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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


In a political organization like the CPSU, which aims to be monolithic and centralized, central party institutions assume supreme importance. Central institutions in the CPSU included the party congress, the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Commission, the Party Control Committee, the Politburo (political bureau), the Secretariat, and the commissions. These organs made binding decisions for intermediate and local party bodies down to the PPO (see fig. 12).

According to the Party Rules, the party congress was the highest authority in the party. This body was too large and unwieldy to exert any influence, however, and its members were appointed either directly or indirectly by those whom it ostensibly elected to the Central Committee and Politburo. Moreover, the party congress met only once every five years. Another large party body of note was the party conference, which met infrequently upon the decision of the Central Committee. The Central Committee itself, which met every six months, theoretically ruled the party between congresses. Although more influential than the party congress and the party conference, the Central Committee wielded less power than the Politburo, Secretariat, and the party commissions.

The Politburo, the Secretariat, and the party commissions paralleled a set of central governmental institutions that included the Council of Ministers and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (see Central Government , ch. 8). The distinction between party and government institutions lay in the difference between policy formation and policy implementation. Stated briefly, the central party institutions made policy, and the government carried it out. The distinction between policy formation and policy implementation was often a narrow one, however, and party leaders frequently involved themselves in carrying out policies in the economic, domestic political, and foreign policy spheres. This problem, known in the Soviet Union as podmena (substitution), occurred throughout all party and government hierarchies (see Intermediate-Level Party Organizations , this ch.).

The distinction between policy formation and policy execution also characterized the differences between the Politburo, on the one hand, and the Secretariat and the commissions, on the other hand. The Politburo made policy for the party (as well as for the Soviet Union as a whole). The Secretariat and, apparently, the party commissions produced policy alternatives for the Politburo and, once the latter body made a decision, carried out the Politburo's directives. In fulfilling these roles, of course, the Secretariat often made policy decisions itself. The Secretariat and the commissions administered a party bureaucracy that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Through this apparatus, the CPSU Secretariat and the party commissions radiated their influence throughout the middle and lower levels of the party and thereby throughout the government, economy, and society.

The general secretary, as a member of the Politburo and the leader of the Secretariat, was the most powerful official in the CPSU. The general secretary was the chief policymaker, enjoyed the greatest amount of authority in party appointments, and represented the Soviet Union in its dealings with other states. The absence of a set term of office and the general secretary's lack of statutory duties meant that candidates for this position had to compete for power and authority to attain it. Once having been elected to this position, the general secretary had to maintain and increase his power and authority in order to implement his program.

Data as of May 1989