Old Bolshevik (Russian: ста́рый большеви́к, stary bolshevik), also Old Bolshevik Guard or Old Party Guard, became an unofficial designation for those who were members of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Many of the Old Guard were either tried and executed by the NKVD during the Great Purge of 1936–38 or died under suspicious circumstances.
Vladimir Lenin expressed the opinion that what one could call the "old party guard", a "thinnest layer", had a "huge, unshared prestige".
According to a 1972 Soviet book by D.A. Chygayev, in 1922 there were 44,148 Old Bolsheviks. Vadim Rogovin cites the statistics published by the 13th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), that in 1924, of 600,000 Party members, 0.6% joined before 1905, 2% joined in 1906–1916 and <9% joined in 1917.
Joseph Stalin removed many of the Old Bolsheviks from power during the Great Purge of the 1930s. (The most prominent survivors in the Communist Party were Lazar Kaganovich, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan, and Stalin himself.) Some were executed for treason; some were sent to labor camps (the Gulag); and a few, such as Alexandra Kollontai, went abroad as ambassadors, preventing them from participating in the central government. Many communist opponents of Stalin, most notably the Trotskyists, cite this fact in support of their argument that Stalin betrayed the aims of the revolution; they believed in Permanent Revolution, while Stalin and his supporters believed in Socialism in One Country.
Various things in the Soviet Union, such as a publishing house, several steamships, motorboats, kolkhozes and settlements, gained the name Old Bolshevik.
The first prominent Old Bolshevik to die was Yakov Sverdlov in 1919; the last was Lazar Kaganovich in 1991 who also reached the greatest age.