Formation of the USSR
In 1913, the future head of the first socialist state, Vladimir Lenin, who was a unitarian like Marx and Engels, wrote that a large centralized state "is a huge historical step forward from medieval fragmentation towards the future socialist unity of all countries." In the period from February to October 1917, the centuries-old state unity of Russia collapsed. A number of bourgeois nationalist governments seeking to isolate themselves from the traditional centre were formed in its territory: the Central Rada in Ukraine, the Cossack Circles on the Don, Terek and in Orenburg, the Kurultai in the Crimea, the National Councils in Transcaucasia and the Baltic States, etc. The threat of a drastic reduction of the territory of the socialist proletarian state and loss of hope for a rapid world revolution forced the leader of the party that came to power in Russia to reconsider his point of view about the state structure — he became a fierce supporter of federalism that was, however, supposed to be a transition "to complete unity". The slogan of "a united and indivisible Russia" proclaimed by leaders of the White Movement was opposed by the principle of the right of all nations to self-determination which attracted leaders of national movements.
However, the RSFSR Constitution of 1918 was a step backwards from a true federation. It only declared the state structure of Russia (even without the representation of future members of the federation in the central authorities) while in fact proclaiming a unitary state created at the initiative of the ruling party by annexing the territories conquered during the Civil War. The separation of powers between federal and local bodies in the Russian Federation was based on the principles of the exclusive competence of the former and the residual competence of the latter.
The first internal Russian national borders were established in late 1918 – early 1919 with the formation of the Labour Commune of the Germans of the Volga Region and the Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. By the end of 1922, there were 19 autonomous republics and regions in the RSFSR, as well as 2 labour communes created based on the ethnic principle. Ethnic-state formations coexisted with administrative-territorial units. Both these formations and units had little autonomy.
According to its founders, the Russian Federation was supposed to become a model of a larger socialist state that would allow restoring the Russian Empire (whose collapse could not be avoided in the course of the revolution and the "triumphal procession" of the Soviet Power). Until the middle of 1918, only two republics existed as independent states — the RSFSR and Ukraine. Later, the Belarusian Republic, three republics in the Baltic region, and three republics in Transcaucasia were established.
From the first days of their existence, these newly formed states received assistance in various areas of life from the RSFSR, which itself was in need of the most basic things. Supplies for the armies of the independent republics were provided by the People's Commissariat for Military Affairs (Narkomat) of the RSFSR. A military alliance was created by the Decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee dated June 1, 1919 "On Uniting the Socialist Republics of Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Belorussia to Fight against World Imperialism". The armies of all the republics were united into a single army of the RSFSR. The military command, the management of railways, communications and finance were also united. The monetary system of the republics was based on the Russian rouble. The RSFSR took over their expenses for the maintenance of the state apparatus and armies and for the development of the economy. It also provided the republics with industrial and agricultural products, food, and other assistance. The Union helped the republics to get out of the war and solve other problems.
Over time, the state apparatus of each republic was developed to be similar to the one of the RSFSR. Plenipotentiary representative offices of the republics were established in Moscow. They had the right to apply to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on behalf of their governments with representations and petitions. The Councils of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) and the People's Commissariats of the RSFSR were created to inform the authorities of their republics about the most important events in the RSFSR and the authorities of the RSFSR about the state of the economy and needs of the republics. Offices of commissioners of certain People's Commissariats of the RSFSR were established in the territories of the republics. Customs barriers and border posts were gradually removed.
After the Entente lifted the blockade, the RSFSR entered into trade agreements with England, Italy, and Norway, while Ukraine signed trade agreements with Austria, Czechoslovakia and other states. In March 1921, a joint delegation of the RSFSR and Ukraine signed a treaty with Poland. In January 1922, the Italian government, representing the Genoa Conference organizers, extended an invitation to participate only to the RSFSR, among all the republics. In February 1922, at the initiative of the Russian Federation, nine republics signed a protocol authorizing the Federation to represent and protect their joint interests, and conclude and sign treaties with foreign states on their behalf. Thus, bilateral military and economic treaties were supplemented with a diplomatic agreement. The next step was the formation of a political union.
FOUR REPUBLICS INSTEAD OF ONE EMPIRE
By 1922, there were six republics in the territory of the former Russian Empire: the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Azerbaijan SSR, the Armenian SSR and the Georgian SSR. From the very beginning, they had close cooperation due to their common history. During the Civil War, there was a military and economic alliance, which was supplemented with a diplomatic one formed at the time of the Genoa Conference in 1922. The common goal of building socialism in the territory surrounded by the capitalist countries set by the governments of the republics also contributed to the unification.
In March 1922, Azerbaijan, Armenian and Georgian SSRs united into the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In December 1922, the First Transcaucasian Congress of Soviets applied to the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee with a proposal to convene a joint Congress of Soviets and discuss the creation of a union of the Soviet republics. The same decisions were made at the All-Ukrainian and All-Byelorussian Congresses of Soviets.
STALIN'S IDEA REJECTED
There was no consensus on the principles of creating a union state. Among a number of proposals, there were two that stood out: to include other Soviet republics into the RSFSR as autonomous entities (Stalin's proposal) or create a federation of equal republics. Stalin's project "On the Relations between the RSFSR and Independent Republics" was approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Parties of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party of Georgia considered it premature. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Byelorussia called for the preservation of the existing treaty relations between the Byelorussian SSR and the RSFSR. The Ukrainian Bolsheviks refrained from discussing Stalin's project. Nevertheless, the plan for autonomisation was approved at a meeting of the Commission of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) on September 23-24, 1922.
Vladimir Lenin, who had not participated in the project discussion, read the materials presented to him and rejected the idea of autonomisation. Instead, he supported the proposal for the establishment of a union of republics. He considered the Soviet Socialist Federation to be the most acceptable form of the state system of a multinational country.
The new project of the Commission of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) was finally approved at the Central Committee Plenum on October 6, 1922.
LENIN'S NATIONAL LIBERALISM
On October 5-6, 1922, the Plenum of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) adopted the plan Vladimir Lenin proposed as a starting point. However, this did not end the confrontation on national policy between the members of the Party. Although the "autonomisation" project had been rejected, a number of senior officials both at the central and local levels still spoke in its favour. Josef Stalin and Lev Kamenev called for showing resistance against Lenin's "national liberalism" and choosing the former version.
At the same time, there was an increasing separatist trend in the republics which was manifested in the so-called "Georgian incident". Leaders of the Communist Party of Georgia demanded that Georgia enter the future state as an independent republic, and not as part of the Transcaucasian Federation. The head of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, got furious and called them "chauvinistic rot". When one of the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia called him "Stalin's donkey", he assaulted the man. In protest against Moscow's pressure, the entire Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia resigned.
A commission chaired by Felix Dzerzhinsky that was created in Moscow to investigate the "incident" justified the actions of Grigory Ordzhonikidze and condemned the Central Committee of Georgia. Vladimir Lenin was outraged by this decision. It should be noted that in October 1922, Vladimir Lenin, whose health condition after an illness was still poor, could not fully control the situation. On the day the USSR was formed, he was bedridden. However, he dictated his letter "The Question of Nationalities or of Autonomisation" which began with the words: "I suppose I have been very remiss with respect to the workers of Russia for not having intervened energetically and decisively enough in the notorious question of autonomisation, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Soviet Socialist Republics."
UNION TREATY (ONE UNION INSTEAD OF FOUR REPUBLICS)
December 30, 1922
TREATY ON THE CREATION OF THE UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS
The Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR), the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic (Ukrainian SSR), the Byelorussian Socialist Soviet Republic (Byelorussian SSR), and the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (Transcaucasian SFSR — Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) enter into this Union Treaty on the unification into a union state — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics...
1. The jurisdiction of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics represented by its supreme bodies, shall include:
a) representation of the Union in international relations;
b) changing the external borders of the Union;
c) entering into treaties on the admission of new republics to the Union;
d) declaration of war and conclusion of peace;
e) signing agreements for taking or providing external state loans;
f) ratification of international treaties;
g) establishment of foreign and domestic trade systems;
h) establishment of the principles and the general plan of the national economy of the Union as a whole and conclusion of concession agreements;
i) regulation of transportation and postal and telegraphic correspondence;
j) establishment of the principles of the organisation of the armed forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics;
k) approval of the unified state budget of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the establishment of the coinage, monetary and credit system, and a system of all-union, republican and local taxes;
l) establishment of the common principles of land management and land use, use of subsoil, forests and water throughout the Union;
m) common Union legislation on resettlement;
n) establishment of the principles of the judiciary and judicial proceedings, civil and criminal legislation of the Union;
o) establishment of basic labour laws;
p) establishment of general principles of public education;
q) establishment of general measures for the protection of public health;
r) establishment of the system of weights and measures;
s) organization of all-Union statistics;
t) basic legislation on the citizenship of the Union and the rights of foreigners;
u) the right of general amnesty;
v) abolition of resolutions of Congresses of Soviets, Central Executive Committees, and Councils of People's Commissars of the Union republics which violate the Union Treaty.
2. The supreme body of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall be the Congress of Soviets of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and in the periods between Congresses — the Central Executive Committee of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
3. The Congress of Soviets of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall be composed of representatives of City Councils — 1 deputy per 25,000 voters, and representatives of Provincial Congresses of Soviets — 1 deputy per 125,000 residents.
4. Delegates to the Congress of Soviets of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall be elected at Provincial Congresses of Soviets.
...11. The executive body of the Central Executive Committee of the Union shall be the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Sovnarkom of the Union) elected by the Central Executive Committee of the Union for the term of office of the latter. It shall consist of:
Chairperson of the Council of People's Commissars of the Union
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs
People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs
People's Commissar for Foreign Trade
People's Commissar for Transportation
People's Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs
People's Commissar of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection
Chairperson of the Supreme Council of the National Economy
People's Commissar for Labour
People's Commissar for Food
People's Commissar for Finance.
...13. Decrees and resolutions of the Council of People's Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall be binding on all the republics of the Union and enforced throughout the territory of the Union.
...22. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall have its own flag, coat of arms and state seal.
23. Moscow shall be the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
...26. Each Union republic shall retain the right to freely secede from the Union.
Congresses of Soviets in documents. 1917-1936. vol. III. Moscow, 1960.
LENIN AT THE HEAD OF THE SOVIET STATE
The night of October 26–27, 1917. The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets elected Lenin as the head of the Soviet government — Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars.
Early July 1918. The Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets adopted the Constitution of the RSFSR which clarified the status of the Chairperson of the Council of People's Commissars whose functions were performed by Vladimir Lenin. November 30. The Council of Workers' and Peasants' Defence was approved at the plenary session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. The Council was granted full rights in mobilizing the forces and funds of the country for its defence. Vladimir Lenin was approved as the Chairman of the Council.
April 1920. The Council of Workers' and Peasants' Defence was transformed into the Council of Labour and Defence (STO) of the RSFSR chaired by Vladimir Lenin.
July 6, 1923. The Central Executive Committee elected Vladimir Lenin as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. July 7. The All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR elected Vladimir Lenin as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR. July 17. The Council of Labour and Defence under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR was established. Vladimir Lenin was elected as Chairman of the Council of Labour and Defence.