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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Party Membership

Membership in the CPSU for both political and nonpolitical careers was absolutely essential for advancement above a certain level in society. All of the key positions of power in the Soviet Union were subject to the nomenklatura (see Glossary), the list of positions over which a given party committee had the right of confirmation. Power and authority increased the higher one rose in the party, as did monetary and nonmonetary benefits. Also, party membership often brought an opportunity denied to most Soviet citizens--the right to travel abroad.


In 1989 Russians possessed an inherent social advantage in the Soviet Union. They, and to a lesser extent other Slavs, dominated the central government, party, economy, military, and security hierarchies. Possessing a higher educational level and a higher rate of party membership than most of the non-Russian nationalities, Russians also were overrepresented in skilled labor, white-collar, and elite positions. The Russian language was the official language of the state and the language of interethnic communication, which gave an advantage to Russians over nonRussians , who needed to master Russian as a second language for socioeconomic advancement. Non-Russians also generally possessed a lower rate of urbanization than Russians, who thus enjoyed better access to higher-paying employment and to education institutions.

Jews, as well, were overrepresented in certain areas of the arts, science, academe, and certain professions; but this predominance did not stem from an inherent advantage, as with the Russians, but rather from achievement. Unlike Russians, Jews were subject to discriminatory quotas for admission to academe and some professions and, according to one Western scholar, were excluded from foreign trade organizations.

Within the non-Russian republics and smaller administrative divisions, local ethnic hierarchies or "mafias" existed, especially in those regions where the clan system was still pervasive, such as the Caucasus and Central Asia. These patronage systems flourished during the era of Leonid I. Brezhnev, but Mikhail S. Gorbachev has attempted to weaken their economic and political power.

Intermarriage among nationalities has produced social mobility, particularly in the case of offspring, who legally must identify themselves by the nationality of either their mother or their father. In this case, upward mobility has occurred if the children have chosen the larger or more dominant nationality in the area, especially if it were Russian.

Data as of May 1989