July 12, 1990 – Yeltsin resigns from Communist Party

July 12, 1990 – Yeltsin resigns from Communist Party

Just two days after Mikhail Gorbachev was re-elected head of the Soviet Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Republic of Russia, announces his resignation from the Party. Yeltsin’s action was a serious blow to Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the struggling Soviet Union together. In July 1990, Soviet Communist Party leaders met in a congress for debate and elections. Gorbachev, who had risen to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, came under severe attack from Communist Party hard-liners.

They believed that his political and economic reforms were destroying the Party’s control of the nation. Gorbachev fired back at his critics during a speech in which he defended his reforms and attacked the naysayers as backward-looking relics from the dark past of the Soviet Union. He was rewarded with an overwhelming vote in favor of his re-election as head of the Communist Party. Just two days after that vote, however, Yeltsin shattered the illusion that Gorbachev’s victory meant an end to political infighting in the Soviet Union. Yeltsin had been a consistent critic of Gorbachev, but his criticisms stemmed from a belief that Gorbachev was moving too slowly in democratizing the Soviet political system.

Yeltsin’s dramatic announcement of his resignation from the Communist Party was a clear indication that he was demanding a multiparty political system in the Soviet Union. It was viewed as a slap in the face to Gorbachev and his policies. During the next year and a half, Gorbachev’s power gradually waned, while Yeltsin’s star rose. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union officially dissolved. Yeltsin, however, retained his position of power as president of Russia. In their own particular ways, both men had overseen the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.