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The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) ( , abbr.: КПСС (KPSS)) was the ruling and only legal political party in the Soviet Unionmarker (until it was briefly banned during the collapse of the Soviet Union) and one of the largest communist organizations in the world.

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 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 in the Soviet Union and did not tolerate any opposition. Its organization was subdivided into communist parties of the constituent Soviet republics as well as the mass youth organization, Komsomol.

The party was also the driving force of Comintern, maintained organizational links and supported communist movements in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The party ceased to exist with the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt failure in 1991 and was succeeded by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in Russiamarker and the communist parties of the now-independent former Soviet republics.



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. . 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. no it didnt

At lower levels, the organizational hierarchy was managed by Party Committees, or partkoms (партком). A partkom was headed by the elected "partkom bureau secretary" ("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). It was fun/

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" (освобожденный секретарь), who drew his salary from the Party money.


CPSU membership card cover
CPSU membership card
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 kpss 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 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, may 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" (общественные поручения).

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.

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.


  • The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was finally divided in 1912, although the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions had de facto functioned as separate political blocs. Henceforth, the Bolshevik party was known as RSDLP (bolsheviks) ( ) , РСДРП(б)).

  • In 1918 the party took the name Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) ( ) , РКП(б)).

  • In 1925 the party was renamed the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) ( ) , ВКП(б)).

  • In 1952 the party was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

End of 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 KGBmarker 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 KGBmarker 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 Russia.

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 Federationmarker), many of them remain classified.

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. 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 (SKP-KPSS).

In Estonia

The Communist Party of Estonia ( , EKP) was the republic-level chapter of the CPSU in the Estonian SSR from 1940 to 1991. During that time, except for the period of 1941-1944, it was the sole legal political party in the republic.

EKP split in 1990, when the pro-sovereignty majority faction of EKP separated itself from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and became the Estonian Democratic Labour Party. The minority faction of pro-Soviet hardliners opposing the separation formed a rump party called Communist Party of Estonia (EKP (NLKP)), which was outlawed by the government in 1991, just after Estonia declared independence.

In Lithuania

By the time of the formation of the Lithuanian SSR, the Communist Party of Lithuania (LKP) was headed by Antanas Sniečkus. In 1940 the LKP merged into the CPSU(b). The territorial organization of the party in Lithuania was called Communist Party of Lithuania (bolshevik) (LK(b)P).

In the Lithuanian territorial organization, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the party (always a Lithuanian) was de facto governor of the country. The second secretary was always a Moscow-appointed Russian.

In 1952 the name of the old Lithuanian party, LKP, was retaken.

In 1989, during mass protests against Soviet Union in Lithuania the party declared itself independent from Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

An alternative Communist Party of Lithuania ('on platform of Communist Party of the Soviet Union') existed in 1990-1991 under leadership of Mykolas Burokevičius. It was established after the "traditional" party declared its independence from its Soviet Union counterpart, and was eventually banned in 1991.

In 1990 the Communist Party of Lithuania was renamed into Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, which in turn was later merged with Social Democratic Party of Lithuania under the later's name, but with leadership dominated by ex-communists.

In Moldova

The Communist Party of Moldova ( , PCM) was the republic-level chapter of the CPSU in the Moldavian SSR from 1940 to 1991. During that time, except for the period of 1941-1944, it was the sole legal political party in the republic. It was outlawed by the pro-Romanian Popular Front government in August 1991, just after Moldova declared independence.

After the Communist party was legalised again by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova on 7 September 1993, the PCM was reborn as the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, which has governed Moldova since 2001.


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Source: Справочник по истории Коммунистической партии и Советского Союза 1898-1991 (Handbook on the History of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union).

See also


External links

Russian SFSR (1990-1991) Communist Party of the RSFSR
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 SSRmarker Communist Party of Kirghizia
Tajik SSRmarker Communist Party of Tajikistan
Armenian SSR Communist Party of Armenia
Turkmen SSRmarker Communist Party of Turkmenistan
Estonian SSRmarker 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)

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