On July 2, 1990, the 28th Congress of the Communist Party - the last in the history of the Soviet Union - started, foreshadowing the collapse of the country.
Though proceedings of the Congress were heavily televised, generally they enjoyed very little popularity with ordinary people. According to a survey conducted by the Academy of Social Sciences, only 3% of the Soviet population had confidence in the further proliferation of communism.
Moreover, this political forum was also marred by a wave of public protest against Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies, as over 100 Ukrainian coal mines went on strike, demanding Prime Minister Nikolay Ryzhkov’s resignation, the abolition of the local Communist party committees, and nationalization of the Communist party property.
The Congress itself had turned into a scandal, as Boris Yeltsin openly and proudly announced his withdrawal from the Communist Party. As he recalled later, leaving the platform to the scarce “shame on you!” outbursts, he bid farewell to his party membership card with a broken heart, but consoled himself with the fact he did get a chance to openly scorn Gorbachev’s policies. A member of Gorbachev’s team later commented that Yeltsin’s outrageous withdrawal “made an impression on many delegates and communists, and instilled the atmosphere of uncertainty which later largely contributed to the Party’s collapse.”
Somewhat relived by the withdrawal of his most rebellious opponent, Gorbachev was nevertheless stunned to learn that, in the ballot for him to remain as the Party’s Secretary General, only 1,116 delegates had voted out of a total 4,683 – the result seen by Gorbachev as a “political knockdown.”
Against the background of ceaseless national conflicts, economic collapse with its notorious deficit, and dangerously soaring criminality rate, Gorbachev’s rhetoric was just another bunch of empty promises, no longer considered relevant by the majority of the Soviet citizens. The fact that Gorbachev’s program was fashioned practically in the same style as that of the democratic opposition didn’t make it any more appealing, as it still relied on preserving communism. I
n reality, the survey revealed that even among the Congress delegates themselves, only 12% opposed the concept of the private ownership, and only 5% of all party members actually believed in communism. On the other hand, Yeltsin’s agenda received sympathy and understanding nationwide. He proposed to base the elections solely on the territorial factor, to transform the Soviet Union into a confederation and eliminate the proletariat dictatorship paradigm. Unlike the patchy and inconsistent Gorbachev policies, Yeltsin’s plan was consistent and easy to understand, becoming the first step to the way out of the Soviet Union.