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Who Were the Leaders of the Soviet Union?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Soviet Union was formally led by eight different men: Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev. Some, particularly Stalin and Brezhnev, governed for extensive periods of time, while others lasted in office for little more than a year. The Soviet Union, also known as the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic, or USSR, was a communist state whose leaders were elected by party constituencies rather than individual voters.

Government Formation

The autocratic Russian monarchy was ousted during a revolution in 1917 and this shift in power is what gave rise to the new governmental body that would become the USSR, though the country was not officially formed until 1922. The Soviet Union was essentially a joining of the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Transcauasian kingdoms. It existed for less than a century, but during this time had a significant impact on international politics and the world economy both. Much of this impact can be traced to its series of leaders.

Leadership by Different Names

All of the Soviet leaders were members of the Communist Party, which ruled the country as a single-party state. This means that every candidate for every election was a Communist, and that party’s ideology governed all decisions, appointments, and dealings, whether official or not.

Leadership came in many different forms in the USSR. In the beginning, the “supreme” leader or governmental head was known as the “Premier,” and functioned much like a modern-day Prime Minister; the last leader was known as “President,” however, a term which typically has a somewhat different definition and overarching function. “Chairman” and “Secretary” were also titles given to the top leaders, and in most cases these were used interchangeably depending on the regime and who wielded control. Many leaders also held several governmental leadership positions simultaneously, for instance, Premier and Minister of Defense.

The following table identifies the names, dates, and primary titles of the eight primary Soviet leaders:

USSR Leader Leadership Began Leadership Ended Title
Vladimir Ilych Lenin 30 December 1922 21 January 1924 Chairman, Premier
Joseph Stalin 21 January 1924 5 March 1953 General Secretary, Premier
Georgy Malenkov 5 March 1953 8 February 1955 Premier
Nikita Khrushchev 8 February 1955 14 October 1964 First Secretary, Chairman
Leonid Brezhnev 14 October 1964 10 November 1982 First Secretary, General Secretary, Chairman
Yuri Andropov 12 November 1982 9 February 1984 General Secretary, Chairman
Konstantin Chernenko 13 February 1984 10 March 1985 General Secretary, Chairman
Mikhail Gorbachev 11 March 1985 25 December 1991 General Secretary, Chairman, President

Collapse and Dissolution

The Soviet Union disbanded and dissolved when Gorbachev stepped down as President at the end of 1991. His resignation happened amidst an intense political coup that effectively removed the communist party from power. Several countries split away from the Union and formed independent governments at this time, and the majority of the USSR’s responsibilities and powers were handed over to the Russian government headed by President Boris Yeltsin.

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Discussion Comments

By anon335226 — On May 18, 2013

Why does everyone keep forgetting about Kreshtinirvia Liukra? He was the chairman of the USSR communist party, and was premier of the Soviet Union. He was in the Red Army and stole computer data, then he made Soviet power charts decrease and he used it as an opportunity to get into the USSR government. When he did, he increased his power charts and went from premier to chairman. He had more power than Stalin did, and he nuked his own people! He was forgotten.

By SZapper — On May 03, 2012

I think it was kind of strange that the Soviet Union didn't have any set amount of time someone could lead the country. If you look at the chart, some of the leaders lead for many years, and two only for a little over a year.

If I didn't know any better, I would assume the two leaders who ruled for about a year were assassinated. However, they both died of natural causes!

By anon265639 — On May 02, 2012

That is true. Gorbachev did win a Nobel price in 1991 (I think) He ruined a great state and was rewarded for it. So nice.

By strawCake — On May 02, 2012

@sunnySkys - Gorbachev did indeed win a Nobel Prize. He was responsible for a lot of reforms within the Soviet Union (probably more than any of the other Russian leaders), as well as dissolving the Soviet Union, like you said.

Anyway, I think a lot of people think of Joseph Stalin when they think of Soviet Union leaders. He did rule the longest, and he was definitely the most brutal. He had thousands of people executed while he was in power, and he was instrumental in getting the Soviet Union nuclear program going!

By sunnySkys — On May 01, 2012

I had no idea there were so many Soviet Union leaders. I tend to associate Lenin, Stalin and Gorbachev with the Soviet Union, and forget about all the rest of them. I suppose that is because Lenin was first, and Stalin ruled the longest.

And of course Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union, and the only one that was in power when I was alive! If I remember correctly, Gorbachev played a big role in ending the Soviet Union. He even won a Nobel Prize for it, I think.

By anon260902 — On Apr 13, 2012

@Trogjoe19: Where does it say anything that Lenin regretted making him the leader? No place. Therefore, it's not even evidence.

Lenin died from of a series of heart attacks.

What Comrade Stalin accomplished in the Soviet Union was great!

By SilentBlue — On Jan 27, 2011

The paranoia of Stalin caused him to trust no one. The one man who won over Stalin into his trust was the pathological and demonically manipulative Hitler. This was the only man that Stalin seems to have trusted, but the one man he truly shouldn't have trusted. Hitler lied to everyone, and somehow Stalin thought that Hitler was a follower of him. Stalin recognized that he and Hitler had a lot in common, and may have felt that he was taking the younger Hitler under his wing. What a shock, then, when he realized that the Germans were at his doorstep looking for his head.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 25, 2011

Stalin came to power with help from Lenin, but when Lenin realized how bad Stalin's psychological problems were and what a paranoid leader he was, he regretted his decision and counseled against allowing Stalin into power. This happened shortly before Lenin's death, and it is rumored that Stalin killed him indirectly via a stooge, as he tended to do. Stalin's reign of terror makes all the other Soviet leader's periods seem like a pax.

By habura — On Mar 17, 2008

The Soviet Union has many names...it's also known as the USSR, CCCP and the SSSR. USSR is the acronym for Soviet Union's full name in English: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The country's real name was in Cyrillic: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик and the English acronym for that is CCCP. But, the conversion (or transliteration) of its Cyrillic name into Roman characters was Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik which turned into SSSR in its acronym form.

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