General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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General Secretary of the
Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
PCUS Emblema.svg
Mikhail Gorbachev 1987.jpg
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary
Residence Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow
Appointer Central Committee
Formation April 1917
First holder Elena Stasova
Final holder Vladimir Ivashko (acting)
Abolished 29 August 1991

General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Russian: Генеральный секретарь ЦК КПСС) was the title given to the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. With some exceptions, from 1929 onwards the office was synonymous with leader of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin elevated the office to overall command of the Communist Party and by extension the whole Soviet Union.[1] Nikita Khrushchev renamed the post First Secretary (1953–1966).

The office grew out of the secondary, secretarial positions within the party: Technical Secretary (1917–1918), Chairman of the Secretariat (1918–1919), Responsible Secretary (1919–1922) (when the de-facto leader of the party of Bolsheviks was Vladimir Lenin) to that of the de facto leading office of the Soviet Union.


In its first two incarnations the office performed mostly secretarial work. The post of Responsible Secretary was then established in 1919 to perform administrative work.[2] In 1922, the office of General Secretary followed as a purely administrative and disciplinary position, whose role was to do no more than determine party membership composition. Stalin, its first incumbent, used the principles of democratic centralism to transform his office into that of party leader, and later leader of the Soviet Union.[1]

In 1934, the 17th Party Congress refrained from formally re-electing Stalin as General Secretary. However, Stalin was re-elected into all other positions and remained leader of the party without diminishment.[3]

In the 1950s, Stalin increasingly withdrew from Secretariat business, leaving the supervision of the body to Georgy Malenkov, possibly to test him as a potential successor.[4] In October 1952, at the 19th Party Congress, Stalin restructured the party's leadership. His request, voiced through Malenkov, to be relieved of his duties in the party secretariat due to his age, was rejected by the party congress, as delegates were unsure about Stalin's intentions.[5] In the end, the congress formally abolished Stalin's office of General Secretary, though Stalin remained one of the party secretaries and maintained ultimate control of the Party.[6][7] When Stalin died on 5 March 1953, Malenkov was the most important member of the Secretariat, which also included Nikita Khrushchev, among others. Malenkov became Chairman of the Council of Ministers but was forced to resign from the Secretariat nine days later on 14 March, leaving Khrushchev in effective control of the body.[8] Khrushchev was elected to the new office of First Secretary at the Central Committee plenum on 14 September of the same year. Originally conceived as a collective leadership, Khrushchev removed his rivals from power in both 1955 and 1957 and reinforced the supremacy of the First Secretary.[9]

In 1964, opposition within the Politburo and the Central Committee led to Khrushchev's removal as First Secretary. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev to the post and the office was renamed General Secretary in 1966.[10] During the Brezhnev Era, the collective leadership was able to limit the powers of the General Secretary.[11] Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same way as Brezhnev had.[12] Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union through the office of General Secretary until 1990, when the Communist Party lost its monopoly of power over the political system. The office of President of the Soviet Union was established so that Gorbachev still retained his role as leader of the Soviet Union.[13] Following the failed August coup of 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary.[14] He was succeeded by his deputy, Vladimir Ivashko, who only served for five days as Acting General Secretary before Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia, suspended all activity in the Communist Party.[15] Following the party's ban, the Union of Communist Parties – Communist Party of the Soviet Union (UCP–CPSU) was established by Oleg Shenin in 1993. The UCP–CPSU works as a framework for reviving and restoring the CPSU. The organisation has members in all the former Soviet republics.[16]

List of chief secretaries

Portrait Term of office Notes
Technical Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) (1917–1918)
Elena Stasova
A woman wearing dark clothes and using a pair of glasses April 1917 – 1918 As Technical Secretary, Stasova and her staff of four women were responsible for maintaining correspondence with provincial party cells, assigning work, keeping financial records, distributing Party funds,[18] formulating party structure policy and appointing new personnel.[19]
Chairman of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (1918–1919)
Yakov Sverdlov
A man in a black suit, black shirt and wearing a pair of glasses 1918 – 16 March 1919 Sverdlov remained in office until his death on 16 March 1919. During his tenure he was mainly responsible for technical rather than political matters.[21]
Elena Stasova
A woman wearing dark clothes and using a pair of glasses March 1919 – December 1919 When her office was dissolved, Stasova was not considered a serious competitor for the post of Responsible Secretary, the successor office to the Chairman of the Secretariat.[22]
Responsible Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (1919–1922)
Nikolay Krestinsky
A man in a grey suit, light shirt and dark tie December 1919 – March 1921 The office of Responsible Secretary functioned like a secretary, a somewhat menial position given that Krestinsky was also a member of the Party's Politburo, Orgburo and Secretariat. Nevertheless, Krestinsky never tried to create an independent power base as Joseph Stalin later did during his time as General Secretary.[2]
Vyacheslav Molotov
A man in a dark suit, light shirt and dark tie, smiling March 1921 – April 1922 Was elected Responsible Secretary at the 10th Party Congress held in March 1921. The Congress decided that the office of Responsible Secretary should have a presence at Politburo plenums. As a result, Molotov became a candidate member of the Politburo.[25]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (1922–1952)
Joseph Stalin
Stalin lg zlx1.jpg 3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952 Stalin used the office of General Secretary to create a strong power base for himself. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934, Stalin was not formally re-elected as General Secretary[27] and the office was rarely mentioned after that[28] but Stalin retained all other positions and all of his power. The office was formally abolished at the 19th Party Congress on 16 October 1952, but Stalin remained secretary and retained ultimate power.[7]
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1953–1966)
Nikita Khrushchev
An elderly bald man in a suit, with several medals pinned on it 14 September 1953 – 14 October 1964 Khrushchev reestablished the office on 14 September 1953 under the name First Secretary. In 1957 he was nearly removed from office by the Anti-Party Group. Georgy Malenkov, a leading member of the Anti-Party Group, worried that the powers of the First Secretary were virtually unlimited.[30] Khrushchev was removed as leader on 14 October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.[10]
Leonid Brezhnev
A man with wavy dark graying hair in a suit, with three Hero of the Soviet Union stars pinned on it 14 October 1964 – 8 April 1966 The office of First Secretary was renamed General Secretary at the 23rd Party Congress.[11]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1966–1991)
Leonid Brezhnev
A man with wavy dark graying hair in a suit, with three Hero of the Soviet Union stars pinned on it 8 April 1966 – 10 November 1982 At first there was no clear leader of the collective leadership with Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin ruling as equals.[32] However, by the 1970s Brezhnev's influence exceeded that of Kosygin's and he was able to retain this support by avoiding any radical reforms. The powers and functions of the General Secretary were limited by the collective leadership during Brezhnev's tenure.[33]
Yuri Andropov
A baldman in a suit wearing glasses 12 November 1982 – 9 February 1984 He was seen as the most likely candidate for the General Secretary when it became known he had been the chairman of the committee in charge of arranging, managing and preparing Brezhnev's funeral.[35] Andropov was obliged by protocol[clarification needed] to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had before he died.[12]
Konstantin Chernenko
A elderly man, balding with white hair, in a suit 13 February 1984 – 10 March 1985 Chernenko was 72 years old when elected to the post of General Secretary and in rapidly failing health.[36] Chernenko was also obliged by protocol[clarification needed], as Yuri Andropov had been, to rule the country in the same way Brezhnev had.[12]
Mikhail Gorbachev
A man in a grey suit, white shirt and dark tie, balding with grey hair, he has a birthmark on his forehead 11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991 The 1990 Congress of People's Deputies voted to remove Article 6 from the 1977 Soviet Constitution. This meant that the Communist Party lost its position as the "leading and guiding force of the Soviet society" and the powers of the General Secretary were drastically curtailed. Throughout the rest of his tenure Gorbachev ruled through the office of President of the Soviet Union.[13] He resigned from his party office on 24 August 1991 in the aftermath of the August Coup.[14]
Vladimir Ivashko
90px 24 August 1991 – 29 August 1991 He was elected Deputy General Secretary, another name for deputy leader, at the 28th Party Congress. Ivashko became acting General Secretary following Gorbachev's resignation, but by then the Party was politically impotent and on 29 August 1991, it was banned.[15]
Coat of arms of the Soviet Union.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Soviet Union


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fainsod & Hough 1979, pp. 142–146.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fainsod & Hough 1979, p. 126.
  3. "Secretariat, Orgburo, Politburo and Presidium of the CC of the CPSU in 1919–1990 – Izvestia of the CC of the CPSU" (in Russian). 7 November 1990. Retrieved 21 October 2011.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40.
  5. Z. Medvedev & R. Medvedev 2006, p. 40-41.
  6. Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939 - 1953, p. 345.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brown 2009, pp. 231–232.
  8. Ra'anan 2006, pp. 29–31.
  9. Ra'anan 2006, p. 58.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Service 2009, p. 378.
  11. 11.0 11.1 McCauley 1997, p. 48.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Baylis 1989, p. 98.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Kort 2010, p. 394.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Radetsky 2007, p. 219.
  15. 15.0 15.1 McCauley 1997, p. 105.
  16. Backes & Moreau 2008, p. 415.
  17. 17.0 17.1 McCauley 1997, p. 117.
  18. Clements 1997, p. 140.
  19. Fairfax 1999, p. 36.
  20. Williamson 2007, p. 42.
  21. Zemtsov 2001, p. 132.
  22. Noonan 2001, p. 183.
  23. Rogovin 2001, p. 38.
  24. Phillips 2001, p. 20.
  25. Grill 2002, p. 72.
  26. Brown 2009, p. 59.
  27. Rappaport 1999, pp. 95–96.
  28. Ulam 2007, p. 734.
  29. Taubman 2003, p. 258.
  30. Ra'anan 2006, p. 69.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Chubarov 2003, p. 60.
  32. Brown 2009, p. 403.
  33. Baylis 1989, pp. 98–99 & 104.
  34. Vasil'eva 1994, pp. 218.
  35. White 2000, p. 211.
  36. Service 2009, pp. 433–435.
  37. Service 2009, p. 435.
  38. McCauley 1998, p. 314.


no:Sovjetunionens kommunistiske parti#Liste over generalsekretærer i Sovjetunionens kommunistiske parti