From 1920 to 1934, Rabkrin (Russian: Рабо́че-крестья́нская инспе́кция, Рабкри́н, РКИ, RKI; Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate, WPI) was a governmental establishment in the Soviet Union responsible for scrutinizing the state, local, and enterprise administrations.
Beginnings of Rabkrin
Beginning on February 7, 1920, the Soviet Central Executive Committee established the Rabkrin to succeed the People’s Commissariat for State Control. The term "Rabkrin" comes from the Russian title Narodnyi Kommissariat Raboche or the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate. Rabkrin was put in place to ensure the effectiveness of the newly created Soviet Government, which had experienced bureaucratic turmoil beginning with the Russian Revolution and had continued into the Russian Civil War. While the People’s Commissariat for State Control was a key institute for creating the Soviet Union, its mismanagement of bureaucratic control led Vladimir Lenin to disband the council, replacing it with a more manageable division of government authority. The former commissar of the People’s Commissariat for State Control, Joseph Stalin, was placed in charge of the newly formed agency. Rabkrin was to signal a new beginning of Soviet administration. Since it was a creation of the Soviet Union, it had no connection to the Russian Empire.
During Lenin & Stalin Administrations
Polish biographer Isaac Deutscher described Rabkrin as follows:
“The Rabkrin ... was set up to control every branch of the administration, from top to bottom, with a view to eliminating the two major faults, inefficiency and corruption, which the Soviet civil service had inherited from its Tsarist predecessor. It was to act as the stern and enlightened auditor for the whole rickety and creaking governmental machine; to expose abuses of power and red tape; and to train an élite of reliable civil servants for every branch of the government. The [Rabkrin] acted through teams of workers and peasants who were free at any time to enter the offices of any Commissariat and watch the work done there.... The whole bizarre scheme of inspection was one of Lenin's pet ideas. Exasperated by the inefficiency and dishonesty of the civil service, he sought to remedy them by extreme and ruthless "control from below," and the [Rabkrin] was to be the means.... The mill of officialdom, however, turned the workers themselves into bureaucrats. The Commissariat of the Inspectorate, as Lenin was to discover later on, became an additional source of muddle, corruption, and bureaucratic intrigue. In the end it became an unofficial but meddlesome police in charge of the civil service.”
During its first three years of operation, Rabkrin was crucial in the development of the growing communist state. The Central Bureau of Complaints (Biuro Zhalob) was a Rabkrin department whose sole purpose was to find and eliminate inefficiency within the state’s administration. Any Soviet citizen could file a complaint against a government official through this bureau. Lenin saw this as giving a voice to the people and a say in their government. After failing its goals and having been severely criticized, among others by Lenin himself, in 1923, it was merged with the CPSU Party Control Committee to become a joint control organ (PCC-WPI, TsKK-RKI) under a common chairman to oversee state, economy, and the Communist Party. With Stalin’s rise to power after Lenin’s 1924 death, the Complaint Bureau became a more sinister tool for the new leader. The Complaint Bureau was now used as a tactic to encourage Soviet citizens to provide detailed accounts, including evidence and witnesses, of other comrades opposing the state or being part of anti-communist organizations. Many complaints were followed by quick court hearings for the accused, most cases were then decided upon with or without evidence. In 1929, the Rabkrin Complaint Bureau was combined with the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions Complaint Bureau, another Soviet administrative establishment in charge of worker unionization. This merger led to a rise in complaints from both agriculture and industrial sectors until 1934.
After his ascension to General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin left the post of commissar to his trusted ally Grigory Ordzhonikidze. Under new leadership, Rabkrin pushed for more industrial/military efficiency from other Soviet economic establishments, most notably the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy (Vesenkha) and the State Planning Commission (Gosplan). Along with Stalin’s first five-year plan, Rabkrin became responsible for seeking new industrial investments to reach maximum output with minimum input. From 1929 to 1932, power struggles between Vesenkha, which was responsible for increasing industrialization, and Rabkrin became more evident. Constant investigations into Vensenkha’s industrial efficiency led to claims from Rabkrin of neglect and deception; however, much of the inquires were falsified, which represented the chaotic nature of Soviet bureaucratic control. The investigations of other Soviet institutions went hand in hand with the removal of old Bolshevik party members during the early stages of the Great Purge. Stalin and his administration believed certain individuals within Soviet establishments, like Vesenkha, were purposely sabotaging the economic growth of the Soviet Union. Rabkrin investigations were convenient in providing enough evidence to place convictions on thousands of government officials.
Within the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture, Rabkrin investigations led to departmental dissatisfaction. Many officials felt the overpowered Soviet institution was abusing its power and making it difficult for collectivized agriculture to succeed under strict procedures. Soviet peasants met the same criticism as internal departments, peasants were reported as drunks, debauchers, and saboteurs who went against the Communist Party and its attempts for mass collectivization. Most of these reports were false and wrongly depicted the life of the peasantry, but justified to place extreme quotas on the agriculture sector. By constantly keeping the peasantry busy, they were less likely to take part in immoral behavior.
End of Rabkrin
From November 1930 to October 1931, Andrei Andreyev headed Rabkrin. Like his predecessor, Ordzhonikidze, Andreyev pushed for greater industrial growth as well as military expansion. From October 1931 to January 1934, Yan Rudzutak replaced him as head of the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate. After the success of the first five-year plan, the Soviet economy had entered a period of expansion and financial security. Compared to other world powers at the time, which were experiencing the impacts of the Great Depression, the Soviet economy seemed unstoppable from an external perspective. At the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party, feeling its purpose had been served in creating a more efficient administrative and economic structure, Rabkrin was dissolved and its functions were passed on to the People’s Control Commission. After the People’s Control Commission became responsible for productivity, an increase in labor unions became a support system for many Soviet citizens in the industrial areas, leading to less chaos caused by bureaucratic control. While Rabkrin is remembered for its restrictions and its confrontations with other Soviet establishments, under Stalin’s reign, it did meet limited success in assisting in the creation of the Soviet economy.
- Rees, E.A. State Control in Soviet Russia: The Rise and Fall of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, 1920-1934. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987. 20-25.
- Kuromiya, Hiroaki. Stalin’s Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1931. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 48-49.
- Deutshcer, Isaac. Stalin: A Political Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967. 230-231.
- Solomon, Peter H. Reforming Justice in Russia, 1864-1996: Power, Culture, and the Limits of Legal Order. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1997. 171-173.
- Fitzpatrick, Shelia. “Ordzhonikidze’s Takeover of Vesenkha: A Case Study in Soviet Bureaucratic Politics.” Soviet Studies Vol. 37, no. 2 (1985): 153-172.
- Shearer, David R. Industry, State, and Society in Stalin’s Russia, 1926-1934. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. 87-91.
- Heinzen, James W. Inventing a Soviet Countryside: State Power and the Transformation of Rural Russia, 1917-1929. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. 109, 111-113.
- Rees, E.A. State Control in Soviet Russia: The Rise and Fall of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, 1920-1934. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987. 147-150.
- Kuromiya, Hiroaki. Stalin’s Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1931. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 300-302.