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The State Defense Committee (Russian: Государственный комитет обороны, ГКО, translit. Gosudarstvennyj komitet oborony, GKO) was an extraordinary organ of state power in the USSR during the German-Soviet War (Great Patriotic War) which held complete state power in the country.
The Soviets set up the GKO on 30 June 1941 (a week after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941) by a compound decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The complicated situation at the front lines apparently required a more dictatorial form of government (centralized to a maximum degree). (The Supreme Soviet, however, continued unsuspended. On 18 June 1942 over a thousand members attended the 9th session of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.)
Several historical records tell of Stalin's "depressed state" on 29 and 30 June 1941 after the disastrous defeats of Soviet forces on the western border, which he feared he would be blamed for. He isolated himself at his Kuntsevo Dacha, afraid that he would be arrested and executed. On 30 June Vyacheslav Molotov (Commissar of Foreign Affairs) called for a meeting in his cabinet. Lavrentiy Beria (Commissar of Internal Affairs), Kliment Voroshilov (Deputy Chairman of Sovnarkom) and Georgy Malenkov (member of Sovnarkom) attended; they were joined later by Anastas Mikoyan (Commissar of Foreign Trade) and Nikolai Voznesensky (First Deputy Chairman of Sovnarkom). The group decided to form the GKO, with Stalin at its head. That afternoon they drove to Stalin's dacha and asked Stalin resume his functions as head of state, to head the newly-established committee, and to assign the duties of its members.
The initial composition of the committee was such:
On February 3, 1942 the members of the committee also became the chairman of Gosplan Voznesensky and Mikoyan, while on February 20, 1942 was also included Lazar Kaganovich (Narkom of Transportation). By the end of the war on November 22, 1944 Nikolai Bulganin (Chairman of State Bank Directory) replaced Klim Voroshilov in the committee.
The State Defence Committee, or GKO, stood at the pinnacle of Stalin's decision-making system during the war [...]. As a sort of war cabinet chaired by Stalin, it was a political body charged with directing and controlling all aspects of the Soviet war effort.
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Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-11204-1 Post-revisionist study of Stalin's wartime and post-war leadership.