From Academic Kids

The Russian term nomenklatura (номенклату́ра), derived from the Latin nomenclatura meaning a list of names, was originally the list of higher responsibility positions or jobs whose occupants needed to be approved by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. By extension or metonymy, the term started to be used figuratively, to designate people who effectively occupied these positions.

It was effectively a system of running the administration of a huge 300-million people country. It allowed the Party to control through stringent procedures the selection of candidates for administrative positions. After the nomenclature was abolished around 1990, the standards in Russia became more lenient. To illustrate the change - in 1994 Vladimir Podatev was appointed a member of the Commission for Human Rights under the President of Russia. Podatev (alias "Poodle") was previously convicted three times (larceny, armed robbery and rape) and was a vor v zakone. His candidature was selected and checked by the Personnel department of the presidential administration. And this is just one example of many thousands.

The nomenklatura were only a small, lite subset of the general population of Party members, which was essentially composed of blue-collar workers.

The nomenklatura (the list) was multi-level; filling a more important position required a higher level of approval in the Party hierarchy.

The nomenklatura covered all kinds of jobs, technical or not; a theater manager would require as much approval as an industrial one (if not more, since producing content for mass viewing was always of a lot of concern for the Party; such institutions always used censors for reviewing and approving content before release).

The nomenklatura did not always need to be Communist Party members, notably in satellite countries which sometimes had additional puppet parties, but the Party had to be convinced that they were reliable and trustworthy. Once a non-member has been promoted, he was often (gently) invited to join the Party, to secure his promotion.

Nomenklatura should not be confused with apparatchiks or the party concrete of the Communist regimes, or Party officials in general. For example, in a state-owned factory, top managers would obviously be nomenklatura and would have to be approved by the Party, but Party officials working at the factory were a separate and independent hierarchy, and they could all be just simple workers. The Party secretary would report to the director as an employee, but the director would report to the secretary as an ordinary Party member. However, important managers usually belonged to higher Party levels than the local cell.

Milovan Djilas wrote of the nomenklatura as the "New class", and it was widely seen (and resented) by ordinary citizens as a bureaucratic lite that enjoyed special privileges and had simply supplanted the earlier wealthy capitalist lites. Supporters of state socialism, however, claim that Djilas's view is not supported by the facts, maintaining: The privileges that workers of nomenklatura had were at least an order of magnitude lower than those afforded to CEOs and business-owners in countries such as United States. For example, Stalin's wife wrote him once about going to the exam by tram. She had to take a taxi only because the tram broke (September 2, 1929). In another example Stalin's parents-in-law lived in a communal apartment. Of course, after the war the ascetic lifestyle was not maintained, but this happened with the similar improvement in quality of life of average Soviet people. Many member of nomenklatura also explained later that the privileges weren't something provided by the system, instead it was the possibility of corruption that those less honest used.


After the fall of the Communist regimes in central and eastern Europe, the political apparatus that kept the nomenklatura in their positions collapsed with it. Most of the nomenklatura retained their administrative positions. Some were able to use their influence to acquire positions in the new government or secure lucrative positions in formerly state-owned industries.

This evolution can be explained by noticing that the nomenklatura were basically the executives of communist regimes, people having:

  • stronger than average managerial abilities
  • ambition to pursue a professional career, which at some point required being part of the nomenklatura
  • a lot of respect versus hierarchies
  • advanced networking skills, as goods and supplies had to be fought for, be it toilet paper or industrial supplies for a factory. This required lots of interpersonal communication.

Outside of the nomenklatura were only basic jobs or people lacking the above abilities. Therefore, it was quite natural for the nomenklatura to adapt to post-communist regimes, because it consisted in pursuing the same objectives without the need to defend a specific ideology (which most of them did not believe anyway).

In countries other than the Soviet Union where creating small private businesses was allowed, the business oligarchy phenomenon is ja:共産貴族 pl:Nomenklatura


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