On August 24, 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU). Fifteen years ago, the era of the Bolshevik Party, which ruled a vast empire for a long time, came to an end with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Party was doomed at the start of perestroika, and the gradual devolution of power to the Soviets (de facto parliamentary bodies) began in 1987.
The Party launched perestroika and glasnost, and was killed by them. Several landmarks accompanied its final journey: the agonizing renunciation of overt and covert Stalinism; Gorbachev's attempts to find genuine Party ideology in Lenin's writings, which he continued reading even when the nation had given up Marxism-Leninism in all but name; and an actual split in the Party, which became obvious with the emergence of the democratic platform within the CPSU in 1990 and finally, the Orthodox Stalinist Communist Party of Russia. The Party was the backbone of the Soviet Union, its brains and heart. It could not exist without the state, and likewise, the state could not exist without the Party. Together, they lived an unhappy life but died on the same day, as if in a fairy tale - the failure of the coup made the death of both inevitable.
Gorbachev tried to save the Party. At its last plenary meeting on July 25-26, 1991, the Party decided to update its new program (five versions of this document were drafted by party experts at the state dacha in Volynskoye). Judging by the proposals for the program, it was supposed to look like a routine report by the General Secretary. It was to start with an analysis of the international situation entitled "The Character of Modern Civilization: An Integrated and Interdependent World," and to be followed by an appraisal of the road traversed called "Soviet Society: Historical Experience, the Current Situation, and Development Trends." The third part was to deal with Party ideology. This was the difficult bit, considering that everything was falling apart. But oblivious of reality, the residents of the state dacha were bogged down in Party theory. They wanted to "formulate the Party's attitude to the legacy of Marx and Lenin, reveal the historically motivated, transient and universal components of their teaching, ...map out methodological approaches to the concepts of socialism and communism, ...explain what communism is all about (a society of the future, the goal of the movement, an ideal model, or ideology) and how close we have come to it; and show the differences between our modern views and the prevalent opinions at the start of the century, or even 30 years ago."
Needless to say, this was a purely academic discussion, which was of no interest to anyone but the General Secretary himself and a handful of Party intellectuals. This Marxist gibberish had nothing to do with the real interests of society, or the processes taking place outside the green fences of the Party apparatchiks.
The program was also supposed to have a chapter on a renewed Union of sovereign states. The plenum decided to convene the 29th Party Congress in late 1991 in order to adopt the updated program. However, instead of the Congress, there came the official announcement that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.
During perestroika, the Party was the object of universal hatred. But the fifteen years since its collapse have drastically changed public sentiments. First, the Party has finally receded into history - it no longer stirs emotion, and its place is in history books. Second, Russians' political apathy, cynicism, and fatigue have reached a point where their attitude towards the CPSU has become stunningly positive. According to a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 51% of Russians consider the CPSU's role beneficial rather than harmful, and a mere 15% hold the opposite view. The same 51% think that it is advisable to learn from the CPSU's experience. No wonder so many Russians are ready to accept a one-party system and a special role for United Russia, and see Leonid Brezhnev, once no more than the butt of humiliating jokes, as the man whose rule was the strongest (after Stalin), and under whom life was at its best.
The Soviet Communist Party cannot be resurrected. This probably explains its nostalgic appeal to many Russians. In any event, this attitude towards the Party, which was the backbone of the totalitarian system and remained essentially Stalinist until the advent of Gorbachev, points to the fantastic distortion of historical vision. This is further proof of the paradoxical maxim: "History teaches us that its lessons are lost on us..."