Condition of USSR after the Second World War!
Failures in Economy in
The role which the Soviet Union played in the Second World War won her the admiration of anti-fascists all over the world.
To the people of the Soviet Union, the war which they fought was the “Great Patriotic War” which they made every possible sacrifice to win.
The Soviet Union suffered most as a result of the war. The economy was completely devastated. As soon as the war was over the Soviet Union launched a massive effort at reconstruction. In 1946, the Fourth Five Year Plan was launched and before the end of the 1940s, the industrial production had been restored to the pre-war level.
Through greater mechanisation of agriculture and by having larger collective farms, agricultural production had also been restored to the pre-war level by the beginning of the 1950s. The development of the Soviet economy continued through a series of Five Year Plans in the subsequent period and it became the second most powerful economy, in terms of GNP, in the world.
In spite of its growth, however, the Soviet economy was continuously dogged by certain serious problems. The emphasis on heavy industries had helped build a strong infrastructure but the consumer goods industries fell far short of the requirements.
The result of this disproportion was that in spite of its economic might, the rise in the standard of living of the people was far slower than in the developed countries of the West. Even in terms of the rate of economic development, the Soviet leaders began to admit in the mid- 1980s that the economy had been stagnating for many years.
The failure in agriculture had been particularly conspicuous. In terms of advances in technology, except in areas connected with defence and space research, the Soviet Union lagged behind advanced capitalist countries. This was in spite of the fact that in terms of numbers, the Soviet Union was ahead of any other country in technical and scientific manpower.
The Soviet Union’s failures in economy are attributed to what was later described as the “command system”. The kind of economic planning which was followed in the Soviet Union led to its over- centralisation and killed all initiative at the level of individual industrial enterprises.
Certain sectors of industry produced goods in quantities for which there was no demand. Prices of products were fixed artificially and caused further strains. A serious debate began in the Soviet Union from the mid-1980s about devising new strategies for overcoming the ills of the economy and making it more responsive to the needs of the people.
However, the changes which were introduced failed to end the stagnation. In 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. The failure in the economic field can be considered a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
One sector in which the Soviet Union was more or less equal, in its effectiveness, to the US was her military capability. The advances in technology relating to military requirements were much greater than in other areas, and were comparable to the highest in the world.
The same was also true of developments in science and technology relating to space programmes. In fact, at one time Soviet space research was considered to be ahead of US space research as was evidenced by the first satellite launched in space and the first manned flight in space as well as the space station with cosmonauts on board over long periods.
The massive expenditure on the military and the technology of armaments gave the Soviet Union parity in military strength with the US. It can be said to have maintained the ‘balance of power’ in the world. At one time, the priority given by the Soviet Union to military strength was justified on the ground that it prevented the US from imposing her will on the world. However, it became a major factor in weakening the Soviet economy diverting vast resources away from productive and useful channels.
Some of the features of the political development of the Soviet Union since the Bolshevik Revolution have been described earlier. By the late 1930s, Stalin had established his dictatorial rule in the Soviet Union. The ruthlessness of his dictatorship did not diminish after the war. Stalin ruled as the supreme leader of the Soviet Communist Party but the Communist Party and its various bodies such as the
Polit Bureau had been reduced to no more than a rubber stamp of whatever Stalin decided. According to the party’s constitution, a congress of the party was required to be held every four years. However, the first party congress after 1939 was held in 1952 after a gap of 13 years. Through the 1930s and 1940s, almost every leader of the Bolshevik Revolution had either died or had been liquidated. A system of repression had been institutionalised.
Every dissent was considered an act of treason. Thousands of people had been sent to labour camps and thousands of others languished in prisons. The Soviet security police was an important instrument of the policy of repression.
The repression caused grave damage to intellectual life and to art, culture and science. The science of biology was all but destroyed in the Soviet Union due to the suppression of what Stalin considered ‘bourgeois’ tendencies in the biological sciences.
In January 1953, nine doctors were charged with the murder of a Soviet leader in 1948. It was alleged that they had also plotted to damage the health of several high military officers who were under their medical care. The arrest of these doctors was believed to be the starting point of yet another wave of repression. However, on 9 March 1953, Stalin died
End of Terror:
A number of significant changes took place shortly after the death of Stalin. Nikita Khrushchev became the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. The policy of large-scale repression was ended. The doctors were released and it was stated that they had been arrested illegally. Thousands of people who had been charged with all kinds of offences against the state and had been sent to labour camps and prisons were released and rehabilitated. In February 1956, the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party was held.
This Congress has become famous for many major departures that it made in political and economic policies at home and in foreign policy as well as for Khrushchev’s report on Stalin’s crimes against the party and the people.
Although this report was made at a secret session of the Congress and was not released, its main contents became known throughout the world soon after. Though these developments did not lead to the establishment of a democratic political system and the restoration of full intellectual freedom and civil liberties, the period of terror and of large-scale repression was definitely over.
Two literary works which symbolised this change were a novel by IIya Ehrenburg entitled, The Thaw and a novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn entitled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, which dealt with life in a labour camp. Solzhenitsyn who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Price for literature lived abroad for many years and returned to his homeland in 1994.
He died in 2008. However, restrictions continued to be imposed on civil liberties, publications, travel abroad and many repressive measures continued to be resorted to for almost thirty years after the Twentieth Congress.
In 1964, Khrushchev was ousted and Leonid Brezhnev became the First Secretary of the Communist Party. From the early 1970s, he became the supreme leader of the Soviet Union. A number of economic reforms were initiated during the 1960s and 1970s but they failed to bring about any notable improvement in the economy. The period of Brezhnev’s rule which lasted till 1982 is now generally considered a period of stagnation.
The system of repression began to be fully demolished and a truly democratic system established in its place only in 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev was elected the leader of the party and, later, President of the Soviet .Union.
The changes initiated by Gorbachev were often referred to as marking the second Soviet revolution. These changes are best described by two Russian terms—glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The policy of glasnost meant free and frank discussion of every political, economic and social issue, and removal of restrictions on civil liberties.
The hold of the Communist Party was loosened and in 1990 non-Communist parties were allowed to be formed. Perestroika was an effort to end the stagnation in Soviet economy. However, little was achieved in this regard and, in fact, the economic situation worsened further.
The loosening 6f the hold of the Communist Party did not immediately lead to the establishment of a stable democratic political system. In the meantime, there was a demand for greater autonomy, and in some cases independence, by the republics which constituted the Soviet Union. Very soon, the Soviet Union broke up.
The foreign policy of the Soviet Union had been deeply influenced by the fact that right from her birth she was surrounded by countries which were quite openly hostile to her and to the social and economic system that she was trying to build.
She had been the only major power in the 1920s and 1930s which extended full support to the peoples of the colonies in their struggle for freedom. During the 1930s she had also been consistent in her opposition to fascism and fascist aggressions until she entered into a non-aggression pact with Germany. The main allies she had in that period were the communist parties in various countries who considered the defence of the Soviet Union their duty.
The Soviet Union had played the leading role in the defeat of fascism. The tremendous good will that she had won for her role in the war, however, suffered due to the policies that she followed in the countries of Eastern Europe where, with her backing, the rule of the communist parties was imposed.
In some of these countries, the communists enjoyed much popular support at the time of liberation and as partners in the coalition governments which were formed in these countries after their liberation. However, they began to be alienated from the people when, through undemocratic means, they established their exclusive control over the governments. Afterwards, under Stalinist influence and pressure, similar types of repressive systems were built in these countries as Stalin had built in the Soviet Union.
In 1948, Yugoslavia was expelled from the world communist movement for her refusal to accept Soviet control. Following this, some of the most prominent leaders of the communist parties in the countries of Eastern Europe were expelled on the charge of being agents of Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav communists. Many of them were jailed and many executed. The policy of interference in the governments and communist parties of Eastern Europe continued throughout the period up to Stalin’s death.
In the immediate post-war period, communist parties in some countries tried to engineer revolutions. Some of these attempts were believed to have been instigated by Stalin. In fact, except in countries which had been liberated by Soviet troops (Eastern Europe and North Korea), the success of the communists in capturing power (China, Vietnam, Cuba) was not the result of Stalin’s or the Soviet Union’s instigation or interventions.
It may be remembered that during this period, all the imperialist countries had the backing of the military might of the US and that the US made frequent use of the military to put down nationalist and revolutionary regimes and install despotic governments in many countries.
The Soviet policies, however, did little to diminish the Cold War or to end the situation of Great Power confrontation. A major change took place in Soviet foreign policy after Stalin. The most significant shift was in the new emphasis on “peaceful coexistence” between countries following different social, economic and political systems.
The policy of peaceful coexistence which was the most significant feature of the policy of non-alignment adopted by newly independent countries like India was, as far as Soviet foreign policy is concerned, the contribution of Khrushchev.
The communists had always believed that though they were opposed to war as an instrument of national policy, war was inevitable as long as imperialism existed. The policy of peaceful coexistence meant the giving up of the theory of the inevitability of war.
The Soviet leaders, along with the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that war in the present day would destroy all humanity and must, therefore, be replaced by a policy of peaceful coexistence and a policy of peaceful competition between different social, economic and political systems.
The Soviet Union made many important proposals for disarmament throughout the period from the late 1950s, but little progress was achieved in the direction of disarmament or in outlawing war. It may be necessary to mention here that the Soviet Union also almost consistently supported the various initiatives taken by the Non- Aligned Movement regarding disarmament and some non-aligned countries expressed the view that the Soviet Union and other socialist countries were the “natural allies” of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Soviet foreign policy also became an important factor in strengthening the national independence of many newly independent countries and many freedom movements through the material and political support which was given to them by the Soviet Union.
The economic relations of the Soviet Union with newly independent countries were also seen as a major contribution to their efforts at building their national economies. The advocacy of the policy of peaceful coexistence became a major cause of the split in the communist movement which began in the late 1950s. The Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong continued to believe in the theory of the inevitability of war.
Mao Zedong stated that even in a nuclear war, though many millions would die, socialism would be victorious. Some Chinese communist leaders and their supporters in the communist parties of different countries were of the view that the policy of peaceful coexistence would weaken the struggle for socialist revolution.
In spite of the policy of peaceful coexistence, the Soviet Union did not cease her efforts at building an arsenal of destructive weapons to match those of the US. She did, however, take many unilateral decisions.
For example, she declared that she would never use the nuclear weapons first and she appealed to the US to make a similar commitment. She ceased underground tests of nuclear weapons and declared that she would not resume those tests as long as the other side did not hold these tests.
In spite of the stress on peaceful coexistence, the Soviet policy towards Eastern Europe did not undergo any basic change. It can be said that she continued to regard Eastern Europe as her sphere of influence.
On two occasions she resorted to massive military intervention—in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968— to overthrow the communist leadership in those countries which wanted to change the policies of their respective countries in the direction other than those suggested by the Soviet leadership.
In fact Brezhnev, who had replaced Khrushchev, had declared that it was the duty of a socialist country to interfere in another socialist country if in that country the continuance of socialism was threatened.
There were basic changes in Soviet foreign policy after Gorbachev came to power. A reference has been made earlier to Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. This had led to the Soviet Union’s involvement in a protracted civil war. It had also embittered Soviet- US relations and hampered the process of detente.
In 1988, the Soviet Union began to withdraw her troops from Afghanistan and by 1989 all Soviet troops were withdrawn. However, the withdrawal of Soviet troops did not lead to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan and the civil war in Afghanistan continued unabated.
In 1996, the Taliban captured power and in 2001, US-led forces invaded Afghanistan. The Soviet Union also signed two important agreements on arms control with the US. Another important development during this period was the end of Soviet control over the countries of Eastern Europe. This led to the end of the rule of the communist parties in all these countries. The Warsaw Pact, the military bloc headed by the Soviet Union, was also formally dissolved in 1991.
Gorbachev’s policies, both internal and external, were acclaimed throughout the world. His foreign policy initiatives can be said to have been crucial in bringing the Cold War to an end. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Break-up of the Soviet Union:
Gorbachev’s economic policies were a failure and the republics of the union started demanding greater autonomy in internal and also external policies. By the end of 1990, it was clear that the Soviet Union could not continue as a single state.
The three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—had decided to become independent and the other republics had decided to assert the supremacy of their laws over the laws of the union. To prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev negotiated a new treaty with ten republics.
The new treaty would have granted greater autonomy to the republics but maintained the union. However, before the new treaty could be signed, some leaders of the Soviet Communist Party tried to stage a coup against Gorbachev on 19 August 1991 by removing him from the president ship of the Soviet Union and putting him under house arrest.
There was widespread opposition to the coup, and even the army was opposed to it. It was finally thwarted on 21 August 1991. Though Gorbachev resumed office as the president, the attempt at a coup accelerated the process of disintegration. Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected President of the Russian Republic, emerged as the most powerful leader during this period.
He had played the leading role in foiling the coup. Gorbachev resigned from the Communist Party and all activities of the Communist Party were ordered to be suspended. Gorbachev’s effort to preserve the Soviet Union on the basis of a new treaty came to naught.
By November 1991, 13 of the 15 republics had declared their independence. Early in December 1991, Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President along with the presidents of two other republics announced that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.
They invited other republics to join a new federation called the Commonwealth of Independent States. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president and the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist. Its place was taken by 15 independent states which had constituted the USSR. Twelve of them, including four Asian republics, became members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Ten Days that Shook the World was the title of an American journalist John Reed’s first-hand account of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The kind of socialism or what is now generally called the “really existing socialism”, which was built over the vast territory of the Soviet Union, formerly the Russian empire, was for long viewed as an alternative to the capitalist system of society.
The collapse of the “really existing socialism” and the break-up of the Soviet Union was anticipated by few and happened rather suddenly and almost without any resistance. The impact of these developments, it was believed, may turn out to be as world shaking as the Russian Revolution of 1917. These developments certainly marked the end of an era in world history.
Russia after the Break-up:
The collapse of the Soviet Union has been followed by a period of turmoil in many former Soviet republics. In some of them, the former heads of government who were leaders of the Communist Party established authoritarian regimes of their own. Some others are still trying to establish stable democratic political systems.
In Russia the period till end of 1999, when Yeltsin was the president, was one of serious economic crisis, rise of mafia-type economic oligarchs who plundered the country to become billionaires, extreme hardships for the common people and near collapse of law and order.
Under the president ship of Vladimir Putin, there was economic recovery and the position of Russia as a major economic and military power began to be restored. Some of the worst features of the breakdown that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union were eliminated and a sense of security and stability was restored to the country. Russia once again started playing an important role in world affairs.
One of the major issues that have some to the fore in recent years has been the Western policy of expanding NATO to include the former allies of the Soviet Union as members and installing US missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland.
There have also been strains in relations between Russia and some of the former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia. According to the Russian constitution, the president cannot continue more than two terms in office. After the elections held in 2008, Medvedev became the President of Russia. Putin became the prime minister.