frontline issue 3

New Light on the Origins of the Stalinist Bureaucracy


The following article by the Russian historian Alexander Podsheldolkin was originally published in The Argentinian journal En Defensa del Marxismo, No.1, 1991. It appears to have been his contribution to the symposium on Trotsky held in Sao Paulo, Brazil in September 1990. The author was at the time senior investigator at the Institute of Marxist-Leninism, Moscow, and was engaged in investigating the documents in the secret archives of the CPSU. It was translated by Mike Jones. (1).

We know that the history of the Soviet people, the state and the Communist Party has been very falsified. One of the most prominent historians of the USSR, Yuri Afanasiev, wrote that no people or state have a more falsified history than the Soviet people and the Soviet state. The Stalinist period was a tragedy for all the peoples inhabiting the USSR. My professional interest is in the precise beginning of this phenomenon, in its roots, because historiography usually states that Stalinism, or the so-called Stalinist society as such, started to reveal itself from 1929 with the so-called collectivisation. I believe that the roots go much deeper and are caused by events much further back and, therefore, I investigated the period 1921-24, the period I consider most important. Today there is much talk, even in our press, about Bukharin's so-called alternative in 1929, and of other alternatives too. In my opinion, there was already no alternative in 1929, as everything had already been decided between the years 1923 and 1924.

As I am one of the few historians of the USSR with access to the secret archives of the party, I can examine extremely important documents, including those of Leon Trotsky, which are now being published in the SU. I will mention one of them straight away: the letter of Trotsky of October 8, 1923 (Izvestia, News from the Central Committee). At the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, we consider that the most important thing is to gather and publish documents from the archives, giving the public the maximum possible information and, after a few years and the publication of many documents, we will be able to see historical reality and truth with greater clarity and thus understand the roots of the society which existed in the USSR until 1985 and which, to some extent, still exists today.

I will try to present some facts and figures from 1923 and 1924. When I read the letter by Trotsky, I was surprised by the sharpness of its criticism of the Politburo, concerning the crisis in the country and the party, and the matter of the bureaucracy. At the same time, reading the papers of this period, such as Pravda and Izvestia, one could see that the country was calm and quiet and that everything went on as normal. The press did not reflect the very sharp struggle already taking place inside the party in the Central Committee and the Politburo.

The Post of General Secretary

The first plenum of the Central Committee after the Eleventh Congress, on 3rd April 1922, with open voting and with the participation of Lenin, unanimously accepted the proposal of Kamenev naming Stalin as the General Secretary of the Central Committee. This post was created in order to direct the work of the Secretariat of the CC, which, above all, involved the sending of reports together with the selection and distribution of party cadres. A defined hierarchy already existed in the party, with directives coming from above and a military discipline concerning their fulfilment. Only at the higher level of political decision making, with Lenin in the Politburo, was relative collegiality maintained. The post of General Secretary objectively turned itself into the control centre and linking point for the hierarchy. As Tucker correctly stated: "Lenin didn't think that the post of Secretary had the capability of converting all power in the hands of only one person ... The Secretariat, meanwhile, could influence the order of debate and the political direction, which enabled it to have an important strategic position in relation to the orders of the leadership, as well as the right to fill posts, which made the Secretariat an ideal instrument for political manipulation" (2).

Not much time passed - less than nine months - and already in December 1922, Lenin proposed to remove Stalin from this post, alleging that "he had concentrated an enormous power in his hands"(3). What happened in those months? What facts led Lenin to this opinion?

The process of concentration of 'unlimited power' in the hands of Stalin, his temporary allies and personally loyal functionaries, manifested itself in various ways in 1922:

1. A growth of the apparatus of both party and state, which came to be the same thing;

2. The creation of a rigid mechanism of submission to the centre, not to the CC nor the Organisation Bureau (Orgburo), but directly to the Secretariat of the CC;

3. An increase of the powers and privileges of the apparatus, and consequently, the bureaucratic transformation of its majority.

We will consider some aspects of this process.

As is known, on May 23, Lenin went to Gorky, where two days later he had his first stroke, which led to partial paralysis of his right arm and difficulty in speaking. Lenin stayed in Gorky until October 2. During this period he took hardly any part in political life, and was largely isolated (the new General Secretary visited him five days after the stroke, and did not return again for fifteen days).

It seems that Lenin's condition was one of the reasons which led Stalin to act with resolution and rapidity. Ensuring himself the support of Kamenev and Zinoviev, he began the process of creating the nomenklatura - (partidocracy). Already on June 6, the text by Molotov, approved by the Secretariat (Stalin, Kuibyshev and Molotov) called 'Situation of the Central Committee Instructors', was distributed in some places, according to which the instructor was granted widespread rights over the election of local party organs, the instructors themselves being subordinated to the Organisation Secretariat of the CC, or rather, to the apparatus. Rapidly, a system analogous to the leadership of instructors was created within the lower party cells. According to the text, "the instructor analyses and leads the functioning of the committees of the party, helps them strictly to follow the directives of the Central Party organs"(4). In the course of 1922 the CC instructors investigated more than two thirds of the regional organisations, and although it is officially stated that "they do not have rights of an administrative and decisive type", there was practically no case in which the regional committee did not accept the main proposals which were normally made by the CC instructors.

In July, as a part of the Secretariat, the Organisation Department of the CC was created. L.M. Kaganovich, an associate of Stalin, was put in charge of it. Among the tasks of the department listed were "the observation and vetting of the party organisations and their instruction, the creation of directives of an organisational character"(5), etc. The practice then began of convening secretaries in order to give declarations before the higher organisation, seeking "to avoid possible errors in the important questions on the periphery"(6). A flow of written reports from below upwards began to be regularly sent in. Thus, the provincial committees were advised to send to the CC Secretariat, three different reports: secret, informative and statistical. Thus the mechanism of influence and control over the local organisations by the central apparatus, or more exactly by the Secretariat and Stalin personally, was created.

Material privileges

On July 31, the Orgburo approved a document on 'The Improvement of the Living Conditions of the Active Functionaries of the Party' - a document which merits special attention and commentary, since it was partially published. According to this, a strict hierarchy of wages for all party functionaries was created. Thus, the minimum salary for the secretaries of cells in the enterprises and in the countryside was fixed at the level of the 12th classification (30 roubles). For a CC member and the secretaries of regional committees, it was 43 roubles. These were, approximately, the wages of the Communists working in the economic organs and in the Soviet. A bonus was established, exclusively for party functionaries, of 50% for a family of 3 persons, and another 50% in addition for extraordinary work. Taxes on the higher salaries were symbolic, they constituted 25-50% of the excess, which begun to be taken into account from the 17th Classification, that is to say, 67 roubles (7). The average monthly salary in society was 6 roubles and 88 kopeks.

Together with their money 'the active functionaries of the party', plus their family members, received a special distribution of goods. During the summer of 1922 for example, this monthly distribution in the central Soviet organs included: 12 kilos of meat, 1.2 kilos of sugar, 4.8 kilos of rice, 100 grammes of tea, etc. For the functionaries at the regional level the ration was much less: 4.6 kilos of meat or fish, 400 grammes of sugar, 162 cigarettes, 3 boxes of matches etc. Besides this, the former received (together with their family members) free housing, clothes, medical aid and even, according to the post, personal transport (8).

The most 'responsible' functionaries enjoyed their regular holidays, (from one to three months a year), in rest homes abroad. They journeyed there, on grounds of health, generally accompanied by their family and by personal doctors, also at the expense of the party. Lacking proper statistics, we will cite some examples. According to the decision of the Secretariat of May 5, 1922, transport costs to the place of rest equalled 100-150 gold roubles. During the first month of stay in a sanatorium, it was 100 gold roubles for lodging. For small charges, also 100 gold roubles. For each succeeding month, another 100 gold roubles (9). In each particular case the decision about such relaxation was taken by the Secretariat.

In general, it gave a great and continuous attention to resting. Thus, in July, a special commission presided over by the Peoples Commissar for health, N.A. Semashko, considered the maintenance of two rest homes abroad very expensive and proposed to substitute two similar ones in the Crimea. On July 11, the Orgburo (which approved the recommendations of the Secretariat almost mechanically) decided against closing the rest home abroad and opening the new ones in the Crimea. We will also mention a decision of the Orgburo on October 4, according to which an agreement was reached to reserve 1200 beds, as a minimum, in the rest homes, for the party functionaries during the winter season and to grant 100 roubles (pre-war ones) extra for each `party bed'(10).

The basis was thus laid for the system of privileges, by bribing functionaries, whose leadership - as we previously showed - belonged to the Secretariat, or rather, was in the hands of Stalin.

In order to illustrate the contrast between the life style of the `responsible functionaries of the party' and the population in 1922, we will quote from the memoirs of a contemporary: "I remember how, in 1922, our family returned from Poltava to Moscow. My aunt, an old Bolshevik, with the help of M. Frunze, obtained places for us in the special coach, in which the representatives of the new elite travelled - functionaries of the party, chiefs and Commissars of the Red Army. The coach smelled of leather, cologne and expensive cigars. After two years of hunger, we were dressed like beggars. The passengers of the elite looked at us with curiosity, drank wine, ate delicacies (in a situation of general hunger in the country) but none of them offered me, a child looking like a skeleton, even a morsel of bread, not to speak of chocolate, which could generally be obtained by the new 'lords of life'" (11).

Growth of the bureaucracy

In the summer of 1922 it was revealed that the number of functionaries who received their salary and budgetary necessities from the party (the party leadership) was 15,325, and with their families, 74,470. To this must be added 1,920 members of the party, functionaries of the Soviets and central organs.

According to the decision of the Orgburo of September 9, 1922, the number of functionaries increased to 20,000 persons, and the number of support personnel, including technicians, who also received special supplies, up to 40,000 persons. After December, in the Secretariat of the CC itself, there were 275 `posts of responsibility' and 372 'technical staff'(12).

From the summer of 1922, Stalin was able, through the Secretariat, actively to select and impose elements loyal to him personally, a policy he formulated thus a year later, at the Twelfth Congress: "The cadre must be selected in such a way that posts will be taken up by people capable of following the line, who can assume those orientations as if they were their own and are capable of carrying them out in practice" (13). With the passing of years, the majority of the secretaries of the district and provincial committees was changed - sometimes through direct control, generally by means of `recommendation' and 're-election'.

A similar process unfolded in the lower cells of the party, and not only in the party apparatus as such. In a report concerning party work for the year 1922, Kuibyshev wrote that "each important nomination, whether at the centre or the periphery, whether concerning some enterprise leader or the election (!) of the secretary of the provincial committee or members of the bureau, is accompanied, each time with greater frequency, by a previous process of selection (...) The party has the possibility of naming even the secretaries of the district committees, of the organisation, and even the secretaries of the cells" (14).

At the Twelfth Congress, Preobrazhensky worriedly pointed out that "approximately 30% of the secretaries are, as one is accustomed to say, 'recommended by the Central Committee'. I do not know how far this process has gone" (15). And `it went', in reality, very far. For example, in my opinion (based on secret statistics), of 191 persons occupying the post of secretary of provincial committees from the summer of 1922 until the autumn of 1923, scarcely 97 were elected, and the rest were 'recommended' or directly appointed (16).

From August, the nomination of the secretaries was converted, in fact, into a regulated norm: a new ruling was created, approved by the Twelfth Conference of the party, according to which, from that time on, the secretaries of the district and provincial committees had to be approved by superior bodies. The rapid strangulation of any element of internal democracy in the party also occurred in another way. Thus, according to the new ruling, parallel to the provincial committees (elections subordinated to the provincial conference), provincial bureaux were created (but appointed by the CC and subordinated only to it). The new bodies were the result of a decision of the Tenth Congress: but it had aimed to put the bureaux under the control of the committees. A gradual abolition of the discussion clubs of the party also took place, etc.

In December 1922, on the initiative of L. Kaganovich, and as a follow-up to the 'Central Committee Circulars', previously published, a new type of orientation was introduced - 'The circular letters of the Central Committee'. A month later, also the circular orientation of the Central Committee, which had to be fulfilled in the same `rapid and exact' way as the circulars. These orientations were usually drafted by one of the secretaries (Molotov or Kuibyshev) and were approved by the Secretariat (also by Stalin) usually without any coordination with the members of the CC. Nevertheless, they began with the phrase "The Central Committee decided...". Thus, the Secretariat (and in a great measure Stalin himself) definitively usurped some functions of the CC plenum. Two and a half years later again, Kamenev recognised that the Secretariat had converted itself into a superior organ to the Politburo and said that "in fact it decided the policies" (17).


A repressive apparatus was put at the service of the newly born monster of totalitarianism. Starting from the summer of 1922, it is clear that the functions and competence of the General Secretary were broadened into what, at the start, was originally under the control of the CC. Thus, in August, the resolution of the Twelfth Conference of the party on 'The Parties and the Anti-Soviet Wave' gave the green light to the repression against the Mensheviks and SRs, but also against the non-party intelligentsia. The resolutions of August 3 on `The Registration of the Associations and Unions' meant the prohibition of all the parties but the Bolsheviks.

The decree of August 10, on `The Forced Carrying Out of Administrative Decisions' created a precedent for the establishment of special commissions for the settling of accounts with those who thought differently. At the end of September, the Politburo decided upon a further expansion of the rights of the General Secretary, and according to the decision of the Politburo of October 16, he received, in fact, the right to operate independently of judicial norms. So the first steps in the direction of totalitarian state were taken.

As we saw, for the sick Lenin, to a considerable extent divorced from political life, in part thanks to the efforts of the General Secretary, there were more than enough reasons for dictating his words about the 'unlimited power' of Stalin. However, it was too late. At the end of 1922, the real power in the party was already, in great measure, in the hands of the partidocracy - 'hierarchy of secretaries' - at the peak of which one could find the Secretariat of the Central Committee and, personally, Stalin.


(1) This document can be found on the website of the journal Revolutionary History All the subsequent notes are from this source.

(2) Tucker, Robert, Stalin's Road to Power - 1879-1929, History and Personality, 1990, p.270. (All sources given are in Spanish without any place of publication so presumably they are from Russian sources - Note by translator.)

(3) Lenin, VI, Obras Completas, Vol 45, p.345. It is unclear whether this is the Russian or Spanish version.

(4). Book for the Party Functionary, Course 3, m 1923, P 108/118.

(5) In 1922 the Org. Dept. demanded reports from 16 secretaries of district committees, but during the first months of 1923, the number had risen to 39.

(6) Book for ...., p.118-119.

(7) Book for ..., p.126.

(8) Argumenti i fakti, 1990, No.27. We cannot find the facts about the supplies to the workers.

(9) The same applies.

(10) 100 roubles pre-war were equal to 500 gold roubles.

(11) Kondratiev, V. We Speak of Ideals, Literaturnaya Gazeta.

(12) Argumenti i fakti, 1990, No.27.

(13) Twelfth Congress of the Communist Party (Bolshevik), shorthand minutes version, 1968, p.63.

(14) Recommendations on party work for the year, 1923, p.50.

(15) Twelfth Congress, p.146.

(16) After the massive reshuffling of local party functionaries in the summer of 1923, the whole apparatus was under the control of the Secretariat by the autumn. Thus at the start of the discussion in 1923, the Stalinist nomenklatura hierarchy was already fully formed and subsequently it only developed and perfected itself.

(17) Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party (Bolshevik), shorthand minutes version 1926, p.274.