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Russia - Without the Propaganda - Part One: Rise of Communism to 1991

Politics / Russia Apr 28, 2020 - 05:59 PM GMT

By: Raymond_Matison


This set of two articles is being created to investigate Russia’s embrace and evolution from Communism, political development of their new state, advance of their market economy, current influence in the world regarding regional conflicts affecting their near geographical neighbors, and potential threat to the United States. 

This first article reviews major events leading to the Russian Communist revolution in 1917, through the two world wars and subsequent Cold War to the ultimate unraveling of the Soviet Union.  The second article in this series looks at the development of a new Russia – without the propaganda.  Consequently, that article looks at facts and some statistics rather than politicized opinions of proponents or opponents.  One can lie also with statistics, but less so, and they tell a story that the reader himself can evaluate and confirm either to accept or reject. 

Since the beginning of the 20th century Soviet Union’s or Russia’s military force has participated directly or indirectly in WWI, WWII, Korea, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria.  Despite the world being a huge space, America also has been a participant in these same countries, and over the last several decades the U.S. has identified certain countries as formidable rivals or even as “enemies endangering our national security”.  Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and even Venezuela are on this list.  Curiosity caused this author to investigate the reasons why these less economically developed and militarily weaker countries are such a concern to the all-powerful United States.  Those wishing to review this author’s investigations into China, Iran, Vietnam, or North Korea may do so by accessing Market Oracle’s Author’s Archive, for those interested in Russia, read on.

For decades in both Russia and America, citizens have been fed an unrelenting stream of propaganda by their governments about the nefarious and underhanded affairs that the “other” country is plotting and executing against “us”.  If one were to believe all the actions or crimes attributed to Russia – then without them America would have fair elections, it could drastically reduce its global military commitment to Europe and Asia by reducing hundreds of its foreign military bases, our nation’s citizens could experience a more secure, prosperous, and happier way of life, and the world would be far more peaceful.  Reality, of course, is different from the propaganda.

This author is no expert on Communism or Russia, but to prepare for these two articles the following expert books were read from which facts, sentences or paragraphs were freely quoted. Thanks to the material provided by these knowledgeable historians and authors, we have ample material for the kaleidoscope presented.  This writer added two charts and a table in Part 2, in order to clarify concepts written about by the expert authors.  In addition, any evaluation, prognosis, opinions or conclusions are this writers alone.

The Rise and Fall of Communism, Archie Brown, 2009

Russia, What Everyone Needs to Know, Timothy J. Colton, 2016

Russia’s Crony Capitalism, Anders Aslund, 2019

Mr. Putin, Operative in the Kremlin; Fiona Hill, Clifford G. Gaddy, 2015

At a Crossroads, Russia in the Global Economy, S.Kulik, N.Maslenikov, I.Jurgens, 2019 

A Century of War, F. William Engdahl, 2011

Myths, Lies, and Oil Wars, F. William Engdahl, 2012

Manifest Destiny, F. William Engdahl, 2018

The Russian Economy: Prospects for Putin 4.0, Editors: Andris Kudors, Janis Hermanis: multiple authors, Centre for East European Studies, Univ. of Latvia Press, 2020

Wikipedia was an excellent source for some current biographies, geography, population statistics, and other information.

It is a humbling task to describe a century of change of a country as large and complex as Russia in two brief reports.  Accordingly, choices necessarily were made as to which events or information to include, limiting this writer’s earnest attempt to remain unbiased.

Developments Leading to Socialism, Marxism, and Communism

Prior to 1648, monarchical states were the dominant political system in Europe under a Holy Roman Empire. The Protestant split from Catholicism led to a thirty year war which ultimately resulted in new principles set in law for states and sovereignty.  Under the Westphalian system of co-existing sovereign states established by treaty in 1648, states would exist within recognized borders, each state’s sovereignty was recognized by others, some principles of noninterference were established, and religious differences between states were tolerated.  States might be monarchies or republics, and while war was not eliminated, yet it was mitigated by diplomacy and balance-of-power politics. The object of balance-of-power was to prevent one state from becoming so powerful it could conquer others and destroy world order. 

One can conclude that, while the balance of power concept might seem preferable to the pre-Westphalian treaty wars, “preventing one state from becoming so powerful it could conquer others” may require starting war by the existing dominant countries stifling the growing, developing, or offending country so as to keep the currently dominant or even declining countries in continuing power, and thereby maintain the then-existing world order.  Thus, balance-of-power politics can be quite disruptive to world peace.

Technological developments of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s provided incredible new profit opportunities for those who had capital and the means to produce or manufacture goods - and dreary, oppressive, repetitive low-wage jobs for everyone else.  This income disparity led to consideration of economic and political systems which might share more of the capitalist’s profit with the common worker masses.

Many different, and idealistic, notions of communism had come into existence centuries before Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto in 1847.  Marx (apparently) sincerely believed that under communism – the future society of his imagination which he saw as an inevitable and ultimate stage of human development – people would live more freely than ever before.  Yet his vision of the universal liberation on humankind did not include any safeguards for individual liberty.  There turned out a wide gulf between the original theory and the subsequent practice of Communist rule because those who took power in the twentieth century Communist revolution were not liberators.

Socialism and dictatorship of the proletariat was to be an interim step to Marx’s idealistic Communist state, but the commitment of Marx and Lenin to the cause of a proletarian revolution was what made them describe their manifesto as Communist.  Communism was the most important and violent political phenomenon of the first half of the twentieth century and became the world’s dominant international political movement. For believers it was a source of hope for a radiant future, and for others being caught up in the violent revolution it was the greatest threat to mankind on the face of the earth.

Marxist theory as interpreted by Vladimir Lenin and subsequently refashioned by Josef Stalin in Russia and by Mao Zedong in China, became a rationalization for ruthless single party dictatorship.  Lenin heatedly defended the use of terror; for Lenin, the ends justified the means.  Cheka, Lenin’s state security organization in the years of its existence while Lenin was still alive killed some 140,000 people. It, and its subsequent incarnations became a feared instrument of mass arrests as a pitiless killing machine.

Communist systems were established in two predominantly peasant societies - the largest country in the world, Imperial Russia, which became the Soviet Union, and in the state with the largest population, China.  For many Asian Communists, hostility to colonialism and hostility to capitalism went together, for the kind of capitalist system they first encountered was one which seemed to involve extreme exploitation of the local population by foreign business.  The terms Communism and Socialism have been used interchangeably, but Communism had been a revolutionary working class movement, while Socialism, over time, became more of a political party election-driven middle class movement – even as socialism was to lead to Communism.

Communism had broader appeal in peasant societies than in the most advanced industrialized countries of the world.  The income and wealth disparity between a tsar and peasant were extreme, if not infinite; whereas income and wealth disparity in developed countries was far lower.  As a consequence of America’s relative affluence, Communist influence could not gain adherents in the U.S., and America was called by Stalin the “exceptional” nation.  To the extent income disparity has grown in the U.S. over the last fifty years, it explains much about the gains in U.S. socialist politics over this time period, as a Communist masquerading as a Socialist has gained considerable public approval in America’s current 2020 presidential contest.

The defining characteristics of a Communist political system are as follows: all ministries, military, police or judiciary were supervised by an appropriately specialized department of the Central Committee of the party.  All institutions were overseen by the monopoly organs of the Communist party.  It was the party which dictated policy in the name of the proletariat.  Courts and judges were not independent.  Bureaucratic centralism became the codename for a rigidly hierarchical, severely disciplined party in which rights of discussion and debate were rigorously circumscribed. Even more power lay with its inner body, the Politburo and the hands of the individual who stood at the apex of the system, the General Secretary.  While oligarchical rule has been the norm in a majority of Communist countries at most times, the power of the top leader in a number of instances has been such that the system became essentially autocratic – a personal dictatorship.

Another defining feature of a consolidated communist system is non-capitalist ownership of the means of production, and linked to this - the dominance of a command economy.  Non-agricultural production within established Communist systems was state wide and controlled.  The absence of private ownership and a market economy meant that the state had ruthlessly taken away factories and farms from their private owners, and controlled future career possibilities of all its citizens. To fall foul of the state authorities at times led to imprisonment or death.  Dissent publicly of state authorities meant that a person’s career was threatened, for there was no one else you could turn to for employment.  Thus dissent was severely quashed.

Prelude to World War One

With British control of the seas and world shipping trade, unquestioned domination of international banking and control of the world’s raw materials through its colonial empire, Britain in 1847 formally advocated “free trade” through which their dominance grew at the expense of less-developed nations.  Under the hegemony of free trade, British merchant banks reaped enormous profits – at the expense of declining British manufacturing and agriculture. Bankers were willing to sacrifice domestic industry and investment, and open the floodgates to cheap foreign labor policy.  The more British merchant houses extended credit for world trade, the more the domestic economic basis of the English nation-state deteriorated.

Due to this policy, England experienced the start of its worst and longest depression in 1873.  Germany, by contrast, had initiated a series of nationalist, protectionist measures which resulted in the most dramatic rates of industrial growth seen in the past two hundred years.  Towards the final decade of the 19th century, British banking and political elites had begun to express first signs of alarm over the industrial emergence of Germany as the largest threat to Britain’s global hegemony. 

By 1912, both England and Germany knew that oil was the fuel of its economic future, but neither country had a fuel source within its own borders.  Germany was building a railway line to Baghdad as Russia was building its trans-Siberian Railway to traverse its kingdom to Vladivostok. Such transport infrastructure would increase tariff-protected trade, and avoid the costs of Britain’s ruling the seas.  Many in the British establishment had determined well before 1914, that war was the only course suitable to bring the European situation under control – for Britain to retain its global hegemony.

Global forces of the industrial revolution, capitalism, colonialism, and communism were coalescing to produce an explosive cauldron of unfolding historic events.  Colonialism, which required the economic and educational suppression of peoples in resource rich countries, was spawning resistance to colonialists.  Capitalism, which usurped the labor of citizens in sovereign states while enriching owners of capital and manufacturing fostered anti-capitalist sentiment.  Communism called for workers to unite in a worldwide revolution to overthrow capitalism.  Britain the global hegemon of the time foresaw its own likely decline, requiring it to utilize the balance-of-power strategy by surreptitiously drawing Germany and Russia into a war.  Thus the seeds for future conflicts were then planted, and today we still live with the consequences of Britain’s momentous geo-strategic, historic decisions.

By August 4, 1914, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia (members of the 1907 Triple Entente) were at war with the so-called Central Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.  America was enticed to join England, and Germany lost the war.  The subsequent war reparations guaranteed to eliminate Germany from being an economic or military competitor to England.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 also eliminated it from being a competitor to England.  Finally, the carving up of the Ottoman Empire, creating the Middle East of England’s design further promoted maintaining its hegemony. 

It is estimated that a total of approximately 21 million (military and civilian) lives were lost due to this conflict, with an additional 21 million wounded in WWI.

Russian Revolution

Before the revolution, 80-90% of the Russian population were peasants living at subsistence level at the bottom of the social pyramid.  At the time of the outbreak of WWI less than 40% of the population of its empire was literate.  Kirgiz, Uzbeks, Chechens, Turkmen, and Tajiks all had literacy rates below 5%. They lived miserable lives, only an iota above the level of serfs. 

On the heels of two million military deaths, four million falling as prisoners, inflation, and bread riots - a result of WWI - tsar Nicolas abdicated leading to a Russian republic. Marxist party Bolsheviks overthrew the fledgling government, and Lenin was appointed as head of the Council of People’s Commissars, the first Soviet government.

The Revolution of 1917 did produce changes, for example the revolution had in rapid succession ousted both tsar and God.  All means of manufacturing, production, farming, and all private housing became property of the state.  Over subsequent decades millions of Russian peasants were given an education and literacy rates improved.

At the outset, Communist parties did not call their own systems communist, but rather, socialist.  For them communism was to be a later stage in the development of society – the ultimate stage. In this later stage freedom was to be combined with equality while the distinction between mental and physical labor would disappear – along with the state.  So long as the state exists there was no freedom.  When there will be freedom, there will be no state.  From 1918 onwards the gulf between socialists who accepted some principles of democracy and Communists who rationalized dictatorship in the name of class power of the proletariat grew ever wider. 

International Communism

The Communist International movement organization, Comintern, retained a long term goal of Communist takeover of Western Europe.  Communists went on the offensive against social democrats while Communist leaders and theoreticians viewed the democratic socialist parties of Western Europe as their most dangerous ideological enemies.  Communist parties throughout the world were expected not to cooperate with non-Communist socialists. 

Comintern had taken a keen interest in setting up a Commusist Party in China and succeeded in establishing a socialist youth league. One of those influenced was Mao Zedong, who formed a communist group in Hunan.  Soviet Union had been keen to maintain good relations with China, which it saw as an ally gainst British imperialism.  Mao in particular developed the idea that a rural-based revolution was strategically preferable to the more orthodox Marxist and Leninist notion of city-based seizure of power. In China a nationalisst revolution in 1911 had overthrown the imperial dyasty.  In a secret deal made in 1917, Britain and France agreed that German colonies in China would become Japanese possessions after the allies had won.

Over ensuing decades since its publication, Marx’s theories had taken increasing hold over hundreds of millions of people in Europe and around the world who lived hopeless or economically depressing lives, to whom communism or socialism offered hope to improve their miserable existence.  Political opposition parties formed and gained power in parliaments, as a parliamentary regime can be just as good an instrument for the dictatorship of the proletariat as it is an instrument for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

In November of 1918, immediately after WWI there was turmoil in Germany as revolutionary uprisings had taken place in many parts of the country.  The German social democratic movement was the largest in Europe at the end of WWI, and Emperor Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate as two socialist parties became major partners in a coalition government.

Socialists embraced a far wider range of political parties, movements and governments than those which accepted Marxist-Leninist ideology.  Governments have been formed following free elections, in countries as diverse as Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Australia and Israel by people who regarded themselves as socialists.  These parties have become increasingly content to pursue greater social justice within an essentially market economy in which private ownership remains the rule.  

By 1923 it was evident that Communists were not about to come to power in any European country apart from the European republics of the Soviet Union.  Stalin recognized the failure of international revolution, particularly in Germany.  Accordingly, the Soviet state had to accept a temporary accommodation with capitalism, or the German style national socialism.  The doctrine of peaceful coexistence enunciated by Lenin became the foreign policy of socialism.  In Germany, which had at the time the largest Communist Party in Western Europe, there was not only revulsion against Nazism and fascism but also a response to the failures of capitalism – especially the existence of mass unemployment during the 1930s.

Communist attempts to consolidate and extend its power required ruthless deportation of its own and neighboring country citizens to Siberian labor camps and direct elimination of critics and opponents.  A study of political prisoners in the Soviet Union arrives at a figure of 28.7 million forced laborers over the whole Soviet period.  A malicious fabricated famine in Ukraine killed some 8 million people. Total number of lives destroyed by the Stalinist regime just in the 1930s is close to 10-11 million people.

World War Two Period

By the end of 1933, 60-100,000 German Communists had been interned by the Nazis. By 1945, more than half of 300,000 Communist party members had been in Nazi jails or concentration camps, and 20,000 German Communists had been killed by the Nazis, This speaks forcefully not only about the philosophical differences between Nazis and Communists, but its physical manifestation.  Authoritarian regimes throughout most of Eastern Europe and Facism in Italy drove the Communist parties underground, including France, which surpringly had the strongest Communist party in Europe.

As a result of Stalin’s failure to secure an anti-German military alliance with Britain and France, he decided to seek an understanding with Hitler. The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact in late August 1939 contained secret clauses agreeing to the partition of Poland, and to Soviet repossession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The about-turn signaled by a Nazi-Soviet agreement came as a profound shock to tens of thousands of Communists in different continents who were committed to world revolution – not accommodation with socialists.  As a result of the agreement, on the first day of September 1939, Nazi Germany attached Poland both by land and air.  In response, Britain and France two days later declared war on Germany – and WWII had started.

Hitler’s Germany made a massive surprise attack on Russia, but got bogged down in its attempt to conquer Moscow during a particularly harsh winter, and indefensibly long supply lines.  England had masterfully enticed America to join the fray, even as Hitler foolishly then declared war on the United States on Dec 11, 1941. 

The Soviet Union not only suffered the greatest losses, but also contributed most to the ultimate defeat of the Nazis. The official figure for war dead now given in Russia is approximately twenty seven million.  In the battle for Moscow, which lasted from September 1941 until April 1942, 926,000 Soviet soldiers were killed. Soviet losses in that one battle came to more than the combined casualties of Britain and the United States in the whole of WWII – USA had suffered a total of 400,000 casualties in the war, while Britain lost 350,000.  Arguably, most Soviet soldiers were fighting for their homeland, not for Stalinism or Marxism-Leninism, but challenging conscription was not an option in the Communist system.

The total number Russians killed was five times higher than the number of German war dead. Politically, the Nazis saw communists as their most bitter enemies, and so Communist party members were killed in cold blood.  On the Eastern Front, Nazi Germans exercised barbarism on an unprecedented scale, its declared intention was extermination and enslavement. German units would shoot a hundred civilians in retaliation for every German killed by partisans.

Red Army war dead numbered nine million, and almost eighteen million Soviet civilians were killed in the war. Stalin’s fault in this loss was immense, as he had killed of a large proportion of his senior army officers in a 1937-8 purge, fearing counter-revolutionary forces.  For example, 56% of the delegates to the 1934 congress, and 71% of the Central Committee were, arrested, interrogated, and executed as turncoats by 1939. In Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936-1939, 1,548,000 were arrested and 682,000 were shot.

When the remnants of Hitler’s army surrendered at Stalingrad, this was a massive boost for the Communist movement worldwide.  It greatly strengthened Stalin’s hand in his negotiations with Roosevelt and Churchill.  War turned out to be the prelude to, and facilitator of, the Communist seizure of power, particularly in Eastern Europe.  When Soviet troops finally entered Germany in 1945 they took brutal revenge on the civilian population as well as German combatants.

It is estimated that approximately 75 million people died in WWII, of which about 20 million were military personnel.

The Early Cold War Period

The Communist Party allowed not the slightest challenge to its own hegemony.  No other party was allowed to exist and no other organization was allowed any authority.  Stalin ruled as a dictator with an iron fist, until his death in 1953.  Nikita Khrushchev became the First Secretary of the Communist Party in 1953, and became premier in 1956.

As the greatest stimulus to change was failure, Yugoslav Communists started to question the Soviet model they had earlier uncritically admired.  Yugoslavia had become the first Communist state to attempt to reconstruct and revise the Soviet model.  The main direction of the reforms undertaken in Yugoslavia were towards decentralization.  In 1950, Tito introduced a new law whereby social ownership by the workers of their own factories was to replace bureaucratic state ownership and control.  The move in the direction of worker’s control of factories was the beginning of a process by which work councils did gradually acquire greater powers.

Collectivization of agriculture in Yugoslavia was abandoned in the first half of the 1950s.  The party also gradually accepted a reduced role in economic management.  The Soviet planning system, with its compulsory targets, gave way to indicative planning and a gradual move to market prices, so that by the mid-1960s market socialism became another distinctive feature of the Yugoslav model.

So long as the Yugoslav system existed and increasingly diverged from the Soviet model, it was seen by Stalin as a dangerous deviation to be eliminated. Fighting Titoism (the policies of the Yugoslav leader Tito) and national deviations now became a major theme of soviet foreign policy.  Strong domestic position of Tito’s Communists had enabled them to defy the Soviet leadership.  By the later 1960s, after the death of Stalin in 1953, much power had passed from the center to the republic.  Thus a federalism of substance, rather than simply of form, became and additional feature of the Yugoslav model that distinguished it from what was to be found within the Soviet Union.

In 1956, Premier Khrushchev who was a Stalinist, shook the foundations of Communism by revealing and denouncing Stalin’s purges at their Party Congress.  Thus, after decades of adulation of the man who had led the Soviet Union for a generation, Communists worldwide had to come to terms with the fact that Stalin was, to put it bluntly, a mass murderer.

Khrushchev pursued a policy of peaceful coexistence with the West, and improved the lives of ordinary citizens by bringing forth a less repressive era.  Khrushchev emphasized the development on nuclear weapons, ballistic missile production, and space exploration, rather than conventional forces.  He gave the Russian territory of Crimea to Ukraine, and initiated the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.  He came up with the idea of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, which when discovered by the U.S. could have started a nuclear conflict.  After a standoff, Khrushchev agreed to remove the weapons when President Kennedy agreed to remove U.S. nuclear missiles out of Turkey.    

In January 1968, Hungarians launched the Prague Spring as five thousand students gathered at the Budapest Technological University and produced what amounted to a revolutionary manifesto consisting of sixteen points.  The very first on the list was the demand that Soviet troops leave Hungarian soil immediately.  On that same day the gigantic statue of Stalin in central Budapest was toppled to the cheers of tens of thousands of Hungarians. Events continued to spiral out of their control - including the lynching of particularly hated Communist secret policemen.

Soviet leadership feared that the Hungarian infection could travel across Eastern Europe and the entire bloc might be affected. Therefore, a decision was made to use overwhelming military force to put an end to the counter-revolutionary turmoil.  The Hungarian revolution was brutally suppressed by Soviet troops with the killing of 2500 Hungarians. Over the next few years more than 100,000 people were arrested on counter-revolutionary charges and almost 26,000 imprisoned.  Soviet hegemony within the bloc was brutally maintained.

The Hungarian revolution was anti-Soviet but not anti-socialist as its leaders were members of the Communist party.  It must be acknowledged that in all countries during the Soviet expansion, many people joined the Communist Party without embracing communist convictions simply to improve job or career opportunities and membership benefits. Since not all party members were committed Communists, it follows that these party members were also altering the system from the inside.

In Czechoslovakia there were no Soviet troops in the country when the Communists seized full power in 1948.  Czechoslovakia had been a democratic, and tolerant country which had no anti-Russian tradition, and almost 70% of the population freely voted for some form of socialism.  However, increasingly over time there were revisionist stirrings in Eastern Europe since economic failure had become a fact of life.  In 1968, worker revolts and dramatic changes from reformist activity in Czechoslovakia were led by Communist Party intellectuals.  As conflict rose between Communist leadership in Moscow wanting to maintain control, and those seeking further liberalization, Prague was invaded and occupied by about a half a million Warsaw Pact troops, quickly extinguishing liberalization trends.

In the Soviet Union of 1939, only 11% of the population had received more than an elementary education.  Aspects of communism included imposed full employment and reasonably good education in general literacy, mathematics, and plenty of engineering.  It is a feature of the Communist system that studies or a major in music, arts, sports, and science were less prone to Communist dogma, and so as their public chose to avoid the political oppression caused these fields to blossom.  By 1984, the percentage who had attended at least secondary school had risen to 87%.  The more educated the population became, the more they were inclined to seek information denied to them by the party state authorities. By the 1970s there were more highly educated people in the Soviet Union than ever before.  In the middle of the decade there were four and a half million students in higher education institutions.  It was, however, a double-edged sword so far as the longer-term viability of the system was concerned.  By nurturing a highly educated population, Communism contained the seeds of its own destruction.  A generation later most saw Communism as a body of doctrine which was fundamentally flawed and a set of institutions fit only for dismantling. 

Gradual Unravelling of the Soviet Union

The Brezhnev era, 1964-1982, saw rebirth and rapid growth of Russian nationalism.  Russian nationalists who remained within the Communist party were opposed to internationalism and to Western influence.  Thus Russian nationalism was corrosive of the Soviet System.  Over the long run, those gradualists who worked to change the system from within played a more important role in transforming the policy and character of the Soviet State.  The rate of economic growth was in long-term decline and in Brezhnev’s last year had virtually ground to a halt.

For a political system based on worker revolution, worker unrest posed special problems for a Communist system.  The first manifestation of working class protest in Poland came in late June 1956, when factory workers in Poznah demonstrated to demand higher wages.  The turmoil in Poland then stopped short of revolution or armed conflict, but resistance continued to fester.  In October 1978, the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla had been elected pope (Pope John Paul II).  In August 1988, with a wave of worker strikes taking place, the Polish government offered to open talks with Solidarity’s leader Lech Walesa, whose worker’s union membership exceeded 10 million - on the legalization of Solidarity if he would get the strikers back to work. The Soviet leadership again were acutely concerned not only about what was happening in Poland itself but about its possible effect in other Communist countries. Without the Polish people’s religious convictions and courage, it is likely that the yoke of Communism would have taken much longer to break up.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, Politburo’s youngest member was selected to lead the Soviet Union, following the death of three premiers in a twenty eight month period.  Despite an acknowledged economic crisis due to a fall in the price of oil and growing governance problems, Gorbachev believed that the Soviet system was re-formable.  He believed that the political system could be significantly liberalized and decision making decentralized.  He initiated policies of “perestroika” (reform, restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness).  Soon perestroika came to mean radical reform, decentralizing industrial decision making, and later the dismantling of the Soviet political system.  Glasnost was interpreted by the people as “free speech”.  Although the intent of these policies was to revitalize Communism, glasnost morphed into a “Moscow Spring”.  His foreign policy of negating the use of force led to a dramatic reduction in East-West tension, and more liberal thinking broke the ice for arms-control agreements with the United States. Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev and U.S. President Reagan signed the INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty in 1987, which eliminated a whole class of nuclear weapons from Europe, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991 - substantially reducing the threat of nuclear war.  Gorbachev in his farewell address said that the Cold War had been ended and the threat of world war was removed, for which Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

The sense of belonging to an international Communist movement and the aspiration to build communism – had disappeared totally by the end of 1989.  The dismantling of Soviet Communism was still incomplete at the end of 1989, but enough had changed for the USSR to be no longer a Communist system.  Soviet Union by the end of 1991 had ceased to be a functioning command economy without becoming a market economy.  As an increasingly dysfunctional hybrid, it added a new pressure from below for change to the Communist system. That change was promoted and led by Boris Yeltsin, who embraced the resurgent Russian nationalism, chaired the commission for a new and more liberal Constitution, which called for a multi-party representative democracy.  In 1991 he was elected as President of what became the Russian Federation.  Yeltsin took a daring step to abolish the Soviet Union; he understood that it was unsustainable and was convinced that Russia needed to rid itself of its imperial mission.  The break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 into fifteen successor states was an unintended consequence of the new freedoms and partial democratization of the Soviet political system.  There was no longer an international Communist movement, and member states of the Warsaw Pact were no longer Communist.

Fear of the state authorities was removed, liberty was introduced, competitive elections took place, and democratic accountability emerged in the USSR.  Yeltsin was the politician who did more than any other to bring about the state’s disintegration by suspending the activity of the Communist Party in the Russian Republic - and before the end of the month it had been disbanded.  How the Communist-free Russia nation evolves and develops is the topic of Part 2.

Raymond Matison
Mr. Matison was an Institutional Investor magazine top ten financial analyst of the insurance industry, founded Kidder Peabody’s investment banking activities in the insurance industry, and was a Director, Investment Banking in Merrill Lynch Capital Markets.   He can be e-mailed at

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