Lenin Enrollment

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

The Communist Party, which considered itself “the vanguard of the proletariat,” was obsessed with social class. Whether defined in terms of social origin or occupation, class was the key index by which the party determined who was a friend and who was an enemy. It was used as the basis for determining citizenship rights, access to higher education, and, of course, party membership. It was all the more distressing then that the party census of 1922 revealed that only 15 percent of all members were working in manual industrial jobs as opposed to 63 percent who listed white-collar occupations. As for new recruits, only 12 percent were workers by actual employment.

In December 1923, the Politbiuro and the Presidium of the Central Control Commission decided to initiate a mass enrollment campaign to bring 100,000 workers into the party. This decision, approved by the Thirteenth Party Conference, was executed as the “Lenin Enrollment” in honor of the just deceased leader. In the course of 1924 and 1925, 638,070 people entered the party, of whom 439,715 (68.9 percent) were workers by “social situation.” Total party membership, which had stood at 446,089 on January 1, 1924, reached slightly over one million by January 1926. Although the Left Opposition’s accusation that the triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev was attempting to swamp the party with presumably obedient neophytes seems plausible, other motives–the leadership’s genuine alarm at the deproletarianization of the party, and its desire to increase the weight of the party in the factories at a time when raising productivity was high on the agenda–may have been involved as well.

Who were the proletarians who joined the party as a result of the Lenin enrollment? In Moscow, the majority were skilled male workers under the age of thirty-four. About half had served in the Red Army and most had had some experience in factory committee or trade union work. Although the leadership was counting on the enrollment of these workers to overcome the breach between the party and its putative social base, there is considerable evidence that they proved to be less pliable and more adamant about representing the interests of their fellow workers than might have been assumed.

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