Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes an epochal event
It has been a week to the breakup of the fall of the soviet union that occurred more than three decades before on 31 December 1991 and changed the geo-strategic makeup of the globe. Though the Soviet Union came into existence as successor of the Russian Empire considered a large agricultural country but owing to its large population, huge land mass and strategic location straddling Europe and Asia it soon developed into a superpower having acquired equality with the Western world in terms of life expectancy, caloric intake and literacy. From its humble origins it quickly transformed itself into an urban, industrialised country that was autocratically governed by a wide network of the party that was organised on ideological principles of communism. By 1980s the Soviet Union was one pole of a bipolar world and effectively challenged the American hegemony. With its Warsaw Pact allies, it was considered the military equal of the United States-led NATO alliance. The Soviet Union carved out a niche in the world through which is proselytize the system it followed that compelled the other bloc to contend its motives resulting in a Cold War that caused a great deal of confrontation in many parts of the globe.
Though the Soviet Union known by its acronym USSR was rated as a superpower but its undeniable economic achievements existed side by side with persistent failures as national resources were used inefficiently. It was widely known that many products produced by the country were sub-standard with the people of the USSR often faced long lines for ordinary goods in the notoriously inefficient system of retail distribution. It was also widely acknowledged that the state of provision of general services were abysmal. The state-run governance system often failed to complete ambitious infrastructural projects and resulted in monumental waste of financial resources. The financial restraints so imposed were instrumental in weakening the very base of the union and slowly it failed to maintain its existential entity. Though the USSR appeared as a powerful unitary state but it was fundamentally a weak entity where governance was carried out on the basis of widespread use of the coercive authority of the state.
It was quite evident that the emergence of the USSR was due to centralised system of economic management under the ideological underpinnings of future stateless and classless society regularly referred to as socialism. What was in vogue before the typical Soviet system, and is still operational in post-Soviet era, most countries of the world, particularly of the developed world, was an economic system in which market forces served as the main coordinator of economic activity with their profit motive acting as the propellant force. The Soviet system relied on none of those institutions and in the Soviet Union nearly all production took place in enterprises owned by the government with state plans devised in Moscow rather than decentralised market forces, coordinating the economy. The Soviet ideologues ignored that directives aimed at fulfilling the central plan, not the pursuit of profit, sets economic activity in motion but such pursuit was considered a criminal activity in the country thereby repressing the best means ensuring productivity.
The Soviet state held an aura for more than six decades and was successful in creating a separate bloc that deeply polarised the world. The rivalry between the USSR and the US was responsible for keeping the world on tenterhooks during the entire duration of the Cold War. The rapid downfall of a power like the Soviet Union came as quite a surprise to the world that never expected that it would fold away in a matter of two years. Many reasons are given for the demise of the Soviet Union that reveal that multiplicity of factors contributed in its downfall. It is often pointed out in this context that the particular form of governance adopted by the Soviet leadership under Stalin contained severe flaws that grew more serious over time. This kind of governance repressed the basic freedoms of the Soviet people and their yearning for freedom and democracy did play an important role in the fall of the country. Though the Soviet leadership at a later stage tried to rectify mistakes of the past by opening up the society but it was too little, too late and did nothing to retrieve the situation.
According to an old adage, money makes the mare go, and the USSR also got caught in the grip of financial difficulties that contributed highly to the breakdown of the Soviet governance fabric. Interestingly, it was noted that in the mid-1970s the performance of the Soviet economy deteriorated significantly and ten years of minor adjustments the regime failed to improve economic performance. Keeping in view the deteriorating financial situation, the young Soviet leadership tried to bring in major structural reform, democratise and renew Soviet socialism. Much to the chagrin of the Soviet leadership these reforms unleashed processes that created a new coalition of groups and classes that favoured replacing socialism with capitalism. Boris Yeltsin, who became the chief executive of the Russian Republic within the Soviet Union in 1990, emerged as the leader of this coalition. This group emerged victorious in the struggle for supremacy and by sidelining the Soviet leadership holding power and the other group comprising old guard secured power ultimately.
Quite intriguingly the winning group was aided by an apparently unlikely source consisting of the party state elite of the Soviet system. The USSR comprised of many nationalities inhabiting vast areas of Eastern Europe and Central Asia that the Soviet state coercion held together by means of centralised economic and political institutions of state socialism. As the grip on power of central leadership of the Soviet Union weakened the multinational Soviet state began to weaken. The main reason for this weakening of the authority of the central apparatus was the unwillingness of the victorious group led by Yeltsin’s to keep its association with the satellite republics. On the contrary the victorious group realised that that it could consolidate its power only by separating Russia from the other Soviet republics and this attitude spelled the end of the Soviet Union that swiftly disintegrated replaced by 15 new countries.
As a result the former Soviet Union ended its existence with its economy in state of collapse unable to support its impoverished people. The process of disintegration of the USSR could not be viewed in isolation and same is the case with the after-effects of such a colossal event whose shocks are also felt as the Russian-Ukraine conflict amply bears out. It is still not certain how long will it take for the region to stabilise as the underlying tensions prevail throughout its length and breadth that keep on bursting out in the open. Russia still is considered the dominant player in the region but its dominance is continuously challenged by its neighbours who were its erstwhile satellite states. It is often remarked that the experiences of living together in a unified Soviet Union are not considered pleasant by many former allies that keep a covert dislike for Russia in their hearts that is certainly not a good omen for the entire region and is regarded as a potential flash-point for future disturbances. TW