“120 priests per 20 workers”: non-proletarian population in the elections of 1920s soviet Russia

Marina Salamatova


The author studies the participation of the non-proletarian urban population in elections during the New Economic Policy in Soviet Russia. The analysis of the urban population’s participation in election campaigns is made referring to a wide range of sources, materials of official statistics, Soviet press, unpublished archival documents kept in Russia’s central and regional archives. An analysis of typical documents of the highest and central Soviet and party bodies (order documents, protocols and resolutions, reports, statements and informational documents) retrieved from the funds of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, All-Russian Central Executive Committee, Central Committee of the Soviet Party as well as sources of personal character (voters’ complaints about election irregularities) enables the author to reconstruct models of electoral behaviour of non-proletarian strata of the population, and the peculiarities of their relations with the authorities during the 1920s. The article introduces previously unstudied materials of the boards of the Politburo and Orgburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks presided by V. M. Molotov (March – July, 1926) which help substantiate the process of political decision-making by the highest party organs as to the non-proletarian strata of the Soviet society in the election process. Additionally, referring to the critical analysis of official statistical data of the first half of the 1920s, the author concludes about the low reliability of data on the number and structure of the urban electorate, which considerably impedes the study of unorganized voters in elections and calls for additional research of the issue. The non-proletarian strata of the population were a numerous and diverse group in the urban electorate of the 1920s, outnumbering the other groups in provincial towns. Aiming for loyal City Soviets (City Councils), they used a number of approaches, e. g. excluded non-proletarian groups from the electorate, increased the number of lishentsy (persons stripped of the right of voting), and introduced differentiated representation norms in favour of workers and Red Army men. Reactions of the non-proletarian public to the political changes varied depending on their background from absenteeism to protesting. The most common forms of protest were refusal to vote for the candidates approved by the authorities, claims of various kinds, and nomination of their own deputies for the Soviets. Though not infrequent per se, such forms of protests were considerably overestimated by the local Soviet and Party representatives, who opposed the expansion of the New Economic Policy and exaggerated the threat coming from the socially alien groups of the Soviet public and their potential seizure of power in the Soviets. Part of the representatives of the non-proletarian population were dissatisfied with the authorities, and the electoral system, but this, however, did not reach the scale of oppositional parties or movements. Open protests were uncommon, with modestly-sized groups of entrepreneurs and craftsmen being relatively united but aiming for integration rather than confrontation with the Soviet political system. The lack of loyalty in city-dwellers during elections was used by the Bolshevik authorities as an important leverage in their fight for the toughening of the political course and the cessation of the New Economic Policy.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.1.142


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