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General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

De facto Leader of the Soviet Union

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС
Emblem of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Longest serving
Joseph Stalin

3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952
Central Committee of the Communist Party
StyleComrade General Secretary
TypeParty leader
StatusCountry leader
Member of
ResidenceKremlin Senate[1]
SeatKremlin, Moscow
AppointerCentral Committee
Formation3 April 1922; 100 years ago (1922-04-03)
First holderJoseph Stalin
Final holderVladimir Ivashko (acting)
Abolished29 August 1991; 31 years ago (1991-08-29)
Superseded byChairman of the Union of Communist Parties
Salary10,000 Rbls annually

The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). From 1929 until the union's dissolution, the holder of the office was the de facto leader of the Soviet Union,[2] because the post controlled the party, the foreign and the internal politics of the state and the federal government. It was the de facto highest ranking office of the 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.[3] After the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, the Office of General Secretary was created by Lenin in 1922. Lenin created the position with the intention that it would serve a purely administrative and disciplinary position. Its primary focus would be to determine party membership composition and assign positions within the party. The General Secretary also oversaw recording party events and keeping the party leaders and members informed in party activities. When assembling his cabinet, Lenin appointed Joseph Stalin as the General Secretary. In his first several years Stalin used the principles of democratic centralism to transform his office into that of party leader, and later leader of the Soviet Union.[4]

Prior to Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin's tenure as General Secretary was already being criticized.[5] In Lenin's final months, he authored a pamphlet that called for Stalin's removal on the justification that Stalin was becoming authoritarian and abusing his power. This pamphlet resulted in a political crisis for Stalin and a vote was held to remove him. Stalin with the help of Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev survived the scandal and remained in his post. The 1920s saw Stalin begin consolidating his power by using the office of General Secretary. By 1928 he became the unquestioned leader of the USSR and the General Secretary became the nation's highest office. 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 diminution.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10] When Stalin died on 5 March 1953, Malenkov was the most important member of the Secretariat, which also included Nikita Khrushchev, among others. Under a short-lived troika 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, leaving Khrushchev in effective control of the body.[11] Khrushchev was elected to the new office of First Secretary at the Central Committee plenum on 14 September of the same year. Khrushchev removed his rivals from power in both 1955 and (especially) 1957 and reinforced the supremacy of the First Secretary.[12]

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 as part of another collective leadership, together with Premier Alexei Kosygin and others.[13] The office was renamed General Secretary in 1966.[14] The collective leadership was able to limit the powers of the General Secretary during the Brezhnev Era.[15] Brezhnev's influence grew throughout the 1970s as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms.[16] Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko ruled the country in the same way as Brezhnev had.[17] 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 still retained his role as leader of the Soviet Union.[18] Following the failed August coup of 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary.[19] 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 activity in the Communist Party.[20] 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.[21]

List of officeholders

Portrait Name
Term Notes
Took office Left office Duration
Technical Secretary of the Social Democratic Labour Party of Russia
Elena Stasova
April 1917 1918 0–1 years 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,[23] formulating party structure policy and appointing new personnel.[24]
Chairperson of the Russian Communist Party
Yakov Sverdlov
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.[26]
Elena Stasova
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.[27]
Responsible Secretary of the Russian Communist Party
Nikolay Krestinsky
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.[3]
Vyacheslav Molotov
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.[30]
General Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party
Joseph Stalin
3 April 1922 16 October 1952 30 years, 196 days 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[32] and the office was rarely mentioned after that[33] but Stalin retained his positions and all of his power. The office was formally abolished at the 19th Party Congress on 16 October 1952, but Stalin retained ultimate power and his position as Chairman of the Council of Ministers.[10] At 30 years 7 months, Stalin was by far the longest-serving General Secretary, serving for almost half of the USSR's entire existence.
First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Nikita Khrushchev
14 September 1953 14 October 1964 11 years, 30 days 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.[35] Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.[14]
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.[13] The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress.[15]
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Leonid Brezhnev
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.[16] By the 1970s, Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin as he was able to retain support by avoiding any radical reforms.
Yuri Andropov
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.[38] Andropov ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.[17]
Konstantin Chernenko
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.[39] Like Andropov, Chernenko ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had.[17]
Mikhail Gorbachev
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.[18] He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.[19]
Vladimir Ivashko
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,[20] and it was banned on 6 November.[42]

See also


  1. ^ "ГЛАВНЫЙ КОРПУС КРЕМЛЯ". The VVM Library. Archived from the original on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  2. ^ Armstrong 1986, p. 93.
  3. ^ a b Fainsod & Hough 1979, p. 126.
  4. ^ Fainsod & Hough 1979, pp. 142–146.
  5. ^ "What Lenin's Critics Got Right". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  6. ^ "Secretariat, Orgburo, Politburo and Presidium of the CC of the CPSU in 1919–1990 – Izvestia of the CC of the CPSU" (in Russian). 7 November 1990. Archived from the original on 7 November 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  7. ^ Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40.
  8. ^ Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40-41.
  9. ^ Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939 – 1953, p. 345.
  10. ^ a b Brown 2009, pp. 231–232.
  11. ^ Ra'anan 2006, pp. 29–31.
  12. ^ Ra'anan 2006, p. 58.
  13. ^ a b Brown 2009, p. 403.
  14. ^ a b Service 2009, p. 378.
  15. ^ a b McCauley 1997, p. 48.
  16. ^ a b Baylis 1989, pp. 98–99 & 104.
  17. ^ a b c Baylis 1989, p. 98.
  18. ^ a b Kort 2010, p. 394.
  19. ^ a b Radetsky 2007, p. 219.
  20. ^ a b McCauley 1997, p. 105.
  21. ^ Backes & Moreau 2008, p. 415.
  22. ^ a b McCauley 1997, p. 117.
  23. ^ Clements 1997, p. 140.
  24. ^ Fairfax 1999, p. 36.
  25. ^ Williamson 2007, p. 42.
  26. ^ Zemtsov 2001, p. 132.
  27. ^ Noonan 2001, p. 183.
  28. ^ Rogovin 2001, p. 38.
  29. ^ Phillips 2001, p. 20.
  30. ^ Grill 2002, p. 72.
  31. ^ Brown 2009, p. 59.
  32. ^ Rappaport 1999, pp. 95–96.
  33. ^ Ulam 2007, p. 734.
  34. ^ Taubman 2003, p. 258.
  35. ^ Ra'anan 2006, p. 69.
  36. ^ a b c Chubarov 2003, p. 60.
  37. ^ Vasil'eva 1994, pp. 218.
  38. ^ White 2000, p. 211.
  39. ^ Service 2009, pp. 433–435.
  40. ^ Service 2009, p. 435.
  41. ^ McCauley 1998, p. 314.
  42. ^ Указ Президента РСФСР от 6 ноября 1991 г. № 169 «О деятельности КПСС и КП РСФСР»