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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


Soviet political and legal theorists defined their government as a parliamentary system because in principle all power in the government emanated from the Congress of People's Deputies. In addition, according to the Constitution the Supreme Soviet elected both its own leadership and that of the all-union administrative and judicial agencies, which were responsible to it. In fact, the congress was too large to effectively exercise power, and it met only for short periods every year. When in session, the congress ratified legislation already promulgated by the Council of Ministers, the ministries, and the Supreme Soviet or its Presidium, and it discussed domestic and foreign policy. It also set the agenda for activities of the Supreme Soviet.

The lines separating legislative from executive functions were rather blurred. Thus, in addition to administering the government and the economy, the Council of Ministers could promulgate both resolutions that had the force of law and binding administrative orders. (The Supreme Soviet, however, had the ability to repeal such resolutions and orders.) Individual ministries--the chief administrative organs of the government--had the power to make laws in their respective fields. Thus, the legislative authority in this system was highly dispersed. In the late 1980s, some officials criticized law making by organs other than the Supreme Soviet and called for further amendments to the Constitution to give the Supreme Soviet greater authority over law making.

The CPSU effectively exercised control over the government. Leaders of the government were always party members and served on such party bodies as the Politburo and the Central Committee (see Central Party Institutions , ch. 7). In their role as party leaders, government officials participated in the formation of political, social, and economic policies. In addition, these officials were subject to the norms of democratic centralism, which required that they carry out the orders of the CPSU or face party discipline (see Democratic Centralism , ch. 7). Equally important, as part of its nomenklatura authority, the party had appointment power for all important positions in the government hierarchy (see Nomenklatura , ch. 7). The party also exercised control through the commissions and committees of the Supreme Soviet, which were supervised by Central Committee departments and commissions in their respective fields (see Secretariat , ch. 7). Each ministry contained its own primary party organization (PPO), which ensured that the staff of the ministry daily adhered to party policies (see Primary Party Organization , ch. 7). In fact, the party, not the ministerial and legislative system, was the leading political institution in the Soviet Union (see table 28, Appendix A).

Data as of May 1989