Predictions of the dissolution of the Soviet Union
There were people and organizations who predicted that the USSR would fall before the USSR began to collapse in the late 1980s.
Authors often credited with having predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union include Andrei Amalrik in Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (1970), French academic Emmanuel Todd in La chute finale: Essais sur la décomposition de la sphère Soviétique (The Final Fall: An essay on the decomposition of the Soviet sphere) (1976), economist Ravi Batra in his 1978 book The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism and French historian Hélène Carrère d'Encausse. Additionally, Walter Laqueur notes that "Various articles that appeared in professional journals such as Problems of Communism and Survey dealt with the decay and the possible downfall of the Soviet regime." In the United States, chiefly among conservatives, the politician most credited with predicting the dissolution of the Soviet Union is President Ronald Reagan.
Many of the predictions made before 1980 about the fall of the Soviet Union were considered by those who uttered them as a somewhat remote possibility rather than a probability. However, for some (such as Amalrik and Todd) the idea was much more than a passing thought. Whether any particular prediction was correct is still a matter of debate, since the reasons for the Soviet Union's actual collapse may be different from the reasons given by the various authors in their predictions.
Some of the predictions are mutually exclusive, in the sense that they present incompatible views of the Soviet collapse (if one of them is correct, the others must be incorrect). On the other hand, there are also certain groups of predictions that are compatible with each other.
- 1 Conventional wisdom discounting a collapse
- 1.1 U.S. analysts
- 1.2 Ludwig von Mises
- 1.3 Leon Trotsky
- 1.4 World War II
- 1.5 Early Cold War
- 1.6 Détente
- 1.7 Late Cold War
- 2 Why were Sovietologists wrong?
- 3 See also
- 4 Further reading
- 5 Notes
Conventional wisdom discounting a collapse
Predictions of the Soviet Union's impending demise were discounted by many, if not most, Western academic specialists, and had little impact on mainstream Sovietology. For example, Amalrik's book "was welcomed as a piece of brilliant literature in the West" but "virtually no one tended to take it at face value as a piece of political prediction." Up to about 1980 the strength of the Soviet Union was widely overrated by critics and revisionists alike.
In a symposium launched to review Michel Garder's French book: L'Agonie du Regime en Russie Sovietique (The Death Struggle of the Regime in Soviet Russia), which also predicted the collapse of the USSR, Yale Professor Frederick C. Barghoorn dismissed Garder's book as "the latest in a long line of apocalyptic predictions of the collapse of communism." He warns that "great revolutions are most infrequent and that successful political systems are tenacious and adaptive." In addition, the reviewer of the book, Michael Tatu, disapproved of the "apocalyptic character" of such a forecast and is almost apologetic for treating it seriously.
Other analysts, organizations and politicians who predicted the Soviet Union's collapse included:
Ludwig von Mises
The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises predicted the unsustainability and eventual collapse of the Soviet system in his 1921 book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, published months before Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy reintroducing partial property rights. His analysis was based on the economic calculation problem, a critique of central planning first outlined in 1920 journal articles. His argument was that the Soviet Union would find itself increasingly unable to set correct prices for the goods and services it produced:
We may admit that in its initial period a socialist regime could to some extent rely on the preceding age of capitalism [for the purpose of determining prices]. But what is to be done later, as conditions change more and more? Of what use could the prices of 1900 be for the director in 1949? And what use can the director in 1989 derive from knowledge of the prices of 1949?
One of the founders of the USSR, later expelled by Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky devoted much of his time in exile to the question of the Soviet Union's future. In time, he came to believe that a new revolution was necessary to depose the nomenklatura and reinstate working class rule as the first step to socialism. In 1936 he made the following prediction:
In order better to understand the character of the present Soviet Union, let us make two different hypotheses about its future. Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labor to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticize and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution – that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy – the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.
If – to adopt a second hypothesis – a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ cooperatives of the bourgeois type into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual “corporations” – potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution.
Let us assume to take a third variant – that neither a revolutionary nor a counterrevolutionary party seizes power. The bureaucracy continues at the head of the state. Even under these conditions social relations will not jell. We cannot count upon the bureaucracy’s peacefully and voluntarily renouncing itself in behalf of socialist equality. If at the present time, notwithstanding the too obvious inconveniences of such an operation, it has considered it possible to introduce ranks and decorations, it must inevitably in future stages seek supports for itself in property relations. One may argue that the big bureaucrat cares little what are the prevailing forms of property, provided only they guarantee him the necessary income. This argument ignores not only the instability of the bureaucrat’s own rights, but also the question of his descendants. The new cult of the family has not fallen out of the clouds. Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. But the right of testament is inseparable from the right of property. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class. On the other hand, the victory of the proletariat over the bureaucracy would insure a revival of the socialist revolution. The third variant consequently brings us back to the two first, with which, in the interests of clarity and simplicity, we set out.
World War II
Military observers around the world watched closely. It appears that most of them shared Hitler's opinion, expecting Germany to win, destroy the Soviet system, and establish its New Order in Europe. Very few American experts thought the Soviet Union would survive. After the beginning of the German invasion, the United States Department of War advised Franklin D. Roosevelt that the German army would conquer the Soviet Union within one to three months. In July 1941, the American general staff issued memoranda to the American press that a Soviet collapse was to be expected within several weeks. British analysts also shared this view, believing that Germany would win within three to six weeks without heavy losses. Negative predictions had an important impact on President Roosevelt; while the United States was not at the time at war, he favored the Allies (Britain and the Soviet Union), and decided to try to avert the collapse of the USSR by supplying them with munitions through Lend-Lease, and also to pressure Japan not to attack while the USSR was so vulnerable. The Red Army held the line at the outskirts of Moscow and predictions changed to "uncertain." 
Early Cold War
George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, wrote in 1946 that "the Russian regime will either democratize itself or it will perish". He was regarded by US historian Robert Conquest as one of the first people who made such a prediction. According to a Conquest article published in 1969, "In time, the Communist world is faced with a fundamental crisis. We can not say for certain that it will democratize itself. But every indication is that it will, as Orwell said, either democratize itself or perish...We must also, though, be prepared to cope with cataclysmic changes, for the death throes of the more backward apparatus may be destructive and dangerous".
[T]he main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies... Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world
The United States would have to undertake this containment alone and unilaterally, but if it could do so without undermining its own economic health and political stability, the Soviet party structure would undergo a period of immense strain eventually resulting in "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power."
Kennan later regretted the manner in which his theory was received and implemented, but it nevertheless became a core element of American strategy, which consisted of building a series of military alliances around the USSR.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union on several occasions. In a 2006 interview, Brzezinski stated that in his 1950 master's thesis (which has not been published) he argued that "the Soviet Union was pretending to be a single state but in fact it was a multinational empire in the age of nationalism. So the Soviet Union would break up."
As an academic at Columbia University, Brzezinski wrote numerous books and articles that "took seriously the option of collapse", including Dilemmas of Change in Soviet Politics (1969) and Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era (1970).
Dilemmas of Change in Soviet Politics contained fourteen articles dealing with the future of the Soviet Union. Six of them, by Brzezinski himself, Robert Conquest, Merle Fainsod, Eugene Lyons, Giorgio Galli, and Isaac Don Levine, considered "collapse as a serious possibility although not immediately." 
On the other hand, in 1976 Brzezinski predicted that the politics of the Soviet Union would be practically unchanged for several more generations to come:
- "A central question, however, is whether such social change [modernization] is capable of altering, or has in fact already altered in a significant fashion, the underlying character of Soviet politics. That character, as I have argued, has been shaped largely by political traditions derived from the specifics of Russian / Soviet history, and it is deeply embedded in the operational style and institutions of the existing Soviet system. The ability of that system to resist de-Stalinization seems to indicate a considerable degree of resilience on the part of the dominant mode of politics in the Soviet context. It suggests, at the very least, that political changes are produced very slowly through social change, and that one must wait for at least several generations before social change begins to be significantly reflected in the political sphere."
In 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet power throughout Eastern Europe, Brzezinski published The Grand Failure: The Birth and Decay of Communism in the Twentieth Century. In that work he wrote:
- "Marxist-Leninism is an alien doctrine imposed on the region by an imperial power whose rule is culturally repugnant to the dominated peoples. As a result, a process of organic rejection of communism by Eastern European societies – a phenomenon similar to the human body's rejection of a transplanted organ – is underway."
- Successful pluralization,
- Protracted crisis,
- Renewed stagnation,
- Coup (KGB, Military), and
- The explicit collapse of the Communist regime.
Option #5 in fact took place three years later, but at the time he wrote that collapse was "at this stage a much more remote possibility" than alternative #3: renewed stagnation. He also predicted chances of some form of communism existing in Soviet in 2017 was a little more than 50%. Finally when the end did come in a few more decades, Brzezinski wrote, it would be "most likely turbulent."
Charles de Gaulle
Only a handful of thinkers, ranging from French President Charles de Gaulle to the Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik, foretold the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, and even they saw it as likely to happen as a result of disastrous wars with China or pressures from the Islamic Soviet states of Central Asia.
On 23 November 1959, in a speech in Strasbourg, de Gaulle announced his vision for Europe: Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est toute l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde. ("Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the destiny of the world.") This phrase has been interpreted in various ways—on the one hand, as offering détente to the USSR, on the other, as predicting the collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe.
Konrad Adenauer has been cited predicting the reunification of Germany as early as the 1950s, but according to Hans-Peter Schwarz, in the last few years of Adenauer's life he repeatedly said that Soviet power would last a long time.
In 1966, at the Christian Democrats' party conference, Adenauer stated his hopes that some day the Soviets might allow the reunification of Germany. Some analysts say it might be considered a prediction:
- "I have not given up hope. One day Soviet Russia will recognize that the division of Germany, and with it the division of Europe, is not to its advantage. We must be watchful for when the moment comes... we must not let it go unexploited."
In a posthumously published 1964 book entitled Cold Friday, Communist defector Whittaker Chambers predicted an eventual Soviet collapse beginning with a "satellite revolution" in Eastern Europe. This revolution would then result in the transformation of the Soviet dictatorship.
Michel Garder was a French author who predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the book L'Agonie du Regime en Russie Sovietique (The Death Struggle of the Regime in Soviet Russia) (1965). He set the date of the collapse for 1970.
In 1968 Egon Neuberger, of the RAND Corporation, predicted that "[t]he centrally planned economy eventually would meet its demise, because of its demonstrably growing ineffectiveness as a system for managing a modernizing economy in a rapidly changing world."
In the book Dilemmas of Change in Soviet Politics, which was a collection of authors edited by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Conquest in his section, "Immobilism and decay", saw "the USSR as a country where the political system is radically and dangerously inappropriate to its social and economic dynamics. This is a formula for change - change which may be sudden and catastrophic."
Conquest also predicted the fall in his book, The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (1970).
Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church repeatedly predicted that Communism was inherently flawed and would inevitably collapse sometime in the late 1980s. In a speech to followers in Paris in April 1972, he stated:
"Communism, begun in 1917, could maintain itself approximately 60 years and reach its peak. So 1978 is the borderline and afterward communism will decline; in the 70th year it will be altogether ruined. This is true. Therefore now is the time for people who are studying communism to abandon it." 
- There is another powerful factor which works against the chance of any kind of peaceful reconstruction and which is equally negative for all levels of society: this is the extreme isolation in which the regime has placed both society and itself. This isolation has not only separated the regime from society, and all sectors of society from each other, but also put the country in extreme isolation from the rest of the world. This isolation has created for all—from the bureaucratic elite to the lowest social levels—an almost surrealistic picture of the world and of their place in it. Yet the longer this state of affairs helps to perpetuate the status quo, the more rapid and decisive will be its collapse when confrontation with reality becomes inevitable.
Soviet authorities were skeptical. Natan Sharansky explained that "in 1984 KGB officials, on coming to me in prison" when Amalrik's prediction was mentioned, "laughed at this prediction. Amalrik is long dead, they said, but we are still very much present."
Marian Kamil Dziewanowski
Historian Marian Kamil Dziewanowski "gave a lecture titled 'Death of the Soviet Regime' at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University. The same lecture was delivered at Cambridge University in England in 1971 and 1979. The text of the lecture (titled 'Death of the Soviet Regime: a Study in American Sovietology, by a Historian') was published in Studies in Soviet Thought. In 1980, he "updated this study and delivered it as a paper at the International Slavic Congress at Garmish; titled 'The Future of Soviet Russia,' it was published in Coexistence: An International Journal (Glasgow 1982)."
Emmanuel Todd attracted attention in 1976 when he predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, based on indicators such as increasing infant mortality rates: La chute finale: Essais sur la décomposition de la sphère Soviétique (The Final Fall: an Essay on the Disintegration of the Soviet Sphere).
Bernard Levin drew attention in 1992 to his prophetic article originally published in The Times in September 1977, in which an uncannily accurate prediction of the appearance of new faces in the Politburo was made, resulting in radical but peaceful political change.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a series of articles and interviews from 1975 onward discussed the possibility, indeed likelihood, of the breakup of the Soviet Empire. But Moynihan also expressed the view that liberal democracy, too, faced an uncertain future. He argued in January 1975 that the Soviet Union was so weak economically, and so divided ethnically, that it could not long survive. However he said it "might have considerable time left before ethnicity breaks it up." By 1984 he argued "the Soviet idea is spent. History is moving away from it at astounding speed." Some of his essays were published as Secrecy: The American Experience in 1999.
In 1973 the Marxist, Hillel H. Ticktin, wrote that the Soviet "system is sinking deeper into crisis". In 1976 he entitled an article: "The USSR: the Beginning of the End?". In 1978 he predicted that the Soviet Union would "break asunder and develop either to capitalism or to socialism". And in 1983 he wrote that "the system is drawing to a close". (For a summary of Ticktin's approach, see Wikipedia's Stalinism entry.)
Late Cold War
- "I know of only one person who came close to getting it right: Raymond Aron, the French philosopher and liberal anti-Communist. In a talk on the Soviet threat that I heard him give in the 1980s at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he reminded the audience of Machiavelli's observation in The Prince that 'all armed prophets have conquered and all unarmed ones failed.'
|“||But what happens, Aron asked, if the prophet, having conquered and then ruled by force of arms, loses faith in his own prophecy? In the answer to that question, Aron suggested, lay the key to understanding the future of the Soviet Union.||”|
In 1980 the sociologist Randall Collins presented his paper "The future decline of the Russian empire" at the University of South Florida and at Columbia University and published his predictions in the book "Weberian sociological theory" (1986).
Robert M. Cutler
In 1980 the political scientist Robert M. Cutler published an article "Soviet Dissent under Khrushchev" that concluded it was likely that in the generational elite turnover after Brezhnev died (1982) the Soviet regime would seek to increase public participation (Gorbachev's glasnost), foresaw that the Communist Party's rule would be challenged in Central Asia (the 1986 rioting in Kazakhstan before the Baltic republics erupted), and pointed out that Party leaders at the local level would go their own way if the Party did not give them a reason to remain loyal to the Moscow center.
James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg
Stewart Brand said when introducing the work of Philip Tetlock that Brand's partner had given a talk in the 1980s to top Central Intelligence Agency people about the future of the Soviet Union. One scenario he raised was that the Soviet bloc might break up; a sign of this happening would be the rise of unknown Mikhail Gorbachev through the party ranks. A CIA analyst said that the presentation was fine, but there was no way the Soviet Union was going to break up in his lifetime or his children's lifetime. The analyst's name was Robert Gates.
In 1985 German economist Werner Obst published a book entitled Der Rote Stern verglüht. Moskaus Abstieg - Deutschlands Chance (The Red Star is Dying Away. Moscow's Decline - Germany's Chance), Munich: Wirtschaftsverlag Langen-Müller/Herbig, third edition in 1987, in which he predicted the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the reunification of Germany within the immediate future for about 1990, based on the analysis of economical statistics and trends.
United States President Ronald Reagan made conflicting predictions of Soviet power. Throughout his 1980 election campaign and first term in office his public view was that the Soviet Union had been growing in power relative to the United States. In 1981 he stated that "the Soviet Union has been engaged in the greatest military buildup in the history of man." and the next year stated that "on balance the Soviet Union does have a definite margin of superiority" compared to the U.S. military. The Reagan administration used the perceived strength of the Soviet Union to justify a significant expansion of military spending. David Arbel and Ran Edelist in their study Western Intelligence and the dissolution of the Soviet Union argue it was this position by the Reagan administration that prevented the American intelligence agencies from predicting the demise of the USSR. CIA analysts were encouraged to present any information exaggerating the Soviet threat and justifying the military build up, while contrary evidence of Soviet weakness was ignored and those presenting it sidelined.
At the same time Reagan expressed a long range view that the Soviet Union could eventually be defeated. On March 3, 1983, President Reagan told the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida: "I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last — last pages even now are being written."
In his June 1982 address to the British Parliament he stated:
- It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It also is in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national product has been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half of what it was then. The dimensions of this failure are astounding: A country which employs one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people. Were it not for the private sector, the tiny private sector tolerated in Soviet agriculture, the country might be on the brink of famine.... Overcentralized, with little or no incentives, year after year the Soviet system pours its best resource into the making of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of economic growth combined with the growth of military production is putting a heavy strain on the Soviet people. What we see here is a political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic base, a society where productive forces are hampered by political ones. ...In the Communist world as well, man's instinctive desire for freedom and self-determination surfaces again and again. To be sure, there are grim reminders of how brutally the police state attempts to snuff out this quest for self-rule – 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1981 in Poland. But the struggle continues in Poland. And we know that there are even those who strive and suffer for freedom within the confines of the Soviet Union itself. ...What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term – the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people. And that's why we must continue our efforts to strengthen NATO even as we move forward with our Zero-Option initiative in the negotiations on intermediate-range forces and our proposal for a one-third reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads."
Analyst Jeffrey W. Knopf has argued that Reagan went beyond everyone else:
- "Reagan stands out in part because he believed the Soviet Union could be defeated. For most of the Cold War, Republican and Democratic administrations alike had assumed the Soviet Union would prove durable for the foreseeable future. The bipartisan policy of containment aimed to keep the Soviet Union in check while trying to avoid nuclear war; it did not seek to force the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Ronald Reagan, in contrast, believed that the Soviet economy was so weak that increased pressure could bring the Soviet Union to the brink of failure. He therefore periodically expressed confidence that the forces of democracy 'will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history'."
He claimed this collapse was part of a long-term deception strategy designed to lull the West into a false sense of security, abolish all containment policies, and in time finally economically cripple and diplomatically isolate the United States.
Among other things, Golitsyn stated:
- "The 'liberalization' [in the Soviet Union] would be spectacular and impressive. Formal pronouncements might be made about a reduction in the communist party's role; its monopoly would be apparently curtailed."
- "If [liberalization] should be extended to East Germany, demolition of the Berlin Wall might even be contemplated."
- "The European Parliament might become an all-European socialist parliament with representation from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. 'Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals' would turn out to be a neutral, socialist Europe."
The Indian spiritual leader, P.R. Sarkar, predicted in the 1980s that Soviet Communism would fall with "a few blows from the hammer". He cited "inner and external stasis" as major weaknesses of communism.
Why were Sovietologists wrong?
According to Kevin Brennan:
- "Sovietology failed because it operated in an environment that encouraged failure. Sovietologists of all political stripes were given strong incentives to ignore certain facts and focus their interest in other areas. I don't mean to suggest that there was a giant conspiracy at work; there wasn't. It was just that there were no careers to be had in questioning the conventional wisdom...
- ..There were other kinds of institutional biases as well, such as those that led to the..."Team B" Report."
- "Given these judgments of the Soviet future made by political leaders and journalists, the question is why were they right and so many of our Sovietological colleagues wrong. The answer again in part must be ideological. Reagan and Levin came from rightist backgrounds, and Moynihan, much like the leaders of the AFL-CIO, from a leftist anti-Stalinist social-democratic milieu, environments that disposed participants to believe the worst. Most of the Sovietologists, on the other hand, were left-liberal in their politics, an orientation that undermined their capacity to accept the view that economic statism, planning, socialist incentives, would not work. They were also for the most part ignorant of, or ignored, the basic Marxist formulation that it is impossible to build socialism in impoverished societies."
- Brzezinski's 1969 collection, Dilemmas of Change in Soviet Politics demonstrates this point, of "the fourteen contributors...Two-thirds (four out of six) of those who foresaw a serious possibility of breakdown were, like Levin and Moynihan, nonacademics. Three quarters (six out of eight) of those who could not look beyond system continuity were scholars.
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- History of the Soviet Union (1982–1991)
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