People's Commissariat

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

People’s Commissariat


(Narkomat), the central organ of specialized state administration in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1946.

The first people’s commissariats were formed by the decree On the Establishment of the Council of People’s Commissars, adopted by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets on Oct. 26 (Nov. 8), 1917. The Council of People’s Commissars, led by V. I. Lenin, constituted the first Soviet government. It included people’s commissars heading the committee on military and naval affairs and 12 commissions: trade and industry, justice, posts and telegraphs, labor, foreign affairs, food, finance, public education, railroads, internal affairs, agriculture, and nationalities. The 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR confirmed the system of people’s commissars that had already emerged. By then there were 18 people’s commissariats, including the Supreme Council of the National Economy, which functioned as a people’s commissariat.

The formation of the USSR in 1922 brought about significant changes in the system of people’s commissariats. Five all-Union, that is, common for the country at large, people’s commissariats —for military and naval affairs, foreign affairs, foreign trade, railroads, and posts and telegraphs—were formed to direct the most important state functions turned over to the USSR. Coordination of the efforts of the Union republics in other, shared areas of public interest became the responsibility of five consolidated people’s commissariats: the Supreme Council of the National Economy; the commissariats of food, labor, and finance; and the Workers and Peasants Inspection (Rabkrin). This system was affirmed in the USSR Constitution of 1924. The constitution of each Union republic provided for the creation of five consolidated people’s commissariats, to have the same names as the corresponding USSR people’s commissariats, along with six republic-level people’s commissariats, to be managed exclusively by the Union republics. These included internal affairs, justice, education, public health, agriculture, and social security.

General questions regarding the organization of the people’s commissariats of the USSR and their interrelations with the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and with the Union republic people’s commissariats of the same names were defined by the General Statute on People’s Commissariats of the USSR of 1923. People’s commissariats were given the right, within the limits of their jurisdiction, to issue decrees, directives, instructions, circulars, and orders. As the national economy developed and public administration became more complex, the system of people’s commissariats changed considerably. For example, with the transition from taxation in kind on agriculture to monetary taxation in 1924, the People’s Commissariat of Food was abolished and the consolidated People’s Commissariat of Internal Trade was formed. In 1932, the Supreme Council of the National Economy was divided into all-Union people’s commissariats for heavy industry and for the forest industry and a consolidated people’s commissariat for light industry.

With the adoption of the Constitution of the USSR of 1936, the consolidated people’s commissariats were transformed into Union-republic commissariats. The system of people’s commissariats then included eight all-Union and ten Union-republic people’s commissariats. The option of establishing Union-republic people’s commissariats with the same names as the corresponding USSR people’s commissariats and of forming republic-level people’s commissariats was open to all Union and autonomous republics, and lists of such commissariats were included in republic constitutions. As management of the rapidly growing national economy grew more complex, a continuing process of administrative dispersal into smaller units and creation of new people’s commissariats occurred. By a law enacted on Mar. 15, 1946, the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the corresponding bodies in the Union and autonomous republics were transformed into councils of ministers. The people’s commissariats under them accordingly became ministries.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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