The Soviet opposition

For the most part the Party maximum was an operative rule until the end of the twenties and early thirties. Then it began to be undermined, primarily by the decline in the real wages of most workers. The limited increase in money wages did not cover the rapid rise in prices; a considerable number of workers found their small circle of high officials was protected by the creation of a system of special stores, distributing centres, and dining rooms, where goods could be obtained at fixed prices. Gradually they acquired other privileges too: their own hospitals, free rest homes, dachas, and so on. In the same period a peculiar habit began to appear: the Party activ were given expensive gifts for holidays, congresses, and conferences. On February 8, 1932, the Party maximum was formally abolished, bringing a new increase in the real income of leading officials.

When the economic situation improved, permitting the abolition of rationing in 1935 and a steady increase in real wages, the privileges of high officials were not terminated. On the contrary, they were increased. A system of representatives’ subsidies (predestavitelskie dotatsii) was established for all officials at the level of the chairman of a city Soviet or higher. Moreover, the direct salaries of higher officials rose much faster than wages of ordinary workers. Many officials increased their salaries even more through a system of pluralism (sovmestitelstro); that is, one man held several offices, receiving full pay for each. Thus the l-to-5 ratio between an average worker’s salary and that of the highest official, which Lenin evidently considered optimal, was violated even before the war.

Subsequently the ratio grew still greater. During the war and the first post-war years, when the real wages of ordinary workers were falling once again, the salaries of the highest officials continued to rise. That was the period when the disgraceful system of “packets” (pakety) was introduced in the higher State and Party institutions. Each month almost every high official would receive an envelope or packet containing a large sum, often much higher than the salary formally designated for his post. These payments passed through special financial channels, were not subject to taxes, and were kept secret from the rank-and-file officials of the institution.

Russian dissident Roy Medvedev on the growth of the Russian rulers’ privileges, in Let History Judge, Knopf, N.Y. 1972, pp 539-40.

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