soviet

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

soviet

soviet, primary unit in the political organization of the former USSR. The term is the Russian word for council. The first soviets were revolutionary committees organized by Russian socialists in the Revolution of 1905 among striking factory workers. When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, workers', peasants', and soldiers' soviets sprang up all over Russia. They were led by a central executive committee, which included not only Bolsheviks, but also Mensheviks (see Bolshevism and Menshevism) and members of the Socialist Revolutionary party. At the first all-Russian soviet congress (June, 1917), the Socialist Revolutionaries had 285 deputies, the Mensheviks 248, the Bolsheviks only 105. Since the soviets represented the real power in Russia, when the Bolsheviks under Lenin captured the most important soviets in Petrograd, in Moscow, and in the armed forces, their success was assured. Imitations by leftist revolutionists in other countries met with less success, notably in Germany and Hungary, where, from 1918 to 1920, workers', peasants', and soldiers' councils were formed. A soviet republic in Bavaria was short-lived, and the regime of Béla Kun in Hungary was put down. Soviets in the Baltic republics met a similar fate. In Russia the soviets remained the basic political units, forming a hierarchy from rural councils to the Supreme Soviet, the highest legislative body in the USSR. Under the first Soviet constitution only the local soviets were elected by direct suffrage. The constitution of 1936 abolished the division of the electorate into occupational classes and instituted elections of all soviets by direct universal suffrage, but all levels were dominated by the Communist party's parallel hierarchy. In Russia the soviets survived the disintegration (1991) of the USSR, but in 1993 Yeltsin called for them to dissolve and reorganize as smaller dumas, or assemblies.

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