Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


the highest body of state power and the only legislative body of the USSR. It exercises all the prerogatives operative in the Soviet Union other than those which, according to the Constitution of the USSR, come under the jurisdiction of subsidiary bodies of the Supreme Soviet—such agencies as the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Council of Ministers of the USSR, or the various ministries and state committees of the Council of Ministers. The Supreme Soviet decides the overall direction of foreign policy, exercises supreme control over the activity of the state apparatus, and makes decisions on major questions of government, economy, and social and cultural construction. The Constitution assigns to the Supreme Soviet the admission of new republics to membership in the USSR, the confirmation of changes of borders between Union republics, and the confirmation of new autonomous republics and autonomous oblasts created within Union republics. The Supreme Soviet is elected for a period of four years by the population through universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot. Any Soviet citizen enjoying the right to vote, who is 23 years of age or older, may be elected a deputy of the Supreme Soviet. The Supreme Soviet consists of two chambers—the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. In the Soviet of the Union the overall interests of all working people in the USSR are represented regardless of nationality. In the Soviet of Nationalities the special, specific interests of the peoples of the USSR as related to their special national conditions are represented. The manner of representation in each chamber corresponds to its purpose as established by the Constitution. The Soviet of the Union is elected according to the principle of one deputy for every 300,000 persons; the Soviet of Nationalities, according to the principle of 32 deputies for each Union republic, 11 deputies for each autonomous republic, five deputies for each autonomous oblast, and one deputy for each national okrug. Among those elected to the Supreme Soviet are workers, collective farmers, representatives of the Soviet intelligentsia, professionals in culture and in the arts, and government and Party figures. For example, in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR for the eighth session (elected on June 14, 1970), there were 481 workers (31.7 percent) and 282 collective farmers (18.6 percent) among the 1,517 deputies. Women accounted for 30.5 percent of the deputies. The two chambers are equal in their powers; they each have the right to initiate legislation, and their sessions begin and end simultaneously. In the event of disagreements between the chambers the problem is reviewed by a compromise commission established by the chambers themselves on the basis of parity. If the commission does not arrive at a solution agreeable to both or if one of the chambers does not approve the compromise, the question is examined a second time by both chambers. If it still cannot be agreed upon, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet dissolves the session and calls for new elections.

The Supreme Soviet has the exclusive right to issue the laws of the Soviet Union. The legislative activity of the Supreme Soviet takes two forms; it directly adopts laws itself, and it approves those decrees issued by the Presidium in the period between sessions of the Supreme Soviet if these decrees change existing legislation. Voting on laws takes place separately in each chamber, a law being considered approved if a simple majority in both chambers favors its adoption. In order for changes to be introduced into the Constitution, a qualified majority (not less than a two-thirds majority) is required in each chamber.

The Constitution of the USSR assigns to the Supreme Soviet the duty of electing its own Presidium and of forming the Soviet government (that is, the Council of Ministers), as well as of electing the Supreme Court of the USSR and appointing the Procurator General of the USSR. All of these governmental bodies are responsible to the Supreme Soviet and subordinate to it. When the Supreme Soviet is in session, it hears reports from the Presidium on the decrees enacted during the period between sessions, reports from the Council of Ministers, and so on. Control is also realized in the form of the right of interpolation by deputies in relation to the Soviet government or any of its individual members through permanent commissions of the chambers. If the Supreme Soviet considers it necessary, it may appoint investigating or inspecting commissions on any question.

Sessions of the Supreme Soviet are convened no less frequently than twice a year by the Presidium. At its own discretion or upon request by one of the Union republics, the Presidium may convene a special (extraordinary) session of the Supreme Soviet. At the first session of every newly elected Supreme Soviet the Presidium is elected from among the deputies, and each chamber elects a president and four vice-presidents to guide the proceedings of the chamber; each chamber also confirms the rules for joint and separate sessions of the chambers.

An important link in the mechanism by which the functions of the higher bodies of the state power of the USSR function consists of the auxiliary bodies of the Supreme Soviet chambers—the permanent commissions. Each chamber creates ten permanent commissions: the Credentials Commission, the Commission for Legislative Proposals, the Plan and Budget Commission, the Foreign Affairs Commission, the Commission on Youth Affairs, and several commissions to deal with branches and groups of branches of government administration.

In each Union republic or autonomous republic, the highest body of state power is the single-chamber Supreme Soviet of that republic. It is elected by the population of the respective republic according to the principles of representation established by its constitution.


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