I am familiar with the American narrative that president Reagan (or perhaps the Hoff) was personally responsible for the collapse of the USSR. However, I am less familiar with international opinions and am keen to understand if and how these differ.

I would like someone to summarise present international opinion on the fall. Perhaps mentioning if this has changed, to see which themes are emphasised differently across cultures and time.

I'm primarily interested in opinion from formerly or presently communist states: Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea. Any other popular opinions from other cultures which stand out as unusual should also be mentioned.

Edit: I'm genuinely surprised some people are taking issue with the notion there's an American belief that Reagan ended the cold war. I've heard many Americans say essentially, Reagan increased defence spending and intervention and this caused the collapse of the USSR. Because implicit to their opinion, is that only money matters (which doesn't explain the survival of impoverished dictatorships). This is a view typical amongst right wing Americans. We see it reiterated even in publications like The Economist, and more typically in places like Conservapedia. Most tellingly, in one interview the CIA's head of the Office for Soviet Affairs 1976-87, Melvin Goodman, said:

"I think probably one of the greatest myths in America, in the political discourse now, right now, is that actions of the American government were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards. It rotted away from within. The economy was rotten, the political process was rotten, they had developed a central government that was no longer believed by people outside of Moscow, there was total cynicism throughout the Soviet system of governance, there was no real civil society. But the Reagan Administration and their—the minions of the Reagan Administration, will tell you that Afghanistan led to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself—the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the East European empire. We were saying that this was entirely fanciful. And the United States missed all of this, because they believed their own myths and their own fanciful notions. They had become their own victims of their own lies."

So if that's what the downvotes are about... I think you should reconsider the evidence.

And yes, the Hoff reference was tongue in cheek.

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    Could you first show that americans believe Reagan (or somehow David hasselhoff) is personally responsible for the fall ? This does not look very credible, I never heard this as primary reasons (Afghanistan sure didn't help the USSR, but they could have survived anyway). I heard rather problems internal to the soviet union and its communist system. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 12:25
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    I'm from the EU (western). From my perspective the Soviet Union had a collapse (social and economic), followed by a dissolution. Reagan did contribute very significantly to that outcome but I never specifically associated that event with a single person or even a single decade. The USSR had been suffering from isolationism, sanctions, corruption, economic failure, civil unrest etc., for years. The collapse itself wasn't unexpected. The same cannot be said about its consequences however. If only Russia had had better international support in the 90s things could have been quite different today.
    – armatita
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 12:43
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    @Evargalo Edited to clarify this point. It's a good question.
    – user8398
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:32
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    This Quora answer IMO covers the essentials: quora.com/What-were-the-reasons-of-the-USSR-collapse. No mention of Reagan and no I haven't heard of it before either.
    – Communisty
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:56
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    @user4012 Reagan ran on an anti USSR campaign, like Trump's anti immigrant campaign, but whether he gets credit is unclear. It's the image vs. reality problem. Obama deported more illegals than any president before him, but he nether the left or right wants to see that. Reagan may (or may not) have encouraged the Saudi's to increase production to help lower oil prices and that hurt the USSR's economy. Whether it was tactical or he just wanted to do something nice for car drivers is unclear. history.stackexchange.com/questions/1070/…
    – userLTK
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 10:16

4 Answers 4


Generally speaking, from a Russian POV there are two main reasons for the fall of the USSR: large military spending, and naivety about the West's true intentions.

In Russia today they generally agree that the USSR was economically never near the level of the US. After WW2 the country was devastated, with great pain and sacrifice they re-industrialized parts of the Soviet Union that were occupied by the Germans. Quality of life improved during the 50's and 60's simply because it was at rock bottom in the 40's. But during all those times the USSR had to spend lavishly on defense in order to keep up with the US and its own superpower ambition. By the late 70's and early 80's it become clear that the centralized and bureaucratic Soviet socialist system is not superior to Western capitalism. It could only offer status quo, something that the populations of the USSR and satellite countries did not want anymore. Note that the fall of oil prices in 80's contributed significantly to the USSR's economic woes as it was a large exporter. Combined with the fact that the USSR planned to go toe-to-toe in every military aspect to the US (unlike China which simply aimed to deter West from directly attacking its territory) and to compete on a global level, there was simply no money to improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens.

Second main reason, especially popular with those who have their misgivings about how things turned out after the fall of the USSR, is that in general the Soviet population was naive about the true intentions of Western countries. According to them, in 1980's Soviet younger generations idealized the West and thought that simply by dismantling the "evil empire" and switching to capitalism would bring an era of prosperity. Of course, in reality what did happen was the dark years of Yeltsin's rule with economic collapse, moral decadence and general decline of Russia. The West didn't want Russia as a partner, they only wanted to disarm it, loot it and possibly even divide it in separate countries (like they did with the USSR). The Chechen war especially strengthened this opinion, because the West (like in Afghanistan a decade prior) supported even Jihadists if they fought against Russian interests. In the 21st century the Russian opinion about the West and especially about the US gradually worsened to the point that they now believe that no matter who is in charge of US or Russia, those countries would always be enemies.

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    "[In Chechen war] West supported even Jihadists if they fought against Russian interests." This need sources. As far as I recall, western countries were very shy in supporting president Makhladov (if only in words) against Russia, and even more reticent when islamist Bassaev became one of the eladers of Chechens.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 10:03
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    I sincerely hope this POV is not representative of the great majority of the Russian population. Although here and there there are a couple of points that seem to resemble historical fact, most of it is an extremely distorted version of history. One that is bound to lead to the repetition of past mistakes, and past consequences. The typical discourse of "the world is against us" that, although serving the political ambitions of some people, has lead to the demise of several states (USSR included). I really hope things change for the better in the future.
    – armatita
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 11:50
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    @armatita It is not "world is against us" , it is more West (mostly US) will never be our friend no matter what we do, so let's stop pretending.
    – rs.29
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 18:11
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    @rs.29 I'm not trying to antagonize you. But don't you find it just a bit strange that Russia - with 150 million people, resource rich, and literally in between two of the biggest economies on the planet - still has a GDP per capita lower than the poorest EU countries (some of them former USSR)? I mean, doesn't it sound just a bit too convenient that Russians are constantly being kept in a state of poverty, severe inequality, and autocracy because the "West is out to get them"? It's basically the same story every nationalist party (regime) tries to sell. It isn't real.
    – armatita
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 10:15
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    @jamesqf Does American public support IRA or God forbid PLO ? Even if some do, US establishment certainly does not. Point in question is that US establishment by default supports anything that weakens Russia. Russian public has finally grasped that no matter who sits in Kremlin, if he cares about Russian interests he will be demonized by West. Therefore Russian public in general stopped caring about Western opinion .
    – rs.29
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 19:02

I am a German and I can tell you my perspective.

During the Cold War it was clear for every German if the war get ever hot, nothing will remain of Germany except a radioactive wasteland after the Warsaw Pact and the NATO exchanged their power. This was not the only problem you were confronted with as a child (population explosion, environmental proctection, ressource scarcity etc. etc), so while living in the 80s was culturally a good time, the future outlook was rather grim.

Reagan and SDI was not remotely responsible for the collapse, I think it was only invented by the pentagon to justify burning money for senseless projects (Read: SDI was complete and utter bullshit. Nothing of the systems and weapons presented were (and are still) capable of intercepting a massive intercontinental attack with MIRV heads). But what was in fact indirectly responsible was the massive military spending over decades on the USSR side, crippling the economy. Further problems was a bloated, top-heavy bureaucracy which was harassing citizens and the response was a certain black humor on all Warsaw Pact countries.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the key person which initiated the fall of the Soviet Union. Granted, he had to handle the burden of the past. He tried to implement Glasnost and Perestroika to get the SU out of the hole. But the citizens were everywhere really tired of the crap they were dealing with and so more and more citizens were demonstrating and complaining. Solidarnosc in Poland. Massive demonstrations in East Germany, the Stasi losing control and getting afraid. The feared dictator Ceaucescu in Romania finally overthrown and killed. The former Baltic countries, forced against their will into the SU, fighting for independence. What now happend at the end of the 80s was that Gorbachev was very reluctant to answer with violence (The GDR was in fact panicking and cried out for military help. Ah, what I am talking, not only the GDR, every communist party) and accepted that the Soviet Union members go apart. For that he is in the good books in Germany, if Gorbachev ever wants or need to leave Russia, he will be treated like a king here.

Very hard to describe the atmosphere at 1990. People were literally drunk with the desire for change. The wall must be destroyed. People wanted to explore the world and had a hunger for experience. Hoff was only there for the right time and hit the nerve, but he had no influence. After the SU fell apart,

The only real disadvantage was that the citizens had simply no experience with the dark side of capitalism. Most people know that we don't sign contracts without reading them carefully, expecting that someone wants to dupe and exploit us. Most people here expect that people go for our money and are therefore on their guards. We know all the old and dumb tricks like chainmails, pyramid systems, "Can I get a glass of water" con. Most people people in East Germany had literally no experience, it was like throwing sharks into a penguin pool. Russia had also severe economic problems so the Germans organized together with CARE Helft Russland (Help Russia) to support Russia with 140 million DM.

Also while Gorbachev was finally superceded by Boris Yeltsin, Boris was known and despised for being drunk in office and neglect his duties. Vladimir Putin was really considered a much better improvement because he was able to get Russia out of complete misery (yes, the 1990s were very bad if you were Russian).

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    That's an interesting perspective, but can you clarify/source if this is a more generally German opinion, or just your own? Also, is there much difference between West and East German opinion these days on the matter?
    – user8398
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 15:04
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    "Reagan and SDI was not remotely responsible for the collapse..." while I agree that the collapse would have happen no matter what (the USSR basically imploded), Reagan certainly did its best to accelerate that outcome. Including incurring in debt to increase defense spending. If the USSR hadn't collapsed little after his tenure he would probably have a very different kind of reputation today.
    – armatita
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 10:27
  • @armatita, absolutely true. And while it was also true that SDI was a massive red herring, it did what was intended. Please remember that even though the money spent on it was a lot from the perspective of an average person, it was a small drop in the bucket of military spending at the time. So far two answer on here state that fear of what the west was doing what a major factor. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 14:18
  • Re: "Gorbachev was very reluctant to answer with violence" — you'd rather tell this to the victims of Vilnius massacre (1991), January Massacre (Baku, 1990), armed invasion to Moldova (1989), and a whole lot of smaller transgressions. I understand why today's Russian propagandists and foreign putinverstehers try to wash Gorbachev, but this shouldn't be done that blatantly. Commented May 25, 2018 at 12:26
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    @bytebuster In all earnest: If you look at the war in Afghanistan and the Chechen Wars and the number of victims, the reaction of Gorbachev was very reluctant. You can tell me counterexamples where the secession was more peaceful and with less victims in international politics, apart from Czechoslovakia which is an example I know. Commented May 25, 2018 at 13:32

This is the view of the Greek Communist Party in a nutshell, as presented in the 18th congress (2009): "Resolution on Socialism - Assessments and conclusions on socialist construction during the 20th century, focusing on the USSR " , after a 16-year study on the economic model of USSR and the historical period it existed.

The reasons can be summarized in the following:
-> Harsh economic environment of pre-Revolutionary Russia
-> Imperialistic Intervention
-> Tough international environment during socialist construction (WWI,WWII)
-> Opportunistic transformation of the Communist Party (Adoption of capitalistic methods in economy, less power to the soviets, etc.)

1) the Party gradually lost its revolutionary guiding character and, as a result, counter-revolutionary forces were able to dominate the Party and the government in the 1980s.


2)It is not accidental that these developments were supported by international reaction, that socialist construction, especially during the period of the abolition of capitalist relations and of the founding of socialism, up until the Second World War, concentrates the ideological and political wrath of international imperialism. We reject the term “collapse”, because it underestimates the extent of counter-revolutionary activity, the social base on which it can develop and predominate, due to the weaknesses and deviations of the subjective factor during socialist construction.


3) However, socialism faced additional specific difficulties, due to the fact that socialist construction began in a country with a lower level of development of the productive forces (medium-weak, as V. I. Lenin characterized it) compared to the advanced capitalist countries [12] and with a large degree of unevenness in its development, due to the extensive survival of pre-capitalist relations, particularly in the asiatic ex-colonies of the tsarist empire. Socialist construction began following the enormous destruction of WW I and in the midst of the civil war. Subsequently, it faced the immense destruction of WW II, while capitalist powers, like the USA, never experienced war within their borders. In contrast, they used war to overcome the big economic crisis of the 1930s.


4) Τhe counter-revolution in the USSR did not result from an imperialist military intervention, but rather from within and from the top, as a result of the opportunist mutation of the C.P and the corresponding political direction of Soviet power. We assign priority to the internal factors, to the socio-economic conditions that reproduce opportunism on the basis of socialist construction, without of course underestimating the long-term effect and the multi-faceted interference of imperialism in the development of opportunism and its evolution into a counterrevolutionary force.


5) Following World War II and the post-war reconstruction, socialist construction entered a new phase. The Party was faced with new demands and challenges regarding the development of socialism-communism. The 20th Congress of the CPSU (1956) stands out as a turning point, since at that congress a series of opportunist positions were adopted on matters relating to the economy, the strategy of the communist movement and international relations. The correlation of forces in the struggle being waged during the entire preceding period was altered, with a turn in favor of the revisionist-opportunist positions, with the result that the Party gradually began to lose its revolutionary characteristics. In the decade of the 1980s, with perestroika, opportunism fully developed into a traitorous, counter-revolutionary force. The consistent communist forces that reacted during the final phase of the betrayal, at the 28th CPSU Congress, did not manage in a timely manner to expose it and to organize the revolutionary reaction of the working class.

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    In other words, the Greek Communist Party is still Stalinist.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 13:43
  • @Evargalo: And living in a fantasy world :-(
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 18:36

In Poland we were under USSRs direct influence (against our will) from shortly after WW II until 1989.

The main reason of collapse of USSR from our direct point of view was that socialist policies imposed on the society and foregoing economical inefficiencies as a result, created an environment in which you had money, but you couldn't buy anything for it.

Most of goods trade was regulated and money had no real value as there was shortage of everything - something similar to what you observe in Venezuela today, with very similar reasons.

Socialist economical policies with state-owned means of production (everything belongs to everyone) and central planner of production working long-term accumulated inefficiencies, which basically made lots of public unrest and eventual bankruptcy.

Because of its own economical problems, sometime around 1980 there was a public notion that eventually USSR will collapse and from that time USSR itself lost a bit of focus on the level of power they were imposing on satellite states.

Up until 1990-1992 soviet-based people had still influence over Polish politics, but it was in decline and eventually it was gone.

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