Sgt. Pepper and the Fall of the Soviet Union
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse.
It was 30 years ago…yesterday, the Russians told the Marxists “nay.” Over and above the admittedly lame song reference, there is one huge similarity between Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the USSR’s collapse. Both were hailed as earth-shaking when they first happened. And now both are largely seen as over-rated. On the Beatles album, see the “Retrospective Appraisal,” here. For an analysis of the end of the Evil Empire, keep reading.
The Soviet Threat Was Real
For those apt to roll their eyes and grumble “OK, Boomer,” know these facts: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics encompassed 1/6 of the planet’s landmass. The Kremlin commanded the world’s largest military forces, some 2 million men. It also controlled 40,000 nuclear weapons by the early 1980s, far more than the U.S. The Soviets also actively worked to spread Marxism-Leninism around the world, and to undermine America’s allies whenever possible.
All this was done by a Communist dictatorship that also repressed its own population. “Enemies of the state” were regularly jailed, sent to psychiatric hospitals, or exiled to gulags in Siberia. The Orthodox Church, to which most Russians had belonged for centuries, saw thousands of churches closed. As many as 50,000 priests were executed. The remaining ones were cowed into abject submission. The ones that were not working for the KGB.
Ronald Reagan was right to call this polity the “evil empire.”
Fall of the USSR: Positives
So when on December 26, 1991, the upper chamber of the Soviet “parliament” voted to dissolve that state, it was a net gain for the world. The Cold War, which had begun right after World War II, was over. The looming threat of nuclear apocalypse greatly receded, especially as the U.S. and USSR both slashed those armaments (though they are still substantial). International Marxism lost its most powerful and strident proponent.
Democracy and capitalism both gained in stature and popularity. So much so, in fact, that scholars like Francis Fukuyama declared The End of History. His book of that title assured us that humans would never again argue over what form of government and economic system to utilize. Democratic capitalism was the logical end point of societal evolution. And the 60 million Orthodox Christians in Russia were once again able to practice their ancient faith.
Why Did It Fall?
Lest you forget, or perhaps didn’t know in the first place, three late Western leaders deserve the lion’s share of credit for this victory. President Ronald Reagan. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul.
Reagan ditched the previous American presidents’ practice of playing defense. He built up our military and then, carefully but confidently, turned the tables on the Soviets by working to undermine their client states. Not just protect ours. And he supported the Strategic Defense Initiative, “Star Wars” to mindless critics. This helped bankrupt the Kremlin, as they tried to find ways to overcome the proposed American defensive space weapons. Reagan was also an eloquent defender of democracy and capitalism.
Thatcher, “Iron Lady” to the Soviets, championed the free market and worked with the U.S. to counter Soviet expansionism. Pope John Paul II, from Poland, knew first-hand the horrors of Communism. He never failed to condemn it as destructive, economically, politically and spiritually. Thanks to these three great leaders, the West won the Cold War.
Fall of the USSR: Unintended Consequences
But there were downsides to the victory. Global geopolitics reverted to a 19th century brand of Great Power competition. Based not on ideology but on national rivalries. Most notable here is the rise of the People’s Republic of China. Officially Marxist, it is really only so politically. In economic and international terms, it’s more Confucian than Communist. Beijing aims to right the mistake made in the 15th century when the Ming Dynasty stopped its overseas expansion.
But the Islamic world, too, has been inspired by the Soviet demise. Religious conflict returned to center stage, as Muslims long for a new caliphate. And not just “extremists.” Samuel Huntington predicted this in The Clash of Civilizations. He was right. Cold ideological struggle has given way to hot religious and cultural conflict. But there is an even more depressing result of the USSR’s collapse. Most Millennials support socialism, and 1/3 of them favor outright Communism. We can blame our poor educational system for that. But when a concrete Communist country existed, and did terrible things to its citizens, being pro-Marx was much harder to justify.
Fall of the USSR: A Net Positive
Overall, the world gained when the Russians took down the hammer-and-sickle flag. That should be obvious to anyone capable of a modicum of research. Not just us Boomers who grew up with the Cold War. And contra much conventional wisdom since then, the Soviet collapse was not inevitable. Ronald Reagan, in particular, made it his life’s mission to undermine that evil empire. Otherwise, it might have lasted. Perhaps even until today.
Not Everyone Agrees
And one suspects modern global Leftists would have preferred that. (Certainly Bernie Sanders, Antifa and BLM would.) Why? Because they despise Putin’s Russia. The Russian President has helped resurrect Orthodoxy there. In addition, the Western Left hates him for opposing abortion and the normalization of homosexuality. (This was the case even before the Russia collusion hoax was hatched to bring down Trump.)
Sgt. Pepper and the Soviet Union
Don’t get me wrong. Putin is an autocrat and an ardent Russian nationalist. By many measures, he’s a bad man. Nonetheless, the world is better off with Putin running the Kremlin than Brezhnev, Khrushchev or, God forbid, Stalin. Like Sgt. Pepper, it’s really impossible to overestimate the USSR’s demise. Both changed the world for the better. Despite retroactive attempts to downgrade each. The world may not be getting better all the time. But at least the world’s no longer constantly fixing the holes dug by the USSR.
Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS).