On the Failure of the Communist Coup in the USSR in Mid-August 1991
Anthony Easton offered insights on the coup here: https://www.garynorth.com/public/17558.cfmThere was a follow-up by a site member on a forum.
August 1991 Coup attempt "The failed coup against Gorbachev occurred on August 18, 1991" My wife and I were returning from a couple of months in Eastern Europe, mostly in Russia. Our hosts were Ham Radio operators that had invited me to tour Russia. My call sign was well-known worldwide and that is why it happened.We later learned how the Coup was stopped. Our Russian Ham Radio friends just happened to have a Ham Radio station in the building where Gorbachev was located. The telephone and power lines had been cut to stop the military from learning of the Coup. One of our Ham friends was able to get a message out that quickly got to the military. They showed up and stopped the Coup.Easton responded in an email to me.
A few months later one of those Russian Hams was visiting the USA and came to California. We hosted him and he explained how it all happened.
This will be very hard to believe, but the only reliable communication in Russia was Ham Radio. Private people had an underground system that actually worked. They also knew that the propaganda was crap because they could talk with us anytime that they wanted. However, we learned that it was mostly them listening to us talk on Ham Radio amongst ourselves that they learned about our lifestyle.
Nothing there worked. If it weren't for the "black market" there would have been nothing to eat. I could tell stories for days about life in Russia. We stayed in private homes for most of our time.
This is correct. Ham radio was critical to provide the general population with the truth to counter the continuous lies of the Soviet State. As an Amateur Extra Class "ticket holder" myself, I too know the power of Ham Radio operators in keeping freedom alive worldwide. Amateur Radio is a vital force in the world today, and with the ability to bounce signals off the moon and Ham Radio satellites, individual transmissions are difficult to monitor and control in all but the most totalitarian state (like North Korea today).In the Soviet state dacha in the Crimea where Gorbachev was vacationing when the coup was attempted, the LOCAL telephone service and power were indeed cut. This was easily done by a couple of dozen renegade security forces reporting to one of the Coup Plotters sent from Moscow.
However, neither domestic nor international telephone circuits in and out of Moscow were cut or affected in any way. All ordinary rotary-dial "black telephone" proletariat traffic was maintained as normal. Nor was the Communist Party's secure touch-tone "Red Phone Network" affected in any way. This was a separate modern national network of 50,000 telephones -- similar to the American military's Autovon Network (see:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autovon). I have direct knowledge of this.
Information on the Gorbachev "house arrest" was, in fact, known instantly by multiple civilian and military Party authorities in Moscow as well as at the regional command centers of both Internal Security and Military Defense in Ukraine. This happened within minutes of the incident occurring. Gorbachev's sudden and unauthorized detention was not a surprise to the Party. It was only a surprise to the 97% of the proletariat who were not members of the Communist Party. For the 97%, however, Ham Radio was truly the people's information and communications pipeline.
The Coup Plotters did NOT, for example, have my powerful friend, the head of the Moscow Telephone Company, on their side. Nor many other key players who needed to agree to make the coup a success. The coup was an ill-thought-out project by a group of renegades. It was NOT in any official way supported by either the Alpha Forces Commandant, the Atomic Forces General, or the KGB Directorates.
The half-dozen Coup Plotters were on the periphery of real power, although some were closer than others to the KGB para-military enforcement units. They had blindly hoped that their actions would quickly win acceptance by their Central Committee comrades.
But they forgot to take into account the real-world mechanisms of asserting power -- especially in an uber-bureaucratic state, the USSR.
So, this is what happened "on the ground" in Moscow: Orders were given to a number of key people personally by the Coup Plotters,-verbally, to do certain things. This included shutting down our Moscow cable TV system - while it was being watched real-time by the Central Committee members in their apartments adjacent to our Central Committee hotel "headend".
Some forces loyal to the Coup Plotters did follow their verbal orders, violating protocol. These orders were issued beyond the powers of the Coup Plotters' official authority as listed in the Chart of Command of the USSR. The Coup Plotters did have armed guards with them who were loyal to them, but of course in those days, every member of the Central Committee with any power had similar armed personal protection forces.
Hmmm... So what can a good Comrade do faced with such a dilemma...?
The solution I personally know of was that the Russian "Director General" in charge of our J/V CATV system replied, loosely: "But of course, Comrade, we will follow your orders. But, as you understand, this is the Soviet Union, and we operate along well-established lines of Protocol. We need to have these orders in writing, signed and with the appropriate seals of authority included. Upon receiving these documents, we will, of course comply immediately".
The Coup Plotter returned to his office and ordered the documents to be prepared for delivery with due haste. By the time that this was expected to happen (24 hours later), the coup had collapsed, the plotters arrested, with one having committed suicide before capture.
Under Yeltsin's command in the Moscow "White House," as the head of the Russian Federation unit of the USSR, and with his own armed 'National Guard,' Yeltsin was able to personally stop the coup process by using his own chain-of-command authority -- with the necessary written documentation and orders being provided -- to ignore the verbal orders of the Coup Plotters.
Once again, the old Soviet truism: "Paper trumps People" was proved true. Standing on an Alpha Group tank in front of the White House provided a popular image broadcast by the International News networks with their cameras stationed on the roof of the International Media Center just across the river. Everyone saw what was happening around the world, and in the living rooms of our Central Committee apartments. Yeltsin was a brilliant politician! But he also was a smart bureaucrat who knew how to work the System (i.e., the Party which was, of course, above the State). The Comrades saw the world's condemnation. They blinked. The news embargo never happened for those who mattered.
One could argue that the real reason the Coup failed was that the specific ego's involved ultimately didn't understand how the system really worked. As the soldier in charge of a crack troop of Alpha Guards, whose orders would you obey? The written (and documented) orders of Yeltsin, or the verbal command issued by the Minister of Agriculture and his buddies? In the end, it is the paperwork that survives which gives justification to the bureaucratic phrase: "But I was only following Orders -and they were Written and had the appropriate Seals!"
And that night we dialed up and logged into our Moscow-based billing server from California and collected Visa/MC/Amex payments with no interruption of service at 9,600 bits-per-second. Our fax lines worked fine, too. Our Moscow regional Cable TV System never went off the air.
If there is a "Moral" to the story, it's this: If you REALLY want to do a successful coup, you MUST absolutely, positively, and ruthlessly kill all communications channels among the people who hold real power.
And that doesn't mean the non-Party member "ordinary citizen" in the USSR. It means your fellow Comrades in power at the top of the Party.
Since Coup Plotters weren't, in their heart of hearts, really serious or bloodthirsty enough, the Coup was doomed to fail. That's what I told the CNN interviewers while the Coup was still unfolding.
Business continued unaffected as usual, and in a few months, many (most?) clever members of the Central Committee became rich "privatizing" the USSR carcass by transferring the State ownership of the means of production to their own private pockets. Under Yeltsin, billionaires were created overnight. A society of slaves was converted into a society of consumers who were free to leave the country with newly minted international passports. Trickle-down economics worked to do its thing to eventually help the proletariat in the hinterland.
Now there are hundreds of local and international TV channels carried on dozens of national Cable TV Systems, and RT (the Kremlin-owned international version of "CNN") is carried on Cable TV Networks in 100 countries. Private cellular telephone systems and high-speed Internet connections operate nationwide. The 4 tallest skyscrapers in Europe are in Russia, and inter-region high-speed trains zip along at twice the Amtrak speeds.
But is Russian life any better?
The average Russian "voter" likes Putin because the citizen is wealthier, lives longer, can travel abroad, and is free to raise his family without constantly repeating the great lie of the failed Soviet "people's paradise". Russian birthrate is beginning to rise again. The old USSR is once and truly dead and buried.
I used to say that Russian "Democracy" would evolve into an Italian-like system, with 100 families in charge instead of 10. But I was wrong. Today, the "Chairman of the Board," the world's richest man, controls the company business through his gaggle of Vice Presidents and "friends of the family."
And what happened to the good old Communists? The lower-level Party members made do. Some not so well. The Party's bank accounts had long been transferred overseas and looted by the top comrades. The Party money was never recovered by the Russian State. The smart ones at the top became the new "Biznessmen". Many moved to the Riviera with riches beyond imagination The game continues.
In the end, a "chicken in every pot" trumps the dead, cold hand of state "socialism" every time. Sometimes it just takes a little time -- in the case of the Soviet Union roughly 70 years. I like to think that the miracle of modern global telecommunications - especially the visual power of real-time television -- helped the Genie to escape the bottle in the USSR, and in the process broke the bottle itself. Without firing a shot.