Soviet Union Table of Contents
The Supreme Soviet has functioned with the help of several secondary organs. The Presidium has acted as the steering committee of the Supreme Soviet while it was in session. In 1989 both chambers of the Supreme Soviet--the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities--met either individually or jointly in sessions planned to last six to eight months. Each chamber had commissions and committees that prepared legislation for passage, oversaw its implementation, and monitored the activities of other governmental bodies. In 1989 the Supreme Soviet also had fourteen joint committees, and each chamber had four commissions.
In 1989 the Presidium, as designated by the Constitution, had forty-two members. The Presidium was made up of a chairman, a first vice chairman, fifteen vice chairmen (who represented the supreme soviets of the fifteen republics), the chairmen of the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities, the chairman of the Committee of People's Control, and the twenty-two chairmen of the commissions and committees of the Supreme Soviet. Only a few members regularly resided in Moscow, where the Presidium has always met. Before 1989 the Presidium membership served a symbolic function through the inclusion of twenty-one at-large members, made up of factory workers, peasants, scientists, professionals, and leaders of professional organizations. Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, was the most prominent of these at-large members. The purpose of this broadened membership was to show that all strata of society participated in the state's leading organ. In addition, some high-level party figures who were not members of the government sat on the Presidium as a symbol of CPSU authority in the legislature. For instance, General Secretary Gorbachev sat on the Presidium as an at-large member from 1985 to 1988.
Prior to 1989, the Presidium was the leading legislative organ between sessions of the Supreme Soviet, which met only a few days a year and held formal sessions only once every two months. Announcements of Presidium decrees, however, appeared in the press nearly every day, which indicated that the Presidium's staff worked full time. Presidium decrees, issued over the signatures of the chairman and the secretary, merely certified and legitimated decisions made by the CPSU. Nevertheless, decrees issued in the Presidium's name demonstrated wide-ranging powers to supervise the government bureaucracy.
The 1988 amendments and additions to the Constitution reduced the powers of the Presidium by making it more of an agenda-setting and administrative body (see The 1977 Constitution , this ch.). According to Article 119 of the Constitution, the Presidium was authorized to convene sessions of the Supreme Soviet and organize their preparation, coordinate the activities of the commissions and committees of the Supreme Soviet, oversee conformity of all-union and republic laws with the Constitution, confer military and diplomatic ranks, appoint and recall diplomats, issue decrees and adopt resolutions, and declare war or mobilize troops in between sessions of the Supreme Soviet, among other duties.
Data as of May 1989