Staunton, Dec. 10 – It was obvious as early as 1987 that the Soviet Union would “sooner or later” fall apart, Lev Gudkov says. “And after the events in Tbilisi, Vilnius, Riga and Baku, it became clear that the USSR was condemned” to die sooner than almost anyone at the time imagined.
Gudkov, a Levada Center sociologist then studying movements in the non-Russian republics, argues that the USSR’s demise was the product of “the resonance of three main processes,” no one of which would have been sufficient but the combination of which made the end of the USSR inevitable (levada.ru/2021/12/10/dekabr-1991-go-kak-soyuz-stal-rushimym/).
The first of these, he says, was “the catastrophic failure of the planned economy.” No efforts at reform helped the situation, the people suffered, and ever more of them no longer “wanted to exist under the conditions of such an economic system.” The only solution, they felt, was that it had to be destroyed.
The second cause, Gudkov continues, was “the regime’s loss of legitimacy and the collapse of communist ideology. “Marxism-Leninism as the foundation of this ideology died at the end of the Brezhnev period and began to be replaced by imperial nationalism.”
And “the third cause was the emancipation movement in the republics. By itself, thee empire was the incubator of national elites, especially in Central Asia and the Caucasus. It prepared cadres whose interests with the passage of time led to ever more demands for greater independence and freedom from Moscow.”
The rise of these elites meant that popular movements in many of these places had support from the republic elites. That marked a major change: Earlier, the republic elites mostly stood on Moscow’s side against the people who also wanted more freedom and a better life but when the republic elites changed sides, the USSR as a whole ceased to function.