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The Circular Flow of Power within the CPSU

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Post 23 May 2020, 20:22
"…As has been seen, the basic structure of power inside the Communist Party involved the election of the General Secretary and members by a Central Committee that in turn was selected by a Party Congress whose delegates were controlled by the provincial secretaries who were supervised by the general secretary…
The Circular flow of power was not some unintended consequence of party structure. It was deliberately instituted by Lenin in 1919...
Since before the revolution, the party leader had been selected by the Central Committeee, and the Central Committee was elected by a Party Congress composed of delegates elected in regional party organizations. This structure was well calculated to insulate the leader from other Moscow politicians, and the way to maintain the leader’s independence from the Politburo was to subordinate it to the Central Committee as well. Then the leader would have a single problem: how to control the Party Congress. Delegates to the Party Congress were selected at the republican and provincial party conferences, and the delegates to these were selected at party conferences at the next lower territorial level. Lenin’s first task was to ensure that the provincial leaders were loyal to him. His second was to see that the delegates to the Party Congress were under the control of the provincial leaders.
To accomplish this, Lenin established the principle that the provincial party secretaries, although ostensibly elected by their party organizations, were actually appointed (formally “recommended”) from above. The provincial secretaries in turn recommended lower-level secretaries. Lenin then outlawed factions within the Communist party to prevent Politburo members from organizing slates of candidates to compete in the elections of delegates. Thus other Politburo members had little leverage in the Party Congress, and the selection of a delegation was effectively under the control of the regional first secretary, who led the delegation.
While Lenin was leader of the politburo, he used Joseph Stalin as central Committee secretary and then general secretary to control the selection of provincial first secretaries. When Lenin died, the local secretaries not surprisingly proved to be loyal to Stalin. Stalin used this machines to control the Congress, the Central Committee it elected, and the Politburo, and therby consolidate his dictatorial rule. He continued to occupy the post of general secretary, and de facto it became the dominant position in the political system.
Although provincial first secretaries were officially approved by all the members of the Politburo, Yegor Ligachev’s memoirs confirm what had long been clear: that there was “an unspoken, but strict subordination” in which Politburo members were never allowed to question or interfere in personnel decisions in policy realms where they did not have immediate responsibility… There was, of course, another side to this power of the general secretary: as Gorbachev emphasized, he also had the right to remove obkom first secretaries.
The “obkom” first secretary… was a key figure in the system of power. He received his post and huge power not from the people, not from a competitive election, but from the hand of Moscow – The Politburo, the Secretariat, and personally the general secretary. This was the basis for the duality and vulnerability of the position of the first secretary. Each knew full well that he would lose his post the moment he… lost the confidence of the general secretary.
In these circumstances, the first secretaries continued to bring delegations to the Party Congress that were loyal to the general secretary… As expected, the delegates voted for a Central Committee that would support the General Secretary, and they themselves comprised a high percentage of the Central Committee members. This gave the general secretary control over the Politburo, which was elected by the Central Committee…”

Extracts from "Democratization and Revolution in the USSR 1985-91" by Jerry Hough
Post 03 Jun 2020, 20:36
Very interesting analysis. Thanks for that El Kaiser.

In these circumstances, the first secretaries continued to bring delegations to the Party Congress that were loyal to the general secretary… As expected, the delegates voted for a Central Committee that would support the General Secretary, and they themselves comprised a high percentage of the Central Committee members. This gave the general secretary control over the Politburo, which was elected by the Central Committee…”

Very crucial point here, and helps to explain why, in 1990, at the final congress of the CPSU, delegates voted in favour of keeping Gorbachev in power, despite his betrayal of socialism and Soviet allies, the fracturing of the Union and immeasurable political and economic incompetence. The conservatives began to be kicked out of the system under the pretext of Andropov's fight against corruption and stagnation in the early 1980s, and the fight intensified between 1985 and 1988, culminating in the June 1988 party conference, where their ranks were weakened to the point of near complete paralysis.
Post 09 Jun 2020, 22:02
So, Do you agree with this? It is used to explain Stalin's supposed dictatorship. Yet there is something i can't figure out: If Party statutes clearly stated that Party organization at each level would choose their own secretaries, then why they blindly and brainlessly accepted the "recommendations" made from above? For this circular flow of power to work, it needed a mass of "automatons" as party members, which i find VERY hard to believe they were...
Post 09 Jun 2020, 23:39
Basically, yes, I think so. It is perhaps the biggest weakness of the Soviet political system, in my view. It's because of this 'circular flow of power', for example, that Khrushchev was able to defeat the so-called 'anti-party group' of conservatives Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich, and overrule the central committee presidium's vote to remove him, by calling for a vote of the expanded central committee, chosen by regional officials...*drum role*...loyal to the general secretary, in 1957.

Regarding Stalin, I think there's an argument to be made, as some Stalin scholars like Yuri Zhukov (and I believe Grover Furr) do, that he actually attempted to reform the system, to lessen the party's 'governing role' and to have it engage more in 'agitation and propaganda' (in Russian the latter word didn't have a negative connotation until recently) in society, leaving technocrats who knew their area of expertise to actually run various ministries, factories, farms and on down the list.

Evgeniy Spitsyn, another major figure in Soviet history today, who recently wrote a book on Stalin's last years in office, said some interesting stuff in an interview with a few years ago:

Evgeniy Spitsyn wrote:
Already from the prewar 18th party congress, Stalin substantially revised the role of the party and its governing bodies in the system of governance. The famous Stalinist 'management reforms' began. The redistribution of the levers of powers from central party organizations to what was then called the council of people’s commissars [precursor to the council of ministers, s.78]. The next step on this path were decisions taken in 1946. When sectoral departments of the party apparatus were liquidated, including in the central committee, only the offices of agitation and propaganda and the office of personnel were left. Stalin believed that two things should be left to the party a) agitation and propaganda, and b) the selection and placement of cadres, but specific sectors are the business of specialists, techies, technocrats. And this is what the council of ministers was to do. Stalin occasionally toed the line of the party apparatus. Such back and forth shifts took place throughout the later half of the 1940s. Then there was a kind of restoration of the role of party departments. But in 1952, Stalin again put the party in its place.*

He carried out a rotation of cadres, said that the work of the minister is a muzhik’s work. Here one needs to dig in, be a professional in one’s field. Stalin explained that the country needed to carry out such a serious rotation of the leading cadres and put them at the head of ministries, and their number grew significantly, of people who have proven themselves in concrete practical work in the management of whole industries. He said that it was necessary to remove many honoured comrades, in particular Kaganovich, Voroshilov and others from concrete work and to appoint them in the ceremonial roles of deputy chairmen of the council of ministers.”

* In the 1952 congress, the politburo was renamed to the 'presidium of the central committee' and substantially expanded to include many young technocrats who had proven themselves in the ability to run departments, industries, factories, farms, etc. It's at this congress, according to the memoirs of poet Konstantin Simonov, that Stalin asked to resign all his party and state duties for health reasons, but was refused. After Stalin's death the expanded presidium was liquidated.
Post 10 Jun 2020, 14:31
Thanks for congratulating me on my post! Also, thank you for the answer. Yet I still have a problem understanding the functioning of this system: Like I said, if Party statutes declared that secretaries had to be elected by the members of its own organizations, then why the immense majority of organizations/members simply accepted those recommended from above? How did Party leadership (or whoever responsible) managed to turn the vast majority of party members into obedient and disciplined automatons? I can understand the controlled elections of delegates to the Party Congress (since the secretary at each level could remove anyone who opposed him at each level, then he faced little or no opposition, and could obviously control the election process). But it’s not the same with the “first” phase of the Circular Flow. Contrary to popular belief, the General Secretary could not appoint regional secretaries. He simply recommended them. Likewise, these secretaries, while they could replace oppositionists with allies within their organizations (Stalin gave them this power in 1922), they could not appoint lower-lever secretaries, only recommend them. Yet mysteriously, all these recommendations at all levels were almost always carried out without (or with little) debate. Why the organizations simply accepted the recommended candidates instead of electing their own secretaries? The only thing I can think of is fear of reprisals, for example: “If you complain about the recommended candidate, or spoke against it, etc. then the man responsible for his/her recommendation will use the “Central Control Commission” (the Party organ responsible for the purges) to kick you out of the Party, or demote you somehow”. This would mean that even in the Stalin era there was no intra-party democracy AT ALL, since all “elected-from-below” bosses were actually appointed from above, and elections to Party Congress, the Party's most powerful body, were not democratic, since the “elected” delegates were actually appointed ones by their organization’s secretary through an already decided/controlled “election”.
Post 18 Jun 2020, 00:56
I have to admit that this is not an issue that I have studied at depth before. However in researching for a response I came across an excerpt from an academic paper which you might find interesting. It features this excerpt from an interview Stalin gave to Roy Howard, president of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, in which they discussed the new constitution and elections:

Howard: A new constitution is being elaborated in the U.S.S.R. providing for a new system of elections. To what degree can this new system alter the situation in the U.S.S.R. since, as formerly, only one party will come forward at elections?

Stalin: We shall probably adopt our new constitution at the end of this year. The commission appointed to draw up the constitution is working and should finish its labours soon. As has been announced already, according to the new constitution, the suffrage will be universal, equal, direct and secret.

You are puzzled by the fact that only one party will come forward at elections. You cannot see how election contests can take place under these conditions. Evidently candidates will be put forward not only by the Communist Party, but by all sorts of public, non-Party organisations. And we have hundreds of these. We have no contending parties any more than we have a capitalist class contending against a working class which is exploited by the capitalists.

Our society consists exclusively of free toilers of town and country - workers, peasants, intellectuals.

Each of these strata may have its special interests and express them by means of the numerous public organisations that exist. But since there are no classes, since the dividing lines between classes have been obliterated, since only a slight, but not a fundamental, difference between various strata in socialist society has remained, there can be no soil for the creation of contending parties. Where there are not several classes there cannot be several parties, for a party is part of a class...

[T]here will be, and I foresee very lively election campaigns. There are not a few institutions in our country which work badly. Cases occur when this or that local government body fails to satisfy certain of the multifarious and growing requirements of the toilers of town and country. Have you built a good school or not? Have you improved housing conditions?

Are you a bureaucrat? Have you helped to make our labour more effective and our lives more cultured?

Such will be the criteria with which millions of electors will measure the fitness of candidates, reject the unsuitable, expunge their names from candidates' lists, and promote and nominate the best.

Yes, election campaigns will be very lively, they will be conducted around numerous, very acute problems, principally of a practical nature, of first class importance for the people. Our new electoral system will tighten up all institutions and organisations and compel them to improve their work. Universal, direct and secret suffrage in the U.S.S.R. will be a whip in the hands of the population against the organs of government which work badly. In my opinion our new Soviet constitution will be the most democratic constitution in the world.

But according to historians Shilov and Rylkina, this Stalinist proposal was resisted by the party itself:

However, a broad discussion of the provisions expressed by Stalin did not take place, because “not only the leadership broadly speaking, but part of the apparatus of the Central Committee, did not accept the Stalinist innovation. They did not want to even purely formally endorse the dangerous alternative of too many elections, because that competitiveness, which, as follows from the words of Stalin, directly threatened the position of the first secretaries of the Central Committee, the Republican-level Communist Parties, regional committees, city committees, district committees -their real power.”*

The partocracy expressed its disagreement by silencing the problem. However, Stalin continued to insist on electoral competition. Speaking at the VIII Extraordinary Congress of Soviets of the USSR, held at the end of 1936, Stalin, speaking about the need to grant everyone suffrage and eliminate the category of “disenfranchised people,” noted: “It is said that it’s dangerous that persons hostile to Soviet authorities can crawl into the country's supreme bodies elements, some of the former White Guards, kulaks, priests and so on. But what is there actually to be afraid of? Those who are afraid of wolves should not go into the forest. Firstly, not all former kulaks, White Guards or priests are hostile to Soviet power. Secondly, if the people in some places choose hostile people, this will mean that our campaign work is poorly delivered, and we deserve such a disgrace.”

In such statements, the party leadership saw a threat to themselves and the readiness of Stalin to remove them from power. But this did not arouse the desire of the then political elite to improve work and thereby gain greater popularity among the masses, future voters. Emphasis was placed on the search for enemies to “purify” their locality from any kind of undesirable elements that could affect their results in an undesirable way for local leaders. This was one of the reasons for the start of mass repressions. There were other reasons for the repressions, including the desire of Stalin to renew the political elite.

This desire by Stalin to overcome the cohesion of the elite, its grouping and nepotism was expressed in his intention to involve the broad masses of the party and workers in the process of renewing the elites. So at the February-March plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU of 1937, the reports of Stalin and Zhdanov focused on democracy. The necessity of a secret ballot was emphasized regarding candidates nominated for posts in the party, in government bodies and trade unions.

In this way, according to B.Z. Goldman, “the plenary session opened the doors for the rapid mobilization of the masses. The party leaders, outraged by the inability of the grassroots party organizations to clear their ranks of former oppositionists, made a proposal to purge ordinary members of the party. Thus, democracy was one of the ways to strengthen the support of the party by the masses, to inspire ordinary members and thereby provide a more thorough purge of the regional party elite."**

According to S.A. Kislitsyn, “Stalin was justifiably afraid of the growth of opposition views and their development in the future into dissent...a certain part of the Bolshevik elite had become morally corrupted, mired in privileges and thereby undermined the moral foundations of the state. It was important for Soviet society, like any other, to ensure the periodic legitimate rotation of the elite, but the democratic mechanism for such a renewal of the elite was not worked out…"***

However, the partocracy did not want to give up their positions. Already after open calls for the development of democracy in elections, local party leaders retained the authoritarian practice of forming relationships with both the population and the party masses. There were massive attempts to elect party organs in defiance of the decision, not secretly, but openly, by list, without discussing candidates. The election of the party organs in 1937 showed that the bulk of the party leaders retained their positions, "having demonstrated to Moscow, that they were the masters of the situation in their regions and were not going to voluntarily leave - even during alternative elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR."****

But even in this situation, Stalin did not turn away from the idea of alternative elections, and A.Y. Yakovlev, the head of the commission on the development of legislation on elections, speaking at the July Plenum of the Central Committee of the party with a report on the draft election law, said the following: "The district election commissions have the obligation to register and put on the ballot in the relevant district all candidates to the Supreme Soviet which are nominated by public organizations and workers' societies without exception.” In the upcoming elections, a majoritarian system of the absolute majority was proposed for use, if necessary, with a second round. Towards the end of August 1937, a sample ballot paper was prepared containing three names and the text “Leave ONE candidate you are voting for in the ballot paper, cross out the rest.” That is, the stake on alternative elections despite the negative attitude towards them from the broad masses of the party leadership continued.

And only on October 10, 1937 did an unexpected decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee appear in which the theses presented at the plenum of the Central Committee by V. Molotov were approved, according to which alternativeness became option. What was the reason for this decision to abolish alternative and competitive elections? Presumably, most members of the Politburo rejected the alternative. Therefore, at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks on October 11, there was no talk of the free nomination of candidates from public organizations. A new concept was born "the bloc of communists and non-party members." It was proposed the presence of up to 20% of non-party members in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. It was proposed to nominate candidates for deputies under the control of party bodies.”

It was under party leadership that the first elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR were held. They were not only non-competitive, but also uncontested.
However, democratization did yield certain results at the level of trade union democracy. The rank and file of the party, trade unions, and the working class were attracted to the search for enemies. “Democracy was not a secondary matter, it was not a smoke screen or a set of meaningless slogans designed to hide the real state of events. It was the means by which repression reached every trade union organization, factory committee or primary organization. If the hunt for oppositionists started a fire in the party and trade unions, then the campaign for “democracy” served as gasoline for it,” suggests Goldman. This led to the fact that the leadership of the trade unions was substantially updated: in 1937, 65% of the members of the factory committee were newly elected. The results of the elections to the Central Committee of the Unions were even more impressive: more than 96% of the plenary members, 87% of the presidium members, 92% of the secretaries and 68% of the chairmen were replaced.

Democracy gave the workers the opportunity to elect new leaders, the terror got rid of the old ones, but the basic, structural problems of the country were not resolved. On the whole, personnel leapfrogging and uncontrollability of production increased, therefore, in the spring of 1939, the leaders of the party and trade unions unofficially retreated from trade union democracy.

New rules abolished direct elections. Instead, the workers had to elect the electors who would select the candidates - after consultation with the party committee and the factory committee. Workers were not allowed to supplement the list with independent candidates. The practice of voting by lists was resumed in unions. So the alternativeness and competitiveness, which had a definite place at the level of trade unions, came to naught.

Over the following decades of the Soviet period, the elections were uncontested and non-competitive. There was ideological and political monism: one only true ideology, one party and one candidate expressing the interests of a single Soviet people. The 1977 Constitution consolidated the leading role of the CPSU in the political system, in which the Soviets were considered the state core, but in fact played a role subordinate to the party: their composition was entirely determined by party committees of the corresponding level. The population had only to approve the proposed candidates in the elections.

A return to competitive elections occurred in the late Soviet period. Gorbachev as his primary goal set the task of renewing the political elite of Soviet society. Initially, it occurred in the bowels of the party. By the beginning of 1987, 70% of the members of the Politburo were replaced, 60% of the secretaries of regional organizations, 40% of the members of the Central Committee of the CPSU of the Brezhnev "recruitment" period. Industrial democracy was launched. According to the Law on Labor Collectives, the election of senior employees was envisaged. Negative consequences of such an election were revealed: “labor collectives found a tendency to ‘collective egoism,’ i.e. choosing convenient and complaisant bosses, trying to increase the price of their products and wages at any price”*****. But, nevertheless, the top leadership of the CPSU decided to expand and deepen the democratization of the country. “Already at the January 1987 plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Gorbachev proposed introducing alternative, that is, on the basis of rivalry of two or more candidates for each seat, elections of deputies and other government officials of all levels of power.” It was assumed that “total democratization of all spheres of government of society was to create natural mechanisms for the dynamic development of society.”*****

It was believed that this democratization would not go beyond the framework of the "socialist choice" and would be predictable. But the alleged controllability of democratization processes did not materialize. In the elections of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in March 1989, many representatives of the party and Soviet nomenclature failed in the conditions of alternative and competitive elections, although the 1989 election was not fully democratic. Not all, but only two-thirds of deputies received mandates on the basis of universal suffrage. Bureaucratic obstacles were arranged for the nomination of candidates for deputies. However, these procedures very often worked out not in favor of, but against the party-state nomenclature: the more obstacles stood in the way of an independent candidate, the more determined the voters became to see him as a deputy. So Yeltsin, driven by the party leadership, became a true idol of Muscovites, during the election he received about 90% of the vote. The elections of people's deputies of the RSFSR in March 1990 and the first elections of the President of the Russian Federation in June 1991, were more competitive, with fewer barriers.

*Yuri Zhukov, Народная империя Сталина, p.261-262.
**V.Z. Goldman Террор и демократия в эпоху Сталина. Социальная динамика репрессий, p. 147-148.
***S.A. Kislitsyn Российская историческая политология p.152
****Zhukov, p.378.
*****V.V Sogrin Политическая история современной России. 1985-2001: от Горбачева до Путина, p.21.

Article, in Russian, here (translation is googletranslate+ my corrections, cleanup): ... urentnosti
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