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The New Stalinist Elites

As well as purging the Party, Stalin encouraged the emergence of a new élite by promoting workers from the factory floor into white-collar and administrative jobs. Stalin's industrial revolution had produced a huge demand for technicians, functionaries and managers in all branches of the economy.

Stalin's 'revolution from above' was thus matched by a social revolution from below. It created significant upward social mobility for loyal servitors from lower-class origins (and a more sudden downward movement for others).

EXTRACT: Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (Penguin, 2007), pp. 155-6.

Through the purging of the old and the recruitment of the new, the nature of the Party was gradually evolving in the 1930s. The Old Bolsheviks were losing ground, while a new class of Party bureaucrats was emerging from the industrial rank and file. This new class was made up largely of workers promoted to administrative posts (vydvizhentsy). These were the sons (and very rarely, the daughters) of peasants or workers who had been trained in the FZUs and other technical institutes during the first Five Year Plan. This cohort of functionaries became the mainstay of the Stalinist regime. By the end of Stalin's reign, it would make up a large proportion of the senior Party leadership (57 of the top 115 ministers in the Soviet government of 1952, including Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Gromyko and Alexei Kosygin, were vydvizhentsy of the first Five Year Plan).

This emerging Soviet élite was generally conformist and obedient to the leadership that had created it. With only seven years of education, on average, few of these new Party leaders had much capacity for independent political thought. They took their ideas from the statements of the Party leaders in the press, and parroted their language of propaganda slogans and political jargon. Their actual knowledge of Marxist-Leninist ideology was easily contained in the The Short Course (1938), Stalin's history of the Party, which they all learned by heart. But they identified with the Stalinist regime. They linked their personal values to its interests, and all of them were eager to advance their own careers by implementing orders from above.

© 2014 Orlando Figes | All Rights Reserved