One can often hear politicians, journalists and their ilk saying that the West has won the Cold War, referring to the “Collapse of Communism” in the former Soviet Union. But the disintegration of the Soviet Union was not a result of a military confrontation with the “West”. Nor was it a result of “Economic Sanctions”, nor of “Diplomatic Pressures”. It happened at a time when the relationships between the Soviet Union and the “West” had become almost “normal”, following a period of “thaw” in the Cold War, known as “the Detente”.
To understand why “Communism collapsed” one needs to understand what reality stands behind the word “Communism” and what really happened which came to be called “collapse”.
The word “Communism” as used in the “West” meant a country governed by people who called themselves “Communists”, so they spoke about “Communist Russia”, “Communist China”, etc. But the Communists themselves did not call their countries “Communist”, because for them “Communism” was an idealistic goal they hoped to achieve, but the system of government and social order that they succeeded to establish in their countries they called “Socialism”.
The essence of “Communism”, as understood by the Communists, was the belief that the cause of Human Problems is “Capitalism” — that is “Money” and “Private Property”. If Private Property and Money is abolished and replaced by “Public Ownership” and distribution of wealth performed in accordance with the needs of each individual, and each individual contributes to the Public Wealth according to his abilities — then all the “Social Contradictions” will disappear and an ideal “Communist Society” will be established.
To establish this society the “Working Masses” will overthrow “Capitalism” and take “Power” into their hands, thus establishing the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. And it is this Proletariat (poor destitute people) who will use their “dictatorship” to establish Communism.
So, in 1917, in Russia, the Russian Communists did succeed in overthrowing the Russian Government of the time and placing themselves in the position of power. And the “proletariat” began to take control of the “Means of Production [and Distribution]” — the workers and peasants began to take control of factories, shops, and farms.
This, however, has not resulted in an ideal Communist Society, but has lead to chaos, shortages of the basic commodities and hunger, and the Communist government had to “change the course” and announce a “New Economic Policy”, which has allowed “Capitalists” (factory owners, shopkeepers, and wealthy farmers) to “come back” and resume their economic activities. This has saved the country from total collapse, but the realisation of the Dream of Communism had to be postponed, but not abandoned.
In the West the Russian Revolution produced fear that Communism could spread to their own countries, but it also gave a sense of opportunity. So attempts were made at military intervention, as well as economic blockades and staging a “counter‐revolution” by supporting (and weaponizing) various internal opposition groups. This, however, has not resulted in defeat of Communism, but has put the Russian Communist government in a “defence mode”. Defence of the “Motherland” and of the “Communist Revolutionary Gains” became top priority at the expense of “Economic Prosperity”.
In countries under threat from outside and inside, defence always becomes top priority and any opposition to the government in power becomes seen as “collaboration with the Enemy” or “treason”. And in Russia it has lead to the Iron Rule of Joseph Stalin. The New Economic Policy was abandoned. All capitalists (factory owners, shopkeepers, and wealthy peasants) were “expropriated”, and their enterprises were taken over by the state. This still was not the Ideal Communism, but “Socialism” — a “Purgatory on the way to the Communist Paradise”. And in a country faced with external and internal threats such centralized government, giving priority to defence and security, was acceptable to the people. This is what the “Russian Communism” was in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the 1940s Russia was invaded by Germany in a full scale major war. And this war has still further strengthened Russian Communism. And having won the war, the Russian Communists spread their control to much of Eastern Europe.
After the end of the Second World War, seeing the Russian influence grow, the Americans adopted policies to counter and contain the “Communist Threat”, which has lead to the “Cold War” between the “West” and the “Communist Block” — mutual vilification, espionage, the Arms Race, the Nuclear Arms Race — which dominated much of the world politics in the 1950s and 1960s.
But, while this Cold War has kept Russia in a defence mode, the reality was peaceful and stable. And under these peaceful circumstances the Russians could no longer justify the “hardships and sacrifices” acceptable in war times, they had to start improving the economic conditions of the people. And at this time the post‐Stalin leadership have changed the direction from “the Struggle against Capitalism” to “Peaceful Coexistence between the Two Systems”.
The Americans (the West) on their part, feeling less threatened by Communism have come up with the idea of “detente” — a relaxation of the Cold War hostilities. And a period of mutual exploration began.
As the officials of both the camps began to visit each other's countries and meet each other, they discovered that the “other” was not what they thought they were. The Americans were surprised to meet bureaucrats in suits and ties rather than “commissars” in First‐World‐War military uniforms with revolvers hanging from their belts. The Russians were surprised to meet bureaucrats in suits and ties (not very different from themselves) rather than “Uncle Sam” cartoon characters. They even discovered that they had more in common with each other than with the people of their own countries.
But what impressed the Russians vising the West most was that the “ordinary people” in the West lived better than in their own country. And this gave them the idea that “Capitalism” is not as bad as they imagined it to be, and that they need to “catch up with Capitalism”. And this started off a period of experiments and reforms which has eventually lead them to the conclusion that their system cannot be “reformed”, but needs to be scrapped. And they announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and proclaimed the Russian Federation. And the “Russian Communism”, which in fact was a “centralised siege war‐and‐defence ideological regime” ceased to exist. And this is what “Collapse of Communism” was in reality.
Communism, as this word was understood by those who called themselves “Communists”, has never existed. It was just an idealistic Utopian myth. But the reason that the Russians hang onto this myth for three‐quarters of a century was because, having effected a revolution, they were subjected to wars, blockades and hostilities, which lasted for some 50 years, which created not the Communism of their dreams, but a paranoid militaristic regime, which became known in the West as the “Russian Communism”. But once the “threats and hostilities” subsided, and having got a chance to implement their ideal, they have discovered that it is neither achievable, nor worthwhile, and have given it up. But had the hostilities and threats against Russia persisted up to these times, “Russian Communism” would have been still “with us”. And, were it not for the threats and hostilities, “Russian Communism” would not have lasted more than 20 years, instead of over 70 years.
There are some lessons to be learned from the History of Russian Communism. Is the North Korean “nuclear drive” not a result of “external threats”? And, once China became less threatened, have they not turned towards economic development?
Today, the “Russian Communism” is history, but a new paranoid militaristic ideological regime has emerged and is threatening the world, and has already claimed hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of victims. But the ideal of this regime is not “Communism”. Their ideal is “Democracy” which they seek to impose on the rest of the world by wars, propaganda, subversion, and diplomacy. And the leaders of this regime call themselves “us, the Democratic West”.
There is also a difference between the “threats” which turned yesterday's Russia and today's West into paranoid militaristic regimes. Communist Russia had to defend itself from real physical wars waged against it by the greatest military powers of the time. Today's West is fighting “global threats” of its own making — a few “terrorist acts”, which could have been dealt with by normal policing, they used as a justification for a Global and Endless “War on Terror”.
Russian Communism lasted for 74 years. How long will the West's “War on Terror” last?