Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
|Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
Верховный Совет СССР
|Legislative body in the Soviet Union|
|Chambers||Soviet of Nationalities
Soviet of the Union
|Preceded by||Congress of Soviets and the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union|
|Seats||542 (at dissolution)
1500 (at peak)
|Voting system||Direct non-competitive elections (1936—1989)
Elected by Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union (1989—1991)
|Last election||4 March 1984 (last direct election)
25 May 1990 (last - and only - indirect election)
|Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow Kremlin|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Soviet Union
The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (Russian: Верхо́вный Сове́т СССР, Verkhóvnyj Sovét SSSR) was the highest legislative body in the Soviet Union and the only one with the power to pass constitutional amendments. It elected the Presidium, formed the Council of Ministers, the Supreme Court, and appointed the Procurator General of the USSR.
The Supreme Soviet was made up of two chambers, each with equal legislative powers, with members elected for four-year terms:
- The Soviet of the Union, elected on the basis of population with one deputy for every 300,000 people in the Soviet federation
- The Soviet of Nationalities, supposed to represent the ethnic populations, with members elected on the basis of 32 deputies from each union republic, 11 from each autonomous republic, five from each autonomous oblast (region), and one from each autonomous okrug (district). The administrative units of the same type would send in the same number of members regardless of their size or population.
Under the Soviet constitutions of 1936 and 1977, the Supreme Soviet was imbued with great lawmaking powers. In practice, however, it functioned as a rubber stamp for decisions already made by the CPSU. This later became common practice in all Communist countries. However, with the advent of Perestroika and the partially free elections in 1989, the Supreme Soviet acquired a greater role in the government.
After 1989 it consisted of 542 deputies (down from previously 1,500). The meetings of the body were also more frequent, from six to eight months a year. The Presidium carried out the day-to-day operations of the Supreme Soviet when it was not in session.
In the Soviet system, the predominant foreign policy actor was the General Secretary of the CPSU, who also was the preeminent figure in the party's Politburo (the highest executive body of the party). In 1988 constitutional revisions gave the Supreme Soviet new powers to oversee foreign policy and some input in policy formulation.
When initially established in 1938, there were only four standing commissions attached to each chamber of the Supreme Soviet, dealing with mandates, legislative proposals, budget, and international affairs respectively. No more than 89 deputies (7.8 percent of the total) served on them. An economic commission attached to the Council of Nationalities was added in February 1957, and a number of the other commissions established sub-commissions to assist them in their work.
Apart from this, however, the system remained essentially unchanged until August 1966, when far-reaching changes were made in both the number of commissions and the range of activities that fell within their competence. The economic commission of the Council of Nationalities was abolished; the budget commission attached to both chambers became a planning-budget commission; and six sectoral commissions came into existence, most of them corresponding to the sub-commissions that had developed under the auspices of the economic commission of the Council of Nationalities.
Standing commissions have since then been established on youth (December 1968); conservation (July 1970, when one commission was divided into separate parts: an industry commission and a transport and communications commission); consumer goods (July 1974); women's work, living conditions and the protection of motherhood and childhood (October 1976); and science and technology (April 1979, formerly combined with education and culture). Each commission had 35 members in each chamber, except the planning-budget commission, which had 45. There being sixteen commissions altogether, the result was to accord membership to 1,140 deputies in all, or 76% of the total.
Chairmen of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1938–1989)
- Mikhail Kalinin 1938–1946
- Nikolay Shvernik 1946–1953
- Kliment Voroshilov 1953–1960
- Leonid Brezhnev 1960–1964
- Anastas Mikoyan 1964–1965
- Nikolai Podgorny 1965–1977
- Leonid Brezhnev (second term) 1977–1982
- Yuri Andropov 1982–1984
- Konstantin Chernenko 1984–1985
- Andrey Gromyko 1985–1988
- Mikhail Gorbachev 1 October 1988 – 25 May 1989
Chairmen of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1989–1991)
- The Congress of Soviets was the supreme governing body from 1917 to 1936. In 1989-1991 a smillar. but not identical (elected directly by the people instead of local Soviets) structure (Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union) was the supreme governing body.
- Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, entry on "Верховный Совет СССР", available online here
- Peter Lentini (1991) in: The Journal of Communist Studies, Vol. 7, No.1, pp. 69-94
- Georgadze, 1975, pp. 117-126; Vedomosti, March 21, 1979, Arts. 286, 289-303, 306 and 309-323).