of recommendations for economic and social reform. Andropov assigned Gorbachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, another member of the Secretariat, to head this task force. Many reform proposals looked back to the limited capitalism of the NEP, while others suggested adopting ideas from the Hungarian, East German, or Chinese experiments. Occasionally these internal debates spilled into the pages of mass circulation journals and newspapers. One of the most prominent voices of reform, Siberian sociologist Tatiana Zaslavskaya, argued that rigid authoritarian methods of production established under Stalin were no longer appropriate for an educated urban workforce. The recent example of Poland and instances of worker dissatisfaction throughout the USSR and Eastern Europe, she argued in her famous Novosibirsk Report, suggested that alienation, a Marxist concept applied until now only to capitalist systems, was a very real problem in the "workers' paradise." The findings in Zaslavskaya's report were quite sensitive; her paper and other frank analyses of Soviet shortcomings were at first restricted to specialists and Party officials.

When the simpleminded Chernenko died in March 1985, Gorbachev assumed office with literally hundreds of proposals for reform in hand. Of course, there were still conservatives in the Soviet leadership who resisted significant change, so Gorbachev had to proceed cautiously until he could develop a stronger base of support in the Kremlin. Through a series of adroit maneuvers, Gorbachev demoted or retired many of the older generation of policy makers, replacing them with younger, more reform-minded officials. Within three months he had eased Andrei Gromyko out of his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs, replacing him with the Georgian First Secretary and reformer Eduard Shevardnadze. A new face in the foreign ministry was essential if Gorbachev was to succeed in implementing his "new thinking" in Soviet foreign policy. Gorbachev also appointed Aleksandr Yakovlev, an intellectual and former ambassador to Canada who had studied at Columbia University, as his closest advisor. Yakovlev's foreign policy experience was instrumental in drafting Soviet "New Thinking," and he actively promoted glasnost ("'openness") in the media and in politics.

By the middle of 1987 Gorbachev had solidified his political position and had managed to put his ideas for change--most notably, perestroika and glasnost (economic and political restructuring)--at the top of the Soviet agenda. It should be emphasized, however, that neither Gorbachev nor his reformist allies had a grand strategy for change. Theywere experimenting, trying to reshape a moribund system and yet preserve most of the central elements of that system. It was a strategy that could not succeed.



PERESTROIKA AND GLASNOST                    


Perestroika, broadly defined as the restructuring of the Soviet economy, was at the heart of Gorbachev's reform program, as outlined in his book of the same title. Gorbachev, who never abandoned his belief in the inherent superiority of socialism, initially sought to modernize the Soviet economy by correcting some of its more egregious failures while leaving the basic structure intact. For the first two years, Gorbachev stressed the importance of "accelerating" economic performance, improving worker discipline, and attacking alcoholism (which seriously impaired productivity). These measures had been proposed during the brief tenure of Yurii Andropov, who had been a cautious voice for reform and one of Gorbachev's patrons in the leadership. Such palliatives did not get at the root of the problem, however. By mid-1987 it was increasingly apparent that more was needed than simply adjusting the Soviet system of central planning.

One very unpopular reform that Gorbachev pursued and then abandoned was his attack on alcohol. Drinking to excess has a long and honored tradition in Russia. By custom, once a bottle of vodka was opened, it was drained. And for most serious Russian drinkers, a liter bottle was barely adequate for one man. Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign consisted of reducing shop hours, destroying vineyards, cutting back on production, and drastically raising prices. Thirsty Russians countered by making homebrew, or samogon--one Soviet official told this author that arrests for bootlegging in Leningrad increased tenfold in just a few months. As in the Stalin campaign, communists were to set an example for the rest of the people. Bottles of mineral water were served at official functions, and Party establishments went dry. The results were disastrous: the government lost about 10 billion rubles per year in tax revenue, hundreds were poisoned by moonshine, and Gorbachev was derided as the "mineral water" Secretary.

At the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in 1986 Gorbachev had laid out a program of economic reform for the twelfth Five Year Plan ( 19861990). Specific elements of economic reform included legalizing cooperatives, relaxing central controls over state enterprises, and liberalizing foreign trade. Other features of the economic reform plan included reform of the taxation system and substantial cuts in the bloated defense budget. Gorbachev was also determined to end the practice of subsidizing radical Third World states. The Brezhnev regime had been providing $1-2 billion in aid to Vietnam yearly, and nearly $5 billion per year to Cuba, mostly in the form of cheap oil. Other friendly states received concessionary terms on weapons purchases or assistance for industrial projects. Now politics would no longer be the dominant consideration-even their closest allies would have to pay world market prices for Soviet goods.

The first cooperatives appeared in 1987; by the end of 1991 there were thousands of these small businesses providing much-needed services to the Soviet consumer. Cooperatives were in actuality small private businesses--restaurants, taxi services, souvenir stands, car repair shops, dental clinics, dating services, and so forth. In many cases, legalization of cooperatives simply meant that illegal black market operations could now do business legally. However, limits on their ability to hire labor and the difficulty involved in finding space for shops (virtually all buildings were, of course, owned by the state) hindered their potential for growth.

Making the huge, bureaucratic state enterprises and the state and collective farms more efficient was a far more challenging task. A Law on the State Enterprise was enacted in 1988 granting enterprises greater independence from the central ministries, while requiring them to function on a "cost-accounting" basis; that is, to cover costs through sales. Enterprises would now engage in wholesale trade among themselves, and would no longer be allocated materials through a central supply committee. Planning would now be less detailed, providing enterprises with general guidance instead of exact quotas. Factories were also supposed to operate with greater input from the workers, who would be empowered to elect their managers. Since the early Stalin era, Soviet enterprises had been organized on the principle of one-person authoritarian management. Factory managers had behaved like nineteenth-century American capitalist barons. Workers could not strike and had virtually no say in running the plant. Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Chernenko had each publicly promoted the idea of greater workplace democracy, but these pronouncements had little effect on industrial management practices. Of course, none of these communist rulers really favored genuine factory democracy. Those who governed the workers' state feared the workers, and their grand pronouncements were little more than ploys designed to keep the working class quiescent. Gorbachev's notion of democracywas also tied to a specific goal--improving worker morale and enhancing productivity--rather than being important for its own sake.

As political relaxation progressed, Soviet workers began spontaneously to demand that the Party and government address long-standing grievances. In July 1989 tens of thousands of miners from the country's major coal regions--the Kuznets coal basin in Siberia, the Donets basin in Ukraine, Vorkuta in the far north, and Karaganda in northern Kazakhstan--went out on strike. Coal miners, one of the "elite" groups of Soviet labor, worked deep underground in difficult and dangerous conditions. The miners lived in miserable apartments, received only sporadic supplies of poor-quality goods, and had very few benefits. But the ultimate indignity was not having enough soap to wash off the coal dust and grime. Intimidated by this spontaneous uprising of the proletariat, the government quickly provided food, clothing, better salaries, more benefits, and lots of soap.

Gorbachev's reform program had only a marginal impact on Soviet industry. Much of the government's ineffectiveness lay in its inability to enact meaningful price reform. Without real prices, enterprises had no means of gauging their true costs and whether or not they were profitable. Central ministry directives about how much to produce were supposed to yield to lower-level market exchanges, but in the absence of true prices enterprises continued to receive state orders for their goods. Ministries also continued to take most of enterprise profits, leaving them little independence. The continued presence of state bureaucracies in production also hampered cooperation between new private businesses and state enterprises. A private construction firm, for example, might have ample supplies of bricks to build new houses. However, if lumber could only be obtained through the Ministry of Timber, and all its production was promised to state enterprises, it would be impossible for the private firm to get the needed materials. Partial reform threw the economy into a tailspin.

In agriculture, reform consisted of reducing subsidies granted to the collective and state farms, encouraging them to turn a profit, and providing incentives for increased output. Under Brezhnev small-scale family "teams" had become active in Soviet agriculture, and the private plots had become a vital part of food production. Although these plots comprised only 3 percent of the total arable land, private plots had produced about one-quarter of all food consumed in the USSR. Gorbachev's reforms combined decentralization and profit incentives in agriculture with bureaucratic consolidation at the center. A State Agro-IndustrialCommittee (Gosagroprom) consolidated five food production and processing bureaucracies into one super-ministry. This typically Soviet effort at reform was a disaster. A popular joke around the time of the Soviet collapse has a CIA agent confiding to his new KGB acquaintance that Gosagroprom was really a plot by U.S. intelligence services to help bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union!

By liberalizing foreign trade, the regime hoped for an infusion of new technology into the moribund Soviet economy. Competition with foreign businesses would provide an incentive for Soviet firms to produce better products. The Ministry of Foreign Trade was stripped of its monopoly position, and by the end of 1988 most ministries, enterprises, and other organizations were allowed to engage in foreign trade. Joint ventures with foreign firms were encouraged, and the government planned to make the ruble a convertible currency within a few years. The Soviet government indicated its intention to participate in international economic organizations--such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now the World Trade Organization), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum--which it had previously denounced as capitalist dominated.

By 1989 Gorbachev had evolved from his initial cautious position on economic reform to accepting the need for the market to be the primary regulator of the Soviet economy. However, more conservative Politburo members, top officials in the military and the KGB, enterprise managers, and the powerful heads of the economic ministries and state committees favored preserving the command economy. For decades Soviet propaganda had condemned the market as inefficient and exploitative; this conditioning was hard to resist. Perhaps more important, adopting a genuine market economy threatened the positions and perquisites of many Soviet officials. The economic ministries had derailed previous reform efforts; now they severely constrained the reform process.

The second major principle of Gorbachev's reform program, glasnost, was supposed to provide the conditions for more effective economic restructuring. Usually translated as "openness" or "publicity," glasnost was meant to expose the full extent of mismanagement, corruption, and falsification in the economic system, holding both management and workers up to the glare of public opinion. Given the long Soviet (and Russian) tradition of secrecy, most Soviet leaders, Gorbachev included, did not envision completely abolishing the government's control over information. Itproved difficult to apply glasnost selectively, however. When Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986, the Kremlin's treatment of this disaster tested the limits of glasnost. Although the Soviet government at first withheld information on the true extent of the damage, domestic and international concern forced a public investigation unprecedented in Soviet history.

Chernobyl encouraged a frightened Soviet populace to demand from their government more honest reporting on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues--environmental pollution, disease, crime, official corruption, accidents, and natural disasters. As censorship weakened, the official Soviet press became increasingly critical of government actions, and subjects open for public discussion expanded to include nationality relations, military issues, foreign policy, and even the private lives of top Soviet leaders. Encouraged by Gorbachev, the media attempted to fill in the "blank spots" in Soviet history, events that had been ignored or blatantly falsified in order to portray the Soviet system in a more flattering light. Stalin's bloody dictatorship was reappraised, and such prominent "enemies of the state" as Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin (the Party's chief theoretician in the 1920s and an outspoken advocate of the liberal policies of that period), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the famous dissident novelist and historian of the prison camps, were reevaluated. By the end of the 1980s, even Lenin, who had been virtually deified after his death as a prophet of Marxism and a supposedly infallible ruler, was condemned for having planted the seeds of dictatorship.

Ever since Lenin had convinced other Party leaders to ban opposing "factions" at the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, political opposition had been punished as a crime against the state. Not only were competing parties illegal; all social and cultural organizations, from churches to chess clubs, were tightly controlled and monitored by the Communist Party. As perestroika and glasnost evolved, political controls were relaxed and independent groups began to organize and articulate their demands. Ecology was one prominent issue that captured a great deal of attention, especially after Chernobyl, and many of the earliest "informal" groups were organized to combat local environmental problems. The Soviet government's abysmal record on the environment, due to careless practices in agriculture, industry, nuclear power, and defense, contributed significantly to the crisis in Soviet health care. Environmental destruction also helped stimulate greater militancy among the Soviet Union's national minorities, who shared the belief that the Soviet government had, in classic colonial style, deliberately located heavily polluting industries in their homelands.

Of course, ecology problems were only one in a long list of resentments held by the national minorities. The elaborate federal structure of the Soviet government theoretically gave the republics, autonomous republics, autonomous regions, and national areas a certain measure of self-determination. In reality, the national aspirations of most minorities were frustrated by centralized Party control and persistent efforts at Russification. Gorbachev and many of the reformers did not realize the strength of nationalism in the Soviet Union. By 1989-1990, "National Front" movements in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasus were demanding from Moscow sovereign control over their internal affairs; soon Lithuania would declare its outright independence from the USSR









A third element of Gorbachev's reform program was his determination to end the Cold War, repair ties with China, revise relations with the Third World, and put Soviet-East European relations on a new footing. The confrontational character of Soviet foreign policy had unnecessarily raised international tensions, provoked bloody conflicts by proxy in places like Nicaragua and Afghanistan, contributed to a costly arms race, and raised the spectre of nuclear war between the superpowers. In addition, support for Soviet allies in Eastern Europe and for radical Third World regimes had proved immensely costly, a burden the USSR could no longer afford. Gorbachev and Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Shevardnadze developed a radically new interpretation of Soviet national security and foreign policy interests more in keeping with perestroika's demands.

Since the end of World War II Eastern Europe had followed the Soviet lead in political and economic matters. Repeated disturbances in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany indicated that the Soviet model was inappropriate for much of Eastern Europe, and continued Soviet imperial rule an affront to their sovereignty. Gorbachev encouraged Eastern European communist leaders to emulate his reforms, although the new thinking in foreign policy, as it was called, rejected the use of coercion as a tool to ensure compliance with Soviet practice. In his December 1988 United Nations speech, Gorbachev abandoned longstanding Soviet claims to be the only true defender of communist orthodoxy. As Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Gerasimov explained, the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty enunciated after the 1968 Czechoslovak invasion had been supplanted by the "Sinatra Doctrine," letting the East European states "do it their way."

As it became clear that Soviet military forces would no longer intervene to prop up unpopular communist governments, demands for change in Eastern Europe intensified. Cautious reforms were begun in Hungary and Poland, traditionally the most liberal of the communist regimes, but leaders in Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany resisted ceding political power to democratic institutions. Between October and December 1989, however, a wave of revolution swept over Eastern Europe, as communist regimes fell and the Berlin Wall was torn down. The summary execution of Romania's brutal dictator Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife on Christmas Day 1989 marked the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe's liberation provided further encouragement to the movements for greater autonomy in the fifteen union republics that comprised the Soviet Union. The Soviet constitution promised "selfdetermination" for Ukrainians, Armenians, Uzbeks, Lithuanians, and other major ethnic groups, but did not adequately satisfy aspirations of the various nationalities. Although some cultural autonomy was permitted, and education in native languages was available, the Communist Party exercised tight central control from Moscow over the republics' affairs. Efforts to promote a unifying Soviet identity became a thinly disguised policy of Russification, antagonizing the 49 percent of the population that was not ethnic Russian. The end of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe raised the possibility of independence for the "internal empire" as well, accelerating demands for sovereignty and in some cases complete independence.

Beyond Eastern Europe, Gorbachev's new thinking in foreign policy led to major improvements in relations with the United States, China, and Western Europe, and reversed decades of support for radical Third World causes. Successful domestic reform, Gorbachev realized, could not be achieved in an atmosphere of international hostility. Prior to 1985 no Soviet leader had ever admitted that aggressive Soviet behavior might be responsible for the poor state of East-West relations or for the SinoSoviet split. New thinking acknowledged that confrontational Soviet foreign policies, based on Lenin's ideas of class struggle, had often proved ineffective or even counterproductive to Soviet national interests. Gorbachev and the Kremlin reformers now spoke of "universal human values" and a "common European home," promised an end to the "enemy image" and negative propaganda that had characterized Moscow's portrayal of the West, and pledged a reduction of military forces to a level sufficient for an adequate national defense.

Despite initial skepticism in the West, new thinking produced a sea change in Soviet foreign policy. The first breakthrough--the December 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by the United States and the USSR--eliminated an entire class of highly destabilizing nuclear weapons. Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles targeted at Europe had been placed in the western USSR starting in 1978; the following year NATO decided to deploy Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Western Europe targeted at the Soviet Union. This new generation of weapons was highly destabilizing, since the missiles would take only minutes to reach their targets. Peace groups in Europe had vigorously protested this escalation of the arms race, but talks in the early 1980s had gone nowhere. With the INF Treaty, Reagan and Gorbachev concluded the first agreement between the superpowers to eliminate an entire class of weapons, and the first to allow highly intrusive verification of the accords in the form of on-site monitoring of the weapons' destruction.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries also began serious negotiations to reduce the huge stores of conventional (nonnuclear) weapons deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions talks between the two sides had been dragging on for years, but the Soviet side was unwilling to make cuts necessary to bring its forces down to levels comparable to NATO's. Gorbachev broke this logjam, and a major treaty requiring the Soviet Union to undertake asymmetrical cuts in conventional weapons in Europe was signed in 1990 (the Conventional Forces in Europe, or CFE Treaty). And in 1991 an unprecedented agreement significantly reducing strategic arms (the START Treaty) was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev also moved to repair relations with the countries of East Asia. The Soviet Union maintained a huge military presence in the Asian Pacific, consisting of ground troops and air and naval deployments in the Russian Far East, port rights in Vietnam and North Korea, and over 100,000 occupation troops in Afghanistan. For all this presence, Moscow had very little genuine influence in the region. The Soviet Union was feared and respected, but marginal as an economic power or a culturalinfluence. It was, as Australian scholar Paul Dibb suggested in his book, The Soviet Union: The Incomplete Superpower ( Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), an "incomplete superpower," powerful militarily but weak in all other categories.

Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, like U.S. involvement in Vietnam, weakened Moscow's position in the region and made it more difficult to enact domestic reform. While there were few protests within the USSR, the war drained the Soviet treasury and cost the Soviet army some 13,000 lives. Gorbachev recognized the problem, calling Afghanistan a "bleeding wound." U.S. support for the mujaheddin fighters, particularly by equipping them with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, had, together with the determined resistance of the Afghan guerrillas, helped deprive Moscow of any semblance of a victory. In addition, their continued presence in Afghanistan poisoned U.S.-Soviet and Sino-Soviet relations. In 1988 Gorbachev announced that all Soviet troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within a year; the withdrawal process was completed by late 1989.

Two decades of tensions between the USSR and China had cost Moscow billions of rubles to deploy troops along the 4,000-mile border. At a May 1989 summit meeting in Beijing, the first in thirty years, China and the Soviet Union put an end to thirty years of bitter confrontation. In Beijing, Gorbachev promoted improved economic cooperation between China and the USSR and announced a reduction of 200,000 Soviet troops in Asia over the next two years. However, the summit was overshadowed by the student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square taking place at that time. The student protests were very much inspired by Gorbachev's liberalization of the Soviet Union. Their calls for greater democracy were tolerated by the Chinese authorities during Gorbachev's visit to the Chinese capital, but the occupation of Beijing's largest square was highly embarrassing to the regime. Within two weeks of Gorbachev's departure, the military dispersed the students in a bloody massacre. China's communist leadership favored improving ties with the Soviet Union, but they were unnerved by the political turmoil on their northern border.

Gorbachev also implemented a major breakthrough in Soviet policy on the Korean peninsula. Since the end of World War II, Moscow had supplied North Korea's totalitarian regime with cheap oil, technical assistance in constructing nuclear power stations, military weapons, and political support. In keeping with Pyongyang's wishes, Moscow did not have diplomatic relations with South Korea, and there was virtually nocontact between the two nations. As South Korea developed into an economic powerhouse in the 1980s, this position became increasingly untenable. Initial contacts were explored during the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and diplomatic ties were established in late September 1990, over North Korea's strident protests. Gorbachev met with President Roh Tae Woo of South Korea in May 1991 to discuss trade and Korean investment projects in the USSR, and the South Korean government offered a $3 billion aid package to their former enemy.

Although these remarkable developments in foreign policy created the relaxed international climate necessary for perestroika, many influential voices in the Soviet Union were critical of Gorbachev's "extravagant" concessions to the West and disturbed by the loss of the Soviet empire. These same conservatives were also disturbed by the increasing disorder and confusion in Soviet society, and resisted efforts to develop private enterprise and a market-oriented economy. As the 1980s drew to a close, political forces in the USSR polarized between the supporters of reform, who urged a program of genuine democratization, and the critics, who argued Russia's need for an authoritarian form of government






Radical changes in Soviet political and economic life had polarized opinions, with elites divided between such conservatives as Yegor Ligachev and supporters of more rapid reform, led by Boris Yeltsin and Aleksandr Yakovlev. Gorbachev sought to occupy the middle ground, but it was a difficult balancing act. At first, Gorbachev could not bring himself to question the "leading and guiding role" of the Communist Party in Soviet society, a position enshrined in the 1977 Constitution. He believed that the Party could democratize, carry out perestroika, and still remain the nucleus of the political system. As early as 1987 experiments were introduced providing for competitive, secret ballots for local and regional Party offices, and for term limits. However, these attempts to undermine the old, comfortable, and often corrupt system of Nomenklatura appointments by which politically loyal officials secured powerful jobs alienated conservatives in the CPSU.

Gorbachev had brought Boris Yeltsin to Moscow in 1985 from Sverdlovsk oblast (region) in the Ural Mountains, where he had been Communist Party First Secretary. Yeltsin was to serve as a member of the Politburo and First Secretary of Moscow--in effect, a powerful mayor. The gregarious, hard-drinking Yeltsin proved immensely popular asParty Secretary for Moscow. Portraying himself as a genuine man of the people, Yeltsin started riding the Moscow subway and busses, and stood in store lines in order to appreciate the everyday hardships endured by Soviet people. Angered by Yeltsin's constant pressure for faster reform and his public criticism of the leadership, Gorbachev, Ligachev, and other members of the Politburo humiliated him at a 1987 Central Committee meeting. Dragged from his hospital bed, Yeltsin was subjected to repeated denunciations and was relieved of his Politburo position and dismissed as Moscow First Secretary. Few suspected the amazing comeback he would make over the next three years.

The Nineteenth Party Conference of June 1988, which illustrated the strength of conservative opposition to reform within the Communist Party, marked a watershed in political reform. By this point Gorbachev was convinced that perestroika could not succeed barring a shift of political power from the authoritarian CPSU to elected governmental institutions. Popular pressure expressed through the electoral process, he reasoned, would compel reluctant officials to support his reform program. The Nineteenth Party Conference adopted resolutions calling for the further democratization of Soviet society, and the Party's Central Committee designed a series of constitutional amendments that created an electoral system and a functioning parliament.

Elections to the new Congress of People's Deputies, held in March 1989, were relatively free by Soviet standards. Although some offices were filled Soviet-style, with only one nominee per office, many had two, five, or even twelve candidates for one position. The most undemocratic aspect of elections to the 2,250-member Congress was the provision of electing one-third of the deputies from social and political organizations--the Communist Party, Komsomol, trade unions, women's organizations, and the Academy of Sciences--thus weighting the vote heavily in favor of the conservative forces who dominated these organizations. Another third would be elected from the national republics and smaller ethnic regions, and the final third by population from electoral districts. Although the outcome was biased against reform candidates, roughly one-fifth of the elected deputies were ardent reformers. Since political parties other than the CPSU were still illegal, candidates ran as individuals, making it difficult to discern their positions on issues.

The Congress, which opened in May 1989, was broadcast live on Soviet television to an entranced audience. Unaccustomed to democracy, deputies to the Congress haggled over procedural issues and traded accusations. Champion weightlifter Yurii Vlasov condemned historic abusesby the KGB. Delegates from Georgia demanded prosecution of the Soviet general who earlier that year had commanded his forces to crush Tbilisi demonstrators; thirty-one had been killed with sharpened shovels wielded by special forces. The prominent physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov delivered an impassioned plea for greater democracy, much to Gorbachev's annoyance. As might be expected, this new Congress could not immediately provide effective governance. Its emergence, however, helped legitimize the concept of representative democracy among an important segment of the population. It also marked the beginning of the end of the Communist Party's monopoly over political power.

Much of the problem in trying to effect reform stemmed from the pervasive influence of the CPSU in Soviet political life. The Party had succeeded, albeit at tremendous cost, in constructing the rudiments of a modern industrial society--an urbanized population base, factories, transportation and communications infrastructure, mass education, and science. As a consequence, Soviet society and the economy had experienced major transformations since the Revolution. The moribund political system, however, had great difficulty adapting to the changing conditions of the late twentieth century. The Communist Party's obsession with secrecy clashed with the demands of the information age, its myopic focus on expanding industrial output ignored the worldwide trend toward quality and efficiency, and its centralized approach to political issues could not meet the challenge of creating community out of an increasingly diverse society. Prior to Gorbachev, the Party had resisted granting the population a larger role in governing. Lacking flexibility, the Soviet state maintained the appearance of exercising effective authority right up to the point when the system began to collapse.

As Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington pointed out in his classic Political Order in Changing Societies ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), a political system with several powerful institutions is more likely to adapt to change than a system with only one significant institution. If one institution suffers a loss of legitimacy, the others can assume some of the weakened institution's functions. Soviet reformers, however, faced the daunting task of creating entirely new institutions--a functioning legislature, independent courts, a responsible executive, and genuine federalism--virtually overnight, to replace a rapidly disintegrating Communist Party. As might be expected, there was considerable disagreement over the precise form these new governing institutions would assume.

In all political systems it takes time for new institutions to acquire legitimacy--acceptance by the public of their right to make decisions that govern people's lives. The United States, for example, fought a bloody civil war over issues of federal power versus states' rights more than seventy years after the Constitution was enacted. It would be unrealistic to assume that new institutions could be designed, staffed, and functioning smoothly within a few years, especially in the context of exponentially increasing demands from the population. Again, drawing on Huntington's study of transitional societies, political instability in the Soviet Union resulted from the rapid expansion of political participation, coupled with the inability of reformers to organize and institutionalize the means of reconciling conflicting demands. In other words, political change could not keep up with social and economic change.

A genuine constitutional order is essential for democracy. Serious discussion about the need for a state based on the rule of law was introduced at the Nineteenth Party Conference. The Soviet constitutions of 1918, 1924, 1936, and 1977 had been more statements of intent and propaganda devices than binding legal documents outlining institutions' powers and protecting citizens' rights and liberties. Under Gorbachev, the Brezhnev Constitution of 1977 was amended repeatedly by the Supreme Soviet; one-third of all the Constitution's articles were amended in 1988 alone. These amendments shifted power from the Party to more representative political institutions such as the Congress of People's Deputies, created an executive presidency, designed a committee on constitutional supervision to adjudicate disputes at the highest level, and broadened citizens' rights. Early in 1990, Article 6, guaranteeing the Communist Party's leading position, was dropped from the Constitution. These changes did not immediately establish a constitutional government in the Soviet Union, but they were key steps toward a democratic rule of law.

This hodgepodge of amendments yielded a document that was unwieldy and inadequate for an effectively functioning democracy. Late in 1989 Gorbachev appointed a Constitutional Commission to draft a completely new constitution. By this point, however, political events were moving so rapidly that the authorities could not keep up with exploding demands. Relations between the capital and the republics were a major sticking point in the constitutional negotiations. Revelations about official corruption and mismanagement and the obvious failure of Gorbachev's economic reform policies undermined the credibility of central authorities and inspired calls for greater autonomy in the provinces. Toward the end of 1990, Soviet leaders began to reevaluate the sham federalism that had promised cultural autonomy while ensuring centralized Communist Party control over the various national republics. Plans were drawn up for a new Union Treaty to replace the one that had created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. Gorbachev and the reformers were finally willing to draw up a new constitution that would grant significant self-governing powers to the republics. But conservatives, who saw their influence expand in late 1990 and early 1991, argued that the establishment of genuine federalism would undermine the basis of the Soviet communist system. Ironically, the movement toward political autonomy in the republics had progressed so far that even a decentralized system patterned on the U.S. or Canadian constitution would not satisfy their demands for sovereignty or independence.





CULTURE AND SOCIETY                              


A key element of reform was freeing the creative energies of Soviet society, in publishing, theater, art, music, and political and social activity. Aleksandr Yakovlev, who was promoted to membership in the Politburo in January 1987, was a key architect of glasnost. Convinced that a more open society was needed to rally support for perestroika, Yakovlev used his influence to appoint liberals as editors of influential newspapers and magazines; liberals were also given key positions in the film industry and theater. Vitalii Korotich became editor of Ogonyok(Little Flame), a color weekly that became widely read for its biting satire of public affairs. As the new editor of Novyi Mir, Sergei Zalygin, an erudite hydraulic engineer, published penetrating political articles, previously banned novels, and environmental exposés.

As censorship controls eased, previously banned works were published-- Pasternak Dr. Zhivago, Anatoly Rybakov Children of the Arbat, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novels. SolzhenitsynGulag Archipelago, for which he had been expelled from the USSR, was now available to the general public. Mikhail Shatrov play Onward, Onward, Onward, a critique of the Stalinist repression, was first performed in 1987. But the major cultural event of that year was a film by the Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze entitled Repentance. The script for the film, an allegory about the evils of dictatorship, was written in 1981, and Shevardnadze, then First Secretary of Georgia, recommended its release when filming was completed in 1984. But Abuladze did not receive permission to show the film until Yakovlev and Gorbachev personally approved it for distribution. Repentance drew huge audiences in the Soviet Union and was quite popular in the United States and Europe.

Glasnost had exposed the extent of the regime's deception and mistreatment of its own people. The revelations about Soviet labor camps, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, the 1930s show trials, corruption and mismanagement in government, environmental disasters, and costly foreign policy mistakes led to widespread cynicism and disillusionment among much of the population. Marxist-Leninist ideology was quickly abandoned by all but a few loyal adherents. Many Soviet citizens turned to religion to fill the spiritual void in their lives. Attendance at Russian Orthodox churches ballooned, and groups began raising money to restore churches that had fallen into disrepair. Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and other Christian denominations became more active; Hare Krishnas and even more exotic cults became popular. Faith healers, spiritualists, and followers of the occult dominated Soviet television and filled local news kiosks with their pamphlets.

In one of the many ironies of that period, two societies sharing the same name but having radically different agendas appeared on the scene. One Pamyat (Memorial), formed in 1987, was committed to publicizing the terrible truth about Stalin's rule. Led mostly by young scholars and writers, Memorial's goal was to build monuments and research centers to commemorate the victims of Stalin's Terror. Much like Jewish studies of the Holocaust, Memorial wanted the world to know and remember what had happened, so that history would not be repeated. The other Pamyat (Memory) was an anti-Semitic, violently Russian nationalist organization. Formed late in the Brezhnev era to preserve Russian cultural monuments and supported by forces in the military and the Party, Memory claimed that Jews, Westerners, and Zionists were responsible for all Russia's ills, from AIDS and drugs to alcoholism and rock 'n' roll, and that the Bolshevik Revolution was really a Jewish-led conspiracy that destroyed the true, tsarist Russia.

Liberalization eventually led to a backlash by conservative forces dismayed by the breakdown of order in Soviet society. A strong authoritarian current has long existed in Russian political culture, and these sentiments found an outlet not only in fringe groups, but also in Russian nationalist and communist publications. Nash Sovremennik (Our Contemporary) and the Party newspaper Pravda were two conservative periodicals that decried the reformers' preoccupation with the ills of Soviet society and their attempts to degrade communism's historical achievements. Elderly citizens who had gone through collectivization, the Purges, and the Great Fatherland War found it difficult to accept the notion that their sacrifices had been in vain. One middle-aged chemistry teacher, Nina Andreyevna, expressed her commitment to fundamental Stalinism in a March 1988 article submitted as a letter to Sovetskaya Rossiya. The paper's editors, backed by Politburo hard-liner Anatoly Lukyanov, published her article under the title "I Cannot Forsake Principles." Knowledgeable insiders realized that this was a blatant attack on Gorbachev, reflecting the views of Party hard-liners and appearing as it did in one of the Party's flagship papers. Andreyeva's article was timed for publication just as Gorbachev was leaving for Yugoslavia, briefly raising the possibility of a reactionary coup. On his return to Moscow, Gorbachev rallied his supporters in the Politburo. He and Yakovlev penned a defense of perestroika, and this official rebuttal to the Andreyevna article was duly published in the April 5 issue of Pravda. The defenders of the old order retreated for the time being.




STRAINS OF NATIONALISM                         


With glasnost and political liberalization Soviet people quickly lost their fear of the regime and began forming political organizations. Among the hundreds of "informal groups" that sprang up were independent labor unions, women's groups, ecology groups, peasant organizations, professional groups, and religious cults. Most of these groups were small and local in nature; many were little more than discussion groups. Such organizations, though, are the very fabric of a civic culture, a responsible and active society autonomous from the state, and are necessary in building a successful democracy.

The most potent political demands from a newly active population were for ethnic and national freedom. Contrary to Marxian predictions, nationalism, not class, was the basis for revolution in the Soviet Union. Few Soviet reformers, Gorbachev included, understood the strength of national feeling among the hundred-odd ethnic groups that comprised the USSR. Soviet leaders actually seemed to believe their own propaganda, that the tsarist "prison of nations" had been supplanted by a "family of nations" under communism. For seventy years the pressures of ideological conformity and the threat of physical force had constrained national aspirations. There were occasional glimpses of discontent bubbling beneath the surface, as in 1986 when Kazakh students took to the streets to protest the appointment of an ethnic Russian as their republic'sFirst Secretary. But few could anticipate the tremendous surge of nationalism that accompanied the relaxation of political controls between 1987 and 1991.

National front organizations first formed in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; these provided the model for national fronts which subsequently formed in the other republics. Environmental devastation was an important rallying point for the Balts, as it was for many Soviet nationalities. Estonians resented open-pit mining for phosphates that scarred the landscape; Lithuanians apprehensive about the possibility of another Chernobyl lobbied for closure of the Ignalina nuclear power station. Ecological demands quickly broadened into more general calls for each republic to exercise sovereignty over its national territory and resources, and then for full independence from the USSR. Even top leaders of the republic communist parties jumped on the nationalist bandwagon. All three Baltic states insisted that, since their forcible incorporation had been illegal under international law, they would not request independence from Moscow, but were by right entitled to secede without negotiations. Soviet troops were sent into Vilnius, Lithuania, and Riga, Latvia, in January 1991 to restore order, but were soon withdrawn amid strident local and international outrage.

Nationalism in the Caucasian republics took the form of internecine struggle, rather than opposition to Moscow, as conflicts broke out among various nationalist factions. In 1988 Armenian nationalists within Nagorno-Karabagh, an autonomous region located entirely within Azerbaijan but with a population that was 75 percent Armenian, passed a resolution demanding that their region be transferred to Armenian jurisdiction. Armenians in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia supported the resolution, but Azeri nationalists rejected Armenia's claims, and brutal attacks on ethnic Armenians in Sumgait resulted in the deaths of hundreds. Reprisals in Armenia on ethnic Azeris fed a cycle of suspicion and fear, leading thousands on both sides to flee for their home republics. Both sides obtained weapons from local military units, and in 1989 the Azeris blockaded all road and rail links into Armenia. Desultory fighting continued into 1994. Moscow tried to mediate the dispute, but was viewed as biased by both sides, and its efforts were unsuccessful.

National front organizations formed in Belorussia, Moldavia, and Central Asia, but they were small and weak compared to those in the Baltic and Caucasian republics. Ukraine was a different matter. In Ukraine writers and intellectuals were concerned about the decline of their native language and traditions, as the Russian language had supplantedUkrainian in the republic's education system. The Union of Writers of Ukraine demanded reforms mandating increased use of Ukrainian in schools, state offices, and workplaces, and in the media and entertainment. A powerful Popular Movement (Rukh) formed early in 1989, lobbying for linguistic concessions; pressure by Rukh contributed to the ouster of Ukraine's conservative Party First Secretary, Vladimir Shcherbitsky, by September of that year.

The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, only seventy miles north of Kiev, also stimulated Ukrainian nationalism. The Chernobyl disaster killed thirty-one people outright, poisoned thousands more with nuclear radiation over the next decade, and contaminated huge tracts of agricultural land. Fully one-half of Soviet nuclear energy plants were located on Ukrainian soil, and Moscow officials controlled their operation, not Kiev. Ukrainian environmentalists organized protests against plans to build additional plants in the republic. Finally, resentment against Moscow was kindled by revelations about the extent of the 1932-1933 famine, which had taken the lives of nearly 5 million Ukrainians. A referendum held on December 1, 1991, in which 90 percent of Ukraine's voters opted for independence, signaled the end of the USSR.

The rebirth of Russian nationalism was critical in the breakup of the Soviet Union. Pamyat was only a fringe element--there were also democratic, ecological, and religious Russian nationalists, and the more authoritarian National Bolshevik strain. Russian writers, including those of the "village prose" school, lobbied successfully against the proposed diversion of Siberian rivers southward to replenish Central Asia's Aral Sea. The series of canal, dams, and locks needed for such a massive engineering feat, they asserted, would destroy many Russian Orthodox churches. Revitalizing Russia's Orthodox heritage was high on the agenda of many nationalist groups. Russian Orthodox churches were restored at an astonishing rate: 10 new parishes were registered in 1986; 2,185 in 1989. Russian nationalists were often intolerant of other faiths and ethnic groups. Writers such as Valentin Rasputin and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called for Russia to shed its internal empire, freeing the Soviet nationalities and making Russia more purely Russian. At the same time, Russian nationalists were deeply divided over their preferred form of government. National Bolsheviks, for example, promoted a national form of communism; other nationalists urged the revival of tsarist autocracy.

Political decentralization, which resulted in the formation of independent republic legislatures in 1990-1991, provided a powerful boostto the Russian national movement. Competitive elections were held for a new Russian Federation legislature in March 1990. Roughly six candidates stood for each of the 1,068 seats, and turnout was fairly high at 77 percent. Boris Yeltsin received over 80 percent of the vote on the first ballot from his home town of Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), and in May 1990 was elected Chairman of the Russian Parliament. Under his leadership the Russian Federation declared sovereignty, began to conduct foreign policy, and in general acted as a state within a state. The following June, Yeltsin's legitimacy was greatly enhanced when he became Russia's new Executive President. Competing against Gorbachev's prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, and the flamboyant Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, Yeltsin won a direct popular election with nearly 60 percent of the vote.




COUP AND COLLAPSE                                 


Conservative forces had been gathering strength in the latter part of 1990 and the first half of 1991. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze cautioned against the possibility of a right-wing coup in December 1990, when he resigned his position. The other prominent advocate of reform, Aleksandr Yakovlev, had warned Gorbachev that he was surrounded by enemies just before his resignation in July. Yakovlev was admonished not to exaggerate. U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock met with Gorbachev in June 1991 and passed along to him intelligence reports about a possible coup. The stubborn General Secretary refused to take these warnings seriously and left with his family for a vacation in the Crimea in early August. On August 19, a group known as the State Committee for the State of Emergency, composed of government hard-liners, announced that Gorbachev was incapacitated and sent tanks into the streets to preserve order.

The proximate cause of what was called the August Coup was the new Union Treaty scheduled to be signed on August 20. This treaty would have revised the Soviet Constitution, establishing a genuine federal system for the first time in Soviet history. Soviet hard-liners understood that transferring authority from Moscow to the republics would lead to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and they decided to act before the treaty was signed into law. The coup leaders included Vladimir Kryuchkov, head of the KGB, as well as Defense Minister Dmitrii Yazov, Interior Minister Boris Pugo, Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Antoly Lukyanov. It was decided thatVice President Gennadii Yanayev, a timid alcoholic of limited abilities, would assume Gorbachev's duties to preserve the illusion of legality. A delegation was sent to the Crimea to demand that Gorbachev cooperate with the State Committee for the State of Emergency, the ruling committee set up by the plotters. He refused and was held there under house arrest. Coup leaders then released a statement asserting that he was ill and could not carry out his presidential duties.

Fortunately, the coup instigators had neither the ability nor the ruthlessness necessary to consolidate their grasp on power. Key democratic leaders--Yeltsin, Russian republic Prime Minister Aleksandr Rutskoi, Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, Leningrad mayor Anatoly Sobchak--were not arrested. Full control over the media eluded the plotters. Although heads of the power ministries (Defense, KGB, and Interior) organized the coup, they were unwilling to use sufficient force to crush the democratic forces. Coup resisters led by Yeltsin, Khasbulatov, and Rutskoi had barricaded themselves in the White House, the white marble seat of the Russian republic government on the bank of the Moscow River. Students, housewives, new businessmen, and Afghanistan vets flocked to the White House to help in any way they could. Elite army units from the Taman division called in to surround the building were persuaded to join the democrats. The defining moment of the coup came when Yeltsin mounted one of the T-72 tanks and delivered an impassioned denunciation of the reactionary and unconstitutional actions of the Emergency Committee, and appealed to all Russian citizens to resist.

Reactions to the attempted takeover illustrated the highly fragmented character of public opinion toward the changes taking place in the USSR. Many courageous individuals rallied to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the parliament building. The demoralized Soviet army was divided--some officers ignored orders to march on Moscow and St. Petersburg, while others commanded tanks in the streets of the capital. A few regional leaders condemned the coup; most cautiously waited for the situation to clarify before committing themselves. Within three days, by August 21, the coup had collapsed. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa immediately flew back to Moscow. By this point, however, Gorbachev's indecisiveness and poor judgment, and Yeltsin's heroic resistance at the White House, had decisively shifted the balance of power toward Yeltsin. In addition, Yeltsin's direct election as Russia's President conferred a legitimacy that Gorbachev, who was indirectly elected, did not possess.

Gorbachev attempted to hold the USSR together in a looser arrangement, but his authority and credibility had been so tarnished that he was doomed to fail. For the minority republics, the conservatives' bid for power and Gorbachev's apparent inability to grasp the significance of the August events following the coup confirmed their worst fears. In this climate full independence seemed the best guarantee against Moscow reestablishing centralized political control. Yeltsin, unlike Gorbachev, had encouraged the non-Russian republics to assert their sovereignty. "Take as much as you can handle," he advised. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia took his advice; they appealed for international diplomatic recognition and were granted it. One by one the other republics declared their independence from the Soviet Union. The death blow came with Ukraine's December 1 referendum, in which 90 percent of the population voted in favor of independence.

With the failed coup the most powerful Soviet institutions were no longer able to exercise control over this vast territory. The Communist Party had been thoroughly discredited, and Yeltsin issued a decree in November ordering it banned altogether. In early December Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Belarusian Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislav Shushkievich met in Minsk and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a weak confederation, to replace the USSR. Two weeks later eight other republics joined the CIS; Georgia and the Baltic states refused. Gorbachev's resignation on Christmas Day 1991 marked the end of the 74-year Soviet experiment to create a communist utopia.

Many factors played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The most important seem to have been internal, although international pressures, many linked to Moscow's inept foreign policies, also deserved some credit for the collapse. Domestic factors included the increasingly poor economic performance of the centrally planned economy, technological backwardness, a stifling and repressive political system that discouraged creativity, excessive military spending, extraordinary bureaucratic inefficiency, a catastrophic ecology record, and insensitivity to the national interests of the Soviet Union's diverse minorities. Confrontational foreign policies, influenced by the ideology of class struggle, alienated many Soviet allies and brought the capitalist world together in an effort to contain the perceived communist threat.

The accumulation of domestic problems and international pressures coincided with a major generational change in the Soviet leadership. Gorbachev was central in planning and promoting reform, but it should be remembered that he was supported by younger officials for whom theterror of the Stalin era was only a vague memory. This generation was better educated and more critical of Soviet "achievements" than were the Brezhnevs, the Suslovs, and the Gromykos, whose careers were built over the graves of the Old Bolsheviks. And lastly, we should not forget the Soviet people, who were disillusioned and impatient with a corrupt, repressive system that refused to acknowledge their humanity. The revolution that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union may have started with the Party elite, but it ended with an extraordinary display of public affirmation that dictatorship could not be restored.




CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.