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List of Leaders of the Soviet Union (USSR)

Rujuta Patil
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Soviet Union, was at its greatest with reference to the area it covered during the period of 1946 and 1991. Who ruled such a great landmass before its fall? Here is a list of all the leaders of the USSR.

Did you know?

Perestroika (meaning reconstruction) and Glasnost (meaning openness) were crucial reforms brought in by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.
USSR stands for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Established on 30th December in the year 1922, this large congregation of republics once included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The Union was dissolved in December 1991.
The term 'leader of the Soviet Union' cannot be narrowed down to a specific political office that existed. It was usually a person who was the Premier of the Soviet Union or the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or both.

List of Soviet Union Leaders

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)

Period: 30 December 1922 to 21 January 1924

The October revolution of 1917 was led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin. The Politburo was formed for directing the revolution.
He first led the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic as the head of the government from the year 1917. Later, from 1922 onwards, he was the leader of the Soviet Union till 1924, when he died. The major shift in the Russian polity, from the Russian empire (Czar rule) to the USSR, came about during his leadership.
Lenin's leadership gave the New Economic Policy, which was termed as 'state capitalism' by him. Nationalization of estates and lands, legalizing abortion and homosexuality, and free access to birth control, were some of the path-breaking policies he adopted.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

Period: 21 January 1924 to 5 March 1953

He was one of the first members of the Politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), which included Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
Appointed as the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the party in 1922, he emerged as the natural successor after Lenin's death. Stalin remained in the post until it was abolished.
He took over as the Premier of the Union later, from 1941 onwards. A few highlights of his rule include industrialization and centralization of resources, socialism in one country, etc.

Georgy Malenkov (1902-1988)

Period: 5 March 1953 to 8 February 1955

Malenkov was a Communist Party leader, and was known to have close ties with Vladimir Lenin. This family bond took him to the core group of the party. Handling responsibilities like that of the Soviet missile program during World War II, he gradually headed towards leading the party.
However, after the death of Stalin, he executed his duties solely as the Premier, leaving the party activities to Nikita Khrushchev. Considered to have led a failed term, he was expelled from the Politburo and also from the party in the late 1950s.

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)

Period: 8 February 1955 to 14 October 1964

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev is remembered prominently as the leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Also known as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev was the man behind the de-Stalinization of the republic.
Supporting the foundational work for the Soviet space program was one of his phenomenal achievements. His domestic policies aimed at improving the life of citizens, and towards agriculture did not prove to be a success. The Cold War was tamed by Khrushchev's offer to remove missiles from Cuba, to which the United States agreed by not invading.

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982)

Period: 14 October 1964 to 10 November 1982

Brezhnev was appointed as the General Secretary of the party's Central Committee. After Stalin, it was Brezhnev who held the position as the leader of the Soviet Union for such a long period. The years during the mid-1970s are referred to as the Era of Stagnation, due to lack of a reformist economy.
With most of the budget catering towards the military, the national income saw a decline during his tenure. Military support to Afghanistan's forces was also one of his decisions, leading further to the war against the Mujahideen, which lasted till 1989.

Yuri Andropov (1914-1984)

Period: 12 November 1982 to 9 February 1984

Although serving a short term as the leader of the Union, Andropov attempted to initiate several reforms in the functioning of the economy. That did not however ask for any deviation from socialist principles.
It was during the anti-corruption campaign that actions against some ministers were taken by dismissing them; criminal cases were also lodged against party and state officials. The relations between the US and the Soviet Union were not so great during his term.

Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985)

Period: 13 February 1984 to 10 March 1985

The fifth General Secretary of the Communist Party, he was also the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. He was heading the propaganda department in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, where he met Leonid Brezhnev.
He worked for the party in several roles. During his leadership, a trade pact was signed between the Republic of China and the Soviet Union. His policies were similar to those of the Brezhnev period.

Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931)

Period: 11 March 1985 to 19 August 1991 and 21 August 1991 to 25 December 1991

One person whom the world knows as the last leader of the Soviet Union is Mikhail Gorbachev.
He was also the first and last President of the Union. An interesting fact is that, he was the only Secretary General who was born after the October Revolution.
Leading the USSR during its dissolution, Gorbachev is identified with his twin policies of 'perestroika' and 'glasnost'. Besides these policies of reconstruction and openness, his talks with the then United States President Ronald Reagan are said to have ended the Cold War. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
During the August Coup of 1991, in an attempt by some members of the Soviet government to take over the leadership from Mikhail Gorbachev, he was deposed. They were against the reforms he brought in. It was during this coup that lasted for three days that Gennady Yanayev was made the Acting President (19 to 21 August).