The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

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The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

Communism is like Prohibition - it's a good idea but it won't work"
(Will Rogers, 1927) (1)

This essay will give a brief introduction to communism. It will then
discuss the various factors which combined to bring about the collapse of
Communism in Eastern Europe. It will examine each of these factors and
evaluate the effect of each. Finally it will attempt to assertain whether
Rogers' opinion (see above quotation) on Communism is true, that is,
whether communism was truly doomed to fail from the start, or whether its
collapse was a result of external influences.

Communism is based on the ideas and teachings of Karl Marx as modified by
Lenin. At its most basic, the ideal of communism is a system in which
everyone is seen as equal and wealth is distributed equally among the
people. There is no private ownership. The state owns and controls all
enterprises and property. The state is run by one leading elite. The Soviet
model of communism was based on these ideals. All opposition parties were
banned although parties who were sympathetic to communism and who shared
the communist ideals were allowed. All power was concentrated into the
hands of the Communist party. Free press and civil liberties were
suppressed. Censorship and propaganda were widely used. There was state
ownership of the economy. No private enterprise was allowed. There was a
collectivisation of agriculture. The Communist Party invaded and controlled
every aspect of political, social, cultural and economic life. It was a
totalitarian state with complete Communist control over all facets of life.

In the early years, and up until Gorbachev's "new regime", the use of force
and terror as a means of maintaining control was widespread.

The first factor which contributed to the failure and eventual collapse of
communism was the fact that the Communist party's domination was
illegitimate from the beginning. Lenin came to power after a bloody Civil
War between those who supported Lenin and those who opposed the Soviet
regime. To Lenin, defeat was unthinkable and he was prepared to make any
and every sacrifice to win the war and save "the revolution". The forcible
requisitioning of food and supplies was approved by Lenin. This could only
be achieved by enforcing strict and absolute discipline at every level of
society. Terror was to become the chief instrument of power and Lenin was
to assume the role of dictator. This was a phenomenon which was to become a
symbol of communist regimes throughout their lifetime.

This trend was followed when Stalin came to power as leader of the

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MLA Citation:
"The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe." 26 May 2017
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Communist party and the Russian government in 1929. (2) He had achieved
this through plotting and trickery and by shifting alliances. This had
begun in 1924 when Stalin systematically began to remove all opposition to
his claim to power. His main rival was Trotsky and he used a number of
underhand measures to discredit him. For example Stalin lied to Trotsky
about the date of Lenin's funeral, thus ensuring that Trotsky could not
attend and thereby blackening his name in the public eye. This Stalin
versus Trotsky conflict led to Trotsky being eventually exiled from Russia
and, ten years later in 1940, being assassinated by one of Stalin's agents.

Under Stalin any opposition was swiftly and brutally crushed. In no Eastern
European country did the revolution have the support of more than a
minority of people, yet this minority retained absolute control. The
communist take-over and subsequent regime was achieved by undemocratic
methods, that is, rigged elections, terror, totalitarian state, harassment
and threats. In 1932 a two-hundred page document by a fellow member of the
Politburo condemning the Stalinist regime and calling for change was
published. (4) In response to this Stalin wreaked a terrible revenge. In
1936 Stalin began what became known as the "purges" whose function it was
to try members of the communist party who had acted treasonously. (5) The
result of these was that five thousand party members were arrested and
stripped of their membership. The sixteen defendants in the three
Showtrials of 1936, 1937 and 1938 were found guilty and executed. In 1939
those who had conducted the purges were also executed. By 1939 the only
member of Lenin's original Politburo who remained, was Stalin himself. (6)

In relation to foreign policy, Stalin exerted his influence to ensure that
all Eastern European countries (except Yugoslavia) had Soviet-imposed
puppet regimes. Stalin's domination was now total. After the war Stalin
succeeded in establishing a communist buffer zone between Russia and
Western Europe. Any resistance he met in establishing communist states was
quickly suppressed by intimidation and terror. For example Stalin
engineered a communist coup in May 1948 in Czechoslovakia in which a
government minister Masaryk was killed and the president was forced to
resign. (7) This served a warning to other countries against resisting the
communist regime.

Therefore it can clearly be seen that from the establishment of the state
that communism never had popular public support. It cannot be denied that
there was a significant minority who supported communism, but these were a
minority. Can an ideal and a leadership really be built on such a shallow
and flimsy basis? This essay would argue that the answer to this question
is no. For a leadership to lead, it must have strong support and
confidence. It must be seen to work for the good of the people and not
merely a vociferous minority. This, therefore, can be argued to be one of
the contributing factors in the downfall of communism.

A second related factor, which had a hand in bringing about the end of
communism in Eastern Europe was the fact that communism never really had
the support of the people. There was constant societal opposition to
communist rule in Eastern Europe. Although this was mainly in the form of a
passive rumbling dissent, there were occasional violent and active shows of
opposition to communist rule. The states of Eastern Europe in the post-war
period had been forced to adhere to the Moscow line. After 1956 however,
with Khrushchev's new approach to Socialism and his denunciation of Stalin,
there were increasing calls for independence among the communist bloc
countries who had never been truly supportive of the communist regime.

In East Germany in 1953 there were a series of strikes and protests. (8)
The Russians, under Stalin, used their armed forces to put down the revolt
and to protect East Germany's communist government. This shows the
importance of Soviet military force in maintaining communism's tenuous grip
on power. It also shows how weak communist rule in East Germany really was.

It was this event that sealed East Germany's fate as the USSR realised that
in a united Germany, the Communists would lose control. Events eventually
culminated with the building of the Berlin Wall which was the ultimate
expression of Soviet and communist force and coercion in maintaining the
communist regime.

Under Khrushchev, who had succeeded Stalin after his death in 1953, Poland
was the first to revolt against the communist regime. Polish workers rioted
and went on strike in 1956 and the Polish communist party also revolted by
refusing to accept the Russian general Rokossovsky as the Polish Minister
for Defence. (9) The situation was diffused by a compromise which was made
on both sides, with Poland agreeing to remain in the communist Eastern bloc
if the nationalist communist leader Gomulka, who had been imprisoned by
Stalin, was reinstated. The fact that Khrushchev was willing to compromise
illustrates again the precarious position of communist rule.

The Hungarian revolution of 1956 was borne out of the relative success of
the Poles in achieving concessions for the Moscow leadership. (10) The
Hungarians decided to overthrow the Stalinist regime in their country. The
situation quickly deteriorated and on the 23rd of October the Hungarian
troops, who had been dispatched to end the riots, joined the civilians in
revolution. Soviet troops were called in and the Hungarian communist party
lost the little support which they had. Again Khrushchev tried to diffuse
the situation by offering a compromise, that is, the reinstatement of the
moderate communist leader Nagy. When it became clear, however, that Nagy
had every intention of pulling out of the Soviet communist bloc, Khrushchev
resorted to force and violence to maintain the communist grip on Hungary.

He ordered the return of Soviet tanks and troops to Budapest on November
4th 1956. (11) Thousands were killed in a bloody street battle until the
Soviets had re-established their control. Nagy was arrested and was
executed two years later. A Soviet imposed communist regime under Janos
Kadar was set up. (12) The tenuous communist grip on control is again
illustrated here. Khrushchev was willing to barter, and eventually use
force, to maintain Soviet control. Without this force and coercion,
however, Hungary would have established its own brand of communist rule.

Khrushchev could not risk the domino effect that this action would have had
on the Eastern bloc. This societal opposition can, therefore, be taken to
be another contributing factor in the downfall of communist rule in the
Eastern bloc. If those in the alliance cannot cooperate and work together,
the alliance and the ideal cannot hope to survive.

Another important factor which this essay will discuss is that of the
influence of the West on the Eastern bloc. The Eastern bloc was already
aware of Western capitalist success as they were allies during the war.

Many of the Eastern countries, for example Hungary under Nagy or
Czechoslovakia under Dubcek, were in favour of a communist system with some
elements of capitalism, that is, a mixed economy or market socialism and
more elements of democracy. There had been a breakdown in relations between
the East and West due to tensions after WWII. After the war Russia wanted
to create a sphere of influence in the East over which the West would have
no say or control. This was not acceptable to the West who wanted to see
democracy installed in the East and who wanted to have a continued input
into the doings of the East. This conflict eventually led to the Cold War.

Until Khrushchev became leader of the Soviet bloc, there had been no
significant contact between the two blocs. Those inside of the Soviet bloc
were completely cut off from the Western ideals. When Khrushchev came to
power, however, there as renewed hope in the West that there might be a
"thaw" in relations between the two blocs. Relations between the two blocs
did improve with Khrushchev attending a number of conferences and meetings.

For example a twelve-day visit to the US in 1959, a UN General Assembly,
also in 1959 and a later UN General Assembly meeting in 1960 in the US.

(13) Although then relations began to break down again due to the building
of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the
Eastern bloc became cut off once more, western ideas had already managed to
penetrate the East. (14) The information that the capitalist West was
thriving while the Communist Eastern bloc was stagnating and
underdeveloped, made communism and Soviet control even more unpopular.

In 1963 there again was an easing of tensions between the two blocs when
Russia and the US signed a test ban treaty which allowed the West's
influence to again creep into the East. (15) In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted
from power and Brezhnev with Kosygin took over from him. (16) In 1966 the
US and USSR agreed to a direct air service between Moscow and New York. In
1967 they, along with 60 other countries, signed the first international
treaty providing for the peaceful exploration of outer space. (17) In the
1970's a period of Détente began. In 1970 West Germany and Poland signed a
treaty rejecting the use of force. West Germany and Russia ratified a
similar treaty in 1972. (18) In 1972 Nixon and Brezhnev signed the SALT I
treaty which was to limit the production of US and Russian nuclear
weapons. In 1973 East and West Germany joined the UN. (19) Throughout
this period the West had more and more access to the Eastern bloc and the
people of the communist countries were influenced by these ideas. This was
a further blow to communist rule and another factor in the downfall of

The next contributing factor to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe
was that of its economic failure. During the years of war communism from
1918-1921, Soviet labourers worked for pittance wages. At the same time the
Bolshevik confiscated virtually all harvests. This brought the country to
the brink of economic collapse. The net result of war communism under Lenin
was that from 1914 the countryside was neglected and destroyed and in 1920
there was a severe drought. (20) In 1921 the New Economic Policy (NEP) was
introduced. This was in effect a limited capitalism. Peasants were allowed
to keep their surpluses after taxes were paid. Bonuses, extra rations and
better housing were offered as incentives. Still there was widespread
opposition to the communist policy with the beginnings of a "peasant war"
against Stalin's' proposed collectivisation policy in 1928. (21) Although
agricultural production increased, the standard of living was lowered and
hardship was widespread. Forcible collectivisation was pursued until 1935.

This again shows the people's general opposition to communist policies.

Collectivisation failed to meet agricultural requirements during WWII. The
human cost of the policy was staggering. If the people are suffering under
a particular regime they will not support it, how then can this regime hope
to survive?

When Khrushchev came to power, he too failed to salvage the economy.

Although some of the policies which he introduced in the 1950's had an
initial success, they soon collapsed with disastrous effects. Figures for
meat in 1958 were artificially high but collapsed soon after. In 1962 there
were sharp increases in the prices of butter and meat. (22) Food riots were
forcibly quelled by the shooting of seventy unarmed demonstrators in 1962.

(23) Industry was not faring any better and by 1963 production levels had
declined sharply in every branch of industry. As Khrushchev himself said of
communism in 1958:-
"If, after forty years of communism, a person cannot have a glass of milk
and a pair of shoes, he will not believe that communism is a good
thing" (24)

Under Brezhnev the economic state of the USSR continued to decline. Support
for communism was falling and due to improved relations with the West, the
people could see how disadvantaged they were. Under Andropov who succeeded
Brezhnev in 1982 the situation did not improve. Change began only when
Gorbachev came to power in 1985. (25) The major problems in the economy
which Gorbachev had to deal with were, the wasteful use of resources, the
lack of innovation, a poor division of labour, too many costly products
being produced, ineffective use of resources and low productivity. There
was a resistance to technological innovation due to a lack of incentives.

Wages were low and the mechanisms involved in introducing a new idea or
practice were time-consuming and complicated. There was a general
inflexibility in the enterprise network which also stifled innovation.

There was also a lack of investment in new ideas and industry. Gorbachev's
solution to these problems was a "Perestroika" of the economy.

The challenge of Perestroika was to move to more intensive methods of
production and more effective use of inputs. His economic polices began
with the promise of a revival of some of the practices of NEP. His aim was
to cause output to double by the year 2000 and for production and
productivity to rise substantially. It was not until 1987, however, that
these ideas were put into a concrete plan. (26) A vigorous anti-alcohol
campaign was initiated. Vineyards were destroyed and beer production was
cut-back. By 1988, however, they had to admit that this policy was a
complete failure and it was abandoned in 1990. (27) By 1985 the USSR had a
budget deficit of R37 billion. (28) Due to miscalculations in relation to
the extent of the budget deficit, Gorbachev authorised spending in social
and investment sectors while maintaining the spending in the military
sector. This was a gross mistake which resulted in the budget deficit in
1989 having increased to R100 billion or 11% of the Gross National Product
(GNP) and was predicted to rise to R120 billion. Therefore, under
Gorbachev, the budget deficit rose from 3% in 1985 to 14% in 1989. (29)

Inflation increased to over 5%. (30) Prices failed to reflect the high cost
of production and many companies were working at a loss. This economic
failure of communism meant that support for the system fell and that it was
becoming increasingly more difficult for the communist party to convince
the people that this indeed was the way forward, and a better solution than

Gorbachev therefore aimed to tie salaries into achieved results and to
remove subsidies on some goods and services. He did not act immediately,
however, with his price reform package as he hoped to first achieve a
balance between supply and demand. This merely worsened matters and wages
continued to rise faster than output and productivity. The main failure of
Perestroika is that it didn't remove the old price system. Instead, it
allowed the old price system, which was based on scarcity, to continue, and
this merely exacerbated shortages. Ironically, it was the mass
organisations of people, who had emerged to defend living standards, who
actually hampered the struggle against inflation and the budget deficit.

This situation was partly created by the fact that the governing party had
no popular support and hadn't been popularly elected. The economic
situation continued to decline. There was a zero growth rate. Shops were
calculated to be lacking 243 out 276 basic consumer items and there was a
chronic shortage of 1000 items out of 1200 which would be on a model
shopping list. There was a static farm output and high levels of inflation.

(31) Therefore it can be seen that communism was an economic disaster.

Khrushchev's remark again can be used to illustrate the effect which this
had on the support for communism. (see ref 24).

As previously mentioned, communism never had majority support or a
legitimate political basis. Force and coercion were regularly used to
ensure that the communist party remained in power. Therefore one can
maintain that the fact that communism was a political failure was also a
contributing factor to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. If a
party has not got the support of a majority, then it has a weak political
basis. The fact that undemocratic means were used to ensure that the
communists came to, and then maintained, power shows that communism was a
political failure. Throughout the history of communism in Russia, never
once did the party gain a majority support or truly succeed in suppressing
public demonstrations of antipathy towards communism. It can therefore be
argued that a political leadership with no political basis or support could
ever hope to survive.

Another important factor to note is communism's utter failure in relation
to society and culture. Soviet society under Communist rule was socially
and culturally underdeveloped. The state had a say in every aspect of
societal life. In response to low birth rates, large numbers of orphans and
the failure of 37/100 marriages in 1934 alone, the communist leadership
compelled the media to promote stable family life. (32)

Propaganda was used to coerce the people into believing in the positive
virtues of marriage and children. Divorce was made more difficult and
abortion was prohibited. Thus the people's right to choose and exert
control over their own personal and familial decisions was removed. In
schools, the teaching of the social sciences was curtailed and Marxist and
Leninist theories were expounded. In the late thirties fees were
reintroduced for the three upper forms of secondary school. This
effectively meant that only those who could afford to pay these fees could
send their children on to further academic training as these were the forms
which prepared children for higher education. (33) Under Stalin
topographical, economic and political information and affairs were a state
secret. Maps were inaccurate and details about past disasters and history
were omitted or embellished.

Propaganda and brainwashing was used to ensure that the virtues of
communism were extolled and a cult following was created around Lenin and
Stalin. "A Short Course on the History of the CPSU" became the staple
intellectual diet of all schoolchildren. (34) This was a propagandistic
book based on an idealistic view of communism and its leaders. The mass
arrests, the truth of the purges and the labour camps were not allowed to
be discussed in the media. State monopoly of information and mass
communications deployed in this way, and backed by the use of coercion and
force and the military, degraded the nation's intellectual and cultural
life. People were simply not allowed to form an opinion contrary to that of
the communist state. People were also not allowed to choose their own
religion or follow their own personal religious beliefs. The state outlawed
and censored religious "propaganda" and publications. The Soviet state
actively and brutally persecuted the churches. A large number of these were
desecrated or destroyed. More than half of all monasteries were forced to
close and in 1921 twenty-eight bishops were arrested or died in violent
clashes with the Soviet military. (35) Attempts were also made to split the
church from the inside. By 1939 only 12 bishops, out of the 163 who had
been active in 1930, remained. (36) These repressive measures, as a whole,
meant that the growth of Soviet culture and society was stunted and
stagnating. The secrecy and lies undermined efficiency, isolated
individuals and eroded the morale of society. This was compounded by the
fact that, due to Western influences, the public in the communist countries
were beginning to realise their predicament and their backwardness. These
measures continued until Gorbachev came to power.

This point leads onto the most important factor which contributed to the
eventual collapse of communism in the East, that is, Gorbachev. Without
Gorbachev it is doubtful that the disintegration of the communist regime
would have occurred so soon. Gorbachev can be seen as a reform communist.

He introduced a number of revolutionary reforms like Perestroika and
Glasnost. The combined effect of these policies, and his general attitude
to reform, communism and the USSR, had the effect of causing the
culmination of all opposition to communism and collapsing the system.

Glasnost proved to be a great relief valve which allowed the people to
voice their long-standing discontent about communism and the communist
regime as a whole. The positive elements of Glasnost had the effect of
bringing national tensions to the surface of political and social life and,
in a sense, exacerbating the national problem. Liberalisation made people
less afraid of retribution when they spoke out against the injustices of
the system and the atrocities which had occurred. The ripple effect of
Gorbachev's radical Perestroika and Glasnost weakened the authority of the
communist governments - economically, socially and ideologically. Above
all the failure of communism lay in the failure of Gorbachev's Perestroika.

If the economy had improved then so too would the people's well-being and
they may have considered maintaining the communist regime.

The fundamental problem with Perestroika was how to change a system which
had been built to withstand change. It was increasingly fractured. It had
originally been based on inaccurate figures about the well-being of the
economy and the national debt. Life under Perestroika became even harder
for the majority of Soviet people. There were no state-employed social
groups or skilled workers who stood to gain from Perestroika in the short
term. Economic reform involved hard work and higher prices and therefore
Perestroika was short on support. As the economic situation worsened, so
too did the people's support for communism fall. This time there was a
difference however. Due to Glasnost the people and the media were now free
to criticise the policy.

Glasnost had the effect of ensuring that the previous reign of terror which
the communist leadership had held, was brought to an end. Gorbachev
employed a policy of "Glasnost", that is, openness and the right to
criticise and express an opinion. Up until then Soviet society was closed.

No criticism or freedom of speech was allowed. The major feature of
Glasnost is that of the lifting of most of the restrictions which had been
imposed on the circulation of information since communism began. The blank
pages in history were about to be filled in. Gorbachev realised that the
former policy of absolute secrecy was a major force holding back the
development of society. Censorship was relaxed. This had the adverse effect
of allowing the public criticism of a regime which previously could not be

Gorbachev also allowed increasing independence to the Eastern bloc states.

He had come to the conclusion that compelling an unwilling population to
live under a system they detested was not ensuring the USSR's security, but
on the contrary, jeopardising it. He indicated by omission, rather than by
direct statement, that he would not obstruct a change which would result in
these states achieving a measure of independence.

In Czechoslovakia on the 18th of January 1989 there was a decision taken to
legalise Solidarity. (37) On the 10th of February the Hungarian communists
agreed to a multi-party system and there was no opposition to this on the
part of the Soviets. On 29th March Moscow told the Hungarians that they
would not interfere in East European affairs. (38) In Poland on January
18th, Solidarity had been legalised after a string of protests and riots in
Hungary. (39) This led to an agreement between the communist government and
Solidarity, the main focus of which was the holding of the first relatively
free elections since the 1940's in Poland. The elections were devastating
to the communists. They were swept out of the Senate and did not have any
representatives elected to the Sejm until the second round of counting.

This had a domino effect and hastened events elsewhere. Far from
Gorbachev's original hope that allowing the Eastern states more freedom
would bring the union closer together, it was tearing the union apart.

Kadar was ousted from Hungary and the communists were swept aside by the
Hungarian Democratic Forum. On September 11th Hungary opened its borders
with Austria and allowed thousands of East Germans to cross to the west.

(41) The people of East Germany were demanding Glasnost and Perestroika. On
October 9th a mass demonstration of 70,000 people occurred in Leipzig. (42)

Thousands of Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and the GDR
was powerless to stop them. Honecker, the East German leader, buckled under
the pressure and resigned. The net effect of which was that his successors
allowed the opening of the Berlin Wall on 8th November 1989 after the East
German government and communist leadership resigned. (43)

On the 24th of November the Czechoslovak Communist Party resigned after
mass demonstrations in Prague of up to 800,000 people. On the 7th of
December the communist government in Czechoslovakia collapsed entirely and
a new non-communist government was formed. (44)

Gorbachevs's reforms were wreaking havoc on the communist system. Its base,
already weak and fragile, began to crumble away under the massive wave of
anti-communist feeling which had finally come to the fore after years of
suppression. On the 11th of December Bulgarian communists were forced to
agree to a multi-party system and on the 25th, the Rumanian leader
Ceausescu and his wife were tried and executed. (45) All of this was borne
out of Gorbachev's reforms. The communist regime had been built on force
and coercion, terror and undemocratic methods. This regime could therefore
not be expected to survive under such an onslaught. In refusing the Eastern
bloc communist parties aid to suppress the revolts within, Gorbachev
effectively sealed their fate. The communist parties in those countries had
always relied on Soviet force for support in maintaining control of the
countries, now that his support had been removed the regimes crumbled.

Therefore the significance of the Gorbachev factor cannot be denied when
discussing the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. If Gorbachev had
not introduced his reforms or had not refused aid to the other Eastern bloc
communist parties, the communist regime may have still stood today.

Gorbachev may not have been the cause of the downfall, but he was certainly
the trigger. The situation was like a fuse, Gorbachev merely provided the
matches and refused to stop the fire.

The final factor which this essay will examine, is that of the loss of
elite party confidence. With his reforms Gorbachev had undermined the
morale and confidence of the party elite. It had become clear that the
communist cause had exhausted itself and was a failure. Their utopian hopes
had been torn apart one by one throughout the years and Gorbachev had made
them face this fact. This had a paralysing effect on them and led to their
apathy about the ending of communism. If they had believed that there was
something left to fight for they may have used physical force to overthrow
Gorbachev and suppress the revolts, but they did not. Gorbachev had
launched a step-by-step dismantling of the party and the nomenklatura under
Perestroika. He separated and neutralised his most militant opponents among
the conservative members of the party elite. At the 28th Congress the party
elite was divided between those who would monitor the development of
Glasnost and perestroika, and the Presidency who would champion the fight
against the unreformable members of the nomenklatura. (46) Until the 28th
Congress membership of the nomenklatura had been a ticket to wealth and
power, after the conference it became a mere shell. Membership fell off and
loyalties faded. A form of local government control was implemented by
Gorbachev to further diminish the role of the Politburo. Piece by piece
Gorbachev was chipping away at the old elite's confidence and beliefs. The
fact that Gorbachev was gaining support both from the public at home and
abroad, further eroded their confidence.

When the USSR began to collapse, however, certain voices in the party
refused to allow Gorbachev dismantle more of their dreams. Yelstin was
emerging at this time as an opponent to Gorbachev's rule. In response
Gorbachev banned a pro-Yelstin rally in Moscow in 1991. (47) Alarmed at a
series of political strikes and a growing support for Yelstin, Gorbachev
negotiated a compromise which stipulated that in return for an end to
political strikes, Gorbachev would negotiate a new Union treaty which would
give power to the republics. The day before this treaty was to be signed,
however, its opponents moved to forestall it. Pugo announced that he was
assuming presidential control as Gorbachev was ill and declared a state of
emergency. (48) Gorbachev refused to concur with this announcement. Yelstin
called for a general strike and said that the emergency government was
"unconstitutional". (49) Some workers went on strike, more did not. Battle
lines were being drawn and the complete collapse of communism was not far
behind. The leaders of the coup were arrested by Gorbachev's men and
Gorbachev returned to Moscow.

The failed coup ironically however, had precipitated the process it had
been trying to prevent, that is, the break up of the USSR and the demise of
the communist party. In the Russian parliament Yelstin signed a decree
suspending the communist party pending an investigation of the coup.

Gorbachev had triumphed over the plotters but now had to capitulate to
Yelstin. After a vain attempt at protest, Gorbachev resigned as General
Secretary of the CPSU and recommended that the General Committee should
disband itself. In June 1991 Yelstin was elected president of Russia. (50)
After the failure of the coup most of the Soviet republics declared their
independence and sovereignty. Gorbachev tried unsuccessfully to revive the
Union treaty for several months afterwards, but to no avail. The chain of
events had been set in motion and could not be stopped now.

On the 8th of December 1991 Yelstin, along with the Beloruissian and
Ukraine leaders issued a statement which declared the end of the USSR. They
offered a "Commonwealth of Independent States" in return and invited other
countries to join. (51) Gorbachev protested at first but then bowed to the
inevitable. Communism in Eastern Europe had collapsed. On the 25th of
December 1991, he tendered his resignation as president of the USSR and the
communist flag was lowered from the Kremlin dome to be replaced by the
Russian tricolour. (52)

Communism in Eastern Europe, therefore, collapsed for a number of reasons.

It had no political basis or popular support. It was riddled with economic
problems and, in comparison to capitalism, was a complete failure. Finally
the Gorbachev factor and the loss of elitist party confidence fanned the
flames and destroyed communism. Communism broke down because of fatal
weaknesses built into the system from its inception. It is in a human's
nature to aim for success and prosperity. Communism denies the competitive
trait which is inherent in all humans. Communism was rejected because it is
not as good as alternative systems of satisfying humans material wants.

Communism also is at odds with the other most basic instinct which a human
has, that is, the desire for freedom. Communism, in practice, denied the
expression of civil liberties, opinions and thought. It was also a forced
rule which was only enforced by terror, not acceptance or majority ruling.

Such a regime could only hope to last for a certain period, never
indefinitely. Gorbachev's reforms were merely the catalyst for this
failure. Gorbachev wished to reform the system, not destroy it, but the
situation rapidly went out of control as years of pent-up frustration and
antipathy toward the communist regime was finally given expression.

Can we therefore validate the quotation by Rogers which was made at the
start of this essay? This essay would argue yes. A regime which is
inherently against human nature can never hope to succeed. It is human to
want what we cannot have and to be denied it, as with prohibition, makes us
all the more determined and curious to achieve that which is forbidden. The
same can be said to be true for communism. Therefore this essay would
conclude that although there were a number of external contributory
influence to the collapse of communism, communism as an ideal cannot hope
to survive for long in anything more than a theoretical sense, as it is
inherently contrary to the basic drives of human nature.


(1) Various Inputs, Chronicle of the 20th Century Quotations (Guinness
Publishing Ltd., 1996) page 36

(2) Various Inputs, World Book Encyclopaedias (World Book Inc., 1984) page

(3) Kehoe, A.M, Makers of 20th Century Europe (Mentor Publications Ltd.,
1988) page 25

(4) Ibid., page 32

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid., page 33

(7) Ibid., page 40

(8) O' Brien, Eileen, Modern Europe 1870-1966 (Mentor Publications Ltd.,
1995) page 231

(9) Kehoe, A.M, op cit., page 50

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid., page 52

(14) Ibid.

(15) Various Inputs, op cit. (1984) page 618b

(16) Ibid., page 618a

(17) Ibid., page 618b

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid.

(20) Kehoe, A.M, op cit. page 13

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid., page 55

(23) Ibid.

(24) Various Inputs, op cit. (1996) page 142

(25) Sakwa, Richard, Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990 (Philip Allan,
1990) page 271

(26) Ibid.

(27) Ibid., page 272

(28) Ibid.

(29) Ibid.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid., page 281

(32) Hosking, Geoffrey, A History of the Soviet Union (Fontana Press,
1992) page 213

(33) Ibid., page 215

(34) Ibid., page 218

(35) Ibid., page 228

(36) Ibid., page 235

(37) Ibid., page 245

(38) Ibid.

(39) Ibid.

(40) Ibid.

(41) Ibid., page 466

(42) Ibid.

(43) Ibid.

(44) Ibid.

(45) Ibid., page 468

(46) Novikov, Euvgeny & Bascio, Patrick, Gorbachev and the Collapse of the
Soviet Communist Party (Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1994) page 68

(47) Hosking, Geoffrey, op cit.


Brown, Archie, The Gorbachev Factor (Oxford University Press, 1996)

Hosking, Geoffrey, A History of the Soviet Union (Fontana Press, 1992)

Kehoe, A.M, Makers of 20th Century Europe (Mentor Publications Ltd., 1988)

Miller, R.F & Miller, J.H & Rigby, T.H, Gorbachev at the Helm (Croom Helm, 1987)

Novikov, Euvgeny & Bascio, Patrick, Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Communist Party (Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1994)

O' Brien, Eileen, Modern Europe 1870-1966 (Mentor Publications Ltd., 1995)

Sakwa, Richard, Gorbachev and his Reforms 1985-1990 (Philip Allan, 1990)

Swain, Geoffrey & Swain, Nigel, Eastern Europe Since 1945(St. Martin's Press Inc., 1993)

Various Inputs, Chronicle of the 20th Century Quotations (Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1996)

Various Inputs, World Book Encyclopaedias (World Book Inc., 1984)

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