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The coup attempt sparked anger against the Communist Party.
Gorbachev resigned as general secretary of the party. The Soviet parliament voted to stop all party activities. Having first seized power in 1917 in a coup that succeeded, the Communist Party now collapsed because of a coup that failed. The coup also played a decisive role in accelerating the breakup of the Soviet Union. Estonia and Latvia quickly declared their independence. Other republics soon followed. Although Gorbachev pleaded for unity, no one was listening.
By early December, all 15 republics had declared independence.
Yeltsin met with the leaders of other republics to chart a new course. They agreed to form the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, a loose federation of former Soviet territories. Only the Baltic republics and Georgia declined to join. The formation of the CIS meant the death of the Soviet Union. On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president of the Soviet Union, st. sharepoint.chiles.leon.k12.fl.us/mcneilt/Textbook%20for…
In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was engulfed by a multitude of problems. The economy, especially the agricultural sector, began to fall apart. The country lacked technological advancements and used inefficient factories, all while consumers were buying low-quality products and suffered from a shortage of social freedoms. To reform the distraught Soviet Union, the democratization of the Communist Party was promoted through Party Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev‘s policies of “perestroika” and “glasnost.”
Perestroika refers to the reconstruction of the political and economic system established by the Communist Party. Politically, contested elections were introduced to reflect the democratic practices of Western society and allow citizens to have a slight say in government. Economically, Perestroika called for de-monopolization and some semi-private businesses to function, ending the price controls established by the government for the past seven decades. The goal was to create a semi-free market system, reflecting successful capitalist practices in the economies of Germany, Japan, and the United States. Unfortunately, such an economy took time to thrive, and people found themselves stuck in a worn-out economy, which led to long-lines, strikes, and civil unrest.
The term “Glasnost” means “openness” and was the name for the social and political reforms to bestow more rights and freedoms upon the Soviet people. Its goals were to include more people in the political process through freedom of expression. This led to a decreased censoring of the media, which in effect allowed writers and journalists to expose news of government corruption and the depressed condition of the Soviet people. Glasnost also permitted criticism of government officials, encouraging more social freedoms like those that Western societies had already provided. Yet, the totalitarian state present since 1917 was difficult to dismantle, and when it fell apart, citizens were not accustomed to the lack of regulation and command. The outburst of information about escalating crime and crimes by the government caused panic in the people. This caused an increase in social protests in a nation used to living under the strictest government control, and went against the goals of Gorbachev.
These policies were in effect from 1985 to 1991, when Boris Yeltsin became Russia’s first popularly elected president. He then formed the Commonwealth of Independent States. Reconstructing the organization of the Soviet Union proved difficult and the effects were mixed; while more social freedoms were permitted, the economy was in deterioration and social unrest was growing among the people. Glasnost and Perestroika eventually helped cause the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, which had lasted from 1945 to 1991. www.coldwar.org/articles/80s/GlasnostandPerestroika.asp
The collapse of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics radically changed the world’s economic and political environment. No other conflict of interest dominated the post World War Two world like the cold war did. One man is credited with ending the cold war, Mikhail Gorbachev. This however was not the biggest event Gorbachev was responsible for. The end of the cold war was just a by-product of the other major event he was involved with. That is the fall of communism in the USSR and the collapse of the USSR itself. Gorbachev a communist reformer was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985. His appointment followed the death of three previous Soviet leaders in three years. Leonid Brezhnev was first to go followed by Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.
Not being able to afford another short term leader the old guard appointed the youthful 56 year old Mikhial Gorbachev as General Secretary. From the outside it seemed as if this great superpower self destructed in only three months. The USSR’s demise is of course more complicated than this. The break up of the USSR can be traced back to Gorbachevs appointment and his early reforms. Gorbachev introduced a wide ranging program of reform. His major reforms were glasnost, perestroika and democratisation. These reforms allowed the problems of the USSR to be uncovered and become public knowledge. Ethnic unrest, economic inefficiency and historical atrocities were the major challenges Gorbachev faced. How he dealt with these challenges and how successful he was is examined in this report www.historyorb.com/russia/intro.php
In December of 1991, as the world watched in amazement, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its collapse was hailed by the west as a victory for freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, and evidence of the superiority of capitalism over socialism. The United States rejoiced as its formidable enemy was brought to its knees, thereby ending the Cold War which had hovered over these two superpowers since the end of World War II. Indeed, the breakup of the Soviet Union transformed the entire world political situation, leading to a complete reformulation of political, economic and military alliances all over the globe. What led to this monumental historical event? In fact, the answer is a very complex one, and can only be arrived at with an understanding of the peculiar composition and history of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was built on approximately the same territory as the Russian Empire which it succeeded.
After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the newly-formed government developed a philosophy of socialism with the eventual and gradual transition to Communism. The state which the Bolsheviks created was intended to overcome national differences, and rather to create one monolithic state based on a centralized economical and political system. This state, which was built on a Communist ideology, was eventually transformed into a totalitarian state, in which the Communist leadership had complete control over the country. However, this project of creating a unified, centralized socialist state proved problematic for several reasons. First, the Soviets underestimated the degree to which the non-Russian ethnic groups in the country (which comprised more than fifty percent of the total population of the Soviet Union) would resist assimilation into a Russianized State. Second, their economic planning failed to meet the needs of the State, which was caught up in a vicious arms race with the United States.
This led to gradual economic decline, eventually necessitating the need for reform. Finally, the ideology of Communism, which the Soviet Government worked to instill in the hearts and minds of its population, never took firm root, and eventually lost whatever influence it had originally carried. By the time of the 1985 rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, the country was in a situation of severe stagnation, with deep economic and political problems which sorely needed to be addressed and overcome. Recognizing this, Gorbachev introduced a two-tiered policy of reform. On one level, he initiated a policy of glasnost, or freedom of speech.
On the other level, he began a program of economic reform known as perestroika, or rebuilding. What Gorbachev did not realize was that by giving people complete freedom of expression, he was unwittingly unleashing emotions and political feelings that had been pent up for decades, and which proved to be extremely powerful when brought out into the open. Moreover, his policy of economic reform did not have the immediate results he had hoped for and had publicly predicted. The Soviet people consequently used their newly allotted freedom of speech to criticize Gorbachev for his failure to improve the economy.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union began on the peripheries, in the non-Russian areas. The first region to produce mass, organized dissent was the Baltic region, where, in 1987, the government of Estonia demanded autonomy. This move was later followed by similar moves in Lithuania and Latvia, the other two Baltic republics. The nationalist movements in the Baltics constituted a strong challenge to Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost. He did not want to crack down too severely on the participants in these movements, yet at the same time, it became increasingly evident that allowing them to run their course would spell disaster for the Soviet Union, which would completely collapse if all of the periphery republics were to demand independence.
After the initiative from Estonia, similar movements sprang up all over the former Soviet Union. In the Transcaucasus region (in the South of the Soviet Union), a movement developed inside the Armenian-populated autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabagh, in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Armenian population of this region demanded that they be granted the right to secede and join the Republic of Armenia, with whose population they were ethnically linked. Massive demonstrations were held in Armenia in solidarity with the secessionists in Nagorno-Karabagh. The Gorbachev government refused to allow the population of Nagorno-Karabagh to secede, and the situation developed into a violent territorial dispute, eventually degenerating into an all-out war which continues unabated until the present day.
Once this “Pandora’s box” had been opened, nationalist movements emerged in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Byelorussia, and the Central Asian republics. The power of the Central Government was considerably weakened by these movements; they could no longer rely on the cooperation of Government figures in the republics. Finally, the situation came to a head in August of 1991. In a last-ditch effort to save the Soviet Union, which was floundering under the impact of the political movements which had emerged since the implementation of Gorbachev’s glasnost, a group of “hard-line” Communists organized a coup d’etat.
They kidnapped Gorbachev, and then, on August 19 of 1991, they announced on state television that Gorbachev was very ill and would no longer be able to govern. The country went into an uproar. Massive protests were staged in Moscow, Leningrad, and many of the other major cities of the Soviet Union. When the coup organizers tried to bring in the military to quell the protestors, the soldiers themselves rebelled, saying that they could not fire on their fellow countrymen. After three days of massive protest, the coup organizers surrendered, realizing that without the cooperation of the military, they did not have the power to overcome the power of the entire population of the country.
After the failed coup attempt, it was only a few months until the Soviet Union completely collapsed. Both the government and the people realized that there was no way to turn back the clock; the massive demonstrations of the “August days” had demonstrated that the population would accept nothing less than democracy. Gorbachev conceded power, realizing that he could no longer contain the power of the population. On December 25, 1991, he resigned. By January of 1992, by popular demand, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In its place, a new entity was formed. It was called the “Commonwealth of Independent Republics,” and was composed of most of the independent countries of the former Soviet Union. While the member countries had complete political independence, they were linked to other Commonwealth countries by economic, and, in some cases, military ties.
Now that the Soviet Union, with its centralized political and economic system, has ceased to exist, the fifteen newly formed independent countries which emerged in its aftermath are faced with an overwhelming task. They must develop their economies, reorganize their political systems, and, in many cases, settle bitter territorial disputes. A number of wars have developed on the peripheries of the former Soviet Union. Additionally, the entire region is suffering a period of severe economic hardship. However, despite the many hardships facing the region, bold steps are being taken toward democratization, reorganization, and rebuilding in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union www.coldwar.org/articles/90s/fall_of_the_soviet_union.asp
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