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Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union


Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Coat of arms or logo
In practice, the highest organ in Soviet politics
Elected by
Responsible to
The Central Committee
Seats Varied
Meeting place
Staraya Square, Moscow, Russian SFSR

The Politburo (Russian: Политбюро; IPA: , full: Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, abbreviated Политбюро ЦК КПСС, Politbyuro TsK KPSS), was the highest policy-making government authority under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[1] It was founded in October 1917, and refounded in March 1919, at the 8th Congress of the Bolshevik Party. It was known as the Presidium from 1952 to 1966. The existence of the Politburo ended in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union.[1]


  • History 1
    • Background 1.1
      • Early years: 1919–1934 1.1.1
      • Stalinist years: 1934–1953 1.1.2
      • Khrushchev: 1953–1964 1.1.3
      • Collectivity of leadership: 1964–1985 1.1.4
      • Gorbachev: 1985–1991 1.1.5
  • Duties and responsibilities 2
    • Status 2.1
    • Decision-making process 2.2
    • Relation to the Secretariat 2.3
  • Members 3
    • Election 3.1
    • Posts 3.2
    • Ethnicity, age and sex 3.3
    • Origin and education 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7



On August 18, 1917 Lenin set up a political bureau - known first as Narrow composition and, after October 23, 1917, as Political bureau - specifically to direct the Revolution, with only seven members (Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Sokolnikov, Bubnov), but this precursor did not outlast the event; the Central Committee continued with the political functions. However, due to practical reasons, usually fewer than half of the members attended the regular Central Committee meetings during this time, even though they decided all key questions.

The 8th Party Congress in 1919 formalized this reality and re-established what would later on become the true center of political power in the Soviet Union. It ordered the Central Committee to appoint a five-member Politburo to decide on questions too urgent to await full Central Committee deliberation. The original members of the Politburo were Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Krestinsky.

Early years: 1919–1934

Lenin, having established the highly centralized party system, remained a supporter of collective decision-making[2]

The Stalinist system was based upon the system conceived by

  • Leadership of the CPSU Full list of members and candidate members of the Politburo includes dates on the body and year of death (or execution).
  • Succession of Power in the USSR from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives

External links


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Rees 2004, pp. 5–7.
  3. ^ a b c Rees 2004, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c Rees 2004, p. 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Rees 2004, p. 5.
  6. ^ Rees 2004, p. 6.
  7. ^ a b c Wheatcroft 2004, p. 85.
  8. ^ a b c Rees 2004, p. 2.
  9. ^ Rees 2004, pp. 6–7.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rees 2004, p. 7.
  11. ^ Rees 2004, p. 8.
  12. ^ a b Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 30.
  13. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 30–31.
  14. ^ a b c d Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 31.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 32.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 33.
  17. ^ a b c Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 85.
  18. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 85–87.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 87.
  20. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 87–88.
  21. ^ a b Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 88.
  22. ^ a b Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 140.
  23. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 141.
  24. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 152.
  25. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 153.
  26. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 154.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 155.
  28. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 155–156.
  29. ^ a b c d e Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 136.
  30. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 139.
  31. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 167.
  32. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 139–140.
  33. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 128.
  34. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, pp. 129 & 161.
  35. ^ a b c d e Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 129.
  36. ^ a b c d Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 131.
  37. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 143.
  38. ^ a b Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 145.
  39. ^ a b c d e Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 147.
  40. ^ Lowenhardt, van Ree & Ozinga 1992, p. 149.


See also

59 percent of Politburo members (both candidate and full) were of rural origins, while 41 percent were urban.[37] Interestingly, the first members of the Politburo were predominantly from urban areas.[38] For instance, on the 9th Politburo, two out of eight (Trotsky and Mikhail Kalinin) were born in rural areas.[38] From the 1930s onwards, the majority of Politburo members had a father who worked either as a peasant or as a worker.[39] This is strange, considering that one would assume a rise in representation of the intelligentsia as the Soviet Union became more advanced.[39] From 1960s onwards the majority of new members had workers background, as expected.[39] What is strange, however, is that from 1975 to 1981, a sudden increase of people of peasant background took place.[39] When looking at first profession, the majority of members had worked as workers, but the majority of them had attended higher education later in their life (the majority of them choosing engineering).[39] 43 percent of Politburo members attained higher education credentials during their life, while in a close second place, 32 percent of members earned an education in technical engineering.[40]

Origin and education

The average age of the Politburo was 39 in 1919, and the Politburo continued to age more-or-less consistently until 1985.[35] The reason for this being that the Central Committee treated Politburo replenishment as the responsibility of the Politburo itself.[35] Politburo members usually picked successors who were around the same age, the end result being the establishment of the gerontocracy of the Brezhnev Era.[35] While the age steadily crept up during Khrushchev's leadership, members were replaced; for instance, 70 percent of the members elected to the Politburo in 1956 lost their seats in 1961.[36] In contrast, all the Politburo members elected in 1966 were reelected in 1971.[36] Even more worrisome, 12 out of 19 members elected in 1966 were reelected in 1981. By the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982, the median age of the politburo was 70.[36] This age development was finally put to a halt under Gorbachev.[35] From 1985 onwards, the age of Politburo members steadily declined.[36]

Despite the ideological rhetoric about equality between the sexes, the Politburo came a body composed largely of men.[33] Only four women ever served in the Politburo; Elena Stasova, Yekaterina Furtseva, Alexandra Biryukova and Galina Semenova.[34] Furtseva, Birykova and Semenova reached the Politburo under the leadership of reformist party leaders; Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev.[35]

[32] The Politburo never tried to fix the ethnic imbalance within the Politburo, instead the Soviet Union at the central-level was mostly ruled by Russians.[31] that every republic had a representative at the Politburo.28th Politburo It was not until the [29] In general, in the first half of the Politburo's existence, there was a higher ethnic representation then the second, last half.[29] Ethnic

Ethnicity, age and sex

Security officials had historically had a low-profile on the Politburo.[27] From 1953 until 1973, no officials representing the security sector served in the Politburo as full members; the last two being Dmitry Ustinov among others.[27] Similarly, several leading Politburo officials had participated in either the Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War or World War II.[28]

Serving in the Politburo was a part-time function, and members served concurrently in either the party, state, trade union, security or military administrations (or all of them concurrently).[24] Until the 1950s, the majority of members served in state positions, but this changed at the 20th Congress (held in 1956), when 47% percent of Politburo members served in the central party apparatus while another 47% served in the state administration. From the 20th Congress until the 28th Congress, the share of Politburo members serving in the central party apparatus increased, while those serving in the state administration declined.[25] The majority of Politburo members had leading central posts; the highest share of republican officials serving in the Politburo came at the 22nd Congress (held in 1961), when 50 percent of members held offices at the republican-level.[26]


Between 1919 to 1990, 42 members who served as candidate members were not promoted to full member status of the Politburo.[22] Similarly, 32 full members of the Politburo never served as candidate members.[22] More interestingly, 6 members who had served as full members were demoted to candidate status during the Politburo's existence.[23]

Article 25 of the party Charter, said little to nothing on the actual relationship between the Politburo and the Central Committee.[19] Until 1961, Article 25 stated (with several changes) that the Central Committee "forms" or "organizes" the Politburo.[19] It was not until 1961, under [20] The Brezhnev period saw, in complete contrast to Khrushchev's amendment, the greatest continuity in the Politburo in its history.[21] Article 25 of the Charter remained unchanged under the successive leadership of Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev.[21]

To be elected to the Politburo, a member had to serve on the Central Committee.[19] The Central Committee formally elected the Politburo in the aftermath of a party Congress.[19] Members of the Central Committee were given a predetermined list of candidates for the Politburo (having only one candidate for each seat), for this reason the election of the Politburo was usually passed unanimously.[19] The more power the CPSU General Secretary had, the stronger the chance was that the Politburo membership were passed without serious dissent.[19]



Relation to the Secretariat

Decision-making process

In practice, the Politburo functioned as the executive branch of the CPSU, and effectively that of the Soviet Union, and its decisions de facto had the force of law.

[17] 28 politburos were elected throughout the existence of communist rule.[17], the party leader, served as ex officio chairman of the Politburo (however, no formal rule stipulated such activity).General Secretary The [18] The Politburo was the highest organ of the party when the


Duties and responsibilities

Gorbachev: 1985–1991

Collectivity of leadership: 1964–1985

Khrushchev: 1953–1964

[16] Postyshev was purged because "of too much zeal in persecuting people."[16] The purging of Rudzutaks, Eikhe and Kosior testified to Stalin's growing power; the Politburo were not even notified of the decision.[16].18th Congress Petrovsky in contrast, was rather lucky, instead of being purged he was not reelected to the Politburo at the [16] In 1938, four other Politburo members were purged; Chubar, who personally telephoned Stalin crying trying to assure his innocence, Kosior, who confessed for anti-socialist crimes after his daughter was raped in front of him, Postyshev and Eikhe.[16] became the first Politburo member to be purged.Jānis Rudzutaks In May 1937, [16] Despite this opposition, Stalin and his closet associates began purging officials nationwide.[15].NKVD, supported a compromise brokered by Stalin, which handed over Bukharin and Rykov to the Kliment Voroshilov Molotov and [15], opposed such a measure, proposing instead of handing them over to the courts.Grigory Petrovsky and Stanislav Kosior When Yezhov proposed killing Bukharin and Rykov, Postyshev along with [15], in response to them accusing a member of the Ukrainian Central Committee of being anti-socialist said; "I don't believe it."Ukrainian Communist Branch of the First Secretary, a Politburo candidate member and Pavel Postyshev [15] began accusing leading officials of anti-socialist behavior, but they met opposition.Nikolai Yezhov At the Central Committee plenum in February 1937, Stalin, Molotov, Zhdanov and [15] On 18 February 1937, Ordzhonikidze was found dead in his house, having killed himself.[15] Stalin expected that Ordzhonikidze would support the purges, at least officially, but instead he wrote a speech condemning them.[15] Ordzhonikidze ridiculed the purge, and tried to save officials working in the People's Commissariat for Heavy Industry.[15] Not everyone in the Politburo agreed with the purges, or the scope of them.[15] 1936 signaled the beginning of the

The 17th Politburo was elected at the 1st Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee, in the aftermath of the 17th Congress.[12] Outwardly, the Politburo remained united, but on 4 February Grigory Ordzhonikidze, the People's Commissar for Heavy Industry, refused to acknowledge Stalin's projected economic growth targets, claiming that the majority in the Politburo supported his position.[12] Sergey Kirov, who had turned down an offer to take Stalin's place as General Secretary before the 17th Congress, opposed many of Stalin's repressive policies, and tried throughout 1934 to moderate them.[13] Several scholars have viewed Ordzhonikidze's and Kirov's outspokenness as the rise of a moderate Stalinist faction with the party.[14] Anyhow, on 1 December 1934, Kirov was shot dead – whether he was the victim of a madman or killed on Stalin's orders remains unknown.[14] Not long after, on 21 January 1935, Valerian Kuybyshev died of natural causes, and a month later, Anastas Mikoyan and Vlas Chubar were elected Politburo full members.[14] Andrei Zhdanov, the First Secretary of the Leningrad City Committee and member of the Secretariat, and Robert Eikhe, the First Secretary of the Siberian and West-Siberian District Committee, were elected Politburo candidate members.[14]

Excerpt of protocol of Politburo meeting of 17 January 1940 noting the decision to put 457 persons on trial and to execute 346 of them with the rest (111) being sent to GULAG

Stalinist years: 1934–1953

[10] [10] The Secretariat and Orgburo were responsible for personnel appointments in the whole party, and so were used as a machine by Stalin and his allies to promote likeminded individuals.[10] The General Secretary, the formal head of the Secretariat and the Orgburo, "came to exercise enormous weight in decision-making."[10] The Politburo, which was nominally responsible to the Central Committee and the party Congress, became responsible to the General Secretary.[10] During this period, the office of General Secretary became paramount.

[11] Stalin defeated the Left Opposition led by Trotsky by allying himself with the rightists within the Politburo;

From 1917 to the mid-1920s, congresses were held annually, the Central Committee was convened at least once a month and the Politburo met once a week.[7] With Joseph Stalin's consolidation of power, the frequency of formal meetings declined.[7] By the mid-1930s, the Central Committee began meeting only once a month, and the Politburo convened at most once every third week.[7] The Politburo was established, and worked within the framework of democratic centralism (that is a system in which higher bodies are responsible to lower bodies and where every member is subordinate to party decisions).[8] The nature of democratic centralism had changed by 1929, and the freedom of expression which had been previously tolerated within the party, was replaced with monolithic unity.[8] The main reason being Stalin's defeat of the opposition; the Left Opposition, the Right Opposition etc.[8] It is generally believed that under Stalin the Politburo's powers were reduced vis-a-vis Stalin.[3]

Stalin alongside some of his allies at the 14th Congress

While some of his contemporaries accused Lenin of creating a one-man dictatorship within the party, Lenin countered, stating that he, like any other, could only implement policies by persuading the party.[4] This happened on several occasions, such as in 1918 when he threatened to leave the party if the party did not go along with the October Revolution, or persuading the party to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, or the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP).[4] Lenin, a noted factionalist before the Bolshevik seizure of power, supported the promotion of people he had previously clashed with on important issues to the Politburo; Trotsky and Lenin had had several years of violent polemics between them, while Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev both opposed the Central Committee resolution which initiated the October Revolution.[6]

[5]'s powers.Leon Trotsky tried to solve this crisis by reducing both Stalin's and His testament [5]

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