The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Thurston) to the Secretary of State

No. 634

Sir: Owing to a confusion in the notes upon which the Embassy’s despatch No. 465, of May 10, 1940,65 was based, certain errors in fact were incorporated in it. Additional data on the subject have now appeared, and it is possible not only to correct these errors, but to provide a more complete statement of membership of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

In Stalin’s report on the work of the Central Committee to the Eighteenth Party Congress, in 1939,66 he stated that there were 1,874,488 Party members represented at the Seventeenth Party Congress, held in 1934,67 and that the number represented at the Eighteenth Congress was approximately 1,600,000. The reduction in numbers was attributed to the “purge of Party members and candidate members begun in 1933”. On July 14, 1940, a Pravda editorial stated that 605,627 new members had been accepted during the period since the Eighteenth Party Congress, or from April 1, 1939, to June 1, 1940. Thus, by adding this figure to the previously cited figure of 1,600,000 given for the membership at the time of that Congress, it may safely be assumed that the present membership of the Party amounts to approximately 2,200,000.

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The Embassy’s despatch No. 465, of May 10, 1940, referred to a statement in a Pravda editorial of May 6, 1940, to the effect that the Party had doubled its membership in the past two years. Thus, if the figure 2,200,000 just cited be divided by two, it would appear that the membership in the spring of 1938, a year before the Eighteenth Congress, was only 1,100,000. This would mean that the Party lost some 774,000 members between early in 1934 and early in 1938, and gained some 500,000 between the spring of 1938 and March 1939. The 1938 figure doubtless represented the low point in membership because it coincided with the sharpest phase of the purge, but such violent fluctuations as are indicated by this calculation seem somewhat improbable. The possibility cannot be excluded that the Pravda statement of May 6 might have counted candidates for membership as within the ranks of the Party; the wording admits of this possibility. If this were the case, it would destroy the validity of the calculation just given.

The number of candidates for membership as of June 1, 1940, is 1,127,802, according to the Pravda editorial of July 14. Thus the total number of members and candidates is well over three million.

Pravda’s editorial of July 14 praises the achievements of the Party in attracting to its ranks such a large number of new members, but goes on to stress the point that perhaps this growth has been too rapid. It refers to a recent resolution of the Party Central Committee, as yet unpublished, in which organizational deficiencies in the acceptance of new members were indicated. It appears that in many Party organizations there exists a tendency to seek a rapid quantitative growth, which is attained without sufficient attention to the proper procedure. It cites examples of oblast and constituent republic organizations which have increased by from 50 per cent to nearly 100 per cent in the past year their number of candidates for membership. Outstanding among these are Central Asiatic Party organizations.

The primary Party organizations and the raion committees are sharply criticized for the wholesale admission of new members without proper attention to the required process. Leaders of organizations which indulge in this practice are to be held responsible before the Party. If candidates realize that admission to the Party is being done in a perfunctory manner, then backward and undesirable elements will enter the Party ranks. Raion and city committees are guilty of not checking up on the work of lower organs in this respect. Even oblast and krai committees and the central committees of the Parties of constituent republics are blamed for their failure to do more in respect to the membership question than to review the numerical gains. Henceforth every Party organization must make a report at every plenum in which not only the statistics of growth are recorded, but in [Page 207] which a qualitative analysis is made. The previously simplified procedure of accepting new members must cease.

The editorial also dwells on the need for increased activity in training new members properly, in imbuing them with the correct faith, and in testing their abilities and devotion. The period of candidacy has become an empty formality. Candidates should be thoroughly tested and should be given responsible work during their period of candidacy.

In conclusion it may be remarked that the shortcomings outlined above are by no means new in the Party, and that they are a favorite theme of the Soviet press. Nevertheless, this criticism is founded upon a resolution adopted by the Central Committee, and its appearance is coupled with figures on the growth of the Party. It would be logical to assume therefore that the Party may have been growing somewhat too rapidly to please its leaders.68

Respectfully yours,

Walter Thurston
  1. Not printed.
  2. See footnote 41, p. 193.
  3. January 26–February 10, 1934.
  4. In despatches No. 559, June 24, and No. 625, July 19, the Chargé had related that at the XI Plenum of the All-Union Leninist Communist Union of Youth (Komsomol) which had met in Moscow June 7–11, 1940, the membership of this body was announced as being 10,223,000. There was considerable criticism reported of the organization of the Komsomol and of the lackadaisical attitude of much of its membership. (861.00B/695, 696)