Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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Communist Party of the
Soviet Union

Коммунистическая партия Советского Союза (Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza)
Founder Vladimir Lenin
Slogan "Workers of the world, unite!"
Founded 1 January 1912
Dissolved 29 August 1991
Preceded by Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
Succeeded by Union of Communist Parties
Newspaper Pravda
Youth wing Komsomol
Young Pioneers
Membership 19 million (1986)
Ideology Marxism–Leninism
International affiliation Comintern (until 1943), Cominform (until 1956), International Meeting of Communist & Workers' Parties
Colours Red
Politics of the Soviet Union
Political parties

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)[note 1] was the founding and ruling political party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The CPSU was the sole governing party of the Soviet Union until 1990 when the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union annulled the law which granted the CPSU political monopoly over the country. It was founded in 1912, by the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin. The party grew quickly, and by 1917 the CPSU had seized power in the October Revolution. The party was dissolved on 29 August 1991, as a result of the failed coup of August 1991.

The CPSU was organized on the basis of democratic centralism, a principle conceived Lenin which entails democratic and open discussion on policy on the condition of unity in upholding the agreed upon policies. The highest body of the CPSU was the party Congress, convened every fifth year. When the Congress was not in session, the Central Committee was the highest body, but since the body meet normally only twice a year, most duties and responsibilities were vested in the Politburo, the Secretariat and the Orgburo (until 1952). The party's leader held the office either General Secretary, head of government or head of state, or some of the three offices concurrently (but never all three at the same time). Through one of these posts, the party leader would act as the informal chairman of the CPSU Politburo, and lead the country.

The CPSU was committed to communist thought, and according to its party statute the CPSU adhered to Marxism–Leninism, an ideology conceived of under Joseph Stalin. The party pursued state socialism, meaning that the economy was owned by the state, and state planning. Before planning was introduced in 1929, Lenin had introduced a mixed economy (commonly referred to as the New Economic Policy) in the 1920s. When Mikhail Gorbachev took power, the general sentiment within the party and society was that the planned economy had failed, and their was a real need to introduce a market economy. Gorbachev and some of his allies envisioned introducing a economy similar to Lenin's New Economic Policy, but failed to accomplish so.

Why the CPSU lost control, and the Soviet Union was dissolved, has been much discussed, and there does not exist one cause. However, Western writers have often blamed Gorbachev's policy of democratization, which weakened the party's control over society. Others point to economic stagnation and/or the lose of faith, amongst the general populace, in the communist ideology. In contrast, the Communist Party of China believes the main reasons are to be found during Joseph Stalin's rule, blaming him for the "bastardization of Leninism", turning Marxism into a dogma, creating one-man rule and introducing an inefficient economic system.


From Lenin to Stalin (1912–1953)[edit]

The Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the world's first constitutionally socialist state, was established in the aftermath of the October Revolution.[1] Immediately afterwards, the new government under Lenin's leadership proceeded to implement socialist reforms, including the transfer of estates and crown lands to workers' soviets.[1] He supported world revolution and immediate peace with the Central Powers,[2] agreeing to a punitive treaty that turned over much of the former Russian Empire to Germany.[3] The treaty was voided after the Allies won the war.[3] In 1921 Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy, a system of state capitalism that started the process of industrialisation and recovery from the Civil War.[4] On 30 December 1922, the Russian SFSR joined former territories of the Russian Empire in becoming the Soviet Union, with Lenin elected as its leader.[5] On 9 March 1923, Lenin had a stroke, which incapacitated him and which removed him effectively from politics, and a year later, on 21 January 1924 he died.[5]

Later into the 1930s, Stalin initiated the Great Purge, a period of widespread paranoia and repression culminating in a series of show trials and the purging of all original Party members. With the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, the Party actively sought to form "collective security" alliances with western powers. Unable to do so, the USSR established non-aggressive relations with Germany, which were ultimately broken in 1941 with Germany invading the Soviet Union, thus beginning the Great Patriotic War. After the Allied victory in the war, the Party held a doctrine of establishing pro-Stalin governments in the post-war occupied territories and of actively seeking to expand the domain of influence, through proxy wars and espionage.

Post-Stalin years (1953–1985)[edit]

Khrushchev succeeded Stalin as the Soviet leader. His rule is best known for his liberalization of political and social life, and the end of terror as a means of social control

After Stalin's death, Khrushchev was able to consolidate power by defeating the likes of Lavrentiy Beria and Georgy Malenkov in a power struggle.[6] In 1955 Khrushchev was able to secure the demotion of Malenkov, securing his position as Soviet leader.[7] Early in his reign, with support of several members of the Presidium, Khrushchev initiated the Thaw, which effectively put an end to the Stalinist mass terror of the past and relaxed oppression considerably.[8] At the 20th Congress (held in 1956), Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes, while at the same time omitting references of his and the other Presidium members involvement in them.[9] His economic policies, while having positive result at the beginning, were not able to fix the fundamental problems in the Soviet economy, and growth decreased, however, the standard of living for ordinary citizens increased, with 108 million people moving into new housing in the period 1956 to 1965.[10]

In the meantime, his foreign policies led to the Sino-Soviet split, which erupted in most parts because his denunciation of Stalin.[11] He improved relations with the Josip Broz Tito's League of Communists of Yugoslavia, but failed in establishing as close party-to-party relations as he hoped for.[10] While the Thaw had decreased political oppression, an unintended consequence of it was the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and unrests in Poland, in which the people of those countries reacted to Stalinist oppression.[12] He failed in his goal to improve Soviet relations with the capitalist countries as well, in parts because of reckless policy and bad coincidences.[12] In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev's position within the party had been greatly weakened.[13] However, not long before his ouster, he tried to introduce rather radical economic reforms as envisioned by Evsei Liberman, a Soviet economist.[14] Khrushchev was overthrown on 14 October 1964 in a Central Committee plenum because his inability to listen to others, his failure in consulting with the members of the Presidium, the establishment of a cult of personality, economic mismanagement and the party's overall opposition to his reorganizational reforms of the party.[15] He was succeeded in office by Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and Alexei Kosygin as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the central government.[16]

The Brezhnev era is commonly referred to by historians as the Era of Stagnation, a term coined by CPSU General Secretary Gorbachev[17]

The Brezhnev era can best be described as a rejection of Khrushchevism in every area, with the exception of one; opposition to Stalinist methods of terror and political violence.[18] Khrushchev's policies were criticized as voluntarism, and the period saw the rise of neo-Stalinism.[19] While Stalin was never rehabilitated during this period, the most conservative journals in the country were allowed to highlight positive features of his rule.[20] At the 23rd Congress (held in 1966), the names of the office of First Secretary and the organ of the Presidium reverted to their original name; General Secretary and Politburo respectively.[21] Kosygin, during the start of his premiership, was allowed to experiment with several economic reforms, similar to those championed by Malenkov, that is prioritizing light industry over heavy industry to increase the production of consumer goods.[22] Similar reforms were introduced in Hungary under the name New Economic Mechanism, however, with the rise to power of Alexander Dubček in Czechoslovakia (who called for the establishment of a "socialism with a human face"), all non-conformist reform attempts in the Soviet Union were put to an end.[23] During his rule, Brezhnev championed detente, a policy with the aim of improving relations with the capitalist world.[24] However, by the 25th Congress (held in 1976) political, economic and social problems within the Soviet Union began to mount, and the Brezhnev administration found itself unable to react to them.[25] Brezhnev health started to deteriorate in 1975, when he became addicted to pain killers due to problems in his family, which resulted him needing to take powerful drugs in order to attend official meetings.[26] Because of the "trust in cadres" policy implemented by his administration, the CPSU leadership evolved into a gerontocracy.[27] At the end of his rule, problems continued to amount; in 1979 he consented to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan to save the embattled communist regime their, supported the oppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and was unable to respond to the growing criticism of the Soviet Union by Western leaders, most prominently by US President Jimmy Carter, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan.[28] The CPSU, which had interpreted the financial crisis of the 1970s as the beginning of the end of capitalism were both shocked and unable to respond to any of the problems facing them.[29] Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982, and was succeeded by Yuri Andropov] on 12 November.[30]

Andropov, a staunch anti-Stalinist, chaired the KGB during most of Brezhnev's reign.[31] He had used his position to appoint several reformers to leading position in the KGB; many of these people became leading officials under Gorbachev.[31] Andropov supported frank conversion of the problems facing the Soviet Union in the press.[32] While he showed no signs during his short reign of any support of radical transformation of the Soviet system, he was open for economic reforms and his short reign his best known for appointing leading reformers (such as Yegor Ligachev, Nikolay Ryzhkov and Mikhail Gorbachev) and cracking down on bad work ethics and corruption.[32] Andropov had intended to let Gorbachev succeed him in office, but Konstantin Chernenko along with his cronies were able to suppress the paragraph in the letter which called for Gorbachev's elevation.[32] When Andropov died on 9 February 1984, he was succeeded by Chernenko in office.[33] Throughout his short reign, Chernenko was unable to rule, and effective control of the party organization laid in Gorbachev's hands.[33] Chernenko died on 10 March 1985, and was succeeded in office by Gorbachev on 11 March 1985.[33]

Gorbachev and the CPSU's demise (1985–1991)[edit]

Gorbachev was elected CPSU General Secretary on 11 March 1985, one day after Chernenko's death.[34] When he took the helm, the Soviet Union was stagnating in every way, but the country was stable, and would have in all probability survived into the 21st century if not for Gorbachev's reforms.[35] Gorbachev forged ahead early on with personnel reshuffling in the CPSU leadership, forcing old party conservatives out of office.[36] Instead of radical reform, in 1985 and early 1986, the new party leadership called for uskoreniye (Russian: acceleration).[36] Gorbachev reinvigorated the party ideology by adding new concepts and editing older ones.[36] A positive consequence of this was allowing for "pluralism of thought" and calling for the establishment of "socialist pluralism" (literally, socialist democracy).[37] He introduced glasnost (Russian: openness, transparency) in 1986, which indirectly led to a wave of unintended democratization.[38] In the words of Russian scholar Archie Brown, the democratization of the Soviet Union brought "mixed blessings" to Gorbachev; it helped him to weaken his conservative opponents within the party, but also brought out accumulated grievances which had been oppressed in previous years.[38]

Gorbachev, the last leader of the CPSU and the Soviet Union, as seen in 1986

However, in reaction to these changes, a conservative movement gained momentum in 1987 in response to Boris Yeltsin's dismissal as First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party.[39] On 13 March 1988, Nina Andreyeva, a university lecturer, wrote the article "I Cannot Forsake My Principles".[40] The publication was planned, seeing that both Gorbachev and his protege Alexander Yakovlev were visiting foreign countries.[40] In their place, Yegor Ligachev led the party organization, and told journalists that the article was "a benchmark for what we need in our ideology today".[40] On Gorbachev's return, the letter was discussed at a Politburo meeting; it was revealed that nearly half of its members were sympathetic to the letter, and opposed further reform which could weaken the party.[40] The meeting lasted for two days, but, on 5 April, a Politburo resolution responded with a point-by-point rebuttal to Andreyeva's article.[40] Believing they had won the day, Gorbachev convened the 19th Party Conference in June 1988, in which he criticized leading party conservatives Ligachev, Andrei Gromyko and Mikhail Solomentsev.[40] In turn, conservative delegates criticized by Gorbachev and the reformers in general.[41] There hadn't been so much discussion at a party meeting since the early-1920s, according to Brown.[41] Despite the deep-seated opposition for further reform, the CPSU still remained hierarchical, and the conservatives bowed to Gorbachev's demands because he was the CPSU General Secretary.[41] The 19th Conference approved the establishment of the Congress of People's Deputies (CPD) and allowed for contested elections between the CPSU and independent candidates (organized parties were not allowed).[41] The CPD was elected in 1989; however, one-third of the seats were appointed by the CPSU and other public organizations so as to sustain the Soviet one-party state.[41] The elections were democratic, but the majority of elected CPD members were against any more radical reform.[42] The elections marked the highest electoral turnout in Russian history, with no other election before or since having a higher participation rate.[43] However, an organized opposition within the legislature was established under the name Inter-Regional Group of Deputies.[43] An unintended consequence of these reforms was the increased anti-CPSU pressure, and in March 1990, at a session of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, the party was forced to relinquish its political monopoly of power, in effect turning the Soviet Union into a liberal democracy.[44]

The CPSU's demise began in March 1990, when the highest party organs were eclipsed in power by state organs.[44] From then until the Soviet Union's collapse, Gorbachev ruled the country through the newly-established post of President of the Soviet Union.[44] Following this, the central party apparatus played little practical role in Soviet affairs.[44] Gorbachev had become independent from the Politburo, and faced little to no constraint on him from his party colleagues.[44] In the summer of 1990, the party convened the 28th Congress.[45] While an important event, it was of little practical significance; a new Politburo was elected, with the previous incumbents being dropped (with the exception of Gorbachev and Vladimir Ivashko, the CPSU Deputy General Secretary).[45] Later that year, the party began work on a new program; its working title being "Towards a Humane, Democratic Socialism".[45] According to Brown, the program reflected Gorbachev's journey from an orthodox communist to a European social democrat.[45] The freedoms of thought and organization, which were allowed by Gorbachev, led to a rise in nationalism in the Soviet republics, which indirectly weakened the central authorities.[46] In response to this, a referendum was held in 1991, in which the majority of the union republics[note 2] voted to preserve the union, but in a entirely different form.[46] In reaction to this, conservative elements within the CPSU launched the August coup, which overthrew Gorbachev, but ultimately failed in their attempt to preserve the Soviet Union.[46] When Gorbachev returned after the coup's collapse, he resigned from the CPSU, and operations were handed over to Ivashko.[47] The CPSU was outlawed on 29 August, and the Soviet Union followed suit on 25 December 1991 when Gorbachev resigned from the presidency.[48]


Collective leadership[edit]

Cult of personality[edit]

Democratic centralism and vanguardism[edit]

Democratic centralism is an organizational principle conceived by Lenin.[49] According to Soviet pronouncements, democratic centralism was distinguished from bureaucratic centralism, a term which referred to high-handed formulas without knowledge nor discussion.[49] In democratic centralism decisions are in theory taken after discussions, but once the general party line has been formed, discussion on the subject will end.[49] No member or organizational institution could dissent on a policy after it being agreed upon by the highest organ of the party, to do so would lead to expulsion from the party (formalized at the 10th Congress).[49] Because of this stance, Lenin initiated a ban on factions (which was approved at the 10th Congress).[50]

Of upmost importance to Lenin was that democratic centralism was to safeguard both party unity and ideological correctness.[49] Lenin conceived of the system in light of the events of 1917, when several socialist parties "deformed" themselves and actively began supporting nationalist sentiments.[51] To safeguard the parties from these revisionist ills and bourgeoise defamation of socialism, Lenin conceived of democratic centralism.[51] Because of this, Lenin supported the notion of a highly centralized vanguard party, in which ordinary party members elected the local party committee, the local party committee elected the regional committee, the regional committee in turn electing the Central Committee and the Central Committee electing the Politburo, Orgburo and the Secretariat.[49] The party needed to be ruled from the centre, and have at its disposal power to mobilize party members at will.[49] This system was later institutionalized introduced in other communist parties through the Communist International (Comintern).[50]

A central tenet of Leninism was that of the vanguard party.[52] The party was to represent the interests of the working class and all of those who were exploited by capitalism in general, however, it was not to become a part of that class.[52] According to Lenin, the party's sole responsibility was to articulate and plan the long-term interests of the oppressed classes, it was not, however, responsible for the grievances of those classes (that was the responsibility of the trade unions).[52] The Party and the oppressed classes could never become one, according to Lenin, since the Party was responsible for leading the oppressed classes to victory.[53] The basic idea was that a small group of organized people could have wield disproportionate power to their size with superior organizational skills.[53] Despite this, until the very of his life, Lenin was aware of the danger that the Party could be taken over by bureaucrats, clique or by an individual.[53] He bemoaned in his later years the bureaucratic inertia of certain officials, and admitted to the failures of the Party's control organs (which were to supervise organizational life).[53]


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The Congress, nominally the highest organ of the party, was convened every fifth year.[54] Before the Bolshevik's seizure of power, and from Lenin's rule until Stalin's consolidation of power, the congress was, and acted as the party's main decision-making organ.[55] However, with Stalin's ascension, the congresses became symbolic at best.[55] This does not mean that congresses were not important, and CPSU leaders used them to showcase the party's powers or new policies.[55] For instance, the most noteworthy congress since the 1920s was the 20th Congress, in which Khrushchev denounced Stalin in a speech, "The Personality Cult and its Consequences".[55] Despite delegates to congresses losing their powers to hold the party leadership responsible, the congresses functioned as a form of elite-mass communication.[56] At a congress, the party leadership told ordinary CPSU members, and the Soviet people, what the party line would be in the period until the next congress.[56] However, the statements were often vague enough to allow the leadership to enact whatever policy it wished during the years between congresses.[56]

The congress, despite having lost power, gave the leadership formal legitimacy by being reelected, and by dismissing and electing new members to the parties central leadership.[57] It should be noted that candidates who stood for seats to the Central Committee and the Central Auditing Commission were approved beforehand by the Politburo and the Secretariat.[57] A congress could also be an occasion for the pronouncement of new ideological concepts.[57] For instance, at the 22nd Congress Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would see "communism in twenty years",[58] a position later retracted.


A party Conference, officially referred to as a All-Union Conference, was convened in between congresses by the Central Committee to discuss party policy and replenish the Central Committee if personnel change were needed.[59] In total, throughout the CPSU's existence, 19th conferences were convened.[59] The 19th Congress (held in 1952), removed the clause in the party's Statute which stipulated that a party Conference could be convened.[59] The clause was reinstated at the 23rd Congress (held in 1966).[59]

Central Committee[edit]

The Central Committee was a collective organ elected at the annual party congress.[60] It was mandated to meet at least twice a year to act as the party's supreme organ.[60] Over the years, membership in the Central Committee increased; in 1934 there were 71 full members, in 1976 there were 287 full members.[61] Central Committee members were elected to the seats because of the offices they held, not their personal merit.[62] Because of this, the Central Committee was commonly considered an indicator for Sovietologists to study the strength of the different institutions.[62] The Politburo was elected by and reported to the Central Committee.[63] Besides the Politburo the Central Committee also elected the Secretariat and the General Secretary, the de facto leader of the Soviet Union.[63] In 1919–1952 the Orgburo was also elected in the same manner as the Politburo and the Secretariat by the plenums of the Central Committee.[63] In between Central Committee plenums, the Politburo and the Secretariat was legally empowered to make decisions on its behalf.[63] The Central Committee (or the Politburo and/or Secretariat in its behalf) could issue nationwide decisions; decisions on behalf of the party were transmitted from the top to the bottom.[64]

Under Lenin the Central Committee functioned like the Politburo did during the post-Stalin era, as the party's leading collective organ.[65] However, as the membership in the Central Committee steadily increased, its role was eclipsed by the Politburo.[65] Between congresses the Central Committee functioned as the Soviet leadership's source for legitimacy.[65] The decline in the Central Committee's standing began in the 1920s, and it was reduced to a compliant body of the Party leadership during the Great Purge.[65] According to party rules, the Central Committee was to convene at least twice a year to discuss political matters (but not matters relating to military policy).[66] The body remained largely symbolic from Stalin's consolidation, with leading party officials rarely attending the meetings of the Central Committee.[67]

Central Auditing Commission[edit]

The Central Auditing Commission (CAC) was elected by the party congresses, and reported only to the party congress.[68] It had around the same amount of members as the Central Committee.[68] It was responsible for supervising the expeditious and proper handling of affairs by the central bodies of the Party, and audited the accounts of the treasury and the enterprises of the Central Committee.[68] At last, it was responsible for supervising the Central Committee apparatus, making sure that its directives were implemented at that Central Committee directives were implemented legally (on the basis of the party Statute).[68]


The Statute, also referred to as Rules, Charter and Constitution, were the party's by-laws, and controlled life within the CPSU.[69] The 1st Statute was adopted at the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (the forerunner to the CPSU).[69] How the Statute was to be structured and organized led to a schism within the party, leading to the establishment of two competing factions; Bolsheviks (literally majority) and Mensheviks (literally minority).[69] The 1st Statute was based upon Vladimir Lenin's idea of a centralized vanguard party.[69] The 4th Congress, despite a majority of Menshevik delegates, added the concept democratic centralism to Article 2 of the Statute.[70] The 1st Statute lasted until 1919, when the 8th Congress adopted the 2nd Statute.[71] It was nearly five-times longer than the 1st Statute, and contained 66 articles.[71] It was amended at the 9th Congress, and at the 11th Congress the 3rd Statute was adopted ("but it was new in name only", with only minor amendments being made).[72] New statutes were approved at the 17th and 18th Congress respectively.[73] The last party status, which existed until the dissolution of the CPSU, was adopted at the 22nd Congress.[74]

Central Committee apparatus[edit]

General Secretary[edit]


A Politburo resolution to execute 346 "enemies of the CPSU and Soviet Power" who led "counter-revolutionary, right-trotskyite, plotting and spying activities". Signed by Stalin

The Political Bureau (Politburo), known as the Presidium from 1952 to 1966, was the highest party organ when the Congress and the Central Committee were in session.[75] Until 19th Conference (held in 1988), the Politburo alongside the Secretariat controlled appointments and dismissals nationwide.[76] In the post-Stalin period, the Politburo controlled the Central Committee apparatus through two channels; the General Department, which distributed the Politburo's orders to the Central Committee departments, and through the personnel overlap which existed within the Politburo and the Secretariat.[76] This personnel overlap gave the CPSU General Secretary of strengthening his position within the Politburo through the Secretariat.[77] Kirill Mazurov, Politburo member from 1965 to 1978, accused Brezhnev of turning the Politburo into a "second echelon" of power.[77] He was able to accomplish this by discussing policies before Politburo meetings with Mikhail Suslov, Andrei Kirilenko, Fyodor Kulakov and Dmitriy Ustinov among others, who held seats both in the Politburo and the Secretariat.[77] Mazurov's claim was later verified by Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers under Gorbachev, who claimed that Politburo meetings lasted only for 15 minutes because the people close to Brezhnev had already decided on what was to be approved.[77]

The Politburo was "abolished", and replaced by a Presidium at the 19th Congress (held in 1952).[78] In the aftermath the 19th Congress and the 1st Plenum of of the 19th Central Committee, Stalin ordered the creation of the Bureau of the Presidium, which acted as the standing committee of the Presidium.[79] On 6 March 1953, one day after Stalin's death, the Presidium in a joint-session with the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the Council of Ministers, a new and smaller Presidium was elected, and the Bureau of the Presidium was abolished.[80]

The CPSU General Secretary acted until 1990 as the informal chairman of the Politburo throughout most of its existence.[81] However, during its first half of the CPSU's existence, it was chaired by the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars; first by Lenin, Aleksey Rykov, Molotov, Stalin and Malenkov.[81] After 1922, when Lenin was incapacitated due to bad health, Lev Kamenev as Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars chaired the Politburo's meetings.[81] This tradition lasted until Khrushchev's consolidation of power.[81] In the first post-Stalin years, when Malenkov chaired Politburo meetings, Khrushchev as First Secretary signed all Central Committee documents into force.[81] From 1954 until 1958, Khrushchev chaired the Politburo as First Secretary, but in 1958 he dismissed and succeeded Nikolai Bulganin as Chairman of the Council of Ministers.[82] It was during this period that the informal position of Second Secretary (later formalized as Deputy General Secretary) was established.[82] The Second Secretary became responsible for chairing the Secretariat in place of the General Secretary, and when the General Secretary could not chair the meetings of the Politburo, the Second Secretary would take his place.[82] This system survived until the dissolution of the CPSU in 1991.[82]

To be elected to the Politburo, a member had to serve in the Central Committee.[83] The Central Committee elected the Politburo in the aftermath of a party Congress.[83] Members of the Central Committee were given a predetermined list of candidates for the Politburo (having only one candidate for each seat), for this reason the election of the Politburo was usually passed unanimously.[83] The more power the CPSU General Secretary had, the stronger the chance was that the Politburo membership were passed without a fuzz.[83]


The Secretariat headed the CPSU's central apparatus and was solely responsible for the development and implementation of party policies.[84] It was legally empowered to take over the duties and functions of the Central Committee when it was not in plenum (did not hold a meeting).[84] Many members of the Secretariat concurrently held a seat in the Politburo.[85] According to a Soviet textbook on party procedures, the Secretariat's role was that of "leadership of current work, chiefly in the realm of personnel selection and in the organisation of the verification of fulfillment [of party-state decisions]".[85] "Selections of personnel" (Russian: podbor kadrov) in this instance means the maintenance of general standards and the criteria for selecting various personnel. "Verification of fulfillment" (Russian: proverka ispolneniia) of party and state decisions meant that the Secretariat instructed other bodies.[86]

The powers of the Secretariat were weakened under Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Central Committee Commissions took over the functions of the Secretariat in 1988.[87] Yegor Ligachev, a Secretariat member, noted that the changes completely destroyed the Secretariat's hold on power, and made the body almost superfluous.[87] Because of this, the Secretariat, until 1990, barely met.[87] It was revitalised at the 28th Party Congress (held in 1990), and the Deputy General Secretary, became the official Head of the Secretariat.[88]


The Organizational Bureau (Orgburo) existed from 1919 to 1952, and was one of three leading bodies of the party when the Central Committee was not in session.[75] It was responsible for "organizational questions, the recruitment and allocation of personnel, the coordination of activities of party, government and social organizations (e.g. trade unions and youth organizations), improvement to the party's structure, the distribution of information and reports within the party".[83] The 19th Congress abolished the Orgburo, and its duties and responsibilities were taken over by the Secretariat.[83] At the beginning, the Orgburo held three meetings a week, and reported to the Central Committee every second week.[89] Lenin described the relation between the Politburo and the Orgburo as "the Orgburo allocates forces, while the Politburo decides policy".[90] A decision of the Orgburo was implemented by the Secretariat.[90] However, the Secretariat could make decisions in the Orgburo's name without consulting its members, but if one Orgburo objected to a Secretariat resolution the resolution would not be implemented.[90] In the 1920s, if the Central Committee could not convene, the Politburo and the Orgburo would hold a joint-session in its place.[90]

Control Commission[edit]

The Central Control Commission (CCC) functioned as the party's supreme court.[91] was established at the 9th All-Russian Conference in September 1920, but rules organizing its procedure were not enacted before the 10th Congress.[92] The 10th Congress formally established the CCC on all party-levels, and stated that the CCC could only be elected at a party congress or a party conference.[92] The CCC and the CCs were formally independent, but had to make decisions through the party committees (at their level), which led them in practice to lose their administrative independence.[92] At first, the primary responsibility of the CCs were to respond to party complaints, focusing most on party complaints on factionalism and bureucratism.[93] At the 11th Congress, the brief of the CCs were increased, with it now becoming responsible for overseeing party discipline.[94] In a bid to further centralize the powers of the CCC, a Presidium of the CCC was established in 1923 (functioning similar to the Politburo in relation to the Central Committee).[95] Later, at the 18th Congress, party rules regarding the CCC were changed; the CCC was now elected by the Central Committee and was subordinate to the Central Committee.[96]

CCC members could not concurrently be members of the Central Committee.[97] In an effort to create an organizational link between the CCC and other central-level organs, the 9th All-Russian Conference created the joint CC–CCC plenums.[97] The CCC was a powerful organ, with the 10th Congress allowing to expel full and candidate Central Committee members (and members of their subordinate organs) if two-thirds of attendants at a CC–CCC plenum voted for such.[97] At its first such session, in 1921, Lenin tried to persuade the joint plenum to expel Alexander Shliapnikov from the party; instead of expelling him, Shliapnikov was given a "severe reprimand".[97]


The leader of a department was usually given the titles "head".(Russian: zaveduiuschchii),[98] In practice the Secretariat had a major say in the running of the departments; for example, five of eleven secretaries headed their own departments in 1978.[99] But normally specific secretaries were given supervising duties over one or more departments.[99] Each department established its own cells, which specialized in one or more fields.[100] These cells were called sections.[100] During the Gorbachev era, a variety of departments made up the Central Committee apparatus.[101] The Party Building and Cadre Work Department assigned party personnel in the nomenklatura system.[101] The State and Legal Department supervised the armed forces, KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the trade unions, and the Procuracy.[101] Before 1989 the Central Committee had several departments, but several were abolished in that year.[101] Among these departments there was the Economics Department, responsible for the economy as a whole, one for machine building, and one for the chemical industry, and so on.[101] The party abolished these departments in an effort to remove itself from the day-to-day management of the economy in favor of government bodies and a greater role for the market, as a part of the perestroika process.[101] In there place Gorbachev called for the creations of commissions (having the same responsibilities as departments, but giving more independence to the state apparatus), being approved at the 19th Conference (held in 1988).[102] Six commissions were established by late 1988.[102]


Pravda (translates to The Truth) was the leading newspaper in the Soviet Union.[103] The Organizational Department of the Central Committee was the only organ empowered to relieve Pravda editors from their duties.[104] Pravda was at the beginning a project begun by members of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1905.[105] Leon Trotsky was approached about the possibility of running the new paper because of his previous work in Kievan Thought, a Ukrainian paper.[105] The first issue was published on 3 October 1908.[105] The paper was originally published in Lvov, but until the publication of the sixth issue in November 1909, the whole operation was moved to Vienna, Austria-Hungary.[105] During the Russian Civil War, sales of Pravda were curtailed by Izvestia, the government run newspaper.[106] At the time, the average reading figure for Pravda was 130,000.[106] This Pravda (the one headquartered in Vienna) published its last issue in 1912, and was succeeded by a new newspaper, also called Pravda, headquartered in St. Petersburg the same year.[107] This newspaper was dominated by the Bolsheviks.[107] The paper's main goal was to promote Marxist–Leninist philosophy and expose the lies of the bourgeoise.[108] In 1975 the paper reached a circulation of 10.6 million people.[108]

Higher Party School[edit]

The Higher Party School (HPS) was the organ responsible for teaching cadres in the Soviet Union.[109] It was the successor of the Communist Academy which was established in 1918.[109] The HPS itself was established in 1939 as the Moscow Higher Party School, and it offered its students a two-year training course for becoming a Party official.[110] It was reorganized in 1956 to that it could offer more specialized ideological training.[110] In 1956 the school in Moscow was opened for students from socialist countries.[110] The Moscow Higher Party School was the party school with the highest standing.[110] The school itself had eleven faculties until a Central Committee resolution in 1972 which demanded a shake-up in the curriculum.[111] The first regional (schools outside Moscow) Higher Party School was established in 1946[111] By the early 1950s there existed 70 Higher Party Schools.[111] During the reorganization drive of 1956, Khrushchev closed-down thirteen of them, reclassified 29 of them as inter-republican and inter-oblast schools.[111]

Lower-level organization[edit]

Republican and local organization[edit]

The lowest organ (above the primary party organization) was the district-level.[112] Every two years, the local PPO would elect delegates to the district-level party conference.[112] The conference, which was overseen by a secretary from a higher party-level, elected a Party Committee, a First Secretary and re-declared the district’s commitment to the CPSU’s program.[112] In between conferences, the ‘’raion’’ party committee (commonly referred to as ‘’raikom’’) was vested with ultimate authority.[112] It convened at least 6 times a year, to discuss party directives and oversee the implementation of party policies in their respective district ,to oversee the implementation of party directives at the PPO-level, and issuing directives to PPOs.[112] 75–80 percent of raikom members were full members, while the remaining 20–25 were candidate, non-voting members.[112] Raikom members were, more often then not, from the state sector, party sector, Komsomol or the trade unions.[112]

Day-to-day responsibility of the raikom were handed over to a Politburo, usually composed of 12-members.[112] The district-level First Secretary chaired the meetings of the local Politburo and the raikom, and was the direct-link between the district and the higher party echelons.[112] The First Secretary was responsible for operations running smoothly.[112] The raikom headed the local apparat, that is the local agitation department or industry department for instance.[113] A raikom usually had no more than 4–5 departments.[113] Each department was responsible for overseeing the work of the state sector, but not to interfere in their work.[113]

This system remained identical at all other levels of the CPSU hierarchy.[113] The other levels were cities, oblasts (regions), and republics.[113] The district-level elected delegates to a conference, at least held every third year, to elect the party committee (referred as obkom).[113] The only difference between the oblast and the district level was that the oblast had its own Secretariat, and had more departments in its disposal.[113] The oblasts party committee in turn elected delegates to the republican-level Congress, which was held every fifth year.[114] The Congress then elected the Central Committee of the republic, which in turn (just as the district and the oblast), elected a First Secretary and a Politburo.[114] Until 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the only republic which did not have its own republican branch, being instead represented by the CPSU Central Committee.

Primary party organizations[edit]

The primary party organization (PPO) was the lowest level in the CPSU hierarchy.[115] PPO’s were organized cells, consisting of three members or more.[115] A PPO could exist anywhere, in a factory and it a student dormitory for instance.[115] They functioned as the party’s “eyes and ears” at the graasroots-level, and were used to mobilize support for party policies.[115] All CPSU members had to be a member of a local PPO.[116] The size of a PPO varied, from three people to several hundrets.[116] The size of a PPO was decided on its setting.[116] In a large enterprise, a PPO usually had several hundred members.[116] In such cases, the PPO is divided into bureaus based upon production-units.[116] Each is led by an executive committee and an executive committee secretary.[116] Each executive committee is responsible for the PPO executive committee (and its secretary).[116] In small PPO’s, members met periodically, mostly to discuss party policies, ideology or practical matters. In such a case, the PPO secretary was responsible for collecting party dues, reporting to higher organs and to maintain the party records.[116] A secretary could be elected by democratically through a secret ballot, but that was not often the case – in 1979 only 88 out of the over 400,000 PPO’s were elected in this fashion.[116] The remainders were chosen by a higher party organ, and ratified by the general meetings of the PPO.[116] The PPO general meeting was responsible for electing delegates to the party conference at either the district or town-level (depended on where the PPO was located).[117]


CPSU membership card (1989)

Membership in the party was not open. To become a party member, one had to be approved by various committees and one's past was closely scrutinised. As generations grew up never having known anything but the USSR, party membership became something one generally achieved after passing a series of stages. Children would join the Young Pioneers, and then, at the age of 14, might graduate to the Komsomol (Young Communist League). Ultimately, as an adult, if one had shown the proper adherence to party discipline or had the right connections one would become a member of the Communist Party itself. However, membership also had its obligations. The Party expected Komsomol and CPSU members not only to pay dues but also to carry out appropriate assignments and "social tasks" (общественная работа).

In 1918 Party membership stood at approximately 200,000. In the late 1920s under Stalin, the Party engaged in a heavy recruitment campaign (the "Lenin Levy") of new members from both the working class and rural areas. This represented both an attempt to "proletarianize" the Party and an attempt by Stalin to strengthen his base by outnumbering the Old Bolsheviks and reducing their influence in the Party. In 1925 the Party had 1,025,000 members in a Soviet population of 147 million. In 1927, after an intensive recruitment campaign, membership rose to 1,200,000. By 1933, the party had approximately 3.5 million members, but as a result of the Great Purge of 1936–1939 party membership reduced to 1.9 million by 1939.[citation needed] (Nicholas DeWitt gives 2.307 million members in total in 1939, including candidate members, compared with 1.535 million in 1929 and 6.3 million in 1947.) In 1986, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had over 19 million members or approximately 10% of the USSR's adult population. Over 44% of party members were classified as industrial workers, and 12% as collective farmers. The CPSU had party organizations in 14 of the USSR's 15 republics. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic itself had no separate Communist Party until 1990 as the CPSU controlled affairs there directly.


The All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League, commonly referred to as Komsomol, was the party's youth wing.[118] The Komsomol acted under the direction of the CPSU Central Committee.[118] It was responsible for indoctrinating youths in communist ideology, while also acting as an organizer of social events.[119] It was closely modeled on the CPSU; nominally the highest body was the Congress, followed by the Central Committee and the Secretariat and the Politburo.[118] The Komsomol participated in nationwide policy-making by letting the Komsomol appoint members to the collegiums of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education, the Ministry of Education and the State Committee for Physical Culture and Sports.[118] The organization's newspaper was the Komsomolskaya Pravda.[120] The First Secretary and the Second Secretary were members of the Central Committee more-often then not, but were never elected to the Politburo.[120] However, at the republican-level, several Komsomol first secretaries were appointed to the Politburo.[120]



Marxism–Leninism was the cornerstone of Soviet ideology.[121] It explained and legitimised the CPSU's right to rule, while explaining its role as a vanguard party.[121] For instance, the ideology explained that the CPSU's policies, even if they were unpopular, were correct because the party was enlightened.[121] It was represented to be the only truth in Soviet society, and with it rejecting the notion of multiple truths.[121] In short, it was used to justify CPSU rule and Soviet policy, however, this doesn't mean that Marxism–Leninism was used as a means to an end.[121] The relationship between ideology and decision-making was at best ambivalent, with most policy decisions taken in the light of the continued, permanent development of Marxism–Leninism.[122] Marxism–Leninism, as the only truth, could not by its very nature become outdated.[123]

Despite having evolved over the years, Marxism–Leninism had several central tenets.[124] The main tenet was the party's status as sole ruling party.[124] The 1977 Constitution referred to the party as "The leading and guiding force of Soviet society, and the nucleus of its political system, of all state and public organizations, is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."[124] State socialism was essential, and from Stalin until Gorbachev official discourse considered private social and economic activity as retarding the development of collective consciousness and of the economy.[125] Gorbachev supported privatization to a degree, but based his policies on Lenin's and Bukharin's view on the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, and supported complete state ownership over the commanding heights of the economy.[125] Unlike liberalism, Marxism–Leninism stressed not the importance of the individual, but rather the role of the individual as a member of a collective.[125] Thus defined, individuals had only the right to freedom of expression if it safeguarded the interests in a collective.[125] For instance, in the 1977 Constitution it was stated that every person had the right to express their opinion, the catch being that the opinion could only be expressed if it was in accordance with the "general interests of Soviet society."[125] In short, the amount of rights granted to an individual was decided by the state, and could be taken away by the state as it saw fit.[125] Soviet Marxism–Leninism justified nationalism, and the media portrayed every victory of the Soviet Union as a victory for the communist movement as a whole.[125] In large parts, Soviet nationalism was based upon ethnic Russian nationalism.[125] Marxism–Leninism stressed the importance of the worldwide conflict between capitalism and socialism, and Soviet press talked about progressive and reactionary forces, while claiming that socialism was on the verge of victory; that the "correlations of forces" were in the Soviet Union's favour.[125] The ideology professed state atheism, and members were not allowed to be religious.[126] At last, Marxism–Leninism believed in the feasibility of communist mode of production, and all policies were justifiable if it contributed to the Soviet Union's reaching that stage.[127]


In Marxist philosophy, Leninism is the body of political theory for the democratic organisation of a revolutionary vanguard party, and the achievement of a dictatorship of the proletariat, as political prelude to the establishment of the socialist mode of production, developed by Lenin.[128] Since Karl Marx barely, if ever wrote about how the socialist mode of production would look like or function, these tasks were left for Lenin to solve.[128] His main contribution to Marxist thought is the concept of the vanguard party of the working class.[128] The vanguard party was conceived to be a highly-knit centralized organization which was led by intellectuals, rather than by the working class itself.[128] The party was open only to a small amount of the workers, the reason being that the workers in Russia still had not developed class consciousness and therefore needed to be educated to reach such a state.[128] Lenin believed that the vanguard party could initiate policies in the name of the working class even if the working class did not support them, since the vanguard party would know what was best for the workers, since the party functionaries had attained consciousness.[128]

Leninism was by definition authoritarian.[128] Lenin, in light of the Marx's theory of the state (which views the state as an oppressive organ of the ruling class), had no qualms of forcing change upon the country.[128] He viewed the dictatorship of the proletariat, in contrast to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, as the dictatorship of the majority.[128] The repressive powers of the state were to be used to transform the country, and to strip of the former ruling class of their wealth.[128] Lenin believed that the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode of production would last for a long period.[129] In contrast to Karl Marx, who believed that the socialist revolution would be composed of and led by the working class alone, Lenin argued that a socialist revolution did not necessarily need to be led or composed of by the working class alone, instead contending that a revolution needed to be led by the oppressed classes of society, which in the case of Russia, was the peasant class.[130]


Stalinism, while not an ideology per se, refers to the thoughts and policies of Stalin

Stalinism, while not an ideology per se, refers to Stalin's thoughts and policies.[131] Stalin's introduction of the concept "Socialism in One Country" in 1924 was a major turning point in Soviet ideological discourse.[131] The Soviet Union did not need a socialist world revolution to construct a socialist society, Stalin claimed.[131] Four years later, Stalin initiated his "Second Revolution" with the introduction of state socialism and central planning.[131] In the early-1930s, he initiated collectivization of Soviet agriculture, by de-privatizing agriculture, but not turning it under the responsibility of the state, per se, instead creating peasant cooperatives.[131] With the initiation of his "Second Revolution", Stalin launched the "Cult of Lenin" and a cult of personality centered upon himself.[131] For instance, the name of the city of Petrograd was changed to Leningrad, the town of Lenin's birth was renamed Ulyanov (Lenin's birth-name), the Order of Lenin became the highest state award and portraits of Lenin were hanged up everywhere; in public squares, factories and offices etc.[132] The increasing bureaucracy which followed after the introduction of a state socialist economy was at complete odds with the Marxist notion of "the withering away of the state".[133] Stalin tried to explain the reasoning behind it at the 16th Congress (held in 1930);[133]

We stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which represents the mightiest and most powerful authority of all forms of State that have ever existed. The highest development of the State power for the withering away of State power —this is the Marxian formula. Is this "contradictory"? Yes, it is "contradictory." But this contradiction springs from life itself and reflects completely Marxist dialectic."[133]

The idea that the state would wither away was later abandoned by Stalin at the 18th Congress (held in 1939), in which he expressed confidence that the state would exist, even if the Soviet Union reached communism, as long as it was encircled by capitalism.[134] Two key concepts were created in the later half of his rule; the "two camp" theory and that of "capitalist encirclement".[133] The threat of capitalism was used to strengthen Stalin's personal powers, and Soviet propaganda began making a direct link with Stalin and stability in society, claiming that the country would crumble without the leader.[133] Stalin deviated greatly from classical Marxism when it came to "subjective factors", claiming that party members, whatever rank, had to profess fanatic adherence to the party's line and ideology, if not those policies would fail.[133]


Dictatorship of the proletariat[edit]

"Either the dictatorship of the landowners and capitalists, or the dictatorship of the proletariat ... There is no middle course ... There is no middle course anywhere in the world, nor can there be."

—Lenin, claiming that people had only two choices; between two different, but distinct class dictatorships.[135]

Lenin, supporting Marx's view of the state, believed democracy to be unattainable anywhere in the world before the proletariat seized power.[135] According to Marxist theory, the state is a vehicle for oppression and is headed by a ruling class.[135] He believed that by his time, the only viable solution was dictatorship since the war was heading into a final conflict between the "progressive forces of socialism and the degenerate forces of capitalism."[136] The Russian Revolution was by 1917, already a failure according to its original aim which was to act as an inspiration for a world revolution.[136] The initial anti-statist posture and the active campaigning for direct democracy was replaced, because of Russia's level of development, with, according to their own assessments, dictatorship.[136] The reasoning being Russia's lack of development, its status as the sole socialist state in the world, its encirclement by imperialist powers and its internal encirclement by the peasantry.[137]

Marx, similar to Lenin, did not care if a bourgeoise state was ruled accordance with a republican, parliamentary or a constitutional monarchial system since in essence this did not change the overall situation.[138] These systems, even if they were ruled by a small clique or ruled through mass participation, were in the last analysis all, by definition, dictatorships of the bourgeoise who by their very nature implemented policies in defense of capitalism.[139] However, there was a difference; Lenin, after the failures of the world revolutions, argued that this did not necessarily have to change under the dictatorship of the proletariat.[140] The reasoning came from wholly practical considerations; the majority of the country's inhabitants were not communists, neither could the party reintroduce parliamentary democracy since that was neither in sync with their ideology and would lead to the party losing power.[140] He therefore concluded that "The form of government has absolutely nothing do to with" the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[140] Bukharin and Trotsky agreed with Lenin, both claiming that the revolution had only destroyed the old, but failing completely in creating anything sort of new.[141] Lenin had now concluded that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not alter the relationship of power between men, but rather "transform their productive relations so that, in the long run, the realm of necessity could be overcome and, with that, genuine social freedom realised."[142] It was in the period 1920–1921, that Soviet leaders and ideologists began differentiating between socialism and communism, hitherto the two terms had been used interchangeably and used to explain the same things.[142] From then, the two terms meant two different things; Russia was in the transition from capitalism to socialism (referred to interchangeably under Lenin as the dictatorship of the proletariat), socialism being the intermediate stage to communism, and communism was considered the last stage of social development.[142] By now, the party leaders believed that universal mass participation and true democracy could only take form in the last stage, because of Russia's backward state.[142]

"[Because] the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, so corrupted in parts ... that an organization taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class."

—Lenin, explaining why the regime had become increasingly dictatorial.[143]

In early Bolshevik discourse, the term dictatorship of the proletariat, was of little significance, and the few time it was mentioned, it was likened to the form of government which had existed in the Paris Commune.[142] However, with the ensuing Russian Civil War and the social and material devastation that followed, its meaning was transformed; from commune-type democracy to rule by iron-discipline.[144] By now, Lenin had concluded that only a proletarian regime as oppressive as its opponents could survive in this world.[145] The powers previously bestowed upon the Soviets were now given to the Council of People's Commissars, the central government, which was in turn to be governed by "an army of steeled revolutionary Communists [by Communists he referred to the Party]".[143] In a letter to Gavril Myasnikov, Lenin in late 1920 explained his new reinterpretation of the term dictatorship of the proletariat;[146]

"Dictatorship means nothing more nor less than authority untrammelled by any laws, absolutely unrestricted by any rules whatever, and based directly on force. The term 'dictatorship' has no other meaning but this."[146]

Lenin justified these policies by claiming that all states were class states by nature, and that these states were maintained through class struggle.[146] This meant that the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union could only be "won and maintained by the use of violence against the bourgeoise".[146] The main problem with this analysis is that the Party came to view anyone opposing or holding alternate views of the party as bourgeoise.[146] However, the worst enemy remained the moderates, which were 'objectively' considered to be "the real agents of the bourgeoise in the working class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class".[147] In short, bourgeoise became synonymous with opponent and with people who disagreed with the party in general.[148] These oppressive measures led to another reinterpretation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and socialism in general; it was now defined as a purely economic system.[149] Slogans and theoretical works about democratic mass participation and collective decision-making were now replaced with texts which supported authoritarian management.[149] Considering the situation, the party believed it has to use the same powers as the bourgeoise to transform Russia, there was no other alternative.[150] Lenin began arguing that the proletariat, similar to the bourgeoise, did not have a single preference for a form of government, and because of that dictatorship was acceptable to both the party and the proletariat.[151] In a meeting with party officials, Lenin stated that (in line with his economist view of socialism) that "Industry is indispensable, democracy is not", further arguing that "we [the Party] do not promise any democracy or any freedom."[151]


"Imperialism is capitalism at stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts as begun; in which divisions of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed."

—Lenin, citing the main features of capitalism in the age of imperialism in Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism.[152]

The Marxist theory on imperialism was conceived by Lenin in his book, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism (published in 1917).[153] It was written in response to the theoretical crisis within Marxist thought, which occurred due to capitalism' recovery in the 19th century.[153] According to Lenin, imperialism was a specific stage of development of capitalism; a stage he referred to as state monopoly capitalism.[153] The Marxist movement was split on how to solve capitalism' resurgence and revitalisation after the great depression of the late-19th century.[154] Eduard Bernstein, from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP), considered capitalism' revitalisation as proof that capitalism was evolving into a more humane system, further adding that the basic aims of socialists were not to overthrow the state, but rather to take power through elections.[154] On the other hand, Karl Kautsky, from the SDP, held a highly dogmatic view, claiming that there was no crisis within Marxist theory.[154] Both of them, however, denied or belittled the role of class contradictions in society after the crisis.[154] In contrast, Lenin believed that capitalism' resurgence was the beginning of a new phase of capitalism; this stage being created because of a strengthening of class contradiction, not because of its reduction.[154]

Lenin did not know when imperialist stage of capitalism began, and claimed it would be foolish too look for a specific year, however he does assert it began at the beginning of the 20th century (at least in Europe).[152] Lenin believed that the economic crisis of 1900 accelerated and intensified the concentration of industry and banking, which led to the transformation the finance capital connection to industry into the monopoly of large banks."[155] In Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin wrote; "the twentieth century marks the turning-point from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital."[155] Lenin's defines imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism.[156]

Peaceful coexistence[edit]

"The loss by imperialism of its dominating role in world affairs and the utmost expansion of the sphere in which the laws of socialist foreign policy operate are a distinctive feature of the present stage of social development. The main direction of this development is toward even greater changes in the correlation of forces in the world arena in favour of socialism."

Nikolay Inozemtsev, a Soviet foreign policy analyst, referring to series of events (which he believed) would lead to the ultimate victory of socialism.[157]

"Peaceful coexistence" was an ideological concept introduced under Khrushchev's rule.[158] While the concept has been interpreted by fellow communists as proposing an end to the conflict between the systems of capitalism and socialism, Khrushchev saw it instead as a continuation of the conflict in every area with the exception in the military field.[159] The concept claimed that the two systems were developed "by way of diametrically opposed laws", which led to "opposite principles in foreign policy."[160]

The concept was steeped in Leninist and Stalinist thought.[160] Lenin believed that international politics were dominated by class struggle, and Stalin stressed in the 1940s the growing polarization which was occuring in the capitalist and socialist systems.[160] Khrushchev's peaceful coexistence was based on practical changes which had occurred; he accused the old "two camp" theory of neglecting the non-aligned movement and the national liberation movements.[160] Khrushchev considered these "grey areas", in which the conflict between capitalism and socialism would be fought.[160] He still stressed that the main contradiction in international relations were those of capitalism and socialism.[160] The Soviet Government under Khrushchev stressed the importance of peaceful coexistence, claiming it had to form the basis of Soviet foreign policy.[160] Failure to do, they believed, would lead to nuclear conflict.[160] Despite this, Soviet theorists still considered peaceful coexistence as a continuation of the class struggle between the capitalist and socialist worlds, just not one based on armed conflict.[160] Khrushchev believed that the conflict, in its current phase, was mainly economical.[160]

The emphasise on peaceful coexistence did not mean that the Soviet Union accepted a static world, with clear lines.[160] They continued to upheld the creed that socialism was inevitable, and they sincerely believed that the world had reached a stage in which the "correlations of forces" were moving towards socialism.[160] In addition, with the establishment of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia, Soviet foreign policy-planners believed that capitalism had lost its dominance as an economic system.[160]

Socialism in One Country[edit]

The concept was developed by Bukharin and Stalin

The concept of "Socialism in One Country" was conceived by Stalin in his struggle against Leon Trotsky and his concept of permanent revolution.[161] In 1924, Trotsky published his pamphlet Lessons of October in which he stated that socialism in the Soviet Union would fail because of the backward state of economic development unless a world revolution began.[161] Stalin responded to Trotsky's pamphlet with his article, "October and Comrade Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution" .[162] In it, Stalin stated, that he did not believe an inevitable conflict between the working class and the peasants would take place, further adding that "socialism in one country is completely possible and probable".[162] Stalin held the view common amongst most Bolsheviks at the time; there was possibility of real success for socialism in the Soviet Union despite the country's backwardness and international isolation.[162] While Grigoriy Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin, together with Stalin, opposed Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, they diverged on how socialism could be built.[162] According to Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev supported the resolution of the 14th Conference (held in 1925) which stated that "we cannot complete the building of socialism due to our technological backwardness."[162] Despite the rather cynical attitude, Zinoviev and Kamenev did believe that a defective form of socialism could be constructed.[162] At the 14th Conference, Stalin reiterated his position, claiming that socialism in one country was feasible despite the capitalist blockade of the country.[163] After the conference, Stalin wrote "Concerning the Results of the XIV Conference of the RCP(b)", in which he stated that the peasantry would not turn against the socialist system because he believed they had a self-interest in preserving.[163] The contradictions which would arise with the peasantry during the socialist transition, Stalin surmised, could "be overcome by our own efforts".[163] He concluded that the only viable threat to socialism in the Soviet Union was a military intervention.[164]

In late 1925, Stalin received a letter from a party official which stated that his position of "Socialism in One Country" was in contradiction with Friedrich Engels own writings on the subject.[164] Stalin countered, stating that Engels' writings 'reflected' "the era of pre-monopoly capitalism, the pre-imperialist era when there were not yet the conditions of an uneven, abrupt development of the capitalist countries."[164] From 1925 onwards, Bukharin began writing extensively on the subject, and in 1926, Stalin wrote On Questions of Leninism, which contained his best-known writings on the subject.[164] Trotsky, with the publishing of Leninism, began countering Bukharin's and Stalin's arguments, claiming that socialism in one country was possible, but only in the short-run, and claimed that without a world revolution it would be impossible to safeguard the Soviet Union from the "restoration of bourgeoise relations".[164] Zinoviev on the other hand, disagreed with both Trotsky and Bukharin and Stalin, holding instead steadfast to Lenin's own position from 1917 to 1922, and continued to claim that only a defecting form of socialism could be constructed in the Soviet Union without a world revolution.[165] Bukharin, by now, began arguing for the creation of an autarkic economic model, while Trotsky, in contrast, claimed that the Soviet Union had to participate in the international division of labour to develop.[166] In contrast to Trotsky and Bukharin, Stalin did not believe a world revolution was possible, claiming in 1938 that a world revolution was in fact impossible, and claiming that Engels was wrong on the matter.[134] At the 18th Congress, Stalin took the theory to its inevitable conclusion, claiming that the communist mode of production could be conceived in one country.[134] He rationalized this by claiming that the state could exist in a communist society, as long as the Soviet Union was encircled by capitalism.[134] However, surprisingly, with the establishment of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe, Stalin claimed that socialism in one country was only possible in a large country like the Soviet Union, and that the other states, in order to survive, had to follow the Soviet line.[167]

Reasons for demise[edit]

Western view[edit]

There were few, in any, who believed that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse by 1985.[168] The economy was stable (but stagnating), the political situation was calm (because of twenty years of systematic oppression against any threat to one-party rule) and the country itself was in its peak of influence.[168] The immediate causes for the Soviet Union's dissolution was the policies and thoughts of Mikhail Gorbachev, the CPSU General Secretary.[168] His policies of perestroika and glasnost tried to revitalize the Soviet economy and the social and political culture of the country.[168] Throughout his rule, he put more emphasize on democratizing the Soviet Union, because he believed the Soviet Union had the lost its moral legitimacy to rule.[168] These policies led to the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, which indirectly destabilized Gorbachev's and the CPSU's control over the country.[169] In the words of Archie Brown;[169]

"The expectations of, again most notably, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians were enormously enhanced by what they saw happening in the 'outer empire' [Eastern Europe] and they began to believe that they could remove themselves from the 'inner empire'. In truth, a democratised Soviet Union was incompatible with denial of the Baltic states' independence for, to the extent that those Soviet republics became democratic, their opposition to remaining in a political entity whose centre was Moscow would become increasingly evident. Yet, it was not preordained that the entire Soviet Union would break up."[169]

However, Brown argues that the system didn't need to collapse, or collapse in the particular way it did.[169] The democratization from above weakened the party's control over the country, and put it on the defensive.[169] A different leader, Brown adds, would in all probability have oppressed the opposition, and moved forward with economic reform.[169] Nonetheless, Gorbachev accepted that the people sought a different road, and consented to the Soviet dissolution in 1991.[169] He claims that because of its peaceful fall, the fall of Soviet communism is "one of the great success stories of 20th century politics."[169] According to Lars T. Lih, the Soviet Union collapsed because people stopped believing in its ideology, claiming;[170]

"When in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed not with a bang but a whimper, this unexpected outcome was partly the result of the previous deenchantment of the narrative of class leadership. The Soviet Union had always been based on fervent belief in this narrative in its various permutations. When the binding power of the narrative dissolved, the Soviet Union itself dissolved."[170]

According to the Communist Party of China[edit]

The first researches on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc in general, were in many ways vey simple, and did not take into account several factors.[171] However, these examinations became more advanced by the 1990s, and unlike most Western scholarship which focuses on the role of Gorbachev and his reform efforts, the CPC looked at "core (political) life and death issues" so that the Communist Party of China (CPC) could learn from them, and not do the same mistakes.[172] Following the CPSU's demise and the Soviet Union's collapse, the CPC's analysis began treating more systematic causes, unlike Western scholarship which focuses on, more-often then not, the immediate causes of the USSR's collapse.[173] Several leading CPC officials began hailing Nikita Khrushchev's rule, claiming he was the first reformer, and that if he had continued after 1964 the Soviet Union would not have witnessed the Era of Stagnation began under Leonid Brezhnev, and continued under Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.[174] On the economic front, the main failure was the political leadership never pursued any reforms to tackle the economic malaise which had taken hold, dismissing certain techniques as capitalist, and never disentangling the planned economy from the socialism.[175] Xu Zhixin, from the CASS Institute of Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, argued that Soviet planners laid too much emphasise on heavy industry, which in turn led to shortages of consumer goods—unlike his counterparts, Xu argued that the shortages of consumer goods was not an error, but "was a consciously planned feature of of the system".[175] Other CPSU failures were pursing the policy of state socialism, the high spending on the military-industrial complex, low tax base and the subsidizing of the economy.[175] When Gorbachev came to power and introduced his economic reforms, the CPC argues, in the words of David Shambaugh, that they were "to little, too late, and too fast".[176]

"In my opinion, the fundamental cause of the drastic changes in the Soviet Union and East European countries at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s was the loss of dynamism of the Stalin–Soviet Socialist Model ... The demerits of this model were institutional and fundamental—not a single reform after Stalin's death brought fundamental changes to the Stalin–Soviet Socialist Model. This model, with its problems and contradictions accumulating by day, was finally in crisis, and rthe people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe lost their confidence in it. The [only] way out was to abandon the Stalin–Soviet Socialist Model and seek another road for social development."

Lu Nanqun, a Sovietologist from CASS.[177]

While the majority of CPC researchers criticize the CPSU's economic policies, many have criticized what they see as "Soviet totalitarianism".[178] They accuse Joseph Stalin of creating a system of mass terror, intimidation, annulling the democracy component of democratic centralism and giving singular emphasize on centralism which led to the creation of a inner-party dictatorship.[178] Other points were Russian nationalism, not separating between the party and state bureaucracies, suppressing non-Russian ethnicities, distorting the economy through the introduction of overcentralization and the collectivization of agriculture.[178] According to CPC researcher Xiao Guisen, Stalin's policies had lasting effects, leading to "stunted economic growth, tight surveillance of society, a lack of democracy in decision-making, an absence of the rule of law, the burden of bureaucracy, the CPSU's alienation from people's concerns, and an accumulation of ethnic tensions."[179] Stalin's effect on ideology was also criticized, with several researchers accusing his policies of being "leftist", "dogmatist" and being a deviation "from tur Marxism–Leninism.[177] He is criticized for initiating the "bastardization of Leninism", of deviating from true democratic centralism by establishing one-man rule and destroying all inner-party consultation, of misinterpreting Vladimir Lenin's theory of imperialism and for supporting foreign revolutionary movements only when the Soviet Union could get something out of it.[177] Yu Sui, a CPC theoretician, went so far as to claim that "the collapse of the Soviet Union and CPSU is a punishment for its past wrongs!"[177] Similarly, Brezhnev, Mikhail Suslov, Alexei Kosygin and Konstantin Chernenko have been criticized for being "dogmatic, ossified, inflexible, [for having a] bureaucratic ideology and thinking", while Yuri Andropov is depicting by some of having the potential of becoming a new Khrushchev if he hadn't died early.[180]

While the CPC concur with Gorbachev's assessment that the CPSU needed internal reform, they do not agree on how it was implemented, criticizing his idea of "humanistic and democratic socialism", of negating the leading role of the CPSU, of negating Marxism, of negating the analysis of class contradictions and class struggle, of negating the "ultimate socialist goal of realizing communism" etc.[181] Therefore, unlike the other leaders, Gorbachev is criticized for pursuing the wrong reformist policies, of being too flexible and too rightist.[181] As the CPC Organization Department noted, "What Gorbachev in fact did was not to transform the CPSU by correct principles—indeed the Soviet Communist Party needed transformation—but instead he, step-by-step, and ultimately, eroded the ruling party's dominance in ideological, political and organizational aspects."[181]

Other criticism of the CPSU was not taking enough care in building the primary party organization, and not having inner-party democracy.[182] Others, more radically, concur with Milovan Đilas assessment, claiming that a new class was established within the central party leadership of the CPSU, claiming that a "corrupt and privileged class" had developed because of the nomenklatura system.[182] Other criticized the special privileges bestowed on the CPSU elite, criticizing the nomenklatura system (which some claimed had rotten continuously since Stalin's rule), and the relation between the Soviet military and the CPSU; unlike in China, the Soviet military was a state institution (in China its a party institution).[183] On the foreign policy front, the CPC criticizes the CPSU of pursing Soviet imperialism.[184]


  1. ^ Sometimes referred to as the Soviet Communist Party (SCP). Note, the party had four different names during its existence;
    • Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks) (1912–1918)
    • Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) (1918–1925)
    • All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) (1925–1952)
    • Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1952–1991)
  2. ^ The Soviet Republics of Armenia, Estonia and Georgia all boycotted the 1991 referendum.



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Articles and journal entries

External links[edit]

Media related to Communist Party of the Soviet Union at Wikimedia Commons