The collapse of the Soviet Union was definitely not expected to happen without bloodshed, and few would have ever guessed for it to play out the way it did. Most if asked would have thought that its destruction would have come from an outside intervention, either a conventional or nuclear strike, but this is far from the truth. During the last breathes of Lenin’s glorious party, the people no longer were in support of a communist republic, but acknowledged they were much in need of change. The days of waiting hours at a supermarket for a tiny piece of meat were nearing to a close.
The Coup took place when eight members of the Soviet high command started to see that their power was quickly slipping from their control towards Boris Eltsin and his Democratic views. In order to change this order of events, these eight party members (which included the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and head of the KGB), tried to stage that Gorbachev had become sick by holding him captive within his own presidential vacation home. Next, soldiers were sent in to the streets of Moscow to try to “maintain order”. Yet these soldiers and KGB agents who were tasked with this refused to fire on their own people, and instead peacefully waited around and let the demonstrations against the communists continue. The coup was not going nearly as those who had planned it had hoped, and it was about to take a turn for the worst.
With the country on its last leg, it needed a leader to step up and take control, and that is exactly what Boris Eltsin did. Although some have mixed opinions on him due to his well-known drinking habits, during August 1991 he performed as any positive historical figure would. Eltsin, accompanied by his follows, march to the center of Moscow where the main demonstrations were taking place, and stood up on a tank that was supposed to be protecting the Soviet Union. In this moment though, it served as a podium for Democracy. Eltsin spoke and told the people to not be afraid, and to come embrace his version of democracy. In the picture taken, the Soviet tank commander hides his head in shame as Eltsin speaks. Days after this event when Gorbachev eventually returned to the capital, his country had completely changed. He was no longer in control, even in the Soviet parliament where he was bashed and mocked by Eltsin. This marked an end to a truly incredible era.
It is interesting when reading back on how many historians and scholars predicted the fall of communism or capitalism and the end of the Cold War always being in such a dramatic way. Not to say that this change was not dramatic and did not have points of tension, one would rarely consider the idea that there would be an internal war within the Soviet Union to preserve it at that point.
The sudden change of government in Russia is amazing. What is just as amazing is the refusal of the military to back the regime. It shows just how much influence a military can have when it decides to remove itself from civilian/party control.
I think it was really interesting how dramatic the fall of communism was as well. While there were many signs of its eventual end i dont think any could have predicted how it actually fell. I think this era proved to be a great lesson for many countries as well.
This was good post that helped put in perspective this rather confusing time period in Soviet history. It is pretty incredible that so tough a regime was able to be toppled with practically no violence though. This shows that the Russian people were finally tired of dealing with nonsense and wanted to get on living.
I think it’s interesting how much had changed by the time of the collapse. In the Stalin years, if the regime noticed its power slipping to someone who preached democracy, the higher-ups would have just had him executed. By 1991, those that opposed the regime were able to take control much more easily than in the past.
It is intriguing that the army were what the Bolsheviks required to get into power in 1917 and in the end they were in part the short term cause of why the Soviets could not retain power. In both circumstances the army sided with the people over the orders of their leaders.
I thought that this post was really interesting. I especially liked in the beginning where you pointed out that most people would not have guessed that the end of the Soviet Union would have come from the inside, but instead would have expected it to come from something like an outside intervention. Its really odd to think that this regime was taken out by a coup that involved much less violence than one would have expected.