The world with and without the Soviet Union 1917-2021

Aleksandr Deinéka, “The Defense of Sevastopol”, 1942


Introduction from the organizers of the recently published collection

The end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 represented a rupture in the world political order. From the perspective of the class struggle, it marked a historic defeat of the working class and the international socialist movement, although there were small groups within it that saw something positive in the end of the Soviet system. This rupture was preceded by another remarkable event: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In an article published in the English newspaper The Independent, on October 2, 1990, and republished in Brazil on November 12, 1990, by Folha de S. Paul, with the title “1989 – what was left for the victors”, Eric Hobsbawm, asked himself: “How could fear, hope or the simple event of October 1917 dominate world history for so long and so profoundly that not even Could the coldest Cold War ideologues expect the disintegration virtually without resistance seen in 1989?” 

The renowned communist historian highlighted that the main effect of 1989 was “that capitalism and the rich stopped feeling fear, for now” and that, in the short term, the world would face at least three major problems: “the growing differentiation between the rich world and the poor world (and probably between the rich and the poor within the rich world); the rise of racism and xenophobia; and the ecological crisis, which will affect us all.”

The end of the USSR was felt strongly around the world. In some countries, such as Cuba, it marked a serious economic crisis and the resurgence of attacks on the country, weakened by no longer being part of the Soviet system that covered a third of humanity. In the then Yugoslavia, a “heterodox” communist country, but which operated as a clearinghouse, transition and mediation between the Soviet socialist bloc and the liberal capitalist world of Western Europe, in a well-known Balkan geopolitical position that was particularly strategic for relations with the region. of the Middle East and North-Eastern Africa, the secessionist civil war that began and apparently resolved during 1991 with the independence of Slovenia, turned into an unprecedented, uncontrolled conflict, with actions of ethnic genocide, gender violence, and massacres that destroyed decades of coexistence in a resurgence of nationalist and racist hatred that far surpassed that of World War II in that country. The war in Yugoslavia showed all the weakness of the new Russia, which in turn had separated itself from large territories with which it had been part of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years and, later, the USSR. It highlighted, with the resolute intervention of NATO (read, the USA) the effective end of the bipolar world and the beginning of a new era, of the American geopolitical and global imperial monopoly. 

In the Arab and Islamic world in general, nationalist redistributive projects and opposition to the uncontrolled penetration of the various multinationals and, particularly, those in the energy market, the oil industry and its derivatives, suffered setbacks and there was a historic political-ideological turn: extremism Islamic political-religious, previously fueled in the years of the Cold War in an anti-Soviet role by the United States and some Islamic countries, took the oppositional place of contrast to the neocolonialism of other projects, such as Baathist socialism of Syrian and Iraqi inspiration, the latter definitively destroyed in 2003 by a military force led by the USA and composed of Great Britain, Australia and Poland, which already highlighted the increasingly close link between this Slavic country and the USA and its role in the internal crisis of the Soviet bloc during the 1980s.

Afghanistan, with the end of the government supported by the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Red Army troops, did not find any institutional democratic way out, and opening up to a more tolerant society, on the contrary it plunged into a widespread civil and regional conflict, where the USA and some allies replaced what had been in part the role of the USSR. The conflict only found an apparently definitive solution in August 2021, with the reinstallation of the Taliban Emirate, a theocratic state.

Finally, the availability of the Soviet (from 1992, Russian) arsenal on the legal and illegal international arms market also had a general impact on the civil wars fought in various parts of the world, on the projection and military power of large drug trafficking organizations. illegals and militias of all types. Perhaps I don't even need to mention in this context the most important fact, the danger that a generalized weakening of Russian national sovereignty, resulting from the end of the USSR, has meant and could still represent for a country that maintains an impressive nuclear arsenal of mass destruction.

The withdrawal of Soviet global influence thus opened a void that not only affected the European situation, with the expansion of the NATO military alliance, but was instrumental in restructuring the control and viability of global mineral and energy resources, which had internal effects on the emergence of the so-called Russian oligarchy that, from the 21st century onwards, gradually tried to regain the threads of Russian influence in global economic and geopolitical terms, without great success, in fact, witnessing the advance of NATO and the EU in Eastern European countries that were previously constitutive of the balance geopolitics of the so-called Russian sphere, and having to follow the economic leadership of China, once its competitor, in the socialist world. 

The so-called lost decade of the 1990s in Russia, the Yeltsin Era, instead of freeing local socialism from certain constrictions of the monocratic Communist Party system, in view of the formation of a new broad and democratic socialist party, saw the deconstruction of the legacy Soviet regime of state intervention in society, for redistributive purposes and social democracy, which was only partially resumed, from a different perspective and projects, by the rejuvenated Russian nationalism of the last two decades of the 2013st century. The various attempts to create a new classical social democratic party (the field from which, historically, the Bolshevik communist party itself emerged) with broad parliamentary expression, made by the last secretary of the CPSU, Michail Gorbachev, were all frustrated: the party practically never had any expression parliamentary until it disappeared for good in 1993 after dissolutions, refoundations and alliances that were never significant. The new Communist Party of the Russian Federation, founded in 32 by Gennady Zyuganov, was and remains the main political heir of Soviet communism, but progressively lost votes from the maximum of 40% (1996% in the second round) in 11 to the minimum of 2018% in 2021, to grow again in the last elections of 20 (almost XNUMX%), becoming the second most voted party in Russia, but very far from United Russia, by Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev. The party oscillated between radical opposition, but with little prospect of successful expansion and hegemony, and eventual rigging or convergence with the various Russian governments around major issues linked to nationalism and Russia's international role, nostalgic for the former geopolitical power. Soviet, as occurs in these times of war with Ukraine.

As we know, historian EJ Hobsbawm ended his “tetralogy of Ages” with a new periodizing definition: the 1917th century, as the Short Century, whose benchmarks would be between the years of existence of the Soviet world, 1991 and XNUMX.

After all, it also seems to us, the organizers of this collection on Brazilian soil, that the main effect of the collapse of the USSR was, in fact, in the long period, the end of the scope and strength of the various socialist political projects, from the most statesman and collectivist and the effective expansion of social democracy, even those of inclusive nationalism or Keynesian liberals, which the simple existence of the Soviet model, in addition to its geopolitical influence, effectively made possible across the world.

The objective of this collection, therefore, was to problematize the world with and without the Soviet Union, until the year 2021, when thirty years have passed since its dissolution. The idea for this book arose from the success of a seminar held in October 2021, at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), which aroused great interest from the academic community, especially young people, and a multitude of questions. Not all seminar participants wrote chapters for the collection and there are authors in the collection who did not participate in the seminar. Thus, although they maintain a relationship, the seminar and the collection are independent of each other.

The first three chapters of the collection address fundamental issues in the Soviet Union. In the first chapter, “The Soviet military-industrial complex: a key to the history of the USSR, international communism and the Cold War”, Gianluca Fiocco presents the emergence of the Soviet military-industrial complex (CMI) at the turn of the 1920s to the 1930s, its great success in the Second World War and its peak in the 1970s. Then, it indicates how Perestroika found a major obstacle in the CMI and its persistence in today's Russia. Jo Klanovicz writes chapter 2, “An environmental reading of the Soviet Union”, which addresses how Soviet society related to the contemporary environmental crisis and to the large and small environmental disasters resulting from technocratic processes of intense exploitation of the natural world that mark Soviet development, such as the Aral Sea project, which aimed to increase agricultural production, and the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. In chapter 3, “In the Face of Wars, the USSR Builds Socialism (1917 – 1941) ”, documents and problematizes the dramatic years of consolidation of the Soviet state in the midst of wars, foreign invasion and civil wars, in the midst of the massive industrialization effort. The three chapters dialogue and complement each other.

In chapter 4, “The End of the USSR: different angles and approaches to its causes”, Angelo Segrillo presents a synthesis of the main theses relating to the end of the Soviet Union, being himself the author of one of them, built from research in primary sources in the Soviet Union. The author moves on to reflect on causality in history and socialism in the XNUMXst century, based on the Chinese experience.

Next, the collection presents three chapters that address how the Soviet past and old representations of the country are reappropriated in contemporary culture. João Lanari Bo, in chapter 5, “Representations of the USSR in contemporary Russian cinema”, presents an intriguing panorama of Russian society and its complexity based on its cinematographic production, little known in Brazil, today accessible thanks to digital technologies and availability through Internet with subtitles in different languages. Central aspects of Soviet history, such as the War in Afghanistan or the relationship between state and individual, were objects of contemporary Russian cinema. Fabio Venturini, in chapter 6, “The second death of the Soviet Union: anti-communism-Russophobia metamorphoses in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”, analyzes how the universe of comic book heroes transposed into audiovisual megaproductions, global successes in cinemas or streaming, they propagate an anti-communist ideology, which, before being anachronistic, is in tune with the contemporary geopolitical interests of the USA. The collection ends in Moscow, with Daniel Huertas, in chapter 7, “Soviet heritage in Moscow, 30 after the dissolution of the former USSR”, mapping in the urban space of the former Soviet capital the symbols and achievements of the Soviet past, such as the subway, skyscrapers, monuments of space conquest and statues, like that of Lenin, the cover of this book, which stands in front of the football stadium built for the 2018 World Cup.

We believe that this collection will be useful reading for anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union, at the same time that it indicates how much there is still to know and research on this topic that is so important for understanding the past and present.

*Fábio Venturini He is a professor at the Paulista School of Politics, Economics and Business at Unifesp.

*Janes Jorge é professor of the undergraduate course and postgraduate program in the History department at Unifesp.

*Luigi Biondi is a professor of Contemporary History at Unifesp.


The world with and without the Soviet Union 1917-2021. Unifesp, 2024. Collection of texts available for free download.

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