restricted access The Role of the Second Party Secretary in the “Election” of the First: The Political Mechanism for the Appointment of the Head of Soviet Lithuania in 1974
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The Role of the Second Party Secretary in the “Election” of the First
The Political Mechanism for the Appointment of the Head of Soviet Lithuania in 1974

On 5 February 1974, a Tuesday, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Ivan Kapitonov paid a visit to the Politburo member Mikhail Suslov at Moscow’s Old Square. Kapitonov was accompanied by the Soviet Lithuanian functionary Valerii Kharazov, who presented to Suslov a blue notebook containing the opinions of the Lithuanian nomenklatura about the potential candidates for the position of first secretary of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP). Kharazov’s visit to Suslov was the crucial moment in the appointment/election of the new head of the republic after the death of Antanas Sniečkus, who had held the position from 1940 to 1974.

Kharazov (b. 1918) has survived in Lithuanian collective memory as one of the most ruthless Soviet “governors-general.” This was the title “conferred” behind their backs on all the second secretaries of the Central Committee of the LCP, who—with the exception of a brief period from 1953 to 1956—were not locals but Russians sent from Moscow. The political institution of the second secretaries was important for Moscow as a means of controlling the national republics—functionaries would be sent from Moscow to all the national republics (with the exception of the three Slavic republics). Having arrived in Soviet Lithuania, the second secretary directly supervised the work of important departments—notably those of Organizational Party Work and Administrative Organs, which oversaw the judicial system and the Committee for State Security (KGB). His key function was to supervise the work of the [End Page 343] local nomenklatura and report regularly to the sector for Belorussia and the Baltic republics of the Department for Organizational Party Work of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

Kharazov’s career followed a trajectory similar to second secretaries of most other republics. Before being appointed to Lithuania, he worked as an instructor at the Department for Organizational Party Work of the Central Committee of the CPSU in Moscow. There he supervised the work of the party apparatus and administrative institutions in neighboring Belorussia.1 In 1964, he was promoted to become an inspector in the Central Committee, already not “attached” to a concrete republic. Now he was directly responsible to the secretary and head of the Central Committee department rather than the head of the department sector.2 Kharazov’s duties included organizing inspections in the Soviet republics and leading commissions formed by the Central Committee for solving newly arisen problems or issues.

Kharazov was not the only actor in this election. The workings of the Lithuanian nomenklatura, and in particular its use of personal relations, provide an opportunity to look more thoroughly into all-union politics from the local perspective. That investigation, in turn, makes possible distinctions between the statuses of Soviet republic and Russian region (oblast´), which fundamentally affected the nature of relations with the center. The long drawn-out “interregnum,” which began after the death of Sniečkus on 22 January 1974 and ended with the election of Petras Griškevičius as the new first secretary on 18 February, is important not only as a case study of a period that marked a new stage in Soviet Lithuania’s administration. It also sheds light on the changing relationship between the center and a Soviet republic in the Brezhnev era, as well as shifts in Moscow’s cadre policy.

Three main theoretical approaches have been used to analyze center– region relations in the Soviet system. Two approaches—the totalitarian and the corporatist—have a direct bearing on the subject of Soviet nationality policy, while the third one—the patron–client, or clientelistic approach—is generally used by scholars investigating center–region relations rather than nationality policy. I explain why the totalitarian approach is not sufficient as an explanatory model and how the two other models—corporatist and clientelistic—can be integrated in the concrete case of Lithuania in 1974. I also make a distinction between union republics and regions within the [End Page 344] RSFSR...