Nomenklatura [номенклятура]. A Party-controlled political patronage system and crucial instrument of Soviet Communist rule. An essential feature of the Stalinist model of politics, it began to be challenged only in Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. It was so entrenched bureaucratically that no frontal assault was able to dislodge it. The term nomenklatura referred to a list of positions and names of the people filling them. Every institution in the USSR had its nomenklatura, which consisted of all the positions of authority, no matter how petty, and all their holders. In 1985 there were 9.3 million such posts throughout the USSR, some 2 million of which belonged to the nomenklatura of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Usually the term nomenklatura had a narrower sense: it referred only to the Party’s list of positions and personnel. Having evolved from the personnel records introduced by the Uchraspred department (est 1919) of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), the nomenklatura was established formally by 1923. Through it Joseph Stalin controlled the Party, and the Party controlled the country.
From the 1920s the nomenklatura was divided into three basic components. The basic list (osnovna nomenklatura) consisted of the most important positions, which could be filled only by the Party. The secondary list (zvitno-kontrol'na nomenklatura) contained positions of lesser importance, the filling of which required merely Party approval. Many secondary positions were on the primary institutional list of non-Party organizations. In late 1989 the Party leadership considered abolishing the secondary nomenklatura. The Party’s third list, called the ‘reserve for promotion,’ was a pool from which future appointments to the other two lists were made. The appointees-in-waiting were already in some lower-level nomenklatura, perhaps as members of elected bodies or as political activists, and were being groomed for promotion into the elite. Outside these lists there was no other route to political power in the Soviet Union.
In 1988 the nomenklatura of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine contained some 35,000 positions. The nomenklatura of an oblast Party committee embraced not more than 2,000 positions; for example, the lists of Donetsk oblast had 1,203 positions (1973), of Lviv oblast, 1,719 (1981), of Vinnytsia oblast, 1,400 (1978), of Voroshylovhrad oblast (see Luhansk oblast), 1,684 (1950), and of Zhytomyr oblast, 572 (1989). A city or raion Party committee nomenklatura had from a few hundred to a thousand positions of the lowest level: secretaries of primary Party organizations, upper and middle management of local institutions and enterprises, and local government officials. The Balakliia Raion Party Committee, for example, had 464 positions in its nomenklatura in 1968.
Soviet published sources were reticent about these matters. Their silence reinforced suspicions that the political elite of the nomenklatura was highly unrepresentative of Soviet society. Some data for Ukraine support the suspicion. In 1950 only 122 of the 1,684 positions in Voroshylovhrad Oblast Party Committee nomenklatura were occupied by women. Nationality was one of the most politically sensitive features of the composition of the nomenklatura, and there was hardly any official information on the subject. We know only that in 1951, 71.4 percent of the ‘leading cadres’ (a Soviet euphemism for nomenklatura personnel) in the republic were Ukrainians. This figure was at least 5 percentage points lower than the proportion of Ukrainians in the population. By 1981 Ukrainians accounted for only 70.4 percent of the ‘leading cadres,’ still 3 points below the figure for the population. It is believed that the percentage of Ukrainians decreased as one ascended the hierarchy, and that it varied regionally: it was probably lowest (for demographic and historical reasons) in the western and eastern extremities of the republic. The nomenklatura had a definite and, probably, inhibiting effect on the formation of an indigenous Ukrainian political elite. It was an essential device for centralizing political power and maintaining Moscow’s control over the national republics. By controlling appointments the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union extended its power through all the administrative levels of the republics and severely reduced their autonomy.
Harasymiw, Bohdan. Political Elite Recruitment in the Soviet Union (London 1984)
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]