Grigory Pasko: The Party Card

Party Card for an Armored Train from the Past By Grigory Pasko, journalist When I was 13, or maybe 14, I remember standing on a stage and reciting Alexander Bezymensky’s poem “The Party Card” [Partbilet]. This was no ordinary poem, but a thriller of sorts, with a cleverly intricate plot. Essentially, it’s about how enemies killed one communist and the bullet pierced through his party card, which, naturally, he kept in his breast pocket, close to his heart. Because of the death of this one person, according to the author of the poem, the entire party nearly collapsed. I remember one of the lines went something like this: “Just one small, one card lost, but in the body of the party – a gaping hole…” I really wished a gaping hole would open up when I was on stage: I forgot one of the lines of this long poem. I was able to recite just about all of Mayakovsky and Rozhdestvensky from memory without a pause, yet here – I’d collapsed. To me it seemed like I must have been silent for a whole eternity, while at this time the poor unfortunate mighty communist party was collapsing someplace – into a gaping hole, naturally. Worst of all was that nobody else besides me knew this near-religious work, so there wasn’t anybody to help me out by whispering the forgotten line to me from backstage. Somehow it came back to me; I gamely stuck it out to the end and then walked off the stage on legs that felt like soft noodles. I was later told that I hadn’t been silent for long at all, and that hardly anybody had noticed anything. And it was then that I first understood that I was holding the tokens of my country’s ideology too close to my heart. Say what you will, but to this very day none of my classmates from school can recall ever seeing me wearing an October star, a Komsomol badge, or a Pioneer neckerchief. There’s a whole separate tale with my membership cards. Once, after a Komsomol meeting, I, as usual, stuffed my Komsomol card into one of the cigarette packs that hung on my bedroom wall like museum exhibits, glued to a piece of cloth. “Marlboro”, “Kent”, “Winston”… This was 1975 or 1976. A month later, before the next meeting and payment of dues [a record of monthly dues paid was kept right on the card (see photo below)—Trans.], it turned out that my dear mother had decided to incinerate my exhibit. Together with the Komsomol card, as I logically deduced. I was in shock from what awaited me. I couldn’t help recalling the poem: “Just one small, one card lost…” It was a miracle that they didn’t kick me out of the Komsomol.


Communist Party of the Soviet Union card No. 00000006, issued to the “Old Bolshevik” Kliment Voroshilov for the year 1954. The table on the right side shows his monthly income of 13000 rubles along with the 3% party dues of 390 rubles deducted every month and certified by the signature and stamp of his local party committee treasurer.

They issued me a new membership card, and in a couple of days, after many meetings, reprimands, and admonitions, the old card was found as well. For some reason they issued me yet another one in military school. Then I became a candidate for membership in the CPSU, then a full CPSU member. At the publication where I came to work after graduating from the higher military school, they appointed me to be a “young communist, working in the Komsomol” – that is, secretary of the Komsomol organization of the editorial and printing plant staff. And… they issued me my fourth Komsomol membership card! Whenever I recall myself as a member of some kind of organizations, everywhere the most important thing was always some piece of paper – a membership card, a protocol, a character reference, a log book, etc. The individual is at the bottom of the heap. It is interesting that one of the very first acts in the life of the multiple-headed – like a Hydra – “United Russia” party became the making of party cards with embedded electronic chips: so they wouldn’t get lost. Or else, you understand – a gaping hole and all that… With a competitor in the form of Mironov’s “Just Russia”, the uniteds can’t allow that to happen. And while we’re on the subject of a return of tokens, how about this?: Pioneer organizations have been resurrected in forty of Russia’s regions [about half—Trans.]. With neckerchiefs, naturally. And there are Komsomols, too. And I’m sure they’ve got membership cards. In Smolensk, they’ve resurrected awarding top workers in production with a red (!) challenge banner [that passes on from winner to winner every month—Trans.] and socialist competition. In Moscow, in the district where I live, Honor Boards with photos of the best citizens of the district have appeared. It seems that totalitarianism can’t resurrect without its tokens. With such a move backwards, to the past, they’ll no doubt soon introduce amendments and additions to the law on parties along the lines that a party isn’t a party unless all of its members have cards, badges, and neckerchiefs with them at all times and photos of the party and state leaders in their offices and above their beds at home. And that a party has to have at least a million members. Only after that will it be able to take part in elections. Oh, I almost forgot: all party cards have to have embedded microchips. And naturally, the central electoral commission isn’t going to accept any lame excuses about how these aren’t the most important things or that a party doesn’t have the money for such nonsense. Then we’ll get to see what the results of elections will be. The funniest thing is that all this party fetishism was phony and a waste of time and effort from the very start. Neither a Komsomol card, nor even a party card, was ever legally recognized as an identity document. Nor are they such today, even if you were to stuff three microchips in each one. Which is why I genuinely feel sorry for the poor Russian party functionary who is forced to carry a bunch of identity cards in his pockets at all times – everything from a Duma deputy’s card to a “Putin Lovers’ Club” card to a “Union of Voluntary Helpers of the KGB” card…


A parody of a public service poster. The man is holding a CPSU party card in its protective red jacket. The text reads “CITIZENS! remember! loss of a party card is punishable by law!”

The more little papers a person has, the less free he is. In principle, a citizen of a normal country ought to carry only three cards in his wallet: a driver’s license (which doubles as an identity card), a plastic credit card, and a photo of his family. The rest is rubbish. Look in your pockets, my fellow citizens! Well, did you find a lot of rubbish there? If you didn’t, then that means you aren’t a member of a party, and you don’t love Putin or the KGB. And come to think of it, that makes you quite a “suspicious character”. Maybe you don’t love the Motherland either? What? You say you do love it? Okay, then how come you don’t know the words to the national anthem? We’d better take your fingerprints… The more little papers a person has, the easier it is to keep track of him, the simpler it is to control this “papered person”. And what totalitarian state would say “no” to totalitarian surveillance of its citizens? From the point of view of such a state, a person needs to have everything – a face (both profile and full-face photos), clothing (preferably with a number on the pocket), thoughts (approved by a party congress and the criminal code), and, of course, a party card and various and sundry other forms of ID (see above). If you ask the state for some kind of certification as a helper of the police or as a young naturalist, and no doubt it will issue you one. But if you ask for a chance to say a word, the state will most certainly ask you in the words of the Dragon in Yevgeni Schwartz’s poem: “What do you need a word for? What are you going to do with it?” Party cards, badges and t-shirts with a depiction of the president, busts, monuments to him – all of this is idolization, an inevitable creeping towards a cult of personality. Not for nothing did Francis Bacon note that in order to achieve fairness, we need to pull down all the idols from our mind. The CPSU died one fine day not because it had strong opponents, but because it consisted of party cards. There were practically no people in it. I recall how after the court had found me not guilty of the false charges of espionage in my first trial, the records administrator at the publication where I worked proposed that I drop by her office. I dropped by. It turned out that since August 1991, that is since the time I had entered the academy of the Ministry of Defense, she had kept on forgetting to return me my… party card, which had been left with her for safekeeping. And it also turned out that since I wasn’t in the office in the days of the 1991 putsch, I was the only one there who had formally not withdrawn my membership in the communist party. Total insanity! Me, the guy who was the last to be accepted into this party due to lack of desire on my part, the guy they wanted on several occasions to kick out for not participating in party life, the guy who was constantly criticizing it for whitewashing the truth and its formalism – I turned out to be just about the last of its Mohicans! The situation had phantasmagorically mutated in comparison with the one described by Bezymensky in “The Party Card”. There, a single card may have fallen out of the monolithic wall, but the wall that was the party stood firm. But here, everything was exactly the opposite: there was no party left any more, but by some twist of fate, one party card had survived intact. I put it with my four Komsomol cards. As a reminder of the idiocy of totalitarian systems.