The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 1985-91 module (PO31011)

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Module code


Module Aims

  • To provide students with a good grounding in the political science literature on Soviet politics and the academic debates over the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • To place the study of Soviet politics within a comparative politics framework and the wider study of communist systems.
  • To introduce students to a wide range of theoretical models and hypotheses drawn from the field of political science.
  • To encourage and facilitate student participation in seminar discussions and debates and advance the students essay writing and oral skills.

Module Details

In this module we examine the history of the Soviet Union from the politically stagnant Brezhnev era (1964-82) to the turbulent last years of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev 1985-91.

The central question which the module will seek to answer is why the Communist Party fell from power and why the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. To this end we shall outline the major economic and political problems which the Soviet system faced in the Brezhnev period and the solutions which Gorbachev put forward to reform the system: namely, perestroika, glasnost, democratisation, and new thinking in foreign policy.


The module will be delivered through one weekly lecture over eleven weeks and one weekly seminar.


This module is assessed as follows:

  • Two essays (50% each)

Intended Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you should have:

  • an in-depth knowledge of the key literature on Soviet Politics and Gorbachev’s reforms: perestroika, glasnost and democratization,
  • a knowledge of the key debates concerning the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union,
  • a knowledge of the relevant comparative politics literature,
  • improved oral skills and essay writing skills.


You will be able to present and critically analyse, in both oral and written form, the standard works on Russian politics and the theoretical studies on the collapse of the USSR.

Key Texts:

  • Archie Brown., The Gorbachev Factor. (Oxford University Press 1997).
  • A. Dallin and G. Lapidus., The Soviet System from Crisis to Collapse. (Oxford University Press 1994).
  • G. W. Lapidus, V. Zaslavsky and P. Goldman eds., From Union to Commonwealth: Nationalism and Separation in the Soviet Republics. (Cambridge University Press 1992).
  • David Marples., The Collapse of the Soviet Union 1985-1991.  (Pearson Longman 2004).
  • John Miller., Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of Soviet Power. (St Martin’s Press 1993).
  • Richard Sakwa., Soviet Politics in Perspective. (Routledge, 2nd edition, 1998).
  • Richard Sakwa., Gorbachev and His Reforms 1985-90. (1990).
  • Rachel Walker., Six Years That Shook the World. (MUP, 1993).
  • Richard Sakwa, Henry E. Hale and  Stephen White, (eds.), Developments in Russian Politics 9 (Palgrave, 2019).
  • Neil Robinson, Contemporary Russian Politics: An Introduction (Polity Press, 2018).
  • Edwin Bacon, Inside Russian Politics (Biteback Publishing 2017).


30 credits