A Struggle for Professional Autonomy: The Statisticians of the Region of Saratov in the Early 1920s

By Martine Mespoulet

This paper intends to provide some contribution to a social history of the construction of the Soviet State during the New Economic Policy period. It focuses, in particular, on how the members of an intellectual profession formed in the Tsarist period tried to safeguard some of their professional autonomy in the Bolshevik administration in the beginning of the 1920s at the very moment of the settlement of the new regime. From this point of view, the attitude of the Central Statistical Administration’s statisticians offers an interesting case study. Indeed the heads of this administration and its provincial agencies who were statisticians in the former local zemstvo institutions had always put the principle of their independence from the political power in the core of their professional practice. How did they react when faced with different forms of constraint and control from the members of the new power after October 1917? On the basis of the case of the Saratov provincial statistical agency, this paper tries to show the part played by negotiation and the role of continuity in Saratov statisticians’ practices to safeguard the two principles they considered as essential in their professional practice, i.e. the qualification of the staff and the independence from the political power. The analysis of the confrontation of the professional logics of specialists and the logics of the political power sheds light on some aspects of the social and political process eventually leading to the struggle against the “bourgeois specialists” at the end of the 1920s.

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