During the Soviet times, the USSR was often called “the land of the Soviets”. Naturally, this was because the Soviet Union was governed by the system of Soviets – representative organs of the people. But the phrase “land of the Soviets” also has an ironic connotation, because ‘soviet’ in Russian also means ‘advice’ and, in the USSR, it was usual that even strangers on the street would give you advice you didn’t ask for – how to dress and behave, how to teach your children and so on. Let’s dive into the word ‘soviet’ and understand its meanings and its history.
"The Novgorod Veche," by Klavdiy LebedevKlavdiy Lebedev
‘Soviet’ has at least three different meanings:
1) ‘Council’, a congregation of persons gathered together to discuss some important matters.
2) ‘Advice’, a useful tip or instruction that can be taken or given.
3) ‘Concord’, a consent or agreement (this one is almost non-useable in contemporary Russian).
The word ‘soviet’ (совет, sovet) belongs to the oldest words in the Russian language. Its origins can be traced back to the proto-Indo-European root *wekw-, which means “to speak”. But the word ‘soviet’ also has the prefix so-, which means it translates as “co-talking”.
"The meeting of the State Soviet on May 7, 1901," by Ilya RepinIlya Repin
During the Russian Empire times, there were several political institutions called ‘Soviet’. In the English historiography, they are usually referred to as ‘Councils.’
The Supreme Privy Soviet (1726-1730), the Imperial Soviet(1762) and the Soviet at the Highest Court (1768-1801) were advisory councils under the ruling Emperors.
The Permanent Soviet (1801-1810), the Military Soviet of the Russian Empire (1812-1918) and the State Soviet of the Russian Empire (1810-1917) were assistive bodies helping the Emperor exercise his executive power. At the beginning of the XX century, the Soviet of Ministers of the Russian Empire (1905-1917) appeared.
December 21, 1972. The meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR. The Kremlin Palace of Congresses.Mikhail Kuleshov/Sputnik
The first Soviets of Workers’ Deputies appeared in Russia during the Revolution of 1905. These soviets formed in various factories and productions. Deputies in these soviets were elected from the collectives of workers in factories. Having emerged as organs for the leadership of the uprising, they began to act as a revolutionary power. Vladimir Lenin propagated that the Soviets must become basic organizations of self-government in the new Russia.
Immediately after the February Revolution of 1917, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was formed. During the revolutionary days, this soviet tried to extend its jurisdiction nationwide as a rival to the Provisional Government. Soon, soviets began forming all over Russia.
Eventually, as we know, the power of the Soviets took over. Lenin saw soviets as the new type of political organization, this is why in April 1917, he proposed the motto: “All power to the Soviets!”
The soviets became the basic representative organizations of the people of the USSR. Read more about the system of Soviets in the USSR here.
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