Old Bolshevik

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Old Bolshevik (Russian: ста́рый большеви́к, stary bolshevik), also called Old Bolshevik Guard or Old Party Guard, was an unofficial designation for a member of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Many Old Bolsheviks became leading politicians and bureaucrats in the Soviet Union and the ruling Communist Party. Most died over the years from natural causes, but a number were removed from power or executed in the late 1930s, as a result of the Great Purge of Joseph Stalin.



Initially, the term "Old Bolshevik" (ста́рый большеви́к, stary bolshevik) referred to Bolsheviks who joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party before 1905. On February 13, 1922, under the chairmanship of the Old Bolshevik historian Mikhail Olminsky, the Society of Old Bolsheviks (Общество старых большевиков) at the Istpart (Commission on the Study of the History of the October Revolution and RCP(b)) was established. The first Statute required membership before January 1, 1905, with admission in some cases of other Social Democrats with the same career time who later joined the Bolsheviks. Initially there were 64 members. Later it was renamed the All-Union Society. The 1931 Statute had requirement of continuous party membership of at least 18 years, with exceptions to be granted by the Society Presidium (approved by the Society Council). By 1934, there were over 2000 members. The All-Union Society was self-dissolved in 1935, announcing that "it has completed its tasks".[1] Vadim Rogovin cites the statistics published by the 13th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) that, in 1924, of 600,000 Party members, 0.6% joined before 1905, 2% joined in 1906–1916 and <9% joined in 1917.[2]

Vladimir Lenin wrote about the "enormous, undivided authority of that thinnest layer, which can be called the old party guard".[3] Old Bolsheviks that were part of Lenin's inner-circle or directly worked with him formed a sub-designation known as the Lenin Guard (Ленинская гвардия, leninskaya gvardiya).

Over time the definition of "Old Bolsheviks" became more lax. For example, according to a 1972 Soviet book by D. A. Chygayev, in 1922 there were as many as 44,148 Old Bolsheviks.[4][verification needed]

Presence in the Soviet Union[edit]

Lazar Kaganovich (1893–1991) joined the Bolshevik party in 1911, survived Stalin's Purge, and died only five months before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

By the end of the Russian Revolution in 1923, Old Bolsheviks filled many of the powerful positions in the state apparatus of the Soviet Union, its constituent republics, and the ruling All-Union Communist Party. By the mid-1930s, General Secretary Joseph Stalin and the upper ranks of the party were predicting that major social upheaval would occur in the aftermath of the forced collectivization process since 1928 and the subsequent Soviet famine of 1932–1933. Stalin, himself an Old Bolshevik, became paranoid of challenges to his rule from within the party, fearing that Old Bolsheviks were potential usurpers who could exploit the upheaval and use their prestige to depose him. Stalin used the assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934 as a pretext to purge the party, and removed a great part of the surviving Old Bolsheviks from positions of power during the Great Purge from 1936 to 1938. Purged Old Bolsheviks were condemned in a series of show trials known as the Moscow Trials, and then executed for treason or sent as prisoners to the Gulag system of labor camps. By 1938, the number of Old Bolsheviks who remained in power (other than Stalin himself) was small, and the vacant positions were filled by a younger generation of party members who were considered to be more loyal to Stalin himself.

Various things in the Soviet Union had the name Old Bolshevik, such as a publishing house, several steamships, motorboats, kolkhozes and populated places.[5][6][7]

Fate of some of the Old Bolsheviks[edit]

Note that CC stands for Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Died before the Purge[edit]

Born Died Notes
Vladimir Lenin 1870 1924 Main Bolshevik leader
Yakov Sverdlov 1885 1919 Chairman of the Secretariat of the Bolshevik Party
Stepan Shaumian 1878 1918 founder of several newspapers, had the title of "Caucasian Lenin"
Mashadi Azizbeyov 1876 1918 Deputy People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Caucasus, occupied several positions
Mikhail Olminsky 1863 1933 One of Lenin's closest confidants as early as 1904
Anatoly Lunacharsky 1875 1933 Occupied several positions, joined the Bolsheviks soon after the split with the Mensheviks
Simon Kamo 1882 1922 Central role in bank robberies
Roman Malinovsky 1876 1918 Early member of the CC and Okhrana infiltrator
Suren Spandaryan 1882 1916
Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov 1870 1928
Viktor Nogin 1878 1924
Leonid Krasin 1870 1926 Elected member of the CC in 1903
Lev Karpov 1879 1921 Elected member of the CC in 1904

Some of those executed in the Purge[edit]

Born Died Notes
Nikolai Bukharin 1888 1938 Prominent bolshevik leader, founder of the Right Opposition
Grigori Zinoviev 1883 1936
Lev Kamenev 1883 1936
Béla Kun 1886 1938 Leader of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919
Alexei Rykov 1881 1938
Karl Radek 1885 1939
Mikhail Tomsky 1880 1936 Committed suicide before his trial
Martemyan Ryutin 1890 1937
Ivan Smirnov 1881 1936
Ivar Smilga 1892 1938
Arkady Rosengolts 1889 1938 Joined Bolsheviks in 1905, military leader during the 1917 revolution
Yevgeni Preobrazhensky 1886 1937
Aleksandr Smirnov 1877 1938
Nikolay Krestinsky 1883 1938 Elected member of the CC in early 1917
Alexander Shliapnikov 1885 1937
Andrei Bubnov 1883 1938
Varvara Yakovleva 1884 1941 Elected member of the CC in 1917
Alexander Shotman 1880 1937 Elected member of the CC in 1913
Alexander Beloborodov 1891 1938
Lev Karakhan 1889 1937 Joined the Bolsheviks in May 1917
Jan Sten 1899 1937 Joined the Bolsheviks in 1914


Born Died Notes
Joseph Stalin 1878 1953 Leader of the USSR during 1929–1953
Mikhail Kalinin 1875 1946
Vyacheslav Molotov 1890 1986
Kliment Voroshilov 1881 1969
Lazar Kaganovich 1893 1991 The last surviving Old Bolshevik
Anastas Mikoyan 1895 1978
Elena Stasova 1873 1966 One of the main leaders of the party when Lenin was alive
Alexandra Kollontai 1872 1952
Nadezhda Krupskaya 1869 1939 Deputy Commissar for Education from 1929 to 1939 and widely regarded as the architect of the Soviet education system. Wife of Lenin
Nikolai Shvernik 1888 1970 Joined Bolsheviks in 1905, in 1910 he was a member of the board of the Union of Metalworkers in St. Petersburg
Andrey Andreyev 1895 1971 Member of the Petrograd committee of the Bolsheviks in 1915-16
Maxim Litvinov 1876 1951 Joined the Bolsheviks in 1903 and talked with Lenin personally, later helped the Tiflis bank robbery
Alexander Poskrebyshev 1891 1965 Secretary of the local division of the Bolshevik party in early 1917
Cecilia Bobrovskaya 1873 1960 Knew Lenin and worked at Iskra. Was involved in the Serpukhov and Moscow party committees during 1917
Klavdiya Nikolayeva 1893 1944 Joined Bolsheviks in 1909, editor of Rabotnitsa, who rallied women against capitalism
Ivan Belostotsky 1882 1968 Elected member of the CC in 1912
Matvei Muranov 1873 1959 Elected member of the CC in 1917
Aleksei Badayev 1883 1951 Elected member of the CC in 1914
Rosalia Zemlyachka 1876 1947 Elected member of the CC in 1903
Grigory Petrovsky 1878 1958 Elected member of the CC in 1913
Nikolai Semashko 1878 1949 Elected member of the CC in 1907
Nikolai Zezyulinsky 1879 1959 In spring 1907, he was delegated to the 5th Congress of the RSDRP and translated the speeches of the Bolsheviks

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia, article "Общество старых большевиков"
  2. ^ Vadim Rogovin, Was There An Alternative?
  3. ^ «Если не закрывать себе глаза на действительность, то надо признать, что в настоящее время пролетарская политика партии определяется не ее составом, а громадным, безраздельным авторитетом того тончайшего слоя, который можно назвать старой партийной гвардией. Достаточно небольшой внутренней борьбы в этом слое, и авторитет его будет если не подорван, то во всяком случае ослаблен настолько, что решение будет уже зависеть не от него», V.Lenin, March 26, 1922
  4. ^ "Shameless Classic" Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine, Mark Deutsch, Moskovsky Komsomolets, 2003, citing Д.А.Чугаев, "Коммунистическая партия – организатор СССР".
  5. ^ Подвиг экипажа парохода “Старый Большевик” Victory of crew of "Stari Bolshevik" (in Russian) (Article about one of 5 steamships called "Old Bolshevik" or "Stari Bolshevik)
  6. ^ Печать в Москве в 1917 году : отражение борьбы партий в печати[permanent dead link] (in Russian). Example of book edited by "Stari Bolshevik" or "Old Bolshevik"
  7. ^ Robert C. Tucker. "Letter of an Old Bolshevik". Slavic Review, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 782–785 (in English)