Memorandum by the Chargé in the Soviet Union ( Henderson )30


The following is a summary of a conversation which I had on October 6, 1936, with a Soviet official who is known to enjoy the confidence of the Kremlin.

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B. The Meaning of Party Democracy.

I told my informant that I would appreciate it if he would tell me what was his understanding of the term “Party democracy.” I said that I had read statements made by prominent Bolshevik theoreticians to the effect that the Bolshevik conception of “democracy” was quite different from the meaning given to that word in the so-called capitalist world. He replied that at the present time the Bolshevik conception of the term “Party democracy” was:

First of all an absolutely monolithic Party containing no trace of factions or opposition blocs;
Freedom of discussion of matters with respect to which no Party decision had as yet been made;
Absence of critical comment with respect to any decision which had been made and an enthusiastic endeavor on the part of all Party members to carry out to the full all Party decisions;
Wholehearted loyalty to the Party leaders.
An attitude more sympathetic than that which has been entertained in the past towards, and a deeper understanding of the value of, the democracies of the West.

He added that the question of genuine loyalty towards the Soviet leaders was playing just as important a role in the present purging of the Party and the persecutions of the enemies of the State as the question of Trotskiism. Persons who formerly had been connected with Trotski and who had been able to convince the responsible authorities that they had been sincere in transferring their allegiance to Stalin were not being molested at the present time. Rakovski, the former Soviet Ambassador to France, for instance, had been one of Trotski’s closest friends. During the last few years, however, he had conducted himself in such a manner that his loyalty was unquestioned and he was being given increasingly important positions in the Party and the State apparatus. Men like Radek, however, whose loyalty to Stalin was believed to be more that of the mouth than of the heart were likely to fare badly. From now on if a man once lost the confidence of the Party, he would probably never be given another chance to redeem himself. The Party had at its disposal so large a number of able men that it no longer found it necessary to make use [Page 305] of the services of persons regarding the integrity of whom there was the slightest doubt. The people who were being removed from the Party were to be replaced by a more vigorous element which would give the Party additional impetus in the direction towards which it was moving.

C. The Future Composition of the Party.

I stated that I had been present at a number of discussions in which members of the Party had participated regarding the composition of the Party of the future, and I would like to have his views on that point. I said that I had been given to understand that the members of the Party of the future were to be chosen from those elements of each stratum of Soviet life which could prove themselves most capable of carrying on the work of constructing a powerful socialist State. I had been informed that for instance the keenest and most effective workers at the bench, the most alert and competent foremen, the best executives, the cream of the intelligentsia, the most capable and influential collective farmers, and the most progressive and intelligent employees of the State and labor unions were in the future to be the material of which the Party was to be composed. My informant replied that in essence my understanding was correct, but that nevertheless the basis of the Party would continue to be the proletariat. I stated that the meaning of the term “proletariat” was no longer clear to me. Did the proletariat in his opinion embrace important officials of the Government who had risen from the ranks of the workers even though they had not actually engaged in physical labor for many years? Did it also include the children of the former bourgeoisie who, by their ability had won for themselves important positions in the State apparatus? Did the Soviet Government feel that it was still possible to divide the employees of the State into proletarians and non-proletarians? Did the statement that the Party of the future was to be based upon the proletariat mean that a certain fixed percentage of the Party should be workers at the bench? Unfortunately the answers to these questions were evasive, and I felt that my informant, just as perhaps the most advanced theorists of the Party, was not in a position to answer them. He said that in his opinion the term “Proletariat” applied to all conscientious builders of the Soviet State who had proletarian sympathies and who understood and sympathized with the psychology of the worker regardless of the position which they might be holding at the present time. He added that the Party considered as loyal proletarians even those persons who were of bourgeois origin and who had never actually performed common labor providing such persons had acquired the new mentality and had cooperated and were cooperating to the full in converting the Soviet Union into a powerful socialist State. On the other hand the Party did not consider [Page 306] as members of the proletariat certain elements of proletarian origin which were attempting to ape the former bourgeoisie and which had an attitude towards the common workman similar to that of the middle and upper classes before the revolution. The “new bourgeoisie” as distinguished from the “new intelligentsia,” represented the most disliked and despised elements existing at the present time in the Soviet Union and their elimination from the body of politics was inevitable.

He emphasized particularly his point that the term “Party democracy” had external as well as internal significance. In the future, he repeated several times, the members of the Party would be expected to view the democratic principles still adhered to by a number of Western countries not only with tolerance but with sympathy and respect. This new attitude of the Party, he added, should eventually have an important effect upon the relations between the Soviet Union and countries in which democracies still exist.

  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Chargé in his despatch No. 1978, October 12, 1936; received October 28.