Establishment of the USSR

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5096 (1982)
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5096 (1982)

On December 30, 1922, the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (Договор об образовании СССР) and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR were confirmed by the 1st Congress of the Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of plenipotentiary delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик — Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), commonly known as the Soviet Union. Following the signing by Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze, Grigory Petrovsky, Alexander Chervyakov, and the delegates they led, a formal proclamation was made from the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

The Treaty de jure legalized a union of four Soviet republics and created a new centralized federal government (Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union and Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union (TsIK) were the legislative while Council of People’s Commissars was the executive) where key functions were centralized in Moscow. It provided flexibility to admit new members. Therefore, by 1940 the Soviet Union grew from the founding four republics to 15 republics.

The Declaration stated the reasons necessitating the formation of a union between all existing Soviet republics into one united socialist state and expressed willingness to undertake a “permanent revolution”, exporting the Socialist Revolution to other states, primarily in the West, as evidenced by the recent Polish-Soviet War. The Declaration also stressed that the creation of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was a voluntary union of peoples with equal rights, whereby each Soviet republic retained the right to freely secede from the Union, a provision that was used as the legal basis for the independence of several republics and the subsequent dissolution of the Union in 1991.

Декларация и договор об образовании СССР - Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 1)
Декларация и договор об образовании СССР – Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 1)

In January 1924, the Second Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union ratified the first Soviet Constitution (Конституция СССР 1924 г.). The Constitution’s text is essentially the 1922 Treaty, re-written and expanded. with the Declaration included as the preamble. Where the Treaty contained 26 articles, the Constitution was split into eleven chapters containing 72 articles. On February 1, 1924, the USSR was recognized by the British Empire, helping to legitimize the December 1922 union.

On December 8, 1991, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarus presidents signed the Belavezha Accords (Беловежские соглашения). The agreement declared the dissolution of the USSR by its founder states through the denunciation of the 1922 Treaty and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (Содружество Независимых Государств, СНГ — Sodruzhestvo Nezavisimykh Gosudarstv, SNG) in its place. On December 10, the accord was ratified by the Ukrainian and Belarusian parliaments. On December 12, the agreement was ratified by the Russian Parliament, therefore Russian SFSR denounced the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and de facto declared Russia’s independence from the USSR.

On December 26, 1991, the USSR was self-dissolved by the Council of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, a house of Soviet parliament (the second house, the Soviet of the Union was without a quorum).

The Treaty on the Creation of the USSR in December 1922 was a result of many internal political conflicts within the Bolshevik Party and governments inside the Union. Initially, Vladimir Lenin did not see that Russia’s October Revolution would end all foreign borders as such. This view was supported by Leon Trotsky and his followers, who believed that Russia was only a first step in a future world revolution. However, as the Red Army approached former internal national and foreign borders, it needed an excuse to cross them. One such method was a creation of an alternative government, a Soviet Republic, that would then take over authority as the Red Army ousted the existing government. This was the case with Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and failed campaigns such as in Lithuania and Poland. Alternatively, it would use the presence of a minority to undermine the standing army (such as the establishment Tatar and Bashkir autonomies), and where there was no national minority, a government based on geographical locale — Far Eastern Republic, Turkestan.

Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 2)
Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 2)

The Red Army’s ultimate failure in the Polish campaign placed Trotsky’s World Revolution plans on hold. Simultaneously, the growing figure of Joseph Stalin pursued a different agenda. Lenin himself saw the creation of national republics as a permanent feature in line with his korenizatsiya (коренизация, meaning “nativization” or “indigenization”, literally “putting down roots”) policies. In the spring of 1922, Lenin suffered his first stroke and Stalin, still being a People’s Commissar for Nationalities gained a new official chair as the General Secretary of the Communist Party.

Stalin argued that now that the Russian Civil War had concluded and that war communism was now replaced by the New Economic Policy, it required a country whose legal de jure framework would match its de facto one, and re-organizing the Bolshevik state into a single sovereign entity. This included liquidating the many splinter Soviet governments and restoring supreme rule to Moscow.

This line went directly in conflict with both proponents of korenizatsiya and some of the local governments, most notably in Ukraine and Georgia. Thus, the Treaty can be viewed as a compromise between the different groups within the Bolshevik camp, to satisfy the aspirations of large minorities and to allow for potential expansion, as well. Byelorussia was the smallest republic, yet its official languages included Polish and Yiddish in addition to Russian and Belarusian to undermine the authority of the neighboring Second Polish Republic and to use its sizeable Jewish minority, as well as the Belarusians and Ukrainians in Poland as a future fifth column. At the same time, it created a new centralized federal government where key functions would clearly be in the hands of Moscow.

The Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 3)
The Declaration and Treaty on the Creation of the USSR (page 3)

The original document included a cover sheet, the Declaration, the Treaty (containing the Preface and 26 articles) and the signatures of the delegations that signed it.

On the cover sheet, the title Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was typed in Russian, French, English and German, as well as the words Treaty on the Formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in those four languages. It contained the original state emblem of the Soviet Union.

The Declaration was written as a reflection on contemporary international relations and why the treaty was necessary. According to the narrative, there were now two distinct camps, an “exploiting” capitalist with colonialism, chauvinism and social and ethnic inequalities and a “free” socialist one with mutual trust, peace and international cooperation and solidarity. The former sought to destroy the latter, but because of the common good that the latter is based on, the former has failed.

The Declaration goes on to list three factors as to why this Union is a necessary step. First of all, the aftermath of the Civil War left many of the republics’ economies destroyed, and rebuilding in the new socialist fashion is proving difficult without closer economic cooperation. Secondly, foreign threats continue to loom over the socialist camp, and its sovereignty requires an alliance for defense. Finally, the ideological factor, that the Soviet rule is internationalist in nature and pushes the working masses to unite in a single socialist family. These three factors justify in uniting in a single state that would guarantee prosperity, security and development.

The Declaration then specifies that the resultant Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is one that is created by the free will of the people, that its purpose follows the ideals of the October Revolution, that each and every socialist republic has the right to join and leave the Union at its own will, and hinting at the Soviet foreign policy of socialist irredentism, finishes stating that the treaty …will serve a decisive step on the path of unification of all workers into a “World Socialist Soviet Republic”.

Following the declaration, is the Treaty itself consisting of a preface and 26 articles.

In the Preface, it is fixed that the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, the Byelorussian Socialist Soviet Republic and the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (containing Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), acting in free will, agree to form a single Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that is governed on the articles listed in the treaty.

Article 1 lists the competency of the responsibilities that the Union’s authorities would contain. These include all foreign affairs; international treaties; change in external borders; expansion of the Union by accepting new republics; declaring war and agreeing to peace; foreign and domestic trade; authority over economic development; creating a single postal and transport services; the armed forces; internal migration; creation of single judiciary, education and healthcare services as well as unifying all units of measurement. All of the above would be thus explicitly controlled directly by the Union’s authority. Moreover, the final clause explicitly listed, that the Union’s authorities could now overturn acts of all Republics’ authorities (be it Congresses of Soviets, Soviets of People’s Commissars or Central Executive Committees) that were deemed in violation with regard to this Treaty.

The Constitution of the USSR
The Constitution of the USSR

Articles 2–10 determined the structure of supreme authorities of the Union. The legislative authority, according to the treaty, was the Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union and between the congresses this was to be carried out by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union (TsIK) (2). The delegates to the Congress are to be elected by local Soviets represented by one elected representative from 25,000 voters in urban areas and one per 125,000 voters in rural areas (3). The Congress delegates would be elected by local Guberniya Soviets, rather than Republican ones (4). The congresses would be held annually, or may be summoned by requests of at least two Republics’ or the Union’s TsIK (5). The TsIK would be the main body to carry out executive functions between the congresses. This TsiK was a 371-person body, whose members were proportionally represented to the population of the Union, and elected by the Congress (6). The Union TsIK would meet four times per annum on a regular basis, whilst irregular sessions can be summoned on demand by the Union government (the Council of People’s Commissars) or by one of the constituent Republics (7). The Congress and the TsIK would be held in the capitals of the Union Republics in the order that would be decided by TsIK’s Presidium (8). The latter, was to be appointed by TsIK, that would be the supreme power organ between its sessions (9). This Presidium would consist of nineteen members, with four chairmen, each representing the four republics (10). The Presidium also had the authority to summon an irregular session of TsIK.

Article 11 appointed the executive authority, the Council of People’s Commissars (SNK). The council’s members were appointed by TsIK, and included ten portfolios (commissariats) as well as a chairmen and his deputies.

Article 12 specified the functions of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union (under control of TsIK) and the secret police, the OGPU (under control of the SNK, and the OGPU chairman was to be a participant of the SNK with advisory vote). The creation of these two bodies, was justified as measures to overcome criminal and counter-revolutionary elements in that very article.

Articles 13–17 specified the framework on the legal proceedings between the Union’s supreme bodies (the TsIK and the SNK) and those of each republic. All of the decrees by Union’s SNK were effective in every republic (13). Also confirmed, was the multilingual aspect of the Union, specifying that all of the Union’s decrees are to printed in the official language of each constituent republic (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Georgian, Armenian and Turkic (i.e. Azerbaijani)) (14). It was specified that the Union’s SNK resolution may only be overruled by the Union’s TsIK or its Presidium (16), and if a republican TsIK chooses to protest the resolution or a decree of the Union’s TsIK, the protest itself does not halt the implementation of the document (15). The latter is only possible if there is obvious violations with existing laws, and in such cases the republic must immediately notify the Union’s SNK and the relevant commissariat (17).

Article 18 listed the authorities that would be retained by the Republics and specified their respective Councils of People’s Commissars, each to have a chairmen, his deputies, eleven portfolios and representatives with advisory votes of several Union-level commissariats, in particular foreign affairs, defense, foreign trade, transport and logistics.

At the same time, Article 19 specified that republican-level organs, the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy (whose chairman was to also have a full seat in the relevant republican SNK), the commissariats for food supply, finance and labor, as well as the Soviet inspection (the Rabkrin) though subjugated to the Republican authorities, their activities were to be regulated by the Union’s TsIK.

Article 20 discussed that the budgets of the Republics would form the Union’s budget, and that all expenses and spendings by the Republics would be determined by the Union’s TsIK. Moreover, the latter would also determine the share of profits, if any, that each Republic would receive.

Articles 21–23 created a single Soviet citizenship (21), state symbolism (flag, national anthem and a coat of arms – 22), and specified the Union’s capital in Moscow (23).

Article 24 demanded that the republics amended their constitutions with regard to the treaty.

Article 25 specified that any amendments, additions or changes to the treaty may be done only by the Union’s Congress of Soviets.

Article 26 affirmed the clause in the declaration where each republic has the right to leave the Union.

The Constitution of the USSR
The Constitution of the USSR

Initially, the treaty did little to alter the major political spectrum. Most of the governing positions of the RSFSR’s supreme organs were automatically transferred to the USSR’s. For example, the Chairman of the All-Union Central Executive Committee (TsIK) was taken by Mikhail Kalinin, who would retain his chair as Russia’s TsIK. Likewise Lenin’s position as chairman of RSFSR’s Council of People’s Commissars (SNK), which he held since the Revolution, would now to be transformed as the Chairman of the Union’s SNK. However, as Lenin remained ill from the stroke, both of his chairs would be occupied by Alexei Rykov as acting head of the government.

Joseph Stalin’s position as General Secretary of the Communist Party was also unchanged. However the Party’s position was. Prior to the treaty the Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks), had its own bureaus which oversaw the activities in distant regions (e.g. Turkestani bureau, Transcaucasian bureau, etc.). After the Treaty, the party was re-organized as the All-Union Communist Party. Whilst the Republic’s parties remained, Russia’s party not only retained its primus inter pares (“first among equals”) position, but officially took over as a supreme authority in the USSR.

One area where Soviet division of power was not resolved at time of the Treaty’s signing, was Soviet Central Asia which contained several problems. A major battleground during the Russian Civil War, the region would remain unstable afterwards. Turkestan had come under Russian control fairly recently, between 1867 and 1885. Unlike other ethnic borders of the former Russian Empire which were delimited during the Tsarist days (e.g. Transcaucasia lost its feudal administration by the mid-19th century), the Soviet authorities inherited two provinces that were de jure never part of Russia proper, the Emirate of Bukhara and the Khanate of Khiva. During the Russian Civil War, these too shared the fate of the other republics, but even here their special status was preserved, and they were established as the Bukharan and Khorezm People’s Soviet Republics. Despite Mikhail Frunze’s victories, the conflict was ongoing and whole provinces were under control of the Basmachi movement in 1922.

To settle this issue, in line with the korenizatsiya policy a massive program of national delimitation in Central Asia was undertaken. On October 27, 1924, TsIK issued a decree where the former Bukharan, Khivan People’s Republics as well as the RSFSR’s Turkestan were re-organized as the Uzbek SSR and the Turkmen SSR, both of whom became full Union Republics on May 13, 1925. The borders of the new republics matched the ethnic ones, and Uzbekistan initially also contained a newly formed Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which would be elevated to a full Union Republic on October 16, 1929, becoming the Tajik SSR.

Some experts argue that the original Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist as such upon the adoption of the second Soviet Constitution on December 5, 1936, which greatly altered the internal arrangement and re-organized the USSR from a Union-based confederation into a proper federal country. Instead of the Congress of Soviets, the new Constitution created a permanent parliament, the Supreme Soviet. It also tied together most of the authorities, and most significantly affirmed the role of the Communist Party as the driving force behind the USSR’s working masses.

With regard to the original Treaty, the adoption of the Constitution re-organized the make-up of the Union. The Transcaucasian SFSR ceased to exist and the three republics that made it up were fully admitted to the Union. Simultaneously two of RSFSR’s autonomies, the Kazak and the Kirghiz ASSRs were re-organized as full republics. Therefore, the seven became the eleven.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5091 (1982): House of the Soviets, Moscow
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5091 (1982): House of the Soviets, Moscow
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5092 (1982): Dnieper Dam, Komosomol Monument, statue of worker
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5092 (1982): Dnieper Dam, Komosomol Monument, statue of worker
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5093 (1982): Soviet War Memorial, resistance poster
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5093 (1982): Soviet War Memorial, resistance poster

The Transcaucasian SFSR existed until December 5, 1936, when it was broken into Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani SSRs. The same day Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the RSFSR ceased to exist, and its territory was divided between the new Kazakh and Kirghiz SSRs. The names of all Soviet republics were changed, transposing the second (“socialist”) and third (“soviet” or e.g. “radianska” in Ukrainian) words.

In the prelude to World War II, several new republics were created prior to the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. The first was the Karelo-Finnish SSR, which on March 31, 1940, was elevated to a union republic from the Karelian ASSR, previously part of the RSFSR. After the annexation of the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were transformed into the Lithuanian SSR (July 13), Latvian SSR (July 21) and Estonian SSR (also July 21), and were formally adjoined to the Soviet Union on August 3, August 5 and August 6, respectively. The final republic was the Moldovian SSR that merged the large territory of Bessarabia with the Moldovian ASSR previously part of the Ukrainian SSR.

After World War II, no new republics were established, instead the Karello-Finnish SSR was downgraded into an autonomous republic and re-annexed by the RSFSR on July 16, 1956.

On December 8, 1991, the leaders of the Ukrainian and Belorussian SSRs, and the RSFSR met to agree on the annulment of the 1922 Treaty, which was terminated on December 25, 1991, effectively dissolving the USSR. On March 15, 1996, the State Duma of the Russian Federation expressed its legal position in relation to the decision of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR in “The denunciation of the Treaty establishing the Soviet Union” as the wrongful, unconstitutional act passed by a grave violation of the Constitution of the RSFSR, the norms of international law and then in force legislation.

For more about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including postal history, please see my previous ASAD country profile.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5094 (1982): worker at podium, decree text
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5094 (1982): worker at podium, decree text
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott #5095 (1982): Workers' Monument in Moscow, rocket, jet plane
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott #5095 (1982): Workers’ Monument in Moscow, rocket, jet plane
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - Scott-unlisted souvenir sheet (1982): State emblem, Kremlin
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – Scott-unlisted souvenir sheet 15 kopecks surcharge on 4 kopecks (1982): State emblem, Kremlin

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the USSR, the Ministry of Communications (Министерство связи СССР) released a set of six stamps on October 25, 1982 (Scott #5091-5096). Each stamp was denominated 10 kopecks and printed by photogravure, perforated 11½x12. Scott #5096 portrays the state emblem of the USSR as well as the Kremlin, framed with the national flag. I also own a small souvenir sheet bearing the same design with additional marginal inscriptions and simulated perforations which I was unable to find in the Scott catalogue. The stamp design has a crossed-out denomination of 4 kopecks with a sheet surcharge of 15 kopecks.

Flag of the USSR, December 1922-November 1923
Flag of the USSR, December 1922-November 1923
State emblem of USSR, 1923-1936
State emblem of USSR, 1923-1936

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