The Democratic Russia bloc in the 1990 election

Korgunyuk Yu.G., Lyubarev A.E., Stankevich S.B.


The paper describes the 1990 elections of People's Deputies of the Russian SFSR and local Soviets. These elections, which were held under the absolute majority first-past-the-post system, were held in a spontaneous manner. Later, however, the candidates began to organize themselves into political blocs. The Democratic Russia became one of such blocs. The paper discusses the creation of the bloc's platform (something Viktor Sheinis played the key role in), as well as the campaigning practices of the bloc and its candidates. The authors provide a detailed analysis of the results of the elections of People's Deputies of the RSFSR and Moscow Soviet deputies; some attention is also paid to the elections to the Leningrad Soviet and district soviets of Moscow.

The 1990 election of People's Deputies of the RSFSR (as well as the simultaneous elections of the Moscow Soviet, Leningrad Soviet and other local soviets in large cities) can be considered the only case of the so-called "stunning elections" in Russian history. As a result of these elections, Boris Yeltsin, who was in opposition to the USSR and RSFSR leadership at the time, became the president of Russia. The leadership of the Moscow, Leningrad and a number of other soviets underwent radical changes as well.

The 1990 election is also interesting because it was the first election with a distinct political division of candidates. Admittedly, political parties did not exist at that time, and candidates were nominated mostly by labor collectives. However, the candidates began to unite into blocs immediately after nomination. The Democratic Russia bloc, which won in Moscow and other major cities and gained prominent representation at the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR, became one of said blocs.

We believe that there is much more to this bloc's phenomenon than has been studied. This paper will attempt to further investigate this phenomenon and the role that Viktor Sheinis played in creating the bloc and bringing it to success.

Political characteristics of the 1990 election campaign

The March 1990 elections of People's Deputies of the RSFSR and local soviets were the second campaign after the restoration of alternative vote in Russia. The year before that (March 1989) saw the election of People's Deputies of the USSR. Speaking about the characteristics of the 1990 campaign, we should first of all emphasize its difference from the 1989 campaign.

The 1989 campaign took place at a time when public activism was just beginning to emerge, and it was the election campaign that sparked it. It was a time when not only political parties did not exist (they simply could not exist under the terms of Article 6 of the USSR Constitution on the leading and guiding role of the CPSU), but also independent public associations. There were only discussion clubs ("Moskovskaya Tribuna", "Democratic Perestroika", etc.), and Memorial, the historical and educational society, had just commenced its activities [7: 84-88, 91-93].

In 1990, the situation was already different. As was observed by Viktor Sheinis, "society was coming out of anabiosis and imposed its own rules of the game on the ruling bureaucracy... The political temperature in the country was rising... The critical attitude towards the authorities was intensifying, the fear that had been embedded in the subconscious of many generations by decades of terror was dissipating" [10: 264-265].

In 1989, the cohort of democracy-oriented politicians was small in number, but the individuals who may be referred to it were quite famous. Among them we may include government or law enforcement officials who came into conflict with the country's leadership (B.N.Yeltsin, T.Kh.Gdlyan and N.V.Ivanov); leaders of the dissident movement (A.D.Sakharov, R.A.Medvedev); editors of progressive newspapers and magazines (V.A.Korotich, E.V.Yakovlev, G.Ya.Baklanov, S.P.Zalygin); writers, social scientists and publicists (A.M.Adamovich, Yu.N.Afanasyev, D.A.Granin, E.A.Yevtushenko, Yu.F.Karyakin, A.A.Nuikin, G.Kh.Popov, Yu.D.Chernichenko, N.P.Shmelev, etc.), economic managers and innovators (M.A.Bocharov, N.I.Travkin, S.N.Fedorov). As early as the campaign, teams of activists (those who ran in the constituencies, as well as Sakharov) began to emerge around these politicians.

After the election, neighborhood voter clubs and other community organizations began to emerge based on these teams. In the summer of 1989, a significant part of Moscow organizations united, creating the Moscow Association of Voters (MAV) [4: 278; 9: Vol. 2, 376]. In Leningrad, the Leningrad People's Front (LNF) became a major player [2: 76–81]. There were efforts to unite democratic organizations nationwide, but they did not achieve any success at that time [7: 114-115]. At the same time, neighborhood self-government councils came into being [5].

The above-mentioned candidates became People's Deputies of the USSR. During the campaign and at the first Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR, a number of previously little-known politicians (Yu.Yu.Boldyrev, A.N.Murashev, A.A.Sobchak, S.B.Stankevich, etc.) made themselves known as well. The Inter-regional Deputy Group (IRDG) emerged, which was the first association of democratic politicians with a total of 388 deputies at the start of its existence. Although IRDG almost never engaged in organizational affairs (this was done by politicians from the deputies' teams), it became a banner of the democratic movement [3: 201-202; 4: 267-268; 7: 97-98; 10: 223-238].

By the 1990 election, many newspapers (e.g., Moskovsky Komsomolets, MK) had become more independent. The democratic movement also established its own newspapers (in particular, "Khronika", "Pozitsiya", "Doveriye") [11: 45-51].

In the 1989 campaign, the public was just beginning to try out rallies — a method of struggle forgotten in the USSR (Soviet rallies organized by the CPSU were not a method of struggle, but rather showcase events). In the 1990 campaign, rallies and demonstrations became massive events, playing an important role.

In 1989, struggles within constituencies were rarely political in nature; citizens made their choices based mainly on the personal qualities of the candidates. That said, the support for many candidates was based on anti-nomenklatura sentiments rather than democratic ones. In 1990, the anti-nomenklatura component still played a significant role, but many candidates already had a clear democratic program.

The state of confustion that a significant part of the nomenklatura suffered from played its role as well. In 1989, representatives of party and Soviet agencies suffered a crushing defeat in Moscow, Leningrad and other major cities [4: 250; 6: 85]. The managers of various plants and factories, who had material and human resources at their disposal, delivered a better performance. In 1990, most representatives of the nomenklatura were still unprepared to compete and did not know how to behave. Viktor Sheinis noted that "the victories of democrats in the 1990 election could also be explained by the fact that they faced ... a weakened and confused opponent who was used to the fact that all major political issues were decided in the Union Center" [10: 267].

Officials from different agencies often competed in the same constituencies. For example, the heads of RUNO (district education administration), RUSO (district social security office) and PREO (industrial repair and maintenance association) of Bauman district, the chairman of the control and revision commission of the district CPSU branch and the deputy head of the Main Department of Housing and Engineering of the Moscow City Executive Committee ran for election to the Moscow Soviet at the same time [6: 96]. However, some of the Moscow party leaders who lost in 1989 took this lesson into account and managed to pass to the Moscow Soviet [6: 115].

Legal aspects of the 1990 election campaign, nomination and candidate line-up

The two anti-democratic attributes of the 1989 campaign — elections from civic organizations and county caucuses — were absent in 1990. Elections of RSFSR People's Deputies were held in 900 territorial and 168 national-territorial constituencies. The average number of voters amounted to 115,000 in a territorial constituency in the RSFSR and to 117,000 in Moscow (however, the differences in Moscow were significant: between 68 and 158 thousand voters). The average number of voters amounted to 1,018,000 in the national-territorial constituencies created in the "Russian" part of the RSFSR and to 1,148,000 in Moscow. The election of deputies to the Moscow Soviet was held in 498 constituencies. Each constituency had an average of 14,000 voters. There were considerable differences, too, however, ranging from 10 to 20 thousand. Constituencies often overlapped with microdistricts, where self-government councils were being established at that time [6: 86; 9: Vol. 1, 49].

Candidates could be nominated by labor collectives, public organizations and meetings of voters at their place of residence. Neighborhood assemblies were easier to organize than in 1989, but the obstacles were quite serious. According to the data of the Moscow City Executive Committee, 51 candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR (about 7%) and 823 candidates for deputies of the Moscow Soviet, district, township and village soviets (less than 5%) were nominated in Moscow through neighborhood assemblies [6: 92].

At that time, most independent public organizations were not yet registered and could not nominate candidates. An attempt to nominate a large number of candidates for Moscow Soviet was made by the new trade union association SOTSPROF, but its right to nominate was not recognized by the Moscow City Election Commission, and the nominated candidates were not registered [6: 94].

As a result, most candidates were nominated by labor collectives. At the same time, the law on the election of People's Deputies of the RSFSR (unlike the law on the election of People's Deputies of the USSR) stipulated that a labor collective could nominate only in the constituency where the operation was located. As a result, the competition was unbalanced. A total of 6705 candidates ran for 1068 seats (an average of 6.3 per seat) [4: 252]. In Moscow, 560 candidates made it through to election day in 65 territorial and national-territorial districts (an average of 8.6 per constituency). However, the average number of candidates per constituency was 14.4 in 13 territorial constituencies located in the center of Moscow, where a significant number of operations and organizations were concentrated. That said, the "bedroom community" constituencies were mostly contested by 3-5 candidates, and two Moscow constituencies were contested by only two candidates each [6: 95].

A significant percentage of candidates were nominated by "outsider" labor collectives, since their own collectives could not do so, mainly due to the dependence of the operation or organization's management on party institutions [6: 95; 9: Vol. 2, 377; 12: 195-196].

As of mid-February, 3,361 candidates were registered for the Moscow Soviet (an average of 6.7 candidates per seat). Here, too, the distribution of candidates was uneven: there was an average of 15-16 candidates in the two central districts, while four constituencies in the "bedroom community" districts were uncontested, and 17 constituencies were contested by two candidates each [6: 96]. A number of candidates ran simultaneously for two soviets; there were at least 40 candidates in Moscow who ran simultaneously for People's Deputies of the RSFSR and the Moscow Soviet (at that time it was allowed by law to be a deputy of two Soviets simultaneously) [6: 98].

At the time, the law did not provide detailed reasoning for denial of registration and de-registration of a candidate. Nevertheless, some election commissions resorted to such acts, and they were sometimes politically motivated. We have already mentioned the rejected registration of SOTSPROF candidates. Candidates for the Soviet District Council, who were nominated by the Council of Large Families, were likewise rejected. The staff of the nursery school, which nominated a number of democratic activists from the Sovetsky district, was pressured to cancel the nomination by the district election commission. It failed to produce any effect, however. In the repeat election, a similar pressure on the staff of a Sberbank branch was successful: the branch management "unexpectedly" discovered a "typo" in the protocol, which allowed the nomination to be recognized as invalid. Two days before the voting day the election commission of Sovetsky district canceled the registration of Andrei Yu. Buzin, a candidate to the district council, in retaliation for his publication of the fifth issue of Democracy newspaper; the issue criticized the district nomenklatura and the district election commission. However, the elections in this constituency were disrupted: the majority of voters crossed out the only remaining candidate from the ballots, and Buzin was elected to the district council in a repeat election. In Moscow's Sevastopolsky constituency No. 47, the Central Election Commission canceled the registration of three candidates — P.M.Kudyukin, M.V.Malyutin and A.A.Shaltayan — at once. This event made 11 out of 15 members of the constituency commission resign in protest to the cancellation. This was the constituency where Viktor Sheinis was running, and the cancellation only facilitated his victory [1: 31–38; 6: 94–95, 102, 108, 120].

Establishment of the Democratic Russia bloc

In summary, the nomination of candidates in the 1990 election was of a spontaneous nature and virtually uncoordinated (although, according to P.S.Filippov, there was a degree of coordination in Leningrad [2: 84-85]). However, candidates had an apparent desire to unite based on shared political position. In the end, these elections produced three blocs: democratic, patriotic and nomenklatura.

Viktor Sheinis produced extensive coverage of how the Democratic Russia bloc emerged and its electoral platform was created. Below are corresponding passages from his book [10: 262–263].

"In early January, immediately after the registration of candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR and local Soviets was completed, a number of democratic organizations, which had already made themselves known in the 1989 Soviet Union elections, set up a headquarters to coordinate actions during the upcoming election campaign. On January 3, the Moscow House of Scientists began hosting regular meetings of Moscow (and later other) candidates, many of whom had known each other from the previous election campaign. These were mostly employees of academic and other scientific institutions.

One of the first meetings resulted in an agreement to prepare a joint electoral platform to unite candidates who were supporters of the IRDG. I drafted the original platform text. There was a discussion that resulted in a proposal of amendments and supplementary notes, which myself and Yevgeny Khelimsky, another member of the 1989 academic campaign, were tasked with incorporating into the platform text. The updated text was presented at the following meeting, which was attended by a larger audience. Naturally, new amendments came pouring in. There was heated debate, for many of the amendments were mutually exclusive. There was a danger that the election platform would become bogged down in the approval process. Ultimately, Aleksandr Sobyanin saved the day. He moved that the Declaration be approved as a basis and that I be entrusted to take into account, to the extent possible, the amendments received in writing, to which the meeting agreed. I finalized the text taking into account those amendments that corresponded to the logic of the document."

The full text of the platform can be found in Viktor Sheinis's book [10: 255–262]. Here, we shall only quote some excerpts from it:

"The origins of the crisis are not rooted in the fact that the old orders are being destroyed, but in the fact that they are being dismantled slowly and with hindsight, in the fact that they are not being replaced by a new power, a new economy, and new values in a timely manner. To stop the slide into the abyss, to give a second breath to the course started in 1985 — no task is more imminent and urgent... We need to bring new people — courageous and independent, competent and responsible — to the new Soviets, we need clear political guidelines, we need a common platform for democratic forces...

We commend the originators of perestroika and would like to see them as allies, not opponents... Democrats cannot be a mere echelon of support for the reforms carried out by the country's leadership. They can and should become a political force in their own right. In some cases, they should lend their support to the reformers, in others — criticize their inconsistencies, political mistakes and economic miscalculations. Other times, they should offer an alternative of their own.

The fundamental principles of political reform are as follows: the state esxists for the people, not the people for the state, and the interests of the individual are prioritized over the interests of the state. The First Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR must do what has not yet been achieved at the all-union level — to assume the entirety of state power in the RSFSR...

– To approve without delay the basic principles of the new democratic Constitution of the RSFSR. It must be in strict compliance with the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements on rights, and the laws of the republic must guarantee the realization of these rights;

– It is necessary to end the monopoly of one party on power by abolishing Article 6 of the RSFSR Constitution...;

– To guarantee Russian citizens the unconditional right to unite into parties, organizations, unions; to establish a declarative rather than permission-based registration procedure for public organizations....;

– To renounce the two-stage structure of Congress and the Supreme Soviet...

– To make the transition from authorized glasnost to actual freedom of speech and the press...;

– To declare actual, rather than lip-service, freedom of conscience: to extend the rights of public organizations to religious communities; to return churches to the faithful;

– The Congress should limit the functions of the KGB to protection of the state from external danger and terrorist activity, put the KGB, Defense Ministry, and Interior Ministry under the effective control of elected authorities...

To make this difficult transition, two related but distinct programs must be developed and implemented:

— a core program that provides for the urgent creation of an effective market sector — the driving force behind the development and transformation of the economy — primarily through the transformation of a significant part of state ownership into other forms;

– a support program that includes a set of measures that mitigate the costs of transition and counteract the decline in the living standards of the population, low-income part of the population in particular...

Legislative enforcement of the right of citizens to a guaranteed minimum income, taking into account changes in the price index...

It is necessary to legalize the transfer of land into perpetuity or private ownership to those who are engaged or wish to engage in agricultural labor...

It is necessary to proclaim and legally define the sovereignty of the Russian Federation".

When the platform was published, eight candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR were stated as co-authors: M.A.Bocharov, D.I.Katayev, S.A.Kovalyov, V.M.Kuvayev, L.A.Ponomaryov, V.G.Urazhtsev, A.E.Shabad and V.L.Sheinis (looking further forward, we would like to note that six of these candidates became People's Deputies of the RSFSR, and one became a deputy of the Moscow Soviet).

The founding conference of the bloc was held in Moscow at the Palace of Youth on January 20–21, 1990. It was attended by 116 candidates for the Russian parliament and more than 50 candidates for regional, city and district soviets from Moscow, Leningrad, Karelia, Chechen-Ingush and Yakut ASSR, Moscow, Belgorod, Vladimir, Gorky, Ivanovo, Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad, Lipetsk, Novgorod, Perm, Saratov, Tyumen, Chelyabinsk and Yaroslavl Oblasts, Krasnoyarsk and Primorsky Krais. The event was attended by representatives of the Inter-regional Association of Democratic Organizations, the Moscow Association of Voters, the Inter-regional Association of Voters, the Moscow People's Front and the People's Front of the RSFSR, the Social Democratic Association, the Voters' Club at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Memorial Society, the clubs "Moscow Tribune" and "April", the organization for the protection of servicemen and their families "Shield", People's Deputies of the USSR A.N.Murashyov, M.A.Bocharov, G.Kh.Popov, S.B.Stankevich [8: case 66, p. 4].

The name for the bloc — Democratic Russia — was decided on at this conference. The conference adopted the bloc's manifest, which we discussed earlier [9: 376; 10: 270].

Viktor Sheinis also described how the manifest ended up being published: "However, there was a more difficult task to be solved: the electoral bloc and its platform had to be presented to the public, and for this purpose it was necessary to make the public widely aware of our document. The next day Lev Ponomaryov and I went to the office of Ogoniok magazine. After a long wait in the hallway we managed to get a world with Vitaly Korotich, the editor-in-chief, who took the request to of the program rather cantankerously and offered us to write an article based on it. This was unacceptable to us: it was the program of the new organization that had to be published, not an article by authors little known to the general reader — an article that would have been lost in the flow of publications. After talking to Korotich, we took the text to our acquaintances at the magazine and came up with a conception: the editor-in-chief agrees with the ideas presented in the material, but would like to change its genre, while the authors find it difficult to do so. I do not know who was convinced by our conception, but Ogoniok soone printed the platform. This is how Democratic Russia and its platform made themselves known for the first time in a periodical, whose circulation amounted to 4.6 million copies at the time" [10: 263].


Two more electoral platforms emerged at the same time as the Democratic Russia bloc. The last issue for 1989 of the Literaturnaya Rossiya newspaper published the election platform of the bloc of Russia's social-patriotic movements "For the Policy of People's Consensus and the Revival of Russia". This platform then was then reprinted in full in the weekly Veteran newspaper. The platform's summary was published in the December 30, 1989 issue of the Sovetskaya Rossiya newspaper. On February 9, 1990, the platform was reprinted again in Literaturnaya Rossiya.

The list of Moscow candidates for RSFSR People's Deputies who supported the platform of "For the Policy of People's Consensus and the Revival of Russia", the bloc of Russia's public patriotic movements, was published in the February 23 issue of Literaturnaya Rossiya newspaper. There were 61 candidates on the list, mostly one candidate per constituency. On March 2, the newspaper published an additional list of 10 candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR. Additionally, on March 2, Literaturnaya Rossiya published a list of Moscow Soviet candidates who supported the patriotic bloc's platform. This list featured 151 candidates.

On January 26, 1990, the Appeal "To the Peoples of Soviet Russia" was published by the Russian Bureau of the CPSU Central Committee, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR. This was de facto the election platform of the CPSU Central Committee. Not a single list of candidates who endorsed the platform or were supported by party committees was published. However, a list of "honest candidates" appeared at the end of the campaign, which can be considered a list of nomenklatura appointees in disguise (we shall discuss this list later) [6: 98–100].

The democratic candidates' campaign had two aspects to it. One part was the work of the candidates themselves and their teams. It was quite eloquently described, in particular, by Viktor Sheinis [10: 271–273] and D.I.Kataev [9: Vol. 2, 378], both of whom won the election in Moscow, and by P.S.Filippov, who won the election in Leningrad [2: 86]. This is what Sheinis observed: "Looking at today's commercialized mores, it is hard to believe that the vast majority of candidates who were not favored by the authorities were elected solely thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of many people. Our volunteer helpers are enthusiastic and persistent — God knows when and how they managed to master the techniques of public politics. They were able to outplay the cumbersome but ineffective party-state apparatus in many constituencies... We went door-to-door in the evenings, trying to reach every voter... The overwhelming majority of the members of my support group were intellectuals and scientists, who, just by virtue of their intellectual and professional qualities, turned out to be quite competitive in a domain that was previously unknown to them".

There is another factor that researchers rarely pay attention to. At the time, the sci-tech intellegentsia had quite free control over how they spent time. Labor discipline was quite loose, many supervisors were quite sympathetic to the struggle of democrats, and the specificity of scientific work made it possible to distribute time (both working and free) in such a way that one could have time to do both work and politics. It became more difficult later on with the advent of the market.

Another important aspect was the centralized campaigning for the Democratic Russia bloc. The above-mentioned Ogoniok publication played an important role in this case. Two mass rallies held in Moscow in February 1990 also had made an important contribution.

The first rally was triggered by a brawl marked by anti-Semitic slogans and the threat of pogroms, which a group of extremists led by Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili organized on January 18, 1990 in the Central House of Writers. In response, MAV organized a march and a rally in Moscow on February 4. A Vechernyaya Moskva reporter estimated the number of participants to be at least 200,000. The rally was opened by Gavriil Popov. The speakers at the rally included such People's Deputies of the USSR Yuri Afanasyev, Telman Gdlyan, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Boris Yeltsin, Vitaly Korotich, Nikolai Travkin. The Pozitsia newspaper published the texts of the speeches made by Afanasyev, Yeltsin and Popov, who were leaders of the Inter-regional Deputy Group.

Feeling empowered, democrats held another rally three weeks later. The authorities launched a powerful propaganda campaign to persuade people not to take part in the rally. Rumors were spread about provocations and possible unrest. However, the efforts failed to disrupt the rally, which demonstrated the weakness of the authorities and the strength of the democratic movement. According to the organizers' estimates, about 500,000 people took part in the march and rally on February 25. The event proceeded in an organized manner and without incidents [6: 105–106].

The most important task was to inform voters which of the candidates was supported by the Democratic Russia bloc. However, there was still the task of compiling the relevant lists to start with. The candidates themselves mostly signed the bloc's declaration, and it was easier to compile a list at the election of People's Deputies of the RSFSR. A lot of effort was required to compile the lists for the local elections. In each constituency, MAV and district voter club activists sought to find candidates whose program was aligned with the bloc's platform. There was not much time and opportunity for this; sometimes opinions were formed on the basis of a single meeting, or even reports of acquaintances. There was no time to organize club meetings; several neighborhood activists, talking to each other on the phone, worked out a unified list, and then the list was reported to the MAV. Not all the candidates who found themselves on the Democratic Russia list in this manner were aware of being on the list.

The lists of recommended candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR were read out at the above-mentioned rally on February 25. Information about the candidates was passed around by word of mouth. Names of candidates were printed on leaflets and in unofficial newspapers (like the above-mentioned issue no. 5 of Demokratiya in Sovetsky District). Phone numbers of activists to call to find out who to vote for were spread around.

The full list of candidates for the People's Deputies of the RSFSR in Moscow and deputies of the Moscow Soviet endorsed by the Democratic Russia bloc was published in the February issue of the Pozitsiya newspaper (it had a circulation of 100,000 copies, was published in the Baltic States, and was edited by S.E.Trube, who was running for the Moscow Soviet). The list bore the signatures of such People's Deputies of the USSR as Gavriil Popov, Nikolai Travkin and Sergei Stankevich (all of them were also running for office: Travkin for a People's Deputy of the RSFSR, Popov and Stankevich for the Moscow Soviet). The same newspaper published an appeal of the MAV and People's Deputies of the USSR (those who were members of the IRDG) to vote for the candidates from the Democratic Russia bloc.

In Moscow, there were 115 names on the list of candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR who were endorsed by Democratic Russia. Only one constituency did not have any bloc-endorsed candidates. The bloc had one candidate in 28 constituencies, two candidates in 23 constituencies, three candidates in 11 constituencies and four candidates in two constituencies.

There were 641 candidates on the list of candidates for Moscow Soviet. In 70 constituencies, there were no candidates from Democratic Russia. 256 constituencies had one candidate each, 140 constituencies had two candidates, 27 constituencies had three candidates, two constituencies had four candidates, two constituencies had five candidates and one constituency had six candidates.

At that time, the practice of withdrawing nominations in favor of a more promising like-minded candidate was not yet common. Still, the first precedents were set. For instance, in Oktyabrsky territorial constituency No. 37, candidates D.I.Katayev and G.A.Krotkov withdrew their candidacies and issued a leaflet informing that they were withdrawing their candidacies in favor of A.E.Shabad. The leaflet contained this in particular: "Ten contenders for one seat, all of whom represent the Democratic Russia bloc, is an absurdity that inevitably leads to electoral defeat. Candidates who cannot agree among themselves to leave one or two candidates from the bloc are not worthy to be deputies". As a result, Shabad was elected People's Deputy of the RSFSR, and Katayev was elected a deputy of the Moscow Soviet.

The lists of the Democratic Russia bloc included a number of USSR People's Deputies, most of the MAV coordinating council, and a large number of district activists. A small number of representatives of the Party, Komsomol and Soviet nomenklatura, specifically N.N.Gonchar, chairman of the Baumanskiy District Executive Committee, were also included in this list. Curiously, two candidates — one for People's Deputies of the RSFSR and one for the Moscow Soviet — ended up on two lists at once: that of Democratic Russia and that of the patriotic bloc.

On February 28, Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper published a part of the list of candidates from Democratic Russia for People's Deputies of the RSFSR in Moscow and deputies of the Moscow Soviet (for 13 districts out of 33). The newspaper promised to publish more from the Democratic Russia lists in the following issue. However, on that same day, A.M.Bryachikhin, first secretary of the Sevastopolsky District Committee of the CPSU, sent a letter on behalf of the bureau of the District Committee. The letter was sent to four addresses: to Moskovskiy Komsomolets editorial office, to the Central Election Commission of the RSFSR, to the Moscow City Election Commission and to the Moscow City Committee of the CPSU. In the letter, the District Committee Bureau demanded that the newspaper publish "lists of the candidates to the People's Deputies of the RSFSR and Mossovet who are best prepared for Soviet work — candidates from among those supported by the City Committee and the district committees of the CPSU in Moscow" (a list of the Sevastopolsky District was enclosed with the letter). The District Committee Bureau also demanded to publish a refutation, as the lists published by the newspaper included candidates who had not been registered or had been de-registered. The next issue of Moskovskiy Komsomolets (March 1) contained information that the editorial board had to suspend the publication of the lists because the submitted lists contained factual errors.

On March 3, the eve of the elections, another list appeared in the Moskovskaya Pravda and Vechernyaya Moskva newspapers. The list was in the form of an address to the voters by a group of candidates. In particular, it stated: "We, the candidates for deputies in your constituencies, are engaged in an honest struggle for the votes and trust of voters. We have different programs: you are the judge of which one is more true. But we do share a common concern: the fate of perestroika is in danger!" The appeal was accompanied by the names of 81 candidates for People's Deputies of the RSFSR and 285 candidates for deputies of the Moscow Soviet.

This list of "honest candidates" included a fairly large percentage of the nomenklatura representatives. One can therefore assume that this was a disguised list of those who were endorsed by the Party-Soviet leadership in Moscow. An extra argument that supports this assumption is the fact that the list of "honest candidates" for Sevastopolsky District was identical to the list of candidates supported by the Sevastopolsky District Committee of the CPSU, which was enclosed with the letter A.M.Bryachikhin sent to Moskovskiy Komsomolets, the Central Election Commission and the Moscow City Election Commission.

Later (on March 12), Moskovskaya Pravda published a letter from one of the candidates on the list, which contained the following: "The contents of this list should raise no objections from anyone. In fact, this list deserves all the support it can get. However, the format for submitting signatures in the form of a list explicitly understood as an election bloc is questionable. I must point out that I did not sign this appeal, nor did I consent to the inclusion of my name on this list... I have agreed to run on the list of the Democratic Russia bloc and express my support for its platform. In my opinion, including the same candidate in two different lists goes against the ethics of electoral struggle" [6: 101–104].

In Leningrad, campaigning for democratic candidates was conducted on behalf of the Leningrad People's Front and the Democratic Elections—90 Committee. The list of candidates endorsed by these organizations was published in the Smena newspaper. Leaflets issued on the Committee's behalf were signed by O.V.Basilashvili, People's Artist of the USSR [2: 86–87; 12: 195–197].

Election results

The first round of voting took place on March 4. As a result of the first round, 120 People's Deputies of the RSFSR were elected in Russia at large. In 912 constituencies, a repeat vote (second round) was scheduled. In 33 constituencies where two candidates ran and neither of received an absolute majority of votes (due to the fact that some voters crossed out both candidates), the election was inconclusive. In one constituency, the election was declared invalid due to low turnout (less than 50%), and in two other constituencies the election results were annulled due to violations of the law.

Repeat voting took place on March 14, 17 and 18. It resulted in the election of 906 deputies. In some constituencies, the election was declared invalid. Among the causes were low turnout in four constituencies, both candidates receiving an equal number of votes in one constituency, and invalidation of the election results in one constituency.

As a result, 42 seats remained vacant after two rounds. The repeated elections held in April and May 1990 allowed to fill 34 more seats [4: 254–255].

Officially, almost 90% of RSFSR People's Deputies — 917 of 1050 — were members of the CPSU, but only 355 were included in the Communists of Russia faction at the First Congress (May 16–June 22, 1990).

The Democratic Russia bloc managed to bring only about 300 of its representatives into the parliament — exactly the number of people who took part in the meetings that preceded the First Congress. At the same time, the deputies elected with the support of Democratic Russia immediately split into several factions: "Democratic Russia" proper (66 deputies), "Non-partisan deputies" (61 deputies; 53 at the Fifth Congress), "Workers' and Peasants' Union" (72 deputies; renamed "Workers' Union of Russia" at the Second Congress), "Smena" (51), Democratic Platform in the CPSU (61 deputies; renamed "The United Faction of Social Democrats and Republicans" at the Second Congress), "Democratic Autonomy" (26) that was created in opposition to the group of deputies from autonomous republics who joined with the Communists, "Radical Democrats" (55), and others. However, many of the deputies were members of several factions at once, as the temporary regulations of the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR allowed it [3: 209–210]. The total number of factions that clearly indicated their affiliation to the Democratic Russia bloc amounted to about 160 deputies, according to calculations by S.A.Filatov [8: case 105, p. 8].

Expert estimates, which were based on the analysis of roll call votes, the First Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR had 465 deputies voting predominantly from the standpoint of Democratic Russia, 417 voting from the standpoint of the Communists of Russia, and 176 deputies supporting directly opposite political decisions at alternating times [10: 281]. It took the Congress three attempts to elect a chairman, and Boris Yeltsin, one of the leaders of the IRDG, was elected eventually [10: 300–311].

The situation in Moscow was different. The first round saw the election of 8 RSFSR People's Deputies, while 56 were elected in the second round. Low turnout disrupted the election in one constituency. Of the 64 elected candidates, 56 were members of the Democratic Russia bloc (including one who was also a member of the patriotic bloc), and three more were members of the patriotic bloc only. Three out of five deputies who were not members of either the democratic or patriotic bloc were executive officers.

All eight elected in the first round were Democratic Russia candidates. In 44 constituencies, one candidate from the bloc reached the second round, while in 11 constituencies both candidates running in the second round belonged to Democratic Russia. In one constituency, the bloc did not have a candidate and in another it had four, who all lost due to dispersion of votes.

In the election to the Moscow Soviet, 35 candidates were elected in the first round. In 13 constituencies with one or two candidates, the election was inconclusive, and in one other constituency a low turnout disrupted the election. On March 18, a repeat vote was held in 449 constituencies, resulting in the election of 430 deputies (19 constituencies showed insufficient turnout). It should be noted that only seven seats out of the remaining 33 were filled in the repeat elections in April and May, the reason being low turnout. In November 1990, the repeat election failed completely.

Of the 465 candidates elected, 285 were endorsed by the Democratic Russia bloc. The bloc was successful in most central and western districts; it performed least well in the southeastern districts (this electoral geography has been maintained in Moscow to the present day, with the exception of rigged elections).

Since the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper published lists of candidates supported by the Democratic Russia bloc only for 13 districts, we were curious to compare the election results for these 13 districts and the other 20 districts of Moscow. No significant difference was found. For instance, Moskovskiy Komsomolets did not publish lists for such districts as Voroshilovsky, Gagarinsky, Kievsky, Leninsky, Oktyabrsky, Sokolnichesky, Tushinsky, Frunzensky, where the bloc scored high. At the same time, the newspaper published lists for such districts as Zheleznodorozhny and Lyublinsky, where Democratic Russia candidates suffered defeat. Overall, the success of the candidates on Moskovskiy Komsomolets list was even slightly lower than the overall success of the bloc's candidates.

Thirty of the candidates from the patriotic bloc managed to reach the second round. Only 12 of them became deputies (including E.B.Balashov, who was on the lists of both blocs at once). Only 21 from the list of "honest candidates" managed to win. Of these, two were on the Democratic Russia's list as well, and one was on the patriotic bloc's list.

Gavriil Popov became Chairman of the Moscow Soviet, Sergeei Stankevich and Nikolai Gonchar became deputy chairpersons.

The elections of district soviets in Moscow were less successful for the democrats. They were simply short of candidates. Nevertheless, they still had some impressive success in a number of districts. The statistics of elected chairpersons of district soviets may serve as a general picture. The CPSU leadership instructed that first secretaries of the respective party committees should be elected as chairpersons of the soviets. In Moscow, however, first secretaries of district committees managed to be elected chairpersons of district soviets in only 10 districts out of 33. In three more districts, the chairpersons of district executive committees changes their chairs to the district soviet ones [6: 108–125; 9: Vol. 1, 50–53].

Out of 42 RSFSR People's Deputies from Leningrad, 40 were elected from among the democrats. Three quarters of deputies were elected to the Leningrad Soviet from the lists of the Leningrad People's Front [2: 87].


The 1990 elections to republican and local government bodies marked an important milestone in the political history of the USSR and its constituent republics. As a matter of fact, the democratic revolution that began in 1989 became truly irreversible after these elections. Change at the Union level was a media highlight, but the democratic minority had no chance to legislate anything. The election of republican parliaments in free competitive elections in 1990 (primarily in the European Soviet republics) profoundly and radically changed the situation. After 1990, even if there had been pushback in the union center, the republics had a powerful legitimate resource to defend their conquests.

This was especially important for the RSFSR as a supporting republic of the Union, acting as a host of the imperial element. For the first time in 70 years of the Soviet period, a legitimate legislative body was established in Russia. Boris Yeltsin, who at that time acted as the leader of the revolutionary direction in the Perestroika process, gained an indispensable organizational and legal base in the Russian parliament. In May 1990, Yeltsin was elected Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, and on June 12 of the same year, he initiated the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR to adopt a pivotal pre-constitutional document—the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the RSFSR. From that moment on, the revolutionary line in Perestroika became the ultimate dominant line. And Yeltsin saw the path to the major accomplishments in his political biography unfold.

The victory of the Democratic Russia movement in elections in about 20 of Russia's largest cities, including the two capitals (Moscow and Leningrad), was a significant step in consolidating revolutionary change. The establishment of new local government bodies brought the systemically new politicians closer to the everyday needs of the people and created a direct link between local authorities and the emerging civil society. This largely helped the later new democratic government to hold on through the crises of 1991 and 1993.

The 1990 elections were held under conditions that will never fully repeat themselves in Russia. First of all, this has to do the non-existence of party structures (in essence the CPSU was not even a party). Then, there is not even the memory of party structures. There is a complete lack of public policy skills, and almost zero commercialization.

However, there are some points that we are far removed from at the moment, but they may well come back. This first of all refers to people's enthusiasm and their belief in the positive role of free elections, on the one hand, and the need to re-create political structures, on the other.

What is often observed now is the inability of politicians from the democratic camp to unite. However, practice shows it is the lack of faith in successful outcomes that stands in the way of unification. When politicians, community leaders, and activists are energized by faith, they find ways to unite. Democratic Russia is a good example of this. The bloc united people with very different political platforms, but they agreed on the main point — the struggle against the omnipotence of the party nomenklatura to build a democratic state (although they only agreed on the most general features of such a state).

Thirty-odd years ago, there was no Internet and no cell phones, so communication between people was quite different. However, this is only a matter of technology. Only a fraction of people's willingness and ability to work together depends on technology. It is their disposition that is the primary driving force.

The 1990 elections were held under an absolute majority voting system. We cannot completely rule out that this system will return, although the chances of such a return seem slim to us. However, even under the current mixed system, the struggle in single-seat constituencies and the associated need for coordination and cooperation between parties and groups close in political positions play an important role.

One should thus refrain from forgetting and dismissing the lessons learned from the 1990 elections.

Received 4.11.2023, revision received 8.11.2023.


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