Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of Gorbachev

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Nicholas Bethell-Collins                02 December 2010

‘Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of Gorbachev’s blunders.’ Discuss

        The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, into 15 completely separate nation states, was generally perceived to be a great triumph for the west – as well as for democracy and freedom – over a tyrannical socialist state. What actually caused this downfall has plagued historians and speculators and caused massive worldwide debate on the issue. The conventional argument is that issues such as Stalin’s despotic nature and the increasing calls for freedom from the Eastern Bloc satellite states had a major impact; however more recently historians have questioned whether the collapse was doomed from the start due to issues entrenched in the regime from the start, by leaders such as Lenin. More importantly in this case is question of Gorbachev's role in bringing down the USSR and communism in the Eastern Bloc and if indeed: “The culprit to be blamed is Gorbachev”.

Communism formally took hold of Russia in late October 1917 following the success of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This government was in fact socialist, not strictly communist, - according to Marx’s definition of the word - and within the next decade had unified the other soviet satellite states into one “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’, the USSR, marking the start of Stalin’s rule in April 1922. 
Based on the Bolshevik ‘one-party system’
, there was no contest for power in Russia, and Stalin was easily able to consolidate power after Lenin placed him at the head of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate - known as the Rabkrin – ousting and outmanoeuvring any threat from within the party. Gorbachev, although a dedicated Leninist, was the first leader fully who committed to establish a free and more liberal regime, untainted by greed.

Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in mid-March, 1985 and is widely seen as Russia’s most talented and dynamic leader for many years. Determined to remedy the problems that years of autocratic rule had ingrained in soviet society, he intended to revitalise and liberalise the face of Russia and the USSR as a whole. 

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Mark Mazower encapsulates this feeling seamlessly in this paragraph of his Dark Continent: "The costs were visible on people's skins and in their lungs. Pollution by the 1980s had become a frightening reminder of Communism's failed attempt to master nature.  Eastern Europe had become an ecological disaster zone of dying rivers and barren forests, grimy cities, crumbling monuments and disease-ridden humans"

Almost synonymous with Gorbachev's name are the two key ideas – Perestroika and Glasnost – he introduced in order to tackle the most pressing problems: wasteful use of resources, lack of innovation, poor division of labour, too many costly products, ineffective use of resources and low productivity. 
Perestroika (restructuring or rebuilding) ...

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