Compared with its counterparts in other countries the Soviet Union’s national legislature, the USSR Supreme Soviet, has generally received little attention from scholars (the only book-length treatment to date is Vanneman, 1977; see also Hough and Fainsod, 1979, ch. 10, White, 1980, and White, 1982). The reasons are not far to seek. The Supreme Soviet meets much less frequently than its counterparts elsewhere; its votes are almost always unanimous; its discussion of government legislation is generally perfunctory and confined to details; and it has yet to ask a Soviet minister to resign. Yet, for all these obvious shortcomings, it has become increasingly apparent in recent years that the Supreme Soviet, like the soviets at lower levels of the state hierarchy, has been assuming greater powers and becoming a less marginal participant in the policy process than it was under Stalin or even Khrushchev. This apparent assumption of authority is evident most clearly in the expansion in the number and powers of the standing commissions attached to each of its chambers, through which, as in most modern legislatures, an increasing proportion of its business is conducted (Lees and Shaw, 1979), but it is apparent in other ways as well. All in all, as one commentator has put it, the Supreme Soviet’s meetings and discussions were indeed ‘perfunctory’ and ‘stage-managed’ for perhaps the first three decades of its existence (1936–66); but since Stalin, and more particularly since Khrushchev, the Supreme Soviet has made a ‘modest — but in terms of past history, impressive — comeback as an institution with more than purely symbolic functions’ (Gilison, 1972, p. 50).
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