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General Secretary of the CPSU


General Secretary of the CPSU

General Secretary of the
Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Former political post
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary
First officeholder Elena Stasova
Last officeholder Vladimir Ivashko (acting)
Official residence Moscow Kremlin
Appointer Politburo and/or Central Committee
Office began April 1917
Office ended 29 August 1991
Current pretender Gennady Zyuganov

General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Russian: Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС) was the title given to the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. With some exceptions, the office was synonymous with leader of the Soviet Union. Throughout its history the office had four other names: Technical Secretary (1917–1918), Chairman of the Secretariat (1918–1919), Responsible Secretary (1919–1922) and First Secretary (1953–1966). Joseph Stalin elevated the office to overall command of the Communist Party and by extension the whole Soviet Union.[1]

History of the office

In its first two incarnations the office performed mostly secretarial work. The post of Responsible Secretary was then established in 1919 to perform administrative work.[2] In 1922 the office of General Secretary followed as a purely administrative and disciplinary position, whose role was to do no more than determine party membership composition. Stalin, its first incumbent, used the principles of democratic centralism to transform his office into that of party leader, and later leader of the Soviet Union.[1]

In 1934, the 17th Party Congress refrained from formally re-electing Stalin as General Secretary. However, Stalin was re-elected into all other positions and remained leader of the party without diminishment.[3]

In the 1950s, Stalin increasingly withdrew from Secretariat business, leaving the supervision of the body to Georgy Malenkov, possibly to test him as a potential successor.[4] 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.[5] In the end, the congress formally abolished Stalin's office of General Secretary, though Stalin remained one of the party secretaries and maintained ultimate control of the Party.[6][7] When Stalin died on 5 March 1953, Malenkov was the most important member of the Secretariat, which also included Nikita Khrushchev among others. Malenkov became Chairman of the Council of Ministers but was forced to resign from the Secretariat on 14 March 1953, leaving Khrushchev in effective control of the body.[8] Khrushchev was elected to the new office of First Secretary at the Central Committee plenum on 14 September 1953. Originally conceived as a collective leadership, Khrushchev removed his rivals from power in both 1955 and 1957 and reinforced the supremacy of the First Secretary.[9]

In 1964 opposition within the Politburo and the Central Committee led to Khrushchev's removal as First Secretary. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev to the post and the office was renamed General Secretary in 1966.[10] During the Brezhnev Era the collective leadership was able to limit the powers of the General Secretary.[11] Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way as Brezhnev had.[12] Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union through the office of 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 still retained his role as leader of the Soviet Union.[13] Following the failed August coup of 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary.[14] He was succeeded by his deputy, Vladimir Ivashko, who only served for five days as Acting General Secretary before Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia, suspended all Communist Party activity.[15] 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. The UCP–CPSU works as a framework for reviving and restoring the CPSU. The organisation has members in all the former Soviet republics.[16] Its current leader is Gennady Zyuganov, who is concurrently First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.[17]

List of General Secretaries

Portrait Term of office Notes
Technical Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (1917–1918)
Elena Stasova
April 1917–1918 As Technical Secretary, Stasova and her staff of four women, were responsible for maintaining correspondence with provincial party cells, assigning work, keeping financial records, distributing Party funds,[19] formulating party structure policy and appointing new personnel.[20]
Chairman of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (1918–1919)
Yakov Sverdlov
1918 – 16 March 1919 Sverdlov remained in office until his death on 16 March 1919. During his tenure he was mainly responsible for technical rather than political matters.[22]
Elena Stasova
March 1919 – December 1919 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.[23]
Responsible Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (1919–1922)
Nikolay Krestinsky
December 1919 – March 1921 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.[2]
Vyacheslav Molotov
March 1921 – April 1922 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.[26]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) (1922–1952)
Joseph Stalin
3 April 1922 – 5 March 1952 Stalin used the office of General Secretary to create a strong power base for himself. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934, Stalin was not formally re-elected as General Secretary[28] and the office was rarely mentioned after that[29] but Stalin retained all other positions and all of his power. The office was formally abolished at the 19th Party Congress on 16 October 1952, but Stalin remained secretary and retained ultimate power.[7]
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1953–1966)
Nikita Khrushchev
14 September 1953 – 14 October 1964 Khrushchev reestablished the office on 14 September 1953 under the name First Secretary. In 1957 he was nearly removed from office by the Anti-Party Group. Georgy Malenkov, a leading member of the Anti-Party Group, worried that the powers of the First Secretary were virtually unlimited.[31] Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.[10]
Leonid Brezhnev
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14 October 1964 – 8 April 1966 The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress.[11]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1966–1991)
Leonid Brezhnev
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8 April 1966 – 10 November 1982 At first there was no clear leader of the collective leadership with Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin ruling as equals.[33] However, by the 1970s Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin's and he was able to retain this support by avoiding any radical reforms. The powers and functions of the General Secretary were limited by the collective leadership during Brezhnev's tenure.[34]
Yuri Andropov
12 November 1982 – 9 February 1984 He was seen as the most likely candidate for the General Secretary when it became known he had been the chairman of the committee in charge of arranging, managing and preparing Brezhnev's funeral.[36] Andropov was obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.[12]
Konstantin Chernenko
90px 13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985 Chernenko was 72 years old when elected to the post of General Secretary and in rapidly failing health.[37] Chernenko was also obliged by protocol, as Yuri Andropov had been, to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had.[12]
Mikhail Gorbachev
(born 1931)[38]
11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991 The 1990 Congress of People's Deputies voted to remove Article 6 from the 1977 Soviet Constitution. This meant that the Communist Party lost its position as the "leading and guiding force of the Soviet society" and 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.[13] He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.[14]
Vladimir Ivashko
90px 24 August 1991 – 29 August 1991 He was elected Deputy General Secretary, another name for deputy leader, at the 28th Party Congress. Ivashko became acting General Secretary following Gorbachev's resignation, but by then the Party was politically impotent and on 29 August 1991 it was banned.[15]

See also

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