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Communist Party of the Soviet Union
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Communist Party of the Soviet Union

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (, Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza; short: , KPSS) was the constitutional force of societal organisation in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organisations in the world. In this, the CPSU was not a political party in the Western sense. In the collapsing USSR, it lost its dominant role in the wake of the failed August 1991 coup d' tat attempt led by authoritarian hardliners.

It emerged from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. The party led the 1917 October Revolution that overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and claimed to have established the world's first socialist state. Given the central role under the Constitution of the Soviet Union, the party controlled all tiers of government and social institutions in the Soviet Union. Its organization was subdivided into communist parties of the constituent Soviet republics as well as the mass youth organisation, the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (Komsomol). The party was also the driving force of the Third International (Comintern).

The party ceased to exist after the coup d' tat attempt in 1991 and was succeeded by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in Russia and the communist parties of the now-independent former Soviet republics.



  • The Bolshevik faction emerged within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party as a de facto political bloc separate from the Mensheviks in 1903.
  • The RSDLP was formally split in 1912, Henceforth, the Bolshevik faction was known as Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks), RSDLP(b) (), ( )).
  • In 1918 the Russian element took the name Russian Communist Party (). With Ukrainian independence coming about with the secession of Ukrainian People's Republic the Ukrainian element became the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine ( Komunistychna Partiya (bilshovykiv) Ukrayiny). In 1920 the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine rejoined the RCP.
  • In 1925 the party was renamed the All-Union Communist Party (), ).
  • In 1952 the party was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Structure CPSU

The governing body of the CPSU was the Party Congress which was held once in 1 5 years, depending on the historical period, with an exception of a long break from 1939 to 1952. 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.[1] In 1952 the title of General Secretary became First Secretary and the Politburo became the Presidium before reverting to their former names under Leonid Brezhnev in 1966.

In theory, supreme power in the party was invested in the Party Congress. However, in practice, all executive power was in the hands of the General Secretary.

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

The bottom level of the Party was the "primary party organization" ( ) or "party cell" ( ). 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" ( , ). A partbureau was headed by the elected "bureau secretary" ( ).

At smaller party cells, secretaries were regular employees of the corresponding factory/hospital/school/etc. Sufficiently large party organizations were usually headed by an "exempt secretary" ( ), who drew his salary from the Party money. During the 1970s the relative number of communists in Republics of the Soviet Union was as follows:

  • Russian SFSR: 7.2%
  • Ukraine: 5.35% (1976)
  • Moldavia: 3.43% (1975)
  • Tajikistan: less than 3%
  • The mean value for the Soviet Union was: 5.935% (1974)


CPSU membership card (1989) Membership in the party ultimately became a privilege, with a small subset of the general population of Party becoming an elite class or nomenklatura in Soviet society. Nomenklatura enjoyed many perquisites denied to the average Soviet citizen. Among those perks were shopping at well-stocked stores, access to foreign merchandise, preference in obtaining housing, access to dachas and holiday resorts, being allowed to travel abroad, sending their children to prestigious universities, and obtaining prestigious jobs (as well as party membership itself) for their children. 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 Joseph 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, might 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. However, membership also had its obligations. Komsomol and CPSU members were expected not only to pay dues but also to carry out appropriate assignments and "social tasks" ( ).

In 1918 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.

In 1925 there were 1,025,000 communist party members in a population of 147 million.[2] In 1927, after an intensive recruitment campaign, membership rose to 1,200,000[3]

By 1933, the party had approximately 3.5 million members but as a result of the Great Purge party membership was cut down to 1.9 million by 1939. 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, 12% were collective farmers. The CPSU had party organizations in fourteen of the USSR's 15 republics. In the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic itself there was no separate Communist Party until 1990 as affairs were controlled directly by the CPSU.


Communist rule

In 1989 Gorbachev allowed other political associations (de facto political parties) to coexist with the Communist Party and in 1990 obtained the repeal of Article Six of the USSR constitution which gave the party supremacy over all institutions in society, thus ending its vanguard status. The Communist Party's power over the state formally ended that same year with the newly-created Soviet Presidency, whose first and only President was Party General Secretary Gorbachev.

The growing likelihood of the dissolution of the USSR itself led hardline elements in the CPSU to launch the August Coup in 1991 which temporarily removed Gorbachev from power. On August 19, 1991, a day before the New 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 because of 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 hardliners. Yeltsin had the CPSU formally banned within the Russian SFSR on August 26. 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.

The Communist Party in between Gorbachev's resignation and its suspension was politically impotent. By the time of the 28th Congress of the CPSU in July 1990, the party was largely regarded as being unable to lead the country and had, in fifteen republics, split into opposing factions favouring either independent republics or the continuation of the Soviet Union. Stripped of its leading role in society the party lost its authority to lead the nation or the cohesion that kept the party united. Its last General Secretary was Vladimir Ivashko, chosen on August 24, 1991. Actual political power lay in the positions of President of the Soviet Union (held by Gorbachev) and President of the Russian SFSR (held by Yeltsin). Ivashko remained for five days as acting General Secretary until August 29 when the party's activity was suspended by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.

Archives of the Party are now preserved in a number of Russian state archives (Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, State Archive of the Russian Federation), many of them remain classified.

After the dissolution 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. Today there are many parties in Russia claiming to be the successors of CPSU. Several of them used the name CPSU. However, CPRF is generally seen (because of its large size) as the inheritor of the CPSU in Russia.

In other republics, communists established the Armenian Communist Party, Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan, Communist Party of Ukraine, Party of Communists of Belarus, Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, Communist Party of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Tajikistan. Along with the CPRF, these parties formed the Union of Communist Parties - Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

  • In Turkmenistan, the local party apparatus led by Saparmurat Niyazov was renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan and abandoned communist ideology.
  • In Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov changed the CPSU branch into the People's Democratic Party.
  • In Georgia, the Socialist Labour Party was founded in 1992. This party would later evolve into the Communist Party of Georgia (SKP). Another communist faction in Georgia, which is larger than SKP, is the United Communist Party of Georgia (SEKP).
  • In Estonia, the CPSU branch was in the hands of reformers, who converted it into the Estonian Democratic Labour Party (EDTP). A minority regrouped into the Communist Party of Estonia.
  • In Lithuania, the CPSU was banned in 1991. A branch of "progressive" communists led by Algirdas Brazauskas established the Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania in 1992.
  • In Latvia, communist organizations were officially banned and a major part of the party there had broken away in 1990 and formed the Latvian Social Democratic Party. The remnants of CPSU became the Union of Communists of Latvia, which went underground. Later, communists regrouped into the Socialist Party of Latvia.


|- ! Republic ! Branch |- |- ||Russian SFSR ||Communist Party of the RSFSR (1990 1991)[4] |- ||Ukrainian SSR||Communist Party of Ukraine |- ||Belarusian SSR||Communist Party of Belorussia |- ||Uzbek SSR||Communist Party of Uzbekistan |- ||Kazakh SSR||Communist Party of Kazakhstan |- ||Georgian SSR||Communist Party of Georgia |- ||Azerbaijan SSR||Communist Party of Azerbaijan |- ||Lithuanian SSR||Communist Party of Lithuania |- ||Moldovan SSR||Communist Party of Moldova |- ||Latvian SSR||Communist Party of Latvia |- ||Kirghiz SSR||Communist Party of Kirghizia |- ||Tajik SSR||Communist Party of Tajikistan |- ||Armenian SSR||Communist Party of Armenia |- ||Turkmen SSR||Communist Party of Turkmenistan |- ||Estonian SSR||Communist Party of Estonia |- ||Turkestan ASSR||Communist Party of Turkestan |- ||Bukharan SSR (1920 1925)||Communist Party of Bukhara |- ||Khorezm SSR (1920 1925)||Communist Party of Khorezm |- ||Karelo-Finnish SSR (1940 1956)||Communist Party of the Karelo-Finnish SSR |- ||Transcaucasian SFSR (1922 1936)||Transcaucasian Regional Communist Party of the RKP(b)/VKP(b) |- |- Source: 1898-1991 (Handbook on the History of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union)[5] |}

Conventions (1917 1991)

Gathering Date Delegates
Voting + Non-Voting
7th All-Russian Conference of the RSDRP(b) May 7 12, 1917 131 + 18
VI Congress of the RSDRP(b) August 8 16, 1917 157 + 110
VII Extraordinary Congress of the RKP(b) March 6 8, 1918 47 + 59
VIII Congress of the RKP(b) March 18 23, 1919 301 + 102
8th All-Russian Conference of the RKP(b) December 2 4, 1919 45 + 73
IX Congress of the RKP(b) March 29 April 5, 1920 554 + 162
9th All-Russian Conference of the RKP(b) September 22 25, 1920 116 + 125
X Congress of the RKP(b) March 8 16, 1921 694 + 296 Factions formally banned in the Communist Party.
10th All-Russian Conference of the RKP(b) May 26 28, 1921 239
XI Congress of the RKP(b) March 27 April 2, 1922 522 + 165
11th All-Russian Conference of the RKP(b) August 4 7, 1922 129 + 92
XII Congress of the RKP(b) April 17 25, 1923 409 + 417
13th Conference of the RKP(b) January 16 18, 1924 128 + 222
XIII Congress of the RKP(b) May 23 31, 1924 748 + 416
14th Conference of the RKP(b) April 27 29, 1925 178 + 392
XIV Congress of the VKP(b) December 18 31, 1925 665 + 641 Changes party name to "All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks)."
15th Conference of the VKP(b) October 26 November 3, 1926 194 + 640
XV Congress of the VKP(b) December 2 19, 1927 898 + 771
16th Conference of the VKP(b) April 23 29, 1929 254 + 679
XVI Congress of the VKP(b) June 26 July 13, 1930 1268 + 891
17th Conference of the VKP(b) January 30 February 4, 1932 386 + 525
XVII Congress of the VKP(b) January 26 February 10, 1934 1225 + 736 So-called "Congress of the Victors."
XVIII Congress of the VKP(b) March 10 21, 1939 1569 + 466
18th Conference of the VKP(b) February 15 20, 1941 456 + 138
XIX Congress of the CPSU October 5 14, 1952 1192 + 167 Changes party name to "Communist Party of the Soviet Union."
XX Congress of the CPSU February 14 25, 1956 1355 + 81 Many delegates hear so-called "Secret Speech" of N.S. Khrushchev.
Extraordinary XXI Congress of the CPSU January 27 February 5, 1959 1269 + 106 Timed to aid Khrushchev's consolidation of power after defeat of so-called "Anti-Party Group."
XXII Congress of the CPSU October 17 31, 1961 4394 + 405
XXIII Congress of the CPSU March 29 April 8, 1966 4620 + 323
XXIV Congress of the CPSU March 30 April 9, 1971 4740 + 223
XXV Congress of the CPSU February 24 March 5, 1976 4998
XXVI Congress of the CPSU February 23 March 3, 1981 5002
XXVII Congress of the CPSU February 25 March 6, 1986 5000
XXVIII Congress of the CPSU July 2 13, 1990

Source: A.A. Solov'ev, S"ezdy i konferentsii KPSS: Spravochnik. ("Congresses and Conferences of the CPSU: Handbook.") Moscow: Politizdat, 1986. All dates New Style.


See also

  • Communist Party
  • Communist Party of the Russian Federation
  • Decommunization of Russia
  • Index of Soviet Union-related articles
  • Russian Communist Workers' Party Revolutionary Party of CommunistsKPSS

External links

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