February 7

This Day in History

Cold War

Feb 7, 1990:

Soviet Communist Party gives up monopoly on political power

The Central Committee of the Soviet Union's Communist Party agrees to endorse President Mikhail Gorbachev's recommendation that the party give up its 70-year long monopoly of political power. The Committee's decision to allow political challenges to the party's dominance in Russia was yet another signal of the impending collapse of the Soviet system.

At the end of three days of extremely stormy meetings dealing with economic and political reforms in the Soviet Union, the Central Committee announced that it was endorsing the idea that the Soviet Communist Party should make "no claim for any particular role to be encoded in the Constitution" that was currently being rewritten. The proposal was but one of many made by President Gorbachev during the meetings. Critics of Gorbachev's plan charged that dissipating the Communist Party's power would erode the gains made since the Bolshevik Revolution and would weaken the international stature of the Soviet Union. Supporters, however, carried the day--they noted the impatience of the Soviet people with the slow pace of change and the general pessimism about the crumbling economy under communist rule. As one Communist Party official noted, "Society itself will decide whether it wishes to adopt our politics." However, he was also quick to add that the move by the Central Committee did not mean that the Communist Party was removing itself from public affairs. Many foreign observers stressed that even in a new pluralistic political system in Russia, the well-established party would have immense advantages over any challengers.

The response from the United States was surprise and cautious optimism. One State Department official commented that, "The whole Soviet world is going down the drainpipe with astonishing speed. It's mind-boggling." Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger indicated that he was "personally gratified and astonished that anyone would have the chance to say such things in Moscow without being shot." President George Bush was more circumspect, merely congratulating President Gorbachev for his "restraint and finesse."

Ironically, the fact that the Communist Party was willing to accept political challenges to its authority indicated how desperately it was trying to maintain its weakening power over the country. The measures were little help, however--President Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.

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