The Great Bolshevik Cleansing

Courtesy Reuters

THE Russians have a word "chistka" which means "purge." Foreigners have been in the habit of stretching this word to cover all aspects of the "governmental housecleaning" which has been going on in the Soviet Union in recent years. Called by any other name, this rapid turnover in Soviet offices would seem less formidable. In capitalist countries, managers and directors are dismissed or succeed each other in numbers large enough to make impressive totals; and in Russia itself the recently promulgated doctrine of the "career open to the talents" has speeded up the normal process of personnel replacement. In Russian usage, many of these dismissals do not come under the word "purge." That term is applied specifically to the process by which Communist Party members are brought to book -- and in recent times, often arrested and even executed -- in order to preserve the Party's orthodoxy and integrity.

Yet even in this restricted sense, the most recent Bolshevik purge has been of large dimensions. In December 1932, the All-Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party listed 2,000,000 members and 1,200,000 candidates (Communists of slightly junior status). Two years later, on January 1, 1935, after the traditional purging process had been completed, the Party numbered 1,655,000 members and 334,000 candidates. One out of every three had been expelled. Since then further expulsions have taken place as a result of a "verification of party documents," an "exchange of party documents," and the campaign for political vigilance. Although no detailed figures have been published on the extent of these latest cleansings, it is believed in Moscow that in November 1937 the Communist Party numbered approximately 1,500,000 members and candidates, less than half its strength five years before.

Even these figures do not indicate the full cost to the Party of its latest campaign to keep its structure "monolithic" -- to use a favorite Communist adjective. The highest organ of the Party between congresses is the Central Committee. At the last congress, held in January and February 1934, a Central Committee was elected containing 71 members. Less than

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