History of the Soviet Union

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“Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall”

President Reagan during his iconic speech

President Reagan during his iconic speech

On June 12th of 1987 Ronald Reagan delivered his now famous speech in front of a large West German crowd near the Berlin wall. Officially, President Reagan was commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin. In reality, his speech harshly mocked the increasingly contradictory nature of the Soviet Union during the 1980’s. Soviet policies under Gorbachev had gradually allowed for increasingly liberal attitudes to take root within Soviet Society. Reagan seized upon these reforms and portrayed them as self-realizations by the Politburo itself that their own system of government was doomed to fail.

Known as “Perestroika” and “Glasnost”, these policies probably contributed way more to the demise of the USSR than any piece of western propaganda or any of Reagan’s speeches. Perestroika basically opened the door to Western ideas of entrepreneurship and market-based economics to a Soviet populace that was eager for a change. During the mid and late 1980’s, perestroika allowed for certain institutions to determine their own production levels based upon consumer demand rather than the traditional system of centralized command of the economy. Individuals were also granted new rights and economic freedoms that would have been considered sacrilegious under Stalin’s regime. Specifically, the 1988 Law on Cooperatives allowed for the combination of personal enterprises with state enterprises, or so-called co-opts. This new system allowed for individuals to produce goods beyond those mandated by the state and allowed the person to keep the profits, legally.

While perestroika allowed for an increasingly liberal economy, Glasnost began chipping away at the monopoly of tyrannical censorship practiced by the Politburo. Russian media also increasingly distanced itself from the Politburo during this time. For the first time, Russians saw many of the more negative aspects of the Soviet Union that had long been censored. Russia’s satellite nations utilized Glasnost to stoke their own unique brands of nationalism, which further weakened the clout and legitimacy of the USSR.

Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president following the USSR collapse, embraced these new-found notions of nationalism and sought to promote similar nationalism among Russians. Aside from Gorbachev, Yeltsin served perhaps the most monumental role in the dissolution of the USSR. He famously challenged the August Coup by climbing atop a tank in Moscow to deliver a speech in open defiance of the coup.

Down with the Soviet Union...long live Mother Russia

Down with the Soviet Union…long live Mother Russia

Despite the mainstream media’s tendency to claim the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, powerful though it was, as the culprit behind the Soviet Union’s collapse; it was in fact the Soviets themselves who contributed to their own dissolution through embracing perestroika and glasnost.




9 Responses to “Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall”

  1. Kelly says:

    This is a fantastic post! Very well-written and insightful. I wrote about the Warsaw Pact and I incorporated the policies of perestroika and glasnost in my blog as well. I agree with you that these two policies were two key ingredients in the fall of the Soviet Union. Great title too!

  2. piercedc says:

    Great post, I really like the realism behind the analysis that the Soviet collapse was more of an interior reform rather than from external pressure. The USSR really sealed its own fate with the attempt to reform as Gorbachev allowed glasnost and perestroika to grow unchecked, and Yeltsin seized the opportunity to exploit it in a push for the Presidency of Russia.

  3. GPittard says:

    My uncle was stationed in Berlin during Ronald Reagan’s speech. While Mr.President was making the speech no one knew what could happen and they were prepared for the worst. He couldn’t really tell me a lot of what was going on, but just the fact that his men were ready to deploy at any time is quite scary. But great post. I really wish Boris Yeltsin would have been a stronger character and maybe Russia would have been strong democracy today.

  4. jmhawkins says:

    Great post! I really liked the detail and explanation behind why and how Reagan’s speech impacted the Soviet Union. The hold of the Soviet Union on the eastern European countries was shaky, but after the speech is sounds like everything changed.

  5. annapope says:

    This post is a great example of how to fairly present the facts but still include your own opinion. I agree that the irreversible causes of the collapse took place long before Reagan came into the picture.

  6. abishop says:

    Nice post! I like the pictures you included. I also particularly like your conclusion and how you state that Reagan’s speech and policies definitely helped end the Soviet Union, but ultimately it was the Soviet people themselves who were able to work together to help dissolve the Union. Good summary of glasnost and perestroika and how they were able to chip away at the Soviet Union, too. Well done!

  7. kathaskew says:

    An insightful post. I’ve come across the terms perestroika and glastnost before, but I wasn’t sure what they involved and how they aided the end of the Soviet Union. This post help cleared that up.

  8. A. Nelson says:

    What everyone else said! Plus – I’m so impressed that you mastered this template — looks great!

  9. Alex Apollonio says:

    My blog post for this week was very similar to this, focusing on the political opposition that sprung up as a result of Gorbachev’s reforms. In the U.S., we like to talk about our own role in bringing down the Soviets, but, in reality, it was mostly them who did themselves in.

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