Having emerged victorious in the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks were faced with the difficult task of building a state-administrative apparatus to restore Russia’s disintegrated economy as well as pursue their communist political project. During the 1920s, differences regarding the structure of this apparatus and the policies it would pursue led to a series of conflicts amongst Bolshevik leaders, eventually concluding in the victory of the Central Committee majority under Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, throughout the country’s industrial enterprises, a tripartite system of industrial relations was being formed based on cooperation between a factory’s administration, trade union group and party organisation. A long tradition of social-historical scholarship has linked the formation of this ‘triangle’ to Stalin’s victory over the opposition in a narrative of gradual political subordination of the Soviet working class to the state apparatus.

This talk offers a contrasting view. Based on a case study of Leningrad’s Kirov factory, it develops three main claims. First, the formation of the triangle resulted in the politicisation, rather than the repression of labour demands, as conflicts between workers and management now manifested within the primary party organisation (PPO). Second, the structure and composition of the PPO, as well as the ideological content of communist party policy, transformed the organisation into a permanent instrument of opposition to the factory administration. Third, the central and regional party leadership was aware of this state affairs, but never took substantial measures to limit the power of the PPO.