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Nomenklatura

The Russian term nomenklatura was derived from the Latin word nomenclatura, meaning a list of names. The Soviet Nomenklatura alluded to a list of persons who held senior positions in the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, such as those in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), state institutions, trade unions, and the like. The appointees to such positions were nominated by and subject to approval at various levels of the CPSU's committees, including the Central Committee (CC) of the party or local provincial and district-appropriate governmental authorities.

The term nomenklatura was first mentioned in a 12 November 1923 decree issued by the Russian Communist Party's (RCP) CC Organization Bureau, although it has never been used in government-issued legislative appointments. Officially, the Nomenklatura system was first created to act exclusively inside the party hierarchy. In fact, however, it was a nationwide system, since the party Nomenklatura spread its influence over all Soviet government communities, at various levels. The lists included not only those persons to be considered for party appointments and official state institutions but also to those in various social institutions. Even public offices that were considered to be nominally elective, such as those in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Central Executive Council of Trade Unions, were eventually included in the lists of Nomenklatura appointments.

As a rule, Nomenklatura personnel could perform general administrative and political leadership functions, as their success in climbing upward in the bureaucratic hierarchy depended almost exclusively upon political factors rather than on their competence and skill per se. In fact, party leaders rarely took into account the fact that many Nomenklatura members holding government office often had below-average education or lacked formal education altogether. They were only required to meet the primary requirement for advancement, demonstrating unfailing loyalty to the party.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, begun in the mid-1980s to revitalize and streamline government institutions, began with a campaign to weaken positions of high-ranking Nomenklatura members, and he drastically reduced the importance of the Politburo. The CPSU CC Secretariat lost its function as a body of joint leadership, while new personnel gradually replaced high-ranking old members of the Nomenklatura. Quite naturally, such reforms proved unnerving to many members of the old guard.

As the Soviet system collapsed in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, a paradoxical situation developed and was exploited by parts of the party elite and governmental personnel, including members of the Nomenklatura. These individuals declared themselves "defenders of the democratic course of developments" but at the same time tried to use their former clout to push their way into the postcommunist governing elite. Thus, despite Gorbachev's attempts to de-emphasize the influence of the Nomenklatura, its clout continued in the post-Soviet, post-Gorbachev era.

Jaroslav Dvorak


Further Reading
Voslenksij, Michael S. Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class. New York: Doubleday, 1984.
 

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