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The Soviet system


USSR Congress of Soviets
USSR Congress of Soviets

The Soviet system from its inception had both legislative and executive structures. The RSFSR and then USSR Congress of Soviets, indirectly elected by lower-level soviets, fulfilled the legislative function from 1917 to 1936. The congress quickly turned into an obedient executor of the party’s wishes. In 1936 the Stalin constitution instituted a directly elected national parliament, the Supreme Soviet. It consisted of two chambers, the Council of the Union and the Council of Nationalities, with 750 deputies each. The Supreme Soviet, too, was a rubber stamp for the CPSU. All its members were elected without competition, on slates carefully assembled by the party organs. It met for only several days per year, although its committees convened at greater length; all votes were unanimous. The parliament elected a presiding body, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which handled mostly protocol duties, such as issuing decrees that certified decisions already made by the CPSU. The presidium’s chairman acted as an honorific head of state.

The Supreme Soviet also appointed, under CPSU tutelage, the senior officials in the executive agencies of the government. The cabinet of department heads was known as the Council of People’s Commissars from 1917 until 1946 and the Council of Ministers thereafter. The chairman of the council (unofficially dubbed the premier), the ministers, and the immense bureaucracies that served under them had much everyday power, but answered in the end to the party and served at its pleasure. Stalin doubled as general secretary of the CPSU and chairman of the Council of Ministers from the outbreak of World War II to his death, as did Georgy Malenkov (in 1953) and Nikita Khrushchev (from 1958 until 1964). When Khrushchev’s fellow CPSU leaders deposed him in 1964, they decided to keep the positions of chairman of the Council of Ministers and CPSU general secretary in separate hands.

Reflecting the vast scope of Soviet government, the Council of Ministers had many more members than any Western cabinet. In 1987, for instance, it numbered 67 persons. Its chairman, Nikolay Ryzhkov, was aided by 13 deputy premiers, each presiding over a segment of the bureaucracy. Of the 56 ministries and equivalent agencies represented in the council, some had responsibilities that would be familiar in almost any national government (such as running the post office, the courts, or the army), but the majority administered branches of the state-held economy. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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