Less Than 500 Days to Live

By the time the 1990’s came about the Soviet Union’s days were numbered, though no one fully understood it yet. The signs had been there for several years, but they had merely been taken as the state being more lenient or that there were simply major problems that had to be addressed, but not a complete failure. Things such as the secession of many satellites in the late 1980’s that the old USSR would have crushed, were allowed to pass. The main issues that were compounding the problem were the increased defense spending with the US, the failing economy, and the radical changes that Gorbachev was making to try and bring the Soviet Union in new direction full of life.

The issue that was cause for most concern in 1990 was the economy because without funds the government could not accomplish anything else. During the 1980’s Gorbachev had tried to reform the command economy into something that could work. The attempt failed because party leadership did not fully embrace the change and did not think it was the right way to do things. This left the economy in a very bad place with all the negatives of a command economy and some of the negatives of a free market and the Soviet economy stagnated somewhere in the middle.

To combat this the Soviet needed a kick start to get the heart of the country back going. This resulted in a team of sophisticated economists led by Stanislav Shatalin to come up with a drastic plan for a drastic time known as the 500 Days plan because this was supposed to be the amount of time it would take. The plan was embraced by Western banks who’s money was needed to keep the Soviet Union solvent. However, this embrace only came at the rejections of many command economy tenets such as privatizing state assets like farmland and cutting many subsidies for agriculture and industry. In the end Gorbachev chose not to go through with the plan because he feared it would be too radical and would create havoc as well as him personally losing some power. A watered down form was later used that did not have the desired effect. It was designed by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov who had no formal economic training.

Ironically the 500 Days plan ended up with the Soviet Union collapsing around when the plan would have ended.  Due to the lumbering nature of the Soviet Union even if the 500 Days plan had gone into effect it very well might have still spelled the end for at this point it was really all over but the crying.

Freeze, Gregory. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

von Geldern, James. “1991: 500 Days.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. soviethistory.org, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2013.

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10 Responses to Less Than 500 Days to Live

  1. Annemarie Lucernoni says:

    This is a good summary of the economic conditions leading up to the 500 Days Plan and the Soviet Collapse. Also I like the cartoon though I wish I could tell what those scribbles coming out of the ship meant, any idea?

    • rlaj360 says:

      They were the Soviet satellite nations breaking off in life boats as the main ship went down. If you look closely you can read some of the names of countries on the little boats.

  2. bfulcer says:

    The economic collapse of the Soviet Union is no doubt one of the most unexpected moments in modern history. I wonder if the collapse could have been prevented had there been different leadership. It must have been stunning to see a country which had become so great after emerging from so many hardships fall apart so quickly. Both of your pictures are great

  3. court18 says:

    I think that this post did a great job at showing the inevitability of the end of the Soviet Union as the world knew it. Your post does a great job of showing the catch-22 situation that Gorbachev found himself in. He had two options. He could either he adopt the 500 Days plan and effectively kill the Soviet Union as it stood by allowing such massive economic changes to occur that it would be unrecognizable, or he could reject the plan and let the giant die from the onslaught of problems facing it. If he chose to apply the 500 Days plan, the state would be drastically altered and he would lose power. If he didn’t, the lack of reform would make the state succumb to the pressures on top of it, causing it collapse and him to lose power. Either way, the Soviet Union would no longer be what it once was and he would no longer hold the position that he once held. Your post does a great job of illustrating the inevitability of the state’s demise.

  4. Kyle says:

    This was an informative post! Reform and economic change just came too late for the Soviet Union. Like you mentioned, whether or not the plan was successful probably would not have made a difference.

  5. rkw15 says:

    This post did a great job at highlighting the major cause for the collapse of the soviet union- the economy. Reagan had planned on outspending the Soviets and it worked. This led to satellite nations to leave because they were no longer receiving the economic benefits they were used to getting from the U.S.S.R.

  6. Casey Pietsch says:

    Its interesting that Gorbachev had made many attempts at reforming the failing economy. However as you pointed out without funds the government could not accomplish anything. His attempts at reform failed because leadership could never accept the change.

  7. djp28 says:

    It is crazy to think that if this plan was passed, we still might be in a deadlock with the Soviet Union. I doubt that they ever would have been able to keep up with us economically or militarily, but would have still remained an aggressive enemy. Its pretty fascinating to know that they were almost willing to borrow west in order to rebook their economy, something that completely went against their ideology that they had been preaching for 80 years.

  8. wilkins says:

    As djp28 said, it would have been crazy if this plan was passed! I’m sure the strategy they ended up taking did involve a lot of the things outlined in the original plan though, so the 500 plan may not have worked.

  9. jessrs217 says:

    This post was really well done. I liked the cartoon, I also couldn’t quite tell what was coming out of the ship, but after reading the other comments on the post I learned that they were other satellite nations, which I thought was really clever. I also really liked the irony that you pointed out of the collapse happening around the same time as when the plan would have ended.

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