Staunton, August 9 – Vladimir Putin is currently transforming the nomenklatura that he had restored from its “Brezhnev variant” in which the leading cadres engaged in collective self-protection into a “Stalinist” one where they are less important because all of their actions reflect “the interests of the leader,” according to Nikolay Petrov.
The head of the Moscow center for Political-Geographic Research draws that conclusion on the basis of both a theoretical understanding of the differences between elites and leading cadres and a close reading of the recent appointments the Kremlin leader has made (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2016/08/08/652063-novaya-nomenklatura-brezhneva-stalinu).
There has been much confusion in Russia recently about whether the country has an elite, Petrov says. That reflects the differences between an elite, a group of people who emerge over time and have their own bases for this status, and “’leading cadres’” who are selected, appointed, promoted, and removed by senior leader.
The Soviet system was based on a nomenklatura consisting of the latter rather than the former, he points out. “In the 1990s, [the Russian] political system advanced on the long path from Soviet cadres (nomenklatura) policy to a hybrid one with essential elements of an elite.” But since 2000, “the movement has been reversed.
Because of that development, Petrov says, it is appropriate to speak of Putin’s cadres system as “a neo-nomenklatura” one, as long as one recognizes the following: “If until recently, the system acted in the interests of the bureaucracy” as was the case under Brezhnev, “now, it does so ever more in the interests of the leader” as was true under Stalin.
In Putin’s neo-nomenklatura system, Petrov argues, “as in the old nomenklatura system, there is in fact no right of property.” The system owns things absolutely individuals do only conditionally regardless of what the property is called. Entrance into the neo-nomenklatura is difficult, but those who gain entrance gain enormous advantages.
They are certain to see their standard of living improve regardless of how well they perform. “The main thing that the system requires is unqualified loyalty and the fulfillment of all orders of the leadership above.” In Brezhnev’s time, that was collective; but now as in Stalin’s time, there is “a more personified vertical of power.”
The existence of Putin’s neo-nomenklatura system explains many phenomena in Russian life, including elections where the results are known in advance. Anything else would contradict the requirements of the members of the nomenklatura and its leader. But the specific nature of the neo-nomenklatura system entails real problems for the future.
In Soviet times, the nomenklatura came from two sources: the CPSU oversaw much of the selection, training and advancement of cadres, with a secondary role played by the security agencies. But now, there is no party like the CPSU and consequently the current nomenklatura is largely the product of the security services.
That change has two consequences, Petrov argues. On the one hand, the system is much less flexible than was the Soviet nomenklatura; and on the other, in contrast at least to the latter part of the Soviet period, the neo-nomenklatura has to be replaced in a wholesale manner with any change in leader.
The Putin regime is trying to address these potential risks by drawing in cadres via a “farm team” approach of groups like the People Front, by expanding the use of cadres from corporations close to the regime, and also by “using the clientele” of people close to Putin like Sergey Chemezov and Sergey Shoygu.
Up to now, Putin’s neo-nomenklatura system is relatively effective as long as things are static, but if many things change in the environment or policies, “the new construction with its very harsh connections and high center of gravity cannot in principle be effective,” the political analyst says.
Indeed, he continues, “it is not important” whether the system is driven toward liberal reforms or toward a tightening of the screws. Moves in either direction will require radical changes in the neo-nomenklatura, and that will open the way to real risks for the system as a whole.