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Chapter 2 The End of Bipolarity Class 12 Political Science Notes

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Chapter 2 The End of Bipolarity Class 12 Political Science Notes

Chapter 2 The End of Bipolarity Class 12 Political Science Notes


What was the Soviet System?

• The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) came into being after the socialist revolution in Russia in 1917.

• The revolution was inspired by the ideals of socialism, as opposed to capitalism, and the need for an egalitarian society.

• The Soviet political system centred around the communist party, and no other political party or opposition was allowed. The economy was planned and controlled by the state.

• After the Second World War, the east European countries that the Soviet army had liberated from the fascist forces came under the control of the USSR. This group of countries was called the Second
World or the ‘socialist bloc’ held together by Warsaw Pact, a military alliance.

• After the Second World War, the Soviet economy was then more developed than the rest of the world except for the US. The Soviet state ensured a minimum standard of living for all citizens, and the government subsidised basic necessities including health, education, childcare and other welfare schemes. There was no unemployment.

• The Soviet system  became very bureaucratic and authoritarian, making life very difficult for its citizens.

• In the arms race, the Soviet Union managed to match the US from time to time, but the Soviet Union lagged behind the West in technology, infrastructure and in fulfilling the political or economic aspirations of citizens.

• The Soviet economy was faltering in the late 1970s and became stagnant.

Gorbachev and the Disintegration

• Mikhail Gorbachev, who had become General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 started reforming the system.

• He decided to normalise relations with the West and democratise and reform the Soviet Union but he did not anticipate the defects of the system.

• The people in the East European countries which were part of the Soviet bloc started to protest against their own governments and Soviet control. Gorbachev, did not intervene when the disturbances occurred, and the communist regimes collapsed one after another.

• The democratic reforms were opposed by leaders within the Communist Party. A coup took place in 1991 that was encouraged by Communist Party hardliners. The people did not want the old-style rule of the Communist Party and wanted freedom.

• In December 1991, under the leadership of Yeltsin, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, three major republics of the USSR, declared that the Soviet Union was disbanded. Capitalism and democracy were adopted as the bases for the post-Soviet republics.

• Russia was now accepted as the successor state of the Soviet Union. It inherited the Soviet seat in the UN Security Council. Russia accepted all the international treaties and commitments of the Soviet Union.

Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate?

• The internal weaknesses of Soviet political and economic institutions failed to meet the aspirations of the people.

• The Soviet economy used much of its resources in maintaining a nuclear and military arsenal and the development of its satellite states in Eastern Europe and within the Soviet system (the five Central Asian Republics in particular). Thus, economic stagnation for many years led to severe consumer shortages and a large section of Soviet society began to doubt and question the system.

• The Communist Party that had ruled the Soviet Union for over 70 years was not accountable to the people. Ordinary people were alienated by slow and stifling administration, rampant corruption, the inability of the system to correct mistakes it had made, the unwillingness to allow more openness in government, and the centralisation of authority in a vast land.

• A section of the society was not happy with the reforms of Gorbachev. It was believed that the reforms introduced by Gorbachev were at a very slow pace.

• The rise of nationalism and the desire for sovereignty within various republics including Russia and the Baltic republics.

Consequences of Disintegration

• It meant the end of Cold War confrontations. The ideological dispute over whether the socialist system was over.

• Power relations in world politics changed therefore it led to change in the relative influence of ideas and institutions.

• The US became the sole superpower. Backed by the power and prestige of the US, the capitalist economy was now the dominant economic system internationally.

• Institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund became powerful advisors to all countries.

• Politically, the notion of liberal democracy emerged as the best way to organise political life.

• The end of the Soviet bloc paved way for the emergence of many new countries who had their own independent aspirations and choices. Some of them, especially the Baltic and east European states, wanted to join the European Union and become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The Central Asian countries wanted to take advantage of their geographical location and continue their close ties with Russia and also to establish ties with the West, the US, China and others.

Shock therapy in post-communist regimes

• The model of transition in Russia, Central Asia and East Europe from an authoritarian socialist system to a democratic capitalist system which was influenced by the World Bank and the IMF came to be known as ‘Shock Therapy’.

• Shock therapy varied in intensity and speed amongst the former second world countries, but its direction and features were quite similar.

• Each of the countries was required to make a total shift to a capitalist economy, which meant rooting out completely any structures evolved during the Soviet period.

• The transition also involved a break up of the existing trade alliances among the countries of the Soviet bloc.

Consequences of Shock Therapy

• The shock therapy brought ruin to the economies and disaster upon the people of the entire region.

• The value of the ruble, the Russian currency, declined dramatically and the rate of inflation was so high that people lost all their savings.

• The old system of social welfare was systematically destroyed. The withdrawal of government subsidies pushed large sections of the people into poverty.

• The construction of democratic institutions was not given the same attention and priority as the demands of economic transformation.

Tensions and Conflicts

• Most of the former Soviet Republics are prone to conflicts, and many have had civil wars and insurgencies.

• In Russia, two republics, Chechnya and Dagestan, have had violent secessionist movements.

• Tajikistan witnessed a civil war for almost 10 years till 2001. The region had many sectarian conflicts.
Central Asia too become a zone of competition between outside powers and oil companies.

• In eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia was divided into two, the Czechs and the Slovaks thus forming independent countries.

• Yugoslavia broke apart with several provinces like Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina declaring independence.

India and Post-Communist Countries

• India has maintained good relations with all the post- communist countries. India’s relations with Russia are an important aspect of India’s foreign policy as both the countries share a vision of a multipolar world order.

• More than 80 bilateral agreements have been signed between India and Russia as part of the Indo-Russian Strategic Agreement of 2001.

• India benefitted from Russia over issues like Kashmir, energy supplies, access to Central Asia, balancing its relations with China.

• Russia benefitted from this relationship because India is the second largest arms market for Russia.

Timeline of Chapter 2 The End of Bipolarity


• March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev elected as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; appoints Boris Yeltsin as the head of the Communist Party in Moscow; initiates a series of reforms in the Soviet Union

• 1988: Independence movement begins in Lithuania; later spreads to Estonia and Latvia

• October 1989: Soviet Union declares that the Warsaw Pact members are free to decide their own futures; Berlin Wall falls in November

• February 1990: Gorbachev strips the Soviet Communist Party of its 72-year-long monopoly on power by calling on the Soviet parliament (Duma) to permit multi- party politics

• March 1990: Lithuania becomes the first of the 15 Soviet republics to declare its independence

• June 1990: Russian parliament declares its independence from the Soviet Union

• June 1991: Yeltsin, no longer in the Communist Party, becomes the President of Russia

• August 1991: The Communist Party hardliners stage an abortive coup against Gorbachev

• September 1991: Three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania become UN members (later join NATO in March 2004)

• December 1991: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine decide to annul the 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan join the CIS (Georgia joins later in 1993); Russia takes over the USSR seat in the United Nations

• 25 December 1991 : Gorbachev resigns as the President of the Soviet Union; the end of the Soviet Union
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