Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of E​PW.


In 2011, Markar Melkonian wrote that Western capitalist nations present three broad arguments to justify the collapse of the Soviet Union. First, that the state was totalitarian and its citizens demanded greater freedoms. Second, that the Soviet Union was unable to economically compete with free-market capitalism. And third, that “Soviet socialism conflicted with human nature.” Melkonian examines each of these reasons and suggests that they offer only a partial explanation.

Paresh Chattopadhyay replies to Melkonian, arguing that the label of “Soviet socialism” is misleading. The state cannot be characterised as “Soviet” because it did not represent the interests of the Soviets, or “socialist” because there was no “association of free individuals.” Therefore, since socialism was not practised by the state, “there could also not be any question of the ‘defeat’ of socialism.”

Cem Somel responds to Melkonian as well, saying that Marxists are fixated on economic exploitation solely based on property relations. In doing so, they overlook several reasons why the working class in the Soviet Union did not resist its dismantling. Somel underscores the need to connect Marxism and historical materialism to political action. 

Melkonian replies to Chattopadhyay and Somel, arguing that Marxism can enable social movements to “identify their enemies, to appraise their resources, and to formulate realistic goals.” Without Marxism, they will be “doomed to failure, co-optation, or worse.” Melkonian adds that terminological disagreements are not unusual among Marxists and communists and are a reflection of a deeper malaise.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Marx at 200: Beyond Capital and Class Alone, Kevin B Anderson, 2018
  2. How Was a Marxist Working Class Conceptualised in 20th Century Bombay? EPW Engage, 2018
  3. Marx and the Politics of Emancipation, Marcello Musto, 2019
  4. Marx, Marxism and Revolutionary Theory, Gail Omvedt, 1984 
  5. The Peasant Question from Marx to Lenin: The Russian ExperienceNirmal Kumar Chandra, 2018

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Soviet Union and Marxism."


Curated by Abhishek Shah [abhishekshah@epw.in]

Image courtesy: Modified. Wikimedia Commons/L Y Leonidov [Public domain]


Back to Top