Soviet Communists Cede Control Over Most Top Jobs : Reforms: To some extent, the party’s selection power already had been wrested away. The system impeded <i> perestroika</i> .


In another sign of the Soviet Communist Party’s waning influence and changing political role, its leadership on Wednesday abandoned the so-called nomenklatura system, which empowered Communists to control virtually every important job in the country.

The nomenklatura system was a key element of the party’s power monopoly, now being dismantled under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It had given the party the right to choose, in secret, who would occupy perhaps 3 million key positions nationwide.

Top government and armed forces posts were included, but so were those of factory directors, labor union bosses and the managers of department stores. Although never codified in law, the practice had given the Communist apparatus fabulous power in all realms of society since the era of Soviet founder V. I. Lenin, but the system impeded the reforms and new thinking now so keenly sought by Gorbachev.


“A research institute director, the editor of a literary magazine, the head of a trade department must by approved by the appropriate party committee,” the tabloid weekly Moscow News said this year. All too often, the person chosen was selected not because of professional qualifications or accomplishments but because of party ties or adherence to orthodox political views.

Non-party members could be named to some jobs but had no say in the selection process. “The system is illicit in that it cannot be controlled or held responsible,” Moscow News complained. “A real dictatorship is not burdened by any laws and is not accountable to anyone.”

Heeding the new realities of Soviet political life, the Communist Party Secretariat decided Wednesday to relinquish its veto power over top political and economic jobs, although, to some degree, events already had wrested away that power.

“It is considered expedient to abandon the nomenklatura posts of the CC CPSU (Central Committee of the Communist Party),” declared the Secretariat, which manages day-to-day party affairs. “From now on, only party workers, heads of press organs, scientific agencies and institutions of learning subordinate to the CC CPSU will be approved” by the Central Committee.

That leaves the party’s policy-making Central Committee in charge of only those positions that have party connections--for example, the editorship of the party’s flagship daily newspaper Pravda.

Last October, under the aegis of Gorbachev, a high-level party commission recommended that the party terminate the nomenklatura system in picking the occupants of top jobs and allow instead “an influx of active campaigners for perestroika (political and economic reform) from among Communists, non-party members and members of all sectors of the population.”

Wednesday’s decision also represented a tacit recognition on the part of the Moscow-based party apparatus that it has lost the power to impose its will throughout what is becoming a fragmented society. Entire republics, from the Russian Federation to Armenia, are now in the hands of non-Communists, and their leaders, such as Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia, refuse to obey party decrees.

In many regions, the party machine continues to dominate local life, however, and in those places the effect of the change will be problematic. The Secretariat recommended that personnel policy in the 15 Soviet republics be redefined by local party leaders to take into account “new conditions,” but that is no guarantee such a thing will happen.

The most important nomenklatura, or roster of jobs over which the party claimed right of review, had long been filled by the party’s supreme organs, such as the Politburo and Secretariat. The positions include, among others, defense minister and chairman of the KGB.

The national party congress this summer made it clear, however, that the center of gravity in Soviet political life has shifted to the governmental institutions established by Gorbachev, including his personal cabinet, the Presidential Council.