Jun 10 2004

The fall of communism: Reagan’s legacy?

by in Uncategorized

On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, passed away at his home in Bel Air, California.

One of my earliest memories of Ronald Reagan was when my parents and I watched Reagan’s Presidential motorcade make its way down Monterey Avenue in Palm Desert. Reagan was good friends with Walter Annenberg and often vacationed at Annenberg’s Rancho Mirage estate. While I don’t recall the exact date when I saw Reagan’s motorcade, I assume he was in town to visit with the Annenbergs. Nevertheless, I do recall a large amount of people lining the sidewalk, ready to see the President’s limo pass by. It was an exciting event back then…it wasn’t until living in Washington that I would look upon the Presidential and Vice-Presidential motorcades as frequent annoyances. When the motorcade finally passed us, I remember squealing “Mom, the President waved to me!” Ah, to be a little kid again…

But fast forward to the present day, or at least to the past three years, a majority of which I spent studying Soviet/Russian politics and history at GWU. It was there that I became incredibly frusturated with the conservative camp’s proclivity to credit President Reagan for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and fall of other communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe. Statements such as “Reagan won the Cold War” or “Reagan masterfully engineered the downfall of the USSR” and my personal favorite, “Reagan pushed the USSR towards bankruptcy” are constantly trumpeted by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, and TV pundits who know little about the history of the Soviet Union. If you repeat something long enough, though, then perhaps the American public will begin to accept it as the truth. This is exactly what has happened, and with Reagan’s recent death, the lie has become even louder.

reagan cold war The fall of communism: Reagans legacy?


reagan berlin 2 The fall of communism: Reagans legacy?

If Reagan did not singlehandedly bring an end to the Soviet Union, then what did? I present a few reasons below…

Economics: By the 1980s, the Soviet economy was showing serious problems in all sectors of its economy, but these problems were most prevalent in agriculture and oil production. The USSR, in fact, was forced to import grain from the U.S. and Canada to feed its population. Most importantly, though, was the USSR’s slow rate of technological modernization in an era that was increasingly dominated by high-tech products from the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. Soviet industry continued to rely on technology that had been formulated decades ago, and the scarce supply of computers was distributed to only the most trusted Soviet workers (scientists, etc).

Of course, there were serious structural weaknesses that were built into the Soviet economy, chief among those being the command style economy. In such an economy, the ability to output a product in large quantities was more important that actually producing a quality good. There was no room for innovation in such an economy, as factory managers simply followed the orders that were passed down to them from the bureaucrats in GOSPLAN. (“Hmmm…I could try implementing these new production techniques that might speed up the output of the factory goods, but what if it fails? I’ll lose my job, my dacha, and my car. And even if it does work, then GOSPLAN will set even higher quotas for next year. I think I’ll just stick with what I do every year.”) Furthermore, there was no rational relationship between supply and demand – this, too, was determined by Moscow bureaucrats. A majority of Soviet industry was geared towards producing weapons for the military or other heavy industry machinery. None of these products satisfied Soviet consumers who desired the same blue jeans, cars, and kitchen appliances that were commonplace in the Western countries.

As I mentioned above, agriculture was an especially problematic sector of the Soviet economy. In the 1930s, farmers were forcibly collectivized and the “wealthier” peasants (the kulaks, who were among the most efficient farmers in the USSR) were liquidated by the Soviet security services. The peasants that lived on collective farms devoted a majority of their time to tending their own personal gardens instead of the community crops, and a large percentage of crops simply rotted in the fields. The crops that eventually made it to the large cities would sit for months in warehouses, where another large percentage would be lost to spoilage.

Since the USSR could continue to export its vast amounts of oil to other countries for hard currency, it would basically use these earnings to cover up the shortfall produced by its problematic sectors of the economy. The USSR would then use this hard currency to purchase machinery and grain from other countries, and continued to neglect any real attempts to reform agriculture or heavy industry.

It is quite conceivable that the Soviet economy could have continued to perform miserably for decades without any political crisis enveloping the nation. And then along came Gorby…

Glasnost and Perestroika: While serving as an agriculture official, Mikhail Gorbachev experienced firsthand the problems of collective agriculture. When he came to power as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, he unleashed a set of reforms known as glasnost and perestroika.

Perestroika, which means “restructuring” in Russian, was Gorbachev’s campaign to reform the Soviet economy. Gorbachev did not strive to abandon socialism – he simply wanted to reform the most inefficient sectors of the economy and raise the standard of living in the Soviet Union. He pushed through reforms that allowed for private farming and cooperative business ventures. Gorbachev hoped that these cooperatives, which were really the first private businesses in the USSR, would provide goods and services that were in high demand by consumers (but the Soviet state by itself did not have the resources to meet this demand). In the realm of state owned enterprises, Gorbachev enacted measures that transferred decision making power from GOSPLAN bureaucrats to the factory directors themselves. The result, then, was an chaotic hybrid economy that included both capitalist and communist characteristics.

Glasnost, (“openness”) was Gorbachev’s campaign to relax media censorship. The aim of glasnost was to allow for some criticism of the government and more open discussion about past atrocities committed by the Soviet state. Gorbachev intended to use glasnost as a platform to attack the “old guard” Communist Party members that were vehemently opposed to his economic reforms. With their reins loosened, the Soviet media began to report on corruption, waste, bribery, and other problems that plagued Soviet enterprises and public services. The highlighting of such problems called into doubt the Communist Party’s claim that the USSR was a shining example of socialism. Unfortunately for Gorbachev, glasnost soon spiraled out of control. Ethnic groups in the Soviet Republics used the freedoms provided by glasnost to air their grievances with the Soviet government and demand greater freedoms from Moscow. Tensions flared between various ethnic groups in the USSR, and Gorbachev responded by sending Soviet troops to quell the rising tide of violence. Such actions, though, only exacerbated the situation, and groups within the Soviet Union formed popular fronts to demand independence.

Demokratizatsiya: Another goal of Gorbachev’s was to infuse new “progressive” blood into the ranks of the Communist Party. He hoped that by doing so, he could bypass the “old guard” Communists and more easily enact his economic and political reforms. Gorbachev did not intend to create a multiparty electoral system, but much like glasnost and perestroika he was unable to control the forces unleashed by demokratizatsiya. The constitutional provision that assigned a leading role to the Communist Party was eliminated, and political movements/parties across the USSR began to compete with each other for seats in the Supreme Soviets of each republic.

Of course, the above are merely a few (although, in my opinion, the most important) of the reasons for the decline of Soviet power and the eventual breakup of the USSR. The list is endless: Afghanistan, the Helsinki Agreements, the Sinatra Doctrine, the hardliner coup against Gorbachev, the rise of Boris Yeltsin and “take all the sovereignty you can swallow,” Ostpolitik, human rights groups…etc, etc. To expound upon all of these in one blog post would be impossible…there are tons of books that focus on the collapse of the USSR…pick up one of these and you will see that the fall of the Iron Curtain cannot be credited to a man that lived comfortably at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. In fact, to do so would be an insult to those citizens that fought against the communist regimes that denied them their basic freedoms.

Ultimately, Reagan did not win the Cold War…he was a bit player in a long drawn out contest between two great superpowers, one of which collapsed due to its poor economic performance, imperial overstretch, and failed political reforms. That Reagan is given so much credit for ending communism is ridiculous, and only adds to his cult of personality that continues to grow with each passing year.

reagan gorbachev wall The fall of communism: Reagans legacy?

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20 Responses to The fall of communism: Reagan’s legacy?

  1. From Radioman:

    Please don’t take this the wrong way. But, you have so inaccurately represented Gorbochev, I had to step in. Gorbachev was controlled by the hardliners, KGB and the MVD. While he was a semi-reformer. Revolutions in Poland and the Stans really forced the Soviets political hand far more than the bankrupt ideology of communism. Collective farms did not work for one simple reason. There was nothing to gain for the farmers family or future generations by working hard.
    The legacy and truth of Communism (everywhere and throughout history) is that it’s a failure. A failure to the people, and instantly corrupts the leadership.
    Give Reagan one credit. He’s the only U.S. President (EVER) to reduce nuclear weapons and achieve a verifiable treaty with the only real Nuclear threat to the west.
    I know because I was involved in “Open Skys” operations. So you don’t know what your talking about when it comes to the Propaganda you take as truth. And the reality that the Soviet Union would still be there, don’t get angry and search for alternatives to the facts. Russia starved it’s people during the Czars, Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev and finally the Warsaw pact disolved. Not because Gorbachev did it. Because Reagan forced them into a self examination of the failures of the Communist system.
    I used to chase off Nuclear Capable Bear Juliette aircraft from our coasts several times a year all through out the 70′s and 80′s.
    In ending, I’d like to state that you’re seeing the failures of Communism in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and it really must drive you to dig into the archives of leftist propaganda to try and re-write history..to justify your admiration for a failed system and ideology.
    Have a nice life.

    Posted on June 10, 2004 at 1:51 pm #
  2. From Dustin Lewis:

    In ending, I’d like to state that you’re seeing the failures of Communism in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and it really must drive you to dig into the archives of leftist propaganda to try and re-write history..to justify your admiration for a failed system and ideology.

    Funny, I thought their economies were at an all time high. But I have to ask, why the hostility, her whole post is basically saying that Russia collapsed because their form of socialism didn’t work?

    Posted on June 10, 2004 at 4:02 pm #
  3. From Lindsay:

    Greetings to the comrade from Texas. Thanks for stopping by.
    A few remarks, though…
    Where in my post did I show any “admiration for a failed system and ideology?” The majority of my post was in fact dedicated to highlighting the economic and political FAILURES of the Soviet system. Nowhere in my post did I declare any admiration for the Soviet ideology. You would be hard pressed, in fact, to find any writings (academic or personal) in which I declare my admiration for the Soviet system or praise them in any way.
    If, as you claim, Gorbachev was controlled by the hardliners, KGB, and MVD, then they certainly did a poor job of controlling him, didn’t they? You would assume that he would continue to follow the conservative policies of the Brezhnevites. Greater freedom of the press, detailed media coverage of the corruption that plagued the MVD, an open examination of the role of the state security services in the Stalinist terror, private business cooperatives, the Sinatra Doctrine (which repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine), the release of jailed Soviet dissidents, the publishing of previously banned literature, withdrawal from Afghanistan, multiple candidate elections by secret ballot, televised debates on the failures of the socialist system…are these the policies of conservatives within the CPSU? Why would hardliners stage a coup against Gorbachev if they were controlling him all along?
    Ah, but what do I know? I have merely been influenced by all my leftist professors and the propaganda they spew (especially that international affairs prof that worked in Reagan’s DoD, now there was a communist!)

    Posted on June 11, 2004 at 3:48 am #
  4. From Anonymous:

    LINDSAY LOVES RONALD REGAN! DONT BE FOOLED BY HER PROPAGANDA!

    Posted on June 14, 2004 at 4:26 pm #
  5. From Stumax.com:

    RNC Blogging – Selling Reagan

    Okay, I’m fine with the Reagan tribute, but I’m a little sick of the bit about Reagan toppling communism by telling Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall. I think Reagan should get a fair amount of credit for his foreign policy, but he di…

    Posted on September 1, 2004 at 6:38 pm #
  6. From Dirk Nowitizki:

    this is awful , ronald reagen was a fantastic president, you all should be ashamed of yourselves…

    Posted on November 13, 2007 at 7:57 pm #
  7. From Sam:

    but couldn’t communism have worked if the person in charge wasn’t power hungry?

    Posted on March 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm #
  8. From ronald:

    the problem is that human nature will produce a power hungry ie,stalin,mao,kim jong il (current dictator of north korea)type of leader unchecked absoulte power allways does thus communism fails not only in economics but also not taking into account makinds flaws and those who will and have abused that power.

    Posted on May 28, 2008 at 5:05 pm #
  9. From Adam:

    This is a good and revelant article that gives an accurate interpretation of the role Reagan played – a nonentity almost. However you failed to mention when you stated how the Soviet Union relyed on its proceeds from oil, that Reagan persuaded Saudi Arabia to increase oil production which led to the low prices of the 1980s and destabilised the Soviet economy.
    Radioman needs to read a good book on the subject and realise that he has completely misinterpretated Gorbachev.

    Posted on March 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm #
  10. From Angel:

    Lindsay, it’s amazing how you travel to so many places. How do you do it? How do pay for all of the trips? Are they a part of your job?

    Posted on April 7, 2010 at 2:59 am #
  11. From Lindsay:

    I wish they were part of my job! No, I pay for them myself. Not a big spender so I save most of my money for travel.

    Posted on April 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm #
  12. From Leah:

    you all are just publicity hungry jerks who can’t understand that we the people ELECTED Regan. GET OVER IT!!!

    Posted on October 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm #
  13. From Lindsay:

    Wow, nice comeback, Leah. I can see the Utah education system has done wonders for you.

    Posted on October 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm #
  14. From Leah:

    what exactly is that supposed to mean!?!?!?

    Posted on October 7, 2010 at 11:50 am #
  15. From Leah:

    P.S. how did you know I am from Utah?

    Posted on October 7, 2010 at 11:51 am #
  16. From RonaldMcdonald:

    Leah you have phailed.

    Posted on November 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm #
  17. From ernest:

    communist are atheist

    Posted on December 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm #
  18. From DP:

    Lindsay, i greatly appreciate your time and input for this article, an interesting perspective. I’m sorry that other comments have neglected to actually READ the article, rather skimming or seeing the title, and then inaccurately judging the articles intention and contention.

    Posted on February 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

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    [...] to leave. This being the Reagan Forum, I was prepared to get into a discussion about how Reagan single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union, but no such luck, as everyone just talked about how they were married and wanted to go to business [...]

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