Soviet Union Table of Contents
THE COMMUNIST PARTY of the Soviet Union (CPSU) governs the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union). In 1917 the party seized power in Russia as the vanguard of the working class, and it has continued throughout the Soviet period to rule in the name of the proletariat. The party seeks to lead the Soviet people to communism, defined by Karl Marx as a classless society that contains limitless possibilities for human achievement. Toward this end, the party has sought to effect a cultural revolution and create a "new Soviet man" bound by the strictures of a higher, socialist morality.
The party's goals require that it control all aspects of Soviet government and society in order to infuse political, economic, and social policies with the correct ideological content. Vladimir I. Lenin, the founder of the Bolshevik (see Glossary) party and the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, justified these controls. Lenin formed a party of professional revolutionaries to effect a proletarian revolution in Russia. In the late 1980s, however, the party no longer sought to transform society and was apparently attempting to withdraw itself from day-to-day economic decisions. Nevertheless, it continued to exert control through professional management. Members of the party bureaucracy are full-time, paid officials. Other party members hold full-time positions in government, industry, education, the armed forces, and elsewhere. In addition, Lenin argued that the party alone possesses the correct understanding of Marxist ideology. Thus, state policies that lack an ideological foundation threaten to retard society's advance toward communism. Hence, only policies sanctioned by the party can contribute to this goal. Lenin's position justifies party jurisdiction over the state. The CPSU enforces its authority over state bodies from the all-union (see Glossary) level to that of the district and town. In the office, factory, and collective farm, the party has established its primary party organizations (PPOs) to carry out its directives.
The role of ideology in the political system and the party's efforts to enforce controls on society demonstrate the party leadership's continuing efforts to forge unity in the party as well as among the Soviet people. Democratic centralism, the method of intraparty decision making, directs lower party bodies unconditionally to execute the decisions of higher party bodies. Party forums from the town and district levels up to the Central Committee bring together party, government, trade union, and economic elites to create a desired consensus among policymakers. Party training, particularly for officials of the CPSU's permanent bureaucracy, shapes a common understanding of problems and apprises students of the party's current approaches to ideology, foreign affairs, and domestic policy. Party training efforts demand particular attention because of the varied national, class, and educational experiences of CPSU members.
The party exercises authority over the government and society in several ways. The CPSU has acquired legitimacy for its rule; that is, the people acknowledge the party's right to govern them. This legitimacy derives from the party's incorporation of elites from all parts of society into its ranks, the party's depiction of itself as the representative of the forces for progress in the world, and the party's postulated goal of creating a full communist society. Paradoxically, the party's legitimacy is enhanced by the inclusion of certain prerevolutionary Russian traditions into its political style, which provides a sense of continuity with the past. A different source of authority lies in the power of PPO secretaries to implement party policies on the lowest rungs of the Soviet economy. The CPSU obligates members participating in nonparty organizations to meet regularly and ensure that their organizations fulfill the directives the party has set for them. Finally, as part of the nomenklatura system, the party retains appointment power for influential positions at all levels of the government hierarchy (higher party bodies hold this power over lower party bodies as well). Taken together, the legitimacy accorded to it and the prerogatives it possesses enable the party to perform its leading role within the Soviet political system.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents