During Vladimir Lenin's leadership of the Communist Party, the Central Committee functioned as the highest party authority between congresses. However at the 8th Party Congress held in 1919, the Political Bureau (Politburo) was established to respond to questions needing immediate responses. Some delegates objected to the establishment of the Politburo, and in response, the Politburo became responsible to the Central Committee, and Central Committee members could participate in Politburo sessions with a consultative voice, but could not vote unless they were members. Following Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin took power in the Communist Party through the office of General Secretary of the Central Committee, the leading Secretary of the Secretariat. With Stalin's takeover, the role of the Central Committee was eclipsed by the Politburo, which consisted of a small clique of loyal Stalinists.
By the time of Stalin's death in 1953, the Central Committee had become largely a symbolic organ that was responsible to the Politburo, and not the other way around. The death of Stalin revitalised the Central Committee, and it became an important institution during the power struggle to succeed Stalin. Following Khrushchev's ascension to power, the Central Committee still played a leading role; it overturned the Politburo's decision to remove Khrushchev from office in 1957. In 1964, the Central Committee ousted Khrushchev from power, and elected Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary. The Central Committee was an important organ in the beginning of Brezhnev's rule, but lost effective power to the Politburo. From then on, until the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Central Committee played a minor role in the running of the party and state – the Politburo was the highest political organ in the Soviet Union.
At the founding congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (the predecessor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) Vladimir Lenin was able to gain enough support for the establishment of an all-powerful central organ at the next congress. This central organ was to become the Central Committee, and it had the rights to decide all party issues, with the exception of local ones. The group which supported the establishment of a Central Committee at the 2nd Congress called themselves the Bolsheviks, and the losers (the minority) were given the name Mensheviks by their own leader, Julius Martov. The Central Committee would contain three-members, and would supervise the editorial board of Iskra, the party newspaper. The first members of the Central Committee were Gleb Krzhizhanovsky, Friedrich Lengnik and Vladimir Noskov. Throughout its history, the party and the Central Committee were riven by factional infighting and repression by government authorities. Lenin was able to persuade the Central Committee, after a long and heated discussion, to initiate the October Revolution. The majority of the members had been skeptical of initiating the revolution so early, and it was Lenin who was able to persuade them. The motion to carry out a revolution in October 1917 was passed with 10 in favour, and two against by the Central Committee.
The Central Committee, according to Lenin, was to be the supreme authority of the party. Leon Trotsky criticised this view, stating "our rules represent 'organisational nonconfidence' of the party toward its parts, that is, supervision over all local, district, national and other organisations ... the organisation of the party takes place of the party itself; the Central Committee takes the place of the organisation; and finally the dictator takes the place of the Central Committee."
During the first years in power, under Lenin's rule, the Central Committee was the key decision-making body in both practice and theory, and decisions were made through majority votes. For example, the Central Committee voted for or against signing a peace treaty with the Germans between 1917 and 1918 during World War I; the majority voted in favour of peace when Trotsky backed down in 1918. The result of the vote was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. During the heated debates in the Central Committee about a possible peace with the Germans, Lenin did not have a majority; both Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin had more support for their own position than Lenin. Only when Lenin sought a coalition with Trotsky and others, were negotiations with the Germans voted through with a simple majority. Criticism of other officials was allowed during these meetings, for instance, Karl Radek said to Lenin (criticising his position of supporting peace with the Germans), "If there were five hundred courageous men in Petrograd, we would put you in prison." The decision to negotiate peace with the Germans was only reached when Lenin threatened to resign, which in turn led to a temporary coalition between Lenin's supporters and those of Trotsky and others. No sanctions were invoked on the opposition in the Central Committee following the decision.