The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Russian: Коммунисти́ческая Па́ртия Сове́тского Сою́за, transliterated Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza, acronym: КПСС (KPSS)) was the ruling political party in the Soviet Union. It emerged in 1912 as the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party created a separate party. The party led the October Revolution, which led to the establishment of a socialist state in Russia. The party was dissolved in 1991, at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
For the most of the history of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was virtually indistinguishable from the government, as it was generally the only political party tolerated by the government. Consequently, the history of the USSR and the CPSU are deeply intertwined and overlapping. Therefore, it is useful for those interested in the history of the CPSU to also consult the History of Russia series of articles.
The governing body of the CPSU was the Party Congress which initially met annually but whose meetings became less frequent, particularly under Stalin. Party Congresses would elect a Central Committee which, in turn, would elect a Politburo. Under Stalin the most powerful position in the party became the General Secretary who was elected by the Politburo. In 1952 the title of General Secretary became First Secretary and the Politburo became the Presidium before reverting to their former names under Leonid Brezhnev in 1966.
In theory, supreme power in the party was invested in the Party Congress. However, in practice the power structure became reversed and, particularly after the death of Lenin, supreme power became the domain of the General Secretary.
At lower levels, the organizational hierarchy was managed by Party Committees, or partkoms (партком). A partkom was headed by the elected "partkom secretary" (секретарь парткома). At enterprises, institutions, kolkhozes, etc., they were called as such, i.e., "partkoms". At higher levels the Committees were abbreviated accordingly: raikoms (райком) at raion level, obkoms (обком) at oblast levels (known earlier as gubkoms (губком) for guberniyas), gorkom (горком) it city level, etc.
The bottom level of the Party was the "primary party organization" (первичная партийная организация) or "party cell" (партийная ячейка). It was created within any organizational entity of any kind where there were at least three communists. The management of a cell was called "party bureau" (партийное бюро, партбюро). A partbureau was headed by the elected "bureau secretary" (секретарь партбюро).
At smaller party cells, secretaries were regular employees of the corresponding plant/hospital/school/etc. Sufficiently large party organizations were usually headed by an "exempt secretary" (освобожденный секретарь), who drew his salary from the Party money.
Membership in the party ultimately became a privilege, with a small subset of the general population of Party becoming an elite class or nomenklatura in Soviet society. Nomenklatura enjoyed many perquisites denied to the average Soviet citizen. Among those perks were shopping at well-stocked stores, access to foreign merchandise, preference in obtaining housing, access to dachas and holiday resorts, being allowed to travel abroad, send their children to the best universities, and obtain prestigious jobs (as well as party membership itself) for their children. It became virtually impossible to join the Soviet ruling and managing elite without being a member of the Communist Party.
Membership had its risks, however, especially in the 1930s when the party was subjected to purges under Stalin. Membership in the party was not open. To become a party member one had to be approved by various committees and one's past was closely scrutinised. As generations grew up never having known anything but the USSR, party membership became something one generally achieved after passing a series of stages. Children would join the Young Pioneers and then, at the age of 14, may graduate to the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and ultimately, as an adult, if one had shown the proper adherence to party discipline or had the right connections one would become a member of the Communist Party itself. However, membership also had its obligations. Komsomol and CPSU members were expected not only to pay dues but also to carry out appropriate assignments and "social tasks" (общественные поручения).
In 1918 it had a membership of approximately 200,000. In the late 1920s under Stalin, the party engaged in a heavy recruitment campaign (the "Lenin Levy") of new members from both the working class and rural areas. This was both an attempt to "proletarianize" the party and an attempt by Stalin to strengthen his base by outnumbering the Old Bolsheviks and reducing their influence in the party.
By 1933, the party had approximately 3.5 million members and candidate members but as a result of the Great Purge party membership fell to 1.9 million by 1939. In 1986, the CPSU had over 19 million members or approximately 10% of the USSR's adult population. Over 44% of party members were classified as industrial workers, 12% were collective farmers. The CPSU had party organizations in fourteen of the USSR's 15 republics. In the Russian federation itself there was no separate Communist Party until 1990 as affairs were run directly by the CPSU.
The growing likelihood of the dissolution of the USSR itself led hardline left-wing elements in the CPSU to launch the August Coup in 1991 which temporarily removed Gorbachev from power. On August 19, 1991, a day before the New Union Treaty was to be signed devolving power to the republics, a group calling itself the "State Emergency Committee" seized power in Moscow declaring that Gorbachev was ill and therefore relieved of his position as president. Soviet vice-president Gennadiy Yanayev was named acting president. The committee's eight members included KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. The coup dissolved because of large public demonstrations and the efforts of Boris Yeltsin who became the real power in Russia as a result. Gorbachev returned to Moscow as president but resigned as General Secretary and vowed to purge the party of hardliners. Yeltsin had the CPSU formally banned within Russia. The KGB was disbanded as were other CPSU-related agencies and organisations. Yeltsin's action was later declared unconstitutional but by this time the USSR had ceased to exist.
Archives of the Party are now preserved in a number of Russian state archives (Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, State Archive of the Russian Federation), many of them remain classified.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian adherents to the CPSU tradition, particularly as it existed before Gorbachev, reorganised themselves as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Today there are many parties in Russia claiming to be the successors of CPSU. Several of them used the name CPSU. However, CPRF is generally seen (because of its massive size) as the inheritor of the CPSU in Russia.
In other republics, communists established the Armenian Communist Party, Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan, Communist Party of Ukraine, Party of Communists of Belarus, Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, Communist Party of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Tajikistan. Along with the CPRF, these parties formed the Union of Communist Parties - Communist Party of the Soviet Union (SKP-KPSS).
EKP split in 1990, when the pro-sovereignty majority faction of EKP separated itself from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and became the Estonian Democratic Labour Party. The minority faction of pro-Soviet hardliners opposing the separation formed a rump party called Communist Party of Estonia (CPSU) (EKP (NLKP)), which was outlawed by the government in 1991, just after Estonia declared independence.
In the Lithuanian territorial organization, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the party (always a Lithuanian) was de facto governor of the country. The second secretary was always a Moscow-appointed Russian.
In 1952 the name of the old Lithuanian party, LKP, was retaken.
In 1989, during mass protests against Soviet Union in Lithuania the party declared itself independent from Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
An alternative Communist Party of Lithuania ('on platform of Communist Party of the Soviet Union') existed in 1990-1991 under leadership of Mykolas Burokevičius. It was established after the "traditional" party declared its independence from its Soviet Union counterpart, and was eventually banned in 1991.
In 1990 the Communist Party of Lithuania was renamed into Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, which in turn was later merged with Social Democratic Party of Lithuania under the later's name, but with leadership dominated by ex-communists.
After the Communist party was legalised again by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova on 7 September 1993, the PCM was reborn as the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, which has governed Moldova since 2001.
|Russian SFSR||Communist Party of Russia (1990-1991)|
|Ukrainian SSR||Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine|
|Belarusian SSR||Communist Party of Belorussia|
|Uzbek SSR||Communist Party of Uzbekistan|
|Kazakh SSR||Communist Party of Kazakhstan|
|Georgian SSR||Communist Party of Georgia|
|Azerbaijan SSR||Communist Party of Azerbaijan|
|Lithuanian SSR||Communist Party of Lithuania|
|Moldovan SSR||Communist Party of Moldova|
|Latvian SSR||Communist Party of Latvia|
|Kirghiz SSR||Communist Party of Kirghizia|
|Tajik SSR||Communist Party of Tajikistan|
|Armenian SSR||Communist Party of Armenia|
|Turkmen SSR||Communist Party of Turkmenistan|
|Estonian SSR||Communist Party of Estonia|
|Turkestan ASSR||Communist Party of Turkestan|
|Bukharan SSR (1920–1925)||Communist Party of Bukhara|
|Khorezm SSR (1920–1925)||Communist Party of Khorezm|
|Karelo-Finnish SSR (1940-1956)||Communist Party of the Karelo-Finnish SSR|
|Transcaucasian SFSR (1922-1936)||Transcaucasian Regional Communist Party of the RKP(b)/VKP(b)|