The Soviet Union and the Legacy of Communist Rule
The December of 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union—and with it, an entire era. Like the February Revolution of 1917 that ended tsardom, the events leading up to August 1991 took place in rapid succession, with both spontaneity and, to some degree, retrospective inevitability. To understand the demise of Soviet Union is to understand the communist party-state system itself. Although the particular happenings of the Gorbachev years undoubtedly accelerated its ruin, there existed fundamental flaws within the Soviet system that would be had been proven ultimately fatal. The USSR became a past chapter of history because it was impossible to significantly reform the administrative command system without destroying its very core, and because Gorbachev's "democratic socialism" was unattainable without abandoning the very notion of Soviet socialism itself. As R. Strayer had pointed out in Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse?, the USSR was held together under Communist rule with "a mixture of ideological illusion and raw coercion" (Strayer, 36). The Gorbachev era saw both of these two bases of the party-state's power falling apart.
By the mid-1980s, urbanization and higher education had transformed the Soviet society from a relatively homogenous one into one that was considerably diverse with a sizable middle-class. Educated and exposed to Western culture, the professionals and the white collars were far more likely to understand the Soviet Union's weaknesses and the system's fallacies than their counterparts decades ago. Coupled with the intelligentsia's anti-establishment tradition (as embodied by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakhorav), this new class of economic elite had their interests and values invested in what was initially a long-needed push for reform but evolved into a revolution from below.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the new General Secretariat in 1985, seemed to represent this new generation of power. After two decades of decaying social and economical conditions, it was clear that restructuring of governmental policies were in dire need. As it was the only legal party allowed in the USSR until the repeal of Article Six of the Constitution in 1990, the Communist Party, although conceptualized as a homogenous dictating organization, had long harbored many variants of ideologies. The leadership of Gorbachev was an accumulated manifestation of the reformist wing within the ruling elites. Such a wing had always existed despite hard partiinost, and to Strayer they were the "alternative tradition" which saw "Leninism and democracy, the plan and the market, as compatible with each other" (Strayer, 87). Gorbachev was a student of Khrushchev's "thaw" who moved much more skillfully than his ideological predecessor at pushing for real reforms—reforms that eventually destroyed the system they were supposed to save in a great stroke of irony.
However, it is true that Gorbachev did not fully...