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Council of Ministers (Soviet Union)

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Title: Council of Ministers (Soviet Union)  
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Subject: Joseph Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria, Gosplan, Baku TV Tower, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Tikhonov, Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Gossnab, State Committee for Labour and Social Problems
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Council of Ministers (Soviet Union)

Council of Ministers of the USSR
Совет Министров СССР
The former headquarters of the Council of Ministers
Agency overview
Formed 1946
Preceding Agency Council of People's Commissars
Dissolved 1991
Superseding agency Cabinet of Ministers
Jurisdiction Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Headquarters Kremlin Senate, Moscow

The Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (Russian: Совет Министров СССР, tr.: Sovet Ministrov SSSR; sometimes abbreviated to Sovmin or referred to as the Soviet of Ministers), was the de jure government comprising the highest executive and administrative body of the Soviet Union from 1946 until 1991.

In 1946 the Council of People's Commissars was transformed into the Council of Ministers, with People's Commissariats turned into Ministries. The council issued declarations and instructions based on and in accordance with applicable laws, which had obligatory jurisdictional power over the territories of all republics within the Union. However, the most important state issues were handled through joint declarations with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU), which was de facto more powerful than the Council of Ministers. In 1991 the Council of Ministers was dissolved, and replaced by the newly established Cabinet of Ministers, which itself disappeared only months later when the Soviet Union disintegrated.

There were seven chairmen of the Council of Ministers, in effect Premier of the Soviet Union. Following Nikita Khrushchev's removal from the post of Party First Secretary and Premier by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin, a Central Committee plenum forbade any individual to hold the posts of First Secretary and Premier concurrently. The Presidium of the Council of Ministers was the collective decision-making body of government. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers, his First Deputy Chairmen, Deputy Chairmen, ministers, State Committee chairmen, Soviet Republican Council of Ministers chairmen and other unspecified personnel were members of the Presidium.


Chairmen Term
Joseph Stalin 1946–1953
Georgy Malenkov 1953–1955
Nikolai Bulganin 1955–1958
Nikita Khrushchev 1958–1964
Alexei Kosygin 1964–1980
Nikolai Tikhonov 1980–1985
Nikolai Ryzhkov 1985–1991

The Council of People's Commissars, the Soviet Government, was transformed into the Council of Ministers in March 1946 in all level of governance.[1] At the same time The People's Commissariats were transformed into Ministries.[2] Joseph Stalin's death sparked a power struggle within the Soviet leadership between the Government apparatus led by Georgy Malenkov as Premier, and the Party apparatus led by Nikita Khrushchev as First Secretary.[3] Malenkov lost the power struggle, and in 1955 he was demoted from his office as Chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was succeeded in his post by Nikolai Bulganin,[4] who in turn was removed and replaced by Khrushchev because of his support for the Anti-Party Group, which had tried to oust Khrushchev in 1957.[5]

Following Khrushchev's removal from power, the collective leadership led by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin held a Central Committee plenum which forbade any single individual to hold the two most powerful posts in the country: First Secretary and Chairman of the Council of Ministers.[6] Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, was in charge of economic administration while Brezhnev, the General Secretary, took care of other domestic matters.[7] In the later part of the Brezhnev Era the post of Chairman of the Council of Ministers lost its position as the second-most powerful in the Soviet Union to the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.[8] Nikolai Podgorny's removal as head of state in 1977 had the effect of reducing Kosygin's role in day-to-day management of government activities as Brezhnev strengthened his control over the government apparatus.[9]

Kosygin resigned in 1980, to be succeeded by his First Deputy Chairman Nikolai Tikhonov.[10] After five-years service, under the rules laid down by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko Tikhonov was compelled to retire by Mikhail Gorbachev on 27 September 1985. Tikhonov was succeeded by Nikolai Ryzhkov.[11] Ryzhkov was a half-hearted reformer, and was skeptical towards the de-nationalisation and the monetary reform of 1989, however, he did support the creation of a "regulated market" economy. In 1991 Ryzhkov was succeeded as Premier by Valentin Pavlov. The Council of Ministers was dissolved and replaced with the newly established Cabinet of Ministers.[12]

Duties, functions and responsibilities


The Council of Ministers was the head of the government's executive branch.[13] Formed at a joint meeting of the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities, it consisted of a Chairman, several First Deputies, Deputies, ministers, Chairmen of the state committees and the Chairmen of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Republics. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers could also recommend people who he found suitable for membership of the Council of Ministers to the Supreme Soviet. The Council of Ministers laid down its functions on each first-convocation of a newly elected Supreme Soviet.[14]

Responsible and accountable to the Supreme Soviet and in the period between convocations of the Supreme Soviet, the Council of Ministers was accountable to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and regularly reported to the Supreme Soviet on its work,[15] as well as being tasked with resolving all state administrative duties within the jurisdiction of the USSR to the degree that it did not come under the competence of the Supreme Soviet or the Presidium. Within its limits, the Council of Ministers had responsibility for:[16]

  • Management of the national economy and socio-cultural construction and development
  • Formulation and submission of the five-year plan for "economic and social development" to the Supreme Soviet along with the state budget.
  • Defence of the interests of state, socialist property, public order and to protect the rights of Soviet citizens
  • Ensuring state security
  • General leadership over the Soviet armed forces and determination of how many citizens were to be drafted into service
  • Provision of general leadership in connection with Soviet foreign relations and trade, economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation of the USSR with foreign countries as well as the power to confirm or denounce international treaties signed by the USSR.
  • Creation of necessary organisations within the Council of Ministers in the fields of economics, socio-cultural development and defense.

The Council of Ministers could also issue decrees and resolutions and later on verify their execution. All organisations were obliged to follow the decrees and resolutions issued by the All-Union Council of Ministers.[17] The All-Union Council also had the power to suspend all mandates and decrees issued by itself or organisations subordinate to it.[18] The Council coordinated and directed the work of the union republics and union ministries, state committees and other organs subordinate to it.[19] The competence of the Council of Ministers and its Presidium with respect to their procedures and activities and the council's relationships with subordinate organs were defined in the Soviet constitution by the Law on the Council of Ministers of the USSR.[20]

Structure and organisation


In 1946, the All-Union Council of People's Commissars became the Council of Ministers (Russian: Совет Министров, tr.: Sovet Ministrov SSSR), whilst People's Commissars and People's Commissariats became Ministers and Ministries.[21] Ministers were important figures in day-to-day decision-making, with 73 percent of them elected full-members of the Central Committee at the 25th Party Congress.[22]

Nikita Khrushchev's attempt in the late 1950-s to decentralise decision-making by reforming the chain of command that was in use since the early days of the Council of People's Commissars to manage local industries and enterprises resulted in major reshuffling and reorganisation of the USSR ministries. A large number of key ministries had been eliminated and replaced by a network of regional and local sovnarkhoz under the supervision of the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy.[23] Khrushchev's economic reform proved disastrous as it severed regional economic relations and was abandoned by the Soviet Government following Khrushchev's ousting in 1964. The year later twenty-eight industrial ministries, eleven All-union and seventeen Union ministries were reestablished. The second attempt at decentralizing the Soviet economy was in 1965, with Premier Alexei Kosygin initiating a new economic reform aimed at giving enterprises more economic freedom and incentives to be profitable.[24]

Certain key ministries had more influence over the national and international politics of the Soviet Union, with their heads being full members of Politburo. Among them were notables such as Leon Trotsky, Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrei Gromyko, heads of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Andrei Grechko and Dmitriy Ustinov, the defense ministers.[25]

State Committee

Main article: State Committee of the Soviet Union

USSR state committees were different from the ministries in that a state committee was primarily responsible for several branches of governance as opposed to the one specific area for which a ministry was solely responsible.[26] Therefore, many state committees had jurisdiction over certain common activities conducted by ministries such as the research and development, standardization, planning, building construction, state security, publishing, archiving and so on. In that sense, state committees were supersized ministries. At times the distinction between a ministry and a state committee could be obscure as in the case of the Committee for State Security (KGB).[27]

State committees were instrumental in keeping the vast Soviet economic system coherent and integrated until it began falling apart in the late 1980-s.


The Presidium of the Council of Ministers was established in March 1953 as a result of the reorganization of a special bureau formed in 1944 for the purpose of supervising and coordinating a vast network of government committees, commissions, and other institutions that reported directly to the Council of People's Commissars.

Throughout its existence, the Presidium of the Council of Ministers was a shadowy institution. First World observers knew nothing of the Presidium's activities and functions, or even the frequencies of its meetings. In Soviet textbooks and by officials it was described as an internal organ of the government. Churchward noted in his 1975 book that it was impossible to determine the importance of the Presidium in comparison with other organs of the Council of Ministers.[28] British historian Leonard Schapiro, writes in his book The Government and Politics of the Soviet Union, that the Presidium worked somewhat as an "Inner Cabinet" for policy-making. Historians Hough and Fainsod believed there to be a "great overlap" between the responsibilities and functions of the Central Committee, Secretariat and the Presidium of the Council of Ministers.[29] However, Schapiro was not sure of the Presidium's membership or if the Presidium had held any meetings.[30]

It is unclear whether the Presidium had any leverage, or even importance, in day-to-day policy-making in the 1950s and 1960s. Soviet works from that period make no mention of a Presidium of the Council of Ministers. Professor T.H. Rigby believes that the duties and responsibilities of the Presidium were at the time largely taken over by the Current Affairs Commission of the Council of Ministers and from 1956 possibly by the State Economic Commission of the Council of Ministers with both Commissions chaired by Mikhail Pervukhin.[31] During his trip to the Soviet Union, political scientist Robert C. Tucker asked Mansur Mirza-Akhmedov, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, if the Presidium still functioned as an inner policy-making body. The answer he received was yes, and that the Presidium consisted of the chairman, two first deputy chairmen, four deputy chairmen, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Agriculture.[32]

In the 1970s Soviet authorities officially clarified the Presidium's place within the Soviet power hierarchy, responsibilities, and membership. The 1977 Soviet Constitution referred to the Presidium as a "permanent" organ of the Council of Ministers, which was established to secure good economic leadership and take on other administrative responsibilities. The few documents published provide evidence that the Presidium focused on economic planning and decision-making as well as making important decisions at a level below those of Politburo significance.[33] Article 132 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution and Article 17 of the 1978 USSR Law that regulated the activities of the Soviet Government state that the Chairman, the First Deputy, Deputy Chairmen, and other members of the USSR Council of Ministers were members of the Presidium. Regardless, the actual names of its members (other than the Chairman) were never disclosed to the public.

See also



External links

  • Headquarters of the Council of Ministers — satellite photo
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