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Red Flag Manuscript: The Media Factor in the Dissolution of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

[Editor’s Note: An article appeared in Red Flag Manuscript’s eighth issue of 2011, revisiting the history of the disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It emphasized the role of the media in the events that took place. “Among many factors contributing to its fall, the failure of the leadership over media was an important one.” The author is a scholar at the School of Politics and Law at the Communication University of China. Excerpts from the article are translated below.] [1]

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Among the many factors that contributed to its fall, the failure of the leadership over media was an important one.

The media become the de facto opposition party

The political function is only one of many functions the media play. Generally speaking, a media organization is not a political organization. However, under certain circumstances, with some special political characteristics, it is capable of being a political organization and even a political party, or functioning as a political organization or a political party. Before the CPSU lost its legal status as the ruling Party, it acknowledged and affirmed the multi-party political system. At the February 1990 Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Gorbachev suggested that the session acknowledge the reality that the multi-party political system already existed in the Soviet Union, and indicated that the “CPSU does not seek monopoly power.” On March 14, 1990, the third Congress of the People’s Deputies formally passed a revision to the 1936 Constitution, abolishing the sixth article, which stated that the CPSU is the core leader of all social groups and state agencies. In June, it officially passed the first Soviet Union Press Law, which took effect in August. After that, the opposition attained legal status and social groups mushroomed. These forces either established new media or took over the media formerly controlled by the CPSU, doing their best to implement media “democracy.” The Inter-Regional Deputies’ Group (IRDP), founded at the first Congress of the People’s Deputies in May 1989, was the core group that united the opposition forces. The IRDP publicly announced that its ideology and operations were “extremely anti-communist.” In January 1990, it officially founded “Democratic Russia” an aggressive movement. “To expand its influence, the IRDP leaders established an effective structure. They originally intended to set up their own newspaper. With very little support, they then published a special issue, People’s Deputies. It was affiliated with the highly circulated newspaper, Soviet Physicist, published by the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. The newspaper office set up an editorial department and a fund to help launch People’s Deputies. Many experts and groups of assistants actually became the working agents for the IRDP.” ([Russia] Nikolay Ivanovich Ryzhkov, The Tragedy of Great Power – Causes and Consequences of the Disintegration of the Soviet Union, Xinhua Publishing House, January 2008, first edition, page 321) While the IRDP was perfecting its own organization and functionality, the media were also penetrating the IRDP. At the end of July 1989, at a movie club in Moscow, the IRDP held its founding conference and elected five co-chairmen including Boris Yeltsin. Afanasiev, one of the co-chairmen, was a former editor-in-chief of the state’s and the CPSU’s major newspaper Pravda. He worked under the four general secretaries of the CPSU. Another co-chair, Gavriil Popov, was the editor-in-chief of the journal Voprosy ekonomikii (Economic Affairs). In the five-member coordinating council, Poltoranin was then editor-in-chief of Moskovskaya Pravda. [2] The election of the co-chairmen and the establishment of the coordinating council marked the formation of the legitimate national opposition organization. The IRDP’s basic forces included those representatives who held opposition ideologies and united with the IRDP. The original Chinese groups themselves and the general population embraced the opposition ideologies that made up the grassroots of the IRDP.

The major players in the opposition groups became the organizers of all kinds of sabotage activities that destroyed the CPSU and the Soviet Union. The leaders of the IRDP and its coordination council all took official government positions after the dissolution of the CPSU and the disintegration of the state. They started to lead Russia, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. The IRDP, as a parliamentary group, was anti-communist, anti-federalist, and supported racial segregation. The political agenda, goal, and slogans it proposed included abolishing the constitution that stipulated the leadership of the CPSU and demolishing the CPSU’s dominant status. At the second Congress of People’s Deputies in December 1989, IRDP published a statement to “oppose the communist party’s monopolistic political power.” With a small number of representatives in the opposition, they were the minority in the Congress. Their organization was loose and on a small scale; without a systematic structure, they were quite scattered; there were also conflicts within the IRDP and a power struggle among its leaders. However, the Congress, the IDRP, and the anti-communist “warriors” had a huge political influence around the country after the media gave it extensive coverage, especially live television broadcasts. Many candidates from the opposition camp were successfully elected, both as people’s representatives and as regional leaders.

The media destroyed the foundation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Unified thought, firm belief, and a common political pursuit are the basis for the consolidation and existence of a political party.

In 1987, at the January plenary session of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Gorbachev’s speech as well as his later proposal for “universal values” and a “humane, and democratic socialism” were a symbol that the principle leaders of the CPSU had abandoned the Party’s traditional ideology and the socialist system, and had turned to Western values. Denying the traditional core values and giving up the basic principles of socialism inevitably obliterated the Party’s nature and destroyed the Party’s foundation. The media, echoing the changes that were taking place within the Party, launched a comprehensive critique and denial of the socialist ideology, system, and practice. They were cautious in the beginning. After 1990, the trend toward anti-socialist ideology rapidly increased. “The Soviet Union’s socialist practice was a failure” was the theme that dominated the mainstream media. After the incident in August 1991, [3] the complete denial of socialism dominated mainstream public opinion.

By supporting the anti-communist media in the Soviet Union and the media under their control, the Western anti-communist forces initiated full-scale attacks on socialism. Between 1982 and 1983, an advisor to the U.S. President and former CIA Director William Casey suggested that Ronald Reagan issue three orders to sabotage Moscow: First, cripple the Soviet Union’s influence in Eastern Europe by secretly supporting the anti-communist organizations in that region; second, undermine the Soviet Union’s economy by striking at its infrastructure sectors (mining, energy, and agriculture); third, allow special U.S. government agencies to concentrate their efforts on subverting the Soviet Union’s system. Alexander Yakovlev, a member of the Politburo, secretary of the Central Committee’s Secretariat, and head of the Department of Propaganda, was in charge of ideological work. The U.S. had already roped him in and supported his subversive activities. Yakovlev’s ideological and political inclination gave the green light for the media under the CPSU to participate in the information campaigns to demolish the historic and actual foundation of the CPSU. Almost every newspaper, publication, and radio and television station vilified and negated the Party’s leadership figures and the Party’s history. This was mainly reflected in: first, vilifying Lenin and denying the historical status of the October Revolution that Lenin and his comrades led; second, embroidering the truth and exaggerating the “Great Purge” of Stalin’s time; third, denying the great achievement of Stalin’s era of socialist development; and fourth, defaming Stalin’s personal character, thereby demeaning his role in the Soviet patriotic war. The materials that Yakovlev provided to the media had a huge sensational effect and a shocking impact. At the beginning of 1987, Yakovlev held the position of Chair of the Commission for Redressing the Victims of the CPSU Central Committee’s Political Persecution. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he continued to be the Chair of the Commission for the Restoration of the Reputation of Victims of Political Persecution directly under the president of the Russian Federation. Although possessing no concrete evidence, he still favored the charges that 20 million were victims during the “Great Purge,” that the October Revolution was led by the German military’s General Staff Department, and that Lenin received a large amount of money in March 1915 to carry out sabotage activities. The latter was made into a film, Who Paid Lenin? A Century’s Secret. On July 20, 1987, the newspaper Pravda published an article that criticized the elementary and middle school history textbook, the Concise Course of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, saying “every single word was a lie.” In June 1988, the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Education made the decision that history textbooks in all schools across the country should be destroyed by the end of 1989, and that history examinations would be suspended until “more truthful” history textbooks were compiled.

Under the long-term, formidable, and deliberate attempts of the anti-communist media of the Soviet Union, the U.S., and Europe to strategically and tactically bury socialism, the prestige of the CPSU dropped dramatically. The image of socialism was ruined and the general public and Party members were ideologically confused. According to incomplete statistics, before the dissolution of the CPSU, about three million Party members resigned and one fifth of the workshop Party organizations and one half of the Party’s grassroots units disbanded or stopped all activities. The CPSU Central Committee’s proposal to voluntarily disband seems to be an established fact in many people’s opinion.

The unison of the general public and the Party members in heart and mind not only required a bond of material interests, but also of spiritual factors. With the latter destroyed, the foundation of the Party fell apart. No wonder that, after August 1991, Yakovlev publicly and demonstratively talked about his individual contribution to the process of pulling the Party off of the political stage. Popov, the editor-in-chief of the journal Voprosy ekonomikii (Economic Affairs) also declared he had eliminated the CPSU.

[1] Red Flag Manuscript, “The Media Factor in the Disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” April 27, 2011.
[2] According to The Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center, ( the IDRP’s coordination council had 25 members.
[3] The incident of August 1991, refers to the Soviet coup d’état attempt (August 19–21, 1991), also known as the August Putsch or August Coup.