Rules of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Rules of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union


the fundamental law governing the organization and activities of the CPSU. The Rules of the CPSU define the rights and duties of party members, the organizational principles of the party, the norms of intraparty life, and the methods to be used in the party’s activity. They are binding for all Communists and party organizations and ensure the fulfillment of the Program of the CPSU by uniting the efforts of all party members. The Rules are adopted by the party congress.

V. I. Lenin developed the doctrine of a new type of proletarian party; he founded the Bolshevik Party and drafted the party program and the Rules, which are inseparably linked with the program. The connection between the Rules and the Program of the CPSU is logical, given the unity of the ideological and organizational bases of the party. Lenin was the first to work out a set of norms, or rules, of party organization and to lay down the principles of party management, such as democratic centralism, proletarian internationalism, collective leadership with personal responsibility for an assigned task, and the conscientious discipline of all party members. These principles were confirmed by the party Rules and thus acquired the force of law.

At present (1977), the Rules in force are those adopted in 1961 by the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU, and amended by the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses, which met in 1966 and 1971, respectively. The Rules define the party as “the tried and tested militant vanguard of the Soviet people, which unites on a voluntary basis the more advanced and politically more conscious part of the working class, kolkhoz workers, and intelligentsia of the USSR” (Ustav KPSS, 1976, p. 3). They state that the CPSU represents the highest form of sociopolitical organization and is the leading and guiding force of Soviet society, that the party guides the creative activity of the Soviet people, and that it imparts an organized, planned, and scientifically based character to the struggle for the achievement of the ultimate goal, the victory of communism.

The Rules note that the CPSU bases its work on strict compliance with the Leninist norms of party life—the promotion in every possible way of intraparty democracy, communist activity and initiative, and criticism and self-criticism. The party expels all persons who violate the program and the Rules and who compromise the high title of Communist by their behavior. The Rules point out that in creatively developing Marxism-Leninism, the CPSU vigorously combats all manifestations of revisionism and dogmatism. The CPSU forms an integral part of the international communist and working-class movement and is actively fighting to strengthen the movement.

The first paragraph of the Rules specifies that membership in the party is open to any citizen of the USSR who accepts the Program and Rules of the CPSU, takes an active part in the building of communism, works in one of the party organizations, carries out party decisions, and pays membership dues (ibid., pp. 6–7). A member of the party must work for the establishment of a material and technical basis for communism, serve as an example of the communist attitude toward labor, implement party decisions firmly and steadfastly, be considerate and attentive in his relations with people, take an active part in the political life of the country, and master Marxist-Leninist theory. He must also be an active proponent of the ideas of socialist internationalism and Soviet patriotism, promote friendship among the peoples of the USSR, strengthen party unity, develop criticism and self-criticism, boldly expose shortcomings, observe party and state discipline, help in every way to strengthen the defensive forces of the USSR, and wage an unflagging struggle for peace and friendship among nations. The rights of a party member include the right to elect and be elected to party bodies, to discuss questions concerning the party’s policies and practical activities, to submit proposals, to criticize any Communist, regardless of his position, and to address any question, statement, or proposal to any party body, up to and including the Central Committee of the CPSU.

The Rules define the procedure for admission into the Communist Party. Workers, peasants, and representatives of the intelligentsia who are conscientious, active, and devoted to the cause of communism may be admitted to party membership. Applicants are admitted on an individual basis from among candidates who have completed a one-year probationary period and who have the recommendations of three party members. The decision on admission is taken at a general meeting of the primary party organization and is confirmed by the urban district, raion, or city committee of the CPSU. Persons may join the party upon reaching 18 years of age; however, in most cases, young people less than 23 years of age are admitted to party membership only through the Komsomol—the All-Union Lenin Communist Youth League.

The Rules note that the party directs state and public organizations through the party groups within the organizations but does not replace soviet, trade union, cooperative, and other public organizations.

The guiding principle of the organizational structure of the party is democratic centralism, which signifies the election of all leading party bodies from the lowest body to the highest, periodic reporting by party bodies to their party organizations and to higher bodies, strict party discipline, the subordination of the minority to the majority, and the unconditional obligation of lower bodies to abide by the decisions of higher ones. The Rules give every Communist the right to free and businesslike discussion of questions of party policy until the party has reached a decision; this right is an important principle of intraparty democracy. The Rules provide for organizational measures to guarantee the maintenance of party unity and forbid the formation of factional groups because such groups undermine party unity.

As stated in the Rules, primary party organizations are established wherever Communists are employed; the primary organizations in a given urban district, raion, city, and so forth are incorporated into larger organizations. The highest body of the party organization is the general meeting in the case of primary organizations, the conference in the case of urban district, raion, city, okrug, oblast, and krai organizations, and the congress in the case of the communist parties of the Union republics and the CPSU. The general meeting, conference, or congress elects a bureau or committee to act as its executive body and direct the current work of the party organization. Party bodies are elected by secret ballot. The principle of systematic renewal and continuity of leadership is observed in elections. The supreme body of the party is the congress of the CPSU. Congresses are convened by the Central Committee of the CPSU not less than once every five years. The congress elects the Central Committee and the Central Auditing Commission of the CPSU. Between congresses, party activities are directed by the Central Committee, which elects the Politburo, Secretariat, and general secretary of the Central Committee. The Politburo directs party work between plenums of the Central Committee, while the Secretariat directs current work, chiefly the selection of cadres and the verification of the implementation of party decisions. The Rules provide that when necessary, the Central Committee may convene an all-Union party conference between congresses to consider urgent problems of party policy; the central committees of the Communist parties of the Union republics may likewise convene party conferences on the Union republic level.

The Rules of the CPSU set forth the rights, duties, and functions of the Union republic, krai, oblast, okrug, city, raion, and urban district party organizations and their leading bodies, as well as the primary organizations, the foundations of the party. They also define the relationship between the CPSU and the Komsomol, which operates under the party’s guidance. In addition, they describe the functions of party organizations in the Soviet Army and specify the sources of party funds, the procedure for collecting dues, and the amount of dues.

The Rules of the CPSU are based on the very rich experience gained from the revolutionary movement and are inseparably linked with the most important stages of the creation, development, and activities of the CPSU. Specific rules are determined by the practical tasks facing the party at any given moment. To supplement the Rules of the CPSU, party congresses and conferences adopt special resolutions (On Organizational Problems, On Problems of Party Structure, and so forth) and amend the Rules to correspond with new circumstances.

Lenin based his principles for building a revolutionary party of the working class on the provisions of Marx and Engels laid down in the Rules of the Communist League and the Rules of the First International, both of which were drawn up with the direct participation of both Marx and Engels. In addition, Lenin took into account the experiences of the working-class and Social Democratic movements in Western Europe, and he studied the activities of the Russian revolutionary Narodniki (Populists) in the 1870’s. However, the rules of the Western Social Democratic parties could not meet the needs of the workers’ party in the epoch of the proletarian revolution. The Rules of the German Social Democratic Party, for example, required only that party members should recognize the principles of the party’s program and not that they should engage in daily revolutionary work.

The Leninist organizational principles were first adopted by the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, established in 1895. In 1898 the First Congress of the RSDLP officially proclaimed the creation of the party but adopted neither a party program nor rules.

A very important stage in the development of the ideological and organizational foundations of the party was the publication of Lenin’s newspaper Iskra. In his book What Is to Be Done? Lenin formulated the party’s main organizational principles, and in his pamphlet A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organizational Tasks he worked out a detailed plan for building the party. Lenin’s works helped solve the organizational problems so that at the Second Congress of the RSDLP “actually, all that remained was the work of formulating the paragraphs of the Rules” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 8, p. 226). Lenin’s draft of the Rules was submitted to the congress, but a controversy developed over the question of party membership, which was treated in the first paragraph. Lenin’s formulation of the paragraph required that party members accept the party program, support the party financially, and work in one of the party organizations. L. Martov’s formulation, which was supported by the opportunist section of the congress, opened party membership to anyone who accepted the program, supported the party financially, and regularly assisted the party under the direction of one of its organizations. The Leninists endeavored to create a closely knit, efficiently organized, and disciplined proletarian party. Martov’s supporters wanted a loose, amorphous party. The congress adopted the rules drafted by Lenin but with Martov’s version of the first paragraph. The highest body of the RSDLP was the congress, and the highest body between congress sessions was the party soviet, which combined the activities of the Central Committee (guidance of party activities) and the editorial board of the central newspaper (ideological guidance). Under the prevailing conditions—which forced the party underground and led to the frequent arrests of leaders and the disbandment of organizations—the Rules allowed for co-optation of new members into the leading bodies of the party.

The Rules that Lenin had struggled to see adopted were rules for a proletarian party of a new type; in contrast to the reformist parties of the Second International, the new party was a strictly disciplined and genuinely revolutionary organization. In One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, written by Lenin in 1904, Marxist organizational principles were further developed, and the organizational opportunism of the Mensheviks was criticized. The Third Congress of the RSDLP (1905) adopted new Rules, incorporating Lenin’s version of the first paragraph and completely entrusting guidance of the party between congresses to the Central Committee.

The Revolution of 1905–07 made possible the extension of intraparty democracy. The Fourth (Unity) Congress of the RSDLP (1906) adopted new Rules based on the principle of democratic centralism (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh . . ., 8th ed., vol. 1, 1970, p. 182). The Fifth Congress of the RSDLP (1907) amended the Rules. First, the congress was to elect only the Central Committee, which would in turn appoint the editorial board of the central newspaper and control its work. Second, for discussion of the most important problems between congresses, meetings of representatives from the oblast unions of various organizations would be convened once every three to four months, with one representative for every 5,000 party members. Finally, the resolutions of this body would enter into force only after endorsement by the organizations’ central committees.

The Fifth Conference of the RSDLP (1908) noted that because of the Stolypin reaction it had become impossible fully to apply the principle of the democratic organization of the party (ibid., p. 256) and recognized co-optation as temporarily permissible under the given circumstances. The Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP (1912) amended the Rules, noting that, in allowing co-optation, the Central Committee was obligated to convene party conferences as often as possible.

After the February Revolution of 1917, the party was no longer forced to remain underground and began operating legally. To avoid weakening the party by haphazard admissions, as early as March 18 (31) the Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) adopted the resolution based on the Leninist principle of party membership that membership be restricted to persons who recognized the party program (the Rules had formerly used the word “accept” rather than “recognize”), joined the organization, and had the recommendation of two members (Voprosy istorii KPSS, 1962, no. 3, p. 152). This resolution was applied by local party organizations until the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B) (1917), which adopted Rules stating for the first time that not only did prospective members have to be recommended by two party members but also that their membership had to be approved at a general meeting of the local organization; the new Rules also stated that expulsion from the party was to be decided by a general meeting of the local organization and that the decision could be appealed to a higher instance, up to and including the party congress. A clause was also included providing that the congress would elect the Auditing Commission. The Rules specified that the Central Committee should assign a small number of its members to do current work and that plenary sessions of the Central Committee should be held no less than once every two months (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh . . ., 8th ed., vol. 1, 1970, p. 498).

After the victory of the October Revolution in 1917, the party began governing the country. The task of building socialism and defending the socialist state increased the importance of organizational work. Since many of the former rules were no longer applicable, the Eighth Congress of the RCP(B) (1919) instructed the Central Committee to make a number of essential changes in the Rules. The congress noted in particular that the growth in party membership after October 1917 necessitated the introduction of special control measures for admission of new members in order to maintain the high standards of party membership. It emphasized that the formation of the Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Byelorussian Soviet republics “in no way means that the RCP must in turn organize itself as a federation of independent parties. ... It is essential to have a united, centralized Communist party. . . . The Central committees (of the Communist parties of the Soviet republics) enjoy the rights of party oblast committees and are entirely subordinated to the Central Committee of the RCP” (ibid., vol. 2, pp. 72–73). The Eighth All-Russian Conference of the RCP(B) (1919) adopted the first new set of Rules since the October Revolution. The new Rules reflected the party’s general organizational experience during two years of work. The Rules stated for the first time that the party was founded on the basis of party cells (seePRIMARY PARTY ORGANIZATION) and that to become a party member, a candidate must first pass a probationary period. Sections were included defining the structure and nature of the work of party cells and organizations in the oblasts, gubernii (provinces), uezdy (districts), and volosti (small rural districts). The structure of the Central Committee of the RCP(B)—including the Politburo, Orgburo, and Secretariat—was confirmed. Sections were also included on party discipline, the party’s finances, and fractions in nonparty institutions and organizations. The Ninth Congress of the RCP(B) (1920) noted in its resolution On the Problem of Organization that the party was obligated to redistribute its forces in order to make the best use of Communists in production; the redistribution was essential for solving the problems of economic reconstruction. The congress emphasized that “Communists enjoy no advantages at all over other workers; they have only greater obligations” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 173). The Ninth All-Russian Conference of the RCP(B) (1920) noted in its resolution On the Immediate Tasks of Building the Party that the consolidation of Soviet power had created favorable conditions for the development of intraparty democracy, the strengthening of party unity and discipline, the struggle against bureaucratization, the broadening of intraparty criticism, and the improvement of the communist education of new members. The conference recognized the necessity of establishing the Central Control Commission to function side by side with the Central Committee and of setting up special party commissions in outlying areas. In its resolution On Problems of Building the Party, the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B) (1921) noted that during wartime the party had tended to use a system of military orders (ibid., vol. 2, p. 207); it recognized that during the transition to the New Economic Policy, however, the party should primarily use methods involving broad discussion and debate on all important problems, with complete freedom of intraparty criticism, and with collective attempts to reach decisions on general party questions until binding decisions had been adopted (ibid., vol. 2, p. 210). The Tenth Congress established accountability of party members for their recommendations of new members; the maximum penalty for irresponsible recommendations was expulsion from the party. It also lengthened the probationary period, acknowledged the necessity of close ties between the party and the Komsomol, and adopted the resolution On Control Commissions. At Lenin’s suggestion, the congress also adopted the resolution On Party Unity, which made factionalism impossible.

The Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B) (1922) noted in its resolution On New Party Tasks that “since the time the party became the governing party, alien careerist elements have inevitably begun to work their way into it” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 335). The congress consequently established three categories of admissions with different degrees of requirements and adopted a resolution on the central and local control commissions, as well as a resolution on the Central Auditing Commission.

The Twelfth All-Russian Conference of the RCP(B) (1922) adopted new Rules reflecting the changes and additions made since the eighth Conference of the RCP(B). In its resolution On the Organizational Question, the Twelfth Congress of the RCP(B) (1923) fixed the number of members in the highest party bodies and determined the procedures for their work. To increase the proletarian nucleus of the party, the congress facilitated the admission of industrial workers. In its resolution On the Frequency of Provincial Party Conferences, the Thirteenth Congress of the RCP(B) (1924) established the requirement that provincial party organizations hold conferences twice a year. The Fourteenth Conference of the RCP(B) (1925) adopted the resolution On Building the Party, which was part of a series of measures aimed at strengthening the proletariat’s guidance of the peasantry; the resolution facilitated the admission into the party of farmhands, peasants, and Red Army soldiers from the peasant and working classes. The Fourteenth Congress of the ACP(B) (1925) reaffirmed the Rules but made certain amendments and additions, one of which provided that a party board of the Central Control Commission be set up to examine cases concerning violations of party ethics, the party program, or the Rules; a section on party organizations in the Red Army was also introduced. The Fifteenth Congress of the ACP(B), which met in 1927 during the struggle against the Trotskyist-Zinovievist Antiparty Bloc, determined the circumstances under which the Central Committee could call an all-Union debate. The Seventeenth Congress of the ACP(B) (1934) included in the Rules a definition of the Communist Party as the “organized vanguard of the proletariat of the USSR and the highest form of proletarian organization” (ibid., vol. 5, 1971, p. 160). The congress recognized the necessity of establishing four admissions categories for candidate and full party members, increasing the number of required recommendations, demanding a greater length of party membership from persons who provide recommendations, and including a clause on party members’ obligations. It also acknowledged the need to establish groups of Communist Party sympathizers in the lower party organizations and to transform the party cells into primary party organizations. The congress made the Central Control Commission into the Commission of Party Control of the Central Committee of the ACP(B). The Eighteenth Congress of the ACP(B) (1939) noted that, given the establishment of a socialist society and changes in the class structure of the Soviet population, separate categories for admission to the party were no longer necessary; accordingly, the categories were eliminated and admissions requirements for all prospective members were made the same. The congress added to the Rules a clause on the rights of party members and abolished periodic mass purges of the party. It also ruled that the Commission of Party Control must be organized by the Central Committee, operate under the committee’s direction, and dedicate itself primarily to verifying the implementation of the committee’s decisions. The congress added a new body, the all-Union party conference, to the system of central party organizations, which included the party congress and the Central Committee of the ACP(B) (ibid., vol. 5, p. 373). In order to strengthen the political work and leadership of the Central Committee, the congress gave the committee the right to establish political sections and to send party organizers to areas lagging in socialist construction (seePARTY ORGANIZER OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE CPSU). Primary organizations of industrial enterprises were given the right to oversee administration. The congress also inserted a new section, entitled “The Party and the Komsomol,” in the Rules.

Under the extraordinary circumstances of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the Central Committee stated on Dec. 9, 1941, that the political bodies of the Red Army would be authorized to admit those who had distinguished themselves in battle to party membership after a three-month probationary period (KPSS o Vooruzhennykh silakh Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1969, p. 312). This resolution was subsequently extended to Soviet partisans as well.

The Nineteenth Congress of the CPSU (1952) adopted new rules, which defined the party as a voluntary militant alliance of like-minded Communists, drawn from the working class, the peasantry, and the working intelligentsia (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh ..., vol. 6, 1971, p. 367). The congress eliminated from the Rules the paragraphs concerning convocations of the all-Union party conference and extended the list of the duties of party members. It reorganized the Commission of Party Control as the Committee of Party Control, replaced the Politburo with the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU, abolished the Orgburo, and centered organizational work in the Secretariat of the Central Committee.

The Twentieth Congress of the CPSU (1956) instructed the Central Committee to ensure “strict adherence to the norms of party life and the principles of collective party leadership developed by Lenin” (ibid., vol. 7, p. 181). The congress made certain amendments to the Rules, in particular the change that individual workshops could form party organizations within primary industrial organizations having more than 50 members. The Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU (1961) adopted new rules raising the role and responsibility of Communists and furthering the development of intraparty democracy, Leninist principles, and the norms of party life.

The Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses of the CPSU (1966 and 1971, respectively) made certain amendments to the Rules. The congresses stated that persons less than 23 years of age were to be admitted to party membership only through the Komsomol, that persons who recommended new members must themselves have belonged to the party no less than five years, and that, if necessary, the Central Committee could convene an all-Union party conference. The Presidium of the CPSU became the Politburo once again. The congresses also determined that the Central Committee should elect the general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, that party congresses should be held at least once every five years, and that the primary organizations should have broader rights.

The history of the Rules of the CPSU reflects the various stages in the uninterrupted improvement of the organizational functions and the leading role of the party and the growing responsibility of every Communist in fulfilling the tasks of communist construction. The various sets of rules have answered problems facing the party at the time. The Rules are the foundation of the organizational unity of the party and ensure the unification of the efforts of all members. Communist submission to a common discipline and unswerving adherence to the norms of party life, which are formulated in the Rules in accordance with the Leninist organizational principles, guarantee that party unity will not be destroyed, that the party will triumph in the struggle against opportunism, and that it will continue to operate efficiently. The Leninist organizational principles are applicable in foreign countries as well as in the USSR and form the organizational foundation for all Marxist-Leninist parties.


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