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By the 1980s the Soviet Union had built a powerful economy of a distinctive type, second only to that of the United States. It was a world leader in many fields of science, including space exploration and civilian and military uses of nuclear power; it possessed an advanced educational establishment and a varied cultural scene; it evolved sophisticated industrial, social, and transportation infrastructures; and it had in place reasonably adequate housing and food supply systems. Contrary to the ideological claims that it developed in the direction of a socially homogeneous society, the social structure that emerged by the early 1980s was increasingly diverse and varied and was now dominated by distinctive groups of urban populations with their own interests, way of life, and mentality.

Even more crucially, under the seemingly stagnating surface of an ostensibly “socialist” system, new trends and phenomena evolved, including an “administrative market” (bureaucratic accommodation of interests between economic departments and state planning agencies), a vast shadow economy, a certain diffusion of power, the emergence of privileged social groups, the rise of intellectual elites, an informal public opinion, cultural and intellectual pluralism, and ecological, nationalist, and dissident movements. All of these were impermissible from the point of view of the ossified ideology, but each reflected real modernizing trends affecting Soviet society.

By then it was clear that the Soviet Union had come to the point at which its legitimizing doctrines, institutions, and decision-making procedures were hopelessly outdated and no longer capable of meeting the growing demands and modern complexity of Soviet society. The bankruptcy of the neo-Stalinist system of government was obvious to any unprejudiced observer. The dominance of military leaders, central planners, and ideologists in determining priorities was called into question. The old Leninist ideology seemed no longer capable of incorporating the broad masses of the population into the Communist project.

Thus, the Soviet regime by its own policies had nurtured powerful forces of modernity that in a matter of decades were destined to become the regime’s own “gravediggers.” It was exactly this rapidly mounting complexity and diversification of all aspects of society, including the economy, education, culture, communications, and interethnic and international relations, that created the ingredients of a systemic crisis that overwhelmed the Soviet leadership in the late 1980s.

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The Soviet Period


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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