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Decline of the CPSU

"Gorbachev Factor"

By the early 1990s Gorbachevs political reform had transformed the former party-state monolith into a political arena with many competing actors, including radical democrats, hard-line Communist conservatives, nationalist movements, and even an open anti-Communist opposition. The power of the CPSU was breaking down, no longer able to cement the Soviet political system or hold together the Soviet unitary state.  

The partys disintegration was both national and ideological. Its national breakup began when its branches in the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia announced their decision to leave the CPSU and become independent Communist parties. Its ideological division accelerated in 1990 with the appearance of two large groups within its rank-and-file: hard-line Communists and more democratically inclined party members.


In his speech at the Twenty-Eighth Party Congress of July 1990, which also turned out to be the CPSUs last congress, Yeltsin, as a representative of the democratic strand, proposed to rename the Communist Party as the Party of Democratic Socialism and to repeal the age-old ban on factions within the party. The conservative majority at the congress, however, rejected his proposals. This prompted Yeltsin to take the floor to declare that he was quitting the party, then to stalk out of the congress hall. His example was followed by a score of prominent pro-democracy Communists, including the heads of the city soviets in Moscow and Leningrad.  

Many of the radicals who left the CPSU following its 1990 Congress took openly anti-Communist and antisocialist stands. The result of the inability of the Communist Partys leadership to cast off its outmoded ideology was that rank-and-file members began leaving the party in droves and joining new parties, which were beginning to form and which were soon brought together under the umbrella of the Democratic Russia movement. The majority of the new political parties now advocated capitalist reforms.

This drastic shift of political orientation was a logical outcome of Gorbachevs failure to reform socialism. His continued incantations about the potential of socialism now only irritated in the conditions of widespread shortages of basic goods and food items, including soap, salt, bread, milk, shoes, and cigarettes. More and more people thought that socialism was unreformable and that it was time to emulate the economic and political patterns of the advanced countries of the West.

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