This study examines the social composition of the communist party in the Soviet Union and four East European countries during the post-war period. Two alternative explanations for joining the communist party are examined: the classical political participation model from Western political science and the party policy model. In Western countries, the people who join political parties tend to be male, older, married, highly educated and in higher status occupations. According to the party policies model, recruitment should reflect the party’s policies, ideologies and intentions to promote particular social groups such as, workers, peasants, young people, women and those with proletarian backgrounds. The data analyzed are from nationally representative surveys from the Social Stratification in Eastern Europe after 1989 study. Stronger support was found for the political participation model. Generally, parental party membership, being male, married, highly educated and working in an administrative position influenced joining, whereas social background, a manual occupation, and political time period had little or no influence. Between-country differences in the process of joining were minor. There was little evidence that recruitment reflected the parties’ ideologies or policies.

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