NCERT Textbook - The End of Bipolarity Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

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Humanities/Arts : NCERT Textbook - The End of Bipolarity Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


OVERVIEW
The Berlin Wall, which had been
built at the height of the Cold War
and was its greatest symbol, was
toppled by the people in 1989.
This dramatic event was followed
by an equally dramatic and
historic chain of events that led
to the collapse of the ‘second
world’ and the end of the Cold War.
Germany, divided after the Second
World War, was unified. One after
another, the eight East European
countries that were part of the
Soviet bloc replaced their
communist governments in
response to mass demonstrations.
The Soviet Union stood by as the
Cold War began to end, not by
military means but as a result of
mass actions by ordinary men and
women. Eventually the Soviet
Union itself disintegrated. In this
chapter, we discuss the meaning,
the causes and the consequences
of the disintegration of the ‘second
world’. We also discuss what
happened to that part of the world
after the collapse of communist
regimes and how India relates to
these countries now.
Chapter 2
The End of Bipolarity
The Berlin Wall
symbolised the division
between the capitalist
and the communist
world. Built in 1961 to
separate East Berlin from West Berlin, this more than 150
kilometre long wall stood for 28 years and was finally broken
by the people on 9 November 1989. This marked the
unification of the two parts of Germany and the beginning
of the end of the communist bloc. The pictures here depict:
1. People making a tiny hole in the wall
2. A section of the wall opened to allow free movement
3. The Berlin Wall as it stood before 1989
Credit: 1. and 2. Frederik Ramm,
www.remote.org/frederik/culture/berlin
3. www.cs.utah.edu
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 2


OVERVIEW
The Berlin Wall, which had been
built at the height of the Cold War
and was its greatest symbol, was
toppled by the people in 1989.
This dramatic event was followed
by an equally dramatic and
historic chain of events that led
to the collapse of the ‘second
world’ and the end of the Cold War.
Germany, divided after the Second
World War, was unified. One after
another, the eight East European
countries that were part of the
Soviet bloc replaced their
communist governments in
response to mass demonstrations.
The Soviet Union stood by as the
Cold War began to end, not by
military means but as a result of
mass actions by ordinary men and
women. Eventually the Soviet
Union itself disintegrated. In this
chapter, we discuss the meaning,
the causes and the consequences
of the disintegration of the ‘second
world’. We also discuss what
happened to that part of the world
after the collapse of communist
regimes and how India relates to
these countries now.
Chapter 2
The End of Bipolarity
The Berlin Wall
symbolised the division
between the capitalist
and the communist
world. Built in 1961 to
separate East Berlin from West Berlin, this more than 150
kilometre long wall stood for 28 years and was finally broken
by the people on 9 November 1989. This marked the
unification of the two parts of Germany and the beginning
of the end of the communist bloc. The pictures here depict:
1. People making a tiny hole in the wall
2. A section of the wall opened to allow free movement
3. The Berlin Wall as it stood before 1989
Credit: 1. and 2. Frederik Ramm,
www.remote.org/frederik/culture/berlin
3. www.cs.utah.edu
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
18
machinery production, and a
transport sector that connected its
remotest areas with efficiency. It
had a domestic consumer
industry that produced everything
from pins to cars, though their
quality did not match that of the
Western capitalist countries. The
Soviet state ensured a minimum
standard of living for all citizens,
and the government subsidised
basic necessities including health,
education, childcare and other
welfare schemes. There was no
unemployment. State ownership
was the dominant form of
ownership: land and productive
assets were owned and controlled
by the Soviet state.
The Soviet system, however,
became very bureaucratic and
authoritarian, making life very
difficult for its citizens. Lack of
democracy and the absence of
freedom of speech stifled people who
often expressed their dissent in
jokes and cartoons. Most of the
institutions of the Soviet state
needed reform: the one-party
system represented by the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union had tight control over all
institutions and was unaccountable
to the people. The party refused to
recognise the urge of people in the
fifteen different republics that formed
the Soviet Union to manage their
own affairs including their cultural
affairs. Although, on paper, Russia
was only one of the fifteen republics
that together constituted the USSR,
in reality Russia dominated
everything, and people from other
regions felt neglected and often
suppressed.
WHAT WAS THE SOVIET
SYSTEM?
The Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR)  came into being
after the socialist revolution in
Russia in 1917. The revolution was
inspired by the ideals of socialism,
as opposed to capitalism, and the
need for an egalitarian society. This
was perhaps the biggest attempt
in human history to abolish the
institution of private property and
consciously design a society based
on principles of equality. In doing
so, the makers of the Soviet system
gave primacy to the state and the
institution of the party. The Soviet
political system centred around
the communist party, and no other
political party or opposition was
allowed. The economy was planned
and controlled by the state.
After the Second World War,
the east European countries that
the Soviet army had liberated from
the fascist forces came under the
control of the USSR. The political
and the economic systems of all
these countries were modelled
after the USSR.  This group of
countries was called the Second
World or the ‘socialist bloc’. The
Warsaw Pact, a military alliance,
held them together. The USSR was
the leader of the bloc.
The Soviet Union became a
great power after the Second
World War. The Soviet economy
was then more developed than the
rest of the world except for the US.
It had a complex communications
network, vast energy resources
including oil, iron and steel,
Vladimir Lenin
(1870-1924)
Founder of the
Bolshevik
Communist party;
leader of the
Russian Revolution
of 1917 and the
founder-head of
the USSR during
the most difficult
period following
the revolution
(1917-1924); an
outstanding
theoretician and
practitioner of
Marxism and a
source of
inspiration for
communists all
over the world.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 3


OVERVIEW
The Berlin Wall, which had been
built at the height of the Cold War
and was its greatest symbol, was
toppled by the people in 1989.
This dramatic event was followed
by an equally dramatic and
historic chain of events that led
to the collapse of the ‘second
world’ and the end of the Cold War.
Germany, divided after the Second
World War, was unified. One after
another, the eight East European
countries that were part of the
Soviet bloc replaced their
communist governments in
response to mass demonstrations.
The Soviet Union stood by as the
Cold War began to end, not by
military means but as a result of
mass actions by ordinary men and
women. Eventually the Soviet
Union itself disintegrated. In this
chapter, we discuss the meaning,
the causes and the consequences
of the disintegration of the ‘second
world’. We also discuss what
happened to that part of the world
after the collapse of communist
regimes and how India relates to
these countries now.
Chapter 2
The End of Bipolarity
The Berlin Wall
symbolised the division
between the capitalist
and the communist
world. Built in 1961 to
separate East Berlin from West Berlin, this more than 150
kilometre long wall stood for 28 years and was finally broken
by the people on 9 November 1989. This marked the
unification of the two parts of Germany and the beginning
of the end of the communist bloc. The pictures here depict:
1. People making a tiny hole in the wall
2. A section of the wall opened to allow free movement
3. The Berlin Wall as it stood before 1989
Credit: 1. and 2. Frederik Ramm,
www.remote.org/frederik/culture/berlin
3. www.cs.utah.edu
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
18
machinery production, and a
transport sector that connected its
remotest areas with efficiency. It
had a domestic consumer
industry that produced everything
from pins to cars, though their
quality did not match that of the
Western capitalist countries. The
Soviet state ensured a minimum
standard of living for all citizens,
and the government subsidised
basic necessities including health,
education, childcare and other
welfare schemes. There was no
unemployment. State ownership
was the dominant form of
ownership: land and productive
assets were owned and controlled
by the Soviet state.
The Soviet system, however,
became very bureaucratic and
authoritarian, making life very
difficult for its citizens. Lack of
democracy and the absence of
freedom of speech stifled people who
often expressed their dissent in
jokes and cartoons. Most of the
institutions of the Soviet state
needed reform: the one-party
system represented by the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union had tight control over all
institutions and was unaccountable
to the people. The party refused to
recognise the urge of people in the
fifteen different republics that formed
the Soviet Union to manage their
own affairs including their cultural
affairs. Although, on paper, Russia
was only one of the fifteen republics
that together constituted the USSR,
in reality Russia dominated
everything, and people from other
regions felt neglected and often
suppressed.
WHAT WAS THE SOVIET
SYSTEM?
The Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR)  came into being
after the socialist revolution in
Russia in 1917. The revolution was
inspired by the ideals of socialism,
as opposed to capitalism, and the
need for an egalitarian society. This
was perhaps the biggest attempt
in human history to abolish the
institution of private property and
consciously design a society based
on principles of equality. In doing
so, the makers of the Soviet system
gave primacy to the state and the
institution of the party. The Soviet
political system centred around
the communist party, and no other
political party or opposition was
allowed. The economy was planned
and controlled by the state.
After the Second World War,
the east European countries that
the Soviet army had liberated from
the fascist forces came under the
control of the USSR. The political
and the economic systems of all
these countries were modelled
after the USSR.  This group of
countries was called the Second
World or the ‘socialist bloc’. The
Warsaw Pact, a military alliance,
held them together. The USSR was
the leader of the bloc.
The Soviet Union became a
great power after the Second
World War. The Soviet economy
was then more developed than the
rest of the world except for the US.
It had a complex communications
network, vast energy resources
including oil, iron and steel,
Vladimir Lenin
(1870-1924)
Founder of the
Bolshevik
Communist party;
leader of the
Russian Revolution
of 1917 and the
founder-head of
the USSR during
the most difficult
period following
the revolution
(1917-1924); an
outstanding
theoretician and
practitioner of
Marxism and a
source of
inspiration for
communists all
over the world.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
© NCERT
not to be republished
The End of Bipolarity
19
Joseph Stalin
(1879-1953)
Successor to Lenin
and led the Soviet
Union during its
consolidation
(1924-53); began
rapid
industrialisation
and forcible
collectivisation of
agriculture;
credited with
Soviet victory in
the Second World
War;  held
responsible for the
Great Terror of the
1930s,
authoritarian
functioning and
elimination of
rivals within the
party.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
Gorbachev, did not intervene
when the disturbances occurred,
and the communist regimes
collapsed one after another.
These developments were
accompanied by a rapidly
escalating crisis within the USSR
that hastened its disintegration.
Gorbachev initiated the policies of
economic and political reform and
democratisation within the
country. The reforms were
opposed by leaders within the
Communist Party.
A coup took place in 1991 that
was encouraged by Communist
Party hardliners. The people had
tasted freedom by then and did not
want the old-style rule of the
Communist Party. Boris Yeltsin
emerged as a national hero in
opposing this coup. The Russian
Republic, where Yeltsin won a
popular election, began to shake
off centralised control. Power
began to shift from the Soviet
centre to the republics, especially
in the more Europeanised part of
the Soviet Union, which saw
themselves as sovereign states.
The Central Asian republics did
not ask for independence and
wanted to remain with the Soviet
Federation. In December 1991,
under the leadership of Yeltsin,
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,
three major republics of the
USSR, declared that the Soviet
Union was disbanded. The
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union was banned. Capitalism
and democracy were adopted as
the bases for the post-Soviet
republics.
In the arms race, the Soviet
Union managed to match the US
from time to time, but at great
cost. The Soviet Union lagged
behind the West in technology,
infrastructure (e.g. transport,
power), and most importantly, in
fulfilling the political or economic
aspirations of citizens. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979
weakened the system even
further. Though wages continued
to grow, productivity and
technology fell considerably
behind that of the West. This led
to shortages in all consumer
goods. Food imports increased
every year. The Soviet economy
was faltering in the late 1970s and
became stagnant.
GORBACHEV AND THE
DISINTEGRATION
Mikhail Gorbachev, who had
become General Secretary of the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union in 1985, sought to reform
this system. Reforms were
necessary to keep the USSR
abreast of the information and
technological revolutions taking
place in the West. However,
Gorbachev’s decision to normalise
relations with the West and
democratise and reform the Soviet
Union had some other effects that
neither he nor anyone else
intended or anticipated. The
people in the East European
countries which were part of the
Soviet bloc started to protest
against their own governments
and Soviet control. Unlike in the
past, the Soviet Union, under
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 4


OVERVIEW
The Berlin Wall, which had been
built at the height of the Cold War
and was its greatest symbol, was
toppled by the people in 1989.
This dramatic event was followed
by an equally dramatic and
historic chain of events that led
to the collapse of the ‘second
world’ and the end of the Cold War.
Germany, divided after the Second
World War, was unified. One after
another, the eight East European
countries that were part of the
Soviet bloc replaced their
communist governments in
response to mass demonstrations.
The Soviet Union stood by as the
Cold War began to end, not by
military means but as a result of
mass actions by ordinary men and
women. Eventually the Soviet
Union itself disintegrated. In this
chapter, we discuss the meaning,
the causes and the consequences
of the disintegration of the ‘second
world’. We also discuss what
happened to that part of the world
after the collapse of communist
regimes and how India relates to
these countries now.
Chapter 2
The End of Bipolarity
The Berlin Wall
symbolised the division
between the capitalist
and the communist
world. Built in 1961 to
separate East Berlin from West Berlin, this more than 150
kilometre long wall stood for 28 years and was finally broken
by the people on 9 November 1989. This marked the
unification of the two parts of Germany and the beginning
of the end of the communist bloc. The pictures here depict:
1. People making a tiny hole in the wall
2. A section of the wall opened to allow free movement
3. The Berlin Wall as it stood before 1989
Credit: 1. and 2. Frederik Ramm,
www.remote.org/frederik/culture/berlin
3. www.cs.utah.edu
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
18
machinery production, and a
transport sector that connected its
remotest areas with efficiency. It
had a domestic consumer
industry that produced everything
from pins to cars, though their
quality did not match that of the
Western capitalist countries. The
Soviet state ensured a minimum
standard of living for all citizens,
and the government subsidised
basic necessities including health,
education, childcare and other
welfare schemes. There was no
unemployment. State ownership
was the dominant form of
ownership: land and productive
assets were owned and controlled
by the Soviet state.
The Soviet system, however,
became very bureaucratic and
authoritarian, making life very
difficult for its citizens. Lack of
democracy and the absence of
freedom of speech stifled people who
often expressed their dissent in
jokes and cartoons. Most of the
institutions of the Soviet state
needed reform: the one-party
system represented by the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union had tight control over all
institutions and was unaccountable
to the people. The party refused to
recognise the urge of people in the
fifteen different republics that formed
the Soviet Union to manage their
own affairs including their cultural
affairs. Although, on paper, Russia
was only one of the fifteen republics
that together constituted the USSR,
in reality Russia dominated
everything, and people from other
regions felt neglected and often
suppressed.
WHAT WAS THE SOVIET
SYSTEM?
The Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR)  came into being
after the socialist revolution in
Russia in 1917. The revolution was
inspired by the ideals of socialism,
as opposed to capitalism, and the
need for an egalitarian society. This
was perhaps the biggest attempt
in human history to abolish the
institution of private property and
consciously design a society based
on principles of equality. In doing
so, the makers of the Soviet system
gave primacy to the state and the
institution of the party. The Soviet
political system centred around
the communist party, and no other
political party or opposition was
allowed. The economy was planned
and controlled by the state.
After the Second World War,
the east European countries that
the Soviet army had liberated from
the fascist forces came under the
control of the USSR. The political
and the economic systems of all
these countries were modelled
after the USSR.  This group of
countries was called the Second
World or the ‘socialist bloc’. The
Warsaw Pact, a military alliance,
held them together. The USSR was
the leader of the bloc.
The Soviet Union became a
great power after the Second
World War. The Soviet economy
was then more developed than the
rest of the world except for the US.
It had a complex communications
network, vast energy resources
including oil, iron and steel,
Vladimir Lenin
(1870-1924)
Founder of the
Bolshevik
Communist party;
leader of the
Russian Revolution
of 1917 and the
founder-head of
the USSR during
the most difficult
period following
the revolution
(1917-1924); an
outstanding
theoretician and
practitioner of
Marxism and a
source of
inspiration for
communists all
over the world.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
© NCERT
not to be republished
The End of Bipolarity
19
Joseph Stalin
(1879-1953)
Successor to Lenin
and led the Soviet
Union during its
consolidation
(1924-53); began
rapid
industrialisation
and forcible
collectivisation of
agriculture;
credited with
Soviet victory in
the Second World
War;  held
responsible for the
Great Terror of the
1930s,
authoritarian
functioning and
elimination of
rivals within the
party.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
Gorbachev, did not intervene
when the disturbances occurred,
and the communist regimes
collapsed one after another.
These developments were
accompanied by a rapidly
escalating crisis within the USSR
that hastened its disintegration.
Gorbachev initiated the policies of
economic and political reform and
democratisation within the
country. The reforms were
opposed by leaders within the
Communist Party.
A coup took place in 1991 that
was encouraged by Communist
Party hardliners. The people had
tasted freedom by then and did not
want the old-style rule of the
Communist Party. Boris Yeltsin
emerged as a national hero in
opposing this coup. The Russian
Republic, where Yeltsin won a
popular election, began to shake
off centralised control. Power
began to shift from the Soviet
centre to the republics, especially
in the more Europeanised part of
the Soviet Union, which saw
themselves as sovereign states.
The Central Asian republics did
not ask for independence and
wanted to remain with the Soviet
Federation. In December 1991,
under the leadership of Yeltsin,
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,
three major republics of the
USSR, declared that the Soviet
Union was disbanded. The
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union was banned. Capitalism
and democracy were adopted as
the bases for the post-Soviet
republics.
In the arms race, the Soviet
Union managed to match the US
from time to time, but at great
cost. The Soviet Union lagged
behind the West in technology,
infrastructure (e.g. transport,
power), and most importantly, in
fulfilling the political or economic
aspirations of citizens. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979
weakened the system even
further. Though wages continued
to grow, productivity and
technology fell considerably
behind that of the West. This led
to shortages in all consumer
goods. Food imports increased
every year. The Soviet economy
was faltering in the late 1970s and
became stagnant.
GORBACHEV AND THE
DISINTEGRATION
Mikhail Gorbachev, who had
become General Secretary of the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union in 1985, sought to reform
this system. Reforms were
necessary to keep the USSR
abreast of the information and
technological revolutions taking
place in the West. However,
Gorbachev’s decision to normalise
relations with the West and
democratise and reform the Soviet
Union had some other effects that
neither he nor anyone else
intended or anticipated. The
people in the East European
countries which were part of the
Soviet bloc started to protest
against their own governments
and Soviet control. Unlike in the
past, the Soviet Union, under
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
20
The declaration on the
disintegration of the USSR and the
formation of the Commonwealth
of Independent States (CIS) came
as a surprise to the other
republics, especially to the Central
Asian ones. The exclusion of these
republics was an issue that was
quickly solved by making them
founding members of the CIS.
Russia was now accepted as the
successor state of the Soviet
Union. It inherited the Soviet seat
in the UN Security Council. Russia
accepted all the international
treaties and commitments of the
Soviet Union. It took over as the
only nuclear state of the post-
Soviet space and carried out some
nuclear disarmament measures
with the US. The old Soviet Union
was thus dead and buried.
WHY DID THE SOVIET UNION
DISINTEGRATE?
How did the second most powerful
country in the world suddenly
disintegrate? This is a question
worth asking not just to
understand the Soviet Union and
the end of communism but also
because it is not the first and may
not be the last political system to
collapse. While there are unique
features of the Soviet collapse,
there may be more general lessons
to be drawn from this very
important case.
There is no doubt that the
internal weaknesses of Soviet
political and economic institutions,
which failed to meet the
aspirations of the people, were
responsible for the collapse of the
system. Economic stagnation for
many years led to severe
consumer shortages and a large
section of Soviet society began to
doubt and question the system
and to do so openly.
Why did the system become so
weak and why did the economy
stagnate?  The answer is partially
clear. The Soviet economy used
much of its resources in
maintaining a nuclear and
military arsenal and the
development of its satellite states
in Eastern Europe and within the
Soviet system (the five Central
Asian Republics in particular).
This led to a huge economic
burden that the system could not
cope with. At the same time,
ordinary citizens became more
knowledgeable about the
economic advance of the West.
They could see the disparities
between their system and the
systems of the West. After years
of being told that the Soviet
A Communist Party bureaucrat drives down from Moscow to a collective farm
to register a potato harvest.
“Comrade farmer, how has the harvest been this year?” the official asks.
“Oh, by the grace of God, we had mountains of potatoes,” answers the
farmer.
“But there is no God,” counters the official.
“Huh”, says the farmer, “And there are no mountains of potatoes either.”
Nikita Khrushchev
(1894-1971)
Leader of the
Soviet Union
(1953-64);
denounced
Stalin’s leadership
style and
introduced some
reforms in 1956;
suggested
“peaceful
coexistence” with
the West;
involved in
suppressing
popular rebellion
in Hungary and in
the Cuban missile
crisis.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
I am amazed! How
could so many
sensitive people all
over the world
admire a system like
this?
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 5


OVERVIEW
The Berlin Wall, which had been
built at the height of the Cold War
and was its greatest symbol, was
toppled by the people in 1989.
This dramatic event was followed
by an equally dramatic and
historic chain of events that led
to the collapse of the ‘second
world’ and the end of the Cold War.
Germany, divided after the Second
World War, was unified. One after
another, the eight East European
countries that were part of the
Soviet bloc replaced their
communist governments in
response to mass demonstrations.
The Soviet Union stood by as the
Cold War began to end, not by
military means but as a result of
mass actions by ordinary men and
women. Eventually the Soviet
Union itself disintegrated. In this
chapter, we discuss the meaning,
the causes and the consequences
of the disintegration of the ‘second
world’. We also discuss what
happened to that part of the world
after the collapse of communist
regimes and how India relates to
these countries now.
Chapter 2
The End of Bipolarity
The Berlin Wall
symbolised the division
between the capitalist
and the communist
world. Built in 1961 to
separate East Berlin from West Berlin, this more than 150
kilometre long wall stood for 28 years and was finally broken
by the people on 9 November 1989. This marked the
unification of the two parts of Germany and the beginning
of the end of the communist bloc. The pictures here depict:
1. People making a tiny hole in the wall
2. A section of the wall opened to allow free movement
3. The Berlin Wall as it stood before 1989
Credit: 1. and 2. Frederik Ramm,
www.remote.org/frederik/culture/berlin
3. www.cs.utah.edu
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
18
machinery production, and a
transport sector that connected its
remotest areas with efficiency. It
had a domestic consumer
industry that produced everything
from pins to cars, though their
quality did not match that of the
Western capitalist countries. The
Soviet state ensured a minimum
standard of living for all citizens,
and the government subsidised
basic necessities including health,
education, childcare and other
welfare schemes. There was no
unemployment. State ownership
was the dominant form of
ownership: land and productive
assets were owned and controlled
by the Soviet state.
The Soviet system, however,
became very bureaucratic and
authoritarian, making life very
difficult for its citizens. Lack of
democracy and the absence of
freedom of speech stifled people who
often expressed their dissent in
jokes and cartoons. Most of the
institutions of the Soviet state
needed reform: the one-party
system represented by the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union had tight control over all
institutions and was unaccountable
to the people. The party refused to
recognise the urge of people in the
fifteen different republics that formed
the Soviet Union to manage their
own affairs including their cultural
affairs. Although, on paper, Russia
was only one of the fifteen republics
that together constituted the USSR,
in reality Russia dominated
everything, and people from other
regions felt neglected and often
suppressed.
WHAT WAS THE SOVIET
SYSTEM?
The Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR)  came into being
after the socialist revolution in
Russia in 1917. The revolution was
inspired by the ideals of socialism,
as opposed to capitalism, and the
need for an egalitarian society. This
was perhaps the biggest attempt
in human history to abolish the
institution of private property and
consciously design a society based
on principles of equality. In doing
so, the makers of the Soviet system
gave primacy to the state and the
institution of the party. The Soviet
political system centred around
the communist party, and no other
political party or opposition was
allowed. The economy was planned
and controlled by the state.
After the Second World War,
the east European countries that
the Soviet army had liberated from
the fascist forces came under the
control of the USSR. The political
and the economic systems of all
these countries were modelled
after the USSR.  This group of
countries was called the Second
World or the ‘socialist bloc’. The
Warsaw Pact, a military alliance,
held them together. The USSR was
the leader of the bloc.
The Soviet Union became a
great power after the Second
World War. The Soviet economy
was then more developed than the
rest of the world except for the US.
It had a complex communications
network, vast energy resources
including oil, iron and steel,
Vladimir Lenin
(1870-1924)
Founder of the
Bolshevik
Communist party;
leader of the
Russian Revolution
of 1917 and the
founder-head of
the USSR during
the most difficult
period following
the revolution
(1917-1924); an
outstanding
theoretician and
practitioner of
Marxism and a
source of
inspiration for
communists all
over the world.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
© NCERT
not to be republished
The End of Bipolarity
19
Joseph Stalin
(1879-1953)
Successor to Lenin
and led the Soviet
Union during its
consolidation
(1924-53); began
rapid
industrialisation
and forcible
collectivisation of
agriculture;
credited with
Soviet victory in
the Second World
War;  held
responsible for the
Great Terror of the
1930s,
authoritarian
functioning and
elimination of
rivals within the
party.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
Gorbachev, did not intervene
when the disturbances occurred,
and the communist regimes
collapsed one after another.
These developments were
accompanied by a rapidly
escalating crisis within the USSR
that hastened its disintegration.
Gorbachev initiated the policies of
economic and political reform and
democratisation within the
country. The reforms were
opposed by leaders within the
Communist Party.
A coup took place in 1991 that
was encouraged by Communist
Party hardliners. The people had
tasted freedom by then and did not
want the old-style rule of the
Communist Party. Boris Yeltsin
emerged as a national hero in
opposing this coup. The Russian
Republic, where Yeltsin won a
popular election, began to shake
off centralised control. Power
began to shift from the Soviet
centre to the republics, especially
in the more Europeanised part of
the Soviet Union, which saw
themselves as sovereign states.
The Central Asian republics did
not ask for independence and
wanted to remain with the Soviet
Federation. In December 1991,
under the leadership of Yeltsin,
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,
three major republics of the
USSR, declared that the Soviet
Union was disbanded. The
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union was banned. Capitalism
and democracy were adopted as
the bases for the post-Soviet
republics.
In the arms race, the Soviet
Union managed to match the US
from time to time, but at great
cost. The Soviet Union lagged
behind the West in technology,
infrastructure (e.g. transport,
power), and most importantly, in
fulfilling the political or economic
aspirations of citizens. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in 1979
weakened the system even
further. Though wages continued
to grow, productivity and
technology fell considerably
behind that of the West. This led
to shortages in all consumer
goods. Food imports increased
every year. The Soviet economy
was faltering in the late 1970s and
became stagnant.
GORBACHEV AND THE
DISINTEGRATION
Mikhail Gorbachev, who had
become General Secretary of the
Communist Party of the Soviet
Union in 1985, sought to reform
this system. Reforms were
necessary to keep the USSR
abreast of the information and
technological revolutions taking
place in the West. However,
Gorbachev’s decision to normalise
relations with the West and
democratise and reform the Soviet
Union had some other effects that
neither he nor anyone else
intended or anticipated. The
people in the East European
countries which were part of the
Soviet bloc started to protest
against their own governments
and Soviet control. Unlike in the
past, the Soviet Union, under
© NCERT
not to be republished
Contemporary World Politics
20
The declaration on the
disintegration of the USSR and the
formation of the Commonwealth
of Independent States (CIS) came
as a surprise to the other
republics, especially to the Central
Asian ones. The exclusion of these
republics was an issue that was
quickly solved by making them
founding members of the CIS.
Russia was now accepted as the
successor state of the Soviet
Union. It inherited the Soviet seat
in the UN Security Council. Russia
accepted all the international
treaties and commitments of the
Soviet Union. It took over as the
only nuclear state of the post-
Soviet space and carried out some
nuclear disarmament measures
with the US. The old Soviet Union
was thus dead and buried.
WHY DID THE SOVIET UNION
DISINTEGRATE?
How did the second most powerful
country in the world suddenly
disintegrate? This is a question
worth asking not just to
understand the Soviet Union and
the end of communism but also
because it is not the first and may
not be the last political system to
collapse. While there are unique
features of the Soviet collapse,
there may be more general lessons
to be drawn from this very
important case.
There is no doubt that the
internal weaknesses of Soviet
political and economic institutions,
which failed to meet the
aspirations of the people, were
responsible for the collapse of the
system. Economic stagnation for
many years led to severe
consumer shortages and a large
section of Soviet society began to
doubt and question the system
and to do so openly.
Why did the system become so
weak and why did the economy
stagnate?  The answer is partially
clear. The Soviet economy used
much of its resources in
maintaining a nuclear and
military arsenal and the
development of its satellite states
in Eastern Europe and within the
Soviet system (the five Central
Asian Republics in particular).
This led to a huge economic
burden that the system could not
cope with. At the same time,
ordinary citizens became more
knowledgeable about the
economic advance of the West.
They could see the disparities
between their system and the
systems of the West. After years
of being told that the Soviet
A Communist Party bureaucrat drives down from Moscow to a collective farm
to register a potato harvest.
“Comrade farmer, how has the harvest been this year?” the official asks.
“Oh, by the grace of God, we had mountains of potatoes,” answers the
farmer.
“But there is no God,” counters the official.
“Huh”, says the farmer, “And there are no mountains of potatoes either.”
Nikita Khrushchev
(1894-1971)
Leader of the
Soviet Union
(1953-64);
denounced
Stalin’s leadership
style and
introduced some
reforms in 1956;
suggested
“peaceful
coexistence” with
the West;
involved in
suppressing
popular rebellion
in Hungary and in
the Cuban missile
crisis.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
I am amazed! How
could so many
sensitive people all
over the world
admire a system like
this?
© NCERT
not to be republished
The End of Bipolarity
21
system was better than Western
capitalism, the reality of its
backwardness came as a political
and psychological shock.
The Soviet Union had become
stagnant in an administrative and
political sense as well. The
Communist Party that had ruled
the Soviet Union for over 70 years
was not accountable to the people.
Ordinary people were alienated by
slow and stifling administration,
rampant corruption, the inability
of the system to correct mistakes
it had made, the unwillingness to
allow more openness in
government, and the centralisation
of authority in a vast land. Worse
still, the party bureaucrats gained
more privileges than ordinary
citizens. People did not identify
with the system and with the
rulers, and the government
increasingly lost popular backing.
Gorbachev’s reforms promised
to deal with theseproblems.
Gorbachev promised to reform the
economy, catch up with the West,
and loosen the administrative
system. You may wonder why the
Soviet Union collapsed in spite of
Gorbachev’s accurate diagnosis of
the problem and his attempt to
implement reforms. Here is where
the answers become more
controversial, and we have to
depend on future historians to
guide us better.
The most basic answer seems
to be that when Gorbachev carried
out his reforms and loosened the
system, he set in motion forces and
expectations that few could have
predicted and became virtually
impossible to control.  There were
sections of Soviet society which felt
that Gorbachev should have
moved much faster and were
disappointed and impatient with
his methods. They did not benefit
in the way they had hoped, or they
benefited too slowly. Others,
especially members of the
Communist Party and those who
were served by the system, took
exactly the opposite view. They felt
that their power and privileges
were eroding and Gorbachev was
moving too quickly. In this ‘tug of
war’, Gorbachev lost support on all
sides and divided public opinion.
Even those who were with him
became disillusioned as they felt
that he did not adequately defend
his own policies.
All this might not have led to
the collapse of the Soviet Union but
for another development that
surprised most observers and
indeed many insiders. The rise of
nationalism and the desire for
sovereignty within various
republics including Russia and the
Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania), Ukraine, Georgia,
and others proved to be the final
and most immediate cause for the
disintegration of the USSR. Here
again there are differing views.
One view is that nationalist
urges and feelings were very much
at work throughout the history of
the Soviet Union and that whether
or not the reforms had occurred
there would have been an internal
struggle within the Soviet Union.
This is a ‘what-if’ of history, but
surely it is not an unreasonable
Leonid Brezhnev
(1906-82)
Leader of the
Soviet Union (1964-
82); proposed
Asian Collective
Security system;
associated with
the détente phase
in relations with
the US; involved in
suppressing a
popular rebellion
in Czechoslovakia
and in invading
Afghanistan.
LEADERS OF THE
SOVIET UNION
© NCERT
not to be republished
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