The Party Activists

  • Bohdan Harasymiw
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


In the political opportunity structure of the Soviet Union, an important intermediate stage is that of the activist. Indeed, this stage is quite formalized, and its members collectively bear the surprisingly appropriate designation of ‘aktiv’. So institutionalized is this in the Soviet setting that every organization has, apparently, this aktiv of volunteers. Certainly the major structures such as the party, soviets, Komsomol, and trade unions do so. The party aktiv, comprising from one quarter to one third of the membership, is regarded, of course, as the most important of these. Western, particularly American, Sovietologists have already written about several aspects of the functioning of this group of activists — about how they are mobilized for various party tasks, how career types are represented among them (as well as what proportion of them are not mere activists but full-time apparatchiki), and the role they play in decision-making.[1] The recruitment function of the party aktiv has, however, been overlooked. If it is accepted that the party selectors of decision-making personnel are, in fact, those choosing the Soviet political elite, then it is reasonable that the aktiv in closest proximity to those selectors must be their chief source of recruits, as the party literature indeed claims.


Affirmative Action Communist Party Political Elite Party Member Party Activist 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, Merle Fainsod, How Russia is Ruled, rev. edn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964) pp. 215–34;Google Scholar
  2. Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod, How the Soviet Union is Governed (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1979) pp. 491–517;Google Scholar
  3. Joel C. Moses, Regional Party Leadership and Policy-Making in the USSR (New York: Praeger, 1974) pp. 104–18;Google Scholar
  4. Philip D. Stewart, Political Power in the Soviet Union: A Study of Decision-Making in Stalingrad (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968) ch. 5. To the research agenda of students of Soviet politics should be added the subject of the various non-Party activists.Google Scholar
  5. A first step in this direction, on the soviet aktiv, is Theodore H. Friedgut, Political Participation In the USSR (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979) pp. 196–288.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    K. P. Golovko, Podbor i vospitanie kadrov (Donetsk: Izdatel’stvo ‘Donbass’, 1970) pp. 6–7, and his Rabotu s kadrami — na uroven’ trebonvanii XXIV s”ezda KPSS (Kiev: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury Ukrainy, 1973) p. 17.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Robert D. Putnam, The Comparative Study of Political Elites (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976) p. 57.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    KP Belorussii, pp. 197–8. The percentage of workers and peasants, incidentally, in PPO committees of Belorussia increased from 27.8 in 1966, to 35.5 (15.9 and 19.6, respectively) in 1971, and to 40.5 (21.0 and 19.5, respectively) in 1977 (ibid.). In Lithuania also, between 1958 and 1970, agricultural specialists improved their relative ratio of representation among kolkhoz PPO secretaries, but engineers, technicians and others suffered a relative decline. Specifically, the percentages of the three categories of Party members and secretaries were as follows. I. Loiko, ‘Rost i ukreplenie kolkhoznykh pervichnykh partiinykh organizatsii Kommunisticheskoi Partii Litvy v 1959–1970 gg.’ in Voprosy istorii KP Litvy, Nauchnye trudy vysshikh uchebnykh zavedenii Litovskoi SSR i Instituta istorii Partii pri TSK KP Litvy, vol. 15 (Vilnius: ‘Mintis’, 1974) pp. 99, 101, 107.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    A similar degree of selectivity probably applies to volunteer (‘non-staff’) Party apparatus personnel. For instance, in Sverdlov oblast’ (located in the Ural region of the RSFSR) in 1968, 48.5 per cent of such personnel had higher education; that province’s labour force had less than 5.3 per cent (G. I. Badanin, Leninskii stil’ v praktike partiinogo rukovodstva (Sverdlovsk, 1970) p. 48, and Itogi 1970, III, 408 ff). Among non-staff instructors in Primor’e (Maritime) krai in 1965, 85 per cent had higher and secondary education (as did 88.5 per cent of the entire body of non-staff personnel in 1968 in Sverdlov oblast’) but rank-and-file Communists registered only 47 per cent (Nikolai Ivanovich Pokhil, ‘Deiatel’nost’ KPSS po sovershenstvovaniiu stilia raboty s partiinymi kadrami v period mezhdu XXII i XXIII s”ezdami KPSS (na primere partiinykh komitetov Primor’ia)’, Avtoreferat dissertatsii na soiskanie uchenoi stepeni kandidata istoricheskikh nauk (Vladivostok, 1974) p. 17).Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    Karl W. Ryavec, ‘Introduction’, in Ryavec (ed.), Soviet Society and the Communist Party (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1978) p. x.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Jerry F. Hough, ‘The Soviet system: Petrification or pluralism?’, in his The Soviet Union and Social Science Theory (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1977) pp. 22–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Bohdan Harasymiw 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bohdan Harasymiw
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CalgaryCanada

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