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Regionalism in a Systems Perspective: Explaining Elite Circulation in a Soviet Republic

  • Michael E. Urban (a1) and Russell B. Reed


In recent years two lines of research on USSR power and personnel have challenged some long-standing interpretations of the bases of Soviet political activity. In one line, historical studies dealing with the Stalin era have called into question the conventional emphasis, epitomized in the totalitarian model, of a single leader who commands an army of loyal apparatchiki and monopolizes the political agenda. A number of scholars have shown that chaos and confusion in personnel matters were the salient characteristics of this period, rather than a coordinated system for the recruitment, placement, and promotion of cadres—an image suggested by both the totalitarian model and Stalinist boasting of a “monolithic party,” a “unified state structure,” and so forth. In substantive policy, the actual results in implementing regime directives in the Stalin period regularly bore no better than the faintest resemblance to the announced policy. Absent the well-oiled machine highlighted in images of the “totalitarian party,” the regime's failure to control real policy results seems to have followed as a necessary consequence.



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An earlier version of this paper was presented under another title at the Eighteenth National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, New Orleans, La., 20–23 November 1986. Funding for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research.

1. See Getty, J. Arch, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Rittersporn, Gabor Tanias, “Soviet Politics in the 1930s: Rehabilitating Society,” Studies in Comparative Communism 19 (Summer 1986): 105–128 ; idem, “Stalin in 1938: Political Defeat behind the Rhetorical Apotheosis,” Telos, no. 46 (Winter 1980–1981): 6–42; idem, “The State against Itself: Social Tension and Political Conflict in the USSR: 1936–1938,” Telos, no. 41 (Fall 1979): 87–104; Gill, Graeme, “The Single Party as an Agent of Development: Lessons from the Soviet Experience,” World Politics 39 (July 1987): 566–578 ; idem, “Personality Cult, Political Culture and Party Structure,” Studies in Comparative Communism 17 (Summer 1984): 111–121; Rigby, T. H., “Early Provincial Cliques and the Rise of Stalin,” Soviet Studies 33 (January 1981): 3–28 .

2. In addition to the articles of Rittersporn and Gill cited in the note, above, see Dunmore, Timothy, The Stalinist “Command” Economy: The Soviet Apparatus and Economic Policy, 1945–1953 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980); Filtzcr, Donald, Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1986); Fitzpatrick, Sheila, “Ordzhonikidze's Takeover of Vesenkha: A Case Study of Soviet Bureaucratic Politics,” Soviet Studies 37 (April 1985): 153–172 ; Adelman, Jonathan R., “The Early Development of the Soviet Governmental Bureaucracy: Center, Localities, and National Areas,” International Journal of Public Administration 16, no. 1 (1984): 55–95 .

3. On subnational elites, see Rigby, T. H., “The Soviet Regional Leadership: The Brezhnev Generation,” Slavic Review 37 (March 1978): 1–24 ; Oliver, James H.Turnover and Family Circles in Soviet Administration,” Sluvic Review 32 (September 1973): 527–545 ; Moses, Joel C., Regional Party Leadership and Policy Making in the USSR (New York: Praeger, 1974); idem, “Regionalism in Soviet Politics: Continuity as a Source of Change,” Soviet Studies 37 (April 1985): 184–211; idem, “The Impact of Nomenklatura in Soviet Regional Elite Recruitment,” Soviet Union 8, pt. 1 (1981): 62–102; idem. “Functional Career Specialization in Soviet Regional Elite Recruitment,” in Leadership Selection and Patron-Client Relations in the USSR and Yugoslavia, ed. T. H. Rigby and Bohdan Harasymiw (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983), 15–61; Miller, John H., “Cadres Policy in the Nationality Areas: Recruitment of CPSU First and Second Secretaries in the Non-Russian Republics of the USSR.” Soviet Studies 29 (January 1977): 3–36 ; idem, “The Communist Party: Trends and Problems.” in Soviet Policy for the 1980s, ed. A. Brown and M. Kaiser (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 1–34; idem, “Nomenklatura: Cheek on Localism?” in Leadership Selections, ed., Rigby and Harasymiw, 64–96. For national elites, see Joel C. Moses, “Regional Cohorts and Political Mobility in the USSR: The Case of Dnepropetrovsk,” Soviet Union 3, pt. 1 (1976): 63–89; Willerton, John P. Jr., “Patronage Networks and Coalition Building in the Brezhnev Era,” Soviet Studies 39 (April 1987): 175–204 .

4. Harasymiw, Bohdan, Political Elite Recruitment in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984), 163–164 .

5. Take for instance, the use of cross-regional transfers in personnel as employed by Miller (“Nomenklatura: Check on Localism?” in Leadership Selection, ed., Rigby and Harasymiw) to indicate central control over regional elite mobility. From a decline in such transfers over time, it is reasonable to infer, as Miller does, a decline in the center's manipulation of regional mobility patterns and a concomitant increase in “localism.” Individual-level data of this type (the number of individuals transferred across regions), however, provide no room for considering, much less testing, the counterhypothesis that regional transfers have declined because the centralized personnel system has been perfected to the point that local cadres, on whom the center can rely, are systematically advanced into important regional posts and, consequently, crossregional transfers are now less important for promoting the influence of the center. The point, here, is simply that such indicators as cross-regional transfers often contain an ambiguity that calls for certain assumptions on the part of the analyst as to what the indicators are in fact indicating and that these assumptions are neither derived from an explicit theory nor empirically testable.

6. Bunce, Valerie, “Of Power, Policy and Paradigms: The Logic of Elite Studies,” in Elite Studies and Communist Politics: Essays in Memory of Carl Beck, ed., Linden, R. H. and Rockman, B. A. (Pittsburgh: University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1984), 21–48.

The absence of what we are calling a “relational” or “systems” perspective (Bunce uses the term structuralism for it in the essay cited above) would seem to go a long way toward accounting for Harasymiw's observation (Political Elite Recruitment, 2) that “we still have not explained the phenomenon epitomized by the classic theorists’ notion of the ‘circulation of elites’ … namely ‘how do they circulate?’”

7. Examples of this literature would include Hodnett, Grey, Leadership in the Soviet National Republics (Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic, 1978); Hough, Jerry F., Soviet Leadership in Transition (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1980); idem, The Soviet Union and Social Science Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1977), chapter 3; Gehlen, Michael P., “The Soviet Apparatchiki,” in Political Leadership in East Europe and the Soviet Union, ed., Farrell, R. Barry (Chicago: Aldine, 1970), 140–156 ; Frederic J. Fleron, Jr., “Representation and Career Types in the Soviet Political Leadership,” in Political Leadership, ed. Farrell, 108–139; idem. “Systems Allribules and Career Attributes: The Soviet Political Leadership System, 1952 to 1965,” Beck, Carl et al., eds. Comparative Communist Political Leadership (New York: David McKay, 1973), 43–85 ; Blackwell, Robert E. Jr., “Elite Recruitment and Functional Change: An Analysis of the Soviet Obkom Elite, 1950–1968.” Journal of Politics 34 (February 1972): 124–152 ; idem, “Career Development in the Soviet Obkom Elite: A Conservative Trend,” Soviet Studies 24 (July 1972): 24–40; idem, “The Soviet Political Elite: Alternative Recruitment Policies at the Obkom Level.” Comparative Politics 6 (October 1973): 99–121; Blackwell, Robert E. Jr., and Hulbary, William E., “Political Mobility among Soviet Obkom Elites: The Effects of Regime, Social Background and Career DevelopmentAmerican Journal of Political Science 17 (November 1973): 721–743 ; Cleary, J. W., “Elite Career Patterns in a Soviet Republic,” British Journal of Political Science 4 (July 1974): 323–344 ; Dellenbrandt, Jan Ake, “Regional Differences in Political Recruitment in the Soviet Republics,” European Journal of Political Research 6 (June 1978): 181–201 .

8. Bohdan Harasymiw sums up the bases of political mobility from this perspective as “ambition, apprenticeship and attributes” to which he also adds “politics.” See his, “Political Mobility in Soviet Ukraine,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 26 (June-September 1984): 160–181, esp., 161.

9. The Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was selected because of size and political orientation. Our interest in elite circulation in the Soviet Union required a unit sufficiently large to generate a data base suitable for the study of the circulation process. This requirement excluded single regions or small republics. On the other hand, resource limitations precluded gathering data from all but upper-level jobs in the large republics. Given our intention to analyze elite circulation down to the local level, the Belorussian republic, with a population of some ten milion grouped into six oblasts, seemed a logical choice. We should add that we have treated the city of Minsk as a “seventh oblast,” coding its party and governmental organs as equivalent to those of the other six oblasts in the BSSR, a classification consonant with Belorussian statistical reporting (e.g., Narodnoe khozyaistvo Belorusskoi SSR v. 1982g. [Minsk: Belarus', 1983]).

Consideration of political orientation also entered into the selection of Bclorussia. Since a pronounced nationalism in a given republic might influence elite circulation, an influence compounded by the reactive cadres policies of Moscow, we wanted to exclude the national factor as much as possible in order to examine Soviet elite circulation in more general terms. We have, thus, assumed that the results of a study of elite circulation in Belorussia, where nationalism is quite muted, would suggest something about, say, the Russian republic or about other republics if nationalism could be factored out. On the low level of national consciousness in Bclorussia generally, see Vakar, Nicholas P., Belorussia: The Making of a Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956); Lubachko, Ivan S., Belorussia under Soviet Rule (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1972); Connelly, Brian, “Fifty Years of Soviet Federalism in Belorussia,” in The Soviet West, ed., Clem, Ralph S. (New York: Praeger, 1975), 106–133 ; Guthier, Stephen L., “The Belorussians: National Identification and Assimilation, 1897–1970.” part 1, Soviet Studies 29 (January 1977): 37–61 ; idem, “The Belorussians: National Identification and Assimilation, 1897–1970,” part 2, Soviet Studies 29 (April 1977): 270–283; Roman Szporluk, “West Ukraine and West Bclorussia,” Soviet Studies 31 (January 1979): 76–98.

Finally, the period from 1966 to 1986 was selected in order both to have a relatively stable population of jobs (something which would be impossible were the Khrushchev years included) and to commence the analysis when the influence of the post-Khrushchev regime on personnel placement was first established, a date that Rigby (“The Soviet Regional Leadership.” 12) reckons as late 1965.

10. The main source for these data is the daily, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, over the period from January 1966 to June 1986. We also relied on the monthly, Kommunist Belorussii (1966 to June 1986), selected numbers of the daily, Zvyazda, and on listing that appeared (far less frequently, of course) in Sovely narodnykh deputatov (January 1976 to June 1986) and Izvestiya (1983–1986). Some data were taken from Soviet personnel directories compiled by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, from Val Ogareff's Leaders of the Soviet Republics, 1971–1980 (Canberra: Department of Political Science. Australian National University, 1980), and from the short biographies in relevant editions of Depulaty Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR.

11. White, Harrison C., Chains of Opportunity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). For examples of applying vacancy chain analysis to a variety of settings see Shelby Stewman. “Two Markov Models of Open System Occupational Mobility: Underlying Conceptualizations and Empirical Tests,” American Sociological Review 40 (June 1975): 298–321; Konda, Suresh L. and Stewman, Shelby, “An Opportunity Labor Demand Model and Markovian Labor Supply Models: Comparative Tests in an Organization,” American Sociological Review 45 (April 1980): 276–301 ; Konda and Stewman, “Careers and Organizational Labor Markets: Demographic Models of Organizational Behavior.” American Journal of Sociology 88 (January 1983): 637–685; Marullo, San, “Housing Opportunities and Vacancy Chains,” Urban Affairs Quarterly 20 (March 1985): 364–388 .

12. For discussions of Markov processes, sec Kemeny, John G. et al., Introduction to Unite Mathematics, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1966); Namboodiri, Krishnan, Matrix Algebra: An Introduction (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1984).

13. For centralization's lack of influence on the actors’ movements, see Urban, Michael E., “Centralization and Elite Circulation in a Soviet Republic,” British Journal of Political Science 19 (January 1989): 1–23 .

Our regional model contains the following concepts: number of vacancies created (F), number of regions (r), number of moves by vacancies from region i to region j (Bij ), matrix of transition probabilities among regions (R), probability that a vacancy will pass outside the system (column vector) (p), length of a vacancy chain (j), mean length of chains by region of origin (column vector) (jm), and probability by region of origin that chains will be of length j (column vector) (Pj ).

Direct observation or simple calculation can provide values for F, r, Bij and jm . The matrix R is composed of transition probabilities (i.e., the probability that a given vacancy's next move will be within the same, or to any other, region), each derived from Bij /F. The values for p are computed as the reciprocals of mean chain lengths by region, p = I/jm ), and they express the probability that a vacancy's next move will be outside of the system. Pj is an especially important term for it predicts the distribution of chain lengths by the region in which a given chain originated. Pj , is calculated according to the equation: Pj = R j-1 p, where R is the matrix of transition probabilities, j is chain length, and p the probability that the vacancy will pass outside the system. Pj then, is computed successively, by the region in which initial vacancies occur, for chains of length 1, 2, 3 … 7 (the longest chains in the sample). The result is a prediction that a certain percentage vacanof the chains originating in, say, Minsk oblast will bo of length 1. a certain percentage will be of length 2, and so forth. If the observed distribution of vacancy chains originating in this and other regions matches the percentages predicted by Pj , then the circulation of vacancies among the regions can be regarded as a Markovian process explained by the present state of the model (the regional distribution of vacancies) and the probabilities that govern their transition (R) to other states. Region, in other words, would form the basis of the process of elite circulation in the Belorussian republic.

14. Although we are not attempting to generalize the findings in a sample to a larger population, we assume, nonetheless, that the application of a significance test would provide some indication of the meaning of the differences that appear between predicted and observed values. A nonparametric statistic, the Kolmogorov Goodness of Fit Test, is appropriate to this purpose. Setting the confidence level at 0.5 (for we wish to make it difficult to say that the differences are not significant), we lind that none of the differences between predicted and observed values is significant at this level.

15. Brovka, P. U. et al., Belorusskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika (Minsk: Glavnaya Redaktsiya Belorusskoi Sovetskoi entsiklopeciii, 1978), 587 .

16. We are indebted to Alexander Ruhr for this observation.

17. As of I January 1978, Gomel’ oblast had the largest party membership (when the figure for the eity of Minsk is deducted from Minsk oblast) among the oblasts (92,985). while Minsk city as of 1 July of that year, had some 102,838 party members. These ligures appear in Kommunisticheskaya partiya Belorussii v tsifrakh, 1918–1978 (Minsk: Belarus', 1978). 212–214.

18. The problem of missing data was greater in the second decade of this period since the data sources, especially newspapers, contained considerably less information on personnel changes at the middle and lower levels of the hierarchy of positions than they had previously. The increase in transitions to the outside was caused, in part, by a conservative coding decision not to list individuals in jobs in a given year unless (heir names and positions actually appeared in the clala sources. Hence, lor the last year or two of (he study, many jobs fall “vacant,” although the incumbent is not in fact known to have left; the “vacancy” in many, perhaps most, of these cases is solely the result of our coding decision.

19. We used this technique, rather than simply adding together all of the scores of transitions to other regions, the liSSR, and the USSR because it involved fewer calculations and, consequently, fewer rounding errors.

20. Knight, Amy W., “Pyotr Masherov and the Soviet Leadership: A Study in Kremlinology,” Survey 26 (Winter 1982): 151–168 ; Ignalenko, I. M. et al., Isloriia Belorusskoi SSR (Minsk: Nauka i tekhnika, 1977), 465 ; Lubachko, Belorussia under Soviet Rule, 172–176.

For a discussion of a similar phenomenon, namely, the personal bonds forged in the Ukraine's partisan movement and their influence on postwar politics, see Armstrong, John A., Soviet Bureaucratic Elites (New York: Praeger, 1959), 55–56, 110, 117, 128–132.

21. We would add three cases to the total for the city of Minsk if these individuals were included: N. N. Slyunkov who was first secretary of the Minsk gorkom (1972–1974) before becoming a deputy chair of Gosplan, USSR, and who returned to the BSSR as lirst secretary of the KPB in January 1983; A. A. Reut, second secretary of the Minsk gorkoin (1974–1975), who became first deputy minister of the radio industry, USSR (1975–1983) before returning to the BSSR to become chair of Gosplan; and V. A. Lepeshkin, first secretary of the Minsk gorkom (1974–1976) who became deputy head of the CPSU's Department of Administrative Organs (1977–1983) and then returned to Belorussia as a secretary of the KPB.

22. Within this study's period, the first secretary of the KPB (Sliunkov), another KPB secretary (Lepeshkin), a deputy chair of the BSSR's Council of Ministers (V. I. Kritskii) and the first deputy minister of local industry in the BSSR (A. I. Bulgak) began their early careers as skilled workers in the Minsk Tractor Plant whose administrative, party, and trade union offices offered them entry into politics. According to the available data, the primary party organizations in Minsk factories were also launching grounds for careers that included the following offices: chair of the Council of Ministers of the BSSR. second secretary of the KPB, two ministers of the BSSR, the head of the Council of Ministers apparatus, two heads of departments of the KPB, head of a republic-level trade union, and a deputy president of Minsk Gorispolkom. In addition to Sliunkov who directed the Minsk Tractor Plant (1965–1972), four other industrial managers in Minsk became ministers in the BSSR, another a deputy minister, and a sixth the chair of Gosplan, BSSR.

23. See, in particular, Moses, “Regional Cohorts and Political Mobility,” and Willerton, “Patronage Networks and Coalition Building.”

24. Knight, “Pyotr Mashcrov and the Soviet Leadership,” 157.

25. The low rate of internal recruitment to leading positions in Vitebsk may indicate such a struggle took place. In addition, a partisan, S. M. Shabashov, replaced Aksenov as first secretary of the Vitebsk obkom when the latter became second secretary of the KPB.

26. Brovikov was co-opted into the party leadership in Vitebsk at an early date. His earlier career was mainly as the editor of various local newspapers in Vitebsk oblast between 1955 and 1970. He also served as a raion party secretary in Vitebsk for some three years during this period. In 1970 he was named a secretary of the Vitebsk obkom. L. S. Firisanov served as a secretary in Vitebsk obkom for some ten years before being named a secretary of the KPB in 1978. Four months before Aksenov was posted to the ambassadorial position in Poland, however, Firisanov was demoted to deputy chair of the BSSR's Council of Ministers and lost his seat on the bureau of the KPB.

27. Aksenov's appointment to the chair of Gosteleradio, following as it did an ambassadorial post and work in party and government jobs in the BSSR, may seem at first to be a rather strange turn in his career. His earlier background in the Komsomol and KGB, however, suggests that his career pattern is quite typical of that found among upper-level communications officials as described by Ellen Mickiewicz (see her, “The Functions of Communications Officials in the USSR: A Biographical Study,” Slavic Review 43 [Winter 1984]: 641–656. esp., 648–650).

28. For a discussion of this struggle and its relations to the Belorussian succession that followed P. M. Masherov's death in 1980, see Urban, Michael E., An Algebra of Soviet Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), chapter 7.

29. For an authoritative statement on this question, see Gorbachev, Mikhail, Perestroika (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), 83–102; esp., 89–92. For a more detailed exposition, Burlatskii, F. M. and Mushinskii, V. O., Narod i vlast’ (Moscow: Politizdat, 1986), 101–117 .

30. See Urban, Michael E., “Conceptualizing Political Power in the USSR: Patterns of Binding and Bonding,” Studies in Comparative Communism 18 (Winter 1985): 207–226 .

31. Graziano, Luigi, “A Conceptual Framework for the Study of Clientelistic Behavior,” European Journal of Social Research 4 (1976): 149–174 .

32. New clientelism may account for the pattern that Moses found in Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov where the careers of the members of regionally based groupings continued to advance after the fall of their putative patrons. See his “Regionalism in Soviet Politics,” esp., 201–204.

For Eastern Europe, see Bauman, Zygmunt, “Comment on Eastern Europe,” Studies in Comparative Communism 12 (Summer-Autumn, 1979), 184–189 ; Tarkowski, Jacek, “Patrons and Clients in a Planned Economy” in Political Clientelism, Patronage and Development, ed. Eisenstadt, S. N. and Lemarchand, Rene (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1981), 173–188 ; “Symposium on Soviet Peasants,” Telos, no. 68 (Summer 1986): 109–127.

Regionalism in a Systems Perspective: Explaining Elite Circulation in a Soviet Republic

  • Michael E. Urban (a1) and Russell B. Reed


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