2 Comrades and Commissars

A shocking report landed on Lenin's desk in September 1919. It showed that the Smolny, citadel of the October Revolution, was full of corruption. 'Money flows freely from the coffers of the Petrograd Soviet into the pockets of the party leaders,' the head of its Workers' Section wrote to Lenin. For several months the Provisions Department had failed to release food to the workers' districts, and yet meanwhile from the back of the Smolny foodstuffs were being sold by the lorry-load to black-marketeers. 'The hungry workers see the well-dressed Tsarinas of the Soviet Tsars coming out with packets of food and being driven away in their cars. They say it's just the same as it was in the old days with the Romanovs and their Fraulein, Madame Vyrubova. They are afraid to complain to Zinoviev [the party boss in Petrograd] since he is surrounded by henchmen with revolvers who threaten the workers when they ask too many questions.' Shocked by this report, Lenin ordered Stalin, as the People's Commissar for State Control, to carry out an 'ultra-strict inspection of the Smolny offices'. He wanted it completed without the knowledge of Zinoviev or his officials. But Stalin refused to 'spy on comrades', claiming this would undermine the work of the party at a crucial moment of the civil war. It was typical of his attitude: the bonds of comradeship and the survival of the party were more important than any evidence of the abuse of power.50

The incident was symptomatic of a general problem in the party: power was breeding corruption. This corruption was much more deep-rooted than the common or garden form of venality that grows in every government. The Bolsheviks were not like any Western party. They were more like a ruling class, similar in many ways to the nobility, with which Lenin himself often compared them. 'If 10,000 nobles could rule the whole of Russia — then why not us?' Lenin had once said. The comrades were indeed stepping into their shoes. Joining the party after 1917 was like joining the nobility. It brought preferment to bureaucratic posts, an elite status and privileges, and a personal share in the party-state. The ethos of the party dominated every aspect of public life in Soviet Russia, just as the ethos of the aristocracy had dominated public life in tsarist Russia. Perhaps this corruption was bound to happen in a party like the Bolsheviks whose own state-building in the civil war rested on the mass recruitment of the lower classes. In a social revolution, such as this, one of the main motives for joining the party was bound to be the prospect of self-advancement. But the problem was intensified by the fact that the Bolsheviks in office acted beyond any real control. It was, in effect, a clientele system, with powerful cliques and local networks of patronage and power beyond the control of any party organ in the capital. There were times when the Bolsheviks acted more like a local mafia than the ruling party of the largest country in the world.

During the civil war the Bolshevik leaders turned a blind eye to such corruption. This was a time when the comrades were being called on to make great sacrifices for the revolution — many of them worked around the clock and showed a fanatical devotion to the party — and the odd indulgence seemed a small price to pay. In early 1918 Lenin himself had backed a plan to organize a special closed restaurant for the Bolsheviks in Petrograd on the grounds that they could not be expected to lead a revolution on an empty stomach. 'The workers will understand the necessity of it.'51 Since then the principle had been gradually extended so that, by the end of the civil war, it was also deemed that party members needed higher salaries and special rations, subsidized housing in apartments and hotels, access to exclusive shops and hospitals, private dachas, chauffeured cars, first-class railway travel and holidays abroad, not to mention countless other privileges once reserved for the tsarist elite.

Five thousand Bolsheviks and their families lived in the Kremlin and the special party hotels, such as the National and the Metropole, in the centre of Moscow. The Kremlin's domestic quarters had over 2,000 service staff and its own complex of shops, including a hairdresser and a sauna, a hospital and a nursery, and three vast restaurants with cooks trained in France. Its domestic budget in 1920, when all these services were declared free, was higher than that spent on social welfare for the whole of Moscow. In Petrograd the top party bosses lived in the Astoria Hotel, recently restored to its former splendour after the devastations of the revolution as the First House of the Soviets. From their suites, they could call for room service from the 'comrade waiters', who were taught to click their heels and call them 'comrade master'. Long-forgotten luxuries, such as champagne and caviar, perfume and toothbrushes, were supplied in abundance. The hotel was sealed to the public by a gang of burly guards in black leather jackets. In the evening government cars were lined up by the entrance waiting to take the elite residents off to the opera or to the Smolny for a banquet. 'Grishka' Zinoviev, the 'Boss of Petrograd', often came and went with his Chekist bodyguards and a string of assorted prostitutes.52

The top party leaders had their own landed estates requisitioned from the tsarist elite. Lenin occupied the estate of General Morozov at Gorki, just outside Moscow. Trotsky had one of the most resplendent estates in the country: it had once belonged to the Yusupovs. As for Stalin, he settled into the country mansion of a former oil magnate. There were dozens of estates dotted around the capital which the Soviet Executive turned over to the party leaders for their private use. Each had its own vast retinue of servants, as in the old days.53

Lower down the party ranks the rewards of office were not as great but the same venal attitude was much in evidence. Of course there were comrades who were motivated by the highest ideals, who lived modestly and who practised the egalitarianism which their leaders preached. Lenin himself lived in three small rooms of the Kremlin and was never motivated by financial gain. But there were bound to be many others for whom such ideals were mere rhetoric and whose motivation was more down-to-earth. Bribe-taking, thefts and the sale of public property were endemic within the party. Almost anything could be purchased from corrupt officials: foodstuffs, tobacco, alcohol, fuel, housing, guns and permits of all kinds. The wives and mistresses of the party bosses went around, in Zinoviev's words, 'with a jeweller's shop-window hanging round their necks'. Their homes were filled with precious objects earned as bribes. One official in the Foreign Ministry had two Sevres vases and a silver musket which had once belonged to Peter the Great. Not surprisingly, the most venal comrades tended to be found in the Cheka. After all, it was their job to 'squeeze the bourgeoisie'. Rabkrin (the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate) reported hundreds of cases where the Chekists had abused their power to extract money and jewels from their victims. Prisoners were often released in exchange for bribes. Even the Lubianka, the Moscow headquarters of the Cheka, was riddled with corruption. Bottles of cognac and other precious items would go mysteriously missing, while well-dressed prostitutes were often seen emerging from the secret buildings where these goods were stored.54

Lenin liked to explain the problem of corruption by the idea that impure elements from the petty-bourgeoisie had wormed their way into the Soviet apparatus as it became larger in the civil war. It is true that the lower levels of the state apparatus had many non-proletarians whose commitment to the Bolshevik regime was often mainly one of self-interest. But the problem of corruption was not confined to them. It engulfed the party as a whole, including those who had served it the longest and who tended to remain at its top. In short, the corruption was the result of the unbridled exercise of power.

It was not just a question of the Bolshevik monopoly of power in the Soviets. This had been completed in most of the cities by the summer of 1918 — well before the corruption became endemic. It was also a question of those Soviets being transformed from revolutionary bodies, in which the assembly was the supreme power and controlled the work of the executives, into bureaucratic organs of the party-state where all real power lay with the Bolsheviks in the executives and the assembly had no control over them. The corruption was a result of the bureaucratization just as much as of the monopolization of power.

This dual process involved a number of simultaneous developments within the party-state. There was no master plan. When the Bolsheviks came to power they had no set idea — other than the general urge to control and centralize — of how to structure the institutional relationships between the party and the Soviets. These relationships grew spontaneously out of the general conditions of the revolution. The local Soviets and party organs were highly decentralized and improvised in nature during the early months of 1918. Many of them declared their own local 'republics' and 'dictatorships' which blindly ignored the directives of Moscow. Indeed it had become so common for the rural Soviets to tear up the decrees of the central government for cigarette paper that when Lenin gave his agitators the Decree on Land to take into the countryside he also gave them old calendars to distribute in the hope that these might be torn up instead of the decree.55 Kaluga Province became proverbial for its resistance to centralized authority in 1918. There was a Sovereign Soviet Republic of Autonomous Volosts in Kaluga. It was the closest Russia ever came to an anarchist structure of power, with the Soviet of each volost empowered to set up border controls in its territory. Thus the agents of the state in Moscow were obliged to obtain a passport from each separate Soviet as they passed from one village to another. Only during the civil war, when they stressed the need for strict centralized control to mobilize the resources of the country, did the Bolsheviks plan the general structure of the party-state.

Their first priority was to win control of the Soviets and other vital organs, such as the trade unions. The Mensheviks and SRs still had a presence in these bodies, albeit as 'non-party' delegates after their parties were banned in the summer of 1918.* All the Communist electoral tactics employed in this century to subvert democratic bodies were first developed in the Russian civil war. The Bolsheviks engaged in widespread ballot-rigging and intimidation of the opposition. Voting at Soviet and trade union congresses was nearly always done by an open show of hands so that to vote against the Bolsheviks was to invite harassment from the Cheka, whose presence was always strongly felt at election meetings. With a secret ballot the Bolsheviks would not have won very many elections. 'Soviets without the Communists!' was increasingly the slogan of the workers and the peasants. But the Bolsheviks did away with this 'convention of bourgeois democracy' on the grounds that a secret ballot was no longer needed in the 'higher form of freedom' apparently enjoyed by the Soviet people.

* From 1918 to 1922 the ban on the Mensheviks and the SRs would be briefly lifted from time to time. But even during these periods the Bolsheviks would persecute their activists.


And with the system of open voting — which was the tradition of the Russian village commune — there were very few elections they could lose. Even the artists of the Marinsky Opera, hardly a bastion of Communism, voted unanimously for the Bolsheviks in the Soviet elections of 1919.

The enforcement of voting by party slates also worked to the advantage of the Bolsheviks. As the only legal party within the Soviets, they alone could meet as a caucus to co-ordinate strategy, whereas other parties and factions remained divided on the Congress floor. It meant that, even as a small minority, the Bolsheviks could often win elections in the local Soviets by presenting themselves as the only party capable of being held responsible for the actions of the central government. With a bare majority the Bolshevik slate in its entirety would often form the Soviet executive rather than seats being allocated according to the strength of the different factions. It was a case of winner takes all.

Once in command of the Soviet executives, the Bolsheviks aimed to centralize power under their control. Soviet congresses were seldom called and, in their absence, power was exercised by the Soviet executives along with their permanent departmental staffs, which were appointed in each policy area. The socialist opposition called this the ispolkomshchina, or executive dictatorship. During the revolutionary period the Soviet executives had been largely made up of peasant and worker volunteers. But they were now increasingly made up of full-time professional bureaucrats paid by the central party-state and only seldom re-elected. Plough-pushers were giving way to pen-pushers.

Increasingly, the work of the Soviets was driven by the party apparatus. The party was expanding its control into both the administrative and the political branches of the state. Until 1919, the party as such had all but disappeared as its forces entered the Soviets. The Central Committee barely existed — Lenin and Sverdlov did most of its work together on the back of an envelope — and had only the weakest connections with the local party cells. Some Bolsheviks even suggested that the party had served its purpose and could be abolished now that it controlled the Soviets. It seemed to many of the Bolsheviks that the party cells were, in Nikolai Krestinky's words, no more than the 'agitation departments of the local Soviets'. All this changed in the spring of 1919. For one thing, the sudden death of Sverdlov, who had stood at the head of both the party and the Soviet bureaucracies, suggested the need for separation between the two structures. For another, it now appeared to the Bolsheviks, struggling to cope with the chaotic Soviet apparatus in the civil war, that the party structure could be used to introduce more centralized forms of Soviet control.

Following the Eighth Party Congress in March the central party apparatus was built up in preparation to take over control of the Soviets. A five-man Politburo was established (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Kamenev and Krestinsky) to decide party policy. The staff of the Central Committee was increased five-fold during the course of the following year, with nine departments and various bureaux appended to it to formulate policies in various areas, together with a Party Secretariat and a special Organizational Bureau (Orgburo) to allocate party forces throughout the country. A strict centralism was imposed on the local party cells: their members were now told to carry out the orders of the higher party bodies rather than those of the Soviets. Since the chairmen of the local Soviets were invariably party members — and often the chairman of the local party cell — this effectively subordinated the whole of the Soviet apparatus to the party. The Bolsheviks began to talk of the Soviets and other public bodies, such as the trade unions, as 'transmission belts' of party rule. It was a phrase that Stalin would make famous.

The higher party organs tended increasingly to appoint their own special commissars to Soviet positions hitherto elected from below. By 1920, the Central Committee was making about 1,000 such postings a month. The provincial party organs made similar postings at the district and volost level. Os'kin's in Tula was one of the most notorious practitioners of this 'appointmentism'. Its aim was to increase the Centre's control over the local apparatus by sending down its most loyal and trusted comrades to take command of it in military style. But this was sometimes counter-productive. The roaming commissars were prone to alienate the local activists by riding roughshod over their interests. This gave rise to growing protests among the Bolshevik rank and file against the party's 'militarization', which resulted in the atrophy of the local party organizations and their alienation from the leadership. Perhaps even more importantly, the frequent use of such appointments also meant that many Soviets were ruled by party bosses wholly alien to the local region and thus perhaps more inclined to the abuse of power. Semen Kanatchikov was a typical representative of this nomadic commissar class. Although a native of Moscow province, he was appointed by the Central Committee to senior posts in Tomsk, Perm, Sverdlovsk, Omsk, the Tatar Republic and Petrograd during the course of the civil war. For nearly two years, he did not see his wife and two little children, whom he left in hiding in Barnaul. This 'appointmentism' could only add to the growing sense, both among the people and the party rank and file, that Soviet power was something alien and oppressive.56

* * * Not surprisingly for a party-state that aimed to control the whole of society, the Soviet bureaucracy ballooned spectacularly during the first years of Bolshevik rule. Whereas the tsarist state had left much in the hands of private and public institutions, such as the zemstvos and the charities, the Soviet regime abolished all of these and assumed direct responsibility for the activities which they had performed. The result was the bureaucratization of virtually every aspect of life in Russia, from banking and industry to education. From 1917 to 1921 the number of government employees more than quadrupled, from 576,000 to 2.4 million. By 1921, there were twice as many bureaucrats as workers in Russia. They were the social base of the regime. This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy. Moscow, in Lenin's words, was 'bloated with officials': it housed nearly a quarter of a million of them, one-third of the total workforce in the city by the end of 1920. The centre of Moscow became one vast block of offices, as committees were piled on top of councils and departments on top of commissions.57

Perhaps a third of the bureaucracy was employed in the regulation of the planned economy. It was an absurd situation: while the economy came to a standstill, its bureaucracy flourished. The country was desperately short of fuel but there was an army of bureaucrats to regulate its almost non-existent distribution. There was no paper in the shops but a mountain of it in the Soviet offices (90 per cent of the paper made in Russia during the first four years of Soviet rule was consumed by the bureaucracy). One of the few really busy factories was the Moscow Telephone Factory. Such was the demand of this new officialdom for telephones that it had a waiting list of 12,000 orders.58

This correlation — empty factories and full offices — was not accidental. The scarcer goods were, the harder it became to control their distribution, since the black market thrived on shortages, so that the state increased its intervention. The result was the proliferation of overlapping offices within the economy. Apart from the central commissariats (e.g. food, labour, transport) and their local organs in the Soviets, there was the network of organs subordinate to the VSNKh, the All-Russian Council for the Economy, including its local economic councils, the manufacturing trusts and the special departments for the regulation of individual commodities (Glavki). Then there were also the ad hoc agencies set up by the regime for military supply, like the Council of Labour and Defence or such acronymic monsters as Chusosnabarm (the Extraordinary Agency for the Supply of the Army), which in principle could over-rule the other economic organs. Of course, in practice, there was only confusion and rivalry between the different organs. The more the state tried to centralize control, the less real control it actually had. Lower down the scale, at factory level, the bureaucracy proved just as ineffective. For every 100 factory workers there were 16 factory officials by 1920. In some factories the figure was much higher: of the 7,000 people employed at the famous Putilov metal plant, only 2,000 were blue-collar workers; the rest were petty officials and clerks. Such were the material advantages of a white-collar job, not least access to food and goods in short supply, that such parasites were bound to grow in number as the economic crisis deepened. All the strike resolutions of these years complained about factory officials 'living off the backs of the workers'.59


Lenin liked to claim that the problem of bureaucratism was a legacy of the tsarist era. It is true that the Soviet bureaucracy inherited the culture of the tsarist one. But by 1921 it was also ten times bigger than the tsarist state. There was some continuity of the personnel, especially in the central organs of the state. Over half the bureaucrats in the Moscow offices of the commissariats in August 1918 had worked in some branch of the administration before October 1917. Many of the central organs also employed armies of young bourgeois ladies, most of whom had never worked before, to do the petty paper work. One eye-witness recalls them walking by their hundreds every morning through the snow from the Moscow suburbs to the centre of the city. There they worked all day in unheated offices, their wet shoes and clothes never drying out, before walking back to the suburbs to help feed their hungry relatives. Otherwise, however, the lower you went down the apparatus the more it was dominated by the lower classes entering officialdom for the first time. The majority of these elements, especially in provincial towns, came from the lower-middle classes — what Marxists called the 'petty bourgeoisie': bookkeepers, shop assistants and petty clerks; small-time traders and artisans; activists of the co-operatives; engineers and factory officials; and all those who might have once worked as technicians or professionals in the zemstvos and municipal organs. As for the workers, in whose name the regime had been founded, they represented a very small proportion of those who entered the Soviet bureaucracy: certainly no more than 10 per cent (based on those with blue-collar occupations before 1917). Even in the management of industry workers made up less than one-third of officials. It is reasonable to conclude that most of these lower-middle strata were attracted to the Soviet regime less by their own revolutionary ideals than by the relatively high wages and short working-hours of its officials. It was certainly a more attractive prospect than the cold and hunger that awaited those from the older bourgeoisie who chose instead to turn their backs on it. The typical day of a Soviet official was spent gossiping in corridors, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, or standing in queues for the special rations that went only to the Soviet elite.60

In the countryside the influence of the Soviet regime penetrated further than the tsarist had. During the civil war the majority of the Soviet executives at volost level were transformed from democratic organs of peasant revolution into bureaucratic organs of state taxation. In the Volga region, where this process has been studied, 71 per cent of the volost Soviet executives had at least one Bolshevik member by the autumn of 1919, compared with only 38 per cent in the previous spring. Two-thirds of all the executive members were registered as Bolsheviks. This gave the regime a foothold in the volost townships: in the volost Soviet executives, which like their counterparts at the higher level concentrated power in their own hands at the expense of the Soviet congress, the Bolsheviks could count on a more or less reliable body to enforce the food levies and mobilizations. Having lost control of the Soviet, the peasants retreated to their villages, rallied round their communes and turned their backs on the volost Soviet. The growing conflict between the peasantry and party-state was thus fought on the same battle-lines — between the villages and the volost township — as the conflict had been fought between the peasantry and the gentry-state.61

The key to this process of Bolshevik state-building was the support of that young and literate class of peasants who had left the villages in the war. Os'kin was a typical example. In the Volga region 60 per cent of the members of the volost Soviet executives were aged between 18 and 35 (compared with 31 per cent of the electorate) and 66 per cent were literate (compared with 41 per cent). This was the generation who had benefited from the boom in rural schooling at the turn of the century and had been mobilized during the war. In 1918 they had returned to their villages newly skilled in military techniques and conversant with the two great ideologies of the urban world, socialism and atheism. The peasants were often inclined to view them as their natural leaders during the revolution on the land. The old peasant patriarchs, like Maliutin in Andreevskoe, were generally not literate enough to cope with the complex tasks of administration now that the gentry and the rural intelligentsia were no longer there to guide them. To many of these peasant soldiers, whose aspirations had been broadened by their absence from the village, the prospect of working in the Soviet appeared as a chance to rise up in the world. After the excitement of the army it could often seem a depressing prospect to have to return to the drudgery of peasant farming and to the 'dark' world of the village. By working in the Soviet and joining the party they could enhance their own prestige and power. They could get a clean office job, with all its perks and privileges, and an entry ticket into the new urban-dominated civilization of the Soviet regime. Throughout the peasant world Communist regimes have been built on the fact that it is the ambition of every literate peasant son to become a clerk.

* * * Peasants made up the majority of those who flooded into the party. From 1917 to 1920, 1.4 million people joined the Bolsheviks — and two-thirds of these came from peasant backgrounds. Joining the party was the surest way to gain promotion through the ranks of the Soviet bureaucracy: fewer than one in five Bolshevik members actually worked in a factory or a farm by the end of 1919. The top official posts were always given to Bolsheviks, often regardless of their skills or expertise. The Ukrainian Timber Administration, for example, was headed by a first-year medical student, while ordinary carpenters, metal workers, and even in one case an organ-grinder, were placed in charge of its departments at the provincial level.62


The Bolshevik leaders encouraged the mass recruitment of new party members. With constant losses from the civil war, there was always a need for more party fodder. Special Party Weeks were periodically declared, when the usual requirement for recommendations was suspended and agitators were sent out to the factories and villages to encourage and enrol as many members as they could. The Party Week of October 1919, at the height of the White advance, more than doubled the size of the party with 270,000 new members signing up.63

But the Bolsheviks were also rightly worried that such indiscriminate recruitments might reduce the party's quality. The hegemony of the working class within the party — although always actually a fiction since most of the leading Bolsheviks were from the intelligentsia — now seemed under threat from the peasantry. The mass influx of these lower-class members also reduced the levels of literacy, a crucial handicap for a party aiming to dominate the state administration. Less than 8 per cent of the party membership in 1920 had any secondary education; 62 per cent had only primary schooling; while 30 per cent had no schooling at all. Such was the rudimentary level of intelligence among the mass of the local officials that almost any scrap of paper, so long as it carried a large stamp and seal, could be enough to impress them as a government document. One Englishman travelled throughout Russia with no other passport than his tailor's bill from Jermyn Street which he flaunted in the face of the local officials. With the bill's impressive letter heading, its large red seal and signature, no official had dared to question it.64

As for the political literacy of the rank and file, this was just as rudimentary. A survey of women workers in Petrograd who had joined the party during the civil war found that most of them had never heard or thought about such words as 'socialism' or 'politics' before 1917. The Moscow Party found in 1920 that many of its members did not even know who Kamenev was (Chairman of the Moscow Soviet). Such ignorance was by no means confined to lower-class Bolsheviks. At a training school for Bolshevik journalists none of the class could say who Lloyd George or Clemenceau were. Some of them even thought that imperialism was a republic somewhere in England.65

And yet in an important way this complete lack of sophistication was one of the party's greatest strengths. For whatever the abuses of its rank-and-file officials, their one virtue in the common people's eyes was the fact that they spoke their own simple language, the fact that they dressed and behaved much like them, the fact in short that they were 'one of us'. This gave the Bolsheviks a symbolic appeal, one which their propaganda ruthlessly exploited, as a 'government of the people', even if in fact they betrayed this from the start. For many of the lower classes this symbolic familiarity was enough for them to identify themselves with the Bolshevik regime, even if they thought that it was bad, and to support it against the Whites (who were not 'one of us') when they threatened to break through.

No doubt many of these local Bolsheviks were genuinely committed to the ideals of the revolution: political sophistication and sincerity are hardly correlative in politics, as anyone from the advanced democracies must know. Yet others had joined the party for the advantages that it could bring. Bolshevik leaders constantly warned of the dangers of 'petty-bourgeois careerists and self-seekers' corrupting the party ranks. They were particularly disturbed to find out that a quarter of the civil war members in senior official positions had joined the Bolsheviks from another party, mostly from the Mensheviks and the SRs. The counter-revolution seemed to be invading the party itself. Trotsky called these infiltrators 'radishes' — red on the outside but white inside.

Actually, the Bolshevik leaders had little real idea of what was happening to their own party. They interpreted its growing membership in simple terms of class when the real position was much more complex. The mass of the rank and file were neither peasants nor workers, but the children of a profound social crisis which had broken down such neat divisions. The typical male Bolshevik of these years was both an ex-peasant and an ex-worker. He had probably left the village as a young boy during the industrial boom of the 1890s, roamed from factory to factory in search of work, become involved in the workers' movement, gone through various prisons, fought in the war, and returned to the northern cities, only to disperse across the countryside, during and after 1917. He was a rootless and declassed figure — like the revolution, a product of his times.

In many ways the new Bolsheviks were far more submissive than the old ones had ever been. It resulted from their lack of education. While they were able to mouth mechanically a few Marxist phrases, they were not sufficiently educated to think freely for themselves or indeed to question the party leaders on abstract policy issues. Many of the workers had been educated in adult technical schools or, like Kanatchikov, at evening classes. They were essentially practical men with a strong bent towards self-improvement. All of them were concerned, in one way or another, with the problems of modernization. They sought to abolish the backward peasant Russia of their own past and to make society more rational and equal. There was nothing theoretical or abstract in their Marxism: it was a practical, black-and-white dogma that gave them a 'scientific' explanation of the social injustice they themselves had encountered in their lives, and provided a 'scientific' remedy. The party leaders were the masters of this science and, if they said the peasants were hoarding grain, or that the Mensheviks were counter-revolutionaries, then this must be so. Only this can explain the readiness of the rank and filers to do their leaders' bidding, even when they could see that the result would be disastrous for their own localities. The persistence of the local Bolsheviks with the food requisitions in the Volga region during the autumn of 1920 — in spite of the first signs of impending famine there — is an obvious and depressing example of how this grim and unquestioning obedience, which the Bolsheviks called 'discipline' and 'hardness', had got the better of individual conscience. The good comrade did what he was told; he was content to leave all critical thinking to the Central Committee.

And yet, though docile in terms of politics, the massed ranks of the Bolshevik Party were by no means easy to control. It was partly a problem of corrupt local cliques taking over the provincial party cells. In Nizhnyi Novgorod, for example, everything was run by the local mafia of Bolshevik officials in alliance with the black-marketeers. They defied Moscow's orders and for several months sabotaged the efforts of its agent, a young Anastas Mikoyan, sent down by the Orgburo to impose control. But to a certain extent the whole of the party apparatus had also developed as a clientele system with many of the leaders at national level each controlling their own private networks of patronage in the provinces or in individual branches of the state. Lunacharsky filled the Commissariat of Enlightenment with his own friends and associates. Even Lenin gave several Sovnarkom posts to his oldest friends and relatives: Bonch-Bruevich and Fotieva, both close associates from his Geneva days, were made secretaries; Krupskaya was appointed Deputy Commissar for Education; Anna Ul'ianova, Lenin's sister, was placed in charge of child welfare; while her husband, Mark Elizarov, was made People's Commissar of Railways. But of all the party patrons, Stalin was by far the most powerful. Through his control of the Orgburo he was increasingly able to place his own supporters in many of the top provincial posts. The effect of all these placements was to transform the party into a loose set of ruling dynasties, each of them organized on their own 'family' or clan lines. It was thus inclined to break up into factions.66

Lenin failed to understand the nature of his own party's bureaucratic problem. He could not see that the Bolshevik bureaucracy was fast becoming a distinct social caste with its own privileged interests apart from those of the working masses it claimed to represent. He responded to the abuses of the bureaucracy with administrative measures, as if a few minor technical adjustments were enough to eradicate the problem, whereas what was needed, at the very least, was a radical reform of the whole political system. Most of his measures proved counter-productive.

First, he tried to stop the build-up of corrupt local fiefdoms by ordering the party's leading cadres to be regularly moved by the Orgburo from post to post. Yet this merely widened the distance between the leaders and the rank and file and thus weakened the accountability of the former. It also increased Stalin's private patronage as the head of the Orgburo.


Then Lenin ordered periodic purges to weed out the undesirables who were attracted to the party as it grew. The first purge was carried out in the summer of 1918: it halved the membership from 300,000 to 150,000. During the spring of 1919 a second major purge was implemented which reduced the membership by 46 per cent. And once again, in the summer of 1920, 30 per cent of the members were purged from the party. Most of these purges were carried out at the expense of peasants and non-Russians, who were deemed the weakest link in social terms. The frequent call-up of party members to the Front also served as a form of purge since it encouraged the less than committed to tear up their party cards. The effect of all these purges was to destabilize the party rank and file (only 30 per cent of those who had joined the party between 1917 and 1920 still remained in it by 1922) and this was hardly likely to encourage loyalty.67

Finally Lenin ordered the regular inspection of the apparatus. It was reminiscent of the tsarist regime with its own constant revisions which Gogol had satirized in The Government Inspector. A whole People's Commissariat known as Rabkrin was constructed for this purpose. Formed in February 1920 with Stalin at its head, it combined the two functions of state inspection and workers' control which had previously been carried out by separate bodies. Lenin's idea was to fight red tape and improve efficiency through constant reviews of all state institutions by the inspectorates of workers and peasants. In this way he thought the state could be made democratically accountable. But the result was just the reverse. Rabkrin soon became a bureaucratic monster (and another base of Stalin's growing patronage) with an estimated 100,000 officials, the majority of them white-collar workers, in its local cells by the end of 1920.68 Instead of helping to cut down the bureaucracy, Rabkrin had merely increased it.

* * * 'How do I live? — that is not a pleasant tale,' Gorky wrote to Ekaterina in February 1919. 'Only the Commissars live a pleasant life these days. They steal as much as they can from the ordinary people in order to pay for their courtesans and their unsocialist luxuries.' Gorky was not alone in bitterly resenting the privileges of the Communist elite. Popular anecdotes and graffiti ridiculed the Bolsheviks as the real Russian bourgeoisie in contrast to the phantom one of their propaganda. 'Where do all the chickens go?', 'Why are there no sausages?' — there were a hundred variations of the riddle but the answer was always the same: 'The Communists have eaten them all.' The word 'comrade', once an expression of collective pride, became a form of abuse. One woman, addressed as such on a Petrograd tram, was heard to reply: 'What's all this comrade! Take your "comrade" and go to hell!' Senior officials were bombarded with complaints about Communists living off the backs of the common people'. Workers roundly condemned the new Red elite. One factory resolution from Perm demanded that 'all the leather jackets and caps of the commissars should be used to make shoes for the workers'.69

The Brusilovs had a special reason to be resentful. They were forced to share their small Moscow apartment with a certain commissar — a former soldier whom the general had once saved from the death penalty at the Front — together with his girlfriend and his mother. Brusilov describes the situation vividly:

Coarse, insolent and constantly drunk, with a body covered in scars, he was now of course an important person, close to Lenin etc. Now I wonder why I saved his life! Our apartment, which had been clean and pleasant until he came, was thereafter spoiled by drinking bouts and fights, thievery and foul language. He would sometimes go away for a few days and come back with sacks of food, wine and fruit. We were literally starving but they had white flour, butter, and whatever else they cared for. The main thing we resented was their hoard of fuel. That was the freezing winter of 1920, when icicles hung on our living-room walls. The primus had long ceased to work and we were freezing. But they had a large iron stove and as much fuel as they liked.70

Complaints about the Bolshevik elite were also heard in the party itself. There was a groundswell of feeling in the lower party ranks that the leadership had become too distant from the rank and file. Many of these criticisms would come to be expressed by the Democratic Centralists and the Workers' Opposition, the two great factions which rocked the party leadership in 1920—I (see pages 731—2). As one Old Bolshevik from Tula wrote to Lenin in July 1919: 'We have cut ourselves off from the masses and made it difficult to attract them. The old comradely spirit of the party has died completely. It has been replaced by a new one-man rule in which the party boss runs everything. Bribe-taking has become universal: without it our Communist comrades would simply not survive.' Writing to Trotsky the following May, Yoffe expressed similar fears about the degeneration of the party:

There is enormous inequality and one's material position largely depends on one's post in the party; you'll agree this is a dangerous situation. I have been told, for example, that before the last purge the Old Bolsheviks were terrified of being kicked out mainly because they would lose their right to reside in the National Hotel and other privileges connected with this. The old party spirit has disappeared, the spirit of revolutionary selflessness and comradely devotion! Today's youth is being brought up in these new conditions: that is what makes one fear most for our Party and the Revolution!71

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