Union Treaty

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

The Soviet Union was formally created on December 30, 1922 when the first Congress of Soviets of the USSR, consisting of members of the Tenth All-Russian Congress of Soviets and of congresses of soviets of the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Transcaucasian Federated Republics approved a Declaration of Union and a Treaty of Union. Within the Declaration of Union particular attention should be paid to its justification, namely the inadequacy of the “isolated efforts of the separate Republics towards economic reconstruction” and the common struggle against “capitalist encirclement,” and to the use of familial metaphors to characterize relations among the Soviet peoples.

What neither document reveals were the disputes that preceded them over the formula for integrating Ukraine, Belorussia, and the three Transcaucasian republics with the RSFSR. Stalin, Commissar of Nationalities, proposed that the non-Russian republics enter the RSFSR as autonomous republics. The leaders of the Georgian Communist Party, having earlier opposed the merger of the three Transcaucasian republics, were particularly critical of this idea for “autonomization.” They received rough treatment from Stalin and Sergo Ordzhonikidze (like Stalin, a Georgian), but were supported by Lenin who was convalescing from the first of what would be a fatal series of strokes. The final version of the Treaty, like that of the Constitution, reflected party leaders’ sensitivities to fears of Russian domination within the new union but also their determination to create more centralized authority.

The Constitution was six months in the making. In January 1923 the presidium of the new All-Union Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) of the Soviets appointed a commission to produce a draft. Key decisions, however, were made by the party’s Politbiuro which presented them for approval at the twelfth congress in April 1923. The issue of national representation was resolved by the creation of a two-chamber Central Executive Committee: a Council of the Union consisting of members elected by the All-Union Congress in proportion to the population of each republic, and a Council of Nationalities containing five representatives from each union or autonomous republic and one from each autonomous region. The Constitution also delineated a tripartite classification of commissariats, essentially replicating the structure of the RSFSR and its constituent autonomous republics. Foreign affairs, foreign trade, military affairs, and state security were the exclusive domain of central authorities. Commissariats concerned with economic affairs existed at both central and republic levels, and a third set of six commissariats (Education, Health, Internal Affairs, Justice, Nationalities, and Social Welfare) were reserved for the republics and had no union counterpart. On July 6, 1923 the VTsIK approved the Constitution which came into effect immediately. It received formal confirmation by the second All-Union Congress of Soviets on January 13, 1924.

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17 Moments in Soviet History – Union Treaty by Lewis Siegelbaum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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