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One party


Politburo
Politburo

The Bolsheviks retitled themselves the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) in March 1918 and the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) in December 1925. From November 1952 to its eradication in 1991, the party was titled the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or CPSU. It allowed a few weak rivals to exist until the early 1920s, when it outlawed them all. A similar process of centralization occurred within the Communist Party. In March 1921 organized factions within the party were banned at Lenin’s insistence. Stalin used arrests and executions to eliminate all stirrings of opposition and branded all who took issue with him as foreign spies. Although Khrushchev and Brezhnev eschewed violence, they consistently refused to allow potential adversaries within the party to band together against them.

The party used two main means to enforce its will. First, it required all who wished to be active in politics and administration to join its ranks and submit to its discipline. CPSU membership peaked at just under 20 million in the 1980s, or roughly 10 percent of the adult population.

Second, the party created its own authoritative decision-making organs at all levels at which the state functioned. Adhering to Lenin’s teaching of “democratic centralism,” these bodies allowed some discussion of issues prior to making a decision but formed a submissive hierarchy once policy had been set.

In shape, the CPSU resembled a pyramid. At its base lay several hundred thousand “primary party organizations” embedded in factories and other workplaces.

Intermediate levels consisted of the local and regional organs of the party. All union republics with the exception of the RSFSR had their own CPSU branch. At the apex of the pyramid was the national party leadership: the Central Committee of several hundred senior officials, which convened two or three times a year, and more compact decision-making bodies.

Of the latter the most crucial were a pair of panels with about a dozen members each: the Politburo (known as the Presidium from 1952 until 1966), which dealt with the full range of domestic and foreign-policy issues, and the Secretariat, which handled intra-party organization and personnel. The ultimate leader was the general secretary (known as the first secretary from 1952 until 1966) of the CPSU. General secretaries from Stalin to Gorbachev chaired the Politburo, dominated personnel decisions, and took the initiative on all major political and policy questions. Officially, the general secretary was selected by the same party congress, held every four or five years, that voted on the membership of the Central Committee. Unofficially, his power over rank-and-file members and middle-ranking officers of the CPSU made his reelection a foregone conclusion.

The party relied on internal and external mechanisms of enforcement. Internally, it had about 150,000 salaried members of its apparat, or implementing apparatus. The party apparatus took direction from the general secretary. Though dwarfed by the state bureaucracy, it had life-and-death power over it because it contained departments designed to watch over governmental agencies and ensure their conformity with party policy. The main connection between party and state was the nomenklatura, a system whereby several million government officials had to have their appointments confirmed by boards within the machinery of the CPSU. The party also augmented its influence through auxiliary mass organizations that inculcated its values and responded to its orders. The most important of these were the trade unions and the Komsomol; in fact, the latter’s membership was about twice the size of the party’s. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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