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The Council of the People's Commissars (Russian: Совет народных коммиссаров, translit. Soviet Narodnykh Kommissarov), was the highest government authority under the Bolshevik system after the success of the Russian Revolution.



By September 1917, the councils (soviets) of workers, peasants and soldiers acquired considerable political and military power. The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet conspired to overthrow the Russian Provisional Government; the uprising started on 7 November 1917, when Red Guards units captured the Winter Palace. On the next day, 8 November 1917, the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets recognized the success of the uprising, and formally established the new government that reflected the capture of the soviets by the Bolsheviks.

The government was formally called the Council of People's Commissars (Совет народных коммиссаров), abbreviated as Sovnarkom (совнарком). It was Leon Trotsky who devised the council name, thereby avoiding the more "bourgeois" terms, minister and cabinet.

The People's Commissars (Russian: Народный комиссар, tr.: Narodny komissar, or Narkom) functioned as government ministers; a ministry was therefore called called a People's Commissariat (Russian: Народный комиссариат, tr.: Narodny komissariat, abbreviated to narkomat).


An early Sovnarkom decree, introducing the "Western European calendar" in Russia. According to the decree, January 31, 1918 (Old style) was to be followed by February 14, 1918 (New style)

Traditionally, a government is a council of ministers nominated by a ruler or by a president, but the Bolsheviks saw this as a bourgeois institution, and wanted to create what they thought a new government of workers and peasants, a 'soviet' government.

The role and structure of the Sovnarkom was formalized in the 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR. The Sovnarkom of the RSFSR was responsible to the Congress of Soviets for the "general administration of the affairs of the state." The constitution enabled the Sovnarkom to issue decrees carrying the full force of law when the Congress was not in session. The Congress then routinely approved these decrees at its next session.

Each People's Commissar was head of commissariat and had several deputies and a collegium which functioned as a deliberative body to advise the commissar.

The Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, also elected by the Congress, had a function similar to that of a prime minister. The first Chairman of the Sovnarkom was Vladimir Lenin.


The Original People's Commissars

The first council elected by the Second All-Russian congress was composed as follows:

People's Commissar Original incumbent Death
Chairman Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) Natural causes 1924
Secretary Nikolai Gorbunov Executed 1938
People's Commissariat for Agriculture Vladimir Milyutin Died in prison 1937
People's Commissariat for Military Affairs Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko

Nikolai Krylenko

Executed 1939

Executed 1938

People's Commissariat for Naval Affairs Pavel Dybenko Executed 1938
People's Commissariat for Trade and Industry Viktor Nogin 1924
People's Commissariat for Education Anatoly Lunacharsky 1933
People's Commissariat for Food Ivan Teodorovich Executed 1937
People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs Leon Bronstein (Trotsky) Assassinated 1940
People's Commissariat for Interior Affairs Alexei Rykov Executed 1938
People's Commissariat for Justice Georgy Oppokov Executed 1937
People's Commissariat for Labour Alexander Shlyapnikov Executed 1937
People's Commissariat of Nationalities Joseph Djugashvili (Stalin) Natural causes 1953
People's Commissariat for Post and Telegraph Nikolai Glebov-Avilov Executed 1937
People's Commissariat of Railways (vacant)
People's Commissariat of Finance Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov 1928

All-Union Sovnarkom

Upon the creation of the USSR in 1922, the Union's government was modelled after the first Sovnarkom. The Soviet republics retained their own governments which dealt with domestic matters.


In 1946, the Sovnarkoms were replaced by Councils of Ministers at both All-Union and republic level.

See also

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