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Politics of the Soviet Union

Politics of the Soviet Union

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Encyclopedia
The political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

 of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

was characterized by the superior role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

 (CPSU), the only party permitted by Constitution.

For information about the government, see Government of the Soviet Union
Government of the Soviet Union
The Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was the de jure government comprising the highest executive and administrative body of the Soviet Union from 1946 until 1991....


Background


The Bolsheviks who took power during the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

, the final phase of the Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, were the first Communist Party
Communist party
A political party described as a Communist party includes those that advocate the application of the social principles of communism through a communist form of government...

 to take power and attempt to apply Marxism
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 (to be more specific, the Leninist
Leninism
In Marxist philosophy, Leninism is the body of political theory for the democratic organisation of a revolutionary vanguard party, and the achievement of a direct-democracy dictatorship of the proletariat, as political prelude to the establishment of socialism...

 variant of Marxism) in a practical way. Although they grew very quickly during the Revolution, from 24,000 to 100,000 members, and some support, 25% of the votes for the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917, the Bolsheviks were a minority party when they took power by force in Petrograd and Moscow. Their advantages were discipline and a platform supporting the movement of workers, peasant
Peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

s, soldiers and sailors who had seized factories, organized soviets
Soviet (council)
Soviet was a name used for several Russian political organizations. Examples include the Czar's Council of Ministers, which was called the “Soviet of Ministers”; a workers' local council in late Imperial Russia; and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union....

, appropriated the lands of the aristocracy and other large landholders, deserted from the army and mutinied against the navy during the Revolution.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 made no detailed proposals for the structure of a socialist or communist government and society other than the replacement of capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 with socialism
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

, and eventually communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, by the victorious working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

. Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

, the leader of the Bolsheviks, had developed the theory that a Communist Party should serve as the vanguard of the proletariat, ruling in their name and interest, but, like Marx, had not developed a detailed economic or political program. The new Communist government of the Soviet Union faced alarming problems: extending practical control beyond the major cities, combatting counter-revolution and opposing political parties, coping with the continuing war, and setting up a new economic and political system.

Despite their relative discipline, the Bolsheviks were not of one mind, the Party being a coalition of committed revolutionaries, but with somewhat differing views as to what was practical and proper. These diverging tendencies resulted in debates within the Party over the next decade, followed by a period of consolidation of the Party as definite programs were adopted.

Organization


The CPSU controlled the government apparatus and took decisions affecting economy and society. The Communist Party followed the ideology of Marxism-Leninism
Marxism-Leninism
Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...

 and operated on the principle of democratic centralism
Democratic centralism
Democratic centralism is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for any Leninist policy inside a political party...

. The primary CPSU bodies were the Politburo
Politburo
Politburo , literally "Political Bureau [of the Central Committee]," is the executive committee for a number of communist political parties.-Marxist-Leninist states:...

, the highest decision-making organ; the Secretariat
Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee
The Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee was a key body within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was responsible for the central administration of the party as opposed to drafting government policy which was usually handled by the Politburo...

, the controller of party bureaucracy; and the Central Committee
Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , abbreviated in Russian as ЦК, "Tse-ka", earlier was also called as the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party ...

, the party's policy forum. CPSU membership reached more than 19 million (9.7 percent of the adult population) in 1987, and was dominated by male Russian professionals. Party members occupied positions of authority in all officially recognized institutions throughout the country.

Single party rule, combined with democratic centralism
Democratic centralism
Democratic centralism is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for any Leninist policy inside a political party...

, which, in practice, consisted of a hierarchal
Hierarchy
A hierarchy is an arrangement of items in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another...

 structure which with the aid of a secret police
Secret police
Secret police are a police agency which operates in secrecy and beyond the law to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian political regime....

 organization enforced decisions made by the ruling party as well on the personnel of all governmental institutions, including the courts, the press, cultural and economic organizations and labor unions. The Soviet Union is considered by many to have been a totalitarian
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

 state for much of its existence. Critics include Western authors such as Robert Conquest
Robert Conquest
George Robert Ackworth Conquest CMG is a British historian who became a well-known writer and researcher on the Soviet Union with the publication in 1968 of The Great Terror, an account of Stalin's purges of the 1930s...

 and Russian critics such as Alexander Yakovlev
Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev
Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev was a Soviet politician and historian who was a Soviet governmental official in the 1980s and a member of the Politburo and Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union...

.

Ideology



Education and political discourse proceeded on the assumption that it was possible to mold people using collectivist institutional forms into an ideal Soviet man or woman. The validity of ideas, public discourse, and institutional form were evaluated in terms of the official ideology of Marxism-Leninism
Marxism-Leninism
Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...

, as interpreted by the Communist Party.

Perestroika and glasnost


In the final years of the Soviet Union attempts were made by the Politburo under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 to reform the political system (first instigated by Yuri Andropov
Yuri Andropov
Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov was a Soviet politician and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 12 November 1982 until his death fifteen months later.-Early life:...

, successor of Leonid Brezhnev
Leonid Brezhnev
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev  – 10 November 1982) was the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , presiding over the country from 1964 until his death in 1982. His eighteen-year term as General Secretary was second only to that of Joseph Stalin in...

). Calls were made for glasnost
Glasnost
Glasnost was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s...

(transparency or openness) and perestroika
Perestroika
Perestroika was a political movement within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1980s, widely associated with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev...

(rebuilding), which also included economic reforms. A somewhat representative legislative body was created, the Congress of People's Deputies, and major reform of the executive branch of the government and the economy attempted. These reforms were resisted by conservative forces within the Communist Party and interrupted by an attempted coup
Soviet coup attempt of 1991
The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt , also known as the August Putsch or August Coup , was an attempt by a group of members of the Soviet Union's government to take control of the country from Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev...

, followed by the outlawing of the Communist Party and the dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

.

External politics


Diplomatic relations with majority of world's nations. Main foreign policy objectives as determined by CPSU Politburo: enhance national security, maintain presence in Eastern Europe, continue "peaceful coexistence" with free world democracies, and seek increased influence in Third World.

The regime maintained close relationships on a world wide basis with revolutionary parties continuing support for an international movement to supplant capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 with communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

. It saw itself as subject to attack by developed capitalist countries and maintained massive defensive forces over many decades in anticipation of war.

International agreements and memberships


Dominant partner in Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and Warsaw Pact
Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance , or more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe...

. Active participant in United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 and its specialized agencies. Signatory to Final Act of Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Accords
Helsinki Accords
thumb|300px|[[Erich Honecker]] and [[Helmut Schmidt]] in Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Helsinki 1975....

) and many other multilateral and bilateral agreements.

See also

  • Economy of the Soviet Union
    Economy of the Soviet Union
    The economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was based on a system of state ownership of the means of production, collective farming, industrial manufacturing and centralized administrative planning...

  • History of the Soviet Union
    History of the Soviet Union
    The history of the Soviet Union has roots in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, emerged as the main political force in the capital of the former Russian Empire, though they had to fight a long and brutal civil war against the Mensheviks, or Whites...

  • USSR Heads of State
  • Premier of the Soviet Union
    Premier of the Soviet Union
    The office of Premier of the Soviet Union was synonymous with head of government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics . Twelve individuals have been premier...

  • List of Governments of the Soviet Union

Further reading

  • Alexander N. Yakovlev, Anthony Austin, Paul Hollander, Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Yale University Press (September, 2002), hardcover, 254 pages, ISBN 0-300-08760-8