This article develops a comparative institutional framework for evaluating the new legislatures of the former Soviet Union, and demonstrates that the conventional wisdom about the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet is wrong. It was not a totalitarian, Soviet institution whose omnipotent and malevolent Chair singlehandedly dominated policy outputs and controlled the membership. Rather, the Supreme Soviet's non-partisan, committee-centered design enabled the committees to dominate the legislative process and to virtually exclude conflict, even on such objectively contentious legislative issues as the annual budget. However, the non-partisan design denied the legislature the mechanisms for controlling the Chair on non-legislative, political issues, particularly in relations with the executive branch. On legislative issues, the Supreme Soviet was a well-oiled machine, but on political issues it was out of control, thus leading to the legislature's demise. This article demonstrates the utility of an institutional framework for comparing post-communist legislatures, and the necessity of disaggregating legislative and political issues when evaluating legislative performance.

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