Preferred Citation: Mally, Lynn. Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.

3 Proletkult Membership: The Problem of Class in a Mass Organization

White-Collar Workers and the "Laboring Intelligentsia"

The Proletkult reached beyond the industrial working class to embrace laborers in the service sector—office workers, shop assistants, and sales personnel. Their ubiquitous presence reflected the open-door policy that many local groups pursued. However, they also found a place because many employees considered themselves, and were considered by their peers, to be legitimate members of the working class. The two shopkeeper's apprentices who founded the Proletkult theater studio in Tamboy called themselves workers, and so did the

[42] See Tver and Archangel membership lists, TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 1525, ll. 66–69 and d. 1209, ll. 35 ob.–36.

[43] The Archangel Proletkult reported 90 percent worker participation in 1921, but a more detailed list, with members' occupations specified, revealed that less than half of the members were workers. Compare TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 54, ll. 2–5 to d. 1209, l. 48.

[44] Report by Mariia Shipova, Kologriv Proletkult, TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 1278, l. 13.


young typist who was the president of the Rzhev organization.[45]

Before October the poor working conditions of many salaried employees led them to form alliances with artisanal and industrial workers.[46] Although there were frequent hostilities in factories between workers and the white-collar staff during the 1917 revolutions, there were also strong alliances formed between manual laborers and those engaged in "mental labor."[47] With the nationalization of industry and the expansion of the Soviet bureaucracy the distinction between manual and mental laborers became even less clear. Wartime conditions created new opportunities for workers to leave their factory jobs and become part of the expanding bureaucracies in the new Soviet state. Thus although a part of the proletariat was declassed, another part was reclassed and advanced into the hierarchies of trade unions, industry, and government. Those who took employment in the burgeoning bureaucratic system did not feel that they were abandoning their class. Rather, they were serving a state dedicated to the victory of the proletariat. In turn, the state showed its commitment to workers by promoting them to responsible managerial and governmental posts.[48]

At all levels of the Proletkult hierarchy, nonmanual laborers took part in cultural activities. These participants were variously described as white-collar workers (sluzhashchie ), the "laboring intelligentsia," or "workers no longer involved in production." The inclusion of white-collar workers began already in factory Proletkults, the bottom rung of the orga-

[45] For Tambov see L. Granat and N. Varzin, Aktery-agitatory , boitsy (Moscow, 1970), pp. 123–24; for Rzhev see the delegate list for the 1921 national congress, TsGALI f. 1230, op. l. d. 144, ll. 117–18.

[46] See Engelstein, Moscow, 1905 , p. 16, pp. 20–25.

[47] S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd (Cambridge, Eng., 1983), pp. 134–38.

[48] See Sheila Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921–1934 (Cambridge, Eng., 1979), chapter 1; and Selunskaia, Izmeneniia sotsial'noi struktury , pp. 282, 298–99.


nizational ladder. Although these groups could have easily fulfilled the center's mandate to serve only the industrial proletariat, in practice many of them encompassed the entire factory community, including the office staff. The Proletkult at a textile mill in Pushkino, Moscow province, reported that its activities were attended by factory workers and white-collar employees alike. At the Staro-Gorkinskii factory, a quarter of the members were drawn from the office staff.[49]

The participation of white-collar workers did not end as one moved up the organizational hierarchy. In questionnaires sent out by the central Proletkult in 1921, most city and provincial circles reported significant percentages of white-collar employees in their ranks. Fifty percent of all studio members in the factory town of Rybinsk, site of one of the most successful Proletkults, came from the laboring intelligentsia. Only the Proletkult in Ivanovo-Voznesensk claimed an all-proletarian constituency, and this was because it had formed an elite central studio for its most advanced working-class students. In lower level workshops only half the members were workers, with the rest holding office jobs.[50]

At least some of these employees were former workers, or the children of workers, who had moved into white-collar and bureaucratic posts. At the second Proletkult congress in 1921 delegates gave detailed personal information about their class status, including their social background (soslovie ), social position, specialty, and current occupation. Among the 141 delegates, many of whom were not workers at all, are several examples of industrial laborers who had taken jobs outside of factories. The textile worker V. F. Mozer from the Sokolovskii factory Proletkult worked in 1921 as a typist for her factory committee. L. I. Zaitsev from the Tula Proletkult

[49] Local questionnaires in TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 117, ll. 33, 61 ob.

[50] Reports on the activities of music, art, literature, and theater studios for provincial Proletkults at the 1921 congress, TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 54, ll. 2–5. For the provincial organization in Ivanovo-Voznesensk see d. 117, l. 83 ob.


was a weaver by trade who had left the factory to become a union organizer. Mark Grishchenko of the Iurevsk organization listed his background and social status as "worker" and had only received a primary education. In 1921 he had a job as an employee for the railroad.[51]

The presence of white-collar workers sometimes caused conflict in local circles. One disgruntled railroad worker in Samara bitterly attacked the Proletkult for allowing nonworkers to take part. Tula membership rules restricted office workers to 13 percent of the total membership and only accepted those who were in favor of Soviet power. Anna Dodonova, leader of the Moscow organization, defended Proletkult autonomy in a meeting with Lenin, insisting that it was necessary to keep employees from taking over workers' clubs.[52]

Nonetheless, the confusion of social categories caused by the revolution worked in favor of white-collar employees who wanted to participate in Proletkult activities. As more and more workers gained jobs in state bureaucracies, soviets, trade unions, and the party, distinct divisions between the working class and the laboring intelligentsia became much harder to draw. This confusion made it more difficult for local groups to exclude white-collar workers from their ranks.[53] Although there were those who opposed workers leaving the factory for any reason, these purists eventually lost out in internal organizational debates.[54] By the 1920s the central

[51] List of delegates at the second national Proletkult congress, November 17, 1921, TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 144, ll. 124, 117, 118. Several other delegates who gave their background and social position as workers were currently occupying white-collar jobs; see ll. 122, 125, 126.

[52] D. I'lin, "Rzhavoe pero," Zarevo zavodov , no. 2 (1919), pp. 65–66; "Ustav," TsGALI f. 1230, op. 1, d. 1536, l. 1; A. Dodonova, "Iz vospominanii o Proletkul'te," in V. I. Lenin o literature i iskusstve , 7th ed., ed. N. Krutikov (Moscow, 1986), p. 501.

[53] See, for example, a debate on this issue in the Moscow Proletkult in 1918, "Khronika," Gorn , no. 1 (1918), p. 91.

[54] See the discussion of professionalization in Chapter 5.


leadership counted "workers no longer involved in production" as part of the Proletkult's proletarian contingent.[55]

3 Proletkult Membership: The Problem of Class in a Mass Organization

Preferred Citation: Mally, Lynn. Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.