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 Political Bureau (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 the 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]