89 The Collapse of the Soviet Union

The Collapse of the Soviet Union

There are as many explanations for the collapse of the Soviet Union as there are politcal scientists. I believe there are economic, political, social, and geographic explanations for this historic event. I will list some of the possible explanations below. I think this information, and the material in your text, should give you a better understanding of one of the most significant events of the 20th century. Remember, anything that is not clear to you, just Ask A Question!

Possible Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991:

1. The Country was too big!: At the height of its power, the Soviet Union encompassed 1/6 the land area of the planet, had 11 time zones, and 37,000 miles of boundaries and frontiers. Many geographers would argue that this sheer size was unmanageable poitically, economically, and culturally.

2. The Country contained too many diverse national groups.: As the Soviet Union expanded during the first half of this century, national groups were swallowed up. The multinational state that was created became increasingly hard to manage. Russians, of course, assumed power and control over the minority groups, but the desire for autonomy did not die. Latvians, Kazaks, Georgians, and many others never lost their desire for self-rule, and their hatred of Russians. When the opportunity presented itself in the late 1980s, these groups jumped at their chance.

3. The Soviet consumer was forgotten.: There is no denying the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union achieved some amazing growth this century. Soviet citizens could be justifiably proud of the achievements in technology, weaponry, science, medicine, and space. Only one small problem: the average consumer, living in a country with over 1/4 the world’s trees, could not buy toilet paper! The Soviet consumer faced shortages and inefficiencies in every aspect of the consumer goods sector of the economy. Napoleon said that revolutions start when the people are denied bread- not too far from the truth in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev tried reforms (perestroika), but it was too little too late.

4. Agriculture remained a problem.: Despite some progress, the Soviet system of state and collective farms failed to deliver sufficient agricultural output. Food shortages were common, choice was poor, and quality was variable. This country always suffered difficult environmental conditions for agriculture; soils are generally poor and large areas are either too cold or too dry for farming. When those factors are combined with the lack of incentives in the Societ system, the result is inefficiency. I recall saying to some students in the early 1980s, that the almost hysterical joy that greeted the arrival of McDonald’s was testimony to the problems in the Soviet system.

5. The war in Afghanistan.: There are those who equate the Soviet Union’s involvement in the Afghanistan civil war with America’s involvement in Vietnam. The war was unpopular in the Soviet Union and led to anti-war protests in the country. Some believe that many citizens were emboldened by those protests of the mid-1980s.

6. The democracy movements in Eastern Europe.: The bravery and success of the anti-communist protests in Poland and Hungary gave the Soviet citizens hope that they too could effect a change in the political system.

7. Star Wars.: The arms race placed a tremendous burden on the Soviet Union’s budget (as it did on our own). The military build-up in the United States during the 1980s may have convinced the Soviets that they simply could not keep pace with the Americans.

“Original document by Peter Turner licensed CC BY”


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World Regional Geography by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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