I have little reason to disbelieve that the utter bankruptcy of the system is the main reason. The system started to fail in the late 60s, due primarily to the economic crisis brought about by the problems in central planning, gross incompetence of ruling elites, failure to reform the system and gigantic military budget.
Alexandre Zinoviev (1922 – 2006), who was a Russian sociologist, writer and previously a Soviet dissident, mentioned another important factor that is seldom discussed – the role of Western propaganda, in subverting the Soviet Union. This resulted in the upper crust of Soviet society becoming eager converts of Western (capitalism) ideology, and thus abandoning their previous faith in socialism. Instead of carrying out reforms to improve the system, the ruling elites that was lead by Gorbachev systematically dismantled the Soviet system over a period of time. These actions unleashed crisis upon crisis to the Soviet Union, that eventually killed the Soviet Union.
I believe China would just be as vulnerable if Deng Xiao Ping was not there back in 1989 to prevent the Gorbachev like leaders like Zhao Ziyang and others to dismantle the system. Otherwise, China would also experience collapse and break-up like the Soviet Union.
Excerpts from Zinoviev article: Supranational and Russia
IMPENDING ECONOMIC AND ADMINISTRATIVE CRISIS
Towards the end of the nineteen-sixties the Soviet economy entered into the phase of stagnation. It was at a disadvantage compared to the brisk Western economy of that period. This, along with the subversive drone of the Western propaganda, proved to be an important factor, conducive to a specific frame of mind of certain groups of the Soviet people. Having lost faith in the quick advent of the Communist plenty (‘to each according to their needs’), they began to look to the West as ‘paradise on earth’.
The Marxist-Leninist classics asserted that the communist society was crisis-free. This belief was shared by both communist and Western leaders and ideologists, including anti-communist and anti-Soviet ones. But the crisis-free postulate might only be valid, if there were no instances of crises except in capitalist societies. It is not so. Each society experiences economic crises, depending on the nature of that society. True, there were no capitalist crises in the Soviet society, since it was not capitalist. But it was not exempt from crises as such. In the mid 1980s the communist crisis, first of its kind, began in the Soviet Union. Since there was no scientific understanding of the Soviet society – in fact, its study beyond the dogmas was forbidden – the approaching crisis was simply overlooked, unnoticed (or preferred not to be noticed). The economic situation in the Soviet Union was viewed as an indicator of the lag of the communist economy, while the prospering economy of the West was solely ascribed to capitalism.
That view did not grow on the Soviet soil, but was imposed on the Soviet society from without, by the Western ideology and propaganda. It was assimilated by some Soviet people, because there was absolutely no scientific understanding of the Soviet social order, including its economy. Nor was there adequate understanding of the Western social order (or Westernism, in my terminology). Besides, by that time in certain sections of the Soviet population, especially and primarily in its upper circles, the ‘Westernist’ values practically superseded the system of Communist values.
So what was actually going on in the Soviet Union at that time? The Soviet Union turned into the second superpower of the world. This happened by no means because of the insolvency and stagnation of communist economy, but quite the opposite, because of its wonderfully intensive development. Unfortunately, some people, in their self-bedazzlement, overlook this fact, and others try to falsify it and represent it as a failure. But the truth is that, despite all hardships, the living standards in the Soviet Union rose enormously. Its population increased by nearly 100 million people[i][iii]. People’s demands grew – they became so much more than a loaf of bread and a roof over their heads. They included their own houses and apartments, television-sets, refrigerators, motorcycles, automobiles, etc. And the country was performing stupendous achievements to ensure that its citizens could have relatively high standards of living.
In the postwar years (especially in the so-called ‘stagnation years’ of the 1970s-1980s!) the number of industrial enterprises, establishments and institutions grew dozens of times. Large-scale processes of development and sophistication of the society were going on at an unprecedented speed, unheard-of in the history of mankind. And this was happening in a community of enormous dimensions. All the aspects of life underwent sophistication – education, culture, communications, international ties, etc. Naturally, there emerged inevitable problems and difficulties, which could not be dealt with by the old means. The organizational crisis was looming. But the Soviet leaders and ideologists were unaware of the threat it posed.
The essence of the impending crisis lay in the fact, that the established system of power and government, efficient and successful for the time being, became inadequate under the new conditions. Moreover, as the Soviet society and economy advanced, the inadequacy grew. That process could have been stopped, and the crisis could have been averted or alleviated. No doubt, it could have been done by the means that the Soviet society possessed, i.e. by the communist means. There was no need for the transformation of the social system, quite the opposite – it was necessary and sufficient to improve exactly the communist social structure. It was urgent to enlarge the apparatus of power and government – the Communist Party apparatus, which was inadequately small for the growing number of objects and more complicated conditions of administration, for more sophisticated structure of the society. It was important to strengthen the system of planning and exercise stricter control over the fulfillment of the plans. It was necessary to raise the proficiency of government and administration officials, develop the economic theory for the changing conditions, enhance centralization of economy and management, etc. In short, it was necessary to develop the country along the lines of strengthening and improvement of all the attributes of the communist system – the things that were criticized and mocked at in the West, precisely because they functioned so well and permitted the Soviet Union to overcome all its difficulties.
But the Soviet leaders and their ideological lackeys did quite the opposite. They rushed into Perestroika (‘rebuilding’), the disastrous effect of which was evident from the very beginning. Perestroika unleashed the crisis, which became all-embracing, covering political, economic, social and other spheres. It is well-known what this crisis resulted in, and there is no need to speak about it again.
Why did the top government officials, headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, act so? Can it be explained only by their folly, by the fact that they were thoughtless of the consequences of their actions? I think it can’t. It was a conscious operation, a clandestine coup d’etat, prompted by the West. And, as we have seen, there were no prerequisites for the weakening and destruction of the socialist state and economic systems and other vital aspects of the Soviet society, even if we take into account all the tensions in the Soviet society on the eve of the counter-revolution. Nor did such ideas circulate in any sizable and influential sections of the Soviet population. Destabilization came in the wake of the de facto counter-revolution from the top and engulfed the country, like a sudden epidemic or natural disaster.
SHIFT IN THE SOVIET PEOPLE’S OUTLOOK
Weakening of the ‘iron curtain’, expansion of ties with the West, intensification of the Western propaganda and other factors combined to bring about the turn in the Soviet people’s views on the Western society. During Leonid Brezhnev’s times the West permeated into the internal life of the Soviet society through numerous radio stations, broadcasting in Russian. The Western propaganda inflicted a hard blow on the fundamental principles of the Soviet ideology and shook people’s conviction of the undisputed advantages of the Soviet social order and mode of life over the Western ones. On the one hand, certain negative facts of the Soviet communism became an object of tremendous anti-communist propaganda in the West. Those facts were consistently blown up and brought into focus by the Western companies, broadcasting for Russia . On the other hand, as it turned out, capitalism did not ‘quit the stage of history’, as Marx and Lenin had predicted, but seemingly got stronger and, as the Western propagandists inspired, won the competition with communism in the economic aspect. In that period of time the Soviet economy revealed a tendency towards economic slowdown, while the capitalist West was experiencing a boom. Under the influence of the propaganda the Soviet people’s interests shifted to material and individualistic goals. They fell for the temptation of the Western wealth, idealizing and exaggerating the situation there as paradise on earth.
Let me specifically dwell on two factors, which played an important part in the crisis of the Soviet outlook. The first factor was the scantiness of objective information about the West and the incapability of the Soviet ideological apparatus to counter the Western propaganda with a more or less efficient counterpropaganda. True, the Soviet Union sent dozens of thousands of representatives to the West – diplomats, journalists, scientists, spies, etc. Besides, inside the Soviet Union there were numerous institutions and organizations, engaged in the research of the West. But this gigantic army of ‘experts’ proved to be, with rare exceptions, no more than a horde of hack-workers, parasites, ignoramuses and thieves. And the gigantic ideological apparatus, engaged in the mastication of Marx’s dogmas, was unable to use even a small part of the materials, abundant in the Western mass media, which virtually ‘cried’ about the advantages of the Soviet economy over the Western one.
The second factor was the Soviet elite, who were permitted to get acquainted with the West ‘at first hand’ – by traveling there. Their stay in the West was their privilege as a distinguished group of the Soviet people – politicians, diplomats, cultural workers, academicians, honored intellectuals, party functionaries and government nomenclatura. They saw there what they were permitted and wanted to see in their position – abundance of goods in stores, comfort, excellent service, etc., i.e. the show window, the advertisement, the surface manifestations of the Western economy, rather than its basis, its heart and hidden essence. They compared this splendor with the relatively austere conditions, in which their compatriots lived in the Soviet Union. And nearly all of them shared the opinion, that the ‘paradise on earth’, promised by Marxists, was actually in the West, and the Soviet Union was a kind of a historical ‘black gape’. I emphasize, that such a statement came not from ordinary Soviet people, but from the corrupt elite, which found themselves in exclusive conditions in the West.
They did not have to earn their daily bread, seek jobs, compete with Western professionals, buy or rent a place to live in, pay taxes, worry about medical care, education for their children, work in the conditions of Western companies, experience the negative sides of down-to-earth daily life in the West etc., i.e. they did not immerse themselves in the real life of the Western world with its real hardships, which were described by thousands of honest Western writers and shown in thousands of more or less realistic films. The Soviet elite had a guaranteed position at home in the Soviet Union – housing, salaries, medical care, etc., they were paid by their country and received certain gratification from Western companies. They could spend that money without a foresight that it should be put by for the future. And if they spent it, they could offset their expenses with interest, because they bought certain Western goods, which were items of luxury in the Soviet Union, and speculated. They were guests and idlers in the West, and parasites and speculators in the Soviet Union.
The ideological shift occurred primarily in the minds of the upper circles of the Soviet society, its top leaders, and its intellectual and ideological elite. I emphasize: the crisis of the Soviet society was not primarily economic in essence. It sprang from the top of power and ideology, and its major symptoms were the loss of civic responsibility, the sense of duty to their country and people, and the incapacity to understand the Soviet and the Western economies objectively – even at the level of the common sense, let alone from the scientific perspective. It was these higher strata – not the lower ones – which became pro-Western in their mind-set. They began to covet Western comforts, hoping to preserve what they possessed in the Soviet Union.
Despite all this, the positive trend in the internal social life prevailed, and no matter how discontented were certain groups of population with certain phenomena of Soviet life (and there is no society in which everyone is always content with everything), nobody ever questioned the Soviet social organization and proposed its elimination. The older generations felt its advantages from experience, and the younger ones tasted its fruits, as standards of life were slowly but surely improving. Besides, there was no opposing ideology strong enough for an internal ideological breakdown to take place. Even dissidents and critics of the Soviet regime did not advance the slogan of overthrowing communism, and organizations, capable of instigating people to this, were inconceivable – even a hint of such organizations would be crushed. And they would not be able to find support in the masses, anyway. Thus the corruption of the elite could not by itself generate counter-revolution. But when the command for it came from the top, they abetted in assaulting and destroying the foundations of communist ideology.
The Soviet counter-revolution cannot be explained without taking into consideration the external factors. As a matter of fact, it was planned in the West and imposed on the Soviet people by the West. True, that counter-revolution was carried out by Soviet people, but there is no doubt that the West stood behind them, inciting them to it. So far from being a local Soviet event, it was an epoch-making operation of global dimensions.
It had been prepared for a long time. At first the only task was to restrain the international ambitions of the Soviet Union, to discredit and weaken it in all possible ways. In the course of the Cold War various methods were used to that end. Realizing that the ideological propaganda did not affect the Soviet population in a planned way, the Cold War strategists decided to take drastic measures. They used a propitious occasion to effect the clandestine coup, which resulted in the counter-revolution.
The Soviet counter-revolution was the final step of the West in its Cold War against the Soviet Union. This consciously and meticulously planned operation joined all the other factors together, focusing their aggregate effect on one goal.
I have mentioned ‘a propitious occasion’ which played a critical role in the Cold War. What was it? It was Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev as an individual, as well as a symbol of the beginning of the subversive operation, resulting in the defeat of the Soviet state system. The Cold War strategists in the West had been studying the Soviet system of government since the emergence of the Soviet State. They paid special attention to the top administration, which they designated by the word ‘the Kremlin’. A special branch of Sovietology – Kremlinology – punctiliously studied the structure of the Soviet state system, the Communist Party apparatus, the central apparatus, the CPSU Central Committee, the Politburo and individual administrative officials. In fact, they did not even shrink from examining urine and feces tests of Soviet leaders.
However, for a long time (perhaps, till the late 1970s) the main focus of Sovietology had been the psychological and ideological brainwash of the Soviet population and fostering the pro-Western group, who would act as the fifth column of the West in the USSR. For this purpose the dissident movement was created. The dissidents were engaged – consciously or unconsciously – in the ideological and moral corruption of the Soviet people directly ‘in the enemy’s camp’.
Thus, an important part of anti-Soviet work was done at the grassroots level with the view to destroying the Soviet society from within. There were considerable achievements along that line, which became one of the factors of the future counter-revolution, but they were insufficient to lead to the wreck of the Soviet society.
By the late 1970s the Western Cold War activists had realized this and decided to change their tactics. They concluded, that the Soviet society could only be destroyed ‘from the top’ and decided to undermine the Soviet government system. The basis of the Soviet communism was formed by the CPSU apparatus, so to destroy the USSR it was necessary and sufficient to destroy the party apparatus, beginning from its very top. Sovietologists studied the structure of the CPSU apparatus in all aspects: interaction between its executives, their psychology and expertise, methods of their selection, etc. Then the golden opportunity was put in their way, permitting them to intervene in the Communist apparatus directly.
This opportunity was provided by the crisis of Soviet administration, coupled with the infirmity of the ageing CPSU Politburo members. It happened in 1982-1985 – the latter years of Brezhnev’s rule and the subsequent quick change of leadership in Andropov and Chernenko years. At that time the Western command of the Cold War worked out a definite plan: to seize the supreme power in the Soviet Union by introducing in the government their ‘agents of influence’[ii][iv], who would manipulate a weak leader. That corrupt nucleus would induce the Soviet leader to destroy the apparatus and carry out radical reforms, which would chain-react in the all-round disintegration of the Soviet society. The Western plan was bound to succeed, because Mikhail Gorbachev – their candidate for the weak leader’s part – became CPSU Secretary General. That leader quite lived up to, and even surpassed, the expectations of the West.
If we recall all Gorbachev’s actions, we will easily see that they were systematic and premeditated destruction of the CPSU apparatus. In those years a joke was current in the USSR, that the CPSU was carrying on a large-scale campaign for the eradication of the … CPSU. And it was really so. Only it was no laughing matter, but the beginning of a great historical tragedy. Started in the mid 1980s by Gorbachev and the top Soviet leaders, it undermined the very foundation of the Soviet society. The process was completed already under Yeltsin, who simply abolished the CPSU, while the head of the party Mikhail Gorbachev obediently signed the decree of the CPSU Central Committee self-liquidation (though by logic and conscience, he ought to have called the Party for resistance). Following it, the process of the Soviet state system disintegration went on at precipitous speed. The Soviet society itself collapsed virtually in a moment – all the ‘primary collectives’, economy, ideology, culture, etc. This could never have happened as a natural process; it only became possible because the Soviet leaders, prompted by the agents of influence, had given the go-ahead for it.
The West claims that the Soviet Communism did not have any steadfast defenders. True, it was ruined nearly without any resistance of the population, CPSU members (and there were about twenty million of them!) and party functionaries. There were but two open protests – the so called ‘putsch’ in August 1991 and the revolt of the Supreme Soviet deputies in October 1993. But even the participants of those events did not proclaim defense of Communism as their goal. Most leaders the 1993 revolt were themselves involved in the CPSU dismantling and the defeat of the 1991 ‘putsch’, whereas the ‘putschists’, in their day, took part in Gorbachev’s anti-party and anti-government overturn. Some Western authors called the Soviet counter-revolution ‘velvet revolution’.
In the Western and pro-Western Russian propaganda the absence of massive and staunch defense of the Soviet Communism was explained (and is explained now) by the alleged ‘hate’ of the Soviet people for Communism. The Soviets have been represented as suffering under the yoke of monstrous totalitarianism and longing for liberation. This ‘explanation’ is a blatant ideological lie, which has nothing to do with reality. To explain the Western victory in the Cold War and the Soviets’ non-resistance adequately, it is necessary to have an understanding of the organization of the Soviet society, the psychology of its people and the essence of the counter-revolution as a specific operation of the Cold War.
Let us begin with the highest echelons of power. We have already mentioned certain Soviet government officials and top ideologists, who were secret agents of the West, used to subvert the USSR. It is not excluded that Gorbachev himself was involved with some Western secret services. However, all those people were not clear in their own minds about the course, upon which they were setting their country, and about the consequences of their activities. Many of them were sure that the communist social order in the country was impregnable. And those who knew what was going on did not declare their goals and intentions openly. Even Gorbachev, at first, publicly declared that his only purpose was to perfect the system (to build socialism ‘with a human face’).
Other participants of that process made their careers under Gorbachev’s leadership, as followers of his political line. They perceived Gorbachev’s perestroika as a mere prerequisite for their personal success and did not care a damn about their civic responsibility. By their nature they were and acted as ordinary careerists. They were products of the system of power, with its established training and selection procedures, and behaved according to its laws. At first they swore allegiance to Communism, promising to perfect the existing social order. Then they began to speak about perestroika – reformation of the social and political system, and finally – about the decisive rejection of communism. This apostasy was largely caused by the increased ideological pressure from the West.
Then, the counter-revolution did not reveal its social essence immediately. Every step, taken separately, did not resemble counter-revolution, nor did these steps reveal any apparent connection with each other. The counter-revolution at first occurred in the form of several relatively insignificant modifications of the CPSU apparatus, particularly, on the top level. If any struggle did take place at all, it never transcended the apparatus framework. The decisions, which in their aggregate amounted to the counter-revolution, were gradually sent down from the top to party apparatuses on lower levels. Step by step, they pervaded the whole system of power. The lower-rank officials of all sorts were carrying on the destruction of communism as a part of their routine duties, adjusting their activity to the new set-up.
As for the masses of Soviet people, their social position and past experience accustomed them to trusting in the course of their government. Nobody suspected at first that that course would lead to the collapse of the society. When the process of destruction began to spread and the masses became aware of it, the counter-revolution was already in earnest, chain-reacting in the destruction of economy, ideology, culture, system of education and other spheres of the Soviet society. People simply failed to guard against it in time.
We should also take into account the factor of the anti-communist propaganda, which had been carried on for nearly half a century, with the use of more and more sophisticated technologies. This propaganda was picked up and redoubled by the internal counter-revolutionary forces. The Soviet people were besotted and demoralized: the Western system of values, imposed on them, was organically alien to their morals. Broad masses of population fell into ideological and psychological confusion and became still more susceptible to manipulation.