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Internal Pressures for Change

"Gorbachev Factor"

The West’s technological advances had important implications for domestic life in the industrialized capitalist nations. They led to improvements in living standards, the growth of the middle classes, and greater social stability. In addition to economic and social benefits, Western populations enjoyed broad democratic rights and freedoms. By contrast, the Stalinist system was not geared to meet the needs of ordinary citizens. The people, the consumers, came last on the regime’s priority list. Endemic shortages of consumer goods, overcrowded housing conditions, primitive consumer service—all these cried out for remedy.  

From 1945 to 1953 the people’s natural desire for improvement in living conditions and the authorities’ inability to meet these expectations stoked domestic tensions. The Soviet people, who had sacrificed everything for the sake of victory, felt they deserved better. To continue to ignore consumers’ needs was becoming more and more dangerous politically. Unable to follow the West’s lead in creating a more democratic and consumer-oriented society, the Soviet leaders chose to seal the USSR off from the West’s “temptations” by an almost impenetrable “iron curtain.”

In the immediate postwar years the internal pressures for change were also generated by new perceptions of themselves and of the wider world that many Soviets had acquired during the war. Ten million Soviet citizens had taken part in the Red Army’s victorious liberation campaign in Europe, and over five million had been repatriated from German captivity. In other words, over fifteen million people had come face to face with “the capitalist realities” to discover a significant gap in the living standards between their country and the more industrialized capitalist nations. The experience was often a cultural shock compelling many to reconsider Soviet propagandist stereotypes.

More importantly, the historic victory reawakened patriotism and self-pride in millions of people. Public atmosphere was charged with great expectations and a desire for change. In villages, rumors spread of the impending dissolution of collective farms and of greater economic freedom. In towns, the intelligentsia hoped for democratization of the political regime. In the recently sovietized territories, including the Baltic republics and the western reaches of the Ukraine and Belorussia, Soviet punitive bodies confronted pockets of open armed resistance, mopping up guerrilla detachments of die-hard nationalists determined not to submit to Soviet rule.

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Stalin's Legacy


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
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