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During the era of the Soviet Union, Russia was a much scarier nation: The Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Space Race. No one can deny these were major events in Russia's history. Let's say that for some reason, I want to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, how can I do it?

What is the smallest change I can make to history to allow the continuation of the Soviet Union? There are only three constraints,

  1. The change must be realistic, no mind control, no super weapon, etc.
  2. The Soviet Union has to be able to remain a economic and military superpower through and including modern day
  3. The change can occur no earlier than 1800
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to point to an economy-based fall-back solution $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Sep 23 '16 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Can you define what aspects of the historical Soviet Union you wish to keep besides the name? China's economic policy today, for example, is a far cry from Maoist idealism but China remains known as the PRC. $\endgroup$ – Kys Sep 23 '16 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think the only way would be if they adopted capitalism. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Sep 24 '16 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps some scenario that avoided doing the heavy lifting in WWII and losing all those tens of millions of fine young men and women... $\endgroup$ – Spehro Pefhany Sep 24 '16 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ Lets ask Putin: rbth.com/politics_and_society/2016/09/23/… $\endgroup$ – BaneStar007 Sep 26 '16 at 1:06

25 Answers 25

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Ultimately the demise of the Soviet Union can be attributed to economic failure. With enough treasure the collapse could have been averted.

This is solved most simply through the discovery of abundant natural resources, like huge deposits of easily-accessible oil (instead of deep shale-oil) in Siberia, maybe along with precious metals. Basically, commodities that reasonably could have existed but were hidden or difficult to detect.

The windfall might lead to an initial barrage of public and military spending, increasing the stability of the USSR and sweeping up the bloc countries in patriotic fervor.

Further investment in infrastructure and science might occur, leading to the early development of genetically-engineered wheat and corn that are resistant to the conditions of the arctic and sub-arctic tundra. This permanently solves their food shortages and prevents the need to import crops, making the USSR more economically independent.

A Soviet Renaissance occurs. Democratic western countries would want access to their cheap oil and Eastern Europeans especially would become envious of the rapidly increasing standard of living in the USSR, leading some to distance themselves from their western allies in favor of closer ties with the empire, resulting in NATO's influence and power diminishing somewhat.

Now, imagine a rapid industrialization occurs whereby the USSR diverts a lot of the manufacturing sector that was growing in China and begins producing well-made, reverse-engineered western products at cheaper, government-subsidized prices (ignoring NATO-aligned countries' intellectual property rights), which creates steady employment for its citizens and brings in huge cash flow from capitalist markets.

Eventually NATO would be dissolved, with most member countries resigning in order to gain access to the new Soviet commodities/markets and to protect their own IP. The cold war ends with communist influence expanding around the world and the Soviet Union growing stronger than ever. Eventually many smaller countries along their border will be willfully annexed and the empire will expand, creating prosperity as it goes.

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    $\begingroup$ Oil revenues are a high-risk way to run a country. Venezuela tried to fund a socialist revolution off of oil, and when oil prices collapsed, so did the country. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sep 23 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Venezuela is also proving that the closer to the full-Marx end of the scale you get, the more adept you become at squandering natural resources. $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Sep 24 '16 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ "economic failure" - yes, "solved most simply through the discovery of abundant natural resources" - not really. Russia does have abundant natural resources (for example, it has the largest proven natural gas reserves, and places 2nd in proven coal reserves), but it doesn't help much. $\endgroup$ – Oleg Sep 24 '16 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ Russia (and the former Soviet Union) is blessed with an abundance of natural wealth. Minerals, timber, diamonds, oil, fertile soil, you name it. They wasted it all over the 70 year life of the USSR, and Russia still manages to economically mismanage things because the ruling kleptocrats distort market signals and prevent proper pricing and resource allocations. Socialism will always fail. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 26 '16 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Luaan Literally every capitalist society moves towards what Russia and the United States both currently experience: the majority of wealth in the hands of a very small minority of oligarchs. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Sep 26 '16 at 11:22
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You need a real historian to make sure these are really feasible, but let me put some ideas out there. Most of these suggestions are variations on a theme, which is:

Let the Soviet Union take over Western Europe

Doing so adds a huge population, a huge industrial base and a huge educated population to the SU, and would give them a significant leg up in the Cold War. There are a number of ways you could do this:

Delay D-Day by a year.

This allows the SU the opportunity to capture much more of Europe than they did. having D-Day fail would have much the same effect.

Cancel the Marshall Plan

Europe was crippled in 1945. The Marshall Plan solidified Western Europe in the Western Allies camp. Having them ignore reconstruction, and have the Soviets step in instead. could easily have been enough to allow the Soviets to dominate Europe politically.

Communist Revolution in Europe

This wasn't as unlikely as we might think in the late forties. A substantial part of the population, with some justification, saw the Soviets as having born the brunt of opposing Hitler, and some thought of the war as being brought about by European leaders (who were also responsible for the Great Depression that had just ended). It would not have taken that much to have sparked a revolution. Cancelling the Marshall Plan would contribute to this.

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    $\begingroup$ a large number of intellectuals in western Europe were communist during the first decades after the war, and communists parties were represented in governments, so that could totally have happened. The USA could have helped by being less present, or on the contrary overly present and controlling in Europe at that moment. $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Sep 24 '16 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ Or go back to 1920 and help Soviets win Battle of Warsaw (and maybe help them a bit in Finland), they should be able to take over at least Germany without stopping. And it would give more power to red revolution in France. $\endgroup$ – PTwr Sep 25 '16 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ "let S.U. take over W.E." and you'd get a nuclear war on your hands few years later between the giant USSR and USA-UK alliance. Eurasia/Oceania like. Not pretty for both. Why? Because paranoia in the UK especially would be extremely high, they'd be on hair-trigger alert all the time. The conquered Western people would riot against the Soviets... the situation would be extremely unstable... with the nukes to boot. $\endgroup$ – Will Ness Sep 26 '16 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @WillNess Don't see any difference between the situation you describe and the situation in West Germany 1945-1990. Also when I said "take over Western Europe" who says that doesn't include Britain? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Sep 26 '16 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ In Reality the paranoia was much lower than that, since the West still had... well, the West of Europe. If all of the continent were occupied, the remaining Britain would be under extreme pressure. USSR couldn't have taken it over, there was a giant contingent there and Soviets had no fleet to speak of. $\endgroup$ – Will Ness Sep 26 '16 at 9:00
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Prevent the Sino-Soviet Split

China was a great ally for the USSR, with its large amount of people, place on the UN Security Council, and communist regime. If you prevent the ideological drift between Mao and Stalin, the two red giants stay together and support one another.

No split means no Sino-American Rapprochement, no trade with America. Instead, China trades with the USSR, and the USSR adopts China's economic strategy. Both countries are able to transition into what China is today without giving America the benefit of cheap Chinese factories.

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    $\begingroup$ China's economic strategy during the split was... cultural revolution. Yeah, that would help USSR a whole lot. $\endgroup$ – Will Ness Sep 26 '16 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ A good idea but probably not enough to deter the forces which led to Glasnost and the fall. I like the idea that the USSR and PRC somehow grew closer and augmented into one Stalinist monster, therefore ensured enough control over the people to avoid collapse; like North Korea. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ A hermit kingdom that spans two continents, now that would be a scary thought indeed. $\endgroup$ – SPavel Sep 28 '16 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ China's economic strategy involves manufacture and export. "Giving the benefit of cheap Chinese factories" - for a price, of course - to America and anybody else willing to build cheap Chinese products is that strategy. $\endgroup$ – Pere Feb 1 '17 at 15:22
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Don't do what Gorbachov did.

All of his reforms were well intentional, but were probably responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suspect that a leader who was able to implement economic reforms without causing disruption and chaos could have left the Soviet Union a sound and prosperous nation.

China's controlled move to a free market economy was probably inspired in large part by the lessons provided by the failed reforms that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Replay that success in the context of the SU in the 80s and I bet you'd get good results. The great thing about speculative fiction is that you get to prevent a disaster by retroactively applying the lessons provided by the disaster itself.

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    $\begingroup$ The chinese economic reforms started in 1978 with Deng Xioaping, long before the USSR collapsed. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Sep 23 '16 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ I was gonna say, if the Soviet Union took China's path of "theoretically Communist but in practice one of the most unbridled expressions of unrestrained Capitalism you're going to see anywhere in the world", they would have done significantly better. Instead they went all-in on central planning, and that just doesn't work very well. $\endgroup$ – Tacroy Sep 23 '16 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Tacroy--China is "capitalist" only if by "capitalism" you mean "letting people with all the money do whatever the hell they want." That's not what any defender of capitalism means by the word. $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Sep 24 '16 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @EvilSnack So what do you think capitalism is? $\endgroup$ – user23013 Sep 24 '16 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @EvilSnack That's exactly what capitalism is. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Sep 26 '16 at 7:26
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Kill or otherwise get rid of Joseph Stalin.

He pretty much hijacked the communist experiment from the start, shaping it to his own priorities.

It's hard to predict how it would have been without him, but it certainly would be very different, and presumably much better. Genocide is always a bad idea economically, whatever you think of ethics.

On the other hand, perhaps they would be far less scary.

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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this would be a better answer if it performed more speculation to justify the path of the Soviet Union moving forward. As is it feels more like a coin toss. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Sep 23 '16 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ Highly unlikely when you look at his competition - Trotsky wanted to continue the International Revolution, which effectively means an expansionist war. The USSR would lose and be partitioned by whatever Allied coalition ended up appearing. $\endgroup$ – SPavel Sep 23 '16 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ It is the Communist system, not an individual, that guaranteed the end of the Soviet Union. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Sep 24 '16 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ Hard to argue that Stalin hijacked Lenin's ideals since much of the violence committed under Stalin was quite arguably an extension of patterns established during the early years of the revolution. Furthermore, for this answer to be constructive, you would need to detail possible alternatives to Stalin that would have strengthened the Soviet Union moreso than in our timeline. $\endgroup$ – rideoutcolin Sep 24 '16 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ Without Stalin probably Hitler will win WWII. $\endgroup$ – i486 Sep 26 '16 at 7:54
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If you read Soviet literature, e.g., science fiction from the decade following Stalin's death, it was full of hope. And it was genuine hope, not communist party propaganda. These hopes were eventually killed, suffocated perhaps is the better word, by the stagnation of the Brezhnev era.

Instead of the stagnation, allow economic reforms in the 1960s in both the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Allow Hungary to go through with its 1968 New Economic Mechanism unimpeded. Reintroduce and strengthen the reforms of Lenin's New Economic Policy and insist on the satellite states following suit. Allow private enterprise, foreign investment, market forces and the free flow of capital. Tear down the stupid Berlin wall (or better yet, don't build it in the first place); a good economic policy is a much better way to retain manpower. In short, do what China did under Deng, and what the Soviet Union dared not do under Brezhnev, for fear of losing direct and complete control over the economy of the totalitarian state.

With the human and economic resources available to the Soviet Union, it could have become an economic powerhouse by the 1980s, even as it maintained a one-party state and totalitarian control over the political sector. China's example shows as much. And the occasional political revolt could be put down with ease (see Tiananmen Square) when the people, by and large, are satisfied with your governance. The Prague Spring of 1968 might not even have happened. Solidarity would have been just a blip on the radar, if it even formed in the first place.

Oh, and don't let Reagan bait you with Star Wars into a spending contest that you are destined to lose. And, of course it goes without saying, don't get suckered into the Afghanistan adventure. Don't waste the space program's resources on a shuttle just for prestige, when it was glaringly obvious already that the universal, economical "Space Transportation System" was anything but. But you know what... even with these rather bad political mistakes, the Soviet Union could have remained intact and more powerful than ever, if its septuagenarian leadership only had the courage to allow its economy to flourish.

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    $\begingroup$ In this alternative history scenario, you can even make Putin president (or general secretary). $\endgroup$ – gerrit Sep 26 '16 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ If the Prague reforms happened in 1968 the USSR would have collapsed 19 years sooner. They had to deploy the army late in the year, which was otherwise necessary for collecting the harvest. They thus risked famine to shut down the idea of a freer press in Czechoslovakia; because the latter was a threat to the USSR and the former not. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:22
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Delay or destroy the Manhattan project

Why did the USSR fail? They could not compete economically with the United States.

After WWII the US reduced the size of its military and grew economically, while the USSR kept its military large. Despite an initial military advantage, the USSR and the Warsaw pact could not attack NATO, initially because the US had nukes and Russia lacked them, and later because both sides had enough nukes to destroy each other in the event of war.

Behind this nuclear shield the US and NATO spent less on military initially and had large economic growth. They then had a larger economic base to compete in an arms race. The USSR had a weaker economy, couldn't scale up its military and collapsed under the economic reassure.

If nuclear weapons took several decades longer to develop, the USSR would have been able to force a confrontation much earlier when it had a military advantage. This would either force NATO to spend more on military and reduce their economic advantage or allow the USSR to take over or invade much of Europe, giving the USSR a large Economic base to compete from later.

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    $\begingroup$ Additionally: If the US had not nuked Japan, Russia would have eventually swept in and taken over. More land + more people = more money = better chance of success. And, with a foothold there, it would be easy to start snapping up all the other smaller eastern Asian countries. $\endgroup$ – ArmanX Sep 23 '16 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure about that comment. SU was extremely reluctant to go to war with Japan, and didn't even declare war on them until Germany was defeated. It contributed very little to the war in the last few months. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Sep 24 '16 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth I would say that after defeat in the battles of Khalkhin Gol and the signing of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact it was Japan that was extremely reluctant to go to war with the SU. I would also say that the SU contributed a fair bit to the war with Japan in 1945 by defeating the Kwantung Army in less than 4 weeks (half a million POW seem a lot to me). See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet%E2%80%93Japanese_War_(1945) $\endgroup$ – Oleg Sep 24 '16 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ I agree about the significance of economics but I don't think you are right about why the USSR was economically inferior. Marxist communism has two economic handicaps: (1) lack of individual incentive (2) centralisation. Administrative overheads and delays are a power function of the size of an organisation. They can be diminished using hierarchy, or contained completely using cellular automation (the major benefit of capitalism, IMO). $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Sep 25 '16 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode You ask, "If economic competition with the US defeated the USSR why has NK not suffered the same fate?" The answer is that NK isn't trying to compete with the US. Ronald Reagan's SDI provoked the USSR into spending a small mountain of money it didn't have on chasing a will'o-the-wisp (the SDI tech didn't actually exist). Fat Boy Kim on the other hand is too busy exercising the Pleasure Squad and executing people who don't cheer loud enough to build more than half a dozen missiles. $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Nov 8 '16 at 10:32
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Don't ban cybernetics

There were attempts to build centralised controlling system that would optimize everything. However, for ideological/political reasons cybernetics were outlawed. With better computers (as a result of actual research in the field) and less political/ideological grip on science (you would need that one to save the field anyway) it would make economy actually work without market (although in many ways, good and bad, similar to having one).

While you are at it, you can probably do the same thing with genetics (stop Lysenkoism). If you have an actual winter, you'd better know your way around making cold-resistant crops.

Well, if de-politisation of science would not fly, you can pick some other research fields (process is kinda random anyway) for SU to outlaw and keep cybernetics afloat.

Purge party higher-ups

When average age of top party members is 70 - well, something went terribly wrong and people are being selected not for management capabilities but for stuff like personal familiarity and being convenient. This process should be disrupted - or maybe you could have "inner party" that actually decides what happens and is not slipping into senility. Either way, thouroughly centralised system without proper control from the center is bound to go haywire, so your party better know what they are doing and actually do stuff.

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  • $\begingroup$ "inner party" straight outta 1984, huh. they actually had it, it was KGB. $\endgroup$ – Will Ness Sep 26 '16 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ Control of information was essential to the survival of the USSR. Even photocopiers were kept under lock and key, and FAX machines, cell phones and personal computers were seen as a threat to the State, not business tools. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 26 '16 at 5:34
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Prevent the "accident" ("disaster" is a better fit) at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It alone pretty much bankrupted the Soviet Union. The accident also cost the Soviet Union lots of prestige abroad... including in East Block... some even at home, although they were able to downplay it.

No Gorbachov - replace him with hard-liner. Ideally, a "young" hardliner... could even follow Brezhnev in 1982; to prevent the less than ideal situation with four different leaders in less than five years! Alternatively, let the coup against Gorbachov in 1991 succeed - and perhaps arrest/kill/marginalize Boris Yeltsin (long?) before or in the beginning of the coup (much of Yeltsin's power came from his roles as leader in Moscow and "President of Russia" (while it was part of the Soviet Union) - this could've been stopped).

Stop Lech Wałęsa - and the Solidarity Union - in Poland.

Be firmer in East Berlin - prevent The Berlin Wall from falling. Be firmer in East Germany - support STASI, prevent more escapees.

Prevent Ronald Reagan (or George Bush Sr.) from becoming President of the USA - or take him/them out in some way (remember Hinckley nearly succeeded - and he just wanted to impress Jodi Foster!). Ideally let Jimmy Carter have a second term, but few could've been worse to the Soviet Union than Reagan.

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    $\begingroup$ Another variation: prevent Willy Brandt from becoming Chancellor of the FRG. That could have changed how East and West Germany grew together (and how West Germany came to terms with the East in general). There are some interesting possibilities there to explore IMHO. $\endgroup$ – kratenko Sep 26 '16 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that taking a no-nonsense approach would have extended the USSR's lifespan, but not worrying about bankruptcy. If that's true why is socialist Zimbabwe still with us given hyperinflation to the point of printing hundred million dollar bank notes? Also, I dare anyone to prove how Reagan did anything of relevance with regards to the fall of the USSR; it was an internal issue. It fell because the Soviets let it get too liberal. Otherwise it'd still be with us, like North Korea. All Reagan did was make people stupid, to believe the world is so simple. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Also would like to see some reference to say how Chernobyl bankrupted the USSR, never heard this statement before. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode It was more a suggestion than an assertion... I'm however basing it on the comment from this documentary - youtube.com/watch?v=p5GTvaW34O0&t=4200 The man talking about the cost is Garbatchov himself, and why there certainly were other reasons for why he some years later "closed" the Soviet Union, the price-tag for the clean-up certainly didn't help matters. $\endgroup$ – Baard Kopperud Sep 28 '16 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @BaardKopperud Thank you, that's very interesting! When he mentions that at the time it cost 18bln roubles, when the exchange rate was 1-1 with the USD. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 19:56
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Refortify the multi-national conception of the USSR.

Think about the name of the country and the aspiration it was intended to convey: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost were reasonably well thought out concepts about how to begin reforming and modernizing the economy, but his highly technocratic worldview didn't account for the natural human desire to feel included. His Politburo was apparently the most ethnically Russian in all of Soviet history. This indicates that talented people in the other Republics weren't getting as many opportunities to build career stakes with the central government.

Keep in mind that the Romans had been relatively good at recruiting talent into their leadership circles from all regions of their empire as it expanded.

Gorbachev wasn't outwardly nativist, but we see a lot of that among Putin's inner circle... and attitude that's exacerbated tensions with the former Republics

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    $\begingroup$ Gorbachev's reforms were a terrible idea. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Sep 26 '16 at 7:28
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This is the question Francis Spufford addresses in Red Plenty. To summarize, the Stalinist economic system, in which the second-most-powerful man in the Soviet Union ended up having to adjudicate disputes between two turnip farmers, was hopeless and inefficient. At the time, though, some theorists did propose a better solution, what we today call optimization by linear programming. There were two problems with it: there wasn’t enough computing power in the Soviet Union in the middle of last century to make it work, and it kept telling the central planners that the way to run an economy efficiently looked an awful lot like capitalism. For example, it kept calculating “shadow prices” that functioned a lot more like market prices (plus some Pigovian taxes and subsidies) than like the Marxist labor theory of value.

The example of successful economic reform of a Stalinist economy in the real world while keeping the Communist party in power is of course China under Deng Xiaoping.

If there’s an actual time machine involved, you can deliver blueprints for future technology. But, no matter what you do, you have to break the stranglehold of Stalinist ideology over the Soviet economy.

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  • $\begingroup$ If time machine which can be used to deliver something is not out of questio, you have just to read A LOT of Russian SciFi, both published and amateur (on sites like samlib.ru). One of scenarios: Genius scientist invents time travel device. It's unfinished when he died. Good engineer finishes machine and send parcel with: Linux-based notebook loaded with specially assembled information. Rasperri Pi and some other examples of modern tech like smartphones for disassembly. Target point is 1953. Nikita Kruchev's flat. This changes history. There a lot of such stories (in Russian of course) $\endgroup$ – Vikarti Anatra Sep 24 '16 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Russian authors like time travel by different means (self-made machine, self-made machine which worked NOT as intended, ASB help help of various kind rather lot. Time targets and number of people and hardware transferred depends on author. People usually think it's their own timeline but not always, At least in 1 story it's sure that travelling person get into alternate time line and even keep some connection with her own for some time but can't go back. (initial result: Russia-Germany part of WW2 didn't happen...by Hitler's order on which he gave hours before attack). $\endgroup$ – Vikarti Anatra Sep 25 '16 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ Are ASB alien space beings? All the ones I’ve come across in Soviet SF are benevolent, I’m guessing because any society’s progression to Communist utopia is inevitable? $\endgroup$ – Davislor Sep 25 '16 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ Alien Space Bats I'm not speaking about Soviet SF here but very modern Russian SF. They are just plot devices to "explain" (because author is lazy or other is NO at least semi-rational explanation) how USSR 22/06/1941 gets changed with it's territory in 2012 (hilarity ensues on both ends) or dying old man sees WHAT happens to Russia in 2030s and reborn in girl in 1960 but now she has only one target or 2 brigades with modern weapons (but without nuclear weapons) gets moved from 202x to Nazi-occupied Belorussia in July 1941...). As I said, there a lot such book of varying qualiy $\endgroup$ – Vikarti Anatra Sep 25 '16 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MilesRout Nope! The only way to stop me would be to go back in time and prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union. $\endgroup$ – Davislor Sep 26 '16 at 9:41
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During the 80s, the Soviet Union attempted to match defense spending with the United States. Since their economy was only a quarter the size of the United States' economy by GDP, this required them to dedicate four times as much of their economy to the military. The US was allocating roughly 6% of their GDP to the military. The Soviet Union was around 25%.

If the Soviet Union had instead spent 5% of GDP on the military, this still would have been high by modern standards. The US is currently one of the higher spenders at 4.5% in 2015. That would have left 20% of GDP to use on civic improvements, research, and other expenses to improve the economy. By not matching the Reagan buildup, the Soviet Union might have been fiscally sound.

Note that this would have required abandoning the communists in Afghanistan. Ideally you'd avoid the 1979 invasion and start the military drawdown then instead.

Lower defense spending would also have made it easier to sign treaties with other countries. What if the Soviet Union had been trading with western Europe in the 80s?

Lower defense spending might also have prevented Chernobyl. There is some speculation that the Chernobyl reactor accident was caused by defense testing. Of course, I can't confirm that. It's speculation. But it is plausible enough for story purposes.

I suppose the counter-claim would be that the Soviet Union needed that military spending to stay together. I don't know enough to debunk or confirm that. I suspect that eastern Europe might have broken off in that scenario. Also, presumably they'd spend less on foreign aid to countries like Cuba as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a thought: To counter the last point, you could have one of the western Soviet Republics break lose as effect, and have it go horribly wrong, thus strengthening the Union in the process. $\endgroup$ – kratenko Sep 26 '16 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ This assumes that fruitful economics is required for a state to avoid collapse. But if this is true, why is poverty-ridden North Korea still with us, and why did Zimbabwe not implode well before their printing hundred million dollar bank notes? $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode Because neither of them are attempting to maintain an empire? I'd go so far as to mark North Korea as a client of China's. It's less like the Soviet Union and more like East Germany. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Sep 28 '16 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan Though the comparison between east Germany and china is a good one, I don't see how that distinction you draw about having foreign adventures or not is meaningful. A big dog and a small dog are still dogs. They do the same things, just in different scales. The scale doesn't change what they are. How do you suppose it does? Both ZImbabwe and the USSR had to enforce control over their population, and how rich or poor they were didn't really matter. Similarly though North Korea may be supplied by China in part it's still dirt poor and not collapsing. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 19:52
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There are several factors that caused the Soviet Union to collapse. For now, I can only write about two. Preventing either one of them may have allowed the USSR to survive into today.

1. Soviet Paranoia

Some will say that this is cultural (I do not care to categorize it), but it is probably the most significant factor explaining why the Soviet Union collapsed. There was a great deal of internal paranoia--ie, a fear stemming from Kremlin members, high officials, intelligence personnel, or military figures just ending up missing or disappearing. This was so controversial, that there was a method of detecting whether or not an official was still around, and it involved ballet performances: If someone was supposed to watch the ballet but was not photographed at the event, it was generally assumed that they were silently executed.

But this problem extended beyond internal paranoia, one of the biggest mistakes the Soviets made before their fall was a propaganda campaign to discredit the leadership of a communist faction in Afghanistan. That faction was known as the "Khalqists" and was headed by Hafizullah Amin--and unlike the other communists, they advocated immediate reforms to take the whole of Afghanistan from a traditional society into a secular, even atheist, and communist one. However, those reforms were met by a backlash from the conservative/traditional segments of Afghan society, which caused chaos. In order to distance themselves, the Soviets unleashed a propaganda campaign to discredit the Khalqists and frame Amin as a secret CIA agent, bent on sabotaging communism in Kabul. The aim was to convince the Afghans that the Khalqists were not true communists, so that other, more moderate communist factions can appear more palatable to all segments of Afghan society.

The problem? The Soviets began to believe their own lies. Amin was treated as a CIA agent by the Soviet press, and numerous Soviet attempts to assassinate him failed. So, an opinion that "someone" must be helping Amin began to formulate--naturally, it was assumed to be the Americans. Moreover, the Khalqists, fearing that their time had come, began to make all sorts of political mistakes, overreacting to protests and committing crimes that began to alienate even the left-wing segments of Afghan society. The Soviets felt they had to act fast to preserve communism in Kabul--or else, a government favorable to Washington might be created in Afghanistan. The result? The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in panic, unprepared and without a clear objective.

Today, in many political science classes, this scenario is studied to show the problems of "blowback"--which occurs when actors inject statements that may be false in order to discredit opponents or alter the opinion of certain populations. Sometimes, those statements come back seeming more real than their author(s) ever intended, and that can cause great panic--even amongst well-calculated Soviet intelligence agents. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is considered by many to be its downfall, or at least, the beginning of its downfall.

Still want the USSR around? Build a time machine, tell them Amin was probably just politically stupid, convince them not to panic and invade Afghanistan, and that if they do invade Afghanistan on the day that they ultimately did, that Zbignew Brzezinski predicted it at least a week ago--and that the CIA is hellbent on getting revenge for what the Soviets did in Vietnam.

2. The Cold War and American Covert Action

Nowadays, no one denies the lengthy covert war between Washington and Moscow. During the Korean War, Russian pilots flew in Korean-marked jets, and even though the Soviets were not one of the primary belligerents in that war, the top ace fighter pilot was a Russian. Later, the Soviets aided the Vietcong during the Vietnam war. This was supposed to be secret, because when interviewed their officials would say, "What? I have no idea what you're talking about."--plausible deniability.

But Washington also had a hand in clandestine activities against Moscow. The biggest and most famous one was Afghanistan, however, the real success of American influence was not only arming and training organizations to fight the Soviets, it was to convince numerous populations that the Soviets were "evil, Godless commies", while at the same time, the U.S. had a program to show American movies to foreign audiences, and Disneyland was so big, that imprisoned Eastern European dissidents occupied by the USSR or under communist rule, would look outside their jail-cell windows and say "Disneyland"--associating Disneyland with freedom.

As a result, many countries that were supposed to be behind the "iron curtain", were actually behind a very fragile glass wall--with resistance fighters within them (or at least political movements) that opposed the USSR. So, while the U.S. could count on the other four members of the "Five Eyes"--United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and often even count on other NATO countries, the USSR had a dwindling number of allies--even outright communist countries, like China and Tito's Yugoslavia, at times during the Cold War, were on the side of Washington.

Furthermore, the Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia were squarely in the hands of American and British oil companies, and up until 1979, even Iran was an American ally and used to contain the USSR, which effectively meant the entire oil of the Middle East was in the hands of Washington and NATO.

Political scientists call this "balancing"--Washington did it much better than the Soviets, arguably because the U.S. was in a much better position after WW2 than the USSR, and so could offer more to its allies, but also because American covert action was based in compellence to force certain outcomes: Latin American countries have socialistic leaders like Allende in Chile, who may favor Moscow? Devastate their economy, rouse their public, then overthrow the regime in favor of a dictator who is more favorable to Washington--like Pinochet. As a result, governments across the world, but especially in Latin America and the Middle East, were under unshakable political instability (economic sabotage, regime change, civil war, etc) because of these covert action operations.

Still want the Soviet Union around? Use that same time machine to tell them to preserve their spheres of influence, so that they do not fall like a column of dominoes. That way, at a minimum, the USSR can avoid being contained (and more or less isolated) from the rest of the world.

Also, tell them that American realists and pragmatists do not see the Cold War as solely a war of ideology, but a war based in geopolitics. Sure enough, the Soviets were not all idealists either, which meant the fact that the U.S. and the USSR were the two most powerful countries, is sufficient for some of their countrymen to be distrustful of the other--or at the very least, very cautious of the other, and for some, like George Kennan, that is enough reason to want to put pressure on the other. Kennan's containment policies combined with the Marshall Plan and covert action worked to turn the world in America's favor.

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Many answers here suggest that economics is the primary factor: specifically the lack of a liberal economic model, but this fails to explain the fate of other regimes. I suggest we take a step back and try and understand how the world works outside of liberal democracies; as it seems that many are answering through the bias of their own cultural expectations rather than the historical realities. I dare say it's convenient that we in the west take such an essentialist view that, of course, those societies which are not like us must fail because they are not like us.

If the answer is that the USSR failed economically, why did it not collapse with Stalin's woeful famine-causing mismanagement? Why did China's regime not fail under Mao's similar incompetence? Why are impoverished North Korea and hyperinflation ridden Zimbabwe still around? They began life as socialist states and yet are amongst the most hopelessly corrupt and poor in the world. If economics was the be all and end all they all would have collapsed long ago.

The real issue is the enforcement (or loss) of authority. Gorbachev's Glasnost reforms were the long term consequence, effectively, of de-Stalinisation. The USSR under Stalin is more similar to contemporary North Korea; in which the personality cult of the dear leader, and his control over society, is absolute. Non conformity is not tolerated. Stalin was responsible for atrocities, from the Katyn massacre in Poland to the Holodomor in Ukraine and the mass murder and imprisonment of just about anyone who was intelligent or stupid enough to say something questionable. This is similar to Mao's Cultural Revolution, or to a lesser extent Khmer Rouge's genocide (and that was stopped only by an invading Vietnamese army).

Simply make sure de-Stalinisation never happens. The leaders of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death were just as brutal. Stalin's 1924 Socialism in One Country proposal is adopted wholesale, in so far as it allows leaders to compartmentalise each Soviet/Warsaw republic to ensure greater control over institutions and considerably less flow of information and people between places.

Incidentally, I've read a few books written under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov, by a Soviet army intelligence officer who defected in the 70s. He said that the only people who knew a proper comparison between west and east were his peers, and consequently they never understood why any westerners would be sympathetic to the USSR. Importantly, he argued that prior to his leaving the entire Soviet economy was designed to supply the Red Army, nothing else was a priority (in this case traditional liberal economic concerns are irrelevant), and Soviet industry was fed technology by the USSR's spies who stole practically everything they could from the west. This meant that the USSR's military capability leeched off western military capability. Innovation wasn't necessary, just repurposing.

So if the strategy is to make the economy serve the military, whether it makes the people wealthier or not is irrelevant. And how would they know any better with a press in perpetual Stalinism? Because we're all free comrades here who have better living standards than anywhere. Wink wink. Industry's purpose is to support state organs responsible for enforcing control. It doesn't need to do better than anyone else, simply provide a minimum output.

Unfortunately this means the USSR won't be able to remain a super power longer term, but then it can't anyway because America has the technology lead by having free speech and thus free exchange of information. More information shared, more new ideas, more research. This however isn't to say that the USSR will be an irrelevance... I mean, we're talking about something like a giant North Korea. If the USSR remained Stalinist nuclear disarmaments with the USA would never have happened. They would be swimming with nuclear weapons and even if their traditional army is a step behind, or becomes completely irrelevant, they still have the power to bring on a nuclear apocalypse on a whim. Not insignificant.

The Soviet Union can't have free exchange of ideas and survive. You're going to have to pick one. That is precisely why they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, even though it was late in the year and they needed to deploy the army to help collect the harvest (thus risked famine) - the free press is more dangerous to the USSR than famine. So they put down "Socialism with a Human face" with tanks. When Gorbachev was asked what was the difference between Glasnost and then, he said "Nineteen years". That is the problem.

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I do believe that the Red Alert series has your answer, although it's pretty intentionally outlandish.

Tl;Dr: Kill Hitler AND Einstein.

(I would have put this in a comment, but my rep isn't high enough.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm familiar with Red Alert's storyline, and you say kill Hitler and Einstein without mentioning the use of time travel, which is foundational. You should use links to reference only, not explain. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Red Alert uses time travel, sure, but it is not necessary. The killing of Hitler in really any way before he rises to power would greatly help the longevity of the USSR. It would not be the only thing you'd need to do though. $\endgroup$ – CaptClockobob Sep 28 '16 at 17:21
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No Gorbachev or Perestroika, that's it. If you want details, you even can keep Gorbachev but get rid of Yakovlev, and, desirably, Suslov.

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    $\begingroup$ Gorbachev came into an already crippling Soviet Union. Glastnost and Perestroika were his attempts to fix these problems, but the economy and the Soviet system in general were already falling apart. You could argue that without Gorbachev, the USSR would have lasted longer, but not by long – and they certainly would not have remained the superpower they once were. $\endgroup$ – erdekhayser Sep 23 '16 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @erdekhayser Yakovlev was the active enemy of the USSR and the whole Perestroika thing was his master plan. He had total influence on Gorbachev. This was immediate problem. Addressing a long-term problem, without Suslov the USSR would definitely last much longer. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Sep 23 '16 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ I don't feel like I can upvote this answer without justification. RIght now it's a one-liner. Can you expand the answer with explanation? $\endgroup$ – Ranger Sep 23 '16 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Nex Terren Suslov made Soviet ideology very boring and not attractive to the youth. Yakovlev designed the plan for using "Perestroika" to break up the USSR and Communism as he admitted. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Sep 23 '16 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Nex Terren Also consider the IT technologies. Planned economy goes much better if everything is calculated with powerful computers. If the USSR had better computers and not just copied the Western ones, its economy would go better. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Sep 23 '16 at 19:41
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I would have the US invade Iran at the time USSR were in Afghanistan.

That could have shifted the military attention in the region towards the US and the soviets could have supplied the iranian freedom fighters with weapons in exchange for help against the Mujahedin (cutting off supply routes).

The effect would be higher oil prices to bolster the soviet exports, the losses of men and equipment in Afghanistan would be far lower.

When the US eventually had to give up their presence in Iran a soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan could be part of a peace deal for the region.

This would leave the Soviet Union a far stronger military power with a far better economy than was the result after the withdrawal from Afghanistan in real life.

If the middle-east oil production was set back as well the soviet economy could be booming for a decade.

And the US might withdraw itself into isolationism.

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Make Churchill it's a good idea to implement parts of Operation Unthinkable. (USA don't want to take part of this but can't stop this from happining). Possible end results: ALL of Europe is under Soviet occupation. USSR was not involved in helping to destroy Japan army in China and started covert trade with Japan instead. Japan have their own Manhattan project and now has time to finish it and actually use several bombs. America responds in kind. Japan responds with biowarfare. Nuclear attacks by USA don't have too much effect on japonese morale so USA must actually invade and take heavy losses both in body count and in time. USSR gets nuclear weapons faster because Japan is willing to help (for a price).

Churchill is killed in the end. (Wikipedia of this timeline says he was killed by fanatic and it's conspiracy theory to think that there was any involvement from $country_name secret services).

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  • $\begingroup$ There are no agents by the name of Bond on this timeline or any other, Miss Moneypenny. $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Sep 25 '16 at 11:13
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The Soviets could have stopped their deep well drilling plans and instead gotten a head start on drilling for oil and gas sooner. They are like 50 years behind. More oil money would have meant more power and economic ability to stay alive.

As with China, the ability to convert domestic resources to Dollars and UK Pounds means prosperity. And the economics would have softened the commie stance to a lot of degree (like in China).

But the Venezuela model needs to be considered. Don't just be rich in oil.

The other consideration would be to keep Stalin from killing all of their scientists. Talk about stupid on that. The scaremongering was too intense for too long.

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My short answer would be: No drastic purges of the education or scientific communities. Pick one of the following: Nuclear weapon delivery systems, or the moon race, the USSR under its own self imposed restraints does not have the flexibility to go for both.

Keep your people at a reasonable level of happiness. Crack down on political corruption and be completely open about it. Nothing incites rebellion more than people being oppressed while their government even SEEMS to not care about corruption.

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    $\begingroup$ Space race was heavily about nukes delivery systems though. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Sep 24 '16 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ That is true. But America wins with accuracy..and well...Von Braun. CCCP had the Nedelin Disaster en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nedelin_catastrophe. I think the main lesson to be learned. Let scientists lead experiments, not politicians. And for the love of insert deity of choice here have the launch pad be FAR AWAY from staff. Also, if Stalin had had his way, the soviets best scientist would have never come to be: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Korolev#Imprisonment I think the best statement is: Science good: Purging Bad. $\endgroup$ – NZKshatriya Sep 24 '16 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @NZKshatriya. Regrading the catastrophe you linked, another "feature" they could have left alone for the good: Obsession with (self celebrating) anniversaries. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Sep 27 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Crowley I think that is something both sides could do away with. $\endgroup$ – NZKshatriya Sep 27 '16 at 18:22
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John Hinckley Jr's 1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan succeeds

In my opinion, the actions of Ronald Reagan during his presidency can't be understated in bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. Prior to his election, the policy between the two superpowers was one of peaceful coexistence, Reagan was the figurehead of a conservative movement that saw the presence of the USSR as an intolerable evil.

So, in the seconds after Hinckley's bullets fatally wound President Reagan, a sharp-shooting secret serviceman fires a killing shot straight into Hinckley's head. With the assassin dead, his bizarre motivations (wanting to impress the actress Jodie Foster) never come to light. America is in shock, and people are speculating wildly about the motives of the assassin, was he a communist, an Islamist, a neo-nazi? Regardless, the consensus in Washington is that something needs to be done about gun control.

Comprehensive reform of gun law is passed, and with it, the conservative movement that Reagan figureheaded is sidelined. The "Evil Empire" speech never happens and the policy of peaceful coexistence is maintained. The 80s in this timeline are much less "80s-y", the "big bang" of financial de-regulation is less radical and the economic malaise of the 70s persists for longer.

Crucially, the arms race between the two blocs is less extreme, and the USSR is able to invest less in its military, and more in modernising technology and consumer goods. By the present day, it's hardly a socialist utopia, but it successfully manages to plod along.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since Reagan had little effect on the collapse of the U.S.S.R., his assassination would have similar little effect. $\endgroup$ – user2338816 Sep 26 '16 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ "was he a communist, an Islamist, a neo-nazi?" ... I doubt very much whether anyone would have considered the possibility of him being an "Islamist" in 1981. The default assumption would be communist, and that would likely lead to an even more conservative attitude from the West rather than less. Ultimately, it would really depend on the attitude of the next president. In the event of Regan being killed, this would have been his Vice President... who just happened to be George Bush (Snr), who ended up being the next president after Regan anyway. $\endgroup$ – Simba Sep 26 '16 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. Bush or Carter would have continued to prop up the Soviet Union, as America had been doing back to WW2 $\endgroup$ – Mauser Sep 26 '16 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Reagan was irrelevant. He was just someone who was there at the time the USSR fell; which was due to internal politics and history. The USSR's demise was due to the liberalisation of society through de-Stalinisation. Everything else is of secondary importance. Look at North Korea and Zimbabwe; impoverished basket cases... but, importantly, ones with vicious Stalinist rulers. They keep the people in line, and thus their nations carry on. Anything about Reagan winning is just American pride and ignorance talking. The fall HAD to be because of what America did - but life isn't that simple. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:48
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Gorbachev respects the will of the people of the USSR as expressed in the March 1991 referendum when 76.4% of them voted to retain the USSR.

Alternatively, August 1991 Coup against Gorbachev succeeds thereby preventing Gorbachev from proceeding with the dissolution.

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The eastern block was run on fear and paranoia. The Soviet union and all their protectorates were sentenced to fail from the start.

On the both sides of the Iron Fence it was a race where the strongest wins and weaker lose.

In the Western side strength was measued by net income and/or election results. This setup advantages the agile minds and inventors. To be succesfull, one had to grow faster.

In the Eastern side the strength was measured by ability to bump the opponent off. This system advantages spineless paranoids. To be succesfull, one need to eliminate opponents faster/more thoroughly.


How the Soviet Union could be saved from the doom?

The only way was that US and OECD failed first. If the project Apollo was fail and the whole Space Race would have lead to the economic disaster giving Soviets domination in near Space. If the Chernobyl disaster would happen in Three Mile Island and Chappelcross (Core meltdown and explosion) instead.

I think that in this scenario, the Soviet Union would take over whole world but its structure and system would lead, sooner or later, to decomposition and tough fight between different factions.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The eastern block was run on fear and paranoia. The Soviet union and all their protectorates were sentenced to fail from the start." What about North Korea? Fear is an effective tool of management, which is why the Catholic church became so powerful in Medieval Europe. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 28 '16 at 16:53
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Protests that are relentless and involve most of the populous take away the leaders power, instead a functional more decentralized government is established where none has a huge amount of power. Also make the system more functional and dependent on the needs of the people by measuring demand and adjusting production with a formula to maximize happiness. No surveillance, the state becomes transparent and open for anyone to participate and look at. Corruption is severely punished and prosecuted by temporary task forces formed from random normal citizens, similar to jury duty in America, this creates an incorruptible instance that controls the government at every level.

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  • $\begingroup$ But Soviet Union was bound together by power of fear, not by political or economical will. If it would, it would not disband that fast. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Sep 27 '16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that the structure used for fear over 50 years cannot be trusted to secure a democracy. If it had not been abused then it could have held together. $\endgroup$ – HopefullyHelpful Sep 27 '16 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ But it was abused from very start. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Sep 27 '16 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's why I said, if people protested and fought the abuse from the start then maybe it would have turned out ok. $\endgroup$ – HopefullyHelpful Sep 27 '16 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ I think the result of "protest and fight back" would be disintegrating the USSR. Unless there would be threat from the outside, that would force nations to unite "voluntarily". Maybe if the WWII started with Germany invading Poland and then Russia, the other nations could join the union to share support. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Sep 27 '16 at 18:04
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Men engage themselves in Soviet Union of creating a secret army after obtaining documents from an old caved in project site in enemy territory which described the perfect specimen.

The soviets build this army and use it to assuage the world into world peace.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate more on the topic? $\endgroup$ – Crowley Sep 27 '16 at 18:05

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