Seventeenth Party Congress

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

Unity and acclamation for the wise decisions of comrade Stalin were on full display at the Seventeenth Party Congress which met in the Great Hall of the Kremlin from January 26 to February 10, 1934. This was the first such gathering since 1930, and in the intervening three-and-a-half years the country had been buffeted by the storms of collectivization, force-paced industrialization, upheaval in the professions, a purge of the party’s own ranks, and the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany. Nevertheless, there was much for the nearly two thousand delegates to celebrate during this “Congress of Victors.” The preceding year’s harvest, always an important indicator of economic prospects, had been plentiful. Thanks to the steadfastness of the party, enormous progress had been made on the industrial front including the completion of several key construction projects. The more extreme advocates of proletarianization of the arts and professions had been curbed, and former Oppositionists within the party had acknowledged their sins and, at the congress, heaped praise on Stalin.

Yet, all was not necessarily as it seemed. Some historians have claimed that several regional party secretaries, unhappy with the extent of the cult of personality surrounding Stalin, met privately to discuss his replacement as General Secretary. The most likely substitute was Sergei Kirov, the First Secretary of the Leningrad party organization. Whether Kirov knew of this cabal and if so, how he reacted, remain in the realm of speculation. No less tantalizing but still lacking hard evidence are reports that Stalin received many fewer of the delegates’ votes than did Kirov for the new Central Committee.

Whatever the case, the Congress of Victors turned out to be a congress of victims. Over the next four years, 1108 of the 1966 delegates were arrested and either disappeared into the gulag or were executed. The Seventeenth Congress, then, was the last at which those with pre-revolutionary and civil war experience in the party predominated.

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