A re­form that ru­ined the Soviet Union

Why the bomb laid un­der the foun­da­tion of the USSR ex­ploded

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Stanislav Kulchyt­skiy

Why the bomb laid un­der the foun­da­tion of the USSR ex­ploded

The state Vladimir Lenin built was com­posed of two power ver­ti­cals with “demo­cratic cen­tral­ism” as its ba­sis. This meant that the lower ranks of the hi­er­ar­chy were blindly obe­di­ent to the up­per ones. As a re­sult, vozhdi — the lead­ers — held the power within the dic­ta­to­rial party ver­ti­cal. The ver­ti­cal of so­vi­ets, i.e. coun­cils, was or­ga­ni­za­tion­ally sep­a­rated from the party and ev­ery rank of it was sub­or­di­nate to the re­spec­tive rank in the party ver­ti­cal. All this com­bined en­sured full man­age­rial power for the soviet ver­ti­cal.

The soviet ver­ti­cal was com­prised ex­clu­sively of com­mu­nists and non­aligned sym­pa­thiz­ers. As a re­sult, the party and the so­vi­ets turned into a sin­gle po­lit­i­cal force that shared the same name: the soviet gov­ern­ment. The dic­ta­tor­ship of the lead­ers was thus anony­mous, masked un­der the sim­u­lacra of “pro­le­tariat dic­ta­tor­ship”. When vozhdi ex­pro­pri­ated pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties from small and big own­ers in the process of “build­ing so­cial­ism” as they pur­sued eco­nomic dic­ta­tor­ship in ad­di­tion to the po­lit­i­cal kind, the “pro­le­tariat dic­ta­tor­ship” was re­placed by the sim­u­lacra of “so­cial­ist democ­racy”.


The party ver­ti­cal did not de­pend on the peo­ple while the func­tionar­ies of the soviet ver­ti­cal got their man­dates through elec­tions. Party com­mit­tees ar­ranged elec­tions with­out a choice in their dic­ta­to­rial man­ner — they were de­ter­min­ing who would join soviet en­ti­ties. The soviet state looked like that of work­ers and peas­ants as it se­lected func­tionar­ies from the grass­roots level. In fact, it was a to­tal­i­tar­ian one as the state sovereignty be­longed to the lead­ers, not the peo­ple.

The Bol­she­viks used this dou­ble struc­ture of power to dis­ori­ent the pop­u­la­tion in na­tional re­gions. “Lenin’s na­tional pol­i­tics” sup­ported na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ments of sub­jected peo­ples pro­vided that they would join the con­struc­tion of soviet state­hood. One im­pres­sive ex­am­ple of this — the red Rus­sia had to in­vade the Ukrainian Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic three times be­fore it fi­nally gath­ered a mil­lion-strong army there. But on De­cem­ber 28, 1920, it signed a work­ers-peas­ants agree­ment with the soviet Ukraine it es­tab­lished whereby it solemnly con­firmed the “in­de­pen­dence and sovereignty of each of the par­ties to the agree­ment.”

A trans­fer to the new eco­nomic pol­icy (NEP) re­moved the loom­ing prospect of the eco­nomic col­lapse re­sult­ing from the com­mu­nist ex­per­i­ment. Joseph Stalin and the lead­ers of the sec­ond ech­e­lon used this to try and strip na­tional soviet re­publics of their sta­tus of states, which would essen­tially turn them into au­ton­o­mous re­publics of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. The idea of “au­ton­o­miza­tion” was dis­cussed with­out Lenin who fell sick then. The leader re­jected it and of­fered an al­ter­na­tive whereby the in­de­pen­dent re­publics, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, would “to­gether and as equals” cre­ate a fed­er­a­tion of the sec­ond tier called the Soviet Union. Ev­ery union re­pub­lic would pre­serve its sta­tus as a state re­in­forced by the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion on free exit from the Soviet Union. Ob­vi­ously, the mech­a­nism of leav­ing the Soviet Union was not de­scribed in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Or­ga­niz­ing the state by es­tab­lish­ing a “sec­ond tier” fed­er­a­tion was more con­ve­nient for those in power. This trig­gered less re­sis­tance from the pop­u­la­tion in na­tional re­gions than the in­te­gra­tion of them into the bor­ders of Rus­sia would. In or­der to un­der­stand what hap­pened next, it is im­por­tant to note that the guar­an­tor of the Soviet Union’s ex­is­tence was the Com­mu­nist Party ver­ti­cal. If na­tional re­publics were then di­min­ished to au­ton­o­mous re­gions within the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, the ver­ti­cal of soviet bod­ies would be the guar­an­tor of the multi­na­tional Rus­sia’s ex­is­tence.


The Soviet Union had nei­ther ex­ter­nal nor in­ter­nal en­e­mies that could ac­tu­ally threaten its ex­is­tence. The sole threat for it came from the sys­tem of power, anti-peo­ple in essence, and the in­ef­fi­ciency of its com­mand econ­omy. The com­mu­nist regime got a sec­ond wind when Adolf Hitler pushed the Soviet Union into the anti-Hitler coali­tion, then an­other one when the price of fu­els started go­ing up.

Still, the degra­da­tion of the Soviet Union pro­gressed rapidly. The soviet econ­omy of coal and steel failed to stand up to the chal­lenges of the post-in­dus­trial era in which the world’s top coun­tries al­ready lived. The two in­ter­twined ver­ti­cals of power were work­ing worse and worse.

The failed eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion of 1985-86 forced Mikhail Gor­bachev to rad­i­cal­ize the vec­tor of re­con­struc­tion or per­e­stroika he de­clared. He pres­sured the Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee into pass­ing a de­ci­sion at its Jan­uary 1987 plenum in­tro­duc­ing di­rect and al­ter­na­tive elec­tions by the com­mu­nists of party com­mit­tee supreme lead­ers at all lev­els, from the sec­re­tary of the low­est (ba­sic) party or­ga­ni­za­tion to the sec­re­taries of oblast and re­pub­li­can or­ga­ni­za­tions. This un­der­mined the ba­sics of “demo­cratic cen­tral­ism” but did not de­liver a pal­pa­ble re­sult. Ana­toliy Ch­er­ni­ayev, Gor­bachev’s as­sis­tant, wrote the fol­low­ing frag­ment in his book pub­lished in 2003: “The fa­mous Cen­tral Com­mit­tee Jan­uary plenum on staff pol­icy was the first one af­ter Lenin to blame what was hap­pen­ing in the coun­try and its cri­sis on the party and its Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. How­ever, it did not de­liver the re­sult ex­pected from per­e­stroika. The party re­mained re­luc­tant and in­ca­pable of driv­ing trans­for­ma­tions. Gor­bachev later ad­mit­ted that the mere na­ture of the party pre­vented it from do­ing so. He came out with a so­lu­tion: to use an All-Union Party Con­fer­ence to strip the Com­mu­nist Party of the Soviet Union of state power func­tions and re­store the full power of so­vi­ets abol­ished by Stalin in the 1920s.”

This quote shows that peo­ple within Gor­bachev’s cir­cle did not re­al­ize what they did by in­ter­fer­ing with the lever­ages of power con­structed by Lenin. If the as­sis­tants of Gor­bachev didn’t un­der­stand this, he didn’t un­der­stand it ei­ther — in fact, the so­vi­ets never had full power un­der Lenin.


The 21st All-Union Party Con­fer­ence in June 1988 de­cided to trans­form soviet gov­ern­ing bod­ies into struc­tures with full power in­de­pen­dent of party com­mit­tees and their ap­pa­ra­tuses. That con­sti­tu­tional re­form brought about the abo­li­tion of the party & so­vi­ets tan­dem. Why did del­e­gates to the con­fer­ence risk tak­ing such a rad­i­cal move?

The party nomen­cla­ture al­ways held po­si­tions in so­vi­ets that were equiv­a­lent to their po­si­tions in the party. For ex­am­ple, the first sec­re­tary of the party’s oblast com­mit­tee had to be a deputy of the Soviet Union or a re­pub­li­can Supreme Coun­cil. Af­ter sev­eral decades, party of­fi­cials had grown used to their sta­tus as deputies in coun­cils. As a re­sult, they met the trans­fer of power from party com­mit­tees to coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees as some­thing un­usual but not shock­ing. The func­tionar­ies of the party ver­ti­cal were will­ing to per­form their man­age­rial func­tions from a dif­fer­ent seat — of the coun­cil or coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee chair of a re­spec­tive level.

What did the re­form ac­tu­ally change? The abo­li­tion of the party & coun­cils tan­dem meant that the sov­er­eign power went from the party to so­ci­ety. The coun­tries where so­ci­eties elect mem­bers of top state in­sti­tu­tions are usu­ally re­ferred to as democ­ra­cies. That re­form thus turned the Soviet Union from a to­tal­i­tar­ian state into a democ­racy overnight. That democ­racy, how­ever, was very orig­i­nal — with no tra­di­tion of democ­racy, so­ci­ety re­ly­ing on the state for ev­ery­thing, and with the com­mu­nist back­bone that par­a­lyzed any free move­ment of the so­cial or­gan­ism.

All of the party’s de­ci­sions had now to be au­tho­rized by soviet en­ti­ties. Mikhail Gor­bachev pro­posed the con­sti­tu­tional re­form at the ex­tra­or­di­nary 12th ses­sion of the Soviet Union Supreme Coun­cil (Novem­ber 29 — De­cem­ber 1, 1988). The deputies who mostly rep­re­sented the nomen­cla­ture of the com­mu­nist party and so­vi­ets did not ob­ject the pro­posed re­form.

Be­fore it was sub­mit­ted to the Supreme Coun­cil, the con­sti­tu­tional re­form was put up for a gen­eral pub­lic dis­cus­sion. But the pub­lic was not aware that it was dis­cussing the con­struc­tion of Lenin’s gov­ern­ment sys­tem that had ear­lier re­moved so­vi­ets from po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions. The essence was skill­fully masked by sim­u­lacra words to which both soviet peo­ple and soviet politi­cians were used. The num­ber of com­ments and pro­pos­als dur­ing the dis­cus­sion ex­ceeded 300,000. But no­body men­tioned that the re­form would up­end the soviet po­lit­i­cal or­der.

Gor­bachev’s team ini­tially failed to un­der­stand the im­pact of the re­form on the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal life. Mean­while, the as­sem­bly of the Soviet Union deputies formed af­ter the March 1989 elec­tions pro­duced demo­cratic op­po­si­tion that was joined by Boris Yeltsin, a pow­er­ful ri­val of Gor­bachev. Still, the Com­mu­nist Party’s dic­tate over so­ci­ety seemed to re­main in­tact as the party func­tionar­ies were used to run­ning the show while soviet of­fi­cials were used to be­ing ruled.


The pa­rade of sovereign­ties — that’s how Gor­bachev de­scribed the as­pi­ra­tion of pe­riph­ery elites to free from the em­brace of the Soviet Union cen­ter — started be­fore the first free elec­tions to the supreme coun­cils of the Soviet Union re­publics, that is, be­fore non-nomen­cla­ture fig­ures ap­peared in soviet gov­ern­ing bod­ies aim­ing to gain in­de­pen­dence for their peo­ples.

On Novem­ber 16, 1988, the Supreme Coun­cil of Es­to­nia passed the Dec­la­ra­tion of Sovereignty for the Es­to­nian SSR. It de­clared the re­pub­lic’s laws su­pe­rior over the laws of the Soviet Union. The Lithua­nian and Lat­vian Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics fol­lowed suit with iden­ti­cal ini­tia­tives on May 26 and July 28, 1989, re­spec­tively.

Es­tab­lished in Septem­ber 1989, the Peo­ple’s Move­ment of Ukraine for Re­con­struc­tion was grow­ing into a pow­er­ful fac­tor in the coun­try’s so­cio-po­lit­i­cal life. De­tached from the all-Union cen­ter, the Rus­sian com­mu­nist and soviet nomen­cla­ture led by Yeltsin was ex­pand­ing a fight for the sovereigniza­tion of the Rus­sian Soviet Fed­er­a­tive So­cial­ist Re­pub­lic.

Para­dox­i­cally, it was the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion that was seek­ing sovereigniza­tion most proac­tively. In fact, the po­si­tion of Rus­sia within the Soviet Union was al­ways ob­scure. It was a cru­cial re­pub­lic in the Union and the Soviet Union cen­ter de­fended its in­ter­est first and fore­most. The Union’s un­of­fi­cial ta­ble of rank­ings listed the Rus­sians as the tit­u­lar na­tion of the Union, not just the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. This meant that they were never a na­tional mi­nor­ity in any of the Union’s re­publics. Still, Rus­sia was de­prived po­lit­i­cally since the Krem­lin could not af­ford to sus­tain two equally pow­er­ful cen­ters of power — that of the Soviet Union and of Rus­sia — in Moscow.


Elec­tions to re­pub­li­can au­thor­i­ties were sched­uled for March 1990. Just like ear­lier, power within the Ukrainian SSR was in the hands of Volodymyr Ivashko, First Sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. How­ever, his supremacy was based on the fact that he was Head of the Supreme Coun­cil, the Verkhovna Rada. Af­ter the above­men­tioned re­form of the party and soviet sys­tem, the Supreme Coun­cil was the sole cen­ter of au­thor­ity.

The March 1990 elec­tions to the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Coun­cil saw an un­usu­ally ac­tive elec­torate. Two thirds of the 450 deputies elected were peo­ple with real power in their con­stituen­cies, i.e. rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the party and soviet nomen­cla­ture, di­rec­tors of in­dus­trial en­ter­prises, heads of col­lec­tive farms etc. Now, the par­lia­ment had 85% of the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers. This was 16.5% up from the share of com­mu­nists in the 11th con­ven­tion of the Supreme Coun­cil. Still, the split of the party & coun­cils tan­dem side­lined them in po­lit­i­cal life. “De­spite the fact that the 12th (1st) con­ven­tion of the leg­is­la­ture had 373 mem­bers of the Com­mu­nist Party, they were un­able to de­ci­sively in­flu­ence de­ci­sion mak­ing from this party’s per­spec­tive,” wrote Ivan Pliushch, then-Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, in his mem­oirs pub­lished in 2010.


Along­side elec­tions to re­pub­li­can au­thor­i­ties, the ex­tra­or­di­nary Third Con­ven­tion of Peo­ple’s Deputies of the Soviet Union took place. Gor­bachev then in­tro­duced the po­si­tion of the Soviet Union’s pres­i­dent that fit him — al­beit alien to the soviet po­lit­i­cal sys­tem — thus di­min­ish­ing the dan­ger­ous wob­bling of power be­tween the two cen­ters of the party and so­vi­ets. But that’s when the elec­tions of deputies in the Union’s re­publics cre­ated 15 new cen­ters of power si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in­clud­ing one in Moscow. As head of the Supreme Coun­cil, Boris Yeltsin ended up at the helm of the Rus­sian SFSR.

He did not hes­i­tate to take up the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by the norms of the Soviet Union and re­pub­li­can con­sti­tu­tions to re­move the party & coun­cils cen­ter from power, thus elim­i­nat­ing the dual power struc­ture that emerged in Moscow af­ter the March 1990 elec­tions. In par­al­lel, the nomen­cla­ture in the na­tional re­publics stopped count­ing on the help of Moscow where strug­gle be­tween Gor­bachev and Yeltsin was un­fold­ing. Part of the na­tional nomen­cla­tures re­al­ized that they now de­pended less on the Krem­lin re­gard­less of who chaired it and more on their vot­ers. As a re­sult, the Ukrainian nomen­cla­ture started breed­ing more and more sovereignty-ori­ented com­mu­nists.

On March 7, 1990, the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee polit­buro re­viewed the re­sults of the Rus­sian elec­tions. Most of its mem­bers as­sessed the elec­tions as sat­is­fac­tory, hop­ing that the all-Union cen­ter would man­age to keep the Soviet Union’s cen­tral re­pub­lic un­der con­trol. Only Ivan Frolov, an as­sis­tant in Gor­bachev’s team in 1987-1989, then Cen­tral Com­mit­tee Sec­re­tary and polit­buro mem­ber from July 1990, did not share that op­ti­mism. A philoso­pher with the Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences, he sud­denly re­al­ized how dan­ger­ous the con­sti­tu­tional re­form was, as well as the ba­sis on which the pre-re­form sys­tem of power was built. The party had stum­bled into a deep cri­sis. Still, un­der Lenin’s con­cept, it had to serve as the foun­da­tion of the cen­tral­ized state that was sold to the pub­lic as a fake union of free and equal re­publics with the con­sti­tu­tional right to leave the “fed­er­a­tion”. Yeltsin’s in­ten­tion to get into the seat of Rus­sia’s pres­i­dent un­der­mined Lenin’s con­struc­tion of power with tragic con­se­quences for the cen­ter of the Soviet Union.

“We have to ad­mit our de­feat, re­al­is­ti­cally and un­am­bigu­ously,” Frolov said in one speech. “I think we have a very con­tro­ver­sial re­sult here: we have re­ceived so many votes for the party mem­bers and so on, and yet we know that there is a split… Popov is in the party, Afanasiev is in the party (Yuriy Afanasiev and Gavriil Popov, both soviet politi­cians — Ed.)… Afanasiev and oth­ers don’t want to leave it so that they can un­der­mine it at the con­ven­tion (the 28th con­ven­tion of the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party was ap­proach­ing — Ed.). We need to en­er­get­i­cally re­move old mem­bers. We are los­ing the party be­cause of them… And the last thing. Of course, Rus­sian struc­tures, party struc­tures and these Coun­cils present the most pow­er­ful bombs — nu­clear or so. They will de­stroy our Fed­er­a­tion in gen­eral. That’s the rea­son why all these Popovs and oth­ers, Afanasiev and Yeltsin, have fo­cused on them.”

On March 11, 1990, the new con­vo­ca­tion of the Lithua­nian Par­lia­ment gath­ered for the first ses­sion and an­nounced the Dec­la­ra­tion of Re­stored In­de­pen­dence of the Lithua­nian State. On May 4, Latvia passed an iden­ti­cal doc­u­ment. On May 8, the Es­to­nian SSR an­nounced that it was ex­it­ing the Soviet Union. The deputies of the Baltic re­publics were right: these states had been in­te­grated into the Soviet Union un­der the se­cret Molo­tov-Ribben­trop Pact which the Sec­ond Con­ven­tion of the Soviet Union Deputies ad­mit­ted and con­demned in De­cem­ber 1989. Af­ter they de­clared in­de­pen­dence, the three Baltic States spent over a year in an un­de­fined sta­tus. Even­tu­ally, the USSR Pres­i­dent Mikhail Gor­bachev was forced to ac­knowl­edge their in­de­pen­dence on Septem­ber 6, 1991.

In May 1990, the First Con­ven­tion of Rus­sia’s Deputies took place. De­spite des­per­ate re­sis­tance of the Soviet Union cen­ter, Boris Yeltsin was elected as head of the Rus­sian SFSR Supreme Coun­cil. The Con­ven­tion of Rus­sia’s Deputies passed the Dec­la­ra­tion of State Sovereignty of the Rus­sian SFSR. The doc­u­ment fea­tured Ivan Frolov’s worst ex­pec­ta­tions. It ended the acts of the Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics which coun­tered the sov­er­eign rights of the Rus­sian SFSR. Its Ar­ti­cle 7 de­clared that the Rus­sian SFSR pre­served its right to freely leave the Soviet Union in keep­ing with the pro­ce­dure es­tab­lished by the Union treaty and the leg­is­la­tion based on it. The First Con­ven­tion of the Rus­sian SFSR Deputies ended with Yeltsin’s dec­la­ra­tion of leav­ing the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party.


When the Baltic re­publics were pass­ing their dec­la­ra­tions of sovereignty, the Supreme Coun­cil of the Ukrainian SSR con­demned them. Par­lia­ments of other Union re­publics re­acted sim­i­larly. But Rus­sia’s steps sig­naled that the Moscow cen­ter was deep in cri­sis and was no longer able to keep other na­tions un­der con­trol. It im­me­di­ately be­came clear that the multi­na­tional soviet state cre­ated by the Bol­she­viks could not pos­si­bly ex­ist un­less it used vi­o­lent tools.

On June 28, 1990, the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Coun­cil started dis­cussing state sovereignty for Ukraine. In the process, the deputies were in­formed about Volodymyr Ivashko’s dec­la­ra­tion of res­ig­na­tion as head of the Supreme

Af­ter the March 1990 elec­tions, the par­lia­ment had 85% of the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers. This was 16.5% up from the share of com­mu­nists in the 11th con­ven­tion of the Supreme Coun­cil

Coun­cil. They learned that Gor­bachev of­fered Ivashko a newly-cre­ated po­si­tion of deputy Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party Sec­re­tary Gen­eral. An all-Union po­si­tion in a de­grad­ing party looked more promis­ing to Ivashko than the pow­er­ful seat of the leader in a re­pub­li­can par­lia­ment. His po­lit­i­cal ca­pit­u­la­tion shocked Ukrainian so­ci­ety, de­mor­al­ized the com­mu­nist ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment and made it eas­ier for the op­po­si­tion to pass a doc­u­ment that was quite rad­i­cal for its time — it es­tab­lished Ukraine’s sovereignty. The fi­nal text of the Dec­la­ra­tion was sup­ported by vir­tu­ally all deputies. On July 16, 1990, the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Coun­cil passed the Dec­la­ra­tion on State Sovereignty of Ukraine and elected Leonid Kravchuk, the leader of sovereignty-ori­ented com­mu­nists, as its new chair.

Once the Dec­la­ra­tion on Sovereignty was passed, the party and soviet ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment took a long pause by not show­ing any in­tent to im­ple­ment the doc­u­ment’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­vi­sions. The next year was spent in tug-o-wars be­tween the cen­ter of the Soviet Union and the lead­ers of nine Union re­publics, ex­clud­ing the Baltic States, Ge­or­gia and Moldova. The par­ties were try­ing to get vaster pow­ers while agree­ing on one thing: the Soviet Union had to sur­vive.

The emer­gence and de­feat of the State Com­mit­tee on the State of Emer­gency sped up the de­vel­op­ments. When Leonid Kravchuk de­liv­ered his speech On the Po­lit­i­cal Sit­u­a­tion at an ex­tra­or­di­nary ses­sion of the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Coun­cil on Au­gust 24, 1991, he ad­mit­ted that the Dec­la­ra­tion on Ukraine’s Sovereignty sup­ported by the peo­ple at the March 17, 1991 ref­er­en­dum had to be im­ple­mented in ac­tion. This in­cluded the im­me­di­ate es­tab­lish­ment of the Ukraine De­fense Coun­cil and the Na­tional Guard of Ukraine, and the pass­ing of laws on the sep­a­ra­tion of law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties from the party. He un­der­lined that all law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties had to re­port to the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment alone and not be part of any Union struc­tures. “Given all the pro­found changes that have taken place in the coun­try, we should also re­vise our po­si­tions on the Union Treaty,” he ended his speech. “Ukraine can only en­ter a Union which en­tails the least pos­si­bil­ity of any­one at­tack­ing our sovereignty.” MP Ihor Yukhnovsky called on the Par­lia­ment to im­me­di­ately de­clare Ukraine an in­de­pen­dent demo­cratic state, to back up and fix the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence by the All-Ukrainian ref­er­en­dum to be held along­side the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and to ter­mi­nate the op­er­a­tion of the Soviet Union Com­mu­nist Party on the ter­ri­tory of the re­pub­lic.

Be­hind the scenes, Kravchuk man­aged to per­suade the par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity to ac­cept the op­po­si­tion’s de­mands. The party and soviet nomen­cla­ture was scared by the news of Volodymyr Ivashko’s ar­rest in Moscow, the re-sub­or­di­na­tion of the Soviet Army to the Rus­sian lead­ers, the seal­ing of the Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee’s premises etc. Af­ter the break, the Par­lia­ment passed the Act of Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence of Ukraine with 346 votes. The text was largely com­posed at night of Au­gust 23 by five MPs, in­clud­ing Ser­hiy Holo­vatyi, Mykhailo Ho­ryn, Ivan Zayets, Levko Lukia­nenko and Vi­ach­eslav Chornovil.


Would the Soviet Union have sur­vived if it hadn’t been for the putsch led by the key fig­ures from Gor­bachev’s team? Ob­vi­ously, the putsch sped up the col­lapse. But it was in­evitable af­ter the con­sti­tu­tional re­form of 1988 re­turned sov­er­eign rights to the dif­fer­ent peo­ples of the su­per­state, with­drawn ear­lier by Vladimir Lenin dur­ing the 1917 Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion.

As men­tioned above, na­tional soviet re­publics could have been brought to­gether in one state in two ways af­ter the forced restora­tion of the Rus­sian Em­pire: by turn­ing into au­ton­o­mous re­publics of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion or into the Union re­publics within the Soviet Union as the “sec­ond tier” fed­er­a­tion. The state was the guar­an­tor of the forced uni­fi­ca­tion in the first sce­nario, the party played that role in the sec­ond sce­nario. The ar­chi­tects of re­con­struc­tion at­tempted to “heal” the party with the 1988 con­sti­tu­tional re­form but the treat­ment proved too strong. The party could not be re­formed. There­fore, the col­lapse of the Soviet Union could not be stopped.

The lead­ers of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion have man­aged to sti­fle the ap­petite for state sovereignty in its au­ton­o­mous re­publics with car­rots and sticks. Still, Rus­sia’s fed­er­a­tive or­der is as much a sim­u­lacra as the Soviet Union’s “sec­ond tier” fed­er­a­tion was. An ac­tual fed­er­a­tion is based on ev­ery sub­ject hav­ing con­sti­tu­tional rights which the cen­ter can’t ap­peal against. If the Soviet Union’s fed­er­a­tive struc­ture was a time bomb in the foun­da­tion of the state, a sim­i­lar bomb lies within the foun­da­tion of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. No­body knows when ex­actly it can go off.


Party & soviet tan­dem un­der­mined. The ini­tia­tives Gor­bachev de­clared at the party con­fer­ence of 1988 launched the ru­ina­tion of the ver­ti­cal built by the Bol­she­viks

Af­ter the putsch. GKChP sped up the dec­la­ra­tion of Ukraine's in­de­pen­dence. But the fac­tors lead­ing up to it largely brewed in 1988-1991

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