The Power of the General Secretary of the CPSU

  • Archie Brown


During the sixty-two years of its existence, the Soviet Union has had only four undisputed leaders. We may reasonably leave out of account Georgiy Malenkov who was senior secretary within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) for little more than a week and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR for less than two years.1 Iosif Stalin died on 5 March 1953 and by 14 March Malenkov’s supreme power was over. In the two years which followed, there was some ambiguity as to who was the top man in the Soviet Union, but gradually it emerged that the senior party secretary (known for most of Soviet history as the General Secretary, but from September 1953 until April 1966 as the First Secretary) commanded greater political resources than anyone else in the land.


Foreign Policy General Secretaryship Central Committee Party Leader Soviet Leadership 
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  1. 1.
    Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union 2nd edn (London, 1970) pp. 559and 561. It could be argued that Malenkov was top man within the Soviet hierarchy for longer than his occupancy of the party secretaryship and a shorter time than his tenure of the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers. Until mid-1954, when alphabetical order was adopted, his name consistently appeared first in lists of members of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the party. Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    David Hume, ‘Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences’, in Essays Moral, Political and Literary (Oxford, 1963; first published 1741) p. 112.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    See, for example, Roy A. Medvedev and Zhores A. Medvedev, Khrushchev: The Years in Power (Oxford, 1977 ) pp. 129–42.Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    See T. H. Rigby, ‘The Soviet Leadership: Towards a Self-Stabilizing Oligarchy?’, Soviet Studies, xxn, no.12 (October 1970) pp.167–91 esp. pp. 175–6; P. A. Rodionov, Kollektivnost’ - vysshii printsip partiinogo rukovodstva (Moscow, 1967) p. 219 (cited by Rigby, p. 175). Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    New York Times, 15 June 1973, p. 3; cited in Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod, How the Soviet Union is Governed (Cambridge, Mass., 1979) pp. 471 and 650.Google Scholar
  6. 27.
    L. I. Brezhnev, Voprosy razvitiya politicheskoi sistemy sovetskogo obshchestva (Moscow, 1977) pp. 434–8, esp. 434–5.Google Scholar
  7. 33.
    Willy Brandt, People and Politics: The Years 1960–1975 (London, 1978) p. 336.Google Scholar
  8. 34.
    Mohamed Heikal,.Nasser: The Cairo Documents (London, 1972), pp. 147–8;see also Heikal’s Sphinx and Commissar: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Influence in the Arab World (London, 1978) p. 135. Google Scholar
  9. 53.
    Cf.Jerry F. Hough, ‘The Brezhnev Era: The Man and the System’, Problems of Communism xxv, no. 2 (March—April 1976) pp. 1–17.Google Scholar

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© Archie Brown 1980

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  • Archie Brown

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