Az elittől a nomenklatúráig: Az intézményesített káderpolitika kialakulása Magyarországon (1945-1989)

TitleAz elittől a nomenklatúráig: Az intézményesített káderpolitika kialakulása Magyarországon (1945-1989)
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsLaczó, Ferenc
Author(s) of reviewed materialHuszár, Tibor

Title translated:
From Elite to Nomenclature - The Formation of the Institutionalized Politics of Cadres in Hungary (1945-1989)

PublisherBudapest: Corvina Kiadó
ISSNISBN 978 963 13 5623 6
Review year


Full Text

This slim but densely written volume provides a summary of the findings of the research group (established at Budapest’s ELTE Sociology Institute) devoted to sociologically analyzing the leadership of Hungary during the communist era. The researchers have used documents related to how decisions and appointments were made and to a lesser extent have also relied on newly conducted retrospective interviews, in order to understand personal relations and inner struggles within, crises and their consequences on, the shifts in the body of appointers of and the connections of trends in politics to this infamous lists of persons, the nomenclature.

Az elittől a nomenklatúráig starts with a lengthier first chapter, which has as its main aim the narration of the emergence of the social system based on the nomenclature. Huszár argues that, though a democratic political elite was in formation in the years between 1945 and 1948, these talented, prospective and mostly young people were subsequently excluded by the communists, by 1949 the latest – whose leaders then went on to fight their own potential and better qualified (national communist) elite too, so the author. Simultaneously, the country’s economic elite was demoted through étatization (, which, in the words of Huszár, took place "with the secrecy of a conspiracy"), its cultural life monopolized and its scientific elite purged (in the case of the Academy of Sciences, the majority of its members were demoted; the consequential “debates” were employing almost solely political-ideological categories to evaluate these scientists). Moreover, associational life was broken. All in all, the formation of the new elite implied a one-way dependence on the dictatorial state, which was achieved through the creation of new political and quasi-legal conditions, the change in ownership and exclusion of economic actors or their integration into the planned system, and the abolishment of citizens’ rights.
With the establishment of a system of bureaucratic coordination (Kornai), the economy of cadres was also centralized. This meant the possibility of upward mobility, largely irrespective of levels of expertise and including obvious cases of counter-selection. The main point of Chapter 2 is that one ought to distinguish between the two forms of elite and nomenclature, since while the former is self-selected on the principle and practice of free elections, the latter gets appointed from above (and is only nominally elected). In a system, such as the Soviet-type, where hierarchy is primarily and almost exclusively political (and therefore one-dimensional), nomenclature becomes all-encompassing.

In Hungary, 1949 and 1950 were the “golden years of new cadres.” In 1950, the division responsible for cadres had 98 employees and the number of positions on the list reached 3812, which had to be drastically reduced in the year after – by more than a 1000, while no position related to the military or state security was abolished. Though many important data are missing and categories were blurred or inconsistently applied at this bleak time of the country's history, one can safely speak of contra-selection, since in the early 1950s, there were more people in upper and middle leadership positions with 8 grades or less education than with higher education behind them (30 over 27%).

Chapter 3 shows that those who acquired positions around 1950 mostly held on to them after 1956, though many of them were regrouped. The demotion of leading personalities meant the promotion of second-rank individuals to first-rank. (While there are few of those who got appointed for the first time in the years 1957-1962, many were appointed for the second or third time during these years, particularly in 1957.) Later on, there was barely any significant change in the members of the nomenclature, most changes took place within the various organization and between various levels of their hierarchies (with the state security and the military organizations being the most stable organizations in terms of personnel).

One does not even find greater inner dynamic within the nomenclature when reforms (or counter-reforms) were implemented: changes in the highest echelons had little consequences just below. In other words, the party had only one row of cadres, not more than that. Therefore it comes as no surprise that while around 1960 the average age of the members of the nomenclature was 36 years, this number was up to 49 by the mid-1980s and increased all the way till 1989 (when it reached 53). In short, the system of nomenclature was static and largely closed. Professionalization was continuous and gradual – while prior to 1964 the percent of them with degrees was 44, this was up to above 75% by the 1980s, though according to Huszár this meant no essential change in the way the leadership acted.

In conclusion, Az elittől a nomenklatúráig traces the system of nomenclature’s historical embeddedness and the interrelations between societal processes and politics of appointments in depth, but it fails to tackle issues related to rule on the local (provincial) level as well as the inner cohesion of the members of the nomenclature (though in his last chapter Huszár lists the major privileges of these people, in terms of their economic as well as political, symbolic and social capital). Somewhat misfortunately, nor does Huszár reflect on the controversial question of how Hungary got from the nomenclature to the new elite. Even so, all in all, this volume provides the best brief coverage of its topic – it is all the greater pity that the material is not well-organized, it occasionally reads more like a draft, and the book got published with several faults of spelling and some other mistakes. The book also includes a lengthy appendix on the top communist leaders of Hungary, their backgrounds and career paths.