The August coup against Gorbachev (1991)

In August 1991, the head of the KGB and several other communist hardliners initiated a coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Their objective was to arrest the rapid changes, driven by democracy and nationalism, that were unfolding in the Soviet Union. In this manifesto, dated August 18th, the coup leaders explained the domestic problems that prompted them to take action:

“Fellow countrymen, citizens of the Soviet Union.

At this grave and critical hour for the fate of the fatherland and of our peoples, we appeal to you. A mortal danger threatens our great homeland! For a number of reasons, the policy of reforms begun at the initiative of Mr Gorbachev, and conceived of as a means of ensuring the dynamic development of the country and the democratization of the life of society, has reached an impasse. The initial enthusiasm and hopes have given way to unbelief, apathy and despair. The authorities at all levels have lost the trust of the population. In the life of society, political intrigue has supplanted concern for the fate of the fatherland and the citizen. Malicious mocking of all state institutions is being propagated. In essence, the country has become ungovernable.

Taking advantage of the liberties that have been granted, and trampling the shoots of democracy which have just emerged, extremist forces have come into being and embarked on a course aimed at the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the breakup of the state and the seizure of power at any cost. The results of the nationwide referendum on the unity of the fatherland have been trampled. The cynical exploitation of national feelings is only a screen for satisfying ambitions. These political adventurists are troubled neither by the current misfortunes of their peoples nor by their future troubles…

The crisis of power has had a catastrophic effect on the economy. The chaotic ungoverned slide towards a market economy has caused an explosion of selfishness: regional, departmental, group and personal. The war of laws and the encouragement of centrifugal tendencies have brought the destruction of the unified national economic mechanism that has taken shape over decades. The result is a sharp falloff in the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Soviet people and the flourishing of speculation and the shadow economy. It is high time to tell the people the truth: unless urgent and resolute measures are taken to stabilise the economy, hunger and a new round of impoverishment are inevitable in the very near future, from which it is only one step to large-scale manifestations of spontaneous discontent with destructive consequences.

Only irresponsible people can set their hopes on some kind of help from abroad. No hand-outs are going to solve our problems; salvation is in our own hands. The time has come to measure the authority of every person or organisation in terms of actual contributions to the restoration and development of the national economy.

The State Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR is fully aware of the depth of the crisis that has struck our country; it is assuming responsibility for the fate of the homeland, and it is fully resolved to take very serious measures to bring the state and society out of crisis as quickly as possible.

We promise to conduct a wide-ranging, nationwide discussion of the draft of a new Union Treaty. Every- one will have the right and opportunity to think about this highly important act in a calm atmosphere and to make up his mind about it, for the fate of the numerous peoples of our great homeland will depend on what the Union will be like.

We intend to immediately restore legality and law and order, to put an end to bloodshed, to declare a merciless war against the criminal world, and to eradicate shameful phenomena that discredit our society and degrade Soviet citizens. We will clean the criminal elements from the streets of our cities and put an end to the highhandedness of the plunderers of public property.

We favour truly democratic processes and a consistent policy of reforms leading to the renewal of our homeland and to its economic and social prosperity, which will enable it to take a worthy place in the world community of nations.”