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Soviet Specialist Baiting: The Case of N. A. Dobrosmyslov

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For many communists working in the Soviet state apparatus during the 1920s, the state's continued employment of so-called “bourgeois specialists” (spetsy) was an ideological affront and an obstacle to proletarian advancement. In their eyes, until the spetsy were removed and workers staffed the institutions of the state, the revolution would be neither secure nor its promises fulfilled. Based on archival research, this article traces rank-and-file communists' attempts to remove one such specialist, N. A. Dobrosmyslov, from his position in the Tax Department (Gosnalog) of the People's Commissariat of Finances (Narkomfin). Dobrosmyslov had been a long-time official in the tsarist tax bureaucracy and had also worked for the Provisional Government in 1917. Communist opposition to him took the form of a denunciation campaign that focused on his alleged anti-Sovietism, his professional competence, his arrogant manner, his high salary, and his attempt to obtain a large pension from the government. The documents related to the case reveal the atmosphere of suspicion and often open hostility that surrounded the spetsy. They provide evidence of the contrasting evaluations of the spetsy made by leading communist administrators and by the lower-level communists who worked closely with them. They also show how important the issue of material compensation was for this latter group. Finally, the case provides an example of how biography could be interpreted and manipulated to serve particular ends, especially in the context of political and personal denunciation.


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