Posts Tagged 'soviet union'

The Purging of Local Cadres and “Appanage Princes” in Russia

Boris Efimov,  "Ezhov's Iron Glove" (1937)

Boris Efimov, "Ezhov's Iron Glove" (1937)

J. Arch Getty writes about the 1935 party membership purge (or proverka [verification] program):

Since the late 1920s, regional party leaders had become powerful political actors on a par with feudal barons.  They controlled the police, courts, trade unions, agriculture, and industry in their territories.  Responsible to Moscow for fulfillment of plans, they ran hierarchical organizations based on patronage and personal power.  Stalin had referred to them in 1934 as “appanage princes,” who pigeonholed Moscow’s orders rather than fulfilling them…

Because membership in the Trotskyist or Zinovievist organizations implied party membership dating back into the 1920s, “genuine” ex-oppositionists were likely to have workerd their way up from the rank and file into leadership positions in local political machines…The tendency of local elites to deflect the purge downward to the rank and file was almost certainly a response to the need to find enemies somewhere without risking the loss of experienced members of their own machines, even if they had dubious backgrounds.  Purge discourse was flexible.

The Central Committee was not satisfied with this result.  The frequent intervention from Moscow to stop local verifications and restart them, along with subsequent criticism of local administration…are evidence of Moscow’s displeasure…

Regional party committees had begun the proverka verification in May 1935.  The following month, however, many of them were brought up short by the Central Committee, which criticized them for paying only cursory attention to the process and for hastily expelling large numbers or ordinary rank-and-file members (and few leading comrades) from their own machines…

Moscow party leaders were concerned that the mass expulsions could create embittered enemies among ex-party members…Moscow party officials not only kept an eye on those expelled but checked into their moods as well.  Sometimes these ex-members were characterized as enemies.  On other occasions, Yezhov and others explicitly noted that most ex-members were not…(Getty, 205-209)

But despite the efforts and concerns of the Central Committee:

the screening operations remained in the hands of the local leaders, who naturally used them to their own advantage

Sometimes, though, the expulsions threatened well-connected members of local political machines.  This often happened at local purge meetings when rank-and-file party members made accusations against their superiors.  Such criticism from below had to be blunted and reversed by the local elite in order to protect “their people.” (ibid., 222)


Getty, J. Arch, Oleg V. Naumov and Benjamin Sher.  The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.


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