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Sample Essay on American History Since 1929

By Cecile A. Moore

While describing institutional sources of popular discontent, it is always rewarding to examine the ways in which present conditions replicate many of those associated with the 1960’s. Indeed, according to the oft-repeated statement, history repeats itself. Yet it goes without saying that public responses to these popular discontents will never be the same.

After independence was gained in Cote-d’Ivoire, the production of export cash crops such as coffee and cocoa was important for the development of non-agricultural economic growth, particularly in the Abidjan area. As a result, the commercial development of Abidjan and its growing status as the administrative centre of the country attracted even more French private investment and personnel. This concentration of economic and political activity in Abidjan brought about population shifts toward the south and the creation of a modern capital, the life of which varied dramatically from Cote d’Ivoire’s up-country village life. (Handloff, 1988) However, the country’s increasing economic prosperity did not satisfy all segments of the population. Rapid urbanization caused massive urban unemployment and rising conflict. Labelled by the government as the unemployed, Ivoirians in Abidjan started organizing protest demonstrations in 1969 to pressure the government to achieve greater Ivoirianization of lowlevel jobs. On September 30, 1969, about 1,600 demonstrators were arrested in the capital, leading to resentment of both government and foreign workers among the unemployed. (Handloff, 1988)

Let’s move on to another example of popular discontent. For instance, there have been claims that popular disaffection with communism and Soviet imperialism did make a tangible impact on the collapse of the USSR. First, most scientists have not studied the at least partially visible roots of discontent in the period from 1956 to 1986. Second, when the discontent entered increasingly into public view in 1988-89, observers tended to see in differently: sources of public discontent as being mostly reformist and pro-Gorbachev in nature, rather than, in large measure, anti-Establishment, anti-imperial, or anticommunist. Finally, when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, some scholars misinterpreted events quite opposite, viewing disaffection and discontent as constituting a popular revolution, rather than a series of popular revolts. In fact, these revolts contributed significantly to the collapse of an empire, although they did not represent an authentic revolution.

By early 1993, no such revolution has yet taken place in the USSR’s successor states, except perhaps in the Baltic countries. Most of the successor states, such as Russia and Ukraine, find their economies in an alarming no man’s land between the old command system and the market, and have political institutions that are extremely unstable and only superficially democratic. The public life saw minimally disguised and only slightly modified communists playing, with several potentially powerful allies, a large role in politics and economics. Among the states that have so far experienced no particular changes is Uzbekistan. In this country, given a new name, the Communist Party firmly holds power, and its leader openly proclaims communist China as his role model. By 1989, some of the popular fronts that had been created with official encouragement to mobilize both Communists and non-Communists in support of perestroika had become, above all in the Baltic republics, vehicles for nationalism. These were sources of popular discontent. Nationalist dissidents who had recently been released from jail obtained prominent positions in them. In the partially free elections of early 1989 for the reconstructed, quasi-democratic Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Baltic popular fronts caused a sensation by trouncing the Communists and winning three quarters of the Baltic seats. Meanwhile, in certain larger cities of Russia and Ukraine some of the official Communist candidates, including a few big names, lost to former dissidents and other liberals, and, as it was in one specially crucial case, to a disgraced former Politburo member, Boris Yeltsin.

Next, there’s another case of popular discontent which can in fact help to explain the role of popular disaffection in the USSR’s collapse In April 1989 troops murdered nineteen Georgians, many of them women, when a long-running demonstration by non-violent nationalists in Tbilisi was taking place. In the post-election atmosphere of anti-Establishment euphoria this action led to a major upheaval. Several commissions were set up to investigate it, the top politicians, such as Gorbachev, attempted to disclaim responsibility, and several military commanders and officials around the country declared that the army must never again be used for internal police work. Consequently, the resolve of Party officials and commanders of MVD and KGB troops, as well as army troops, dealing with the prospect of killing people in future policing actions of this sort was greatly reduced. It was further lessened in January 1990, when a somewhat similar action in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, murdered at least 130 people and triggered still more outrage.

The response to the abovementioned sources of public discontent was different in each case.  Popular discontent stemmed from the influx of hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers, most of whom were Mossi from Upper Volta, from other African countries. The Ivoirian government encouraged the import of cheap foreign African laborers, who worked on the large coffee and cocoa plantations and in industry. Competition between Ivoirian and foreign workers exploded into violence in September and October 1969, when widespread attacks on Mossi workers happened in Abidjan. Another example of dissatisfaction was antagonism between students and the PDCI government. (Handloff, 1988) This antagonism manifested itself in continuous protests by university students. Large numbers of Ivoirian students who had studied in France or were influenced by students from many other sub-Saharan African countries rejected the PDCI’s ideological movement away from socialism that had begun in 1950. (Handloff, 1988) They rejected what they perceived as the regime’s neocolonial policies vis-а-vis France. Most students were also against the government’s placement of the major student organization under the control of the PDCI. (Handloff, 1988)

Public discontent took a form of confrontation between the students and the government which occurred in May 1969, as the student organization, the Movement of Ivoirian Primary and Secondary School Students presented a list of demands to the government for specific reforms at Abidjan University (present-day National University of Cфte d’ivoire) and held a strike in which 150 students participated. The government arrested all Ivoirian student protesters in Abidjan, expelled all foreign students, and closed the university for two weeks, causing further expressions of student discontent at the university. The government’s crackdown triggered the sympathy of other discontented groups, such as the unemployed and secondary students in other towns. Thus, the government considered student activity menacing to its authority and political stability, and it blamed the strike on outside communist influences. Indeed, such kinds of public response were possible in the wake of communism. Yet, several decades later, the form popular discontent didn’t change significantly.

Many sovietologists didn’t consider the way popular discontent with communism contributed to the ideology’s ultimate collapse. No doubt that in USSR public response was an essential component of the disintegration of the system. In particular, Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratic reforms also contributed to the ruination of the communist system. Nationalist movements within the USSR sped up its disintegration. This is a basic evaluation of the effect of popular discontent on the collapse of communism in the former USSR is presented. Month after month the media carried detailed attacks on a wide variety of officials and institutions. Among these were many made in parliamentary forums like the first Congress of People’s Deputies, the whole proceedings of which were shown live on television. Moreover, should the candidates had been imprisoned or disgraced for their beliefs before, and if in their campaigns they attacked the objects of popular hatred with sufficient boldness, they stood, in the more politicized cities and throughout the Baltic, a good chance of being elected. The majority felt strongly for democracy or nationalism, or supported both. At the same time, this obviously moved the voters less than “negative” attacks on the institutions, symbols, and ideology of a regime that had oppressed them with little break for decades.

Another public response to sources of public discontent was that the non-Russian republics nationalism made rapid strides and became more and more separatist increasingly. The principal factors were the union-wide revulsion at the killings in Tbilisi and Baku, “the resulting statements by troop commanders about future restraint or non-participation in such situations, the Kremlin’s minimal punishment of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for moving steadily toward independence in the face of all Gorbachev’s persuasion and bullying to the contrary”, (Byrnes et al., 1983, p. 67) “the Kremlin’s complete inaction at the fall of communism throughout most of Eastern Europe in late 1989, and the decision by many leading communists in the republics to defy Moscow and, in an opportunistic bid to retain their power, engage the local nationalists in political combat by suddenly claiming to be as nationalist as they were.” (Byrnes et al., 1983, p. 67) According to Davies (1997), there was a wide range of heterogeneous positions along the continuum from active consent to active resistance or dissent. (Davies, 1997) There were few absolute conformists and dissenters. In practice, people’s views were far more ambivalent and contradictory. Contrary to Stephen Kotkin, who claims that the vast majority of people adopted the Bolshevik discourse and looked for their identity in the Stalinist civilization, Davies maintains that common people were expert at in seeking out alternative sources of information and continued to draw on a variety of rival discourses, including those of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and populism.

Indeed, public responses as well as responses of the government and media to sources of popular discontent varied greatly from country and historical context. However, if we refer to the statement that history tends to repeat oneself, we can reach a conclusion that apparently there was a sound reason for the above-mentioned public responses, such as a dominating political source or a political regime.

Works cited

Byrnes, Robert, Bialer, Seweryn, Campbell, Robert, Blacker, Coit, Lapidus, Gail, Friedberg, Maurice, Korbonski, Andrzej & Ulam, Adam. (1983) After Brezhnev. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Davies, Sarah. (1997). Popular Opinion in Stalin’s Russia: Terror, Propaganda and Dissent 1934-1941. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Handloff, Robert E. (ed.) (1988) Ivory Coast: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress.