Communism East Europe Essay Research Paper Communism

Communism East Europe Essay, Research Paper 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

Communism East Europe Essay, Research Paper

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

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 D?tente 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. page 494

(48) Ibid., page 495

(49) Ibid.

(50) Ibid., page 497

(51) Ibid., page 498

(52) Ibid.


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