Which factors lead to the collapse of the national economies?


Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder

Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder

To person

Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder is a research group leader in the Russia / CIS research group of the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP). His main research interests are current political developments in Russia, the history of the Soviet Union and Russian foreign and security policy.

(1964 - 1991)

The 1960s and 1970s were characterized by a mix of relaxation and expansion of the empire. With the "Perestroika" by Mikhail Gorbachev, the last attempt at reform in the Soviet Union failed in 1991 - and ended with the overthrow of the system.

Mikhail Gorbachev at the coffin of his predecessor as CPSU general secretary, Konstantin Tschernenko. The day before, on March 11, 1985, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CPSU. (& copy AP)

The new leadership first rushed to reverse Khrushchev's party and administrative reform, and then proceeded to reorganize the economic leadership. The position of the central authorities, in particular the State Planning Committee (Gosplan), was strengthened, and the management of the branches of industry was brought back to the ministries. At the same time, however, the companies were given considerably greater skills. In the first few years, these reforms certainly led to an increase in output, and annual growth rates doubled. From the mid-1970s, however, growth slowed noticeably, and even according to official figures, the increase was still below that of the Khrushchev period. Agricultural production also rose only slightly in the 1970s. The Soviet economy stagnated.

A crucial problem was that it was not possible to increase the productivity of the workforce in the long term. Increases were therefore essentially achieved through the use of additional resources (labor, energy, raw materials) - Soviet growth was extensive, not intensive. The cause was the system of planning and management, which did not create any incentives for companies to use resources sparingly and to use innovative processes. The inability of the Soviet national economy to keep pace with the capitalist industrialized countries in terms of technological development was a major factor in its failure.

In domestic politics, the transition from Khrushchev to Brezhnev meant a departure from de-Stalinization. The critical examination of the Stalin era, which had been possible in some literary magazines under Khrushchev, was stopped. Even before 1964, the Soviet authorities had taken action against unpopular intellectuals. In 1965 the KGB, the State Security Committee, initiated a show trial of the writers Julij Daniel and Andrej Sinjawskij for mocking the Soviet system. The persecution of nonconformist intellectuals, including writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and scholars like Andrei Sakharov, was an element of Brezhnev's social policy.

In terms of foreign and security policy, the USSR achieved considerable successes up until the second half of the 1970s. The Brezhnev leadership accelerated the construction of ICBMs and, in the late 1960s, reached the level of US armaments in the field of strategic nuclear weapons. The Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Weapons (SALT I) confirmed her status as "the other superpower" in 1972, as an equal partner of the USA.

Parallel to the armaments policy, the Soviet leadership sought to regulate East-West relations politically and thus avoid acute crises. The Eastern Treaties and the Four Power Agreement on the status of West Berlin eased German-Soviet relations. The Helsinki Process, formalized by the signing of the CSCE Final Act on August 1, 1975, created a framework for cooperation and peaceful competition in Europe. The invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968 and the proclamation of the Brezhnev doctrine on "the limited sovereignty of the socialist states in the event of a threat to the world socialist system" were not perceived in the West as a threat to the détente process. In fact, the German-Soviet talks on renouncing violence and normalizing began as early as the following year, which were successfully brought to a conclusion in August 1970. The relationship between the USSR and China, however, did not improve. In March 1969 armed clashes even broke out on the border river Ussuri. The eastern neighbor was increasingly perceived as threatening competition.