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The Functions of Communications Officials in the USSR: A Biographical Study

  • Ellen Mickiewicz


This study analyzes the biographies of a number of Soviet communications officials in order to address some fundamental and increasingly important questions about the communications process and about prospects for responding to the dilemmas that recent information about the Soviet audience has revealed. Major efforts to examine audience opinion have been undertaken in the Soviet Union. To a considerable extent these efforts are a response to the perception, on the part of media officials, that foreign communications sources have made inroads into the communications system and have created, especially in this time of increased bipolar world tension, alternative channels of information. As the officials recognize, the internal media system has changed substantially, and new patterns of communications consumption have emerged. But as a result of the findings of audience surveys, basic elements of the political doctrine concerning communications have been undermined.



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1. For an analysis of these developments, see Ellen Mickiewicz, “Policy Issues in the Soviet Media System,” in Erik Hoffmann, ed., The Soviet Union in the 1980s (Academy of Political Science,1984).

2. Korobeinikov, V. S., Redaktsiia i auditoriia (Moscow, 1983), p. 94 ; and Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR 1922–1972 (Moscow, 1972), p. 314.

3. Lilita Dzirkals, Thane Gustafson, and A. Ross Johnson, The Media and Intra Elite Communicationin the USSR, RAND report R-2869, Santa Monica, September 1982, p. 13.

4. Ibid., pp. 13–19.

5. For a discussion of the Letters Department, see Mickiewicz, “Feedback, Surveys, and Soviet Communication Theory,” Journal of Communication, 33 (Spring 1983).

6. Reported in Delo vseipartii (Moscow, 1980). I have not included individuals who participated for symbolic reasons (for instance, model workers) or participants whose primary responsibilities lie outside the media (for instance, the first secretary of the Moscow gorkom or the chief of the Military Political Administration). This conference came at a particularly important time after the 1979 Central Committee resolution on ideology which criticized the administration and the effectiveness of the “mass propaganda media. “

7. Dzirkals et al., Media and Intra Elite Communication, pp. 28–31.

8. Sources for biographical information: Grey Hodnett and Val Ogareff, Leaders of the Soviet Republics, 1955–1972, Department of Political Science, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 1973; Levytsky, Borys, The Soviet Political Elite, vols. 1 and 2 (Stanford, Cal.: Hoover Institution, 1970); Simmonds, George W., ed., Soviet Leaders(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967); Portraits of Prominent USSR Personalities (Metuchen, N.J.:Scarecrow Press, 1968–1969); Directory of Soviet Officials, vol. 3: Union Republics, National Foreign Assessment Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 1979; Ezhegodnik, Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopedia, Moscow, annual; Deputaty Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, Deviatyi sozyv (Moscow, 1974); Deputaty Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, Desiatyi sozyv (Moscow, 1979); Deputaty Verkhovnogo Soveta Uzbekskoi SSR, Deviatyi sozyv (Tashkent, 1976); Verkhovnyi Sovet Estonskoi SSR, Deviati sozyv(Tallinn, 1976); Deputaty Verkhovnogo Soveta Moldavskoi SSR, Desiatyi sozyv (Kishinev, 1981);Verkhovnyi Sovet Litovskoi SSR, Desiatyi sozyv (Vilnius, 1980); Deputaty Verkhovnogo Soveta Latviiskoi SSR, Desiatyi sozyv (Riga, 1980).

9. I include Raimund Penu, who attended the Central Komsomol School.

10. One Lithuanian official went to the Leningrad Higher Party School.

11. See Mickiewicz, , Soviet Political Schools (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967) and Mickiewicz, “The Modernization of Party Propaganda in the U.S.S.R.,” Slavic Review, 30, no. 2 (June 1971): 251–Id. There are numerous high–level intensive refresher courses which communications officials attend. A recent example is a month–long session for editors of republic, krai, andoblast newspapers. Sponsored by the Institute for Raising Qualifications of Leading Party Cadres ofthe Academy of Social Sciences, the seminar brought the participants up–to–date on a number of international and domestic issues. “Ucheba kadrov,” Pravda, October 1, 1983, p. 2.

12. See, for example, Blackwell, Robert E., Jr., “Elite Recruitment and Functional Change: An Analysis of the Soviet Obkom Elite 1950–1968,” Journal of Politics, 39, no. 1 (1972): 124–52.

13. Hodnett, Grey, Leadership in the Soviet Republics: A Quantitative Study of Recruitment Policy (Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, 1978), p. 156.

14. Ibid. Hodnett notes that Khrushchev's campaign to revitalize the political training of cadres might have resulted in a later increase in this proportion.

15. Ibid., p. 160.

16. Blackwell, “Elite Recruitment,” p. 137.

17. Mickiewicz, , “Uses and Strategies in Data Analysis of the Soviet Union: Cleavages in Industrialized Society,” Handbook of Soviet Social Science Data (New York: Free Press, 1973), pp. 1.47.

Matthews, Mervyn, Education in the Soviet Union: Policies and Institutions Since Stalin (London:George Allen and Unwin, 1982).

18. Matthews, Education, p. 103.

19. Hess, Stephen, The Washington Reporters (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1981) and Jonathan Friendly, “Journalism Schools are Long on Students, Short on Respect,” New York Times, June 3, 1984.

20. The recent RAND survey of émigrés found that “international and domestic careers in the media … tend to be quite separate from the earliest years on. However, our respondents suggested that a new trend may have begun in the 1970s of appointing media leaders who have had broader exposure to the outside world. Thus the traditional lines of demarcation may be fading.” Dzirkals, et al., Media and Intra Elite Communication, p. 52, n. 10.My findings show a heavy emphasis on international exposure for communications elites. Many of the individuals in the pool examined in this study were in place, with their international backgrounds,when the RAND respondents were active in the Soviet media. It is possible that a difference in the levels of responsibility accounts for the émigrés’ lack of knowledge about the backgrounds of higher–level officials. It is also undoubtedly true, however, for the reasons cited in this study, that the “international connection” is becoming an increasingly critical priority.

21. It is interesting to note that some foreign affairs posts in the republics are staffed by people who have had high–level communications experience. Arnold Green, minister of foreign affairs of Estonia, was a newspaperman; Feliksas Strumilas, chairman of the Lithuanian foreign affairs commission,was head of the committee for television and radio of his republic; and the minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania, Vytautas Zenkevicius, is also a newspaperman.

22. Vanneman, Peter, The Supreme Soviet: Politics and the Legislative Process in the Political System (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1977), p. 119 .

23. See the discussion in Hough, Jerry F. and Fainsod, Merle, How the Soviet Union is Governed (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), pp. 373–80.

24. For an official announcement of such a trip, see “In the Politburo CPSU Central Committee, “Pravda, July 30, 1983, p. 1. Reprinted in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, 35, no. 30(August 24, 1983).

25. Stieger, Robert W., The Standing Commissions of the Supreme Soviet: Effective Cooptation (New York: Praeger, 1982), pp. 206207.

26. See Mickiewicz, , Media and the Russian Public (New York: Praeger, 1981), and Literaturnaia Gazeta i ee auditoriia (Moscow, 1978).

27. Mickiewicz, “Feedback, Surveys, and Soviet Communication Theory. “

28. “Prefects as Senators: Soviet Regional Politicians Look to Foreign Policy,” World Politics, 33, no. 2: 222.

29. “Aktualnye voprosy ideologicheskoi, massovo–politicheskoi raboty partii,” Pravda, June 15,1983, pp. 1–3.

30. The Komsomol connection is not merely a relationship of patronage. It is widespread across republics and across time. There have been examples of this connection within a narrow patronage framework, however. When A. N. Shelepin was ousted from the Secretariat, his former Komsomol associates were removed from the communications posts they occupied: chairman of Gosteleradio,chairman of the state committee for publishing, director of TASS, as well as first secretary of the omsomol. For a discussion of the Shelepin ouster and its consequences, see Hough and Fainsod,How the Soviet Union is Governed, pp. 257–58.

31. Frederick Barghoorn writes: “In view of the Komsomol's work in higher educational institutionsit is not surprising that many who have been active therein have achieved high rank in the political police forces.” Politics in the USSR, 2nd ed. (Boston, Mass.: Little Brown, 1972), p. 109.

The Functions of Communications Officials in the USSR: A Biographical Study

  • Ellen Mickiewicz


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