It was August, 1991 in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. By now it was clear to the communist party bureaucrats that their pseudo-socialist society had been exposed for what it truly was. A corrupt dictatorship led by old white males. Despite Glasnost and Perestrojka, Mikhail Gorbachev was unable to prevent the collapse of the Soviet-Union. Stalinist hardliners in the party and Committee for State Security (KGB) tried one desperate move, to save the empire that Stalin build since Lenin died in 1924. They failed and in a final ironic move, the Soviet government banned the communist party itself, ending its 70 years monopoly on power!
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the iron curtain came down. In Eastern Europe, the people’s republics disappeared one by one, replaced by capitalist regimes that favored neoliberalism and capitalism. The first Soviet republics who broke free from Stalinist control were the Baltic states. They were conquered by Stalin in 1939 and were the first who wanted to leave the Soviet-Union. In February 1990, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet-Union (CPSU), agreed with Gorbachev that they should give up their monopoly on political power. The first democratic elections in the USSR were won by anticommunist forces, who played on nationalism and the fact that under stalinism, Russian culture was forced down on Soviet republics!
It comes to no surprise that the communist party lost the elections in Soviet republics, that were once independent capitalist republics before they were annexed. Nationalism and anticommunism were deeply held believes among many. The new governments in nations such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Georgia started a war of laws to combat the central government in Moscow. Slowly the Russians started to realized that they were losing control over the none-Russian Soviet republics. Western nations noticed it too and supported anticommunist groups such as the popular fronts. In the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR), the people rallied behind Boris Yeltsin. A popular party boss, who made a name for himself by fighting corruption in Moscow. Yeltsin was able to become chairman of the RSFSR and started to compete with Gorbachev, who was president of the USSR!
1991 was the year of bitter conflicts between national governments and the central government. Mikhail Gorbachev wanted the USSR to remain as a federation, but with Yeltsin becoming president of the RSFSR in July 1991, it was clear that even Russia was moving away from the Soviet-Union. A year before, Yeltsin had resigned from the Communist Party of the Soviet-Union. In a dramatic speech the popular boss of Moscow rejected the party and left the congress-building. By now, Boris Yeltsin was a full supporter of capitalism. Many Russians trusted Yeltsin and were blinded by the promises of ”wealth and freedom” capitalism would bring to them. So most workers were ready to embrace the market economy. Gorbachev himself also wanted capitalism, but far more limited!
Those in the CPSU and KGB were not so happy. They had lost so much in just two years, as not only Eastern Europe walked away, but now the Soviet republics were moving out of their hands. These top party bureaucrats were not revolutionaries or true Marxists. Their commitment to ”Marxism-Leninism” was a smokescreen Stalin first used in the late 1920’s, to expel the last true communists from the party. Anybody who criticized the Stalinist government was a critic of Marx and Lenin, Stalin claimed. Although the Red Czar was death for many years, his legacy had been carried on by his right-hand man; Nikita Khrushchev and loyal party bureaucrat; Leonid Brezhnev!
Knowing that the Soviet-Union would collapse soon, a small group of highly ranking party and KGB members, decided to stage a coup against the Soviet government of Gorbachev. They were led by Gennady Yanayev (vice president), Valentin Pavlov (prime minister), Boris Pugo (interior minister), Dmitry Yazov (defense minister), Vladimir Kryuchkov (KGB chairman) and three others. On 19 August 1991, they commanded the Soviet Army to move into Moscow. They took control over the government and announced that Gorbachev was ”sick”. Their State Committee on the State of Emergency was supported by the Soviet governments of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Gorbachev was supported by the Baltic states, Russia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and the western world!
On the streets of Moscow, the working class soon understood what happened. After experiencing freedom of speech for the first time since 1917, the workers turned against the coup. They formed long lines and protested against the State Committee on the State of Emergency. Boris Yeltsin then made his famous speech on the top of a tank with a Russian banner. This was a sign that Yeltsin embraced the symbols of the old Russian Empire, used by the whites armies and anticommunist Russians!
20 August, it soon became clear that violence was needed to keep the USSR intact. In order to take full power, the troops of the State Committee had to take the ”White House”, a massive white building which seated the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia and the Supreme Soviet. The members of these offices rejected the coup and asked the people to defend them. KGB officers knew that attacking the building would result in massive civilian deaths. This fact paralyzed the members of the State Committee, who slowly realized that they lacked popular support!
A day later and Gorbachev flew back to Moscow. Soviet officers turned on the ”State Committee on the State of Emergency” which collapsed as soon as the Soviet president landed in the capital. Boris Pugo killed himself, while Gennady Yanayev and his supporters ended up under arrest. Those Soviet governments who supported the coup, realized that now the USSR was truly death. They moved their nations out of the union and abandoned their ”Marxist-Leninist” facade!
Mikhail Gorbachev was back, but totally powerless. He knew that the majority of support for the coup came from the Communist Party of the Soviet-Union. So on 24 August 1991, he resigned as General Secretary. Boris Yeltsin took his own initiatives and banned all party activities on Russian soil. The RSFSR had ended the life of the mightiest communist party on the planet. With the CPSU gone, most Soviet republics declared their independence from the USSR. Gorbachev had no choice but to accept them all. Only four Soviet republics remained in the union as of November 1991!
In December, the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic changed its name to Russian Federation and made it clear that it would take over the Soviet seat in the United Nations. On 8 December 1991, the governments of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus came together to form the Commonwealth of Independent States, they annulled the 1922 union treaty that had established the Soviet Union. Gorbachev spend the last month of his presidency in the Kremlin, preparing his farewell speech. Then on 24 December 1991, he spoke for the last time as leader of the USSR. After that the Soviet red banner was lowered and the Russian czarist flag raised over the Kremlin. The capitalist media of the western world call it the ”end of times” and the final ”triumph” of capitalism over communism. For whose who believed in the Stalinist illusion, the collapse of the USSR was a major shock and disillusion was common!
Boris Yeltsin took the Kremlin as seat of the new Russian government. But he would not remain popular for long. As early as 1992 did he start with massive austerity to bring capitalism to Russia. Millions were affected as few were ready to compete for jobs in a economy driven by greed. Oligarchs rose as there were no regulations to stop them from exploitation both men and nature for their own greed. Yeltsin himself cared little for democracy either. In 1993, he and the Russian parliament got a conflict which resulted in a bloody standoff. Yeltsin wanted a presidential system, which was opposed by the congress and supreme soviet. As the Russian Federation was a parliamentary state, most power was centralized in the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia. Yeltsin wanted to remove that power and so the 1993 Constitutional Crisis started!
Democratic elected members of the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia and the Supreme Soviet, stood defiant against the Russian president. After talks failed, Yeltsin ordered the former Soviet Army (now Russian Armed Forces) to attack the White House, the same building he defended on 19 August 1991 against the Stalinist coup. Now he was the aggressor who wanted to crush parliamentary democracy. Tanks opened fire and damaged the White House. On 4 October 1993, the crisis was over as the deputies and members of the congress and supreme soviet surrendered. Officially only 187 people were killed. But the supporters of the former parliament claim that soldiers killed over 2.000 demonstrators who stood against them. The western world supported the actions of Boris Yeltsin!
Russia became a presidential federation, with a lot of power centralized in the presidency. This is what Yeltsin wanted and his prime minister (former KGB agent) Vladimir Putin agreed. However it made Yeltsin very unpopular at home, because many Russians saw in him a drunken fool. Hated and cursed for destroying the economy and bringing about the rule of oligarchs and capitalists, Boris Yeltsin left the presidency in deep shame on 31 December 1999. He was succeeded by Putin who started a massive campaign to bring the oligarchs back in line with the Kremlin. Also he boosted Russian nationalism and encouraged nostalgia for the USSR. Putin also brought Joseph Stalin back and today you can see the face of the Red Czar on posters and billboards!
The coup of 19 August 1991 resulted in that what Gennady Yanayev had tried to prevent. Both he and his supporters were not truly punished as Yeltsin needed their support to establish a presidential system in 1993. Yanayev died in 2010, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation called him; “a highly professional specialist, a dear and trustworthy comrade”. Revolutionary socialists rejected the coup and called on workers to fight for genuine socialism. But the working class was unable to see the differences between Marxist socialism and this perversion called ”Marxism-Leninism”. Still not all were ready to embrace the market economy. Although many wanted a western life style, few knew how to behave in a competitive society!
In the end, the Stalinist caste never lost too much power. In Russia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Belarus, most Soviet bureaucrats simply switched from being ”communists” to becoming nationalists. Turkmenistan became a totalitarian nationalist nation, the North Korea of Central Asia led by Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov, while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are still ruled by former CPSU bosses, who Gorbachev once installed in the late 1980’s. For the working class of the late USSR, life after 1991 would become a hell. Capitalist barbarism and massive austerity led to absolute poverty for millions. Political freedoms were also reversed in many ex-Soviet nations, to keep the old bureaucrats in power. In Russia, Vladimir Putin remains in complete control of the government, the elections and society in general. In a way, the old Stalinist system never fully died!