Congress of People's Deputies

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CONGRESS OF PEOPLE'S DEPUTIES

The Congress of People's Deputies was a legislative structure introduced in the Soviet Union by CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Its purpose was to expand elective representation in policy debate and decision making, while leaving final power at the disposal of the top party leadership. The USSR Congress of People's Deputies lasted only from 1989 until 1991. It nevertheless marked an important step in the opening of the Soviet system to competitive electoral politics. A Congress of People's Deputies for the Russian Republic (RSFSR) was also established, but it lasted only from 1990 to 1993.

Under Gorbachev's model, the new USSR Congress of People's Deputies replaced the USSR Supreme Soviet. The old Supreme Soviet had 1,500 deputies, 750 elected in ordinary territorial districts based on equal population, and 750 elected in "national-territorial" districts representing the ethnic territorial subdivisions of the country. To these the new congress added another 750 deputies elected directly from existing recognized "public organizations" such as the CPSU, the trade unions, and the Academy of Sciences, with quotas set for each organization.

The congress elected a smaller full-time Supreme Soviet from among its 2,250 members. This inner parliament had 542 members divided into two chambers of equal size and functioned like a democratic parliament, debating and voting on laws. Most of its organizational and agenda decisions were made, however, by its Presidium. The Presidium structure was a carryover from the old regime, where it had effectively controlled the Supreme Soviet through its large full-time staff. The Presidium and its chair continued to direct the congress and Supreme Soviet into the Gorbachev period as well.

The March 1989 elections to the USSR Congress of People's Deputies proved to be a turning point in the Gorbachev era. The elections stimulated a surge of popular participation in politics, often directed against the Soviet regime itself. Many senior Communist Party officials who ran for election as deputies were defeated. The elections brought a new wave of democratic and nationalist political leaders into politics. Boris Yeltsin, for example, won a landslide victory from an at-large seat in Moscow. When the First Congress convened in May 1989, the televised proceedings, featuring stirring speeches by famous personalities such as Andrei Sakharov, riveted the public. Soon it became clear that the congress was too large and unstructured to be an effective forum for decision making, but it did give a platform to many politicians and ideas. Moreover, the Supreme Soviet that it elected enacted some significant legislation on such topics as freedom of religion and the press, judicial reform, and local government. A system of competitive political caucuses emerged.

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Congress of People's Deputies formed in 1990. Like the USSR congress, the RSFSR congress elected a Supreme Soviet to serve as a full-time parliament. Yeltsin was initially elected as chair, but left parliament when he was elected president of RSFSR a year later. An intense power struggle between president and parliament followed. Ultimately, in September and October 1993, Yeltsin forcibly dissolved the congress and Supreme Soviet. The new constitution approved by national referendum in December 1993 replaced the congress and Supreme Soviet with a bicameral Federal Assembly.

See also: communist party of the soviet union; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; presidium of supreme soviet

bibliography

Remington, Thomas F. (1991). "Parliamentary Government in the USSR." In Perestroika-Era Politics: The New Soviet Legislature and Gorbachev's Political Reforms, ed. Robert T. Huber and Donald R. Kelley. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Remington, Thomas F. (1996). "Ménage a Trois: The End of Soviet Parliamentarism." In Democratization in Russia: The Development of Legislative Institutions, ed. Jeffrey W. Hahn. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Remington, Thomas F. (2001). The Russian Parliament: The Evolution of Institutions in a Transitional Regime, 1989-1999. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Thomas F. Remington

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