On this day in 1990, the Russian Supreme Soviet, in one of its last major acts of policy reform, ratified a law that would pave the way for the ownership of private property. The implementation of the new law epitomised the changing of the political climate in the Soviet Union, and came as part of a series of reforms that would eventually lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the end of Communist rule.
Since the earliest days of the Revolution, a defining tenet of Soviet policy was that private property was illegal, and that, as per any truly socialist society, land was the responsibility of the collective rather than the individual. This principle led to wholesale seizing of assets across the country during the 1930s, and the system of state owned agriculture that became known as collective farming.
However, towards the end of the 1980s, it became clear to many in Russia that the system of state ownership and control, especially in the agricultural industry, was unfit for purpose, and had a severely detrimental effect on the Soviet economy.
Reform was required that would stimulate growth, encourage productivity, and instill much needed pride and incentive into agricultural workers. For the more hardline reformers, this injection of stimulus would come through allowing farmers to own their land.
The precedent for reform had already been set, as under the leadership of First Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the vice-like grip of Communist rule had slowly loosened. In a process known as perestroika, (literally: “restructuring”) a certain amount of financial and political reform had already taken place. Gorbachev recognised that the financial models on which the regime was built were failing, and that the USSR was becoming the poor relation in terms of global economic influence.
But despite his policy of perestroika, Gorbachev remained rather cautious in some areas of reform, and was not initially in favour of legalising private ownership of property. He favoured a system of leasing, whereby the state would still own the land, but individuals could lease it and farm it with relative autonomy.
However, in a reflection of the delicate balance of power in the Soviet Union at this time, Boris Yeltsin, as leader of the Russian Supreme Soviet, was able to undermine Gorbachev and force the symbolic legislation through. This meant, for a time, there was a two-tier system in place, as the law had been sanctioned in the Russian Republic, but was not recognised in the rest of the Soviet Union.
The Land Reforms proved to be one of the final acts of a dying regime. Faced with relentless pressure from political figures on both sides of the political spectrum, Gorbachev was forced from office in a coup in August 1991. Boris Yeltsin, dramatically exploiting the political turmoil the coup created, was able to seize power, immediately declaring the Communist Party to be an illegal body. The Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on the 31st of December 1991, and Boris Yeltsin became the first President of the Russian Federation.