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"CPSU" redirects here. For other uses, see CPSU (disambiguation).
"All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks)" redirects here. For other uses, see All-Union Communist Party (disambiguation).
"KPSS" redirects here. For the Statistical test, see KPSS test.
This article is about the historical Communist Party of the Soviet Union. For the union of communist parties from the former Soviet Union, see Union of Communist Parties — Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

For the modern day party of the same name, see Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1992-)

Communist Party of the
Soviet Union

Коммунистическая партия Советского Союза (Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskava Soyuza)
Founder Vladimir Lenin
Slogan Workers of the world, unite!
Founded 1 January 1912
Dissolved 29 August 1991
Preceded by Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
Succeeded by Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Union of Communist Parties
Newspaper Pravda
Youth wing Komsomol
Young Pioneers
Membership 2 million (1990)
Ideology Communism
International affiliation Comintern (until 1943) Cominform (until 1956)
Colours Red
Politics of the Soviet Union

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Russian: Коммунистическая партия Советского Союза, Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza; short: КПСС, KPSS) was the sole governing political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world. The party was constitutionally recognised as the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system and public organisations.[1] It lost its legal dominion in the wake of the failure of the 1991 August putsch.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union emerged from the Majority (Russian: Bolshevik) faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. After the February Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks pushed for socialist revolution and the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On 7 November, the Bolsheviks orchestrated the October Revolution which overthrew the Provisional Government, thus transferring all governing power to the workers' councils (Russian: soviets). Immediately thereafter, the Bolsheviks founded the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic - the world's first constitutionally socialist state. After a bloody civil war, at the end of 1922 the Bolsheviks emerged victorious and unified territories of the former Russian Empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The Party established the Third International, known as the "Comintern" ("Communist International"), an international network of communist parties loyal to the Russian Communist Party, with the aim of fighting "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State."[2] Domestically, 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 organisation 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) and the Young Pioneer organisation for children.

After Lenin's death in 1924, an ideological struggle ensued within the Party between Leon Trotsky, who advocated permanent revolution and emphasis on international intervention, and Joseph Stalin, who advocated socialism in one country and emphasis on domestic industrialisation. Ultimately, by 1930, Trotsky was expelled from the Party and deported from the Soviet Union, leaving Stalin and his supporters in full control of the party and effectively of governing the country. During this time, Marxism-Leninism became the official ideology of the Party. Later into the 1930s, Stalin initiated the Great Purge, a period of widespread paranoia and repression culminating in a series of show trials and the purging of all original Party members. With the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, the Party actively sought to form "collective security" alliances with western powers. Unable to do so, the USSR established non-aggressive relations with Germany, which were ultimately broken in 1941 with Germany invading the Soviet Union, thus beginning the Great Patriotic War. After the Allied victory in the war, the Party held a doctrine of establishing pro-Stalin governments in the post-war occupied territories and of actively seeking to expand the domain of influence, through proxy wars and espionage.

After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev rose to power. In 1956, at the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev delivered the "Secret Speech", which denounced the cult of personality around Stalin and the political repression of his regime. Khrushchev initiated a policy of de-Stalinisation, which removed the image of Stalin from public life entirely, terminated the correctional labour camp system, and ended the most repressive aspects of the Stalinist system; this period was known as the "Khrushchev Thaw". The Party maintained Marxism-Leninism as its ideology while rejecting Stalinism, thus splitting the two as distinct ideologies. This would later lead to a disintegration of relations with the Communist Party of China during the 1960s, which under Mao's leadership upheld a favourable view of Stalin's legacy.

Into the late 1980s, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, policies of openness and restructuring were implemented, which sought to liberalise the political and economic systems of the Soviet Union. Once the Party lost its constitutional status as the sole governing force of country, the Union began to crumble. The party ceased to exist at the All-Union level after the coup d'état 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.


  • March 1898 creation of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
  • 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 Labor Party (bolsheviks), RSDLP(b) (Russian: Росси́йская Социал-демократи́ческая Рабо́чая Па́ртия (большевико́в), РСДРП(б)).
  • In 1918 leaders adopted the name Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) (Russian: Росси́йская Коммунисти́ческая Па́ртия(большевико́в), РКП (б)), decision of the 7th Extraordinary Party Congress, March 6–8, 1918.
  • In 1925 the party was renamed the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) (Russian: Всесою́зная Коммунисти́ческая Па́ртия (большевико́в), ВКП(б)), decision of the 14th Party Congress, December 18–31, 1925.
  • In 1952 the party was renamed as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, decision of the 19th Party Congress, October 5–14, 1952.

Structure CPSU

Main article: Organization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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.[3] 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 and the Politburo.

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) at 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 kpss 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 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. 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)


Membership in the Party ultimately became a privilege, with a small subset of the general population of the Party becoming an élite class or nomenklatura in Soviet society. The members of the Nomenklatura enjoyed many perquisites denied to the average Soviet citizen. Such perks included shopping at well-stocked stores, access to foreign merchandise, preference in obtaining housing, access to dachas and holiday resorts, permission 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 élite without becoming a member of the Communist Party.

Membership had its risks, however, especially in the 1930s when the leadership under Joseph Stalin subjected the Party to purges. 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). 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. The Party expected Komsomol and CPSU members not only to pay dues but also to carry out appropriate assignments and "social tasks" (общественная работа).

In 1918 Party membership stood at 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 represented 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 the Party had 1,025,000 members in a Soviet population of 147 million.[4] In 1927, after an intensive recruitment campaign, membership rose to 1,200,000.[5]

By 1933, the party had approximately 3.5 million members, but as a result of the Great Purge of 1936-1939 party membership reduced to 1.9 million by 1939. (Nicholas DeWitt gives 2.307 million members in total in 1939, including candidate members, compared with 1.535 million in 1929 and 6.3 million in 1947.[6])

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, and 12% as collective farmers. The CPSU had party organizations in 14 of the USSR's 15 republics. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic itself had no separate Communist Party until 1990 as the CPSU controlled affairs there directly.


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 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.


Source: Справочник по истории Коммунистической партии и Советского Союза 1898-1991 (Handbook on the History of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union)[8]
Republic Branch
Russian SFSR Communist Party of the RSFSR (1990–1991)[7]
Ukrainian SSR Communist Party of Ukraine
Byelorussian SSR Communist Party of Byelorussia
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 (1918-1924) 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)

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 Abolition of the political monopoly of the party, Boris Yeltsin exit from the party

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

Soviet Union portal
Communism portal

External links


  • Executive Bodies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1917-1991)
  • Program of the CPSU, 27th Party Congress (1986)

Template:Soviet Union topics

Template:Leaders of the Ruling Parties of the Eastern Bloc

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