Soviet Union Table of Contents
The standards for admission into the CPSU required that a person be at least eighteen years old, have a good personal record, and possess some knowledge of the principles of Marxism-Leninism. Those who wanted to become party members had to secure references from at least three party members of at least five years' standing. In the case of prospective members entering the party from the Komsomol, one of the references had to have been written by a member of the Komsomol city or district committee. These references attested to the candidate's moral, civic, and professional qualities.
Only the PPO general meeting could accept or reject an application for membership (see Primary Party Organization , this ch.). Before the general meeting, however, the PPO secretary reviewed that person's application, and the secretary's recommendations counted heavily in the selection process. The district or town party committee then confirmed the acceptance of the prospective member. Upon acceptance, the individual became a candidate (nonvoting) member of the party for one year. The new candidate paid an admission fee of 2 rubles (for value of the ruble--see Glossary) and monthly dues that varied from 10 kopeks to 3 percent of salary, depending on the person's income.
During the candidate stage, the individual had to faithfully carry out responsibilities assigned by the party. Candidates had to demonstrate their ability to cope with the obligations of party membership, which included attendance at party meetings, improvements in labor productivity, and efforts to strengthen one's understanding of Marxism-Leninism. After one year, the candidate had to again solicit recommendations from three members of five years' standing and undergo a review by the PPO secretary. The PPO general meeting then voted on the candidate's application for full membership, and the district or city organization confirmed the acceptance of the full member.
The Party Rules defined many obligations for CPSU members. For example, the party member had to resolutely execute the general line and directives of the party, explain to the nonparty masses the foreign and domestic policies of the CPSU, and facilitate the strengthening of the party's bonds with the people. In addition, party members had to strive to increase productivity in their regular jobs, improve the quality of their work, and "inject into the economy the achievements of science and technology." The Party Rules required that members participate in party activities, broaden their political horizons, and struggle against any manifestation of bourgeois ideology and religious prejudices. Party members had to strictly observe the norms of communist morality, place social interests higher than personal interests, and exhibit modesty and orderliness. Party members also undertook criticism of other members and selfcriticism in meetings. Criticism and self-criticism uncovered conflicts, mistakes, and shortcomings that resulted from personal or organizational inadequacies. Once flaws were uncovered, criticism and self-criticism generated peer pressure to remove the problem. Finally, party members had to consistently promote the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and work to strengthen the defense forces of the country.
In addition to their obligations, full members of the CPSU had certain rights. They participated in elections of candidates to party organs, and they could be chosen for positions in the hierarchy. At party meetings, conferences, meetings of party committees, and in the party press, party members could freely discuss issues connected with the policy and activities of the party. According to the Party Rules, party members could criticize any party organ and any other party member (including members of the leadership) at party meetings, plenums and conferences, and congresses at all levels of the party hierarchy. The norms of democratic centralism precluded such criticism, however. Any party member brave enough to make such criticism would have been subject to party discipline and possible exclusion from the CPSU. A party member had the right to participate in party meetings, bureau sessions, and committees when these bodies discussed that person's activities or behavior. In addition, a party member could submit questions, statements, and suggestions to any party body, including the Central Committee, and demand a reply.
The party could take several forms of disciplinary action against members who broke its rules. The lightest penalty was a reprimand, followed by a censure. Both of these measures were entered into the member's permanent party record. A harsher punishment was reduction to candidate status for one year. For severe rule infractions, a party member could be expelled. The stigma attached to expulsion from the party remained with the individual throughout his life and precluded career advancement, access to better housing facilities, and educational opportunities for the person's children. In some instances, expelled party members have lost high-status positions.
Another form of disciplinary action, which occurred on a wider scale, was the so-called "exchange of party documents." This entailed a review of the party's membership and discussions between party members and their superiors, followed by replacement of old party cards. The exchange of party documents provided an occasion for the CPSU to rid itself of members who breached party discipline. Party sources reported that exchanges of party cards were not purges (see The Period of the Purges , ch. 2). Nevertheless, the Russian word chistka, which means purge, was the term the party used to describe these exchanges. The last exchange of party documents occurred in 1975.
Several reasons accounted for the desire of Soviet citizens to join the party, despite the stringent obligations it placed upon its members and the formal nature of their rights. The primary reason for joining the party was opportunity for career advancement and social mobility. Party membership was a prerequisite for promotion to managerial positions in Soviet society. In addition, party membership opened up the possibility for travel abroad, admission to special shops for consumer goods, access to Western media, and cash bonuses for work. Party membership also provided the chance for upward mobility from the working class or peasantry into professional, white-collar positions in the party apparatus. Children of lower-class parents tended to enter this "political class" in order to raise their status. Having become members of this class, these people could then sure their offspring access to the amenities Soviet life has to offer.
Party membership had other, less tangible rewards. It enabled an individual to claim membership in an organization linked to Russian historical tradition, to the Bolshevik Revolution, and to the world-historical movement the CPSU claimed to lead. In addition, as the dominant political institution in society, the party offered the most important outlet for political participation. These benefits encouraged a feeling of in-group solidarity with other members of the CPSU and a sense of civic efficacy.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents