V. I. Lenin

Purging the Party[1]

Written: 20 September, 1921
First Published: Pravda No. 210, September 21, 1921; Signed: N. Lenin; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 39-41
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

The purging of the Party has obviously developed into a serious and vastly important affair.

In some places the Party is being purged mainly with the aid of the experience and suggestions of non-Party workers; these suggestions and the representatives of the non-Party proletarian masses are being heeded with due consideration. That is the most valuable and most important thing. If we really succeed in purging our Party from top to bottom in this way, without exceptions, it will indeed be an enormous achievement for the revolution.

The achievements of the revolution cannot now be the same as they were previously. Their nature inevitably changes in conformity with the transition from the war front to the economic front, the transition to the New Economic Policy, the conditions that primarily demand higher productivity of labour, greater labour discipline. At such a time improvements at home are the major achievements of the revolution; a neither salient, striking, nor immediately perceptible improvement in labour, in its organisation and results; an improvement from the viewpoint of the fight against the influence of the petty-bourgeois and petty-bourgeois-anarchist element, which corrupts both the proletariat and the Party. To achieve such an improvement, the Party must be purged of those who have lost touch with the masses (let alone, of course, those who discredit the Party in the eyes of the masses). Naturally. we shall not submit to everything the masses say, because the masses, too, sometimes—particularly in time of exceptional weariness and exhaustion resulting from excessive hardship and suffering—yield to sentiments that are in no way advanced. But in appraising persons, in the negative attitude to those who have “attached” themselves to us for selfish motives, to those who have become “puffed-up commissars” and “bureaucrats”, the suggestions of the non-Party proletarian masses and, in many cases, of the non-Party peasant masses, are extremely valuable. The working masses have a fine intuition, which enables them to distinguish honest and devoted Communists from those who arouse the disgust of people earning their bread by the sweat of their brow, enjoying no privileges and having no “pull”.

To purge the Party it is very important to take the suggestions of the non-Party working people into consideration. It will produce big results. It will make the Party a much stronger vanguard of the class than it was before; it will make it a vanguard that is more strongly bound up with the class, more capable of leading it to victory amidst a mass of difficulties and dangers.

As one of the specific objects of the Party purge, I would point to the combing out of ex-Mensheviks. In my opinion, of the Mensheviks who joined the Party after the beginning of 1918, not more than a hundredth part should be allowed to remain; and even then, every one of those who are allowed to remain must be tested over and over again. Why? Because, as a trend, the Mensheviks have displayed in 1918-21 the two qualities that characterise them: first, the ability skilfully to adapt, to ”attach” themselves to the prevailing trend among the workers; and second, the ability even more skilfully to serve the whiteguards heart and soul, to serve them in action, while dissociating themselves from them in words. Both these qualities are the logical outcome of the whole history of Menshevism. It is sufficient to recall Axelrod’s proposal for a “labour congress”,[2] the attitude of the Mensheviks towards the Cadets[3] (and to the monarchy) in words and action, etc., etc. The Mensheviks ”attach” themselves to the Russian Communist Party not only and even not so much because they are Machiavellian (although ever since 1903 they have shown that they are past masters in the art of bourgeois diplomacy), but because they are so ”adaptable". Every opportunist is distinguished for his adaptability (but not all adaptability is opportunism); and the Mensheviks, as opportunists, adapt themselves ”on principle” so to speak, to the prevailing trend among the workers and assume a protective colouring, just as a hare’s coat turns white in winter. This characteristic of the Mensheviks must be kept in mind and taken into account. And taking it into account means purging the Party of approximately ninety-nine out of every hundred Mensheviks who joined the Russian Communist Party after 1918, i.e., when the victory of the Bolsheviks first became probable and then certain.

The Party must be purged of rascals, of bureaucratic, dishonest or wavering Communists, and of Mensheviks who have repainted their “facade” but who have remained Mensheviks at heart.

September 20, 1921


[1] The purge was undertaken in the second half of 1921 on the basis of the Tenth R.C.P.(B.) Congress resolution “On Problems of Party Development”. It was preceded by long and careful preparation.

Under the purge nearly 170,000 people, i.e., almost 25 per cent of the membership, were expelled from the Party. This improved the Party’s social composition, strengthened discipline, gave the Party greater prestige among the non-Party worker and peasant masses and freed the Party from elements who discredited it. The Party’s ideological and organisational unity was enhanced.

[2] The idea of convening a so-called labour congress, proposed by P. B. Axelrod and supported by other Mensheviks, was aimed at getting representatives of various workers’ organisations together and founding a legal ”broad labour party", which would include Social-Democrats, Socialist-Revolutionaries and anarchists. Actually, it would have meant the dissolution of the R.S.D.L.P. and its replacement by a non-Party organisation.

[3] Cadets—members of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the chief political organisation of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie in Russia. It was founded in October 1905, its membership including representatives of the bourgeoisie, Zemstvo leaders from among the landowners, and bourgeois intellectuals. In order to deceive the working people the Cadets falsely called themselves the “Party of People’s Freedom”, but in reality they never went beyond the demand for a constitutional monarchy. They considered their main task to be the fight against the revolutionary movement and aspired to share power with the tsar and the feudal landowners. During the First World War they actively supported the tsarist government’s foreign policy of conquest, and in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 they tried to save the monarchy. After the Great October Socialist Revolution they became irreconcilable enemies of Soviet rule and actively participated in all the armed counter-revolutionary actions and campaigns of the interventionists. When the interventionists and whiteguards were defeated, the Cadets fled abroad, where they continued their anti-Soviet, counter-revolutionary activity.