Soviet Union Table of Contents
Below the all-union organization in the Russian Republic (which sufficed for the Russian Republic's party organization in 1989) and the union republic party organizations in the Azerbaydzhan, Belorussian, Georgian, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Tadzhik, Turkmen, Ukrainian, and Uzbek republics stood the oblast party organization, 122 of which existed in the Soviet Union in 1989. (Six large, thinly populated regions in the Russian Republic have been designated by the term krai; these regions are treated herein as oblasts.) The Armenian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Moldavian republics had no oblasts. An oblast could embrace a large city or nationality unit. According to the Party Rules, the authoritative body in the province was the party conference, which met twice every five years and consisted of delegates elected by the district or city party conference. Between oblast party conferences, an oblast committee (obkom) comprising full and candidate members selected by the conference supervised the provincial party organization and, through it, the province as a whole. The oblast party committee met once every four months. That committee chose a bureau made up of voting and nonvoting members and a secretariat.
The bureau integrated officials from the most important sectors of the provincial party, economic, and governmental organizations into a unified political elite. Membership on the bureau enabled these officials to coordinate policies in their respective administrative spheres.
American Sovietologist Joel C. Moses found that as of the mid1980s five different kinds of specialists served on the obkom bureau. The first category, composed of agricultural specialists, could be selected from among the obkom agricultural secretary, the agricultural administration of the oblast, or the obkom first secretary in predominantly rural regions. A second category of bureau membership consisted of industrial specialists, who were drawn from among the obkom industry secretary, the first secretary of the provincial capital (where most provincial industries were located), the provincial trade union council chairman, the first secretary of a large industrialized city district, or the obkom first secretary. Ideology specialists made up the third category. They were selected from the obkom secretary for ideology, the editor of the provincial party newspaper, or the first secretary of the Komsomol (see Glossary). A fourth category was the cadres specialist, who supervised nomenklatura appointments in the province. The cadres specialist on the provincial party bureau normally occupied one of the following positions: obkom first secretary, head of the obkom party-organizational department, chairman of the provincial trade union council, or obkom cadres secretary. "Mixed generalists" made up the fifth category. These officials served on the obkom bureau to fulfill positions that required a broader background than those possessed by the functional specialists. A wide range of roles prepared the mixed generalists to carry out their tasks. Prior to serving on the provincial party bureau, these officials generally worked in industry, agriculture, party administration, or ideology.
Reform of the party's central apparatus, however, portended significant changes at the regional level. According to Georgii Kriuchkov, a senior official of the Central Committee, "the party is shedding the functions of dealing with day-to-day problems as they arise, because these problems are within the competence of the state, managerial, and public bodies." Hence, parts of the obkom bureau that paralleled government and managerial bodies--mainly in the area of economic management--were to be dismantled.
The first secretary of the party obkom was the most powerful official in the province. Paradoxically, much of that power stemmed from Soviet economic inefficiency. According to the norms of democratic centralism, the obkom secretary had to carry out decisions made by leaders at the all-union and republic levels of the party hierarchy. Nevertheless, the obkom secretary preserved some scope for independent political initiative on issues of national importance. Initiative, perseverance, and ruthlessness were necessary characteristics of the successful obkom secretary, who had to aggregate scarce resources to meet economic targets and lobby central planners for low targets. Soviet émigré Alexander Yanov has argued that the interest of the obkom secretary, however, lay in preserving an inefficient provincial economy. Yanov has written that the obkom secretaries were "the fixers and chasers" after scarce resources who made the provincial economy work. If the economy were decentralized to allow greater initiative and if efforts were made to ensure greater agricultural productivity, one element of the obkom secretary's power--the ability to find resources to meet the plan--would diminish. For this reason, the obkom secretaries formed an important source of resistance to Khrushchev's efforts at economic reform (see Khrushchev's Reforms and Fall , ch. 2). Western observers held that these officials were an important source of opposition to Gorbachev's economic reforms because these reforms envisaged a greater role for the government and the market at the expense of the party.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents