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Soviet Union

Patron-Client Relations

An official in the party or government bureaucracy could not advance in the nomenklatura without the assistance of a patron. In return for this assistance in promoting his career, the client carried out the policies of the patron. Patron-client relations thus help to explain the ability of party leaders to generate support for their policies. The presence of patron-client relations between party officials and officials in other bureaucracies also helped to account for the control the party exercised over Soviet society. All of the 2 million members of the nomenklatura system understood that they held their positions as a result of a favor bestowed on them by a superior official in the party and that they could be replaced if they manifested disloyalty to their patron. Self-interest dictated that members of the nomenklatura submit to the control of their patrons in the party.

Clients sometimes could attempt to supplant their overlord. For example, Khrushchev, one of Lazar M. Kaganovich's former protégés, helped to oust the latter in 1957. Seven years later, Brezhnev, a client of Khrushchev, helped to remove his boss from power. The power of the general secretary was consolidated to the extent that he placed his clients in positions of power and influence (see General Secretary: Power and Authority , this ch.). The ideal for the general secretary, writes Soviet émigré observer Michael Voslensky, "is to be overlord of vassals selected by oneself."

Several factors explain the entrenchment of patron-client relations. First, in a centralized nondemocratic government system, promotion in the bureaucratic-political hierarchy was the only path to power. Second, the most important criterion for promotion in this hierarchy was not merit but approval from one's supervisors, who evaluated their subordinates on the basis of political criteria and their ability to contribute to the fulfillment of the economic plan. Third, political rivalries were present at all levels of the party and state bureaucracies but were especially prevalent at the top. Power and influence decided the outcomes of these struggles, and the number and positions of one's clients were critical components of that power and influence. Fourth, because fulfillment of the economic plan was decisive, systemic pressures led officials to conspire together and use their ties to achieve that goal.

The faction led by Brezhnev provides a good case study of patron-client relations in the Soviet system. Many members of the Brezhnev faction came from Dnepropetrovsk, where Brezhnev had served as first secretary of the provincial party organization. Andrei P. Kirilenko, a Politburo member and Central Committee secretary under Brezhnev, was first secretary of the regional committee of Dnepropetrovsk. Volodymyr Shcherbyts'kyy, named as first secretary of the Ukrainian apparatus under Brezhnev, succeeded Kirilenko in that position. Nikolai A. Tikhonov, appointed by Brezhnev as first deputy chairman of the Soviet Union's Council of Ministers, graduated from the Dnepropetrovsk College of Metallurgy and presided over the economic council of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast. Finally, Nikolai A. Shchelokov, minister of internal affairs under Brezhnev, was a former chairman of the Dnepropetrovsk soviet.

Patron-client relations had implications for policy making in the party and government bureaucracies. Promotion of trusted subordinates into influential positions facilitated policy formation and policy execution. A network of clients helped to ensure that a patron's policies could be carried out. In addition, patrons relied on their clients to provide an accurate flow of information on events throughout the country. This information assisted policymakers in ensuring that their programs were being implemented.

Data as of May 1989