How does a government like the Soviet Union just collapse? What does that actually look like?


I am having a hard time understanding how governments can just “collapse” like the Soviet Union, without any foreign threats. Wouldn’t an incompetent and dysfunctional government just keep up appearances and continue to operate in the background?

In: Economics

The Soviet Union started to give people more freedoms. As people learn of how much better other countries are doing they want to be more like them. The smaller countries that made up the Soviet Union started to leave it. This lead to a financial failure and eventually a change in government.

The Soviet government was set up *somewhat* similarly to the US in that the country was organized into a bunch of semi-autonomous states under a national government.

The Soviet system differed from the US system in that the national Soviet government was much stronger than the US Federal government is. None of the “states” in the Soviet Union actually wanted to be a part of it – the only reason they stayed in is because the national government threatened to militarily intervene if they didn’t carry out national policy.

The Soviet economy was centrally planned which meant that as it began to break down the states couldn’t really do anything to fix the problems that were occurring.

Take Georgia, as an example. Georgia was heavily industrialized but had no national resources. Running its factories required it to import raw materials from the Central Asian Soviet states. When the Soviet economy began to collapse those imports stopped coming in. In a market economy that generally isn’t a big deal, because you can just buy raw materials from somewhere else. But that wasn’t possible in the Soviet system – the national government only allowed Georgian factories to use raw materials coming from Central Asia and it relied on the local Georgian state government to enforce that.

That’s not a popular policy when there are literally no imports coming in from Central Asia and everyone is out of work as a result. This added pressure to the Georgian state government, which already didn’t really want to be a part of the Soviet Union, to split off so that it would no longer be subject to the national government’s economic planning scheme.

Starting in 1988 the situation began to get so bad that there were massive protests throughout the country and state level governments began ignoring national directives. Initially the national government used the military to suppress this, but it quickly became clear that wasn’t working.

The national government then held local elections in 1990 as a way to try to pacify the states. Those elections resulted in pro-independence governments being elected in every single state and, rather than militarily intervene again, the national government elected to disband itself. The process of disbanding was somewhat straight forward because the pre-existing state governments were able to take over and function as national governments for all of the new countries that came into existence.

Describing it as a breakup is slightly better for understanding it than calling it a collapse, but it’s like the other comment says, it was a collection of republics that all had their own internal systems of government. Soviet means “council”, so it was a union of all those councils, or separate governments. The “collapse” was those states seceding from the union. Many of those states actually went on to sign a new agreement and joined the CIS or Commonwealth of Independent States. Resource management was an issue, so was political infighting at the top, money was short and it was spent in unbalanced ways, a good bit of it on defense spending to try to match NATO (read USA).

To answer why they didn’t just fake it and remain in the background, they couldn’t, the USSR was big in the world stage and when it collapsed it caught the world by surprise, so you could you could say that they actually probably were keeping up appearances for a while when in reality it was already kaput.

The second lecture of ‘Power and Politics in Today’s World’ goes over just that, actually. Link here:

Just to give you an idea of what it was like to us back then. This is just a glimpse, not the full story of the fall.

I live about a mile from the Randall’s in this story about Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia(?) during those final Soviet years. What the story doesn’t say is this:
THe Randall’s is on the road (Texas Highway 3) directly between the Johnson Space Center and Ellington airfield, where his plane was landed.

He called an unplanned stop when he realized it was a grocery store that any US citizen, not just VIPs, could go to. He wanted to see how much US propaganda diverged from reality.

As the article does say, He was stunned.

Linky: [](