Overthrow of the Soviet Union

From ProleWiki, the proletarian encyclopedia

The overthrow of the Soviet Union was the process of bourgeois counter-revolution which culminated in the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) into independent states in December of 1991. Among the various causes for dissolution was the organization of a bourgeois class inside the USSR under a 'shadow economy' which effectively guaranteed their interests through corrupt officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). It's generally accepted that the political and economic policies of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and ultimately Gorbachev paved the way for counter-revolution in the USSR.


Death of Stalin and Rise of Khrushchev

On March 5, 1953 Stalin died.[1] Malenkov, Bulganin and Voroshilov occupied positions, but Khrushchev managed to climb up the ranks from General Secretary of the CPSU and became the First Secretary of the CPSU and Charmain of the Council of Ministers, two key positions to influence soviet politics. With the backing of all the party presidium, he conspired against Beria, ordering a rigged trial led to Beria's and his allies' execution thus removing the opposition to Krushchev's plans. The Central Committee also began releasing and rehabilitating some of those who had been jailed for political offenses, particularly recent victims, such as members of the so-called doctor’s plot, a group of doctors accused of conspiring against Stalin’s health.

Khrushchev era (1953 - 1964)

Privatisation of the economy

In 1953, Khrushchev initiated a set of policies that paved the road towards a bourgeois shadow economy. Khrushchev encouraged the country to look to the West not only as a source of new methods of production but as a standard of comparison for Soviet achievements. He also shifted resources from industry to agriculture and, to encourage agricultural production, Khrushchev reverted to NEP-style measures. He reduced taxes on individual plots, eliminated taxes on individual livestock, and encouraged people in villages and towns to keep more privately-owned cows, pigs, and chickens and to cultivate private gardens. In the 20th Congress held in 1954, Krushchev read his famous secret speech in which he slandered Stalin and began what he called a de-Stalinisation campaign, while at the same time proclaiming revisionist policies such as Pacific co-existence or the Pacific way towards Socialism, and gradually making the Soviet state abandon Marxism-Leninism towards revisionism. China and Albania broke diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at the same time.

Khrushchev and later reformers had ideological ties with Bukharin,[2][3] who supported the NEP and the bourgeois elements it created.[4] Under Khrushchev, the sixth five-year plan advocated for wage equalizations which caused discontent among Soviet intellectuals, who, after the policy came into effect, earned less than skilled workers.[5] This prompted many workers to pursue alternative sources of income through illegal private economic activity for personal gain.[6] Over time, these personal gains amounted to concentrations of wealth and gave rise to a petty-bourgeois class of people who depended on private economic activity for most or all of their income.[7] Thus began the development of a "second economy" in parallel to socialist economy.

Struggle with the opposition

During a four-day Presidium meeting, from June 18 to June 21, 1957, and a Central Committee meeting that immediately followed, a decisive confrontation between Khrushchev and the opposition occurred. As a prelude to seeking Khrushchev’s removal as General Secretary, the opposition criticized his economic policies, particularly his agricultural policies and his idea of decentralizing state planning. The opposition held a 7-3 majority (with 1 neutral) in the Presidium. When word of the imminent dismissal of Khrushchev leaked out, however, Moscow members of the Central Committee (many of whom had been promoted by Khrushchev) besieged the Presidium and demanded the convening of the Central Committee. A hastily arranged meeting of the Central Committee that went on for six days ended with Khrushchev keeping his title and expelling Molotov, Malenkov, and Kaganovich from the Central Committee and the Presidium.

After routing what he called the “anti-Party” opposition, Khrushchev ruled without serious resistance for the next seven years. He pursued a domestic course, the main elements of which were cuts in military spending, attacks on Stalin, decentralization of planning, dismantling of state tractor stations, emulation of American agricultural methods, cultivation of virgin lands, promotion of consumer goods, some liberalization of intellectual and cultural restrictions, and minimized the importance of the class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the vanguard party.

Result of Krushchev's policies

All of Khrushchev’s major domestic policies failed to produce the results intended. Khrushchev sought an easy way out of the problems of centralized planning through radical decentralization and the application of capitalist policies such as market competition. In May 1957, Khrushchev abolished the 30+ central planning ministries and replaced them with over a hundred local economic councils. As a result, co-ordination of production and supplies became even more difficult than it was before, and local interests superseded national goals. The Medvedevs, who purportedly sympathized with Khrushchev, said his decentralization produced “anarchy,” “duplication, parallelism and dissipation of responsibility.”

In 1961, Khrushchev had to regroup and consolidate planning into seventeen large economic regions, but it did not undo the damage of decentralization. The Soviet economy expanded at a slower rate in the second half of the 1950s than the first half, and expanded at a slower rate in the first five years of the 1960s than in the 1950s.

Damage to the party

Khrushchev also made several changes in the way the party operated that diluted its leadership role. In 1957, following his method from his time in Ukraine, he opened the doors of the communist party to mass recruitment leading to a vast expansion in membership. He justified this shift by claiming that class distinctions were disappearing and that the “overwhelming majority” of Soviet citizens “reason like communists.”

Khrushchev also introduced a requirement that a third of Party officials be replaced at each election, thus imposing arbitrarily-chosen term limits. The General Secretary also divided the Party into agricultural and industrial sections, creating factionalism in the party. These moves weakened the party in various ways and generated much opposition. The party eventually rolled back these policies.

Forced retirement

The Khrushchev period came to an end in 1964 when the collective leadership forced him to retire.

Brezhnev era (1964 - 1982)

Andropov era (1982 - 1984)

Chernenko Era (1984 - 1985)

After Yuri Andropov died in 1984, Konstantin Chernenko succeeded him.

Gorbachev era (1985 - 1991)

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected general secretary of the CPSU by the Politburo after Konstantin Chernenko's death. His liberal policies led to nationalism and ethnic conflict.[8] Eventually, all of the soviet republics proclaimed sovereignty, although they did not secede until later. This started with Estonia on November 16, 1988, and ended with Kyrgyzstan on December 15, 1990.

Gorbachev entertained similar ideas as Krushchev, such as splitting the CPSU into two, but ultimately decided to weaken and disestablish it altogether.


Date/period Event
1990–1991 The now-sovereign republics seceded from the Soviet Union, starting with the Baltic states.
March 1991 A referendum was held in March of 1991 in which 78% of the population voted to keep the Soviet Union, but this referendum was later ignored.[9]
August 1991 In August, several CPSU officials attempted to overthrow Gorbachev but the coup collapsed after three days.[10]
September 6, 1991 The secession of the Baltics was recognized.
December 25, 1991 Gorbachev resigned and gave his power to the neoliberal Boris Yeltsin. The next day, the Soviet Union was dissolved.


After the USSR was overthrown, wars began in Chechnya, Pridnestrovie, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Tajikistan. These conflicts led to nearly 200,000 deaths, plus additional deaths from ethnic conflicts and pogroms.[11] From 1990 to 1994, the male life expectancy dropped from 63.8 years to 57.7 years.[12]

There is growing nostalgia for the Soviet era in many countries. In 2020, only 18% of Russians disagreed that the Soviet Union was the best time in Russia's history.[13] 78% of Russians 35 years or older said that the overthrow of the USSR was bad for their country.[14]

Attempts to Restore the USSR

Black October

In September and October of 1993, the Supreme Soviet and many opposition protesters attempted to remove Yeltsin from power. Yeltsin responded by sending tanks to shell the parliament building. 147 people were killed and over 400 were wounded and Yeltsin abolished the Soviets.[15]

1996 election

By 1996, Yeltsin was very unpopular and had an approval rate below 10% in the polls.[16] He was given a $10 billion loan from the United States that made him win the election against Gennady Zuganov, the KPRF candidate.

Further reading

  • Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union. [LG]


  1. Ludo Martens (1996). Another View of Stalin: 'From Stalin to Khrushchev' (pp. 253–262). [PDF] Editions EPO. ISBN 9782872620814
  2. “In general, the analysis of the economic problems fell into the two traditional camps: the camp with ideological links to Bukharin and Khrushchev and the camp with links to Lenin and Stalin. The former saw the problems as due to over-centralization, and for it the solution was decentralization, the use of market mechanisms, and the allowance of certain forms of private enterprise.”

    Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union (p. 46). [LG]
  3. “Moreover, the literature pertinent to the economic de­bates of the 1960s and later, the evaluations of the perform­ance of the economic model in the past and present, and the criticisms and proposals for change, show an amazing par­allelism, even similarity, to the debates of the 1920s in theme, wording, and phraseology. As the intellectual map of the present controversy unfolded, it became entirely clear that it contained hints, allusions, plagiarized quotations, un­named authorities, and direct and indirect use of ideas of personalities of the 1920s, who were apparently irrelevant and long forgotten and some of whom were executed and buried in infamy in the 1930s. It was not difficult to find the missing pieces in this jigsaw puzzle: central among them is N. I. Bukharin, the leader of the last important op­position to Stalin.


    It was astonishing to discover how many ideas of Bukharin's anti-Stalinist program of 1928-1929 were adopted by current reformers as their own and how much of their critique of past practices followed his strictures and prophe­cies even in their expression”

    Moshe Lewin (1974). Political undercurrents in Soviet Economic debates: from Bukharin to the modern reformers (pp. xii-xiii). [LG]
  4. “Stalin’s main opposition on this point came from Bukharin, who in 1919 had made an about-face from opposing self-determination to embracing it. By 1923, Bukharin not only supported the NEP and the petty capitalists created by it but also advocated a hands-off approach toward this class’ growing nationalism.”

    Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union (p. 24). [LG]
  5. “The very success of socialism had created a vast urbanized and educated intelligentsia in the Soviet sense of white-collar, non-manual workers. Some of this intelligentsia felt disadvantaged by the wage equalization that had occurred since the 1950s. For example, doctors, teachers, engineers, and administrators typically earned less than skilled workers did. Moreover, increased travel and communication had made the intelligentsia aware that they enjoyed a lower standard of living than their counterparts in the West.”

    Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union (p. 84). [LG]
  6. “After 1953, a new economic basis for bourgeois ideas began growing within socialism. This basis was the population engaged in private economic activity for personal gain, in a so-called second economy that existed beside the first, socialist economy. At first, the very existence of a second economy was disguised by its interpenetration of the first or socialized economy. The second economy usually did not involve a separate class of people, but rather workers and farmers in the primary economy who spent time making money on the side in legal or illegal, private activity. Increasingly, however, in the post-war years, the second economy embraced more and more people and accounted for more and more of their income and in effect re-created a petty bourgeois stratum.”

    Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union (p. 63). [LG]
  7. “Most scholars agreed that by the 1980s the second economy reached into every nook and cranny of the society and touched almost everyone. In a reference to private money-making, Brezhnev himself remarked, “No one lives on wages alone.” What was important, however, was not petty pilfering or the purchase of black market goods, but the emergence of a layer of people who depended upon private activity for all or a substantial portion of their income. Some people became exceedingly wealthy and acquired the name, the “Brezhnev new rich.” Such people could rightly be considered a nascent class of petty bourgeoisie.”

    Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny (2010). Socialism betrayed: behind the collapse of the Soviet Union (p. 75). [LG]
  8. Mark R. Beissinger (2017). Nationalism and the Collapse of Soviet Union (pp. 5–6). [PDF] Princeton University.
  9. Dieter Nohlen, Philip Stöver (2010). Elections in Europe: A data handbook (p. 1647). ISBN 9783832956097
  10. A. V. Ostrovskiy (2011). Stupidity or treason? Investigation into the death of the USSR (Russian: Глупость или измена? Расследование гибели СССР) (p. 864).
  11. Gordon M. Hahn (2017). Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the "New Cold War". McFarland. ISBN 9781476628752
  12. Brian Becker (2008-02-01). "Socialism and the legacy of the Soviet Union" Liberation School. Archived from the original on 2020-11-12. Retrieved 2022-06-21.
  13. Andrei Nikerichev (2020-03-24). "75% of Russians Say Soviet Era Was 'Greatest Time' in Country’s History – Poll" The Moscow Times. Retrieved 2022-01-02.
  14. David Masci (2017-06-29). "In Russia, nostalgia for Soviet Union and positive feelings about Stalin" Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2022-01-02.
  15. Jonathan Steele, David Hearst (1993-10-05). "Yeltsin crushes revolt" The Guardian.
  16. Lilia Shevtsova (1999). Yeltsin's Russia Myths and Reality (p. 156). Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.