How much popular support was there in the Soviet Union? How did this popular support increase and decrease with time?

Here is an infographic that sort of summarizes my question. It shows that even at the point of collapse, some 70% of Soviet citizens supported the continued governance by the communist party within the Soviet Union. However, I have doubts about the validity of this information. Also, this only shows a single year, not how popular attitudes increased and decreased as the years passed.

What does scholarly research say about this?


When I was a US 3rd grader (1983?), my social studies class informed me that "nobody" in the Soviet Union liked their government. This was obviously false information; at the very least, at least one person would like it, right?

As a 7th grader, my history class talked about how the party members were rich and liked to be in power, but everyone else hated the government. How could such a small group hold so much power? The incorrect answer that my classmates came up with was that all Russians were cowards who hated freedom. This is obviously wrong; WWII and the Sputnik were great refutations.

Later in life(~2010), I had a Russian friend whose old mother had come to live with him in the US. She was a diehard anti-American; she loved the Soviet Union her whole life, and had always been poor. So at least one non-powerful non-party member supported the government.

From my reading of how the communist party and government was structured, and how reforms were implemented, it appears that many people - above 60% - supported the revolution and subsequent economic organization. However, I'd love to see some peer-reviewed data.

Please note, this question asks for historical truth and not repetition of the ugly cold war propaganda some of us grew up with.

Some possible sources:

  • Is there a peer reviewed publication where scholars have attempted to make an objective estimate?
  • Did the CIA or British Intelligence declassify their factual estimates? What about other military intelligence?
  • Did the Communist leadership factually study this? If so, has this data been released?
  • Marketing Estimates by McDonalds, Coca-Cola and other companies?

Instead of the "popular" vs "not popular" dichotomy, the question asks "how popular." I am also interested in how much support existed as the years passed.

(Edit: It has been noted that it will be impossible to produce exact, perfect numbers. )

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Sep 7 '16 at 13:17

What you learnt in school seems to be incorrect when compared with my knowledge of the matter (as a Russian)

As far as I know, the Soviet rule was overwhelmingly popular in the USSR, except possibly the Baltic republics and Western Ukraine. It was somewhat less popular with humanitarian elites though (show business, writers etc.). I want also point out that even the most of those who disliked Socialism or the Communist Party, supported the existence of the USSR as a united country because of patriotism, according to my impression.

Even when the Perestroika was started, the government never said it would be transition to Capitalism, they said it would be strengthening of Socialism and return to Lenin's principles. Only when it was too late most people realized they were fooled, based on what I perceived.

So when you ask whether the people supported "reforms", well, maybe 60% supported it but because they supported the government and the government said the reforms were to improve Socialism.

As to the question, whether party officials were rich, I would refer you to this answer I wrote at Quora.


1. A poster with Gorbachev in front of Lenin.

enter image description here

2. Perestroika. All power to the Soviets (Councils). (Notice how they use the Lenin's slogan of 1917, known from the school desk and hammer and sickle to justify the removal of Communist party from power.)

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3. Perestroika is the continuation of work of the October (revolution). (The symbol of the October Revolution, Aurora cruiser is displayed.)

enter image description here

4. Leninism is the ideological source of Perestroika on the Pravda ("Truth") newspaper building.

(The guys are holding the plaque saying "LIE". Some people had realized they were being fooled quite early.)

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5. Again, Bolshevik slogan from 1917 Land to the peasants, even written in old orthography, is used to justify introduction of private property on land.

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    What are your sources for these claims? – Philipp Sep 5 '16 at 9:02
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    @Philipp I lived through it. – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 9:04
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    That makes your knowledge anecdotal at best and influenced by USSR propaganda at worst. Please provide some reliable sources. – Philipp Sep 5 '16 at 9:05
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    from my own travels to the USSR in the 1980s I mostly encountered people afraid to be seen as critical of their country and its ruling elite. They LOVED the Rodina, but that's not the same as loving the USSR. You're right that Gorbachev's reforms were meant to strengthen the USSR and regain popular support for the Party (but that in itself showed the Party wasn't popular at the time...). All your posters and claims show is that there was a lot of government propaganda claiming and demanding popular support. Which in itself hints that such support was far from universal. – jwenting Sep 5 '16 at 9:32
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    I just posted my answer but while I misread the original question so deleted it soon after. The only thing I would add here is that we would never get non-personal approach here. No polls are to be believed in as propaganda were overwhelming. As my personal input I can say that almost all Russians I know (or knew) were supporting USSR. – Marek Oleszczuk Sep 5 '16 at 11:59

This is another answer of mine based on the statistics released by the Levada Center, a leading Russian social study organization.

They conducted polls on the popularity of Lenin and the USSR since the 1990s.

Do you regret the breakup of the USSR? Yes-No-Not know. In March 1992 66% regretted the breakup the USSR which is thrice those who supported it. The number never fell much below 50%.

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What role played Lenin in the history of our country? Totally positive - More positive than not - More negative than not - Totally negative - Don't know

enter image description here

Do you think, was it possible to avoid dissolution of the USSR? It was inevitable - It was possible to avoid - Don't know

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    Good job finding references tho the date doesn't match exactly it should be acceptable. However it would be preferable to edit your previous answer to include theses informations – Antzi Sep 5 '16 at 16:36
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    Don't believe anything by those imperialist stooges, the Levada Center! themoscowtimes.com/news/levada-center-blacklisted-55217 (P.S. Irony does not work well on the net, so: yes, of course, I am being ironic here). – Felix Goldberg Sep 8 '16 at 6:07
  • @Anixx this proves that the soviets are popular today in Russia; It doesn't really address the question as to whether they were popular when they Ruled. Millions of Victems of Soviet Repression would tend to lead one to an alternative opinion. – JMS Dec 17 '19 at 21:44
  • @JMS As you can see, the first poll was conducted less than a year after the USSR's breakup. Before the Glasnost the popularity was much higher, I am sure. As to the repressions, when they were conducted most people did not know about them, and when people learned about them they became associated with Stalin, not with the USSR as a whole. – Anixx Dec 18 '19 at 12:56
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    @Anixx It’s your contention most Russians didn’t know they lived in a totalitarian state not interested in their opinion of its rule? That might be the accepted modern view but it doesn’t stand the test of incredulity. Soviet policy was to rule through fear intimidation and murder. Without the public’s knowledge of what would befall them if they criticized the state how could the extraordinary actions the Soviet s took dissuade future offenders and thus serve its purpose . – JMS Dec 18 '19 at 19:06

I want add this, third answer to clarify some issues with terminology and how the things were run in the USSR.

First of all I want to point out that I have learned from the Internet that in the USA there is common sentiment of some distrust of the government, a dichotomy between "we" and the government. But in the USSR there was no such dichotomy. The government was "we". The system of feedback in the Soviet system was overwhelming. If you wanted something concrete done and it was uncontroversial, you would have it done, even if it was formally illegal or against the regulations. A petition usually was more than enough. A petition from an initiative group or a merited citizen was excessive. So, people generally had no grounds to criticize the government: if someone had good arguments for something changed, it would be changed. Any idea would be heard. Coming up with ideas was encouraged. Criticizing the government thus would be like criticizing themselves. At worst they would blame some certain official who barred the idea.

enter image description here

The plaque says "Here works the member of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR".

The system of government in the USSR closely followed the people's mentality and their understanding of what is right. But what changed with time is that while in the early USSR the system mostly followed the mentality of the whole people, towards the end of the USSR the main reference base became ethnic Russians and ethnic Russian mentality.

It is also worth to note here that many Communist moral principles as implemented in the USSR were borrowed from the moral of the Russian Orthodox Christianity and pre-Communist Russian mentality. Simply put one can argue Communism in Russia was just Christianity without Christ, the similar way some argue the modern ideology in China is just Confucianism painted red and the American ideology is just disguised Protestantism. Thus these principles were quite uncontroversial among the general public.

That said, I would say that Socialist principles and Socialist understanding of justice were quite universally accepted, like say "democracy" principles are accepted in the USA. There were people who would advocate for Capitalism or Monarchy but they were fringe, like those who advocates for Communism or neo-Nazis in the USA.

So even those who criticized the social order of the USSR would usually bring arguments of the kind that the things were wrong because they did not follow the principles of Socialism. Compare medieval Europe here: there, you usually would not call to replace Christianity with some other religion, but would say this and that bad thing is un-Christian.

So if there were things which were disliked, the people would not call to overthrow the whole social order, but to improve the existing one, similarly how in the USA one would not call to overthrow Democracy because of police misbehavior, but would rather say the police's bad behavior was undemocratic.

Another thing to understand is that the Communist party was not really a political force in the USSR. It was rather a structure of the state. So the very question about whether one supports the rule of CPSU (which was reflected in the constitution) would look very strange, like if an American was asked whether he is content with the idea of being ruled by the Congress and Senate. Well, maybe someone would say he would prefer a queen, but this would not be quite a common answer. More often you would hear the wishes that bad and corrupt people should not be accepted into the party.

A more concrete question would be whether one supports the current government and certain personalities in it. Here, the answers could vary a lot. If you ask somebody in the US whether he supports Democracy and whether he supports Obama, the results will be completely different. Similarly, in the USSR there were a lot of people who disliked this or that minister or party official. Among the USSR leaders the least popular were Khrushchev and Gorbachev.

But here again, the majority of people would be loyal. This is because most people are unpolitical. Another feature of Russian mentality is that there a widespread type of people who would support any government irrespective of its policy, so they now support the Capitalist government the same way they supported the government under the USSR. In absence of central media who criticized the government, the popular approval of any current government in the USSR was greater than approval rating of the most of the US presidents.

That's why the whole thing of transition towards Capitalism was done from top to bottom, by the incumbent government and masked with Leninist rhetoric. When the majority of the people realized we were going in a wrong direction, it was already too late: Gorbachev had made himself invulnerable by becoming the president. Before him all Soviet leaders could be ousted at any time, the way it happened with Khrushchev, but the president office introduced by Gorbachev had a fixed term, and the impeachment procedure was made highly difficult. Thus the August coup of 1991 followed.

Now, last thing to clarify. One can ask, what Russians thought about better economic development in the Capitalist countries compared to the USSR, higher quality of life etc.

Here the answers can vary. The official propaganda said the following things: it is not that good in the West for the poor; the wealthy Capitalist countries exploit the poor Capitalist countries, that's why they are rich etc. There were people who believed this propaganda and those who did not.

Now, among those who did not, the most common explanation would be along the lines "it is because we (Russians) cannot work well, because of our mentality", and not a blame on Socialism or the government. Other kind of people would say "if Stalin were alive, we would now live better, it was Khrushchev and the others who messed up the things".

Moreover, Capitalism was considered simply morally wrong, even if efficient. So even if you would succeed to convince a person that Capitalism is more efficient than Socialism, a common reply would be "Well, maybe, but it is unjust and immoral". Imagine you would try to convince somebody in the USA that a dictatorship like in Saudi Arabia is more efficient and people there live better. Most likely a common person would reply "Okay, but it is unjust and immoral".

Now, about the dissolution of the USSR. While in ethnic republics there could be politicians who advocated the secession or dissolution of the USSR, in Moscow not a single politician could advocate it because it would be a political suicide.

Even Yeltsin later claimed he was not for the dissolution of the USSR, but that the USSR could not be saved.

Even the far-right Monarchist Neo-Nazi group "Memory" were against the dissolution of the USSR, rather calling it a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy.

The same goes for the Zhirinovsky's Liberal-Democratic party, and quite every other political group.

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    @Anixx Your point about the US: "if an American was asked whether he is content with the idea of being ruled by the Congress and Senate" ; there are US citizens who want the United States abolished. I'm also curious about what % of US citizens would end rule from Washington. My guess right now would be ~5%. – axsvl77 Sep 9 '16 at 0:07
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    @axsvl77 that would be possibly roughly the percent of people who would answer the same about the CPSU in the USSR. – Anixx Sep 9 '16 at 8:55
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    @axsvl77 you can consider the elections to the Constitutional Assembly of 1917. Of 715 members, 370 (51.7%) got the Socialist Revolutionaries, 175 (24.5%) Bolsheviks, 40 (5.6%) Left Socialist Revolutionaries, 17 (2.4%) Constitutional Democrats, 15 (2.1%) Mensheviks, 4 (0.5%) People's Socialists. Thus, the only non-Socialist party, Constitutional Democrats received only 2.1% members. This means that Socialism was a common value of the whole people at the time, only its implementation could be disputed. – Anixx Sep 9 '16 at 14:14
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    @axsvl77 if to consider the elections to the II All-Russian Congress of Councils (1917), where only the workers and soldiers voted, of 649 delegates, the Bolsheviks got 390, Socialist Revolutionaries got 160, Mensheviks got 72, Socialist Worker's Internationalist party got 14, Internationalist Mensheviks got 6, Ukrainian Socialists got 7. No non-Socialist party got a single delegate. In the III All-Russian Congress of Councils of 1918, Bolsheviks and Left SRs got 94% delegates combined. – Anixx Sep 9 '16 at 14:30
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    @Anixx Since you bring up the Constitutional Assembly of 1917, could you perhaps remind us how many meetings it held? What decisions it made?....................... – Felix Goldberg Sep 10 '16 at 15:04

I'd like to address the issue of the 1991 referendum. Your (otherwise excellent) question misinterprets it completely.

In brief

The referendum was not about "continued governance by the communist party" because by the time the referendum was held the communist party had already effectively abdicated its power - the train had certainly left that station by then.

What the referendum did show was that a majority of Soviet people were in favour of retaining a federal state with an unspecified system of government rather then breaking it up to create a number of smaller independent countries, as had eventually transpired in reality.

The end of communist governance in the USSR

The communist party (CPSU) high-handedly ran the Soviet state ever since its inception. This was formally acknowledged in Article 6 of the Soviet constitution of 1977 (the earlier 1936 constitution had a similar article too, of course). But during perestroika the reins of power began to slip from the party's grasp and on March 14, 1990 this article was amended from the clear-cut statement of communist paramountcy:

The leading and guiding force of the Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organisations and public organisations, is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [...] The Communist Party [...] determines the general perspectives of the development of society and the course of the home and foreign policy of the USSR [...]

to the toothless platitude:

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, other political parties as well as labor, youth and other public organisations and mass movements [...] participate in the policy-making of the Soviet state [...]

This was no trifle - it was the main demand of the newly-formed democratic opposition movement and Gorbachev's giving in to it was a clear indication that the party's grip on power was effectively broken.

Indeed, the very same bill which abolished the party's monopoly on power introduced the new office of President of the USSR, to be filled by Gorbachev who urgently needed a new job title. Clearly, being merely Secretary General of the CPSU was no longer enough to command full obedience.

The referendum question: another look

If you will now reread the referendum question, you'll find that it does not mention the CPSU or communism at all! Rather, it reads:

Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, which will fully guarantee the rights and freedoms of all nationalities?

Another telling fact is that if one read's carefully the wiki page on the referendum, it turns out that originally there were 5 questions planned, rather than one. Question 2 and 3 were to refer to the preservation, respectively, of the socialist system and of the Soviets. However, all the extra questions were dropped from the final ballot. Probably because the organizers did not feel they would be able to secure a majority on them.

The struggle to preserve the federal state

During 1990 and 1991 the Soviet state went into implosion mode. Long-repressed ethnic rivalries escalated into violence, pogroms, and open warfare. The federal leadedrship, no longer sure of itself, tried half-hearted repression and then when things went sour, reneged on its own repressive measures, blaming local army commanders. This cost it its credit with the military and police.

The regional elites now sensed weakness on behalf of the central government and saw an opportunity to assert themselves. Thus during 1990 many republics of the USSR either seceded or asserted their "sovereignty", finding themselves at loggerheads with the central authorities. Which laws were now to take precedence? The federal or the republican ones?

Gorbachev, an astute enough politician, saw what was going on, saw that the old Soviet system was by now beyond saving and took a reasonable step: he invited those republics who have not seceded (9 out of 15) to negotiate a new federal compact. In effect, the Soviet Union was going to be replaced by a new creation, the Union of Sovereign States.

The referendum was a political move by Gorbachev to shore up support for the federal center vis-a-vis the republics and to leverage it to gain more power during the negotiations for the drafting of the USS. It probably achieved its purpose.

In the event, the new federal compact was to the signed on August 20, 1991. A day before that, on August 19, a group of communist blowhards in Gorbachev's government tried to turn the clock back with their infamous abortive putsch. In the aftermath, both Gorbachev's political reputation and the idea of a federation took such a hit that the final scuttling in December 1991 was almost unavoidable.

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There are four questions in one.

People could like or dislike to certain degree the declared base principles of the state and society, the currently declared principles, the long-term real principles, or the current real principles. All of these were integrated in our minds (I was born in Moscow in 1962) as our views on USSR. And those four aspects were connected and dependent on each other in every mind.

Practically, I have seen only one person in all my life till about 1987 that disliked the declared base principles of USSR. I think, that is sufficient statistics for this aspect. That single person was a man of 92 years old who started his life and work before 1917. And he didn't tell his view openly to me, 10-years old then. I merely deciphered his real views later, probably erroneously.

As for the view on the real life in USSR in long term, "simple" people were not so simple as educated layer. And all of them knew about horrors of the war and regime of 30-50ties. They did not know statistics, of course, but they knew what happened to surrounding of their family. And that was enough. People on lower Volga/Don knew about the Novocherkassk rebellion, and Leningrad inhabitants knew that hunger in the blockade Leningrad was not for everybody. Maybe the educated layer was less wise, maybe among them there were less people, who were victims, or maybe they simply shut their mouths by a piece of good bread with caviar (in Moscow, mostly), but among them there was many people, who thought that the past was OK, safe some single problems. And these views did not change in families, maybe, only due to dying off. So, mostly people dislike the real past of USSR. But here the majority was not so absolute.

As for newly declared principles, such as "the economics must be economical" of Brezhnev, struggle against slacking of Andropov or back to socialism/strengthening the law/acceleration early programs of Gorbi, people simply didn't pay much attention to them. It was merely a reason to speak about and to create a next set of anecdotes. Why? That will be answered in the next paragraph.

Mostly people are not interested in principles, but in the reality. But how can they evaluate it? Only by comparison to other realities or to some virtual realities.

Only very few people visited foreign countries, but when they visited much more poor countries, those visitors lived there much better than aborigines, and in the richer countries they saw how much better other people live. So, with so limited channel for information, the people in USSR were getting information, that it is BETTER abroad. All wanted to go abroad. There was an anecdote about that:

"Some pretty singer-girl visited USSR and met with Brezhnev. He liked her and asked what she wants. She asked him to open the borders. "Oh, dear! Your feelings to me are so strong, that you want to remain here with me, only you and me, only two of us in the whole land?!"

The base problem was, that they compared what they saw in life with what they read in books and saw in movies and were taught at school. The ideals grew higher and higher and people saw greater and greater discrepancy between theory and reality. Everybody knew that the current state simply won't run. The reason why they thought so, were different, and often erroneous. My mother, when visiting as a correspondent, the Priosersk region, was asked by a party leader of the region, if some serious changes are awaited, for it cannot go this way. I was asked in 1983 in the train by a couple of Belorussian teachers, when the revolution will come.

Practically everybody hated the state of the USSR. But they wanted it to change. The USSR as such was considered as a given thing, as a frame, and they simply didn't realize that it could disappear. Even in 1989, when I visited my friend, a member of Ukrainian Language Society, (was considered as an utter nationalist one), no one thought about separation, only language autonomy was in question.

The change in that view was created by Gorbi in this very 1989, I have seen it myself. When Gorbi said: "The position of Lithuainian delegation is irrelevant"... Millions of people sitting at their TVs became separatists. The sense of USSR existence disappeared.

So, it was not a continuous, but an abrupt change in views.

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This looks like an interesting question; also, one that will be nearly impossible to answer. Yet, for some reason I figured I would try to add some more input: mainly because the other replies, as good as they are, focus on the Russian SFSR, while this was (nominally) an equal to fourteen others. Modern Russia is one of these fifteen and, therefore, cannot be representative of the others even though the Russian SFSR had a higher population count than all the other SFSR's put together (at least in 1989).

One of the problems with this type of retrospective popularity assessments is that people are notoriously biased when thinking about their own opinions (longer take on this topic as well as perception of things in general is by Kahneman). Also, our memory of how good the past was always gets better. Hence, while the answer by Anixx is impressive with what it quotes, I wouldn't explicitly trust those numbers. The numbers for the early 1990's are likely to be a lot more accurate than the later ones, and one should always try to understand the immediate situation in which those polls were taken.

So, what sort of evidence do we have?

  1. The Bolsheviks won the Civil War.
    • They managed this because they had popular support which was greater than that given to the Whites (mostly, I'd say, because of apparent bad White propaganda and their generals' stupidity, but that's a different topic).
    • This doesn't mean that the Reds managed to mobilize all of the public (or even the majority), but it does mean that they managed to mobilize more of the public than the alternatives.
    • Given that the opposition was linked to the Russian Empire and the nobility, the class which had directly led to defeats in 1905 and 1917, it is perhaps not surprising they also lost the Civil War.
  2. Nationalist troops were able to fight for and win the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland even though Bolshevik rebellions took place in these lands.
    • Finland had been ruled autonomously throughout the Russian period from 1809 to 1917.
    • Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had an effective special autonomous system of government which was in effect from 1721 to the end of the 19th century (with a small break at the end of the 18th century).
    • Poland had a history of independent government which extended from the 11th to the 18th century.
    • This means that all of the territories that managed to gain independence from the "Russian Empire" had a history of government (which is not to say that nowhere else in the Empire was this the case, e.g., Georgia and Armenia which had been independent, but that this was of assistance in the national mindsets).
  3. The above countries managed to maintain their independence (for variable lengths of time).
    • Finland has retained its independence since gaining it though the Winter War and the Continuation War were attempts in which the Soviets tried to re-establish control—they failed, but Finland gave up territory.
    • Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied by the USSR in 1939 (also along with some territorial changes in their borders).
    • Poland was destroyed as an independent state in 1939, but re-created as an Eastern bloc country in 1945 with nominal freedoms. As they were not subsumed, they don't much concern us beyond this point.
  4. It is impossible to give "values of popular support" for events which caused the subsumption of the Baltic republics in the USSR.
    • The Soviet strategy to offer pacts of mutual assistance, ask for bases to defend against Hitler's Germany, incite popular unrest against local governments, and demands for a new government to be nominated were generally effective (Vares, Kirhenšteins, and Sniečkus).
    • This was followed by a new (generally one-sided) election after which the pro-Soviet victors asked for admission to the USSR.
    • That this was effective doesn't mean that this was popular, given the main reasons armed resistance was not offered link to the aforementioned bases which had given the Red Army the rear of these countries.
  5. The USSR employed methodology to deal with local anti-Soviet elements.
    • That there was a substantial anti-Soviet element in these countries is demonstrated by the various uprisings (e.g., June Uprising) which coincided with the German invasion and the post-German retreat/defeat combat.
    • The post-war rise of the Forest Brethren who were on the run from the Soviet authorities. In the Estonian SSR (regrettably there are no English subtitles for that video, but it is really good), these men continued fighting into the 1970's with the last one killed in combat in 1978. Naturally, the majority was captured or fell well before this time, but it is clear that at least the rural population would have given considerable support and supplies to these people for their struggle to be possible for such a long time.
    • The Soviet deportations as carried out in 1941 and between 1945 and 1952 in all three Baltic countries were aimed at weakening the anti-Soviet population in these countries, incl. the people who supported the above-mentioned Forest Brethren.

As the Caucasus and Central Asia is not my speciality, I am not going to focus there with regards to these points but will mention them below.

The above describes a military occupation that was later incorporated into the civilian government. There is no way to estimate the support at these stages because the government was interested solely in creating the appearance of overwhelming popular support for the Soviet Union.

Where we can estimate the popular opinion to a greater degree is in the process of the restoration of independence in these three countries. Also relevant is that the Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycotted the referendum on the renewal of the USSR in a new form (described in some of the other answers).

  1. In the Lithuanian 1990 elections, candidates endorsed by Sąjūdis, the group that led the charge towards regaining independence, won 91 out of 135 seats. This is probably the best poll one can take in Lithuania, giving 67% in 1990.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 124:0:6:0 (for:against:abstained:did not participate), a far higher rate.
    • The independence referendum carried by 93.2%.
  2. In the Latvian 1990 elections, the Popular Front gained 68.2% of the votes against the Communists' 21.5% with 10.3% undecided. Turnout 81.3%.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 138:0:1:62 (for:against:abstained:did not participate).
    • The independence referendum carried by 74.9%.
  3. In the Estonian 1990 elections, the Popular Front and pro-Independence forces won 70 seats against the Communists' 25 with 10 independents for a 105 seat assembly. This reflects a pro-tally of approx. 66.7%.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 69:0:0:36 (for:against:abstained:did not participate).
    • The independence referendum carried by 78.2%.

These are all similar numbers of roughly two-thirds' voters pro-restoration of independence amongst the population.


Some of the other answers have described why the member republics opted for a clear severing of ties after the August putch failed.

Almost none of the numbers from above are ideal, with probably none of these elections actually offering a poll of what the population actually thought of the Soviet Union (as opposed to what they thought about self-government, etc). Nevertheless, the rapidity with which many states were adamant to (re-)establish self-government should indicate that a different system was desired.

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From 1921 to 1991 the RSFSR and later Soviet Union successfully maintained state hegemony. To this extent it was "popular." This was counteracted by repeated political strikes and insurrections. These were generally typical of advanced industrial societies:

  • Metropolitan insurrections were proletarian with communist demands, driven largely by emiseration combined with effective organisation and the belief of the possibility of victory. (Kronstadt; https://libcom.org/library/1962-novocherkassk-tragedy )
  • Rural and peripheral insurrections against the collapse of pre-capitalist social relations in the village
  • Nationalist insurrections in the periphery

However, as noted by Simon Pirani (using Bolshevik sampling of workplace soviet votes), workers in 1920-21 saw the Bolshevik party as a potential mediator of their demands.

For Andrle, the proletariat of the 1930s entered into a bargain about increased consumption with limited output. These bargains were whittled down during the Great Patriotic War in an agreement about survival in the face of a genocidal fascist enemy.

While insurrection and strikes reduced over the period 1921-1960, informal go slows and work to rule (you say sharpen the pencil for 15 seconds, even if it results in a nub: have a 15 second sharpen) increased. This is evidenced by decreased labour engagement and productivity increases post 1960. (However, similar statistics are observable in the West 1960-1990).

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Question: How much popular support was there in the Soviet Union? How did this popular support increase and decrease with time?

I would argue your elementary school teacher was mostly correct. The vast state bureaucracy employed to destroy the lives of millions of Russians who did voice criticism of the state is evidence that the soviet state wasn't very popular. That a well informed empowered populous capable of participating in such a poll was viewed as a threat to the Soviet state. A state which never submitted itself to a popular referendum while coming to power through force of arms.

There were no good polls during the rule of the soviets to say how popular or unpopular the state was because expressing a negative view of the state was reason for torture, imprisonment in a near arctic prison (gulag), or death which millions of soviet citizens experienced. That in an of itself is evidence that the Soviet Union did not stay in power due to popular support; and took very seriously any citizen who even tangentially expressed opposition to their rule.

Political Repression in the Soviet Union
Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, millions of people suffered political repression, which was an instrument of the state since the October Revolution. It culminated during the Stalin era, then declined, but it continued to exist during the "Khrushchev Thaw", followed by increased persecution of Soviet dissidents during the Brezhnev stagnation, and it did not cease to exist until late in Mikhail Gorbachev's rule when it was ended in keeping with his policies of glasnost and perestroika.

There are famous examples of this political persecution.

  • Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. imprisoned for 10 years in Gulag for writing a letter which criticized Joseph Stalin.
  • Varlam Shalamov - In 1943 Shalamov was sentenced to another term(in Gulag), this time for 10 years, under Article 58 (anti-Soviet agitation), for having called anti-Soviet writer Ivan Bunin a "classic Russian writer".
  • Osip Mandelstam - Imprisoned for criticizing Stalin, died in the Gulag; Mandelstam's own prophecy was fulfilled: "Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?"
  • Nikolai Vavilov - Famous Botanist who was denounced by Stalin for believing in Mendelian Genetics. Died in Gulag
  • Georgy Zhzhonov - Famous actor, spent 15 years in the Gulag

From Comments:
From – axsvl77 The question calls for a % of the population backed up by a citeable source. Have you provided this?

If someone asked a question why did Napoleon ride dinosaurs into battle, a reasonable response is dinosaurs died 65 million years before Napoleon lived and died out in the late Cretaceous Period. Thus Napoleon could not have ridden any such beast into battle.
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This question asks for, as you say a cit-able poll on the popularity of the Soviet Union. My response is no such poll exists due to the nature of the totalitarian regime which did not rule or rely on popular support. Also confirming no other answer has cited a source from the Soviet era and that previous answers rather cite personal opinions and reference post soviet artifacts.

Even if such a poll was conducted in the Soviet Union. Given there was no ability to inform oneself not under the direct control of the state. And given that state demonstrated a proclivity to imprison, torture, and murder folks, throughout it's history, and on a scale of millions. Folks who even entertained the most mild criticism were candidates for such treatment. Such a poll would reflect the effectiveness of the state's control over public opinion and not reflect an informed public's views.

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