chapter  9
22 Pages

The Bolshevik old guard and the upstarts, 1924–9

During NEP the Bolshevik Party turned from the fighting machine of 1920 into an administrative elite. The old core of intelligentsia Bolsheviks was drowned in the sea of new recruits. From 1924 to 1926, in just two years, 800,000 new members were admitted.1 Their views, tastes, and attitudes to the social groups they lived among determined the perceptions of numerous party organizations.2 Some have argued that the role models the young Communists adopted and the kind of behavioral norms they practiced contributed to the rise of dictatorial culture among the Bolsheviks.3 Studying various components of the Communist movement, be it the 25,000ers (the young workers mobilized to collectivize agriculture in 1929), the Komsomol or young party recruits, revisionist historians have found manifestations of enthusiastic revolutionary ardor and radical refutation of the past as well as the more benign political discourse of the older Bolsheviks.4 Sheila Fitzpatrick interpreted the incorporation of hundreds of thousands of upstarts as evidence of Bolsheviks’ “commitment to a proletarian identity.”5 One historian has argued that the Bolsheviks were looking for allies among the young and unskilled recruits of the Lenin levy.6 Such observations may suggest that the imposition of the iron fist of the Stalinist dictatorship over the party and society was based on social impulses from below.7 This idea is one of the main arguments of the “revisionist” school of thought. Young recruits are seen as propelled by revolutionary ardor ignited by the social tensions of NEP. The Bolshevik Party under NEP was becoming larger, younger, more radical, and more revolutionary, thus providing Stalin with the necessary machinery for launching his revolution from above.