What Sort of Organisation was the Communist Party?



Throughout its life, the study of Soviet affairs has been marked by a curious dualism. On the one hand, students have emphasised the importance of a single political institution, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). It was the allencompassing nature of this organisation, with its tentacles in every factory, farm, school and residential area in the country, which was the central point of many of the major theoretical frameworks constructed to explain Soviet affairs, including the mono-organisational society and totalitarianism. It was the party and the power it wielded which was believed to set the Soviet system apart from its contemporaries, to make it unique among political systems. The fact that this system was exported following the war reinforced the apparent significance of the communist party-centred system by suggesting that this was not a chance occurrence resulting from Russia’s unique historical heritage. It was a system which could operate in other historical and cultural contexts and was not therefore a one-off, chance development. Moreover the erosion of the monopoly of political power by a single organisation has widely been seen as central to the collapse of communism in both the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe.


Communist Party Family Group Local Elite Personalise Power Organisational Institutionalisation 
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Copyright information

© Graeme Gill and Roderic Pitty 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentUniversity of SydneyAustralia

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