Communist Party of the Soviet Union

views updated May 18 2018


The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was the ruling Party in the Soviet Union and, therefore, its most important political institution. The Party experienced a number of name changes during its history from its foundation in 1898 until the dissolution of the USSR and the banning of the Party in 1991: Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) (March 1898March 1918), Russian Communist Party (RCP) (March 1918December 1925), All-Union Communist Party (AUCP) (Bolsheviks) (December 1925October 1952), and Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) (October 19521991). There were two chief phases in the Party's life: pre-1917, when it was a revolutionary organization seeking the overthrow of the tsarist regime, and after the October Revolution, when it was the ruling Party.

as revolutionary organization

The party formally was founded at a congress in Minsk in March 1898, but because most delegates were arrested soon after, the party did not take on a substantial form until its second congress in Brussels and London in JulyAugust 1903. From the beginning, the party was split on two major dimensions. First, because of the activities of the tsarist police, the party could not be a legal entity within Russia, with the result that most of the leaders remained in exile abroad until 1917 while "undergrounders" worked to build the party structure inside Russia. Contacts between these two groups were not easy, with the principal channels between them being the party press, and irregular Party meetings. The second major split within the Party was divisions among the leaders at the top of the Party structure. Such divisions were frequent occurrences, arising over a combination of personal ambitions and differences over strategy and tactics. The most important of these divisions was between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and began in 1902; despite various attempts to patch it up, the division remained an important factor in Party life until the Mensheviks were banned in 1918.

There was little to distinguish the RSDLP from the range of other parties, cliques, and shadowy organizations that constituted the Russian revolutionary movement at this time. Ultimately what was to differentiate the Party from its competitors and give it an edge in 1917 was the single-mindedness and drive of the person who was generally acknowledged as the leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilich Lenin. When the tsarist regime disintegrated in February 1917 and Lenin returned to Russia in April, he set about radicalizing the Party's stance from that which had been established by the underground leaders who had come to the fore in his absence, including Josef Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Vyacheslav Molotov. This culminated in the decision in September by the Party's Central Committee to seize power. This they did in October. While the decision to seize power was supported by large numbers of rank-and-file Party members and supporters, it was also opposed by significant elements within the party, including among its leaders (Grigory Zinoviev and Kamenev). The Party was not a tightly disciplined instrument of revolution, but a much looser organization that was able to take advantage of the chaotic conditions late in 1917 to seize power in the capital. Local Party organizations set about replicating this feat throughout the country, but their rule was not to be secure for some years.

as ruling party

Having claimed power, the Party now set about consolidating it. In its first three years, the Party banned all other political parties, thereby instituting the single-party state; eliminated independent press organs; sought to institute a radical economic policy (war communism), which would have abolished the basis of independent economic activity; and, principally through the civil war, expanded the geographical area under its control. The failure of war communism forced the Party into a concession, the New Economic Policy, which in turn was replaced by the high-level centralization of economic life through agricultural collectivization and forced pace industrialization beginning in the late 1920s. Throughout this period, too, discipline was consolidated within the party.

In the early years of its rule, the Party was characterized by a continuation of the division and differences within the elite that had been characteristic of the prepower period. All aspects of the Party's life came under vigorous debate within leading Party circles. However, during Vladimir Lenin's lifetime, all of these debates ended with the victory of the position that he espoused. Following his death, the maneuvering between different groups of Party leaders for the succession saw conflict between a group around Stalin and, successively, Leon Trotsky, the Left Opposition, the United Opposition, and the Right Opposition. In all cases, Stalin and his supporters were victorious. With the defeat of the Right Opposition in 1929, Stalin emerged as Party leader. He consolidated his position during the 1930s, especially through the Terror of 1936 to 1938, emerging as the vozhd, or unquestioned leader of the party and the people. This process of a shift from the collective leadership of the Lenin years to the personal dictatorship of Stalin had direct implications for the Party. In the initial years of power, leading Party organs were real arenas of debate and conflict, and although Lenin manipulated Party organs, the principal basis upon which he was victorious in inner-party conflict was his ability to persuade sufficient members to support the position he advocated. With Stalin's personal dictatorship, party organs ceased to be the scene of open political debate and instead became stylized assemblies for the laudation of Stalin. While this was not as much the case at the level of the Politburo, even here the cut and thrust of debate was blunted by the personal dominance of Stalin. In this sense, the party's leading organs were in danger of atrophying.

This process of a shift from a situation in which open conflict and debate was the norm to one in which adherence to strict orthodoxy and the absence of public debate prevailed has been the

subject of much debate among scholars. The orthodoxy was for long the view that the emergence of Stalin and the assertion of his personal control was a direct, some even said inevitable, result of the organizational principles and practices that stemmed from Lenin. Lenin was seen to have established a highly authoritarian political structure, said to be symbolized by the principles contained in his 1901 pamphlet entitled "What Is to Be Done?" and the resolution of the Tenth Congress in 1921, entitled "On Party Unity," which closed down discussion and made personal dictatorship highly likely. Alternatively, others argue that a Stalin figure was not inevitable, that there were a number of other possible lines of development available to the party, and that a series of conjunctural developments (including the personality of Stalin) were central to the outcome that emerged. Certainly the authoritarian legacy left by Lenin may have increased the chances of such an outcome, especially in a situation of danger and underdevelopment like that faced by the Bolsheviks, but it was not inevitable. The balance of opinion now favors the second position.

Under Stalin, the party's leading organs were not active bodies; they met when he decided they would meet rather than according to a set timetable, and they exercised little independent initiative. During World War II, important decisions were more often made in the State Defense Committee than in Party bodies, and in the initial seven years of the postwar period, informal groups of leaders organized by Stalin dominated national policy making. When Stalin died, the Party's leading organs became rejuvenated, and for the remainder of the life of the Party, generally they met as scheduled and made most important decisions. At no time during these last almost four decades were these institutions arenas of public contestation, although the publication of some of the Central Committee proceedings under Khrushchev and Gorbachev did provide some sense that there were real differences being aired in some Party forums at some times. Particularly under Gorbachev, and especially from the beginning of 1987, leading Party bodies were often the scene of significant differences of opinion within the elite, with the result that, at least in this regard, leading elite organs returned to something like their Leninist forebears. The return to this situation of a divided elite playing out some of their politics in the leading organs of the Party was one factor contributing to the demise of the USSR and, with it, the CPSU.

Following the attempted putsch in 1991, which discredited the Party even more widely in the people's eyes than it had been in the years leading up to it (see below), General Secretary Gorbachev resigned from the Party and Russian president Boris Yeltsin banned it on the territory of Russia. Although this blanket ban was later overturned in the Constitutional Court, the reversal could not save the CPSU; it was, however, a life giver to the Party's chief successor, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

party structure

The lowest level of Party organization was the Primary Party organization (PPO), until 1934 called a cell. This was the body that every party member joined. Such an organization had to be established in any institution where there were three Communist Party members. Consequently there were PPOs organized in every institution in the USSR; every factory, farm, university, school, shop, organizational division in the armed forces had their own PPO comprising the members of the Party who worked in that institution. The PPO was thus the principal representative of the Party throughout the institutional structure of the USSR. The structure of the PPO differed depending upon the size, but all PPOs were to meet regularly and involve the Party membership in Party and public life. In 1986, there were 440,363 PPOs.

Above the PPO, the Party structure followed the administrative structure of the Soviet state. Each republic of the USSR had its own republican-level Party organization, except the RSFSR, which, until 1990, was served by the national Soviet-level. Between the republican and PPO levels, there was a hierarchy of Party organizations shadowing the administrative divisions of the country (e.g., region, city, district). At each of these levels there was an assembly, called a conference (congress at the republican level), with the membership notionally elected by the assembly of the level next down; district bodies were elected by the PPOs. The conference at each level would meet at set times, designed to enable it to elect delegates to the conference at the next level. The timing of these was thus set at the national level by the regularity of national congresses. At each level, the conference/congress would elect a committee that, in turn, would elect a bureau. This structure was also to be found at the national, Soviet level.

At the national level, the congress was held annually until the mid-1920s, at which time the frequency and regularity decreased; there were congresses in 1930, 1934, 1939, and 1952. From the Twenty-Second Congress in 1961, congresses occurred every five years. During the early period Party conferences were also often held. These were national-level meetings, usually smaller and with less authority than the congress, but they, too, became much less frequent after the 1920s; the eighteenth conference was held in 1941 and the nineteenth in 1988. The congress was formally the sovereign body of the Party. It adopted resolutions that constituted the Party's policy on particular issues, and it elected its executive body, the Central Committee (CC), to run the Party in the period between congresses. It also formed the central auditing apparatus, responsible for keeping a check on Party finances and procedures, and until 1939 the Party control apparatus, which exercised disciplinary functions. In practice, after the 1920s the congress was too big to debate issues (there were some five thousand delegates at the last, the Twenty-Eighth Congress held in 1990) and in any case that was not its function. Under Stalin it had been transformed from an assembly in which vigorous debate occurred into a tame body that did little except hear reports and ritually vote to confirm them. Even the voting for membership of the CC was nothing more than ratifying a list handed down by the leadership.

The CC began as a relatively small body. In 1922, there were twenty-seven full and nineteen candidate members, but by 1986 this had grown to 307 full and 170 candidate members, so this body, too, became too big to act as an effective forum for the discussion of ideas, although like the congress, discussion was no longer its function after Stalin gained power. Generally CC plena were held twice per year, with each meeting devoted to a particular area of concern, such as agriculture, ideology, industrial development, education, and so forth. The proceedings were stylized and standardized, with usually the Party general secretary presenting a keynote report and then other speakers presenting set-piece speeches. There was no real debate, merely a presentation of views that rarely provided evidence of much difference between the speakers, or at least of much difference from the position taken by the general secretary. This model was, however, disrupted under Gorbachev when, particularly toward the end of the period, such meetings could see quite significant criticism of the general secretary and the course he was following. The CC formed a series of standing executive organs: the Politburo, Secretariat, until 1952 the Orgburo, and from 1939 the central control apparatus; from 1966, the CC formally elected the general secretary. As with the congress election of the CC, election of these bodies simply constituted the formal ratification of lists of candidates passed down by the leadership. Membership of the CC was of two sorts: full and candidate, with the former having the vote while the latter did not.

The most important of the bodies elected by the CC were the Politburo (19521966 the Presidium) and the Secretariat. Simply put, these were respectively the political decision-making center of the Party and the organization that was meant to ensure that those decisions were carried out. The Politburo was a small body, divided like the CC into full and candidate members. It generally had up to twenty members, although nonmembers were often present when something pertaining to their area of responsibility was being discussed. The Politburo met weekly and was the body in which all of the most important decisions were meant to be made. The CC also elected people called CC secretaries who, collectively, formed the Secretariat. Each secretary had a particular sphere of responsibility, and to assist them in this task they had at their disposal departments of varying sizes. These departments were organized not only so that they could administer the Party's internal affairs (e.g., departments for personnel and ideology), but also so that they could shadow the Soviet government; so, for example, there could be departments for agriculture, industry, and foreign affairs. The personnel within those departments constituted the central machinery of the Party. Some secretaries were generally members of the Politburo, and the leading secretary, the general secretary (19531966 the first secretary), was acknowledged as the leader of the Party.

It is clear from the above that the electoral principle was central to the Party's formal procedures with each level being elected by those below. However in practice, electoral democracy was little more than a formality throughout most of the Party's life. From early in the Party's life, this principle was undermined by what was to become the chief power axis in the Party, the nomenklatura system. The nomenklatura was first regularized in 1923. Its essence was a list of responsible positions that needed to be filled and another list (or lists) of names of people who were thought to be competent to fill them. Committees at each level of the Party had their own list of positions to be filled and people who could fill them, but by far the biggest list and the one containing all of the crucial positions was lodged in the Party's central organs. Originally justified as a way of ensuring competence and loyalty in the uncertain times of the regime's early years, under Stalin's control it became a weapon of political conflict, enabling him to fill Party bodies with his supporters. This sort of political loyalty remained a consideration in the operation of the nomenklatura throughout its life, but in terms of running the Party, its importance lay in the power it gave to the leadership to fill positions throughout the structure with people acceptable to them. Thus, when elective positions had to be filled, the nomination would come down from above and Party members would ratify it. Only under Gorbachev was there an attempt to change this system and introduce real competition for Party posts, although even then the changes he sought to make had their limitations.

This power over personnel, and therefore power over people's careers, was a crucial mechanism for maintaining loyalty and orthodoxy and for discouraging heterodox and independent thought. It was consistent with the principle that, from 1906, officially governed discussion in the Party, "democratic centralism." Democratic centralism as originally envisaged provided for full and free discussion of an issue until a decision was reached, and then all were expected to fall in behind that decision and support it regardless of their own personal views about it. The problem with this principle is that, in a situation like the mid-late 1920s where the political leadership was keen to close down discussion, it could announce a decision and then invoke the principle to prevent any debate from taking place. This could be backed up by the exercise of Party discipline. Party members found guilty of breaching Party rules were subject to discipline procedures that could include expulsion from the Party and, in the 1930s, loss of life. In the Soviet Union expulsion from the Party was a significant penalty because it could lead to the person losing his job and housing, making it very difficult to survive.

Formally the Party was governed by a set of rules. These rules prescribed the formal structures and processes of Party life. They were adopted by Party congresses and constituted the effective constitution of the Party. Over the Party's life the rules were changed and modified on a large number of occasions, and although they were an expression of the formal rather than the actual way in which the Party worked, they were not a complete fiction. They did prescribe the rhythms of Party life, when congresses were to be held and so forth, and for much of the Party's existence these formal aspects were adhered to. But the rules do not give an accurate picture of the internal dynamics of the Party; they were formal and legitimizing rather than normative.

party ideology

The Party was formally guided by an ideology, a structure of ideas that purports to explain the course of historical development and thereby gives the follower the capacity to make decisions consistent with that understanding. This is a basis for legitimacy since it constitutes the claim to be able to make appropriate decisions for the furtherance of the common aim. Arising from Marxism, which constituted the core of the Soviet ideological belief system, that aim was the achievement of communism. Thus the Party seized power in 1917 in the name of achieving the communist utopia. During its life, the Party continually based itself on its claimed adherence to those ideological tenets, variously called Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, and Leninism at different times. The content of that ideology also underwent modification and change over time. The role of ideology is complex. Ideally it should enthuse its believers and persuade them to commit to the achievement of the ultimate ends, and there clearly were very many people for whom the ideology acted in this way. However, there were also many less enthusiastic members, and their numbers grew markedly during the last three decades of the regime's life. These people were cynical of the ideology and its claims, and rather than being true believers hid their lack of belief in a stance of public commitment. For the Soviet system, the ideology was central to its own conception of legitimacy, and for this to remain unimpaired it was important that even if people did not believe, they should not be able openly to proclaim this. This is one of the major reasons why all dissent was harshly dealt with.

The ideology was related to the Party's activities through the Party program. This was a document that purported to lay out the long-term aims of the Party. Party programs were adopted in 1919, 1961, and 1986; the attempt to adopt a new program in 1990 failed because there was too much disagreement, although a draft was adopted for discussion by the CC in June 1991 just before the attempted coup. The 1961 program, adopted at the height of Khrushchev's enthusiasm for the great leap into communism, was the most optimistic of these documents, envisaging the imminent approach of communism within the USSR. But all programs should be seen much more as a set of ideals rather than a specific guide to policy, because in none of them was there a clear indication of policy lines that the political leadership then followed. But the programs were an important stone in the basis of the Party's ideologically based quest for legitimacy.

party functions

According to the 1977 State Constitution, the Party was the "leading and guiding force" of Soviet society, and it, in fact, played this role from the founding of the Soviet state in 1917. In essence, this meant that the Party was the institution in which all major decisions about all aspects of life were to be made. In theory, this is why there were Party bodies in all collectives within Soviet society and why the Party shadowed the state structure at all levels; if an issue was coming up in a non-Party body, the corresponding Party organ could meet and make a decision that its members, subject to Party discipline and therefore bound to implement that decision, could carry into the non-Party forum. However, in practice, because at all levels all of the chief figures were Party members, separate Party and non-Party meetings were not always needed. Party members were the dominant figures, and, through them, the Party dominated the decision-making process.

This was most important at the central level, where the Party Politburo was the chief decisionmaking body in the country. It made decisions on all of the major issues of national policy, and, as a result of Party discipline, these decisions were carried forward by Party members at all levels in the institutions within which they worked. In this way, the Party constituted not just the chief decision-making organization, but also the major means of ensuring the enforcement of central decisions. The Party played a crucial role in the way the system as a whole functioned; as both a decision-making organ and the organization that was ultimately responsible for ensuring that policy was carried out by state and other organizations, it was the key to the way the system functioned.

The omnipresence of Party organizations also enabled it to exercise significant control functions throughout society. Through its members, the Party was able to maintain a watching brief on what went on in all parts of Soviet society. One of the tasks of Party members, more important in the early years than later, was to act as the Party's eyes and ears to ensure that any manifestations of oppositionist sentiment were nipped in the bud. The reverse side of this control function was that of education. In principle, this remained a key responsibility of Party organizations and members at all levels, the education of non-Party members in the ethos of the Party and the principles for which it stood. Ideally Party members and organizations were meant to proselytize the Party's ideology and its message, but more realistically they were expected to act as models of appropriate behavior to their non-Party peers. In this sense, the Party was a major educative actor in Soviet society, projecting an idealized image of how good communists should behave and thereby playing a part in the socialization of the Soviet populace with the accepted values.

The all-pervasive nature of the Party plus the highly centralized personnel system means that the Party was the most important element in the staffing of the whole Soviet system. The nomenklatura extended not simply to Party posts, but to all of the leading posts in all of the major institutions of the society. In other words, Party bodies determined who would fill the leading posts in all parts of the Soviet system. The Party was therefore the single most important determinant of the filling of all offices throughout the Soviet Union. In this way the Party not only controlled the filling of office, but was also the primary agent of recruitment in the USSR; no one could gain leading office without approval at higher levels of the Party.

It is clear that the Party was the leading institution in the USSR: it made the most important decisions, it ensured that those decisions were carried out, it selected all leading office-bearers, and it played a significant educational/socialization role in the society. Its control was not complete, because it could never overcome both personal idiosyncrasy and the constraints stemming from the combination of large distances and communication deficiencies, but it was probably the most extensive experienced in any political system.

party membership

The Party was never a body that one could join at a whim; members had to be nominated, their backgrounds checked and, once they had been admitted, serve a candidate stage before being accepted into full membership. In the early years, class background was crucial for entry, but from 1939 the formal preference given to members of the working class was dropped and people were admitted regardless of the class to which they belonged; from 1961, the Party was officially a Party of "all the people." Members were always a minority within Soviet society. In 1986, before membership began to plummet in the late 1980s, there were 18,309,693 full and 728,253 candidate members, constituting9.7 percent of the adult population. The Party remained heavily male; in 1986 only 28.8 percent of members were women. Members were subject to Party discipline, had to attend regular Party meetings, obey all Party instructions, pay membership dues, and continually conduct themselves according to the rules of the Party and the principles of what it meant to be a good communist. While the tasks were not onerous for non-office bearers, at various times they did impinge on individuals' lives. This was especially the case if someone became subject to Party discipline, when such an entry on someone's personnel file could have significant future consequences for career advancement; being expelled from the Party was worse than never having been a member.

Party members generally gained few advantages over non-Party citizens. Officeholders were more fortunate in this regard. Just as there was a graduated scale of the power to fill office, there was a similar scale regarding access to privileges and to goods that were not widely available. In a deficit economy like that of the Soviet Union, access to scarce goods was a real bonus, and those who held official positions gained such access. The level and range of availability differed according to the level of position one occupied, but because all of the leading positions were determined by the Party, it was the Party that determined who got access to such goods. The Party was thus the key to access to privilege in the Soviet Union.

party funding

Officially, the Party was funded through the membership dues that all members paid and the revenues generated by sale of the Party's publications. However it is clear that, from the time of the Party's ascension to power, such dues were substantially supplemented by funds from the state. The amount of money that was transferred across in this way in unclear, but it was substantial. The Party owned property in all cities and towns in the Soviet Union, paid salaries to its employees, funded a range of publications, made provision for its own daily functioning, and funded sister parties and movements abroad. The annual budget far exceeded the amount of money brought in through fees and publications. The difference was covered by money obtained from the state. As the Soviet Union fell during the late 1980s to the early 1990s, much of this money was secreted abroad, its whereabouts as uncertain as the dimensions of the Party's real annual budget.

The Party's financial dependence on the state and the way in which it was intertwined with the state at all levels led many to argue that it was not really a political party but more a state organ. There is much to this argument, but it was neither coterminous with the state nor reducible to it. It was the first of the sort of organization that became common during the twentieth century, the ruling single party. As such, the CPSU was the prototype for which many would emulate.

See also: central committee; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; kamenev, lev borisovich; left opposition; lenin, vladimir ilich; marxism; molotov, vyacheslav mikhailovich; nomenklatura; october revolution; politburo; right opposition; stalin, josef vissarionovich; state defense committee; trotsky, leon davidovich; united opposition; war communism


Gill, Graeme. (1988). The Rules of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Gill, Graeme. (1994). The Collapse of a Single-Party System. The Disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Millar, James R., ed. (1992). Cracks in the Monolith: Party Power in the Brezhnev Era. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Schapiro, Leonard. (1970). The Communist Party of the Soviet Union. London, Methuen.

Wesson, Robert G. (1978). Lenin's Legacy. The Story of the CPSU. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

White, Stephen. (1989). Soviet Communism. Programme and Rules. London: Routledge.

Graeme Gill

Zyuganov, Gennady Andreyevich

views updated Jun 11 2018


(b. 1944), Russian politician, chair of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and head of its parliamentary faction since 1993.

Gennady Andreyevich Zyuganov was born on June 26, 1944, in Mymrino, Russia. A member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's (CPSU) ideological department from 1983, Gennady Zyuganov sympathized with the conservative opposition to Gorbachev and helped found the anti-reform Russian Communist Party within the CPSU in 1990. He first gained notoriety as an anti-Gorbachev polemicist on the eve of the August 1991 coup and as a defender of the Russian Communist Party when Yeltsin banned it (from August 1991 to November 1992).

As a prolific opposition publicist from the early 1990s, Zyuganov's achievement was the rehabilitation of communism as a serious intellectual and political force. Ideologically, however, his "conservative communism" came to owe less of a debt to its Marxist-Leninist forebears and instead drew heavily from the idea of a Soviet "national Bolshevism," which justified communist rule more for its service to national greatness than for its promise of a classless future. Zyuganov argued that Marxism was only one of the methods necessary for analyzing modern society, in which defense of Russian cultural and historical traditions, preservation of a global zone of influence, and the forging of broad alliances with national capitalists against the West took precedence over class revolution within Russia itself.

Zyuganov realized that the communists urgently needed new ideas and allies merely to survive during and after the ban on their party, and that following the collapse of the USSR they could ignore issues of personal, ethnic, and national security only at their peril. More perceptively, he judged that Russia's post-1991 intellectual commitment to market liberalism was deeply equivocal and offered in its stead a kind of "state patriotism," based on the idea that communists and non-communists alike could unite in defending Russia's state as the cradle of their common cultural heritage. This, he believed was a unifying vision that could fill the "ideological vacuum" left by Marxism-Leninism. Indeed, Zyuganov sought to reverse the liberal consensus that the period from 1917 to 1991 was a "Soviet experiment." To achieve this, he argued that liberalism itself was the imposition alien to the collectivist and spiritual traditions that had been best expressed under communism. Simultaneously, Zyuganov was an energetic and practical politician; his alliance-building with nationalist and other opposition politicians helped him to become Communist Party leader in February 1993 and to formulate a consistent theme. He based his presidential bids on broad "national-patriotic fronts" that sought to extend the communists' appeal.

Zyuganov has presented a complex figure, whose leadership, ideas, and personality have been

much critiqued. The prevalent Western view of him as a plodding party bureaucrat is a caricature, highlighting his lack of charisma while underestimating his tactical and organizational skill. The view of Zyuganov as a fascistic nationalist, most trenchantly argued by academic Veljko Vujacic, identifies his dalliance with Stalinism and anti-Semitism, while underplaying his moderate conservatism. Marxist charges that he renounced socialism and radicalism entirely correctly identify his debts to conservative Russian nationalism, while underestimating the necessity he faced of making ideological and electoral compromises. Even judged by his own aims, Zyuganov remains a paradoxical figure. His leftist critics have alleged that he failed to move Russia "forward to socialism" by failing to provide an intellectually coherent socialist alternative. While his arguments have found increasing appeal, particularly in governing circles, and his party was the most popular in parliamentary elections in the 1990s, he lost to Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election run-off, and Vladimir Putin beat him by over twenty percent in the first round of the presidential election in March 2000.

See also: communist party of the russian federation; putin, vladimir vladimirovich; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich


Lester, Jeremy. (1995). Modern Tsars and Princes: The Struggle for Hegemony in Russia. London; New York: Verso.

March, Luke. (2002). The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Vujacic, Veljko. (1996). "Gennadiy Zyuganov and the 'Third Road'." Post-Soviet Affairs 12: 118154.

Zyuganov, Gennady A. (1997). My Russia: The Political Autobiography of Gennady Zyuganov. Armonk, NY:M.E. Sharpe.

Luke March

Communist Party of the Soviet Union

views updated May 18 2018

Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Former ruling party of the Soviet Union. It wielded all effective political power in the country and, via the Communist International, had considerable influence over Communist parties in other countries. At its height the CPSU had c.15 million members, organized into c.400,000 local units (cells) throughout the Soviet Union. Party organization paralleled the hierarchy of local government administration, thus enabling party control of every level of government. There were party cells in almost all areas of Soviet life, such as the school system, armed forces, factories, collective farms and the media. After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party was dissolved, following a number of decrees by Boris Yeltsin. There remains a strong, traditional conservative power base of ex-party members who are politically active in Russia. The 1996 presidential elections revealed popular support for the communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov. See also communism; Lenin; individual party leaders

Zyuganov, Gennady

views updated Jun 11 2018

Zyuganov, Gennady (1944– ) Russian politician. During the 1970s and 1980s, Zyuganov moved up the Soviet Communist Party hierarchy, taking positions focused on ideology and propaganda. In 1993, he became chairman of the executive committee of the reconstituted Russian Communist Party and was elected to the State Duma (the lower House of the Russian Parliament). The Communist Party gained the largest number of votes in 1995 elections, and Zyuganov mounted a strong challenge in the 1996 presidential elections. He was defeated by a coalition of Boris Yeltsin and Aleksander Lebed.