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The Party elections in 1937: a `revolution'

Finally, in February 1937, a crucial meeting of the Central Committee addressed the question of democracy and the struggle against bureaucratization. It was that same meeting that decided upon the organization of the purge against enemy elements.

It is important to note that several days of the February 1937 Central Committee dealt with the problem of democracy within the Party, democracy which should reinforce the revolutionary character of the organization, hence its capacity to discover enemy elements that had infiltrated it. Reports by Stalin and Zhdanov  dealt with the development of criticism and self-criticism, about the necessity of cadres to submit reports to their respective bases. For the first time, secret elections were organized in the Party, with several candidates and after a public discussion of all candidatures. The February 27, 1937 Central Committee resolution indicates:

`The practice of co-opting members of party committees must be liquidated .... each party member must be afforded an unlimited right of recalling candidates and criticizing them.'

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The Preparation of Party Organizations for Elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet under the New Electoral System and the Corresponding Reorganization of Party Political Work (27 February 1937). McNeal,  p. 187.

When the German fascists occupied the Soviet Union, they discovered all the archives of the Party Committee for the Western Region of Smolensk. All the meetings, all the discussions, all the Regional Committee and Central Committee directives, everything was there. The archive contains the proceedings of the electoral meetings that followed the Central Committee meeting of February 1937. It is therefore possible to know how things actually took place, at the local level.

Arch Getty  described a number of typical examples of the 1937 elections in the Western Region. For the positions of district committee, thirty-four candidates were first presented for seven positions. There was a discussion of each candidate. Should a candidate wish to withdraw, a vote was made to see if the members accepted. All votes were secret.

Finally, during the May 1937 electoral campaign, for the 54,000 Party base organizations for which we have data, 55 per cent of the directing committees were replaced. In the Leningrad region, 48 per cent of the members of the local committees were replaced.

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Ibid. , p. 158.

Getty  noted that this was the most important, most general and most effective antibureaucratic campaign that the Party ever effected.

But at the Regional level, which constituted the main level of decision-making, very little changed. In the Regions, since the beginning of the twenties, individuals and clans had solidly entrenched themselves and held a virtual power monopoly. Even this massive antibureaucratic campaign could not budge them. The Smolensk archives contain the written proof.

The Party Secretary of the Western Region Committee was named Rumiantsev.  He was a Central Committee member, as were several other regional leaders. The report of the meeting electing the Regional Secretary is in the Smolensk archive. Five pages state that the situation was good and satisfactory. Then follow nine pages of harsh criticism that indicate that nothing was working well. All the criticisms that the Central Committee had formulated against bureaucracy within the Party were taken up by the base against Rumiantsev:  arbitrary expulsions, worker complaints that were never treated by the Regional Committee, lack of attention to the economic development of the region, leadership with no connection with the base, etc. The two opposing lines within the meeting were clearly expressed in the proceedings. The document shows that the base was able to express itself, but that it was incapable of getting rid of the clans that held a firm grip on the regional apparatus.

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Ibid. , p. 162.

The same thing took place in almost all the big cities. Krinitskii,  the first secretary of Saratov, had been criticized by name in the Party press by Zhdanov.  However, he succeeded in getting himself re-elected. Under fire from both the central leadership of the Party and from the base, the regional `fiefdoms' were able to hold on.

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Ibid. , p. 164.

They would be destroyed by the Great Purge of 1937--1938.

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Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995