From New World Encyclopedia

The nomenklatura (Russian: номенклату́ра, Russian pronunciation: [nəmʲɪnklɐˈturə]; from Latin: nomenclatura) was a category of people within the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries who held various key administrative positions in the bureaucracy, running all spheres of those countries' activity: government, industry, agriculture, education, etc., whose positions were granted only with approval by the communist party of each country or region. Key members were almost always Party members themselves. They filled the ranks of the Politburo (political bureaucracy) and the Orgburo (Organizational bureaucracy).

The nomenklatura is distinguished from the more pejorative term apparatchik by position. Apparatchik refers to the middle and lower levels of the bureaucracy. The nomenklatura were trusted Party men and women who occupied the higher levels of the government and were characterized by their loyalty to the Party.


The nomenklatura formed a de facto elite of public powers in the former Eastern Bloc, in some ways comparable to the Western establishment[1] but wielding greater power, holding or controlling both private and public powers (for example, in media, finance, trade, industry, the state and institutions).[2]

The nomenklatura referred to the Communist Party's governance to make appointments to key positions throughout the governmental system, as well as throughout the party's own hierarchy. Specifically, the nomenklatura consisted of two separate lists: one was for key positions, appointments which were made by authorities within the party. The other was for persons who were potential candidates for appointment to those positions. The Politburo, as part of its nomenklatura authority, maintained a list of ministerial and ambassadorial positions that it had the power to fill, as well as a separate list of potential candidates to occupy those positions.


The Russian term is derived from the Latin nomenclatura, meaning a system of names.

The term was popularized in the West by the Soviet dissident Michael Voslensky, who in 1970 wrote a book titled Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class (Russian: Номенклату́ра. Госпо́дствующий класс Сове́тского Сою́за, tr. Nomenklatúra. Gospódstvuyushchiy klass Sovétskovo Soyúza).[3]

Theoretical and Historical roots

Marxist theory

In Marxist theory, the communist revolution would overthrow capitalism and institute a classless society. Marx argued that the proletariat, having no power, would not require class power once the capitalists were purged. They would simply need to administer the affairs of state. As he imagined it, the workers would simply organize production. Thus, the Communist revolution would usher in a classless society and the state itself would "wither away." The Soviet revolutionaries espoused this view. Joseph Stalin argued that their revolutions and/or social reforms would result in the extinction of any ruling class as such.[4][5]


Stalin (right) confers with an ailing Lenin at Gorki in September 1922.

In practice, the state did not "wither away," but increased dramatically in size, scope and function. The nomenklatura system arose early in Soviet history. Marx's theory proved inadequate to the demands of a modern industrial state. A modern economy required personnel trained to run it. The roots of the nomenklatura stretches back into the 19th century with the rise of the "intelligentsia." In the 1860s, the journalist Pyotr Boborykin popularized the term intelligentsiya (интеллигенция) to identify and describe the Russian social stratum of people educated at university who engage in the intellectual occupations (law, medicine, engineering, the arts) who produce the culture and the dominant ideology by which society functions.[6][7][8] Richard Pipes, a Harvard historian and noted Sovietologist, argued that the nomenklatura system mainly reflected a continuation of the old Tsarist regime, as many former Tsarist officials or "careerists" joined the Bolshevik government during and after the Russian Civil War[9] of 1917–1922.

Vladimir Lenin wrote that appointments were to take the following criteria into account: reliability, political attitude, qualifications, and administrative ability. Joseph Stalin, who was the first general secretary of the party, was also known as "Comrade File Cabinet" (Tovarishch Kartotekov) for his assiduous attention to the details of the party's appointments. Seeking to make appointments in a more systematic fashion, Stalin built the party's patronage system and used it to distribute his clients throughout the party bureaucracy.

Under Stalin's direction in 1922, the party created departments of the Central Committee and other organs at lower levels that were responsible for the registration and appointment of party officials. Known as uchraspred, (Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee) these organs supervised appointments to important party posts.

In 1928 the state mandated the Five-year plans. Over the course of the thirties and forties, a massive bureaucracy was built to ensure the fulfillment of these state plans. In the meantime, Stalin oversaw the development of the political organization, The Politburo and Orgburo of the Communist Party, to ensure the allegiance to the party (and to him, personally.) Higher level appointments generally fell under the Orgburo (Organization Bureau), which was tasked with overseeing the Party cadre and its assignment to various positions and duties, presumably in furtherance of the Party's strategic agenda.[10]

Party's appointment authority

Virtually all members of the Soviet nomenklatura were members of a communist party.[11] At the all-union level, the Party Building and Cadre Work Department supervised party nomenklatura appointments. This department maintained records on party members throughout the country, made appointments to positions on the all-union level, and approved nomenklatura appointments on the lower levels of the hierarchy. The head of this department sometimes was a member of the Secretariat and was often a protégé of the Party General Secretary.

Every party committee and party organizational department, from the all-union level in Moscow to the district and city levels, prepared two lists according to their needs. The basic (osnovnoi) list detailed positions in the political, administrative, economic, military, cultural, and educational bureaucracies that the committee and its department had responsibility for filling. The registered (uchetnyi) list enumerated the persons suitable for these positions.

Patron–client relations

Appointment to key positions depended not only on ability and Party loyalty, but patron-client relations. Officials who had the authority to appoint individuals to certain positions cultivated loyalties among those whom they appointed. The patron (the official making the appointment) promoted the interests of clients in return for their support. Powerful patrons, such as the members of the Politburo, had many clients. Moreover, an official could be both a client (in relation to a higher-level patron) and a patron (to other, lower-level officials).

The Soviet power structure essentially consisted (according to its critics) of groups of vassals (clients) who had an overlord (the patron). The higher the patron, the more clients the patron had. Patrons protected their clients and tried to promote their careers. In return for the patron's efforts to promote their careers, the clients remained loyal to their patron. By promoting his clients' careers, the patron could advance his own power.

Because a client was beholden to his patron for his position, the client was eager to please his patron by carrying out his policies. An official in the party or government bureaucracy could not advance in the nomenklatura without the assistance of a patron. In return for this assistance in promoting his career, the client carried out the policies of the patron. Patron–client relations thus help to explain the ability of party leaders to generate widespread support for their policies. The presence of patron–client relations between party officials and officials in other bureaucracies also helped to account for the large-scale control the party exercised over the Soviet society. All of the 2 million members of the nomenklatura system understood that they held their positions only as a result of a favor bestowed on them by a superior official in the party and that they could easily be replaced if they manifested disloyalty to their patron. Self-interest dictated that members of the nomenklatura submit to the control of their patrons in the party.

Policy implications

Patron–client relations also had implications for policy making in the party and government bureaucracies. Promotion of trusted subordinates into influential positions facilitated policy formation and policy execution. A network of clients helped to ensure that a patron's policies could be carried out. In addition, patrons relied on their clients to provide an accurate flow of information on events throughout the country. This information assisted policymakers in ensuring that their programs were being implemented.

Several factors explain the entrenchment of patron–client relations. Firstly, in a centralized government system, promotion in the bureaucratic-political hierarchy was the only path to power. Secondly, the most important criterion for promotion in this hierarchy was approval from one's supervisors, who evaluated their subordinates on the basis of political criteria and their ability to contribute to the fulfillment of the economic plan. Thirdly, political rivalries were present at all levels of the party and state bureaucracies but were especially prevalent at the top. Power and influence decided the outcomes of these struggles. The number and positions of one's clients were critical components of that power and influence. Fourthly, because fulfillment of the economic plan was decisive, systemic pressures led officials to conspire together and use their ties to achieve that goal.


While the system required the promotion of a patron for advancement, once a member of the nomenklatura attained a high enough position, some clients would attempt to supplant their patron. The system was rife with rivalries between power centers. Nikita Khrushchev, one of Lazar M. Kaganovich's former protégés, helped to oust the latter in 1957. Seven years later, Leonid Brezhnev, a client of Khrushchev, helped to remove his boss from power. Leonid Brezhnev was able to undermine and ultimately remove Nikolai Podgorny as head of state. Mikhail Suslov, who was closely allied with Stalin, was later marginalized. He was then rehabilitated by Khrushchev and returned to a powerful position. The power of the general secretary was consolidated to the extent that he placed his clients in positions of power and influence. The ideal for the general secretary, writes Soviet émigré observer Michael Voslensky, "is to be overlord of vassals selected by oneself."

The faction led by Brezhnev provides a good case study of patron–client relations in the Soviet system. Many members of the Brezhnev faction came from Dnipropetrovsk, where Brezhnev had served as first secretary of the provincial party organization. Andrei P. Kirilenko, a Politburo member and Central Committee secretary under Brezhnev, was first secretary of the regional committee of Dnipropetrovsk. Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, named as first secretary of the Ukrainian apparatus under Brezhnev, succeeded Kirilenko in that position. Nikolai Alexandrovich Tikhonov, appointed by Brezhnev as first deputy chairman of the Soviet Union's Council of Ministers, graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk Metallurgical Institute, and presided over the economic council of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Finally, Nikolai Shchelokov, minister of internal affairs under Brezhnev, was a former chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk soviet.


According to American Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer, after Leonid Brezhnev's accession to power in October 1964, the party considerably expanded its appointment authority. However, in the late 1980s, some official statements indicated that the party intended to reduce its appointment authority, particularly in the area of economic management, in line with Mikhail Gorbachev's reform efforts.

The collapse of the Soviet Union did not entirely end the nomenklature system. Individuals with a nomenklatura background have continued to dominate economic and political life in Russia since the end of the Cold War. According to one 2022 estimate, 60% of elites in the Vladimir Putin regime had nomenklatura backgrounds.[12]

The New Class critique

Milovan Đilas, 1950

Milovan Đilas, a one-time Communist turned critic of Stalin, wrote The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, a critique of the nomenklatura system.[13]

He argued that communism in Eastern Europe was not egalitarian, that it was establishing a new class, a privileged party bureaucracy that enjoyed the material benefits from their positions in the same way that the old ruling class had. In his view the nomenklatura was seen by ordinary citizens as a bureaucratic elite that enjoyed special privileges who had simply supplanted the earlier wealthy capitalist élites.[14]

Using the framework of Marxist analysis, Djilas claimed that the new class's specific relationship to the means of production was one of collective political control, and that the new class's property form was political control. Thus for Djilas the new class not only seeks expanded material reproduction to politically justify its existence to the working class, but it also seeks expanded reproduction of political control as a form of property itself. This can be compared to the capitalist who seeks expanded value through increased market share values, even though the market share itself does not necessarily reflect an increase in the value of commodities produced.

In Djilas' schema this approximated the 1930s and 1940s in the Soviet Union. As the new class suborns all other interests to its own security during this period, it freely executes and purges its own members in order to achieve its major goal of security as a ruling class.

See also


  1. Alan Barcan, Sociological theory and educational reality (New South Wales, AU: University of New South Wales, 1993, ISBN 978-0868401256), 150.
  2. See also: Norbert Elias and John Lloyd Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders: A Sociological Enquiry Into Community Problems (Boston, MA: Cass & Company, LLC., 1965). Retrieved May 31, 2023.
  3. Michael Voslensky, Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1984, ISBN 0385176570).
  4. Erik van Ree, The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth Century Revolutionary Patriotism (London, U.K.: Routledge, 2002, ISBN 978-0700717491), 138. "Stalin saw the Soviet state after the demise of classes as a classless institution."
  5. van Ree, 141. ... 'in essence' there was 'no dictatorship of the proletariat now either. We have a Soviet democracy'. The reason was that there were only external enemies to suppress. (quote from Stalin, May, 1946)
  6. С. В. Мотин, "О понятии «интеллигенция» в творчестве И. С. Аксакова и П. Д. Боборыкина," ("On the concept of "intelligentsia" in the work of I. S. Aksakov and P. D. Boborykin") Известия Пензенского государственного педагогического университета им. В.Г. Белинского (27) (2012). Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  7. Пётр Боборыкин, Русская интеллигенция (Russian Intelligentsia) Русская мысль (Russian Thought) (№ 12) (1904).
  8. Пётр Боборыкин, Подгнившие "Вехи" (Vekhi) Сб. статей В защиту интеллигенции. Москва, 1909, с. 119–138; первоначально опубл. в газете "Русское слово", No 111, 17 (30) мая, 1909 (in Russian), Retrieved May 31, 2023.
  9. Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, ISBN 978-0394502427), 444.
  10. "USSR: Communist Party: Orgburo,", June 26, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  11. Mattéi Dogan and John Higley, Elites, Crises, and the Origins of Regimes (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, ISBN 978-0847690237), 128.
  12. Maria Snegovaya and Kirill Petrov, "Long Soviet shadows: the nomenklatura ties of Putin elites," Post-Soviet Affairs 38(4) (2022): 329–348. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  13. Bernard Wasserstein, Barbarism and civilization: a history of Europe in our time (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0198730743), 509. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  14. Olev Liivik, "The Elite and Their Privileges in the Soviet Union," Communist Crimes. October 28, 2020. Retrieved May 24, 2023.

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