Soviet Union Table of Contents
According to the Party Rules, the party congress was "the supreme organ" of the CPSU. The First Party Congress took place in 1898 in Minsk, with 9 delegates out of a party membership of about 1,000. In 1986 the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress had 5,000 delegates, or 1 for every 3,670 party members. Delegates were formally elected by republic party congresses or, in the case of the Russian Republic, by conferences of kraia (see Glossary), oblasts (see Glossary), and autonomous republics (see Glossary). Attendance at a party congress was largely honorific. Approximately half the delegates were luminaries in the party. The Twenty-Seventh Party Congress included 1,074 important party functionaries, 1,240 executive government officials, 147 distinguished scholars and scientists, 332 high-ranking military officers, and 279 writers and artists. The party reserved the remainder of delegate positions for rank-and-file party members. For the rank and file, attendance at a party congress was a reward for long years of service and loyalty.
Relative to other central party institutions, the size of the party congress was inversely proportional to its importance. Lack of debate and deliberation have been characteristic of party congresses since the Tenth Party Congress in 1921 (see Democratic Centralism , this ch.). Party congresses convened every year until 1925. Thereafter, they began to lose their importance as an authoritative party organ, and the intervals between congresses increased to three or four years. From 1939 to 1952, the party neglected to hold a congress. After Stalin's death in 1953, the party elite decided to convene congresses more frequently. Since the mid-1950s, the Party Rules have stipulated that congresses be held every five years.
Since 1925, however, some notable congresses have taken place. The Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934 praised collectivization and the successes of the First Five-Year Plan (1928-32), and it confirmed Stalin as head of the party and the country. In 1956, at the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev criticized Stalin's cult of personality (see The Khrushchev Era , ch. 2). In 1986, at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress, General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev attempted to break with Stalin's legacy by enunciating policies calling for more openness ( glasnost'--see Glossary) in Soviet life and for restructuring ( perestroika--see Glossary).
The party congress normally met for about a week. The most important event occurred when the general secretary delivered the political report on the state of the party, reviewed Soviet economic and foreign policy over the preceding five years, cited achievements and problems of the world communist movement, and delivered a prospectus for the next five years. In another important speech, the chairman of the Council of Ministers presented the targets for the next five-year plan. These two speeches provided the setting for a number of shorter speeches that followed. Republic party secretaries, oblast committee (oblast' komitet--obkom) secretaries, and government officials offered very formalized comment on the policies enunciated by the general secretary. The central apparatus also selected a few rank-and-file members to give speeches praising party policies. Finally, the congress listened to brief reports given by secretaries of foreign communist and workers' parties friendly to Moscow. Some party congresses adopted a broad statement called the party program (see Glossary).
While in session, the party congress voted on several kinds of issues. All decisions were unanimous. The congress enacted a series of resolutions that stemmed from the general secretary's political report, and those resolutions became party policy until the next congress. In addition, the party leadership could offer changes in the Party Rules to the congress. Most important, the party congress formally elected the members of the Central Committee, which it charged to govern the party until the next congress.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents