List of leaders of the Soviet Union

During its sixty-nine-year history, the Soviet Union usually had a de facto leader who would not necessarily be head of state, but would lead while holding an office such as Premier or General Secretary. Under the 1977 Constitution, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, was the head of government[1] and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was the head of state.[2] The office of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers was comparable to a prime minister in the First World[1] whereas the office of the Chairman of the Presidium was comparable to a president.[2] In the ideology of Vladimir Lenin, the head of the Soviet state was a collegiate body of the vanguard party (see What Is To Be Done?).

Following Joseph Stalin's consolidation of power in the 1920s,[3] the post of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party became synonymous with leader of the Soviet Union[4] because the post controlled both the Communist Party and the Soviet government[3] both indirectly via party membership and via the tradition of a single person holding two highest posts in the party and in the government. The post of the General Secretary was abolished in 1952 under Stalin and later re-established by Nikita Khrushchev under the name of First Secretary. In 1966, Leonid Brezhnev reverted the office title to its former name. Being the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,[5] the office of the General Secretary was the highest in the Soviet Union until 1990.[6][incomplete short citation] The post of General Secretary lacked clear guidelines of succession, so after the death or removal of a Soviet leader the successor usually needed the support of the Politburo, the Central Committee, or another government or party apparatus to both take and stay in power. The President of the Soviet Union, an office created in March 1990, replaced the General Secretary as the highest Soviet political office.[7]

Contemporaneously to establishment of the office of the President, representatives of the Congress of People's Deputies voted to remove Article 6 from the Soviet Constitution which stated that the Soviet Union was a one-party state controlled by the Communist Party which in turn played the leading role in society. This vote weakened the party and its hegemony over the Soviet Union and its people.[8] Upon death, resignation, or removal from office of an incumbent President, the Vice President of the Soviet Union would assume the office, though the Soviet Union dissolved before this was actually tested.[9] After the failed August 1991 coup, the Vice President was replaced by an elected member of the State Council of the Soviet Union.[10]


Vladimir Lenin was voted the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union (Sovnarkom) on 30 December 1922 by the Congress of Soviets.[11] At the age of 53, his health declined from effects of two bullet wounds, later aggravated by three strokes which culminated with his death in 1924.[12] Irrespective of his health status in his final days, Lenin was already losing much of his power to Joseph Stalin.[13] Alexei Rykov succeeded Lenin as Chairman of the Sovnarkom and although he was de jure the most powerful person in the country, the Politburo of the Communist Party began to overshadow the Sovnarkom in the mid-1920s. By the end of the decade, Rykov merely rubber stamped the decisions predetermined by Stalin and the Politburo.[14]

Stalin's early policies pushed for rapid industrialisation, nationalisation of private industry[15] and the collectivisation of private plots created under Lenin's New Economic Policy.[16] As leader of the Politburo, Stalin consolidated near-absolute power by 1938 after the Great Purge, a series of campaigns of political murder, repression and persecution.[17] Nazi German troops invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941,[18] but by December the Soviet Army managed to stop the attack just shy of Moscow. On Stalin's orders, the Soviet Union launched a counter-attack on Nazi Germany which finally succeeded in 1945.[19] Stalin died in March 1953[20] and his death triggered a power struggle in which Nikita Khrushchev after several years emerged victorious against Georgy Malenkov.[21]

Khrushchev denounced Stalin on two occasions, first in 1956 and then in 1962. His policy of de-Stalinisation earned him many enemies within the party, especially from old Stalinist appointees. Many saw this approach as destructive and destabilising. A group known as Anti-Party Group tried to oust Khrushchev from office in 1957, but it failed.[22] As Khrushchev grew older, his erratic behavior became worse, usually making decisions without discussing or confirming them with the Politburo.[23] Leonid Brezhnev, a close companion of Khrushchev, was elected First Secretary the same day of Khrushchev's removal from power. Alexei Kosygin became the new Premier and Anastas Mikoyan kept his office as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. On the orders of the Politburo, Mikoyan was forced to retire in 1965 and Nikolai Podgorny took over the office of Chairman of the Presidium.[24] The Soviet Union in the post-Khrushchev 1960s was governed by a collective leadership.[25] Henry A. Kissinger, the American National Security Advisor, mistakenly believed that Kosygin was the leader of the Soviet Union and that he was at the helm of Soviet foreign policy because he represented the Soviet Union at the 1967 Glassboro Summit Conference.[26] The "Era of Stagnation", a derogatory term coined by Mikhail Gorbachev, was a period marked by low socio-economic efficiency in the country and a gerontocracy ruling the country.[27] Yuri Andropov (aged 68 at the time) succeeded Brezhnev in his post as General Secretary in 1982. In 1983, Andropov was hospitalised and rarely met up at work to chair the politburo meetings due to his declining health. Nikolai Tikhonov usually chaired the meetings in his place.[28] Following Andropov's death fifteen months after his appointment, an even older leader, 72 year old Konstantin Chernenko, was elected to the General Secretariat. His rule lasted for little more than a year until his death thirteen months later on 10 March 1985.[29]

At the age of 54, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected to the General Secretariat by the Politburo on 11 March 1985.[30] In May 1985, Gorbachev publicly admitted the slowing down of the economic development and inadequate living standards, being the first Soviet leader to do so while also beginning a series of fundamental reforms. From 1986 to around 1988, he was advertised in a Pizza Hut advertisement, dismantled central planning, allowed state enterprises to set their own outputs, enabled private investment in businesses not previously permitted to be privately owned and allowed foreign investment, among other measures. He also opened up the management of and decision-making within the Soviet Union and allowed greater public discussion and criticism, along with a warming of relationships with the West. These twin policies were known as perestroika (literally meaning "reconstruction", though it varies) and glasnost ("openness" and "transparency"), respectively.[31] The dismantling of the principal defining features of Soviet Communism in 1988 and 1989 in the Soviet Union led to the unintended consequence of the Soviet Union breaking up after the failed August 1991 coup led by Gennady Yanayev.[32]

List of leadersEdit

The following list includes persons who held the top leadership position of the Soviet Union from its founding in 1922 until its 1991 dissolution. Note that † denotes leaders who died in office.

Portrait Period Congress(es) Notes Political office
Vladimir Lenin
  30 December 1922[33]

21 January 1924[13]
1st10th[note 1] Informal leader of the Bolsheviks since their inception.[33] Lenin was leader of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from 1917 and leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1922 until his death.[34] Chairman of Sovnarkom
Alexei Rykov


  2 February 1924

18 May 1929

Headed the government of the USSR and the RSFSR after the death of Lenin and during the struggle in the party. Lost influence in the late 1920s. He was removed from the post of Chairman of the Sovnarcom of the RSFSR on 18 may 1929 and Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR on 19 december 1930.

He was shot on 15 March, 1938 during the Moscow Show Trial.

Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union
Joseph Stalin
  21 January 1924[13]

5 March 1953[35]
Stalin initially ruled as part of a Triumvirate with Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev until this broke down in April 1925.[36][incomplete short citation][35] Stalin also held the post of the Minister of Defence from 19 July 1941 until 3 March 1947 and Chairman of the State Defense Committee during World War II[37] and became the only officer to hold the office of People's Commissar of Nationalities from 1921 to 1923.[38] General Secretary of the Communist Party
Chairman of the
Council of Ministers
Georgy Malenkov
  5 March 1953[39][40]

14 September 1953
Succeeded to all of Stalin's titles, but he was forced to resign most of them within a month.[41] Through the office of Premier, Malenkov was locked in a power struggle against Khrushchev.[42]
Nikita Khrushchev
  14 September 1953

14 October 1964[44]
Served as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (from September 1953) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 27 March 1958 to 14 October 1964. While vacationing in Abkhazia, Khrushchev was called by Leonid Brezhnev to return to Moscow for a special meeting of the Presidium to be held on 13 October 1964. At the most fiery session since the so-called "anti-party group" crisis of 1957, he was fired from all his posts. He was largely left in peace in retirement, but he was made a "non-person" to the extent that his name was removed even from the thirty-volume Soviet Encyclopedia.[45] He died in 1971. He was seen overseas as a reformer of a "petrified structure"[46][incomplete short citation] and described his main contribution as removing the fear that Stalin had brought,[47] but many of his reforms were later reversed. First Secretary of the
Communist Party
Leonid Brezhnev
  14 October 1964[44]

10 November 1982[48]
Served as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Brezhnev was later renamed General Secretary[23] and was co-equal with premier Alexei Kosygin until the 1970s. To consolidate his power, he later assumed the title of Chairman of the Presidium.[24] At his death in 1982, he received a state funeral. General Secretary of the Communist Party
Yuri Andropov
  10 November 1982[49]

9 February 1984[50]
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party[26] and Chairman of the Presidium from 16 June 1983 to 9 February 1984.[51]
Konstantin Chernenko
  9 February 1984[52]

10 March 1985
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party[53] and Chairman of the Presidium from 11 April 1984 to 10 March 1985.[54]
Mikhail Gorbachev
  10 March 1985[23]

26 December 1991[56]
Served as General Secretary from 11 March 1985[54] and resigned on 24 August 1991,[57] Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1 October[53] 1988 until the office was renamed to the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet on 25 May 1989 to 15 March 1990[54] and President of the Soviet Union from 15 March 1990[58] to 25 December 1991.[59] The day following Gorbachev's resignation as President, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.[56]
Gennady Yanayev


  19 August 1991

21 August 1991

Elected Vice President of the USSR on December 27, 1990. During August Coup formally led the State Committee on the State of Emergency and was made Acting President of the Soviet Union. Aug 21, he was arrested for his role in the coup. Acting President of the Soviet Union

List of troikasEdit

On four occasions—the 2–3 year period between Vladimir Lenin's incapacitation and Joseph Stalin's dictatorship[60]; the three months following Stalin's death[40]; the interval between Nikita Khrushchev's fall and Leonid Brezhnev's consolidation of power[24]; and the ailing Konstantin Chernenko's tenure as General Secretary[61] — a form of oligarchy known as a troika ("triumvirate")[62] governed the Soviet Union, with no single individual dominating the regime alone.

Tenure Notes
May 1922[63]

April 1925[64]
When Vladimir Lenin suffered his first stroke in May 1922, a troika was established to govern the country in his place, although Lenin briefly returned to the leadership from 2 October 1922 until a severe stroke on 9 March 1923 ended Lenin's political career. The troika consisted of Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin and Grigory Zinoviev. The troika broke up in April 1925, when Kamenev and Zinoviev found themselves in a minority over their belief that socialism could only be achieved internationally. Zinoviev and Kamenev joined forces with Leon Trotsky's Left Opposition in early 1926.[64] Later, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Trotsky would all be murdered on Stalin's orders.



13 March 1953[40]

26 June 1953[67]
This troika consisted of Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentiy Beria and Vyacheslav Molotov[68] and ended when Malenkov and Molotov joined Nikita Khrushchev in the arrest and execution of Beria.[43]



14 October 1964[44]

16 June 1977[24]
After Nikita Khrushchev's ouster, a troika took power consisting of Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary, Alexei Kosygin as Premier and Nikolai Podgorny who assumed the post of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 9 December 1965. During Brezhnev’s consolidation of power, the troika was ultimately dissolved in 1977 when Podgorny was replaced as head of state.[24] However, the collective leadership continued to exist in a different shape after Podgorny's ouster in the party leadership throughout the rest of Brezhnev's rule.[69]



13 February 1984[70]

20 December 1984
Despite succeeding Yuri Andropov as the Soviet Union's General Secretary and head of state, Konstantin Chernenko was unable to secure full control over the regime's apparatus due to his poor health [71] and lack of a mandate from the nomenklatura.[72] This resulted in a troika where Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko dominated the nation's military and foreign affairs respectively[73] while Chernenko was left in charge of its domestic policies.[74] This triumvirate dominated Politburo decision-making until Ustinov's death in December 1984.





The youngest leaders of the USSR in 1924 were Alexei Rykov (42 years old) and Joseph Stalin (45 years old). The oldest at the time of taking office was Konstantin Chernenko (72 years old). The oldest at the time of the loss of power is Leonid Brezhnev (75 years old). The shortest life was lived by Vladimir Lenin (53 years old). Mikhail Gorbachev (88 years old, living) lived the longest. Stalin ruled the longest (29 years). Least of all - Gennady Yanaev (3 days).

No. Leaders Date of birth Age at ascension
(first term)
Time in office
Age at retirement
(last term)
Date of death Longevity
1 Lenin, VladimirVladimir Lenin 18700422April 22, 1870(April 22, 1870) 52 25252 years, 252 days 01 0221 year, 22 days 53 27453 years, 274 days 19240121January 21, 1924 19,63153 years, 274 days
2 Alexei Rykov February 25, 1881 42 years, 342 days 5 years, 105 days 48 years, 82 days March 15, 1938 57 years, 18 days
3 Stalin, JosephJoseph Stalin 18781218December 18, 1878(December 18, 1878) 45 03445 years, 34 days 29 04329 years, 43 days 74 07774 years, 77 days 19530305March 5, 1953 27,10574 years, 77 days
4 Malenkov, GeorgyGeorgy Malenkov 19020108January 8, 1902(January 8, 1902) 51 05651 years, 56 days 00 183183 days 51 22951 years, 229 days 19880114January 14, 1988 31,41786 years, 6 days
5 Khrushchev, NikitaNikita Khrushchev 18940415April 15, 1894(April 15, 1894) 59 14359 years, 143 days 11 3911 years, 39 days 70 18270 years, 182 days 19710911September 11, 1971 28,27277 years, 149 days
6 Brezhnev, LeonidLeonid Brezhnev 19061219December 19, 1906(December 19, 1906) 57 30057 years, 300 days 18 02718 years, 27 days 75 32675 years, 326 days 19821110November 10, 1982 27,72075 years, 326 days
7 Andropov, YuriYuri Andropov 19140615June 15, 1914(June 15, 1914) 68 15068 years, 150 days 01 0891 year, 89 days 69 23969 years, 239 days 19840209February 9, 1984 25,44169 years, 239 days
8 Chernenko, KonstantinKonstantin Chernenko 19110924September 24, 1911(September 24, 1911) 72 14272 years, 142 days 01 0261 year, 26 days 73 16773 years, 167 days 19850310March 10, 1985 26,83173 years, 167 days
9 Gorbachev, MikhailMikhail Gorbachev 19310302March 2, 1931(March 2, 1931) 54 00954 years, 9 days 06 2876 years, 287 days 60 29860 years, 298 days Living 32,46888 years, 326 days (living)
10 Yanayev, GennadyGennady Yanayev 19370826August 26, 1937(August 26, 1937) 53 35853 years, 358 days 00 0022 days 53 36053 years, 360 days 20100924September 24, 2010 26,69273 years, 29 days

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ As a revolutionary, then as leader of the Soviet Russia.



  1. ^ a b Armstrong 1986, p. 169.
  2. ^ a b Armstrong 1986, p. 165.
  3. ^ a b Armstrong 1986, p. 98.
  4. ^ Armstrong 1986, p. 93.
  5. ^ Ginsburgs, Ajani & van den Berg 1989, p. 500.
  6. ^ Armstrong 1989, p. 22.
  7. ^ Brown 1996, p. 195.
  8. ^ Brown 1996, p. 196.
  9. ^ Brown 1996, p. 275.
  10. ^ Gorbachev, M. (5 September 1991). ЗАКОН Об органах государственной власти и управления Союза ССР в переходный период [Law Regarding State Governing Bodies of the USSR in Transition] (in Russian). Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  11. ^ Lenin 1920, p. 516.
  12. ^ Clark 1988, p. 373.
  13. ^ a b c d e Brown 2009, p. 59.
  14. ^ Gregory 2004, pp. 58–59.
  15. ^ Brown 2009, p. 62.
  16. ^ Brown 2009, p. 63.
  17. ^ Brown 2009, p. 72.
  18. ^ Brown 2009, p. 90.
  19. ^ Brown 2009, p. 148.
  20. ^ Brown 2009, p. 194.
  21. ^ Brown 2009, pp. 231–33.
  22. ^ Brown 2009, p. 246.
  23. ^ a b c Service 2009, p. 378.
  24. ^ a b c d e Brown 2009, p. 402.
  25. ^ Bacon & Sandle 2002, p. 13.
  26. ^ a b Brown 2009, p. 403.
  27. ^ Brown 2009, p. 398.
  28. ^ Zemtsov 1989, p. 146.
  29. ^ Brown 2009, p. 481.
  30. ^ Brown 2009, p. 487.
  31. ^ Brown 2009, p. 489.
  32. ^ Brown 2009, p. 503.
  33. ^ a b c Brown 2009, p. 53.
  34. ^ Sakwa 1999, pp. 140–143.
  35. ^ a b Service 2009, p. 323.
  36. ^ Service 1986, pp. 231–32.
  37. ^ Green & Reeves 1993, p. 196.
  38. ^ Service 2005, p. 154.
  39. ^ a b Service 2009, p. 331.
  40. ^ a b c d e f Service 2009, p. 332.
  41. ^ Cook 2001, p. 163.
  42. ^ Hill 1993, p. 61.
  43. ^ a b Taubman 2003, p. 258.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g Service 2009, p. 377.
  45. ^ Service 2009, p. 376.
  46. ^ Schwartz 1971.
  47. ^ Taubman 2003, p. 13.
  48. ^ Service 2009, p. 426.
  49. ^ a b Service 2009, p. 428.
  50. ^ Service 2009, p. 433.
  51. ^ Paxton 2004, p. 234.
  52. ^ a b c Service 2009, p. 434.
  53. ^ a b Europa Publications Limited 2004, p. 302.
  54. ^ a b c Paxton 2004, p. 235.
  55. ^ Service 2009, p. 435.
  56. ^ a b Gorbachev 1996, p. 771.
  57. ^ Service 2009, p. 503.
  58. ^ Paxton 2004, p. 236.
  59. ^ Paxton 2004, p. 237.
  60. ^ Figes 2014, p. 127.
  61. ^ Saxon, WolfgangSuccession In Moscow: Siberian Peasant Who Won Power; Konstantin Chernenko, A Brezhnev Protege, Led Brief Regime. The New York Times, New York, 1984-03-12
  62. ^ Tinggaard & Svendsen 2009, p. 460.
  63. ^ Reim 2002, pp. 18–19.
  64. ^ a b Rappaport 1999, pp. 141 & 326.
  65. ^ Rappaport 1999, p. 140.
  66. ^ Rappaport 1999, p. 325.
  67. ^ Andrew & Gordievsky 1990, pp. 423–24.
  68. ^ Marlowe 2005, p. 140.
  69. ^ Baylis 1989, p. 98.
  70. ^ Service, Robert. The End of the Cold War:1985-1991., First Edition, Public Affairs, New York, 2015, p.105
  71. ^ Kenez 1999, p. 244.
  72. ^ Mitchell 1990, pp. 121-122.
  73. ^ Zubok 2002, p. 276.
  74. ^ Bialer 1986, p. 105.
  75. ^ Zemtsov 1989, p. 184.
  76. ^ Zemtsov 1989, p. 185.


External linksEdit