Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries > Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 807-808
U.S.S.R.: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The tsarist regime in Russia was overthrown in November 1917 by the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which came to be known as the Communist Party. Led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Communists consolidated their power and defeated anti-Bolshevik forces aided by troops from European countries. Lenin's death in 1924 produced an intraparty struggle that was eventually resolved with the emergence of Joseph V. Stalin in control of the party by 1927. Stalin continued to lead the party and rule the country throughout the terrible destruction of World War II and into the critical postwar era. By the beginning of our study, the Soviet Union had existed as a single-party state for more than 30 years.

Stalin's rule of the country and the party was virtually complete and often arbitrary. He died in March 1953 without designating a clear successor, and another power struggle ensued over political leadership in the Soviet Union. For a time, the leadership positions of party and state were kept separate. In September 1953, Nikita S. Khrushchev became first secretary of the Communist Party and Georgi M. Malenkov succeeded Stalin as chairman of the Council of Ministers. In 1955, Malenkov was replaced by Nikolai A. Bulganin, who proved to be more cooperative for Khrushchev, who was moving into the preeminent position in the political hierarchy. At the 20th Party Congress in 1956, Khrushchev made his famous "secret speech" criticizing Stalin and "the cult of personality." This speech was thought by many to contribute to the Hungarian and Polish uprisings later that year, and it served to crystallize factional opposition to Khrushchev.

In 1957, there was an attempt within the politburo to remove Khrushchev as first secretary. Khrushchev was outvoted in the politburo and apparently defeated, but he quickly called a meeting of the much larger Central Committee and overturned the decision. Thereafter, Khrushchev moved against his opponents, labeling them as "antiparty," and removed them from the Central Committee. Now more secure in his position, Khrushchev then took the step to reunite party and state in one person as he himself replaced Bulganin as chairman of the Council of Ministers while continuing as first secretary of the party. Our period ends with Khrushchev firmly in control of both reins.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Unlike most other Communist countries, the Soviet Union has experienced numerous changes in the leadership of its ruling party. In spite of (or perhaps because of) these changes, the Soviet Union maintains a stable single-party system.

Original Party, Continuing

671 Communist Party. Khrushchev eventually fell victim to his ill?considered policies and erratic behavior, and he was ousted from both his party and state positions by the Central Committee in October 1964. The Soviet leadership was then split between Aleksei Kosygin as chairman of the Council of Ministers and Leonid Brezhnev as general secretary of the party. In 1977, Brezhnev supplemented his leadership of the party with the chairmanship of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, thus approximating the dual role played by Khrushchev.


Since 1950, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has weathered abrupt changes in its top leadership without seriously threatening the party's continuity. The leadership has shifted from Stalin to Khrushchev and from Khrushchev to Brezhnev. The greatest test of institutionalization is survival following the change of powerful leaders, and the CPSU has passed the test with little strain. The stability of the party seems assured upon Brezhnev's departure as well.

[For party politics in the U.S.S.R. since 1962, go to the essay by Michael J. Faber]

1. Our study of party politics in the Soviet Union is based on a file of 3,091 pages from 139 documents, all of which are in English. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU, code 671) is the only party included in our study. References to the CPSU appear on 2,699 pages, constituting 87 percent of the total file. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jean Jacobsohn and John C. Thomas. Ann Janda used the file to code the CPSU on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our consultants were R. Barry Farrell and Valerie Bunce.