The Constitution of the Soviet Union recognised the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the earlier Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Congress of Soviets as the highest organs of state authority in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) between legislative sessions. Under the 1924, 1936 and 1977 Soviet Constitutions these bodies served as the collective head of state of the Soviet Union. The Chairman of these bodies personally performed the largely ceremonial functions assigned to a single head of state but was provided little real power by the constitution.
The Soviet Union was established in 1922. However, the country's first constitution was only adopted in 1924. Before that time, the 1918 Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic functioned as the constitution of the USSR. According to the 1918 Constitution, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (CEC), whose chairman was head of state, had the power to determine what matters of income and taxation would go to the state budget and what would go to the local soviets. The CEC could also limit taxes. In periods between convocations of the Congress of Soviets the CEC held supreme power. In between sessions of the Congress of Soviets the CEC was responsible for all the affairs of the Congress of Soviets. The CEC and the Congress of Soviets was replaced by the Presidium and the Supreme Soviet respectively by several amendments to the 1936 constitution in 1938.
Under the 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet was the highest organ of state power and the sole organ in the country to hold legislative authority. Sessions of the Supreme Soviet were convened by the Presidium twice a year; however, special sessions could be convened on the orders of a Union Republic. In the event of a disagreement between the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities the Presidium could form a conciliation commission. If this commission failed, the Presidium could dissolve the Supreme Soviet and order new elections. The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, along with the first and fifteen other vice chairmen, would be elected by the deputies of the Supreme Soviet. In practice, the Chairman of the Presidium held little influence over policy ever since the delegation of the office's power to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) during Joseph Stalin's rule.
The Presidency was established in 1990 and the President would, according to the altered constitution, be elected by the Soviet people by direct and secret ballot. However, the first and only Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, was elected by the democratically elected Congress of People's Deputies. In connection with the dissolution of the Soviet Union national elections for the office of President never took place. To be elected to the office a person must have been a Soviet citizen and older than thirty-five but younger than sixty-five years. The same person could not be elected president more than twice. The Presidency was the highest state office, and was the most important office in the Soviet Union by influence and recognition, eclipsing that of Premier (later renamed to Prime Minister) and General Secretary. With the establishment of the Presidency executive power was shared between the President and the Prime Minister. The President was given broad powers, such as being responsible for negotiating the membership of the Cabinet of Ministers with the Supreme Soviet; the Prime Minister, however, was responsible for managing the nomenklatura and economic matters.
List of heads of state
Of the eleven individuals appointed head of state, three died in office of natural causes (Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko), one held the position in a temporary role (Vasili Kuznetsov), and four held posts of party leader and head of state simultaneously (Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev). The first head of state was Mikhail Kalinin, who was inaugurated in 1922 after the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR. At over twenty years, Kalinin spent the longest time in office; he died shortly after his resignation in 1946. Andropov spent the shortest time in office.
Heads of the Soviet Union (1922–1991)
List of vice heads of state
There have been four individuals appointed vice head of state. At over eight years, Vasily Kuznetsov spent the longest time in office. Gennady Yanayev spent the shortest time in office.
List of general secretaries of the CPSU
||Term of office
|General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (1922–1952)
||3 April 1922 – 16 October 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 and the office was rarely mentioned after that 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. 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 Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1953–1966)
||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. Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
||14 October 1964 – 8 April 1966
||Brezhnev was part of a collective leadership with Premier Alexei Kosygin and others. The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress.
|General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1966–1991)
||8 April 1966 – 10 November 1982
||Brezhnev's powers and functions as the General Secretary were limited by the collective leadership. By the 1970s Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin as he was able to retain this support by avoiding any radical reforms.
||12 November 1982 – 9 February 1984
||He emerged as Brezhnev's most likely successor as the chairman of the committee in charge of managing Brezhnev's funeral. Andropov ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.
||13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985
||Chernenko was 72 years old when elected to the post of General Secretary and in rapidly failing health. Like Andropov, Chernenko ruled the country in the same way Brezhnev had.
||11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991
||The 1990 Congress of People's Deputies removed Article 6 from the 1977 Soviet Constitution. Thus, 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. He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.
||24 August 1991 – 29 August 1991
||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 and on 29 August 1991, it was banned.
- Soviet Union-related
- ^ a b Repeat head of state and vice heads of state are numbered only once; subsequent terms are marked with their original number italicised. Acting heads of state are not numbered. These numbers are not official.
- ^ a b A convocation in the Soviet sense of the word were elected members of Parliament in between elections.
- ^ On 15 March 1990 most constitutional powers were transferred to the newly created office of President of the Soviet Union. Anatoly Lukyanov was elected Chairman of the Supreme Soviet to replace Mikhail Gorbachev. Although the Chairman's office retained its name, it was now that of a parliamentary speaker, not a head of state. Real executive powers were retained by Gorbachev.
- ^ Yanayev was Acting President of the Soviet Union during the August Coup of 1991, but was jailed following the coup's collapse and Gorbachev returned to his post as President.
- ^ Following the failed August Coup of 1991 the State Council was given the power to elect a Vice President in the temporary absence of the President.
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