|General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union|
|Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС|
|Central Committee of the Communist Party|
|Style||Comrade General Secretary|
|Formation||3 April 1922|
|First holder||Joseph Stalin|
|Final holder||Vladimir Ivashko (acting)|
|Abolished||29 August 1991|
|Superseded by||Chairman of the Union of Communist Parties|
|Salary||10,000 Rbls annually|
The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). From 1924 until the union's dissolution in 1991, the officeholder was the recognized leader of the Soviet Union. Officially, the General Secretary solely controlled the Communist Party directly. However, since the party had a monopoly on political power, the General Secretary 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. 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. Trotsky attributed his appointment to the initial recommendation of Grigory Zinoviev. This view has been supported by several historians. 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.
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.
Prior to Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin's tenure as General Secretary was already being criticized. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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, 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.
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. The office was renamed to General Secretary in 1966. The collective leadership was able to limit the powers of the General Secretary during the Brezhnev Era. Brezhnev's influence grew throughout the 1970s as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms. After Brezhnev's death, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were able to rule the country in the same way as Brezhnev had. 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. Following the failed August coup of 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary. 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. 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.
|Took office||Left office||Duration|
|Chairman of the Secretariat of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)|
|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.|
|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.|
|Responsible Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)|
|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.|
|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.|
|General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)|
|3 April 1922||5 March 1953||30 years, 336 days||Stalin used General Secretary's office to create a strong power base for himself. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934, Stalin was not formally re-elected as General Secretary and the office was rarely mentioned after that, but Stalin retained ultimate power and his position as Chairman of the Council of Ministers until his death on 5 March 1953. 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|
|14 September 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. Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.|
|14 October 1964||8 April 1966||1 year, 176 days||Brezhnev was part of a collective leadership with Premier Alexei Kosygin and others. The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress.|
|General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union|
|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. By the 1970s, Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms.|
|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. Andropov ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.|
|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. Like Andropov, Chernenko ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had.|
|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. He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.|
|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, and it was banned on 6 November.|
|Politics of the Soviet Union|
|Soviet Union portal|