Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Protected by the copyright laws of the United States. Exclusively for use in studying PolS 111 and PolS 216 under the supervision of Prof. Bowen by enrolled students of Mary Baldwin College. Not for citation, quotation or any other use without written permission of the author. Contact: email@example.com
Preface: It was late in the afternoon of October 30, 1989. The place: the foot of a gray steel statue of Felix E. Dzerzhinski, founder and until his death in 1926, head of the organizations that formed the root of the Soviet "Committee on State Security," or K.G.B. --the Soviet secret police -- on Dzerzhinski Square, Moscow. Adjacent was the huge stark building which then served as the headquarters of the K.G.B. All around scurried furtive men thought to be members of the secret police of the Soviet Union. Yet they were not alone. On the square were about 1500 people, demonstrators from the human rights group "Memorial." These defiant souls were parading to bring to the attention of their fellow citizens a terrible chapter of Soviet history, one that haunted the nation: the crimes of Stalinism. One, Irina Visochina, spoke to an American reporter and explained:
"Usually I'll walk a half mile out of my way just to avoid looking at this building. At least 20 people that were close to me --my father included-- died inside and I can hardly stand to see the place. When I was in university, I was one of many 'children of the repressed', as we called ourselves then, but we never dared talk about our experiences, how our parents and relatives and friends were taken away in the middle of the night and never seen again. Only now, in my sixties, can I stand here and even dare talk aloud about our country's history. Maybe the most important part of standing here, even if for just half an hour, is to try to begin building a guarantee that these atrocities will never happen again. But I still believe that guarantee does not exist. Not yet" (Remnick 1989a: 17).
In late August 1991, another crowd, much larger, gathered there again. With the aid of a crane donated by the Moscow city government, citizens brought that statue of Dzerzhinski down, smashing it so better to rebuke what it once represented. In the years since then citizens have come not only stand there: many rallies have been held so that speech can be heard freely in that place. Yet, the guarantees Ms. Visochina sought may never be fully secure so long as the memory of Stalinism tempts some among men.
As students of comparative politics, we can learn much from trying to understand why Ms. Visochina hoped for a new Soviet Union. Indeed, as we learn of this segment of the Soviet past, much within us may hunger with Ms. Visochina for the coming of "the new" which now seems upon us. But, as Americans and other free peoples, we also have somewhat different reasons than would a Russian for studying the events to which Ms. Visochina referred. As students of 20th Century politics, we have been chastened by experience: disasters have befallen many who succumbed to earlier seductive promises of "the new." In Soviet Russia as many as twenty million may have perished on its altar (Laqueur). As citizens of the nation consigned by our great power, values, and interests to have been the rival of the USSR for most of this century, we must understand how it was that Russia --not everywhere-- but first and foremost in Russia, that this belief system called Communism produced a state forever linked to the enormous crimes now known as Stalinism. Even after the demise of rule by the Communism Party (August 1991), Russia remains. Thus, to know the worst in the history of that rival may tell us much, not merely about Communism, or about Russia, but about the potential of modern states in general, and the proven performance of one that remains.
The central thesis of this chapter, indeed of this whole set of readings, is consistent with that argued by Martin Malia: socialism produced Soviet Communism, which in turn produced Stalinism: in each instance, the one could not have come to exist without the other. Its logical conclusion for our times is equally blunt: without the complete eradication of the former (i.e., the attraction of socialism), recurrence of the latter remains distinctly possible.
Structure of the Essay: Proceeding in a generally chronological manner, we will address three main themes:
(1) the rise of Josef Stalin to undisputed ruler of the USSR,
(2) the purpose and means used in the collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, and
(3) the broader meaning of Stalinism which these events can teach us.
I. The rise of Josef Stalin
The leadership of V.I. Lenin within the C.P.S.U. was weakened by his ill health, 1922-24. The leader had been wounded in a failed assassination attempt (August 1918), an event compounded by the fact that the bullet was not removed until April 1922. He also had suffered a stroke, in May 1922. Given the weakening of Lenin's health, much of the day-to-day execution of policy fell to the Party bureaucracy, or Secretariat, led by Josef Stalin. By the time Lenin died (January 1924), his personal authority was so weakened that he was unable to secure the transmission of his "Letter to the (Party) Congress," (January 1923), which praised Red Army leader Leon Trotsky and denounced Stalin. Had his Party comrades heard from Lenin, they might have selected another successor; consider Lenin's words:
"Comrade Stalin, having become the Secretary-General, has boundless power concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that power with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky...is distinguished not only with outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the Central Committee. ... Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealings among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin... and appointing another... more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc." (in Tucker: 728).
But the Party did not receive this letter: Lenin's secretary informed Stalin of its contents and it was quietly set aside.
A new Constitution of the nation was put in place shortly after Lenin died, renaming the country the U.S.S.R. In the field of the economy, the main task of the Party, hence of the communist-dominated government, in this period was to ensure a smooth transition away from the market forces of the N.E.P. period to a centrally planned economy. In 1925, a national economic planning commission (GOSPLAN) was set up to outline the transition to "full socialism." Its visions were put in place in the First 5 Year Plan (1929-1932). The sweeping implications of "full socialism" would not come to roost at ground level for most citizens until around 1930, but ominous shadows were cast by the great goals envisioned by GOSPLAN. In a reversal of extant policy, all outstanding and new loans to existing private entrepreneurs and their children were to be ended. Taxes and rents due to the state were to be increased for the entrepreneurial class and their children. Both were to be deprived of the right to use transit facilities to carry their wares to market. While these were still just cold ink letters on a page, the shadow of the flip phrase "class enemies" was beginning to take sharper form.
Politics: Between 1924-27, shared leadership among several "old Bolsheviks" appeared to the people to be the method of Party decision-making. Three were presented to the people as a "troika" of top leaders. (A troika is a three horse-drawn sleigh in Russian). Along with Stalin, the troika consisted of Lev Kamenev, Vice-Chairman of the Government and Grigori Zinoviev, Chairman of the Politburo of the C.P.S.U., and Chairman of the Communist International or COMINTERN. Other important leaders during this period included Leon Trotsky, Commander of the Red Army and A.I. Rykov, leader of the new government.
Behind this placid exterior of unity a fierce power struggle actually was underway within the Party. Stalin first engineered the elimination of the "leftists" within the Party, including several of the above. The rationale for these purges was that by advocating immediate world revolution, the leftists endangered the U.S.S.R. by inviting aggression against it. Thus, the leftists were, by convoluted reasoning, charged with encouraging the overthrow of the USSR by the capitalist nations. Following this logic, in 1926, the radical Trotsky lost his job, was sent into Siberian exile (1927), then abroad, later to be murdered on Stalin's orders in Mexico City in 1940. (He was killed when a Stalinist agent buried an ice axe in his brain). Kamenev and Zinoviev also lost their jobs in 1926, were given exile in a remote (but European) part of the USSR in 1927, and were executed later on trumped up charges of treason during the Great Purge of 1936. To accomplish these purges, Stalin relied on an alliance with a moderate and pragmatic leading member of the CPSU, Pravda editor Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin, at the time, favored continuation of most of the key features of the New Economic Policy.
Stalin then turned on the so-called "Right Opposition" within the Party, though the student should be cautious in embracing this term. "Right wing" in Stalin's times simply meant a communist who was somewhat more open to free argument about how to achieve socialism; it did not connote, as it does today, either support for capitalism (as it means in the USA) or support for restoration of a traditional theocratic Russian state (as it meant to many in the Russia of the 1990s). Most of the Stalin-era "rightists" ultimately charged really were just opportunists: all had quite recently joined in support of Stalin's purge of the Party's "leftists." But this campaign must have come as a shock to those who thought that in Stalin they had found an ally-in-principle. Some of these "rightist" elements in the party in fact had opposed the party rule of democratic centralism and others had demanded that, within the Party only, members should have the right to criticize Party policies. Some (e.g., Bukharin) had also argued in favor of extending indefinitely some of the pragmatic aspects of the N.E.P.'s economic features.
Stalin used the Party Congress of 1927 to begin his attack on these right-leaning "deviationists," though at first only low level officials were denounced. After 1930, Stalin went after the bigger fish: Mikhail Tomsky, head of the Party-dominated Soviet Trade Unions, was fired. Later it was announced that he had died of "suicide" in 1934. A.I. Rykov, Chairman of the Council of the Peoples' Commissars was fired in 1929, and executed for treason in 1938. Most significantly, the popular Nicholai Bukharin (by then head of the COMINTERN, or Communist International organization) was fired in 1930 and executed in 1938. These cases were typical of the fate of dozens of other top leaders among the "Old Bolsheviks:" denunciations followed by firings, arrests followed by torture, then coerced confessions followed by show trials. Ultimately, there were executions. The key instrument Stalin used to these bloody ends was the virtually anonymous lower level, regional party officials, whom he personally had appointed over the years and who were loyal to Stalin alone. Their further tool was the brutal secret police, the NKVD. Consistently, party organs voted approvingly for each purge. How could they not? Many, by 1930, owed their position to Stalin's personal appointment; by 1934-35, Stalin appointees would fill top Party offices virtually to a man.
In terms of the comparative politics of totalitarian regimes, there are some interesting parallels here between Stalin's and Hitler's methods of neutralizing potential opponents within his movement. "Divide and rule" surely seems the apt aphorism. In 1934, Hitler enlisted the Reichswehr, or official German Army, in a purge of the leadership of the S.A. Storm Troopers, especially the murder of S.A. Commander Ernst Roehm, a man said to have deviated from the "traditional" norms of the officers by his reputed homosexual leanings. This incident of extrajudicial killing, June 30, 1934, did much to implicate the highest German generals in serious crimes: several dozen S.A. leaders and hundreds others were executed. This made it less feasible for the officers to turn to the legal process to stop later, even more outrageous breaches of military tradition and law by Hitler. Stalin's maneuvers against his Party peers, 1926-30, and against peasant society in general, 1929-32, set the stage for the violent liquidation of his rivals in 1934-38. In each case, potential opponents of the dictator were said not just to disagree with the leader over details of policy but rather to embody a basic challenge to prevailing norms, in this case the norms of Stalin's reshaped Party. Often this was phrased in terms of treason.
Interestingly, Stalin commented favorably on Hitler's elimination of Roehm et. al. in a meeting of the Politburo, a fact that reveals the quite substantial affinity of the Soviet dictator with the evolving tactics of totalitarians elsewhere (Malia: 253). Physical elimination of those targeted --sometimes under quasi-judicial authority, sometimes wholly outside it-- was the response of each totalitarian leader. But the political effect of these purges was far broader than simply to kill off some rivals. In each case the purges were conducted in such a way as to make more difficult future opposition by other adversaries of the dictator (Malia: 268). The key byproduct of such political purges was an intensification of the need to demonstrate loyalty to the leader among his key followers, especially those designated to have the power to use lethal force. When killing on a grandiose scale is planned, such a sharpening of the institutional knives may prove necessary in order to overcome residual feelings of morality and guilt within members of the totalitarian states' organizations.
By 1930, this stage thus was set for the expansion of Stalin's personal power through the implementation of the first 5-Year Plan. Its stated objective was the industrialization of the nation, but its broader purpose appears to have been twofold and entirely political: (1) to place the rural areas firmly under Party domination once and for all time, and (2) to use ambivalence toward the collectivization as a litmus test of the loyalty of party comrades toward Stalin. To achieve these somewhat contradictory economic and political goals, three distinct means were used: industrial expansion, agricultural collectivization, and prison/labor camp slave labor. Consistent with the emphasis it had received in the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the industrial proletariat was to be greatly expanded throughout the nation; i.e., in both the European and the Asiatic portions of the USSR. This portion of the Stalinist scheme was commensurate with what would have been necessary to a rational national development under any regime's modernization plan. But Stalinism used distinctive methods to this end, eschewing voluntary migrations in favor of compulsory measures. To create and spatially manipulate this human "force of production," the rural people simply were thrown off their land in the "Collectivization of Agriculture." Excess population and resisters were absorbed into the already extant, prison-like labor camp system. Hugely expanded to absorb millions of innocent persons, Stalinism shoved these heaps of humanity into labor-intensive projects. Surely, the forests were cut, the canals carved out, the minerals mined. Certainly, the industrial development of the nation, and especially of Soviet Asia, were among the products of this project. But this labor camp system came to be known as the Gulag Archipelago in that it resembled the rest of the USSR as islands resemble the water around them. The Gulag transformed the entire society, the party which commanded it, and the secret police organizations which ran it. As former prisoner and Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn later would richly detail, the collectivization wrung from the nation much of its humanizing spirit.
II. Collectivization of Agriculture: The Key to Sovietization of the Russian Empire
As stressed above, the ostensible economic goals of the 5 year plan were industrial, and they were very ambitious goals. In steel, a target of 10.4 Million Metric Tons (MMT) was set, up from 1928 production of 4 MMT. When the Plan was declared a "success" and ended (1932), actual production was still less than 6 MMT. In coal, the target was 75 MMT, up from 35 MMT in 1928. In 1932, 64 MMT were in fact produced. In electricity, the goal was 22 Billion Kilowatt hours (KWH), up from 1/2 B KWT in 1928. In 1932, 13 B KWH actually were produced. In other words, while the Plan showed some great increases in industrial production, the original goals proved to be too ambitious.
The deeper goals of the Plan, however, appear to have been political, not economic. Control over the rural people appears to have been the main objective and, indeed, these areas were problematic for the Red regime. Fainsod (1957) used Soviet documents captured by the Germans in World War II to demonstrate that real resistance to the Party endured in the rural areas through most of the 1920s. Stalin's Plan sought to end this situation and was successful only if the cost of millions of Soviet citizens' lives is treated as irrelevant. As Solzhenitsyn has implored, "Let us remember. Let us open our eyes..." The Collectivization unfolded in several steps: class war, mass collectivization, retreat, and re-collectivization.
Class War. In 1926, the Party urged rural people to report to the authorities any of their neighbors who were richer peasants, or "kulaks." These were farm families that employed helpers, or who owned enough land to produce considerable surplus. They were accused of being responsible for a shortfall in grain production, 1926-28. "Kulaks" were declared to be a class of people that threatened the State: "There will be sabotage...as long as the kulak exists; ...exploiting classes can be liquidated only through ruthless class war," stated Stalin in 1928 (quoted in Ulam: 89, 92). The real cause of the shortfall, however, was that the State had cut the price of grain by 20%, hence many peasants (i.e., poor, middle and Kulak) rationally had decided they could make more money by feeding excess grain to their animals, then selling the fattened animals. In 1928-9, Soviet authorities seized the grain plus all other possessions from the Kulaks and distributed some of the food to the poorer peasants in the villages. This policy heightened the tensions among economic classes in rural areas, precisely consistent with the "class struggles" that were supposed to typify the capitalist, not the socialist, era! Solzhenitsyn (pp 54-55) commemorated the trauma of the de-Kulakization campaign: "The kulaks...bypassed the prisons, going directly to the transit prisons and camps, onto prisoner transports, into Gulag country... swelled beyond the bounds of anything the penal system of even an immense state can permit itself, there was nothing to be compared to it in all Russian history... So cleverly were the channels of the G.P.U.-Gulag organized that the cities would have noticed nothing had they not been stricken by a strange, three-year famine, a famine that came about without drought or war... In this wave they burned out... whole families from the start and they watched jealously to be sure that none of the children -- 14, 10, even 6 years old -- got away. To the last scrapings, all had to go down the same road, the same common destruction. This wave included only pathetically few kulaks for whom it was named, in order to draw wool over the peoples' eyes... by 1930, all strong peasants in general were being so called... the term kulak was used to smash the strength of the peasantry. Let us remember. Let us open our eyes..."
Mass Collectivization. In August 1929, rapid collectivization of the entire peasantry in whole regions was approved in principle by the CPSU Central Committee. The stated goal was that all peasants would within one year live on collective, rather than individual family, farms. Harvard historian Ulam (95) states simply that "rural Russia was thrown into indescribable chaos as well as virtual civil war." By March 1930, 55% of all farm households were reported to have been relocated to the collectives.
Retreat. At this point, a tactical retreat was called by the Party. Collective farm residents were told that they could leave employment on these large, state farms and return to peasant (i.e., individual family) farming if they chose. By June 1930, about half of the residents of the collectives had left, decreasing their share of the total farm census to 23%. Stalin's words from this period are instructive: "It is not a matter of reforms or of compromises and agreements, but of the use people make of reforms and compromises" (in Ebenstein: 448). The relaxation of 1930 appears to have been designed to trick those opposed to a socialist farm policy into identifying themselves.
Re-collectivization. In Fall 1930, re-collectivization of the peasants onto state and collective farms was begun. In different regions, the pace of this final step toward collectivization was faster than others. In some areas famine first was created and allowed to run its grisly course. Man-made famines, in which grain continued to be shipped out as the locals simply starved, were worst in the Ukraine, North Caucuses and the Eastern Volga region, as is made clear in recently declassified Soviet archival materials. In other, less productive areas, collectivization also upset a very delicate balance of humans and their environment. In the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, one half of the population perished. All in all, between 1929 and 1935, 125 million Russian peasants were uprooted, taken off their 25 million individual family farms. The 250,000 state and collective farms that were created absorbed most of this human wave. Though millions survived by fleeing to the cities, millions also were condemned to the nightmares of famine, the Gulag, or died otherwise in the violence that was the steady chorus of this dirge called collectivization.
A final public accounting of this tragedy never was made by Soviet authorities, nor did Soviet era officials ever posthumously "rehabilitate" these victims of Stalinism. Western experts estimate ten to twenty million perished. These estimates long were considered unreliable, unverifiable, but they have been shown to be realistic within the astounding scale of the Stalinist period. Recently, Russian academic Roy Medvedev pinned the overall sum who perished at 40 million (Remnick 1989b: B4). More authoritatively, Andrew and Gordievsky (76), in 1990 revealed that a secret 1956 KGB study for the CPSU Politburo reported that "about 19 million had been arrested in the period 1935 to 1940, of whom at least 7 million were shot or died in the Gulag. The real death toll was probably higher still."
The Results of Collectivization. The bottom line on the agricultural component of the first Five Year Plan also was nothing short of disastrous. Cattle, which numbered 67 Million in 1928, fell to 34 Million by 1934; milk cows: 33 Million (1928), 19 Million (1934); Horses: 32 Million (1928), 15 Million in 1934; pigs: 22 Million in 1928, 11.5 Million in 1934; sheep: 97 Million in 1928, 32.9 Million in 1934; etc.. The average urban dwellers' yearly intake of meats (including poultry and animal fats) fell from 47.5 kilograms (1928) to 17 kilograms (1932). As Ulam (95) summed up, "In any other, even totalitarian, regime a catastrophe of such proportions would have brought the downfall of its chief culprit."
Given the scale of this tragedy, it is revealing to consider how these events were explained by Soviet officials in the final "reforming" era of communism. In 1987, the Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, made his criticisms of Stalin public in a speech he made to the CPSU on the 70th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. At one level, Gorbachev defended the Bolshevism which propelled the career of Stalin, stating that "the Stalin personality cult was certainly not inevitable. It was alien to the nature of socialism, represented a departure from its fundamental principles and, therefore, has no justification." Gorbachev went on to articulate the most sweeping criticisms of Stalin since the 1956 "Secret Speech" by Party leader Nikita Khrushchev. Gorbachev stated that, under Stalin, "methods dictated by the period of the struggle with the hostile resistance of the exploiter classes were being mechanically transferred to the period of peaceful socialist construction, when conditions had changed cardinally. An atmosphere of intolerance, hostility and suspicion was created in the country. As time went on, this political practice gained in scale and was backed up with the erroneous "theory" of an aggravation of the class struggle in the course of socialist construction. All of this had a dire effect on the country's sociopolitical development and produced grim consequences. Quite obviously, it was the absence of a proper level of democratization in the Soviet society that made possible the personality cult, the violations of legality, the wanton repressive measures of the '30s. I am putting things bluntly-- those were real crimes stemming from an abuse of power. Many thousands of people inside and outside the Party were subjected to wholesale repressive measures. Such, comrades, is the bitter truth" (WP 1987: 26). "Thousands," indeed.
III. The Broader Meaning of Stalinism
The instructive value of Stalinism: The Collectivization contained enormous messages to the general public outside the rural areas. To absorb the resisters, the Kulaks, the surplus peasants, and anyone else the Party Commissars didn't like, a hugely expanded labor camp system in Siberia and in European Russia was created. Not Gorbachev's "thousands" but tens of millions vanished into this human whirlpool, tens of millions never would return. To insure that they didn't slip away into the anonymity which the cities could provide, internal passports were issued to all citizens specifying their required site of residence. These allowed for population control.
The Tale of Pavlik Morozov: Stalinism and Communists' "Moral" Education. From this experience comes one of the classic moral tales through which most of today's Russian adults learned, as "Soviet" youngsters, the values central to the now-defunct Communist State. This tale was commemorated widely in Soviet schools and its 50th anniversary occasioned a minor 1982 celebration in the USSR. In 1932, Pavlik Morozov was a 13 year old schoolboy, son of a Trofim Morozov, the mayor of Gerasimovka, in western Siberia. Peasant escapees from the Gulag were slipping back toward their former homelands through Gerasimovka, but lacked proper papers. The father and mayor was observed by the son forging official passes and selling them to these frightened, desperate people. Like a good young communist, Pavlik reported to Party officials that his father was an enemy of the State. As the story goes, an independent farmer in the town got wind of what Pavlik had done and paid the boy's grandfather (Sergei) 30 rubles to murder the lad. When authorities broke the case, the murder weapon (a knife) is said to have been found behind an icon (religious symbol, a metal or wooden wall hanging) in Sergei's house. The tale of Pavlik Morozov encompasses many of the values of the new order: loyalty to State and Party, not family; intolerance of the dangerous, counter-revolutionary attitudes of independent businessmen (the farmer); the corruptness of the older generation; and the wickedness of religion (the 30 rubles is an allusion to the 30 pieces of silver Biblical Judas received for betraying Jesus; the knife was found behind an icon, etc.). In a round-about way, this fantastic tale is a confirmation of Marx's predictions about the malleability of morality, or rather, the view of the moral as a byproduct of the priorities of the powerful. The irony, of course, is that such manipulation of what is moral was supposed to have ended with the coming of the era of communism. The Morozov tale continued as part of contemporary curriculum in the schools of the modern USSR, as late as the mid 1980s, but was deleted during the Gorbachev era --much to the chagrin of latter-day unrepentant Stalinists (Remnick 1989b: B4).
Parenthetically, this example can turn us toward some rather more general issues regarding the realm of individual privacy versus the need all societies, even democratic ones, have to create order. The spate of U.S. teens and preteens turning in their parents for drug abuse in recent years perhaps was an indication of the degree to which the sanctity of the family had been breached in non-Communist moral orders, as well. The erosion of the sanctity of the home and family in favor of state-defined standards of "right" behavior is a development not lightly to be dismissed. For several hundred years such insularity has been basic to English (hence, American) common law. Seventeenth Century social contract theorist Thomas Hobbes was surely no advocate of civil disobedience, as readers of his authoritarian treatise The Leviathan  soon learn. But the bonds of trust within a family were, even to the authoritarian Hobbes, beyond the proper reach of the State: "there be some rights which no man can be understood by any words or other signs to have abandoned or transferred... A covenant to accuse oneself, without assurance of pardon, is ... invalid. For in the condition of nature, where every man is a judge, there is no place for accusation; and in the civil state, the accusation is followed by punishment, which, being force, a man is not obliged not to resist. The same is also true of the accusation of those by whose condemnation a man falls into misery, as of a father, wife, or benefactor. For the testimony of such an accuser... is presumed to be corrupted by nature, and therefore will not be received; and where a man's testimony is not to be credited, he is not bound to give it" (emphasis added). At least some among us now believe they know better.
Stalinism and the Law: Central Planning, the brainchild from which the collectivization logically flowed, created a new category of penal offenses. Since the Plan was created by the Party and was guided by its "scientific knowledge" of humanity's destiny, any failure to fulfill the Plan had to be the work of anti-Soviet forces. Thus, the crime of "wrecking" emerged: anyone who failed to meet quotas in the Plan must have had subversion in mind. Plant managers could be sent to the Gulag for non-fulfillment of quotas, as could "socially dangerous" workers. "Wrecking" acted as a spur to keep the official reports buoyant and to induce those filling quotas to meet their quantitative assignments without much regard for quality. Thus, the origins of some pounds of dirt in a ton of coal, for example, as much as shoddy workmanship on shoes (etc.), can be traced to the specter of "wrecking," the high economic crime which central planning offers us as the midwife to the future.
Stalinism's impact on the Communist Party (follow this link for a chart of the Communist Party structure under Stalin): The December 1934 murder of C.P.S.U. Central Committee Chairman Sergei Kirov signaled the beginning of the next stage in the total Stalinization of Party and society. Kirov appeared to have been killed by an individual disgruntled Leningrad Communist, Leonid Nikolayev, but the incident soon was used as a pretext to round up many of Stalin's enemies. Within ten days of the crime, several alleged conspirators were tried and swiftly executed. (The criminal justice processes in the U.S.S.R. surely never were obstructed by the procedural glaciers, nicely illustrated in the famous O.J. Simpson case in Los Angeles, 1994-95, that long keep on ice any ready movement toward realization of the namesake of Western justice systems!) Within the next year, virtually the entire Leningrad Party membership was sent to the Gulag: the "Purge" of Stalin's enemies had begun. Two hundred fifty thousand Leningrad Communists were deported to the Gulag. In the mid-1950s, the CPSU appointed a Party secret commission to unearth the full facts about the Kirov case. Its findings never were publicly released during the Communist era. Posthumously, Khrushchev (1990: 69) volunteered from the safety of his grave: "I have no doubt that Stalin was behind the plot. Kirov had turned the Leningrad party organization into a good, active group. He was very popular, so a blow at him would hurt the party and the people. That's probably why he was marked for sacrifice: his death provided a pretext for shaking up the country, alarming the people so that they would accept the terror and let Stalin get rid of the undesirables and 'enemies of the people'."
The frenzy of the Party consuming its own continued for four years, reaching its zenith in 1936-38. In all, at least 850,000 C.P.S.U. members were expelled, and many lost more than a membership card. At least 500,000 were executed, including many of the 'old Bolshevik' revolutionary leaders: Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1936; Pyatkov and Radek in 1937; Bukharin, Rykov and Yagoda in 1938. Prominent since the Party's seizure of power under Lenin (see Adelman), the secret police (now dubbed the NKVD) under the leadership of henchman Lavrentii Beria, had become the principal instrument of Stalin's totalitarian government. Of the 139 delegates to the Central Committee of 17th Party Congress of the CPSU, 98 (or 70 percent) were arrested and shot. In 1956, Khrushchev delivered the famous "Secret Speech," telling the 20th Congress of the CPSU that of 1966 delegates to the 17th Congress "1108 were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes... This is the kind of vile things which were then practiced." (Khrushchev in Ebenstein: 453, 459). Available in the West shortly after it was delivered in 1956, the "Secret Speech" first was published and publicly available in the USSR in 1989.
Stalinism's impact on the Soviet Red Army: In the Great Purges, not even the top ranks of the Red Army were spared. On the eve of the German aggression, 1938-39, the Soviet Red Army was not mobilizing. Rather, the USSR under Stalin was cutting a deal with Hitler through which free Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, part of Romania and the eastern third of Poland were "returned" to Soviet hands in exchange for Soviet non-opposition to Hitler's impending rape of the western two thirds of Poland. Khrushchev (1990: 70) demonstrated that Stalin's deal enjoyed wide support at the top rungs of the CPSU: "All of this was very much to our advantage. I want to acknowledge this straightforwardly. The access we gained to the Baltic Sea significantly improved our strategic situation because it deprived the Western powers of a foothold they might have used against us in the future. We'd been looking down the barrel of our enemy's gun and Hitler had given us a chance to get out of the way. That was our justification for the pact, and its still the way I see it today (i.e., circa 1974)." The cynical nonchalance of this Hitler-Stalin Pact, however, cannot really be squared with a vision of Stalin as some sort of strategic genius, as Khrushchev's memory would have these events. It was a deal arranged concurrent with Stalin's decapitation of his "politically unreliable" generals, a strategic blunder of massive proportions. At the very time when Soviet national security was most in jeopardy, this "scientific" regime put its secret police busy purging their Army. According to figures cited in Khrushchev's "Secret Speech," in the late 1930s Stalin gutted the officer corps with paranoid executions: 3 of 5 of the highest officers (Field Marshall's) were executed; 3 of 4 full Generals and 12 of 12 Lieutenant Generals were executed; 8/10ths of all Red Army Colonels also were killed, as were 60 of 67 field commanders and 136 of 199 Division Commanders (Khrushchev in Ebenstein: 450-471).
It can be argued that Stalinism nearly caused the defeat and dismemberment of the USSR in World War II. At first blush, totalitarianism often seems invincible. But, in fact, one man rule under Stalin left his nation acutely vulnerable as Soviet-German cooperation, 1939-41, began to sour. The dictator retreated into a personal moment of reflection (some say nervous breakdown) upon the onset of the Germans' attack (June 1941). Troops were left un-mobilized as officers, fearful of their personal futures so dependent on the favor of the tyrant, simply waited for explicit, direct orders before responding to the massive German attack. Eventually, Stalin ordered full mobilization, but it was too late to save hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops who were surrounded and captured. At one low moment in 1942, according to Khrushchev (1990: 70), Stalin even sent word to Hitler through Bulgarian intermediaries, indicating his willingness to cede to the Germans all of the territory that the Nazis had occupied in Ukraine, Byelorussia "and even certain areas of the Russian federation," in exchange for a separate peace. Hitler, high on his then unbroken string of victories, simply ignored this offer.
During the course of the war, even after the tide had turned (at the Battle of Stalingrad, 1942) to favor the USSR, arbitrary and whimsical prejudices drove the leader (Stalin) to commit additional crimes against his own people which weakened the Soviet war effort. In 1943, the Karachai people --all Soviet citizens-- were deported in mass from their ancestral homelands; in December 1943, the entire population of the Autonomous Kalmyk Republic were also deported to Siberia. In March 1944, the Chechen and Ingush ethnic minorities were forcibly evicted from their area in the Caucasus Mountains, and deported to Siberia. In April 1944, all members of the Balkar minority were dispersed throughout the nation as the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Republic was renamed the Autonomous Kabardian Republic (Khrushchev in Ebenstein: 464-465). So, too, were the Crimean Tatars deported en masse.
It is some testimony to the staying power of patriotism that, despite purges unparalleled in the history of any other people and army, the Soviet Red Army less than five years later was able to rally and ultimately to defeat the German Nazis in the most costly military campaign in human history, Hitler's "Operation Barbarosa" against the USSR, June 1941 to May 1945. Communist campaigns against the Christian religion were dropped and the Russian Orthodox Archbishop was persuaded to join in Stalinist propaganda designed to draw all Soviet citizens into a single, nation-wide effort. The Soviet people, still reeling from the impact of collectivization, the labor camps, and the purges, responded. Nevertheless, for all the unity of purpose that was able to be created, the nation lost over 20,000,000 citizens dead in the Second World War (compared to substantially less than 500,000 U.S. dead). From these ashes, the post-war U.S.S.R. again arose: 20 million humans dead (7 million were civilians; 3.5 million were P.O.W.s in German camps; 1.5 Million were Soviet Jews), 600,000 died in the siege of Leningrad alone; 25 million homeless; 4.7 million housing units destroyed; 1700 major towns leveled; 70,000 villages destroyed, 65,000 KM of Railroads ruined; 15,800 locomotives wrecked; 428,000 freight cars destroyed; 20 million [of 23 million at war's start] pigs destroyed; etc.). As from the Civil War (1918-1921) and the struggles for collectivization, the Party emerged on top, with even a new determination to move forward to socialist utopia from the calamities of the "Great Patriotic War," as World War II still is known in Russia if not all of the former USSR.
The Soviet suffering in World War II was tremendous; it simply cannot be minimized as a source of contemporary consciousness in all of the states which have emerged from the rubble of the old USSR. With this clearly in mind, it is also important to maintain some perspective here. Soviet deaths equaled less than 10% of its prewar population. Poland's (Christians only) losses were, by percent of prewar population, greater: 6,000,000 or 22%. Yugoslavia's losses were also on a scale similar to that of the USSR: about 1,500,000, or 9% of prewar population. All but 300,000 of these Yugoslavs (all ethnicities) were civilians murdered by Nazis and Croatian pro-Nazis. German losses (4 million, not including German Jews) equaled about 8% of prewar population. France lost about 600,000 (or 1.5% of prewar population; this figure includes 90,000 French Jews). Britain lost 360,000, less than 1 % of prewar population. The USA lost 322,188 dead (600,000 wounded), or eight tenths of one percent of our prewar population.
Of course, two ethnicities then without nation states to protect them lost even more heavily than the citizens of any of these nation states: about 250,000 gypsies, or 25% of their prewar population, were killed. The biggest losers of all, of course, were the Jews of Europe, who lost 67% of all prewar population, or 6,000,000 dead (2 million from Einsatzgruppen or "mobile killing squads," e.g.: at Babi Yar, Ukraine; 3.5 Million in the Death Camps, e.g. Auschwitz; and about 500,000 in other violence or by starvation outside of the camps) (figures on all nations are drawn from Dawidowicz: 5-12; and Ferrell: 568). The war left bitter lessons permanently etched on the psyche of many nationalities. Certainly, both Russian and Jewish political cultures were altered forever by the effects of what the Soviets called "the Great Patriotic War."
After Stalin. The Stalin era came to an end on March 5, 1953, with the leader's death. The succession to power which then unfolded showed the extent to which the "dictatorship of one man over the Politburo, over Central Committee, over the Party" (Trotsky's criticism) had papered over deep personal disagreements about who would lead and what would be the future direction the USSR would take. Two days after his death, Stalin's faithful right-hand man, Georgi M. Malenkov, became Prime Minister but resigned from the secretive "inner circle" of the Politburo. In the next few months, Nikita Khrushchev (Ukrainian Party leader, 1938-49, and a leading influence in the CPSU Central Committee) struggled with Malenkov for supremacy. The Khrushchev, or "anti-Stalinist," group first targeted KGB chief Lavrentii P. Beria, who soon was arrested, tried and executed for a host of secret charges, including abuse of power. This foreshadowed the removal of Malenkov, who in February 1955 publicly "confessed" his incompetence and failure, resigning his post. Khrushchev then named N.A. Bulganin to Malenkov's Prime Ministerial post.
The Stalinists (i.e., Malenkov, former foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, and Stalin's personal aide Lazar Kaganovich), in 1957, attempted to depose Khrushchev. The Stalinists initially prevailed in the Politburo: Khrushchev was temporarily stripped of the title of First Secretary of the CPSU. But the wily Khrushchev understood better the deeper sources of power, and called a meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU to reconsider the action of the Politburo. With the support of that body, and with the clear preference of the Red Army commanders behind him, Khrushchev was reinstated as First Secretary and the Stalinist conspirators were purged from the Central Committee. Malenkov, for example, spent most of the rest of his life -- which ended January 14, 1988 -- as the manager of a remote hydroelectric plant, in an obscure part of eastern Kazakh SSR. Thus was completed the transition from the Stalin to the Khrushchev first secretaryships, 1953-57.
In conclusion, to measure the depth of the impact of Stalinism is to examine virtually the entire course of development of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was a record riddled with excesses: the severity of the collectivization, the betrayals of the purges, the bizarre hacking at the command of the Red Army which contributed greatly to Soviet war losses, and most comprehensively, the derogating of every individual's right to live in security a life of his/her own choosing. All this cannot really be described without reference to Stalin. Even after the August 1991 anti-Communist revolution, Soviet citizens still have created little historiography to accurately portray to them the contributory role in distorting national development played by the horrendous mistakes of Josef Stalin and the CPSU. His Party, which until 1991 wrote all of the books, only in 1988 commissioned a group to rewrite public school curricula regarding Stalin. The final national president of the USSR, the much touted Mikhail Gorbachev, pointedly acknowledged the USSR's shortcoming of candor on this issue, saying in his 1987 anniversary speech: "...[E]ven now there are still attempts to turn away from painful matters in our history, to hush them up, to make believe that nothing special happened. We [Communists] cannot agree to this. This would be disregard for historical truth, disrespect for the memory of those who were innocent victims of lawless and arbitrary actions" (quoted in WP 1987: 26).
After 1991, that quest for truth finally went beyond the hands of Stalin's party, a party whose leader as recently as 1987 characterized the problem by commemorating Stalin's victims by referring to the murder of at least 20 millions as "many thousands." The large impact of distortion and the "big lie" did not end in the 1950s, or in the 1980s, apparently. This minimizing must have contributed to the climate of Russian opinion which, in some circles, supported a restoration of the Stalinist system quite openly in a veritable cult of Neo-Stalinism privately organized, 1989-90 (Remnick 1989b), and which still survives. We dare not forget, too, that restoration of just such a system was among the central objectives of men who tried, but failed, to arrest the democratic process in Russia in August 1991. In September- October 1993, men with these same objectives mobilized a mob and through riots came within a hair of succeeding in seizing power from the elected Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. In December 1993, anti-democratic parties (i.e., neo-fascists, plus former communists and fellow travelers) won an absolute majority in free elections to the new Russian national legislature, the State Duma. The tanks and mobs have gone from the streets of Moscow for now; the democrat Yeltsin defeated the neo-Stalinist Zyuganov in the 1996 Presidential balloting; and an ostensibly reform minded Pres. Vladimir Putin crushed Zyuganov and other communists repeatedly in elections in 2000 and 2004. But have the strands of political culture which sustained Stalinism all really gone away, permanently?
As was the case with the "thaw" of Khrushchev's rule (1956-64), and the era of openness under Gorbachev (1985-91), Western observers must look at contemporary anti-Stalinist and anti-Communist phenomena in Russia from a broad perspective. These earlier liberalizations were beginnings, but each also had endings. Russia produced both, as it produced Lenin and Stalin before them.
Jonathan R. Adelman (Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver), "The Development of the Secret Police in Communist States," unpublished paper presented to the Conference on State Sponsored Terrorism, Michigan State University, November 2-5, 1988, 30pp.
Jonathan R. Adelman, Torrents of Spring (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1995).
Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, "Inside the KGB," Time 136, 17 (October 22, 1990): pp. 72-82.
Stephane Courtois, et.al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge MA: Harvard U.P., 1999): 33-268.
Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the Historians (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1981).
Peter Deriabin and T. H. Bagley, K.G.B.: Masters of the Soviet Union (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1990).
William Ebenstein, ed., Modern Political Thought (NY: Holt, Rinehart Winston, 1960).
Merle Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1957).
Robert Ferrell, "The Price of Isolation," in William Leuchtenberg, The Unfinished Century (Boston: Little Brown, 1973): pp. 465-569.
Nikita Khrushchev, "Khrushchev's Secret Tapes," Time 136, 14 (October 1, 1990): pp. 68-78.
Lucette Lagnado, "Pat Buchanan and the Emigre Nazis," The Nation 240, 17 (May 4, 1985): pp. 525-528.
Walter Laqueur, "How Many Victims" in The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union (NY: Oxford U.P., 1994): 131-146.
Gary Lee, "Soviet Law Would Free Up Collectives," Washington Post (February 8, 1987): p. 30.
Primo Levi, "Light on the Camps," The New Republic 194, 7 (February 17, 1986): pp. 28-32.
John Loftus, The Belarus Secret (NY: Knopf, 1982).
Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991 (NY: The Free Press, 1994).
Richard Pearson, "Obituary: Georgi Malenkov Dies; Josef Stalin's Successor," Washington Post (February 2, 1988): p. B6.
Richard Pearson, "Obituary: Stalin Lieutenant V. M. Molotov Dies," Washington Post (November 11, 1986): p. C5.
David Remnick (1989a), "Stalin's Victim's Honored," Washington Post (October 31, 1989): p. 17.
David Remnick (1989b), "Standing By Stalin," Washington Post (November 15, 1989): pp. B1, B4.
Allan A. Ryan, "Pat Buchanan Is Wrong," Washington Post (October 26, 1986): p. B5.
Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales (NY: Norton, 1979).
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (NY: Harper and Row, 1973).
Robert C. Tucker, The Lenin Anthology (NY: Norton, 1975).
Adam Ulam, A History of Soviet Russia (New York: Praeger, 1976): pp. 88-112.
Nicolas Werth, "A State Against its People: Violence, Repression and Terror in the Soviet Union, " in Stephane Courtois, et.al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge MA: Harvard U.P., 1999): 33-268.
(WP 1987): Washington Post (November 3, 1987): p. 26.
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