Soviet (sovet ) is the Russian word for "council" or "advice."
Its political usage began during the Revolution of 1905 when it was applied to the councils of deputies elected by workers in factories throughout Russia. Although suppressed in 1905, the soviets reappeared in nearly every possible setting immediately following the February Revolution of 1917. With the soviet in Petrograd setting the tone, they very quickly became the organs of power that the majority of the population saw as legitimate. Although the moderate socialists who initially led the soviets were reluctant to take executive power from the Provisional Government, most Russians seem to have favored rule by the soviets alone; the Bolsheviks' call for "All Power to the Soviets" may well have been their most successful slogan. The October Revolution was timed to coincide with the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, both to forestall its taking power without Bolshevik initiative and to gain legitimacy from its approval. The new Bolshevik-led government was thus initially based on soviets, and the state structure formally remained so until Mikhail Gorbachev. For most of the Soviet era, the Supreme Soviet was theoretically the highest legislative organ, although the Communist Party held practical power. Throughout their history, soviets generally proved too large for day-to-day governance, a role filled by a permanent executive committee elected by the full soviet. Some scholars have suggested that the soviet became so popular an institution because it was an urban counterpart to the village commune assembly, a governing system with which most Russians, even in the cities, were familiar.
See also: communist party of the soviet union; february revolution; october revolution; provisional government; revolution of 1905
Anweiler, Oskar. (1974). The Soviets: The Russian Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers Councils, 1905–1921, tr. Ruth Hein. New York: Pantheon Books.
so·vi·et / ˈsōvēit; -ˌet/ • n. 1. an elected local, district, or national council in the former USSR. ∎ a revolutionary council of workers or peasants in Russia before 1917. 2. (Soviet) a citizen of the former USSR. • adj. (So·vi·et) of or concerning the former Soviet Union: the Soviet leader. DERIVATIVES: So·vi·et·i·za·tion / ˌsōvēitiˈzāshən/ n. So·vi·et·ize / -ˌtīz/ v. ORIGIN: early 20th cent.: from Russian sovet ‘council.’
soviet, primary unit in the political organization of the former USSR. The term is the Russian word for council. The first soviets were revolutionary committees organized by Russian socialists in the Revolution of 1905 among striking factory workers. When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, workers', peasants', and soldiers' soviets sprang up all over Russia. They were led by a central executive committee, which included not only Bolsheviks, but also Mensheviks (see Bolshevism and Menshevism) and members of the Socialist Revolutionary party. At the first all-Russian soviet congress (June, 1917), the Socialist Revolutionaries had 285 deputies, the Mensheviks 248, the Bolsheviks only 105. Since the soviets represented the real power in Russia, when the Bolsheviks under Lenin captured the most important soviets in Petrograd, in Moscow, and in the armed forces, their success was assured. Imitations by leftist revolutionists in other countries met with less success, notably in Germany and Hungary, where, from 1918 to 1920, workers', peasants', and soldiers' councils were formed. A soviet republic in Bavaria was short-lived, and the regime of Béla Kun in Hungary was put down. Soviets in the Baltic republics met a similar fate. In Russia the soviets remained the basic political units, forming a hierarchy from rural councils to the Supreme Soviet, the highest legislative body in the USSR. Under the first Soviet constitution only the local soviets were elected by direct suffrage. The constitution of 1936 abolished the division of the electorate into occupational classes and instituted elections of all soviets by direct universal suffrage, but all levels were dominated by the Communist party's parallel hierarchy. In Russia the soviets survived the disintegration (1991) of the USSR, but in 1993 Yeltsin called for them to dissolve and reorganize as smaller dumas, or assemblies.