Council of Ministers, Soviet

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In 1946, SovnarkomSovet Ministrov, the government of the USSRwas renamed the Council of Ministers to bring the USSR into line with practice in other great powers. Josef Stalin remained as chairperson until 1953. He was followed by Georgy Malenkov until 1955; then Nikolai Bulganin until 1958; Nikita Khrushchev, from 1958 to 1964; Alexei Kosygin, 19641980; Nikolai Tikhonov, 19801985; and Nikolai Ryzhkov, 19851990. Membership of the Council of Ministers consisted of the chairperson, first deputy chairperson, deputy chairpersons, ministers of the USSR and chairpersons of State Committees of the USSR. Chairpersons of Councils of Ministers of Union republics were ex officio members of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Under the 1977 constitution membership could also include "the heads of other organs and organizations of the USSR." This allowed the chairperson of the Central Council of Trade Unions or the first secretary of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) to serve on the Council of Ministers. The first Council of Ministers formed under this constitution comprised 109 members.

Ministries and State Committees, as with the commissariats in Sovnarkom, were of two varieties: "union-republican," which functioned through parallel apparatuses in identically named republican ministries, and "all-union," which worked by direct control of institutions in the republics or through organs in the republics directly subordinate to the USSR minister. Groups of related ministries were supervised by senior Party leaders serving as deputy chairpersons of the Council of Ministers. In the early postwar years the tendency toward subdivision of ministries, apparent in Sovnarkom during the 1930s, continued until 1948, but it was then followed by a period of amalgamation until 1949, and more modest expansion until 1953. Immediately after Stalin's death membership of the Council of Ministers was reduced from eighty-six to fifty-five, groups of economic ministries being amalgamated, but this was only temporary, and by the end of 1954 membership had increased again to seventy-six and continued to increase more slowly from that time.

Theoretically responsible and accountable to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, with membership supposedly decided by that institution, but in reality by the Politburo, the Council of Ministers was empowered to deal with all matters of state administration of the USSR outside the competence of the Supreme Soviet, issuing decrees and ordinances and verifying their execution. According to the 1936 and 1977 Constitutions, the Council of Ministers was responsible for direction of the national economy and economic development; social and cultural development, including science and technology; the state budget; planning; defense, state security; general direction of the armed forces; foreign policy; foreign trade and economic; and cultural and scientific cooperation with foreign countries.

By a law of 1978, meetings of the Council of Ministers were to be convened every three months and sessions of its Presidium "regularly (when the need arises)." This institution, created in 1953, consisting of the chairperson, first deputy chairperson and deputy chairpersons of the Council of Ministers, functioned only intermittently until 1978. Often described in Western literature as an "inner cabinet," it then became primarily responsible for the directions of economic affairs.

See also: bulganin, nikolai alexandrovich; bureaucracy, economic; khrushchev, nikita sergeyvich; kosygin, alexei nikolayevich; sovnarkom; stalin, josef vissarionovich; state committees


Unger, Aryeh. (1981). Constitutional Development in the USSR: A Guide to the Soviet Constitutions. London: Methuen.

Derek Watson

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Council of Ministers, Soviet