Government of the Soviet Union


Government of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union

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The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (officially known as the Union Government) was established by the Constitution of the Soviet Union as the governing authority of a union of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics collectively called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The government resided in Moscow, capital of the USSR.

It comprised three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The executive branch was headed by the President, who was the head of state and exercised his power directly or through direct subordinates. The legislative branch (Parliament) consisted of two levels (Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, the latter also consists of Presidium and two chambers – the Soviet of the Union and Soviet of Nationalities) – and the premier (the literal head of government). The judicial branch consisted of the Supreme Court and civil, criminal and family courts at the district level.

The basic civil and criminal laws governing the citizens of the Soviet Union were set down in parliamentary legislation. The All-Union and individual republic governments consisted of executive, legislative and judicial branches. The legal system, as applicable to the All-Union and individual republican governments, was based on socialist law.

Contents

Legislative branch

Congress of Soviets (1922–1936) and the Supreme Soviet (1936–1989)

The Congress of Soviets was the supreme organ of power, in accordance with Article 8 of the 1924 Soviet Constitution.[1] The Congress was replaced in the 1936 Soviet Constitution by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union; in accordance with Article 30,[2] it functioned as the highest state authority[3] and the only legislative branch of the USSR.[4] According to Article 108 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution, the Supreme Soviet was empowered to deal with all matters within the jurisdiction of the USSR. The admission of new republics; creation of new Autonomous Republics and Autonomous Regions; approval of the five-year plan for social and economic development; creation of the state budget and the institution of bodies to which the USSR was accountable were the exclusive prerogative of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The Law of the USSR was enacted by the Supreme Soviet or by referendum.[5]

The Supreme Soviet consisted of two chambers: the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities; both chambers had equal rights.[6] The Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities had an equal number of deputies. The Soviet of the Union was elected by constituencies with equal populations; the Soviet of Nationalities was elected on the basis of the following representation: 32 deputies from each Union Republic, 11 deputies from each Autonomous Republic, five deputies from each Autonomous Region, and one deputy from each Autonomous Area. The Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities (upon submission by the elected credentials commissions) had the power to decide the validity of the elected deputies' credentials, and (in cases where election law had been violated) would declare the election null and void.[7] Both chambers elected a Chairman and four Deputies. The Chairmen of the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities presided over sessions of their respective chambers and conducted their affairs. Joint sessions of the chambers were presided over by (alternately) the Chairman of the Soviet of the Union and the Chairman of the Soviet of Nationalities.[8]

Congress of People's Deputies and State Council (1989–1991)

Through a constitutional amendment made by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Supreme Soviet became a permanent parliament which was elected by the Congress of the People's Deputies. In the 1989 Soviet legislative election the Soviet people, for the first time, elected candidates democratically. The new amendment called for a smaller working body (later known as the Supreme Soviet), to be elected by the 2,250-member Congress of People's Deputies. One-third of the seats in the Congress of People's Deputies was reserved for the Communist Party and other public organisations. The amendment clearly stated that multiple candidates could participate in elections[9], and Soviet voters stunned the authorities by voting for non-CPSU candidates and reformers. However, genuine reformers were estimated to have won only about 300 seats.[10] Following the failed August Coup attempt, the State Council became the highest organ of state power "in the period of transition".[11]

Executive branch

Premier and the Council (1922–1991)

According to the 1924 Soviet Constitution, the executive branch was headed by the Council of People's Commissars[12]; in the 1977 Soviet Constitution, the Council of Ministers was the head of the executive branch.[13] The Council of Ministers was formed at a joint meeting of the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. The Council consisted of the Chairman, the First Deputies, the Deputies, the ministers, the chairmen of the state committees and the Chairmen of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Republics. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers could recommend to the Supreme Soviet other heads of organisations in the USSR as members of the Council. The Council of Ministers laid down its power before the first session of the newly-elected Supreme Soviet.[14]

The Council of Ministers was both responsible for and accountable to the Supreme Soviet, and in the period between sessions of the Supreme Soviet it was accountable to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. The Council of Ministers regularly reported to the Supreme Soviet on its work.[15] It was tasked with resolving all state administrative duties within the jurisdiction of the USSR, to the degree that they did not come under the competence of the Supreme Soviet or the Presidium. Within its limits, the Council of Ministers had authority to:[16]

  • Ensure management of the national economy and its socio-cultural construction and development
  • Formulate and submit the five-year plan of "economic and social development" and the state budget to the Supreme Soviet, and submit its fulfilment to the Supreme Soviet
  • Defend the interests of the state, socialist property and public order, and protect the rights of Soviet citizens
  • Ensure state security
  • Exercise general leadership of the Soviet armed forces and determine how many were to be drafted into service
  • Exercise general leadership over Soviet foreign relations; trade and the economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation of the USSR with foreign countries. It also confirmed and announced international treaties signed by the USSR.
  • Set up necessary organisations within the Council of Ministers in matters of economics, socio-cultural issues and defence

It also had the power to issue decrees and resolutions, and to later verify their execution. All organisations were obligated to follow the decrees and resolutions issued by the All-Union Council of Ministers.[17] The All-Union Council also had the power to suspend all issues and decrees made by itself or organisations subordinate to it.[18] It coordinated and directed the work of the republics and their ministries, state committees and other organs subordinate to the All-Union Council.[19] Finally, the competence of the Council of Ministers and its Presidium in their procedures and activities (and its relationship with subordinate organs) was defined in the Soviet constitution by the Law on the Council of Ministers of the USSR.[20]

President and the Cabinet (1991)

In 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev created the office of the President of the Soviet Union, the head of the executive branch.[21] In the meantime, the Council of Ministers was dissolved and replaced by the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR. The new cabinet was headed by the Premier.[22] Gorbachev's election as President marked the third time in one year he was elected to an office equivalent to that of Soviet head of state; he was elected by the Congress of People's Deputies on all three occasions.[10]

Judicial branch

The Supreme Court was the highest judicial body in the country; it supervised the administration of justice by the courts of the USSR and its Soviet Republics within the limits of established law. The leadership of the Supreme Court was elected by the Supreme Soviet; the exceptions were the Chairmen of the Supreme Courts of the Soviet Republics, who were ex officio members. The organisation and the procedures of the Supreme Court were defined by law.[23] As written in Article 157 of the Brezhnev constitution, "Justice is administered in the USSR on the principle of the equality of citizens before the law and the court."[24] In the following articles it was made clear that all individuals (no matter their circumstances) had the right to legal assistance.[25] All judicial proceedings in the USSR were conducted in the language of the Soviet Republic, "Autonomous Republic, Autonomous Region, or Autonomous Area, or in the language spoken by the majority of the people in the locality". People who participated in court proceedings without knowledge of the language had the right to become fully acquainted with the materials in the case, the right to an interpreter during the proceedings and the right to address the court in their own language.[26]

The Procurator General was (according to Article 165) appointed to the office by the Supreme Soviet. The Procurator was responsible and accountable to the Supreme Soviet or, between sessions of the Supreme Soviet, to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.[27] The Procurator General supervised most activities of Soviet agencies such as ministries, state committees and local Prosecutor Generals.[28] Subordinate agencies of the Procurator General exercised their functions independent from meddling by the Soviet state, and were subordinate only to the Prosecutor's office. The organisation and procedures of these subordinates were defined in the Law on the Procurator's Office of the USSR.[29]

Role of the Communist Party

According to Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution, the Party was "the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organisations and public organisations, is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CPSU exists for the people and serves the people." The Communist Party was officially a Marxist-Leninist communist party, which determined the general development of Soviet society both in domestic and foreign policy. Also, it directed the "great work" of building communism through economic planning and the struggle for the victory of communism. All Communist Party organisations had to follow the framework laid down by the 1977 Soviet Constitution.[30] After mounting pressure against him by the reformers, Mikhail Gorbachev removed the phrase "the leading and guiding force" and replaced it with "the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and other political parties".[31]

The Nomenklatura was the Soviet Union's ruling group, and remained one of the main reasons why the USSR existed as long as it did. Members of the Nomenklatura were elected by the CPSU to all important posts in Soviet society; this could mean a locally- or nationally-significant office. This, along with the CPSU's monopoly on power, led to the gradual physical and intellectual degeneration of the USSR as a state. As long as the General Secretary of the CPSU commanded the loyalty of the Politburo he would remain more-or-less unopposed, and in all probability become the leader of the country.[32]

See also

References

  1. ^ Article #8 of the 1924 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of January 1924 Article 8. .
  2. ^ Article #30 of the 1936 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 5 December 1936 Article 30. .
  3. ^ Article #14 of the 1936 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 5 December 1936 Article 14. .
  4. ^ Article #31 of the 1936 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 5 December 1936 Article 31. .
  5. ^ Article #108 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 108. .
  6. ^ Article #109 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 109. .
  7. ^ Article #110 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 110. .
  8. ^ Article #111 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 111. .
  9. ^ Soviet Union law № 9853-XI "On amendments and additions to the Constitution (Basic Law) of the USSR
  10. ^ a b "Gorbachev's Reform Dilemma". Library of Congress Country Studies. http://countrystudies.us/russia/18.htm. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  11. ^ Government of the USSR: Gorbachev, Mikhail (21 March 1972). "УКАЗ: ПОЛОЖЕНИЕ О МИНИСТЕРСТВЕ ЮСТИЦИИ СССР [Law: About state governing bodies of USSR in a transition period On the bodies of state authority and administration of the USSR in Transition]" (in Russian). sssr.su. http://www.sssr.su/zopp.html. Retrieved 15 October 1991. 
  12. ^ Article #37 of the 1924 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of January 1924 Article 37. .
  13. ^ Article #128 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 128. .
  14. ^ Article #129 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 129. .
  15. ^ Article #130 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 130. .
  16. ^ Article #131 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 131. .
  17. ^ Article #133 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 133. .
  18. ^ Article #134 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 134. .
  19. ^ Article #135 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 135. .
  20. ^ Article #136 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 136. .
  21. ^ Polmar, Norman (1991). The Naval Institute guide to the Soviet. United States Naval Institute. p. 1. ISBN 0870212419. http://books.google.ca/books?id=tkGDkpkQh-sC&dq. 
  22. ^ McCauley, Martin (2007). The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union. Pearson Education. p. 490. ISBN 0582784654. http://books.google.ca/books?id=ycCZqmhhceMC&dq. 
  23. ^ Article #153 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 153. .
  24. ^ Article #157 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 157. .
  25. ^ Article #158 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 158. .
  26. ^ Article #159 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 159. .
  27. ^ Article #165 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 165. .
  28. ^ Article #164 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 164. .
  29. ^ Article #168 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 168. .
  30. ^ Article #6 of the 1977 constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of 7 October 1977 Article 6. .
  31. ^ Government of the USSR: Gorbachev, Mikhail (21 March 1972). "УКАЗ: Об учреждении поста Президента СССР и внесении изменений и дополнений в Конституцию (Основной Закон) СССР [Law: Establish the post of President of the USSR and the amendments to the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the USSR]" (in Russian). constitution.garant.ru. http://constitution.garant.ru/history/ussr-rsfsr/1977/zakony/185465/. Retrieved 14 March 1990. 
  32. ^ Chubarov, Alexander (2001). Russia's bitter path to modernity: a history of the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 58–60. ISBN 0826413501. http://books.google.ca/books?id=ycCZqmhhceMC&dq. 

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