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Soviet Union

Central Committee

The Central Committee met at least once every six months in plenary session. Between party congresses, the Party Rules required that the Central Committee "direct all the activities of the party and the local party organs, carry out the recruitment and the assignment of leading cadres, direct the work of the central governmental and social organizations of the workers, create various organs, institutions, and enterprises of the party and supervise their activities, name the editorial staff of central newspapers and journals working under its auspices, disburse funds of the party budget and verify their accounting." In fact, the Central Committee, which in 1989 numbered more than 300 members, was too large and cumbersome to perform these duties; therefore, it delegated its authority in these matters to the Politburo and Secretariat.

The history of the Central Committee dates to 1898, when the First Party Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party elected a three-person body to run its affairs. In May 1989, the Central Committee had 251 full members and 109 candidate members. (Candidate members do not have the right to vote.)

Western scholars know little about the selection processes for membership on the Central Committee. British Sovietologists Ronald J. Hill and Peter Frank have suggested that the party leadership drew up a list of candidates before the party congress. Party leaders then discussed the list and presented it to the congress for ratification. Both personal merit and institutional affiliation determined selection, with the majority of members selected because of the positions they held. Such positions included republic party first and second secretaries; obkom secretaries; chairmen of republic, provincial, and large urban governmental bodies; military leaders; important writers and artists; and academics.

During periods of policy change, turnover in the Central Committee occurred at a rapid rate. A new leadership, seeking to carry out new policies, attempted to replace officials who might attempt to block reform efforts with its own supporters. Thus, at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress, the first for Gorbachev as general secretary, the rate of turnover for full members was 41 percent, as compared with 25 percent at the Twenty-Sixth Party Congress in 1981. In addition, of the 170 candidate members elected by the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress, 116 (or 68 percent) were new.

Gorbachev effected further changes at the April 25, 1989, Central Committee plenum. As a result of personnel turnover because of death, retirement, or loss of position since the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress, a significant percentage of the Central Committee had come to be classified as "dead souls," that is, people who no longer occupied the position that had originally gained them either full or candidate status in the Central Committee. At the April 25 plenum, seventy-four full members resigned their Central Committee positions. Twenty-four members received promotion to full-member status. (The Party Rules dictate that only the party congress can name new candidate members and that a plenum can only promote new full members from among the pool of candidate members.)

The changes signified a reduction of influence for both the party apparatus and the military. Party apparatchiks (see Glossary) declined from 44.5 percent to 33.9 percent of the full members. The military's representation fell from 8.5 percent to 4.4 percent among the full members.

Worker and peasant representation rose from 8.5 percent to 14.3 percent. But because members of these groups lacked an independent political base, they usually supported the general secretary. Thus, the changes indicated a victory for Gorbachev. He eliminated many Central Committee members who lost power under his rule and were therefore considered opponents of reform. Gorbachev also increased the number of his own supporters in the Central Committee.

The Central Committee served significant functions for the party. The committee brought together the leaders of the most important institutions in Soviet society, individuals who had the same rank in the institutional-territorial hierarchy. The Central Committee thus provided a setting for these organizational and territorial interests to communicate with one another, articulate their concerns, and reconcile their positions on various issues. Membership in the Central Committee defined the political elite and reinforced their high status. This status lent the committee members the authority necessary to carry out policies in their respective institutions. Members also possessed a great deal of expertise in their respective fields and could be consulted by the Central Committee apparatus in preparing policy recommendations and resolutions for plenums, party conferences, and party congresses.

Data as of May 1989

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