This article considers the reasons for the failure to reform the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which was central to the Soviet collapse. Using a wide range of party and other archives, it challenges the conventional view that power was concentrated in the hands of a very conservative party apparat that was able to frustrate any attempt at reform. Focusing on the issue of party renewal at the 28th Party Congress of 1990, it argues that party reformers, including many party secretaries, made serious efforts to change a hierarchically organised vanguard party into a social democratic one at about this time. Their eventual failure was due more than anything else to the reformers' lack of an organised movement and Gorbachev's indecisiveness.
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