Written: 24 & 26 March,
First Published: December 1925; Dictated by telephone published according to a typewritten copy
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 254-258
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
I request that the following proposal be submitted to the Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee.
I consider it extremely important to lengthen the probation period for new members of the Party. Zinoviev proposes that the probation period should be six months for workers and twelve months for other categories. I propose a period of six months only for those workers who have actually been employed in large industrial enterprises for not less than ten years. A probation period of eighteen months should be established for all other workers, two years for peasants and Red Army men, and three years for other categories. Exceptions are to be permitted in special cases with the joint consent of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission.
I think it will be extremely dangerous to accept the short periods of probation proposed by Zinoviev. There is no doubt that we constantly regard as workers people who have not had the slightest real experience of large-scale industry. There has been case after case of petty bourgeois, who have become workers by chance and only for a very short time, being classed as workers. All shrewd whiteguards are very definitely banking on the fact that the alleged proletarian character of our Party does not in the least safeguard it against the small-proprietor elements gaining predominance in it, and very rapidly, too. In view of the lackadaisical and unsystematic methods that prevail in our ranks, short probation periods will actually mean that no real test will be made to ascertain whether the applicants are really more or less tried Communists. If we have 300,000 to 400,000 members in the Party, even that number is excessive, for literally everything goes to show that the level of training of the present Party membership is inadequate. That is why I strongly insist on longer probation periods, and on instructing the Organising Bureau to draw up and strictly apply rules that will really make the period of probation a serious test and not an empty formality.
I think that this question should be discussed at the Congress with special care.
March 24, 1922
Please give this to be read to all the members of the Central Committee before the question of the conditions for admitting new members to the Party is brought up at the Congress.
Having read the decision of the Plenary Meeting of March 25 on the question of the probation periods for new Party members, I should like to challenge this decision at the Congress. I am afraid, however, that I shall not be able to speak at the Congress, and so I request that my opinion be read.
There is no doubt that judged by the bulk of its present membership our Party is not proletarian enough. I do not think anybody can challenge this, and a mere glance at the statistics will bear it out. Since the war, the industrial workers of Russia have become much less proletarian than they were before, because during the war all those who desired to evade military service went into the factories. This is common knowledge. On the other hand, it is equally undoubted that, taken as a whole (if we take the level of the overwhelming majority of Party members), our Party is less politically trained than is necessary for real proletarian leadership in the present difficult situation, especially in view of the tremendous preponderance of the peasantry, which is rapidly awakening to independent class politics. Further, it must be borne in mind that the temptation to join the ruling party at the present time is very great. It is sufficient to recall all the literary productions of the Smena Vekh writers to see that the types who have been carried away by the political successes of the Bolsheviks are very remote from everything proletarian. If the Genoa Conference results in further political successes for us, there will be a big increase in the efforts of petty-bourgeois elements, and of elements positively hostile to all that is proletarian, to penetrate into the Party. Six months’ probation for workers will not diminish this pressure in the least, for it is the easiest thing in the world for anyone to qualify for this short probation period by fraudulent means, the more so that it is not in the least difficult under present conditions for very many intellectual and semi-intellectual elements to join the ranks of the workers. From all this I draw the conclusion that we must establish much longer probation periods and this opinion is strengthened by the fact that the whiteguards are definitely banking on the non-proletarian composition of our Party membership. If we agree to a six months’ period for workers, we must without fail, in order-not to deceive ourselves and others, define the term “worker” in such a way as to include only those who have acquired a proletarian mentality from their very conditions of life. But this is impossible unless the persons concerned have worked in a factory for many years, not from ulterior motives, but because of the general conditions of their economic and social life.
If we do not close our eyes to reality we must admit that at the present time the proletarian policy of the Party is not determined by the character of its membership, but by the enormous undivided prestige enjoyed by the small group which might be called the Old Guard of the Party. A slight conflict within this group will be enough, if not to destroy this prestige, at all events to weaken the group to such a degree as to rob it of its power to determine policy.
Hence, it is necessary: 1) to lengthen the probation period for all categories; 2) to define in great detail how the applicant is to pass the probation period; what concrete and practical tests should be applied to determine whether the probation period is really a period of probation and not a mere formaIity; 3) to create a qualified majority on the bodies which decide on the applications of new members; 4) to make it a rule that the decision to admit new members be endorsed, not only by the Gubernia Party Committees, but also by the Control Commissions; 5) to devise other measures for the purpose of helping the Party to rid itself of those members who are by no means Communists consciously implementing a proletarian policy. I do not propose that a new general purging of the Party be undertaken, because I think at the moment it is impracticable; but I do think it is necessary to find some means of actually purging the Party, i.e., of reducing its membership. I am sure that if the necessary thought is given to the matter a number of suitable measures can be devised.
I would ask the members of the Central Committee who will read this to reply to me if possible, if only in a brief telephone message to one of the secretaries of the Council of People’s Commissars.
March 26, 1922