The performance of the USSR had been on a gradual decline since the 1950s. The Union ended up lagging behind other nations in the West and was surpassed economically and technologically by some developing nations in Asia. By the 1980s the system was so inept that it needed to be reformed. It is the manner and the speed of implementation that brought the USSR to an end something that caught the world by surprise. The bungled reforms can be boldly divided into three main categories; political and economic liberalization and a change in foreign policy.
Politically, the changes that began with the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party culminated in the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. By 1988 Gorbachev was pushing forward with democratization. This was achieved when he convinced the 19th Communist Party Conference in 1988 to agree on holding contested elections for the legislature to be known as the Congress of People’s Deputies (Kotkin, 2001). When these elections were held, some senior Communist Party officials lost while some critics of the Communist Party leadership sailed through. Glasnost, a policy of openness or transparency that Gorbachev championed brought about freedom of speech and publication. Previously banned literature such as George Orwell’s and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s was published and distributed (Kotkin, 2001).
Economically marketization was implemented though ineptly because prices of commodities remained controlled. This put the economy in limbo for at least the last two years of USSR existence as it was caught in-between a command economy and a market economy being neither. Reforms such as individualization of enterprise, devolving powers to the factories and legalizing cooperatives did not yield the intended results on top of undermining the old Soviet institutional structures (McFaul, 2001). They therefore became counterproductive.
On the foreign policy front, Gorbachev took a moderate stand advocating for concessions on major policy and for increased cooperation with the West. He adopted globalization and opened the USSR economy to foreign investors something that was altogether very new in the Soviet Union (McFaul, 2001). He did not oppose declaration of independence by countries in Eastern Europe though he had not expected them to do so. When these countries announced their independence in 1991, it became the last nail on the coffin of the USSR.
This disintegration can be blamed on the bungled reforms of the 1980s. That the Soviet Union was in dire need of reforms by 1980s was not in question but the haphazardly way in which the reforms were done and the speed of it brought the unintended results. Had the reforms been carried in a gradual and systematic manner, the USSR would be standing today as a mighty nation. The problems that bedeviled the USSR can be blamed more on its internal policies than the external ones. Though part of the problems can be associated to external sabotage, the old saying would hold true for the USSR that ‘it is not the robin that pecks the apple from outside that destroys it but the worm within’.