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Soviet Union

Introduction

IN MID-1991 THE SOVIET UNION remained in a state of turmoil after the weakening of the authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) had profoundly disturbed the socialist (see Glossary) system. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the general secretary of the CPSU and president of the Soviet Union, had endeavored to revitalize the country by reforming the party and the socialist system without radically altering either one.

But his attempts at political reform ( demokratizatsiia-- see Glossary) and economic restructuring ( perestroika--see Glossary) shook the foundations of the centralized, authoritarian system that had been dominated and controlled by the party since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The design and construction of the foundations were seriously flawed and would not support extensive reform and restructuring.

The historical experience of the multinational Soviet Union is varied and complex and hjelps illuminate contemporary events and institutions. The histories of the predecessor states of the Soviet Union -- Kievan Rus', Muscovy, and the Russian Empire--demonstrate some long-term trends having applicability to the Soviet period: the predominant role of the East Slavs, particularly the Russians; the dominance of the state over the individual; territorial acquisition, which continued sporadically; nationality problems, which increased as diverse peoples became subjects of the state as a result of territorial expansion; a general xenophobia, coupled with admiration for Western ideas and technology and disruptive sporadic campaigns to adopt them; and cyclical periods of repression and reform.

The death knell of the Russian Empire came in March 1917, when the people of Petrograd (present-day Leningrad) rose up in an unplanned and unorganized protest against the tsarist regime and continued their efforts until Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. His government collapsed, leaving power in the hands of an elected Duma, which formed the Provisional Government. That government was in turn overthrown in November 1917 by the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir I. Lenin. The Bolsheviks (who began calling themselves Communists in 1918) emerged victorious after a bitterly fought Civil War (1918-21). They secured their power and in December 1922 established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union), which included almost all the territory of the former Russian Empire. The new government prohibited other political organizations and inaugurated one-party rule, which exerted centralized control over the political, economic, social, and cultural lives of the people. Lenin, as head of the party, became the de facto ruler of the country.

After Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph V. Stalin gradually assumed supreme power in the party and the state by removing opponents from influential positions. Stalin ordered the construction of a socialist economy through the appropriation by the state of private industrial and agricultural properties. His ruthless policy of forced industrialization and collectivization of agriculture caused massive human suffering, as did his purge of party members. As the initiator of the Great Terror (see Glossary), Stalin also decimated the economic, social, military, cultural, and religions elites in the Russian Republic and in some of the non-Russian republics. Millions of citizens were executed, imprisoned, or starved. Nevertheless, the Soviet state succeeded in developing an industrial base of extraordinary dimensions, albeit skewed toward military and heavy industry rather than consumer needs. Stalin believed that the rapid development of heavy industry was necessary to ensure the Soviet Union's survival. His fear of attack led to the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939, enabling the Soviet Union to acquire the eastern portion of Poland (western Ukraine), the Baltic states, and Bessarabia but failing to forestall for long the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that began in June 1941. After several crushing military defeats, the Red Army finally gained the offensive in 1943, expelled the enemy, and, by 1945, had occupied most of Eastern Europe. Although more than 20 million Soviet citizens died as a result of the war, the world was forced to acknowledge the tremendous power of the Soviet military forces.

In the postwar period, the Soviet Union converted its military occupation of the countries of Eastern Europe into political and economic domination by installing regimes dependent on Moscow. It also pursued its goal of extending Soviet power abroad. The Western powers reacted to Soviet expansionism, and thus began the Cold War. Simultaneously, Stalin rebuilt the devastated Soviet economy while retaining central planning and the emphasis on heavy industry and military production rather than satisfying the needs of the citizens. Suppression of dissent and human rights continued unabated.

After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita S. Khrushchev gradually became the dominant Soviet leader and, in a dramatic move, renounced his predecessor's use of terror and repression. He continued, however, a confrontational foreign policy toward the West. His attempts at domestic reform, particularly in agriculture, and his instigation of a missile crisis in Cuba, which almost launched a nuclear war, contributed to his ouster as party leader and head of state in 1964. After an extended period of collective leadership, Leonid I. Brezhnev assumed party and government power and initiated a foreign policy of détente with the West. He continued the traditional economic policy of emphasizing heavy industry and military production over civilian needs.

At the death of Brezhnev in 1982, the political, economic, and cultural life of the country was controlled by a conservative, entrenched and aging bureaucracy. Brezhnev's successors, Iurii V. Andropov and Konstantin U. Chernenko, were in power too briefly before their deaths to effect lasting change, although Andropov attempted to initiate some reforms. When Gorbachev was selected general secretary of the CPSU and head of the Soviet state in 1985, the deterioration of the Soviet socialist system had nearly reached crisis proportions. Gorbachev announced that "revolutionary" change was required to revitalize the country, and he began his programs of perestroika, glasnost' (see Glossary), and demokratizatsiia.

Gorbachev's efforts at political and economic reform, however, unleashed a flood of events leading to a profound political crisis and broad nationality unrest while leaving fundamental economic problems unresolved. Several of the nationalities having union republic (see Glossary) status began to seek greater political and economic autonomy; indeed, some sought complete independence from the Soviet multinational federation. Longstanding rivalries and enmities among nationality groups that had been suppressed by successive Soviet regimes exploded in some areas of the country, causing loss of life and property. Thus, the authoritarian socialist system, although undergoing tentative restructuring, became less capable of effectively responding to societal disorder and of implementing necessary fundamental change rapidly. In the 1990s, Gorbachev's policy of perestroika offered the people little in substantive, near-term economic improvement, and his policies of glasnost' and demokratizatsiia resulted in rapidly raising their expectations while lessening the regime's controls over society. As a result, in mid-1991 the Soviet Union appeared to be a disintegrating federation with a collapsing economy and a despairing, confused society.

Internationally, the Soviet Union's affairs also appeared to be in a state of fundamental change. Beginning in late 1989, the Soviet Union's East European empire crumbled as citizens in Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Romania overthrew their communist dictators with at least the tacit approval of Gorbachev. Earlier in the year, the people of Poland and Hungary had overthrown their communist systems. The actions of the peoples of Eastern Europe led to the dissolution, in May and June 1991, respectively, of the two Soviet-dominated, multinational organizations, the Warsaw Pact (see Appendix C) and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon; see Appendix B) that had helped bind Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. In a collaborative effort with the United States, Gorbachev met with President George H.W. Bush at Malta in December 1989 and at Washington in May-June 1990 to effectively end the Cold War and to move toward a cooperative relationship. In August 1991, Bush and Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which required the United States and the Soviet Union to cut their nuclear weapons within seven years so that each side would have only 4,900 ballistic missile nuclear warheads as part of a total of 6,000 "accountable" warheads. The two countries had been engaged in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) since 1982. In another collaborative effort, the Soviet Union voted with the United States and an international coalition of nations to oppose the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, a nation that had been the recipient of substantial amounts of Soviet military advice, equipment, and weapons.

It was Gorbachev's "new thinking" (see Glossary) in foreign policy that produced the most dramatic and far-reaching results of his reform efforts. In addition to the significant developments just mentioned, these included the withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from Afghanistan; acceptance of national self-determination for the East European communist countries and a promised complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from those countries; agreement to a unified Germany remaining in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); and the ending of support for Cuban military operations in Angola. The international community began to regard the Soviet Union as less menacing and acknowledged that the actions it had taken contributed substantially to the ending of the Cold War. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 for his foreign policy initiatives and for their impact on world affairs. By no means, however, did the Soviet Union abandon its foreign policy goals. It continued its economic and military support of some longstanding allies, such as Afghanistan, Cuba, and Vietnam, as well as Third World client states, although it often chose to act covertly, in the hope of receiving economic aid from the West.

In 1991 the Soviet economy continued to be beset with serious problems that had brought the Soviet Union to the point of crisis. The problems included poor planning by government officials; inefficient production methods; lack of incentives to boost efficiency; lack of worker discipline; unemployment, underemployment, and strikes; shortages of food and consumer goods; theft of state property; wasteful use of resources; prices distorted by a lack of market mechanisms; and investments of scarce funds in projects of dubious value. The system of central planning and rigid control by Moscow bureaucrats was partially disrupted by economic problems and the regime's policy of perestroika. Nevertheless, almost all natural resources, agricultural and industrial enterprises (see Glossary), transportation and communications systems, and financial institutions remained in the hands of the party-controlled government. In addition, the vast majority of workers remained, effectively, salaried employees of the government. Although the 1977 Constitution, as amended and changed, provided for cooperative or collective ownership of property, it also stated that the "socialist ownership of the means of production" was the foundation of the economy, and socialist ownership remained the preferred form of ownership. The Gorbachev regime, however, sought to devise a restructuring program that would enable market forces rather than government planners to make many economic decisions. Thus, in the early 1990s the economic reform envisioned by Gorbachev in the late 1980s seemed to be shifting away from centralized planning to a market-oriented economy.

Indeed, in 1990 the Supreme Soviet debated several proposals for economic reform before it, in October of that year, approved one endorsed by Gorbachev called "Guidelines for the Stabilization of the Economy and Transition to a Market Economy." This program saw no alternative to shifting toward a market economy but provided neither a detailed plan nor a schedule for implementation. It did, however, establish four phases for the transition: first, stabilization of the economy and initiation of the privatization of state-owned enterprises; second, liberalization of prices, establishment of a safety net for people adversely affected, and exercise of fiscal restraints over government expenditures; third, adjustment of the pay scale for workers and institution of housing and financial reforms; and fourth, as markets stabilized, transformation of the ruble from being nonconvertible to convertible, so as to enable Soviet and foreign businesses to exchange currencies at international rates. Price reform, a key element of the transition to a market economy, was to be administered and monitored carefully by central authorities. This transition was estimated to require two years. An important, but not easily achieved, requirement for its success was the integrity of the union and its constituent republics.

In spite of its many economic and political problems, the Soviet Union had more of the natural and human resources essential for industrial production than any other country in the world. It had vast quantities of important minerals and abundant energy supplies. It also had a very large, technically qualified labor force and a higher percentage of people working in industry than most Western nations. Yet, industrial productivity regularly fell behind planned goals for several reasons. First, raw materials, including fuels, had become less readily available in the heavily industrialized and heavily populated European part of the Soviet Union, while the Asian part of the country, which contained abundant natural resources, continued to lack an industrial infrastructure and the stable, skilled labor force necessary to extract the needed materials. Second, the formidable, and perhaps impossible, task of uniting materials, energy, and skilled workers with appropriate industrial enterprises on a timely and cost- effective basis was the responsibility of the increasingly bureaucratic central planning agencies that responded to political, rather than economic, priorities. Third, industrial enterprises, particularly those engaged in exclusively nondefense production, were constrained by obsolescent machinery and a lack of innovation.

Producing and distributing food in sufficient quality, variety, and quantity had eluded the Gorbachev regime, as well as all the other regimes since the Bolshevik Revolution. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats were in chronically short supply in the stores owned and operated by the government, and imports of grain and meat were frequent and necessary. Nevertheless, possessing the world's most extensive cultivated area, a large agricultural labor force, considerable investment in machinery, chemical fertilizers, and irrigation, the Soviet Union had made itself the world's second largest grower of agricultural commodities and was first in many of them. The main reason for the anomaly between the high agricultural potential and the low food availability in the stores was the centralized administration of agriculture by bureaucratic planners who had little understanding of local conditions. Other reasons for the anomaly included the inadequacy of incentives, equipment, and modern techniques available to farm workers; the cold climate and uncertain moisture conditions; the failure of the transportation system to move harvested crops promptly; the lack of adequate storage facilities; and the paucity of refrigerated transportation. Massive amounts of foodstuffs simply rotted in the fields or in storage.

Bypassing the government system, peasant farmers, most of whom were women, raised about one-fourth of the country's food on their private plots and then sold their produce privately. The area thus farmed amounted to about 3 percent of the total cultivated area, most of which was on collective farms (see Glossary) and state farms (see Glossary).

The transportation system, owned and operated by the government, continued in 1991 to exhibit serious deficiencies, particularly with respect to its limited capacity, outdated technologies, and poor maintenance. The main purpose of transportation in the Soviet Union, as determined by successive regimes, was to fulfill national economic needs that the party decided on, rather than to serve the interests of private businesses or citizens. The structure of the subsidized Soviet transportation system was greatly affected by the large size, geographic features, and northern climate of the country. Also, the distribution of the population and industry (largely in the European part) and the natural resources (largely in the Asian part) helped determine the transportation system's structure. Railroads were the primary mode of transporting freight and passengers over long distances. Trucks were used mainly in urban and industrialized areas to transport raw materials from rail lines and manufactured products to them. Buses were the primary mode of conveyance for people in urban areas. For the vast majority of people, automobiles, which numbered only about 12 million, were not an important means of transportation. Without perceiving a need to move people or freight long distances on roads, successive Soviet regimes saw little economic reason to build a modern network of highways, even in the European part of the country. Roads outside of cities generally had gravel or dirt surfaces and were poor by Western standards. For intercity and long-distance travel where time was a factor, the government airline, Aeroflot, provided low- cost transportation but had few amenities, and it had a safety record that concerned many Western passengers.

Foreign trade, which might conceivably contribute to solving the Soviet Union's economic problems, traditionally played a minor role. The Soviet government preferred instead to strive for self- sufficiency in all areas of the economy. With extensive natural resources, including energy sources, decision makers saw foreign trade primarily as a device to serve international political interests. Thus, after World War II the Soviet Union's primary trading partners were the East European communist countries and other socialist and socialist-oriented countries. Trade with Third World countries was also conducted primarily for political rather than economic reasons and often involved the exchange of Soviet- made weapons and military equipment for raw materials. Trade with the West, particularly the United States, varied according to the political climate and the requirement for hard-currency (see Glossary) payments. The Soviet Union acquired hard currency by selling its minerals, fuels, and gold bullion on the world market, primarily to the West. In turn, the Soviet Union bought Western manufactures, especially high-technology items, and agricultural products, mainly grains. In the late 1980s, Soviet foreign indebtedness, principally to West European commercial banks, rose substantially, reaching US$54 billion in 1989, in part because the price of oil and natural gas, the main hard-currency exports, fell on the world market. Soviet exports to communist and other socialist countries consisted primarily of energy, manufactures, and consumer goods. In mid-1991 increasing hard-currency indebtedness, decreasing oil production, mounting domestic economic problems, and a requirement for advanced technology forced Gorbachev to seek increased participation in international economic organizations, trade with foreign countries, foreign economic assistance, and reduction of unprofitable trade with the Soviet Union's allies. Foreign trade and economic assistance were urgently needed to make the economy more efficient, as well as to help improve the standard of living.

The living conditions of the majority of the Soviet people were more comparable to some Third World countries than to those of an industrially developed superpower. Even Soviet sources acknowledged that about 55 million people (approximately 20 percent of the population) were living below the official poverty level, but some Western analysts considered that far more people were, in fact, impoverished. The availability and distribution of food, clothing, and shelter were controlled by the government, but the supply was inadequate and generally became worse as the Gorbachev regime attempted economic reforms.

The cost to Soviet consumers of many essential consumer items and services was remarkably low compared with the cost of similar items and services in the West. Soviet prices were set artificially low by the government, which subsidized the cost of selected items in an attempt to ensure accessibility by all citizens. The practical impact of the subsidies, however, was to distort the real production and distribution costs, reduce the availability of the items, and inflate the real cost of other items that were not subsidized. Another impact was to increase the resistance of citizens to price increases when the regime tried to adjust the prices of items and services to correspond more closely to the real costs of their production and distribution.

Many educational benefits were free and guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution. Education, mandatory through the eleventh grade, provided excellent schooling in mathematics, foreign languages, and the physical sciences. Training in these fields was offered at universities, which were generally available to children of the elite, and at institutes, which were available to students without political connections. Universities and institutes were excellent by Western standards but tended to be very narrowly focused. The main purpose of education in the Soviet Union was to produce socially motivated and technically qualified people who were able to serve the state-run economy. In 1991 educators were developing reforms for the state-controlled system that included the privatization of schools.

Medical services were also guaranteed by the Constitution and enabled government officials to claim that the Soviet Union had the world's highest number of doctors and hospital beds per capita. Similar to the purpose of education, the main purpose of medical care was to ensure a healthy work force for the centrally controlled economy. Training of health care professionals, although not as advanced as that in the West, prepared the large numbers of doctors, the majority of whom were women, and medical assistants to attend to the basic medical needs of the people, millions of whom lived in rural or geographically remote areas. Medical care was free of charge, but to obtain specialized, or sometimes even routine, medicines or care, ordinary citizens used bribes or blat (see Glossary). Although hospital care was available without charge, it was comparable to some Third World countries because of the lack of modern medical equipment and some medicines and supplies, such as sterile syringes, and because of poor sanitation in general. Members of the elite, particularly high- level party, government, economic, and cultural officials and their families, were served by a much higher quality health care system than that available to average citizens.

Soviet society, although officially classless according to Marxism-Leninism, was divided into four socio-occupational groups by Western sociologists: peasants and agricultural specialists; blue-collar workers; white-collar workers; and the party and government elite and cultural and scientific intelligentsia. Social status was also affected by the level and field of education, place of residence, nationality, and party membership and party rank. High socio-occupational status was generally accompanied by above- average pay, but more important for the individual, it offered increased access to scarce consumer goods, and even foreign goods, as well as social prestige and other perquisites for the individual and his or her family. The pay of some skilled laborers exceeded that of many professionals, including teachers, doctors, and engineers, because Marxism-Leninism exalted manual work. Despite earning less money, however, professionals generally had higher social status than manual workers. The pay for many occupations was set low by government planners, requiring two incomes to maintain a family's living standard that often was at the poverty level. In contrast, the members of the elite of Soviet society not only received substantially higher salaries but also had access to special food and consumer goods stores, better housing and health care, and increased educational opportunities.

Women, although according to the Constitution the equal of men, were treated as if they were of a political, economic, and social status that was inferior to men. The vast majority of women worked because of economic necessity, but most often in low-paying positions. They endured the greater share of the burden of living in a country where the regime placed superpower military status above citizens' needs and desires for adequate housing, food, clothing, and other consumer goods. Crowded living quarters, often with shared bathrooms and kitchens that usually lacked modern kitchen appliances made life difficult. Waiting in long lines every day to purchase food and other essentials was another burden borne mostly by women, who received little assistance from their spouses and even less from the male-dominated society and the socialist regime. Although given some special benefits, including generous maternity and child care leave by the government, Soviet women were generally overburdened. As a consequence of the domestic stresses, the Soviet Union had high rates of abortion, alcoholism, and divorce, most evident among the Slavic nationalities.

The Soviet Union comprised more than 100 nationalities, twenty- two of which had populations of over 1 million. The Russian nationality made up only about 51 percent of the total population, according to the 1989 census, but the two other East Slavic nationalities--the Belorussians and the Ukrainians--together constituted about another 23 percent of the population. Some of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Soviet nationalities could be seen when contrasting the North European heritage of the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians with that of the Mongol, Persian, and Turkic roots of the Central Asian, Kazakhs, Kirgiz, Tadzhiks, Turkmens, and Uzbeks, all of Soviet Central Asia. The cultures and languages of the three major nationalities of the Caucasus region--the Armenians, Azerbaydzhanis, and Georgians--were significantly different from each other as well as from the other nationalities. These fourteen nationalities, together with the Moldavians, each had union republic status. Many other nationalities were granted "autonomous" status in territorial and administrative subdivisions (i.e., autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous okruga--see Glossary). It should be noted, however, that despite the semblance of autonomy, real political and economic power was retained in Moscow, and the Russians remained, in mid-1991, the dominant nationality in the political and economic life of the Soviet Union. It should also be noted that some nationality groups were brought into the Soviet Union under duress, and others were annexed by force by its predecessor, the Russian Empire.

Several of the non-Russian nationalities formally objected to being part of the communist-controlled Soviet Union and had long viewed Russians as oppressors. In addition, many of the non-Russian peoples had had serious and longstanding disagreements and rivalries with neighboring peoples of other nationalities. Partly as a defense against criticism by non-Russian nationalities, Russians in some areas began to reassert their own nationality, but in other areas they felt compelled to leave their homes in some non-Russian republics because of anti-Russian sentiments. Successive Soviet regimes, including that of Gorbachev until the late 1980s, maintained that all peoples of the Soviet Union lived harmoniously and were content with their circumstances. When Gorbachev initiated reforms that relaxed the regime's system of constraints, the latent discontent erupted into disturbances and violence, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

Each nationality, having its own history, language, and culture, attempted to preserve its distinctive heritage and, in most cases, was permitted by the government to provide language instruction for children to that end. Nevertheless, instruction in Russian was also required, and Russian was the official language of the Soviet regime, although only a small percentage of non-Russians spoke and read Russian fluently. The religions of the various nationalities were almost universally repressed by the official antireligious policies of successive regimes. Although Gorbachev authorized the reopening of many churches in 1989 and 1990, most churches, mosques, and synagogues remained closed, but in mid-1991 religion began playing an increasingly significant role in the lives of some of the people.

The most important demestic reform put forward by Gorbachev was demokratizatsiia, the attempt to introduce greater participation by citizens in the political process. Having risen to leadership in the Soviet state through the party, Gorbachev attempted to use the party to implement his reform program, but with limited success. Since 1917 the party had held, in fact, the "leading and guiding role in Soviet society," but that role was formally abolished in March 1991 when the Supreme Soviet, as part of its program of demokratizatsiia, amended the Constitution and revised Article 6 to permit other parties to exist. The party thereby lost the legal basis for its authority over the government, economy, and society throughout the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, even before the constitutional change, the CPSU's effectiveness in leading the Soviet Union appeared, to most observers, to have diminished markedly. The party had been unable to make the Marxist-Leninist system function effectively on a continuing basis. This systemic failure, however, had not led to a complete renunciation of the underlying socialist ideology by mid- 1991. This fact led many party members to resign in protest against the party's failure to promote genuine change, or in acknowledgment of the declining relevance of the party, or as a renunciation of Marxism-Leninism as a viable doctrine, or, perhaps, in recognition of the fact that continued membership could be detrimental to their future careers.

Among the many prominent party members who had resigned by mid- 1991 were three former Politburo members: Boris N. Yeltsin formerly also the Moscow party secretary; Eduard A. Shevardnadze, formerly also the minister of foreign affairs; and Aleksandr N. Iakovlev, formerly also a member of the CPSU Secretariat. The latter two were long-term, close advisers to Gorbachev. Yeltsin, however, was probably the most politically powerful of the former party members. He had been picked by Gorbachev for the Moscow post in 1985 but angered the party hierarchy with his outspoken criticism of the party and was dismissed from both that post and the Politburo in 1987. In a remarkable political comeback, however, Yeltsin was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies in 1989 and in 1990 was elected chairman of the supreme soviet of the Russian Republic, by far the largest and most important of the fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union. But his most significant victory came in June 1991, when he was elected to the newly created position of president of the Russian Republic by a majority of 57 percent of the voters in the Russian Republic in a direct, popular election. Meanwhile, the popularity of Gorbachev among Soviet citizens had fallen to less than 10 percent, according to a Soviet poll. Yeltsin's popularity among citizens of the Russian Republic was apparently based, in part, on his political agenda, which included establishing a market economy with private property rights and denationalizing government-owned enterprises; shifting more decision-making power from the central authorities to the republics; and reducing the power of the party, the size of the armed forces, and the influence of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB). This ambitious agenda could not be accomplished quickly or easily under the best of circumstances, and some intellectuals and other Soviet citizens mistrusted Yeltsin as a leader.

Despite the CPSU's loss of many members--both prominent and rank-and- file members--and despite its loss of constitutional exclusivity and its failure to lead the country effectively, the party remained the Soviet Union's major political force and bastion of reaction in mid-1991. No longer the monolithic, disciplined power it had once been and often divided along nationality lines, the party retained as members, however, a large percentage of the male population over the age of thirty and having at least ten years of education, the segment of the population that had traditionally made the decisions and managed the affairs of the country. They and the party as a whole appeared to give Gorbachev their support. The party's de facto power appeared strong in the central government bureaucracy, in most city governments, in some republic governments, and in many administrative subdivisions but was weak in certain other republics and administrative subdivisions. Party members generally remained in charge of the Soviet government's controlled economy from the central planning organs and the military-industrial complex to the individual enterprises. And party members remained in positions of responsibility in the transportation, communications, agriculture, education, mass media, legal, and judicial systems. The party's power was weakest among the non-Russian nationalities, where some party leaders were prompted to advocate national sovereignty in an effort to maintain their positions. Significantly, the party was strongest among the leadership of the armed forces, the KGB, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstvo vnutrennykh del-- MVD). These organs of party power--and their predecessor organizations--had been used to maintain the party's preeminence since the Bolshevik Revolution, and in mid-1991 the party continued to use them.

During the late 1980s, the popular elections that Gorbachev had instigated produced revitalized legislative bodies that could compete with the party for power at the all-union, republic, and lower levels of government. These elections spurred millions of ordinary citizens to become more politically involved than they had ever been and prompted many of their elected representatives to challenge party officials and other central authorities. Politically active individuals, including CPSU members, former prisoners in the Gulag (see Glossary), and citizens motivated by a variety of concerns created or joined disparate political action groups. For the most part, these groups represented liberal and democratic viewpoints, particularly in urban areas such as Moscow and Leningrad, or national interests in the non-Russian republics and administrative subdivisions. But conservative, reactionary, and pro-Russian groups also sprang up. The various liberal groups often opposed the CPSU and the central authorities but lacked positive, unifying goals and programs, as well as practical experience in democracy's way of coalition building, compromise, and the rule of law. They struggled to form political parties with broadened geographical and popular bases. But without the extraordinary financing, organization, communications, and material support retained by the CPSU, the emergent political groups found the competition especially difficult. Leaders in all fifteen republics asserted the precedence of their republics' laws over those of the central government and demanded control over their own natural resources, agricultural products, and industrial output.

Leaders of several republics proclaimed complete independence, national sovereignty, and separation from the Soviet Union. Within many of the republics, however, officials of various minority nationalities in administrative subdivisions sometimes proclaimed their subdivision's independence from their republics or passed laws contradictory to the laws of higher legislative or executive bodies. Hence the Constitution, Gorbachev's decrees, and laws passed by the Supreme Soviet, by the supreme soviets of the republics, or by the soviets (see Glossary) of the various subdivisions were often disobeyed with impunity.

This so-called "war of laws" among the legislative and executive bodies at various levels contributed to the forging of an agreement between Gorbachev and the leaders of nine of the fifteen republics in April 1991. This agreement, which Yeltsin, played a key role in formulating, promised that the central government would permit the republics to have more economic and political autonomy and that the republics would fulfill their economic and financial obligations to Moscow. At the time of the agreement, Gorbachev and Yeltsin and the eight other republic leaders endorsed, in principle, a revised draft of a new treaty, which would in effect reestablish the Soviet Union on a different basis from the original union treaty of 1922. The republics that did not sign the agreement were to be excluded from its provisions.

The six republics refusing to join the agreement between Gorbachev and the nine republics were the Armenian, Estonian, Georgian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Moldavian republics. In these republics, the people had elected to their republic legislatures representatives who, for the most part, were not CPSU members but rather were advocates of the primacy of their nationality vis-à-vis the central regime in Moscow. The leaders of these republics indicated that they did not wish to be part of the Soviet Union and were attempting to sever their political ties with it and establish themselves as independent countries. The six republics together constituted about 1.4 percent of the territory and about 7.2 percent of the population of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Gorbachev regime continued its efforts to finalize a new union treaty that would replace the 1922 union treaty. During 1990 the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian republics elected noncommunist governments. The elected representatives voted for independence from the Soviet Union and sought the same independent status that they had had before being absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940. (It should be noted that the United States never recognized the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union.) Gorbachev and the Supreme Soviet did not recognize the independence of the three Baltic states, and the Soviet armed forces were employed to disrupt their independence drives. It is likely that separation of the three republics was also hindered, in part, because their economies were closely intertwined with those of the other republics, particularly with that of the Russian Republic.

In March 1990, the regime created the office of the presidency in accordance with changes in the Constitution. The president and vice president were supposed to be elected by direct popular vote, but, by special exception, Gorbachev and Gennadii I. Ianaev were elected as the first president and vice president, respectively, by vote of the Congress of People's Deputies. The president, who could serve a maximum of two five-year terms, was authorized by the changes in the Constitution to appoint and remove high-level government officials; veto laws and suspend orders of the Council of Ministers; and declare martial law or a state of emergency, subject to approval by a two-thirds majority of the Supreme Soviet.

Also created in 1990 were two organizations designed to support the presidency. The new Presidential Council was given responsibility for implementing foreign and domestic policies and for ensuring the country's security. The new Council of the Federation, which was headed by the president of the Soviet Union and consisted also of the "supreme state official from each of the fifteen constituent republics," had duties that included developing ways to implement a nationalities policy, recommending to the Supreme Soviet solutions for interethnic problems, and ensuring that the union republics complied with international treaties. The creation of the presidency with its two supporting bodies was seen by some Western observers as helping Gorbachev to provide his regime with a renewed political power that was based on constitutionally established government organs rather than on the CPSU, the traditional source of political power.

In November 1990, Gorbachev proposed the establishment of several other new bodies (all directly subordinate to him) designed to strengthen the executive branch of the government. The new bodies included the Cabinet of Ministers (replacing the Council of Ministers), the Security Council, and the Coordinating Agency for the Supervision of Law and Order. The Presidential Council was dissolved, and its functions were given to the Council of the Federation, which was designated the chief policy-making organ in the country. These administrative changes appeared to some analysts to be an attempt by Gorbachev to recover the authority and control that his regime had lost during conflicts with several secessionist republics, as well as during disputes with radical and conservative opponents of his reforms. Gorbachev was, in the view of some analysts, also attempting to counter calls for his resignation for failing to initiate and implement measures that would cure the country's economic and political ills.

One of Gorbachev's main instruments in his attempt to improve the country's condition was his policy of glasnost'. Through this policy he used the mass media to arouse the people who would help change the way the bureaucratic system functioned. He and all prior leaders of the Soviet Union had used the mass media and artistic expression to help govern the people and direct the society's course. Politicizing the mass media and the arts served not only to secure the regime's power but also furthered the role of the CPSU and the dominance of Marxism-Leninism (see Glossary) in the social, cultural, and economic life of the country. In the late 1980s, however, Soviet mass media and the arts became part of the revolution in information technologies that swept the globe and could not be sealed off from the Soviet Union. The regime needed those same technologies to compete with the West and to prevent falling further behind economically and technologically.

In the late 1980s, the regimes, first that of Andropov and then that of Gorbachev, relaxed their monopoly on the press and modern communications technology and eased the strictures of socialist realism (see Glossary), thus permitting open discussion of many themes previously prohibited. The implementation of the policy of glasnost' made much more information about government activities, past and present, accessible to ordinary citizens, who then criticized not only the government but also the CPSU and even Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state. Editors, journalists, and other writers transformed newspapers, journals, and television broadcasts into media for investigative reports and lively discussions of a wide variety of subjects that had been heavily censored before glasnost'. The works of previously banned writers, including Joseph Brodsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, both exiled winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and such exiled authors as Vasilii Aksionov and Vladimir Voinovich, were published in the Soviet Union. Thus, the regime began to lose control of the policy of glasnost', and the censors began to lose control of the mass media. In June 1990, the Supreme Soviet passed a law that purportedly sanctioned freedom of the press, but later that year the regime began again to restrict news reporting, particularly on radio and television. Still, in mid-1991 the mass media continued to offer interesting news and diverse viewpoints-- although some less independent and revelatory than they had been in the late 1980s--that were eagerly followed by the people.

Another result a side effect of Gorbachev's policy of glasnost' was the exposure and public discussion of the severe degradation and official neglect of the environment that had been perpetuated by successive regimes in the drive to achieve industrial and national security goals at any price. Rivers were diverted with little regard for the consequences, and industrial pollutants were discharged directly into rivers, lakes, and the air. Two of the twentieth century's worst man-made environmental disasters struck the Soviet Union: the Chernobyl' nuclear power plant accident, the consequence of from an insufficient regard for safety in the goal to obtain increased energy; and the loss of huge amounts of water from the Aral Sea. Although the death toll from the Chernobyl' accident in 1986 was initially low, millions of people continued to live on radioactive land and raise and consume contaminated food. In addition to the human costs, cleaning up and repairing the aftereffects of the accident, which continued to leak radioactive gases in 1991, were estimated to cost hundreds of billions of rubles (see Glossary) by the year 2000. The other major environmental disaster was the near destruction of the Aral Sea, whose main sources of water were diverted to irrigate arid land for the purpose of raising cotton and other crops beginning in 1960. Other environmental problems included the severe pollution of rivers and lakes and widespread air pollution, particularly in the European part of the Soviet Union.

In the late 1980s, environmental concern spurred the formation of genuine grass-roots ecology groups that pressed the authorities to remedy the harmful conditions. Often these groups were supported by or were merged with nationality groups advocating increased self-determination or independence but nevertheless had little political power. Despite the efforts of the grass-roots groups, resolving the Soviet Union's many environmental problems, in the view of many Western specialists, will be costly and long-term. The Gorbachev regime as of mid-1991 had not redirected its economic policies regarding industrial and agricultural production, resource extraction, and consumption to provide adequate protection for the environment.

Another effect of glasnost' was the official acknowledgment of past civil and human rights abuses and the marked improvement in people's rights during Gorbachev's regime. The advancement of civil and human rights for the people of the Soviet Union was courageously sought by Andrei Sakharov, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1975, who moved from internal exile in Gor'kiy to membership in the Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow before his death in December 1989. Freedom of speech and the press grew enormously after censorship was officially abolished. Freedom to assemble peacefully for political purposes, with or without government authorization, was tested frequently, generally without serious incident. (In January 1991, however, armed Soviet troops on two different occasions reportedly killed or wounded several dozen unarmed demonstrators occupying buildings in the Latvian and Lithuanian republics.) Political rights of individuals were enhanced when the Supreme Soviet approved legal authority for a multiparty system. But in 1991 the emerging political groups were too fragmented and weak to seriously challenge the power of the CPSU except in cities such as Leningrad and Moscow and in several of the republics' legislatures. In 1990 the regime expanded the right of citizens to emigrate. About 180,000 Jews departed for Israel, 150,000 Germans departed for a united Germany, and about 55,000 citizens emigrated to the United States. And, finally, independent trade unions were allowed to form, and strikes, made legal in 1989, were permitted by the regime, even one involving over 600,000 miners in several areas of the Soviet Union in 1990.

In the late 1980s, the Gorbachev regime released many prisoners of conscience (persons imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs) from imprisonment in the Gulag, from internal exile, and from psychiatric hospitals. Although authorities could still legally detain and arrest people without warrants, political killings, disappearances, or psychiatric hospitalizations for political or religious beliefs were rare. Nevertheless, human rights practices in the Soviet Union remained in transition in 1991.

Of major concern to successive Soviet regimes was the system of internal security, which in 1991 consisted primarily of the KGB and the MVD. They had been powerful tools for ferreting out and suppressing political and other internal threats to rule by the CPSU. The party always considered the KGB its most vital arm and maintained the closest supervision and control over it. The party controlled the KGB and MVD by approving personnel appointments through the nomenklatura (see Glossary) system and by exercising general oversight to ensure that party directives were followed. Party control was also exerted specifically and individually because all KGB officers and the majority of MVD officers were members of the CPSU. Party membership subjected them to the norms of democratic centralism (see Glossary) and party discipline.

Internal security forces, particularly the KGB, had broad authority to employ severe and sometimes violent methods against the Soviet people while enforcing the regime's directives and thereby preserving the party's dominant role in the Soviet Union. In mid-1991 the KGB, under Vladimir A. Kriuchkov, and the MVD, under Boris K. Pugo beginning in October 1990, continued to give their loyalty and substantial support to the party. Thus, the internal security organs continued to oppose radical change and remained a significant, and perhaps immobilizing, threat to some citizens advocating substantial economic and political reform. At the same time, the internal security organs, particularly the KGB, continued to take advantage of the party's need for their vital support by exerting influence on the party's policies and the regime's decisions.

Like the KGB and MVD, the armed forces traditionally were loyal to the party and beneficiaries of the party's decisions. Control of the armed forces by the party was exercised primarily through the military leaders, the overwhelming majority of whom were loyal party members and followers of Marxism-Leninism. The armed forces were controlled by the party through networks of uniformed party representatives and covert informers who reported to the CPSU. Most of the middle and junior grade officers, although probably members of the CPSU or its youth affiliate, the Komsomol (see Glossary), were, in the view of some Western observers, less bound to party doctrine than were the senior military leaders. The vast majority of the military rank and file, however, were not affiliated with the party and resented the covert informers in their midst and the political indoctrination they endured.

The Soviet Union's military establishment was the justification for its international ranking as a superpower. With the world's largest military establishment--nearly 6 million people in uniform and a large arsenal of nuclear missiles--the Soviet Union's superpower status appeared justified on a military, if not on an economic, basis. The military establishment consisted not only of the armed forces but also of the internal security forces and an extensive military-industrial complex, all of which had priority use of human and economic resources. Decisions regarding the use of most human and material economic resources continued to be made by party members. The majority of the citizens, however, were dissatisfied with the party's decision-making role and were not in favor of Gorbachev's reform efforts. But the majority of people were not allowed to choose alternative national leadership and appeared unwilling to exert their influence to radically change the course of events out of fear of the armed forces, and perhaps of civil war.

The armed forces consisted of the five armed services (Strategic Rocket Forces, Ground Forces, Air Forces, Air Defense Forces, and Naval Forces), extensive support and rear service organizations, and specialized and paramilitary forces, such as the Airborne Troops, the Internal Troops of the MVD, and the Border Troops of the KGB. The Internal Troops and the Border Troops had military equipment, organization, training, and missions. The most strategically significant of the five armed services were the Strategic Rocket Forces, whose main purpose was to attack an opponent's nuclear weapons, military facilities, and industry with nuclear missiles. The Ground Forces, the largest and most prestigious of the armed services, were also important, in part because the senior officers typically held high-level positions in the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Of the five armed services, the Strategic Rocket Forces in mid-1991 maintained the capability of destroying targets in the United States and elsewhere, and the Ground Forces continued to have the world's largest numbers of tanks, artillery pieces and tactical nuclear weapons.

The armed forces were not without internal problems, however. The combat losses sustained in Afghanistan and the withdrawal without victory had a profound effect on the armed forces and tarnished their image in the eyes of the party and the society as a whole. The armed forces were also disturbed by mounting nationality problems, including the refusal of many non-Russian conscripts to report for induction, the continuing interethnic conflicts among conscripts, and the demographic trend in which non- Russians are likely to outnumber Russians in the biannual conscript inductions. The Soviet armed forces also lacked a well-trained, experienced, and stable noncommissioned officer corps, such as that forming the basis of many Western armies. Gorbachev's announcement in 1988 of a unilateral reduction of 500,000 officers and men from the armed forces and his announced cutbacks in the armed forces' share of the government budget were not received with enthusiasm by the military hierarchy.

The doctrine, structure, and missions of the Soviet armed forces were based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism. One of these theories rested on the principle, formulated by the nineteenth- century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, that war is a continuation of politics and that the aim of war is the attainment of a military victory. Marzism-Leninism added that military victories can accelerate the victory of socialism throughout the world. Marxism-Leninism also provided the theoretical basis for Soviet military science and for the tactical operations of military units. In practice, Marxism-Leninism was interpreted and applied solely by the CPSU, whose leaders were party members and indoctrinated followers of Marxism-Leninism. Thus, when Gorbachev characterized Marxism-Leninism as an outdated dogma in July 1991 and called on the CPSU Central Committee to abandon it in favor of social democratic principles, military leaders probably were surprised and dismayed.

Under the direction of the party, the armed forces were organized and equipped mainly to accomplish offensive missions, the success of which were indispensable to victory in war. Although Soviet military doctrine was always defensive, according to Soviet leaders, Western specialists regarded it as offensive in emphasis because it stressed offensive strategy, weapons, and forces to achieve victory in war. As directed by Gorbachev, however, military leaders emphasized the defensive aspects of the doctrine. Gorbachev also directed that the military establishment adopt the doctrine of "reasonable sufficiency," new to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, to facilitate the conversion of portions of the military industrial complex to support civilian, consumer-oriented requirements.

With the apparent support of the armed forces, the internal security organs, and the governmental economic bureaucracies, the CPSU continued its efforts to control events in the country in mid- 1991. Despite its problem-plagued economy and society and its altered international situation, the Soviet Union remained one of the two most powerful countries in the world. Its size and location, natural resources, industrial capacity, population, and military strength made it of continuing importance. Having large quantities of almost all the strategic minerals and large reserves of coal, iron ore, natural gas, oil, timber, gold, manganese, and other resources, the Soviet Union required little material support from beyond its borders. It was self-sufficient in coal, natural gas, and oil, the major fuels needed for its extensive industry. Industrial development had been a keystone of economic policies of all Soviet regimes beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution and had resulted in a higher percentage of Soviet citizens working in industry than in most Western nations. Soviet industrial development, however, always favored heavy industry, for reasons of national security and military production. Light industry, which mainly produced goods for consumers other than nonmilitary needs, such as agriculture, always had low priority. The emphasis on heavy industry produced some spectacular successes, particularly with regard to the production of large quantities of military equipment and weapons systems. As a result of this emphasis, however, the Soviet people had to settle for food, clothing, and housing of generally poor quality and insufficient quantity.

In mid-1991 the people gave the Gorbachev regime only minimal support and were beginning to reject the party's right to rule the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, however, continued to proclaim himself a communist and to align himself with opponents of reform on some issues but with advocates of reform on other issues. He thus lost the support of almost all the democratic and market- oriented reformers and remained acceptable to the hard-line opponents of reform mainly because they lacked an alternative leader. Gorbachev apparently could not permanently join either the reformers or their opponents, but neither could he allow either group to gain continuing supremacy because his role as the arbiter of conflicting views would be unnecessary. His zigzags perhaps enabled him to remain in a position of power, but he continued to lose effectiveness as the director of major events in the country and therefore his relevance as a leader and reformer. His six years of historic political reform opened the Soviet Union to fundamental change. The reform effort, however, was not accompanied by significant changes in the party's ideology or the government's structure, and the irresolute and sporadic attempts to transform the centrally controlled economy into a market-based system had had little real success. Meanwhile, the country continued in its chaotic turmoil as the economy worsened, the regime became weaker, and several of the republics became more insistent on their national independence. The Soviet Union remained in flux and unpredictable.

August 16, 1991

*  *  *

Early in the morning of August 19, 1991, events began to occur that would have the greatest historical impact on the Soviet Union since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, according to George F. Kennan, one of America's foremost Soviet specialists. They began when Soviet radio television and broadcasts announced that Gorbachev, who was vacationing in Crimea, had been replaced by a committee of high-ranking party and government officials because "ill-health" prevented him from performing his presidential duties at a time when the country faced "fatal dangers." The officials, who called themselves the Committee for the State of Emergency, placed themselves in charge of the country and put Gorbachev under house arrest. The committee was headed by the vice president of the Soviet Union, Gennadii I. Ianaev, who was named acting president, and included the chairman of the KGB, Vladimir A. Kriuchkov; the minister of internal affairs, Boris Pugo; the minister of defense, Dmitrii T. Iazov; and chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, Valentin Pavlov. Anatolii I. Luk'ianov, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, supported the committee, as did other CPSU leaders in the government, armed forces, internal security forces, and military-industrial complex. The committee issued several decrees that suspended democratic political organizations; promised housing improvements and the freezing or reduction of prices on some food items; banned publication of several newspapers and journals; forbade labor strikes and public gatherings; and declared martial law in Moscow. In an appeal to the people, Ianaev pledged to ensure the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union and indicated that the new union treaty, which was scheduled to be signed on August 20, would be reevaluated before final acceptance. In an appeal to foreign leaders, Ianaev stated that treaties and other international agreements signed by the Soviet Union would be upheld by the committee, but he warned against attempts by foreign governments to change Soviet boundaries.

The announcements by the leaders of the coup d'état brought immediate reactions, mostly negative. In Moscow crowds of people protested in the streets and eventually confronted tanks of the armed forces in defense of the building housing the Russian Republic's supreme soviet. Tens of thousands of people rallied around Yeltsin, who urged them to continue resisting the coup and asked the troops not to fire on fellow citizens. Masses of people in many other Soviet cities demonstrated against the coup, and leaders of most of the republics denounced the coup. On the second day of the coup, three people were killed attempting to defend the supreme soviet building against tanks. Soviet troops occupied radio and television facilities in the Estonian and Lithuanian republics, and the Estonian and Lithuanian legislatures declared immediate secession from the Soviet Union. President Bush and other foreign leaders voiced strong opposition to the coup, which they termed "illegal," and called for the organizers to restore Gorbachev to power.

Firm opposition from the Soviet people, Yeltsin and other republic leaders, and international figures was not the only problem facing the initiators of the coup. Some of the armed forces defected to the opposition, and some others--for examples, General Evgenii Shaposhnikov, commander in chief of the Air Forces, and General Powel Grachev, commander of the Airborne Troops--refused to obey the orders to deploy. Many other military leaders, as well as many senior members of the party, government, and media, apparently took no overt stand but waited to see if the coup was likely to succeed.

Early on the third day, the coup collapsed. The committee disbanded and the Ministry of Defense directed all troops to leave Moscow. The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union formally reinstated Gorbachev as president, and he returned to Moscow from Crimea. He returned to find that the political environment in Moscow and in many other places in the Soviet Union was radically different from the one that had existed before the coup attempt. At the urging of Yeltsin, Gorbachev, who had originally replaced coup members with their close subordinates appointed persons more acceptable to the reformers. Shaposhnikov was appointed minister of defense, Vadim V. Bakatin the chairman of the KGB, and Viktor Barannikov the minister of internal affairs.

The failed coup and the events immediately following it represented a historic turning point for many reasons. The CPSU, which was a main bond linking the coup leaders, was seriously discredited and, with it, the party-dominated central government. Splits in the party deepened, throwing it further into disarray, and the party was banned by leaders in several republics. The position of conservative and reactionary leaders, who were mainly party members, was weakened relative to that of the advocates of substantial political and economic reform. In addition, Gorbachev, who had appointed or approved the appointment of the coup leaders and failed to forestall the coup, was diminished politically. Although he rejected collaborating with the coup leaders Gorbachev, fully advocated neither democracy nor a free-market economy and was viewed by many observers as a figure of mainly historical importance. Yeltsin, who had publicly defied the coup leaders, rallied the people to resist, and faced the tanks, used his position as the popularly elected president of the Russian Republic and his forceful personality to change the course of events. He altered Gorbachev's appointments, made economic and political agreements affecting the whole country, and revised the proposed new union treaty.

Although the precise roles that the armed forces, KGB, and MVD took during the coup were unclear, some of these organs failed to respond to manipulation by the party apparatchiks (see Glossary). Some elements of the armed services, for example, opted not to support the coup. The vast majority of the armed forces, KGB, and MVD, however, were not actively involved in the coup and therefore did not attempt to influence the course of events. These organs traditionally had opposed change, and their considerable power remained available for commitment in a future struggle. The positions of the nationalities seeking independence sovereignty, and secession was also strengthened as a result of the failure of the coup. Ten of the fifteen republics declared or reaffirmed their independence. The United States, as well as the European Community, recognized Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as separate and independent states. Finally, advocates of reform, in general, and democratic reform, in particular, were seen as ascendant by some Western observers, as a result of the coup. But perhaps equally as important, the advocates began to include not only members of the intelligentsia but also tens of thousands of ordinary citizens. Their activism helped defeat the coup, and it is possible they will be encouraged to participate in the democratic movement and thus help alter their political condition.

On September 5, 1991, another effect of the coup's failure occurred: the Congress of People's Deputies after an ultimatum by Gorbachev, dissolved both itself and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, after voting to transfer state power to a transitional government. The transitional government, which was largely controlled by the republics, was designed to rule until a new constitution and a new union treaty could be prepared and approved. It consisted of the State Council, a new bicameral Supreme Soviet, and the Interrepublican Economic Committee. The State Council, with Gorbachev as the head, had as members the leaders of the republics participating in the new "voluntary" union. The State Council acted as the collective executive, and its responsibilities included foreign affairs, national defense, and internal security. The Interrepublican Economic Committee, with members chosen by the republics, was responsible for coordinating the economic relations of the republics and the management of the national economy. Gorbachev chose the committee chairman with approval of the State Council. In one of its first acts, the State Council recognized the complete independence of the former Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian republics.

By successfully instituting a transitional government, Gorbachev once again displayed his masterful talent for tactical improvisation and political survival. Nevertheless, the political situation in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was unstable, and the economy continued to worsen. Most of the people, having persevered through years of harsh authoritarian rule, were not optimistic about their future.

September 7, 1991
Raymond E. Zickel

Data as of May 1989


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