USSR’s disintegration was further precipitated by the regional
fragmentation of the once unitary and strictly hierarchical
nomenklatura and the consequent weakening of the central party-state authorities.
This bifurcation of the nomenklatura
along ethnic lines accelerated in 1989–90, when the Communist
parties of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia announced their decision
to break away from the Soviet Communist Party. This started a chain
reaction of ideological and organizational disintegration of the
very foundations of the Soviet political system.
Because the CPSU was the backbone of the Soviet political system and
the cementing force of the Soviet unitary state, the splits within
it could only erode its authority and undermine the unitary USSR. As
the old system was crumbling, the party elites in the union
republics were able to carve out a considerable degree of
bureaucratic autonomy for themselves and to distance themselves from
the central authorities.
addition, new centers of power began to form in the union republics
represented by the local parliaments popularly elected in 1990. In
the local legislatures politicians of various political persuasions
asserted their local autonomy and often spoke as one in their
opposition to the Kremlin. In the spring and summer of 1990 first
the Baltic republics and then others, including the biggest of them,
Russia, adopted declarations of national sovereignty and thus openly
confronted the union state. The “parade of sovereignties” led to a
standoff between the federal center and the republics and fueled the
“war of laws,” as local parliaments strove to reassert supremacy of
their local legislation over union laws. The “war of laws” marked
the first stage of the constitutional crisis that eventually led to
the disintegration of the union.
in August 1991 Soviet hard-liners attempted to recapture control
over the republics, the majority of them either condemned the
plotters outright or did not recognize the State Emergency Committee
as a legitimate government. Only the central Asian republics and
Azerbaijan showed obeisance to the State Emergency Committee, but
even they did not recognize it formally. The attempt to restore
control over the republics came too late, and in the conditions of
August 1991 it could only accelerate the disintegration.
Having defeated the plotters and rescued Gorbachev from his house
arrest in the Crimea, Russian President Yeltsin compelled Gorbachev
to sign a series of decrees, which dissolved the CPSU and the
federal cabinet of ministers and made Gorbachev give up his post of
CPSU general secretary. The CPSU Central Committee was also forced
to dissolve itself. As a result, the Communist regime collapsed like
a pack of cards, and with it crumbled to dust the party-state
structures that had held the USSR together.
August events, which began as a last-ditch attempt to save the
Soviet Union, the CPSU, and the power of the old party-state elite,
ended as a velvet revolution, destroying the Soviet Union and the
CPSU and consolidating the power of the new republican elites.