Soviet Union Table of Contents
Commissions and committees, each made up of some thirty to fifty members, have been important because they have prepared and proposed legislation for formal approval by the Supreme Soviet and monitored activities of ministries and other government bodies. Each chamber of the Supreme Soviet had fourteen committees, which had jointly shared functions, and four commissions, which had unique functions. In 1989 the commissions and committees were tasked by the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet with examining myriad issues, among them ethnic strife, economic autonomy for the republics, the draft economic plan and budget, efficiency in agriculture, social policy, legal reform, and the conformity of various laws to the Constitution. The commissions and committees also evaluated decrees issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet that had been rejected by the Supreme Soviet and sent to the commissions and committees for reworking.
In the 1984-89 convocation of the Supreme Soviet, 1,200 deputies served on the commissions (as the committees were called at that time), and 800 worked on the draft economic plan and the draft budget for the following year. In the 1989-94 convocation, 320 deputies served on the commissions and 616 served on the committees. About one-half of the deputies serving on the commissions and committees of the Supreme Soviet were deputies to the Congress of People's Deputies but were not members of the Supreme Soviet. One-fifth of their membership has usually been replaced each year by other deputies of the Supreme Soviet or the Congress of People's Deputies.
In making assignments to commissions and committees, the preferences and expertise of the deputies were taken into account; deputies have included party leaders, scientists, educators, agricultural specialists, and foreign policy experts. This variegated membership not only has obtained contributions of experts on legislation but also has permitted the party to communicate its policies to important segments of society.
In 1989 the four commissions in each chamber that had functions unique to the chamber included, among others, planning, budgeting, and finance; labor, prices, and social policy; transportation, communications, and information sciences; and nationalities policy and interethnic relations. The fourteen committees in each chamber that had jointly shared functions covered such areas as foreign affairs, ecology, women and family, veterans and invalids, youth, glasnost', economic reform, agronomy, and construction, among others. In addition to drafting legislation, the commissions and committees monitored the activities of the ministries and other government bodies. Their oversight of the government included evaluating candidates for ministerial posts and questioning ministerial personnel while preparing legislation. In 1989 the committees of the Supreme Soviet rejected several candidates nominated by the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Ryzhkov, forcing him to submit other, more qualified candidates for the posts. Candidates approved by the committees were subject to questioning by deputies on the floor of the Supreme Soviet. To monitor compliance with existing law, the commissions and committees heard ministerial reports and requested materials and documents from the ministries and other government bodies. Government bodies were required to consider the recommendations on government operations of the commissions or committees and to report implementation measures to them.
Prior to 1989, the commissions of the Supreme Soviet had been instruments by which the CPSU controlled legislation and supervised the Supreme Soviet and the ministries. In 1989 the CPSU remained an important influence over the work of the commissions and committees because the vast majority of members were party members, and influential party leaders either chaired the commissions and committees or served as members. The departments of the party's Secretariat watched over commissions and committees that monitored work under their purview (see Secretariat , ch. 7). Although by law government officials were not permitted to serve on the commissions and committees, this ban did not apply to party officials, so that the membership on the commissions and committees was able to overlap with that of the party's departments. Through this overlap, party officials were thus able to ensure that the Supreme Soviet adhered to party decisions. For example, prior to 1989 the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission (present-day Foreign Affairs Committee) of the Soviet of the Union was usually the secondranking member of the Politburo. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Soviet of Nationalities was normally the head of the CPSU International Department. The deputy chairmen and secretaries of the two commissions were also deputy heads of the party's International Department or the Liaison with Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries Department. Party leaders used these roles to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the Soviet Union. Thus, during his 1984 visit to Britain, Gorbachev acted in his capacity as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Soviet of the Union. As of 1989, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee (formerly the Foreign Affairs Commission) of the Soviet of the Union was no longer a major party figure but was still a party official.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents