THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SOVIET POLITICAL SYSTEM
T. H. Rigby
When the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 they were successors to a system of strong, centralized government whose origins went back to sixteenth-seventeenth century Muscovy. The princes of Moscow, having "gathered in" all the Russian lands under their primacy and fought free of the Tatar yoke, were now masters of the largest Christian state in the world and the only Orthodox state free of infidel domination. Small wonder, then, that they saw themselves as the proper heirs to the imperium of Byzantium (the second Rome) and beyond that the first Rome, and asserted the title and authority of Caesar (Tsar). This claim was brutally enforced by Ivan IV ( 1530-84) and consolidated in the following century by the first Romanov tsars. Meanwhile a ramshackle bureaucracy grew up, drawing partly on the legacy of Tatar administration, to help run this great empire now stretching from the Polish frontier to the Pacific.
While the essentials of this autocratic and increasingly bureaucratic system remained unchanged up to the early twentieth century, its details were progressively altered under the influence of Western ideas and models and of socio-economic changes. In the early eighteenth century Peter the Great sought to rationalize its administration along Prussian and Swedish lines, and the process was taken further a century later by Alexander I's reformist adviser Mikhail Speransky ( 1772-1839). By now the earlier "colleges" (kollegii), or boards, on the main branches of government had been supplanted by a group of ministries (initially for foreign affairs, war, navy, interior, justice, finance, commerce, and education), and the quasi-patrimonial pattern of regional administration had been replaced by a system of provincial governors coming under the Interior Ministry. 1