Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
|Status||In practice, the strongest organ in Soviet politics|
|Elected by||the Central Committee|
|Responsible to||the Central Committee|
|Staraya Square, Moscow, Russian SFSR|
The Politburo (Russian: Политбюро, IPA: [pəlʲɪtbʲʉˈro], full: Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, abbreviated Политбюро ЦК КПСС, Politbyuro TsK KPSS), known as the Presidium from 1952 to 1966, functioned as the central policymaking and governing body of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
On August 18, 1917 Lenin set up a political bureau - known first as Narrow composition and, after October 23, 1917, as Political bureau - specifically to direct the Revolution, but this precursor did not outlast the event; the Central Committee continued with the political functions. However, due to practical reasons, usually less than half of the members attended the regular Central Committee meetings during this time, even though they decided all key questions.
The 8th Party Congress in 1919 formalized this reality and re-established what would later on become the true center of political power in the Soviet Union. It ordered the Central Committee to appoint a five-member Politburo to decide on questions too urgent to await full Central Committee deliberation. The original members of the Politburo were Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Krestinsky.
In order to minimize personal clashes and avoid factionalism there was a convention of procedure which mandated that strong criticisms be circulated beforehand to avoid conflict during actual meetings.
In October 1952, the 19th Party Congress reorganised party leadership. The Politbureau was expanded and renamed Presidium. A more constrictive party's central body, the Bureau of Presidium, was also created but soon dissolved after Stalin's death in March 1953. The Presidium was reverted to the name Political bureau in April 1966.
Duties and responsibilities
The General Secretary was the Politburo's unofficial chairman, and first amongst equals. During Joseph Stalin's rule, the Politburo, and the Secretariat and Orgburo, lost its status as collective organs with de facto ruling capabilities. The bodies became advisory organs, and formal meetings of the Politburo were rarely held. For instance, Stalin would often consult a case with one Politburo member, or several, in such informal meetings as dinner at Stalin's home. At these meetings, Stalin discussed with the Politburo member the field for which he was responsible (members were responsible for a specific field). The Politburo was broken down by the establishment of several sub-institutions which had no ties to each other with the exception of them being directly responsible to Stalin himself. While meetings of collective organs, such as the Politburo, could become very lively, the liveliness always ended when Stalin entered the discussions – he was in total control. Decisions within the post-Stalin Politburo were reached through consensus most of the time, but issues could also be resolved by a democratic vote by the members for a certain motion. Reaching consensus between the various members was easier under Leonid Brezhnev's rule than under Mikhail Gorbachev, whose rule was marked by radical reform which threatened the interest of several institutional players within the system. The Secretariat was responsible for enacting the decisions of the Politburo.
Election of members
The body was made up of the top members of the Central Committee. In theory, it acted as the political bureau (hence Politburo) of the Central Committee, elected by them to direct the Party between the sessions of the committee and with a mandate that only covered the Party. The Politburo was responsible to, and its membership was subject to, the approval of the Central Committee.
In reality, the Politburo was a self-perpetuating body that served as the executive branch of the Soviet Union, and its decisions de facto had the force of law. It oversaw the operations of the Committee and made all major policy decisions, which it then passed down through the Central Committee, the Supreme Soviet and the Party Congress. Its control extended from the Party and into government because Party personnel held all key government posts and party discipline therefore ensured that Politburo policy was implemented by all government organizations. One of the few known instances of the Central Committee overruling the Presidium (as the Politburo was known) was the defeat of the so-called Anti-Party Group in 1957.
The Politburo had both full and candidate (non-voting) members. The actual size of the Politburo varied, but it usually consisted of fourteen full and eight candidate members. Although it had no formal head, the General Secretary of the Party, who was almost always head of the Central Committee, functioned as its de facto chairman. In practice the most powerful Politburo members also had membership of the Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee, the General Secretary leading of this group. Those who had seats on only one of these two bodies had less influence. Only a few women ever became members of the Politburo.
In the post-Stalin period, the General Secretary could not appoint new members to the Politburo without support from a majority within the Politburo itself. If supported, the appointment had to be ratified by a Central Committee plenum. The only way for a General Secretary to alter the Politburo membership in any specific way was through the Party Congress.
Standing Commissions of Politburo
First commissions (1937-?)
- on matters of secret nature and foreign policy
- on matters of economic nature
Commissions after World War II
- on internal affairs (1945-52)
- on internal affairs (1952-53)
- on matters of defense (1952-53)
- on ideological matters (1952-53)
- Organisation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
- List of members in the 1910s
- List of members in the 1920s
- List of members in the 1930s
- List of members in the 1940s
- List of members in the 1950s
- List of members in the 1960s
- List of members in the 1970s
- List of members in the 1980s
- List of members in the 1990s
- Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
- Leadership of the CPSU Full list of members and candidate members of the Politburo includes dates on the body and year of death (or execution).
- Succession of Power in the USSR from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives