General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС
Emblem of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Longest serving
Joseph Stalin

3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952,
de facto 5 March 1953
Central Committee of the Communist Party
Secretariat Communist Party
StyleComrade General Secretary
TypeParty leader
StatusCountry leader
Member of
ResidenceKremlin Senate[1]
SeatKremlin, Moscow
AppointerCentral Committee
Formation3 April 1922; 102 years ago (1922-04-03)
First holderJoseph Stalin
Final holderVladimir Ivashko (acting)
Abolished29 August 1991; 32 years ago (1991-08-29)
Superseded byChairman of the Union of Communist Parties
Salary10,000 Rbls annually[when?]

The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union[a] was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). From 1924 until the country's dissolution in 1991, the officeholder was the recognized leader of the Soviet Union.[2][3] Prior to Stalin's accession, the position was not viewed as an important role in Lenin's government[4][5] and previous occupants had been responsible for technical rather than political decisions.[6]

Officially, the General Secretary solely controlled the Communist Party directly. However, since the party had a monopoly on political power, the General Secretary de facto had executive control of the Soviet government. Because of the office's ability to direct both the foreign and domestic policies of the state and preeminence over the Soviet Communist Party, it was the de facto highest office of the Soviet Union.


Before the October Revolution, the job of the party secretary was largely that of a bureaucrat. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power, the Office of the Responsible Secretary was established in 1919 to perform administrative work.[7] After the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, the Office of General Secretary was created by Vladimir Lenin in 1922 with the intention that it serve a purely administrative and disciplinary purpose. Its primary task would be to determine the composition of party membership and to assign positions within the party. The General Secretary also oversaw the recording of party events, and was entrusted with keeping party leaders and members informed about party activities.

When assembling his cabinet, Lenin appointed Joseph Stalin to be General Secretary. Over the next few years, Stalin was able to use the principles of democratic centralism to transform his office into that of party leader, and eventually leader of the Soviet Union.[8] Trotsky attributed his appointment to the initial recommendation of Grigory Zinoviev.[9] This view has been supported by several historians.[10][11] According to Russian historian, Vadim Rogovin, Stalin's election to the position occurred after the Eleventh Party Congress (March–April 1922), in which Lenin, due to his poor health, participated only sporadically, and only attended four of the twelve sessions of the Congress.[12]

Some historians have regarded the premature death of prominent Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov to have been a key factor in facilitating the elevation of Joseph Stalin to the position of leadership in the Soviet Union. In part, because Sverdlov served as the original chairman of the party secretariat and was considered a natural candidate for the position of General Secretary.[13][14]

Prior to Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin's tenure as General Secretary was already being criticized.[15] In Lenin's final months, he authored a pamphlet that called for Stalin's removal on the grounds that Stalin was becoming authoritarian and abusing his power. The pamphlet triggered a political crisis which endangered Stalin's position as General Secretary, and a vote was held to remove him from office. With the help of Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, Stalin was able to survive the scandal and remained in his post. After Lenin's death, Stalin began to consolidate his power by using the office of General Secretary. By 1928, he had unquestionably become the de facto leader of the USSR, while the position of General Secretary became the highest office in the nation. In 1934, the 17th Party Congress refrained from formally re-electing Stalin as General Secretary. However, Stalin was re-elected to all the other positions he held, and remained leader of the party without diminution.[16]

In the 1950s, Stalin increasingly withdrew from Secretariat business, leaving the supervision of the body to Georgy Malenkov, possibly to test his abilities as a potential successor.[17] In October 1952, at the 19th Party Congress, Stalin restructured the party's leadership. His request, voiced through Malenkov, to be relieved of his duties in the party secretariat due to his age, was rejected by the party congress, as delegates were unsure about Stalin's intentions.[18] In the end, the congress formally abolished Stalin's office of General Secretary, although Stalin remained one of the party secretaries and maintained ultimate control of the party.[19][20] When Stalin died on 5 March 1953, Malenkov was considered to be the most important member of the Secretariat, which also included Nikita Khrushchev, among others. Under a short-lived troika consisting of Malenkov, Beria, and Molotov, Malenkov became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, but was forced to resign from the Secretariat nine days later on 14 March. This effectively left Khrushchev in control of the government,[21] and he was elected to the new office of First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at the Central Committee plenum on 14 September that same year. Khrushchev subsequently outmanoeuvred his rivals, who sought to challenge his political reforms. He was able to comprehensively remove Malenkov, Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich (one of Stalin's oldest and closest associates) from power in 1957, an achievement which also helped to reinforce the supremacy of the position of First Secretary.[22]

In 1964, opposition within the Politburo and the Central Committee, which had been increasing since the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, led to Khrushchev's removal from office. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev as First Secretary, but was initially obliged to govern as part of a collective leadership, forming another troika with Premier Alexei Kosygin and Chairman Nikolai Podgorny.[23] The office was renamed to General Secretary in 1966.[24] The collective leadership was able to limit the powers of the General Secretary during the Brezhnev Era.[25] Brezhnev's influence grew throughout the 1970s as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms.[26] After Brezhnev's death, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were able to rule the country in the same way as Brezhnev had.[27] Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union as General Secretary until 1990, when the Communist Party lost its monopoly of power over the political system. The office of President of the Soviet Union was established so that Gorbachev could still retain his role as leader of the Soviet Union.[28] Following the failed August coup of 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary.[29] He was succeeded by his deputy, Vladimir Ivashko, who only served for five days as Acting General Secretary before Boris Yeltsin, the newly elected President of Russia, suspended all activity in the Communist Party.[30] Following the party's ban, the Union of Communist Parties – Communist Party of the Soviet Union (UCP–CPSU) was established by Oleg Shenin in 1993, and is dedicated to reviving and restoring the CPSU. The organisation has members in all the former Soviet republics.[31]

List of officeholders

Portrait Name
Term Notes
Took office Left office Duration
Technical Secretary of the Secretariat of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
A man in a black suit, black shirt and wearing a pair of glasses Yakov Sverdlov
1918 16 March 1919 † 0–1 years Sverdlov remained in office until his death on 16 March 1919. During his tenure he was mainly responsible for technical rather than political matters.[6]
A woman wearing dark clothes and using a pair of glasses Elena Stasova
March 1919 December 1919 9 months When her office was dissolved, Stasova was not considered a serious competitor for the post of Responsible Secretary, the successor office to the Chairman of the Secretariat.[34]
Responsible Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
A man in a grey suit, light shirt and dark tie Nikolay Krestinsky
December 1919 March 1921 1 year, 3 months The office of Responsible Secretary functioned like a secretary, a somewhat menial position given that Krestinsky was also a member of the Party's Politburo, Orgburo and Secretariat. Nevertheless, Krestinsky never tried to create an independent power base as Joseph Stalin later did during his time as General Secretary.[7]
A man in a dark suit, light shirt and dark tie, smiling Vyacheslav Molotov
16 March 1921 3 April 1922 291 days Was elected Responsible Secretary at the 10th Party Congress held in March 1921. The Congress decided that the office of Responsible Secretary should have a presence at Politburo plenums. As a result, Molotov became a candidate member of the Politburo.[37]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
Joseph Stalin
3 April 1922 16 October 1952 30 years, 196 days Stalin used the office of General Secretary to create a strong power base for himself. Stalin was not formally re-elected as General Secretary at the 17th Party Congress in 1934,[39] and the office was rarely mentioned after that.[40] In 1952, Stalin abolished the position, but he retained ultimate power and his position as Chairman of the Council of Ministers until his death on 5 March 1953.[20] At 30 years 7 months, Stalin was the longest-serving General Secretary, serving almost half of the USSR's entire existence.
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
An elderly bald man in a suit, with several medals pinned on it Nikita Khrushchev
14 March 1953 14 October 1964 11 years, 30 days Khrushchev reestablished the office on 14 September 1953 as First Secretary. In 1957, the Anti-Party Group nearly removed him from office. Georgy Malenkov, a leading member of the Anti-Party Group, worried that the powers of the First Secretary were virtually unlimited.[42] Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.[24]
Leonid Brezhnev
14 October 1964 8 April 1966 1 year, 176 days Brezhnev was part of a collective leadership. He formed an unofficial Triumvirate (also known by its Russian name Troika) alongside the country's Premier, Alexei Kosygin, and Nikolai Podgorny who became in 1965 a Chairman of the Presidium.[23] The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress in 1966.[25]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Leonid Brezhnev
8 April 1966 10 November 1982 † 16 years, 216 days Brezhnev's powers and functions as the General Secretary were limited by the collective leadership.[26] By the 1970s, Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin and Podgorny as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms.
Yuri Andropov
12 November 1982 9 February 1984 † 1 year, 89 days He emerged as Brezhnev's most likely successor as the chairman of the committee in charge of managing Brezhnev's funeral.[45] Andropov ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.[27]
Konstantin Chernenko
13 February 1984 10 March 1985 † 1 year, 25 days Chernenko was 72 years old when elected to the post of General Secretary and in rapidly failing health.[46] Like Andropov, Chernenko ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had.[27]
A man in a grey suit, white shirt and dark tie, balding with grey hair, he has a birthmark on his forehead Mikhail Gorbachev
11 March 1985 24 August 1991 6 years, 166 days The 1990 Congress of People's Deputies removed Article 6 from the 1977 Soviet Constitution resulting in the Communist Party loss of its position as the "leading and guiding force of the Soviet society." The powers of the General Secretary were drastically curtailed. Throughout the rest of his tenure, Gorbachev ruled through the office of President of the Soviet Union.[28] He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.[29]
Vladimir Ivashko
24 August 1991 29 August 1991 5 days He was elected Deputy General Secretary at the 28th Party Congress. Ivashko became acting General Secretary following Gorbachev's resignation, but by then the Party was politically impotent. Its activities were suspended on 29 August 1991,[30] and it was banned on 6 November.[49]

See also


  1. ^ Russian: Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС, romanized: Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskovo Soyuza, IPA: [kəmʊnʲɪsʲˈtʲitɕɪskəjə ˈpartʲɪjə sɐˈvʲetskəvə sɐˈjuzə].


  1. ^ "ГЛАВНЫЙ КОРПУС КРЕМЛЯ". The VVM Library. Archived from the original on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  2. ^ Armstrong 1986, p. 93.
  3. ^ "Soviet Union – General Secretary: Power and Authority". Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  4. ^ McCauley, Martin; Mccauley, Martin (11 September 2002). Who's Who in Russia since 1900. Routledge. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-134-77214-8.
  5. ^ McDermott, Kevin (23 January 2006). Stalin: Revolutionary in an Era of War. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-230-20478-2.
  6. ^ a b Zemtsov 2001, p. 132.
  7. ^ a b Fainsod & Hough 1979, p. 126.
  8. ^ Fainsod & Hough 1979, pp. 142–146.
  9. ^ Trotsky, Leon (1970). Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1936–37. Pathfinder Press. p. 9.
  10. ^ Brackman, Roman (23 November 2004). The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-135-75840-0.
  11. ^ Marples, David R.; Hurska, Alla (23 August 2022). Joseph Stalin: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 270. ISBN 978-1-5381-3361-3.
  12. ^ Rogovin, Vadim (2021). Was There an Alternative? Trotskyism: a Look Back Through the Years. Mehring Books. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-893638-97-6.
  13. ^ Mccauley, Martin (13 September 2013). Stalin and Stalinism: Revised 3rd Edition. Routledge. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-317-86369-4.
  14. ^ Ragsdale, Hugh (1996). The Russian Tragedy: The Burden of History. M.E. Sharpe. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-56324-755-2.
  15. ^ "What Lenin's Critics Got Right". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  16. ^ "Secretariat, Orgburo, Politburo and Presidium of the CC of the CPSU in 1919–1990 – Izvestia of the CC of the CPSU" (in Russian). 7 November 1990. Archived from the original on 7 November 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  17. ^ Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40.
  18. ^ Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40-41.
  19. ^ Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939 – 1953, p. 345.
  20. ^ a b Brown 2009, pp. 231–232.
  21. ^ Ra'anan 2006, pp. 29–31.
  22. ^ Ra'anan 2006, p. 58.
  23. ^ a b Brown 2009, p. 403.
  24. ^ a b Service 2009, p. 378.
  25. ^ a b McCauley 1997, p. 48.
  26. ^ a b Baylis 1989, pp. 98–99 & 104.
  27. ^ a b c Baylis 1989, p. 98.
  28. ^ a b Kort 2010, p. 394.
  29. ^ a b Radetsky 2007, p. 219.
  30. ^ a b McCauley 1997, p. 105.
  31. ^ Backes & Moreau 2008, p. 415.
  32. ^ Williamson 2007, p. 42.
  33. ^ McCauley 1997, p. 117.
  34. ^ Noonan 2001, p. 183.
  35. ^ Rogovin 2001, p. 38.
  36. ^ Phillips 2001, p. 20.
  37. ^ Grill 2002, p. 72.
  38. ^ Brown 2009, p. 59.
  39. ^ Rappaport 1999, pp. 95–96.
  40. ^ Ulam 2007, p. 734.
  41. ^ Taubman 2003, p. 258.
  42. ^ Ra'anan 2006, p. 69.
  43. ^ a b c Chubarov 2003, p. 60.
  44. ^ Vasil'eva 1994, pp. 218.
  45. ^ White 2000, p. 211.
  46. ^ Service 2009, pp. 433–435.
  47. ^ Service 2009, p. 435.
  48. ^ McCauley 1998, p. 314.
  49. ^ Указ Президента РСФСР от 6 ноября 1991 г. № 169 «О деятельности КПСС и КП РСФСР»