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.
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.