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The Rise of Republican Elites

"Gorbachev Factor"

The USSRs disintegration was further precipitated by the regional fragmentation of the once unitary and strictly hierarchical all-union nomenklatura and the consequent weakening of the central party-state authorities. This bifurcation of the nomenklatura along ethnic lines accelerated in 198990, when the Communist parties of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia announced their decision to break away from the Soviet Communist Party. This started a chain reaction of ideological and organizational disintegration of the very foundations of the Soviet political system.  

Because the CPSU was the backbone of the Soviet political system and the cementing force of the Soviet unitary state, the splits within it could only erode its authority and undermine the unitary USSR. As the old system was crumbling, the party elites in the union republics were able to carve out a considerable degree of bureaucratic autonomy for themselves and to distance themselves from the central authorities.

In addition, new centers of power began to form in the union republics represented by the local parliaments popularly elected in 1990. In the local legislatures politicians of various political persuasions asserted their local autonomy and often spoke as one in their opposition to the Kremlin. In the spring and summer of 1990 first the Baltic republics and then others, including the biggest of them, Russia, adopted declarations of national sovereignty and thus openly confronted the union state. The parade of sovereignties led to a standoff between the federal center and the republics and fueled the war of laws, as local parliaments strove to reassert supremacy of their local legislation over union laws. The war of laws marked the first stage of the constitutional crisis that eventually led to the disintegration of the union.

When in August 1991 Soviet hard-liners attempted to recapture control over the republics, the majority of them either condemned the plotters outright or did not recognize the State Emergency Committee as a legitimate government. Only the central Asian republics and Azerbaijan showed obeisance to the State Emergency Committee, but even they did not recognize it formally. The attempt to restore control over the republics came too late, and in the conditions of August 1991 it could only accelerate the disintegration.

Having defeated the plotters and rescued Gorbachev from his house arrest in the Crimea, Russian President Yeltsin compelled Gorbachev to sign a series of decrees, which dissolved the CPSU and the federal cabinet of ministers and made Gorbachev give up his post of CPSU general secretary. The CPSU Central Committee was also forced to dissolve itself. As a result, the Communist regime collapsed like a pack of cards, and with it crumbled to dust the party-state structures that had held the USSR together.

The August events, which began as a last-ditch attempt to save the Soviet Union, the CPSU, and the power of the old party-state elite, ended as a velvet revolution, destroying the Soviet Union and the CPSU and consolidating the power of the new republican elites.

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The USSR's Collapse


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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