Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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For other usage of the initials CPSU see CPSU (disambiguation).

Template:Communism The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Russian: Коммунисти́ческая Па́ртия Сове́тского Сою́за = КПСС) was the name used by the successors of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party from 1952 to 1991, but the wording Communist Party was present in the party's name since 1918 when the Bolsheviks became the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). In 1925 the party became the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (Всесоюзная коммунистическая партия (большевиков), ВКП(б)); both VKP(b) and AUCP(b) abbreviations are in use. Finally in 1952 it became simply the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or CPSU. This article follows the course of the party from 1918 until its dissolution in 1991. For information on the pre-1918 party see Bolshevik.

Once the Third International or Comintern was formed in 1919, the democratic centralist Marxist-Leninist structure of the CPSU was copied by the other Comintern members resulting in Communist parties being formed around the world.

For most of the history of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was virtually indistinguishable from the government and was the only political party tolerated by the government and its security forces. Consequently, the history of the USSR and the CPSU are deeply intertwined and overlapping. Therefore, it is useful for those interested in the history of the CPSU to also consult the History of Russia series of articles.




In 1919 a Politburo was created initially with five members, to run the party on a day to day basis. Previously, the highest body of the party had been the Central Committee. The first full members of the Politburo were Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Stalin and Krestinsky with Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kalinin as candidate members (ie alternates). Through the 1920s Party Congresses were held almost every year.


The governing body of the CPSU was the Party Congress which initially met annually but whose meetings became less frequent, particularly under Stalin. Party Congresses would elect a Central Committee which, in turn, would elect a Politburo. Under Stalin the most powerful position in the party became the General Secretary who was elected by the Politburo. In 1952 the title of General Secretary became First Secretary and the Politburo became the Presidium before reverting to their former names under Brezhnev in 1966.

In theory, supreme power in the party was invested in the Party Congress, however, in practice the power structure became reversed and, particularly after the death of Lenin, supreme power became the domain of the General Secretary.

At lower levels, the organizational hierarchy was managed by Party Committees, or partkoms (партком). A partkom was headed by the elected partkom secretary (секретарь парткома). At enterprises, institutions, kolkhozes, etc., they were called as such, i.e., "partkoms". At higher levels the Committees were abbreviated accordingly: raikoms (райком) at raion level, obkoms (обком) at oblast levels (known earlier as gubkoms (губком) for guberniyas), gorkom (горком) it city level, etc.

The bottom level of the Party was the primary party organization (первичная партийная организация) or party cell (партийная ячейка). It was created within any organizational entity of any kind where there were at least three communists. The management of a cell was called party bureau (партийное бюро, партбюро). A partbureau was headed by the elected bureau secretary (секретарь партбюро).

At smaller party cells, secretaries were regular employees of the corresponding plant/hospital/school/etc. Sufficiently large party organizations were usually headed by an exempt secretary (освобожденный секретарь), who drew his salary from the Party money.


Membership in the party ultimately became a privilege with Communist Party members becoming an elite, or nomenklatura, in Soviet society. Members of the nomenklatura would enjoy special privileges such as shopping at well-stocked stores, have preference in obtaining housing and access to dachas and holiday resorts, being allowed to travel abroad, send their children to the best universities and obtain prestigious jobs for them. It became virtually impossible to join the Soviet ruling and managing elite without being a member of the Communist Party.

Membership had its risks, however, especially in the 1930s when the party was subjected to purges under Stalin. 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, graduate to the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and 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.

When the Bolsheviks became the All-Russian Communist Party it had a membership of 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 was 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.

By 1933, the party had approximately 3.5 million members and candidate members but as a result of the Great Purge party membership fell to 1.9 million by 1939. In 1986, the CPSU had over 19 million members or approximately 10% of the USSR's adult population. Over 44% of party members were classified as industrial workers, 12% were collective farmers. The CPSU had party organizations in fourteen of the USSR's 15 republics. In the Russian federation itself there was no separate Communist Party as affairs were run directly by the CPSU.


Main article: History of the CPSU

With some exceptions, the course of the CPSU (and the history of the whole Soviet Union) was largely determined by its leader. The history of the CPSU since the death of Lenin can thus be divided into the eras of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev.

End of Communist rule

The growing likelihood of the dissolution of the USSR itself led conservative elements in the CPSU to launch the August Coup in 1991 which temporarily removed Gorbachev from power. On August 19, 1991, a day before a Union Treaty was to be signed devolving power to the republics, a group calling itself the "State Emergency Committee" seized power in Moscow declaring that Gorbachev was ill and therefore relieved of his position as president. Soviet vice-president Gennadiy Yanayev was named acting president. The committee's eight members included KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. The coup dissolved due to large public demonstrations and the efforts of Boris Yeltsin who became the real power in Russia as a result. Gorbachev returned to Moscow as president but resigned as General Secretary and vowed to purge the party of conservatives. Yeltsin had the CPSU formally banned within Russia. The KGB was disbanded as were other CPSU-related agencies and organisations. Yeltsin's action was later declared unconstitutional but by this time the USSR had ceased to exist.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian adherents to the CPSU tradition, particularly as it existed before Gorbachev, reorganised themselves as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Related articles

Organization of the Communist Party of the USSR, Communist Party, List of socialists

External links

cs:Komunistická strana Sovětského svazu de:Kommunistische Partei der Sowjetunion es:Partido Comunista de la Unin Sovitica it:Partito Comunista dell'Unione Sovietica nl:Communistische Partij van de Sovjet-Unie ja:ソビエト連邦共産党 pl:Komunistyczna Partia Związku Radzieckiego pt:Partido Comunista da Unio Sovitica ro:Partidul Comunist al Uniunii Sovietice ru:Коммунистическая Партия Советского Союза zh:苏联共产党


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