glasnost and democratization, the reformist leadership dealt a deathblow to
the power monopoly of the Communist Party and thereby destroyed
unwittingly its own institutional base. The party sustained a
critical loss of authority and faced massive popular hostility, as
it was held responsible for all the mistakes and crimes of the
Communist period. The flood of publications on the repressions under
Stalin and the human rights abuses under Brezhnev caused irreparable
damage to the image of socialism, impelling the population to vote
against the old corrupt elite. The mass media now portrayed
Marxism-Leninism as an ideology that had led the country into a
historical dead end. Instead of reinvigorating socialism,
democratization eroded the ideological foundations of the Soviet
state and delegitimated the party’s privileged position as the core
of the political system.
reformist leadership’s plan to revitalize the soviets also
backfired. The expectation was that popular elections to soviets
would provide a new source of legitimacy for the system and that, at
the same time, the party would somehow retain its control of the
elected governing bodies. These hopes proved unfounded, however, and
following the 1990 republican and local elections, real power began
to shift from the discredited center to the republics.
Moreover, the new-style soviets proved ineffective as governing
structures. They were revived under the old Bolshevik slogan of “All
power to the Soviets!” designed to make them more independent from
the party structures. In practice, this led to the soviets’ attempts
to grab both legislative and executive powers. The new system failed
to act as an effective legislative branch and completely
disorganized the executive.
Gorbachev tried to correct the situation and prop up the executive
arm by setting up the powerful new office of state president. This,
however, made matters worse, as the republics began to replicate the
institution of presidency and elect their own presidents. These
developments only served to speed up the breakup of the Soviet
climax came on 12 June 1991 with the election of the president of
Russia. The Soviet capital of Moscow, which doubled as the capital
of the Russian republic, was now the seat of two presidents,
Gorbachev and Yeltsin, each vying for political preeminence.
Gorbachev was elected to his post by the votes of several hundred
deputies of the USSR Supreme Soviet. His challenger had an
unshakable legitimacy of the popular mandate conferred on him by the
majority of voters in the core republic.