Local democracy in the USSR was a sham. Before Gorbachev’s radical overhaul of the Soviet political system in the late 1980s, local governments (‘local soviets’)1

were fi rmly under the diktat of party and state bodies. As Campbell notes: ‘The system was designed to ensure party control whilst maintaining a democratic façade.’2 Moreover, while the USSR was, in theory, a federation, in practice it was a highly centralized system, which operated under a vertical chain of administrative command. As Smith notes, while the soviets were viewed:

by early Bolshevik theorists as the political institution through which the local community would participate in the running of its affairs (as captured in the Bolshevik slogan, ‘All power to the Soviets’), such a system quickly became contrary to the requirements of the Stalinist State, which needed a highly centralized system and an obedient urban citizenry in order to plan and execute the country’s transformation into a powerful urban-industrial machine.3