The ISCIP Analyst
Behind the Breaking News
Send us a note to subscribe to Perspective.
Post-USSR: The Apparatchiki
On August 24, 1991 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) ceased to exist when Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation as party leader. His decision was dramatic. He ordered the nationalization of communist party property, dissolved the CPSU Central Committee, and banned party cells in the Soviet Armed Forces, the KGB and the militia. The party died a quick death.
Yet seventy years of communist rule had shaped the thinking and behavior of Soviet citizens. Trends in Soviet political elite mobility had promoted patronage tracts, alliance building, and access to privileges which put communist party members above the average citizen. Certain regions produced successive generations of party officialsDnepropetrovsk, Kemerovo and Sverdlovsk, to name a few of the most famous. A few months or even years will not erase this behavior. How might former communists be expected to conduct themselves after the Soviet collapse? Did their employment patterns change before the Soviet Union's demise? Did these changes assist their transition to the post-Soviet order? To what degree will former communists be able to prosper in the new political and economic environment in Russia and the other former Soviet republics?
Party Officials and Retirement
Even before the Soviet collapse, communist party officials found new employment opportunities after dismissal from the party organs. Unlike under Stalin, when forced retirement meant banishment to a remote outpost or even death, Gorbachev-era politicians still enjoyed a political future after leaving the CPSU apparatus. Former Politburo member and CPSU Secretary Lev Zaikov, for instance, influenced Soviet arms control decision making after his retirement in July 1990. Zaikov chaired what was known as the "Arms Control Group," which became the "Group on Negotiations." This body functioned first under the Politburo and then under the USSR presidency. Zaikov's group decided tricky questions related to arms control and the defense industry that were then sent to Gorbachev for signature.
Other former Politburo and Secretariat members also found advisory roles outside the party apparatus. Former CPSU Secretary Viktor Chebrikov advised then KGB Chairman Viktor Kryuchkov during the USSR Supreme Soviet debate on the Law on the KGB. Both men were seen throughout the debate arriving, sitting, and leaving together. Former CPSU Central Committee (CC) chiefs also held consultancy positions after their retirement. The former chief (1955-1986) of the CPSU CC International Department, Boris Ponomarev, occupied an office within the CPSU CC headquarters up until the August 1991 coup.(1)
Other party officials found the USSR Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies to be a new arena to continue their political careers after retirement from the party organs. Former Politburo members Vitali Vorotnikov and Nikolai Ryzhkov tried to influence voting during parliamentary sessions. Even after the coup attempt, former CPSU officials attempted to dominate the state machinery. A list of candidates for the Soviet of the Union's International Affairs Commission was full of former CPSU officials, notably including CPSU Secretary A. Dzasokhov, former Azerbaijani Communist Party First Secretary A. R. Vezirov, and former First Deputy Chief of the CPSU CC Social-Political Department V. I. Mironenko. They failed in their quest, however, when the central organs were abolished with the formation of the Commonwealth in December 1991.
In March 1992 Ryzhkov led a group of officials who attempted to reconvene the USSR Congress of Peoples Deputies and called for the recreation of central leadership organs. The Russian government had to combat these forces and promptly rejected their proposal. In the post-Soviet period former communist officials who wish to return to a strong center may prove to be a force with which Yel'tsin will have to combat. They seem to have survived the transition from communist party officials to average citizens attempting to influence Russian politics.
Party Officials and their Business Ventures
As early as 1987 party officials prepared for upheaval in the Soviet system when they established special accounts and businesses to protect party property. Numerous buildings, including hospitals, military facilities, research institutes, schools, etc., belonged to the party. In August 1990, for instance, CPSU Deputy General Secretary Vladimir Ivashko signed a memorandum which called for using CPSU assets to create an "invisible party economy" in the form of private banks and businesses to fund this takeover.(2) With the CPSU's demise, former communist officials focused on purchasing this real estate quickly.
Indeed, some party officials prospered after the Soviet collapse. These bureaucrats, who were well-educated professionals, were expected to become effective administrators in a new political and economic system. The former Soviet Minister of Aviation Industry, Apollon Systsov, tried to convert his ministry into a corporation to sell aircraft technology and parts. Between fifteen and twenty former Soviet ministers, all former party officials, have entered the business world. Polad A. Polad-Zade founded Vodstroi from a portion of the former USSR Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water. The private company had 400,000 employees and revenues of about $18 million. Its main task was to build reservoirs, dams, apartments and roads.(3)
At the same time many former communist officials tried to take control of property through behind-the-scenes deals. Former CPSU CC Defense Department Chief Oleg Belyakov, former Gosteleradio chief Leonid Kravchenko, other former CPSU CC officials and their wives attempted to form a joint-stock company, Kolo, worth R1 billion. Kolo's holdings would have included the Energiya aerospace complex and other property such as the military airfield Vnukovo-3 near Moscow. Some high-ranking government officials sympathized and assisted in this deal. Significantly, several members of the Yel'tsin government had to resign because of their connections with the company's founders.
Former Communist Behavior in the Soviet Successor States
Former communist party officials continued to play a role in the Soviet successor states. Party apparatchiks found themselves well suited for the new environment since they were the best organized forces with access to loyal personnel and financial assets to support their drives to maintain their power bases.
Russian President Boris Yel'tsin, despite his renunciation of communist ideology, still behaved like a communist politician. For example, he relied on patronage tracts and alliance building from his home base of Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk). Yuri Petrov, Gennadi Burbulis, Oleg Lobov, and several other top Russian officials followed Yel'tsin from Sverdlovsk where they had served him as loyal party apparatchiks. Yet these officials did not all unite behind Yel'tsin following the putsch. Some, such as Burbuliswho were young, highly educated individuals with all the privileges of the old communist elitededicated themselves to Yel'tsin's cause. Others, such as Petrov, were from an older generation and sought less radical reform efforts. Moreover, Yel'tsin sometimes exhibited an authoritarian style which could be linked to his communist upbringing. His moves towards government control of the press and the creation of a superministry for security illustrated his desire for a strong hand when events slipped from his control.
The Russian President's reliance on his immediate staff caused setbacks in Russia's reform program as politicians struggled over the placement of former CPSU staff. For instance, Petrov's control over the staffing positions within the Russian government led to an influx of former Central Committee officials. G. Orlov, an assistant to former CPSU CC General Department Chief Valeri Boldin, made a lateral move by becoming first deputy chief of the General Department within the Russian Council of Ministers. Oleg Lobov, head of a "Council of Experts" within the Russian government, also had personnel and staffing responsibilities. According to Russian sources, he supervised the hiring of several unidentified MIC and former CPSU officials into the Yel'tsin government. Importantly, these officials blocked important reform efforts led by Yel'tsin's economic affairs tsar, Yegor Gaidar.
Within the Russian Federation, former high-ranking communist officials resisted diktat from Moscow after the Soviet Union's collapse and fought hard to protect their privileges. Many former regional party bosses, who had been forced to give up the post of chairman of the regional Soviet and first party secretary, opposed Yel'tsin, and many were successful, remaining influential in local administration. For example, in January 1992 the Russian president's trip to Bryansk revealed that former local party officials regularly ignored the Kremlin's commands by retaining huge staffs and their own food supplies.
Within the other Soviet successor states, former communist party officials found new life in several ways. Primarily, they simply renamed the parties to which they belonged. The Ukrainian Communist Party was reorganized to become the Party of Social Progress of Ukraine; the Tajikistan Communist Party changed its name to the People's Democratic Party; and the Uzbekistan Communist Party became the People's Democratic Party. In some instances, this "renaming" process removed some party apparatchiks while others prospered. For example, within Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, vestiges of the former communist parties stalled the emergence of full-fledged democracy as clans struggled to protect their privileges. Indeed, the Soviet collapse reversed eight years of attempts to bring the outlying republics into line with Moscow. Several prominent victims of Andropov's and Gorbachev's anti-corruption campaigns quickly returned to power, including former Politburo member and Azerbaijani First Secretary Geider Aliev and former Tajik Communist Party First Secretary Rakhman Nabiev. They relied on nationalist appeal and promises of better living conditions which prevailed before 1985.
Overall, despite the collapse of Soviet Union, a sizable proportion of communists survived on various levels with their authority intact. Some prospered financially, while others continued to employ political methods to strengthen their positions and weaken their enemies. Although ideology had vanished as a motivating factor, former communist officials dominated the struggle for power in the post-Soviet era. These actors included former Central Committee members, former Soviet government officials, and obkom, raikom, and local secretaries. Their potential influence was great, given the fact that they continued to be managers over property, funds, and personnel. Thus, a turbulent and uncertain future lies ahead as former CPSU officials attempt to protect their privileges and personal security in the Soviet successor states.
Copyright ISCIP 1992