The collapse of the socialist order in the Soviet Union and some other countries in Europe, the disintegration of the socialist bloc and the USSR were preceded by active Anti-Soviet propaganda. This propaganda was sponsored by the West and organised by the local Fifth Columns (in the USSR the most influential Fifth Columnists were such leaders of the CPSU as M. Gorbachev, A. Yakovlev, B. Yeltsin and others). The goal of the propaganda was to portray capitalism as a social system of freedom and respect for human rights and to depict socialism as a system of terror, human deprivation and misery. During the end of the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s many popular journals and magazines of the USSR and all TV channels spread lies about socialism and its history. The greatest distortions concerned Stalin’s period of the Soviet history. Using the false interpretations of the Soviet history made by N.S. Khrushchev at the XX CPSU Congress (1956) the enemies of Socialism bitterly attacked Stalin and his policies. Almost all the Soviet history was limited to the story of mass arrests and executions of 1937-1938. At the same time Stalin and his supporters were made responsible for gross violations of law, arrests and executions of many innocent people.
Now 15 years after the fall of socialism in Europe the vast majority of the peoples of the former socialist countries became aware of the evils of capitalism and as a result mass nostalgia for the lost advantages of socialism develops. It makes the present capitalist rulers of Russia and other former socialist countries renew their anti-socialist and anti-communist propaganda efforts. As the Anti-Soviet propaganda continues Stalin remains its central target and the object of fantastic lies. The authors of ‘documentary’ films shown over TV speak about 100 million people killed on Stalin’s orders. (The whole population of the USSR was about 200 million at the time of Stalin’s death and it is a mystery how a country so much weakened by arrests and executions could win over Nazi Germany and its allies.) The hackneyed phrases about ‘Stalin’s reprisals’ and ‘Stalin’s camps’ are in everyday use in the modern Russian political jargon.
However, the experiences of the last 15 years have made many people in Russia to be more distrustful of the official propaganda. Despite the strong pressure of the authorities, museums and monuments dedicated to Stalin appeared in one town after another all over Russia. More and more authors write articles and books in which they refute official lies about the Soviet past and give tribute to Stalin.
Yet to a certain extent Yuri Zhukov was right in his choice of the title for his book. Though his book, as the author recognises, does not answer all the questions about the complicated and controversial period of the Soviet history, the facts used in it and the conclusions which follow them destroy the stereotypes which were widely spread all over the world since Khrushchev’s report at the XX Congress of the CPSU. Presenting a vast body of irrefutable facts Yuri Zhukov makes convincing conclusions which make Stalin look completely different from what he looked like in Khrushchev’s report and in the later fabrications of the Anti-Stalinist propaganda.
Though Yuri Zhukov does not make a detailed analysis of the subversive activities against the Soviet Government in the 30’s he shows in his book that the struggle of the Secretary of the USSR Central Executive Committee of the USSR A. Yenukidze against J. Stalin eventually led him to organise a plot in order to overthrow the Soviet government. Among the participants in this plot were the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs (the chief of the USSR NKVD) N. Yagoda and those who were supposed to provide the security of the Kremlin.
While according to Khrushchev Stalin together with his Politburo colleagues (V. Molotov, K. Voroshilov, L. Kaganovich) were the arch-enemies of democratic procedures, Yuri Zhukov presents quite a different picture: Stalin brought forth a programme of democratisation of the Soviet life, with Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich wholly supporting Stalin in his initiatives, while Yenukidze and many other Party officials were strongly opposed to Stalin’s democratic reforms.
Yuri Zhukov tries to explain the political reforms inside the USSR by the foreign political goals of Stalin. According to Zhukov it appears that in order to consolidate the struggle against Hitler Stalin tried to build political life in the Soviet Union along the lines of bourgeois Western democracies. At the same time Zhukov considers that Yenukidze’s opposition to these reforms was caused by his fidelity to the ideals of communism and the world communist revolution and this caused his animosity both towards establishing closer political relations with the Western bourgeois democracies before the War and democratic reforms of Stalin.
It must be said that by the middle of the 30’s most of the Party and Soviet officials occupied their ruling posts since 1917-1918. At that time the Communist Party lacked educated members and many of the Party functionaries had an insufficient general and political education. Besides their first years of administrative jobs coincided with the Civil War. During these years they grew accustomed to resort freely in their work to military coercion rather than political arguments. This also explained to a great deal the excesses of collectivisation of 1929-1930. The much needed collectivisation of individual peasant farms turned into a veritable military campaign and many local first secretaries resorted to violence in order to make peasants join collective farms. In March 1930 Stalin censured these Party functionaries and wrote that they suffer ‘giddiness because of successes’ of the Soviet socialist construction.
Some of the Party functionaries were accustomed to their high administrative posts and many of them did their best to retain them at all costs. Many Party committees turned into hotbeds of intrigues and battlegrounds between politicians fighting for power. The competing groups accused each other of various ideological deviations. The purges which were periodically conducted in the Party in order to get rid of corrupt members were used by many of the first secretaries in order to expel from the Party those whom they consider to be their personal enemies.
At the same time Stalin said that the Party purges of 1935-1936 resulted in the expulsion of many Party members who were not guilty of any deviations from the Party line. Stalin pointed out that a number of those expelled from the Party by far exceeded the total quantity of those who supported Trotsky, Zinoviev and other leaders of opposition groups. He accused these Party leaders of the high-handed treatment of ordinary Party members and claimed that the purges only caused the anger of those expelled from the Party.
Yuri Zhukov also quotes the statement made by V. M. Molotov at the June (1937) plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee: ‘Lately comrade Stalin said several times that our old way of evaluating people is completely insufficient. A person may have a pre-revolutionary experience of Party membership. Then he has a good quality of having participated in the October revolution. He performed well in the Civil War. He fought against Trotskyites and the Rightists… But this is not sufficient. At the present moment we need… that the Party leaders are able to find appropriate understanding of people’s needs, to move ahead new people instead of those who have turned into bureaucrats”.
Stalin feared that the bureaucratisation of the Party may lead to its downfall. In 1937 he compared Soviet communists with Antaeus from the Greek mythology whose strength was invincible so long as he remained in contact with his mother Earth. Stalin said that until Communists ‘remain in contact with their mother — the people, who gave them birth, nourished and educated them, they have all the chances to remain invincible’. These words implied that when the Communists lose their contact with the people they may lose their strength and may be overwhelmed.
Though partly ignoring and partly distorting profound political and ideological issues behind the opposition of Party officials, Yuri Zhukov is quite right in stating that the struggle of Stalin and his opponents developed over the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR, which was worked at in 1935-1936, especially over the new order of elections.
From 1918 to 1936 deputies of local Soviets were elected by open voting at people’s assemblies. The local Soviets elected deputies to the provincial Soviets at open sessions. They in turn elected Republican Soviets, which elected the USSR Supreme Soviet. The representation of the townspeople was five times bigger than that of the villagers. Besides, all representatives of former exploiting classes as well as priests were banned from voting.
The new election system established direct and proportionate election with secret voting. The limitations put on former representatives of exploiting classes and priests were lifted. Using a Russian proverb (‘If you are afraid of wolves, you need not go to the forest’), Stalin mocked at attempts to preserve these limitations. At the All-Union Congress of the Soviets in November 1936 Stalin said: ‘First, not all former kulaks, white guardsmen and priests are alien to the Soviet power. Second, if people somewhere choose persons alien to the Soviet power, it would just mean that our propaganda work is good for nothing and we deserved such a shame. But if our propaganda develops in the true Bolshevik manner, then people would not let alien people to the supreme bodies’.
Besides, as Yuri Zhukov especially stresses, Stalin with the support of Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and others wanted to have elections on alternative basis. In the draft of the ballot for the first election to the USSR Supreme Soviet there were mentioned several candidates for one seat in the Soviet.
Yuri Zhukov correctly points out that changes in the election system to the Soviets were supplemented by Stalin’s proposals of vast changes in the Party leading personnel. Mentioning the speech of Stalin at the February-March (1937) plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee, Yuri Zhukov writes about the profound dissatisfaction of Stalin with the political and personal behaviour of many Party officials.
After the Moscow trials of August 1936 and January 1937, which revealed many cases of sabotage, after uncovering the Yenukidze plot in February 1937, Stalin and other Soviet leaders became convinced that many of the Party functionaries were so much engrossed in personal feuds that they did not care to pay attention to the activities of the Anti-Soviet plotters. Stalin came to the conclusion that it is necessary to re-educate the Party functionaries. In March 1937 at the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee Stalin suggested that all Party secretaries from the highest to the lowest level (over 100 thousand functionaries) should attend courses of political education.
Stalin’s proposals were meant to change drastically the composition of the Party leadership in the spirit of the new Soviet constitution. The old leadership would get better political and general training. At the same time many of the older officials would be replaced by persons with better education and sufficient experience of work at the modern enterprises.
Yuri Zhukov brings many facts to show that while Yenukidze, Yagoda and others resorted to secret plotting, many of the Republican and provincial Party leaders began silent but active sabotage of Stalin’s reforms. Citing articles written by the first Secretary of the Transcaucasus Party organisation L. P. Beria and by the first Secretary of the Moscow Party N.S. Khrushchev, Yuri Zhukov shows that the leading party functionaries either ignored the new Constitution and the elections according to the new system, or expressed exaggerated fears that class enemies may use the elections according to the principles of the new Constitution in order to become deputies to the USSR Supreme Soviet.
Yuri Zhukov asserts that the opposition of the first secretaries of republics and provinces to the new Constitution was caused by their fears of losing their seats in the Soviets during the elections. Many peasants (and not only kulaks) remembered the excesses of collectivisation and they could vote against those who in 1929-1930 tried to overfulfil plans of collectivisation at all costs disregarding attitudes of peasants. Yuri Zhukov correctly points out that if such Party secretaries failed to be elected to the Soviets, their positions as Party leaders might be questioned as well.
According to Yuri Zhukov, R.I. Eikhe asserted that there are in Western Siberia many exiled former kulaks who planned to organise a counter-revolutionary uprising. Eikhe asked the Party Central Committee for a sanction to form a so called ‘troika’ composed of the Attorney of the province, the provincial chief of the NKVD and Eikhe himself. The ‘troika’ should have extraordinary powers in order to investigate the counter-revolutionary activities and take judicial decisions concerning the plotters.
Yuri Zhukov compares the Eikhe memorandum with ‘a small stone that causes an awful avalanche’. It was soon followed by a decision of Politburo of July 2 which supported the contention that many former kulaks and ordinary criminals, who returned to their original places of residence after their prison terms expired, launched counterrevolutionary activities. The decision claimed that these people ‘are major instigators of Anti-Soviet activities and sabotage acts in collective and Soviet farms, as well as at transport and several branches of industry’. The decision demanded that the most active instigators of Anti-Soviet activities and sabotage should be immediately arrested and shot, while less active enemies should be exiled. The decision demanded that in five days’ time the provincial party leaders should send to the Party Central Committee lists of ‘troikas’, number of persons to be arrested and shot, number of persons to be arrested and exiled.
Why did such a radical change in the position of Stalin and other members of Politburo take place? Yuri Zhukov contends that this occurred due to a strong pressure put by a big number of the first secretaries upon Stalin. Having mentioned a number of visits paid to Stalin and Molotov by the leading provincial Party functionaries who shared the position taken by Eikhe, Zhukov suggests that they presented a veritable ultimatum to Stalin, Molotov and others.
In order to understand why Stalin, Molotov and other Politburo members changed their policy, one should also take into account some facts which are mentioned in Zhukov’s book, but briefly. First of all one should bear in mind the exposure of Marshal Tukhachevsky’s plot which took place in May. The plotters had connections with the German generals and planned a coup d’etat. While the majority of the participants of the plot were military persons, there were several civil members of the Party Central Committee among them. The People’s Commissar for Inner Affairs (chief of NKVD after the dismissal of G.Yagoda) N.I. Yezhov made a report at the June plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee asking their members for permission to arrest 11 full members and 14 alternate members of the Central Committee involved in the Tukhachevsky plot.
For some reason Yuri Zhukov does not take into account the facts narrated in a book written by Vladimir Pyatnitsky ‘The Plot against Stalin’, which is specifically dedicated to the June (1937) plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee. Though the author of this book attacks Stalin, he recognises that during this plenary meeting there were a number of speeches made against prolonging the extraordinary powers of the NKVD and Yezhov. An especially vehement protest was made by I.А. Pyatnitsky (the father of the author) who was the chief of the Political-administrative department of the Party Central Committee and for a long time was the secretary of the Central Executive Committee of Comintern.
Stalin tried to come to terms with Pyatnitsky during the plenary meeting. After Pyatnitsky’s speech an interval was announced. Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich talked to I.А. Pyatnitsky and said that Stalin believed in his personal honesty and values, his talent as a good organiser and administrator. They asked Pyatnitsky to retract his statement. But Pyatnitsky was adamant. Afterwards 15 other Central Committee members supported Pyatnitsky and demanded the cessation of the extraordinary powers of the NKVD and Yezhov.
At this time one of the Central Committee members Filatov told Stalin that the opposition of Pyatnitsky and others to NKVD was a result of the decision reached at a secret meeting at Pyatnitsky’s apartment. Filatov was the only participant of this meeting who informed Stalin about it. Just a month ago in May Stalin got informed about the Tukhachevsky plot exposed by NKVD. Now he learned about a secret meeting attended by dozens of Central Committee members who tried to stop further investigations by NKVD.
So when Eikhe and other Central Committee members came to Stalin and Molotov with requests not to curb NKVD activities but increase them though redirecting them against former kulaks Stalin and his closest colleagues had a reason to suppose that these suggestions came from quite an opposite quarter. In reality Stalin faced opposition to his policy on two fronts. While Pyatnitsky and others demanded the end to arrests of high functionaries involved in anti-government plots and blamed NKVD of arbitrariness, Eikhe and others praised the NKVD but just wanted to direct it to other goals.
One may suppose that at that time N.I. Yezhov was not quite sure of his position. As a chief of the Political-administrative department of the Party Central Committee Pyatnitsky controlled the NKVD.Yezhov knew that Stalin trusted Pyatnitsky. Yezhov might have feared that he might lose his position as the chief of NKVD if Pyatnitsky and his supporters would prevail. Therefore Yezhov joined with Eikheand others. Zhukov is quite right in supposing that ‘Yezhov easily came to terms with Eikhe, many first secretaries and agreed with the necessity as soon as possible to do away with the those who were certain to vote against them’.
Thus Stalin and his staunch supporters found themselves opposed not only by the influential groups constituting the majority of the Central Committee members but also by the NKVD armed with extraordinary powers. This may explain why Stalin and others made a sudden turn in their policies.
Meanwhile, as Zhukov states, the first secretaries presented their requests for the exile and executions of underground counter-revolutionaries which they promised to discover in their provinces and republics. Zhukov points out that ‘the most blood-thirsty turned out to be two persons — R.I. Eikhe, who declared his intention to shoot 10,800 inhabitants of Western Siberia… and N.S. Khrushchev, who suspiciously quickly managed to find and count in Moscow province 41,305 former kulaks and criminals and then insist on their expulsion and execution’. It is noteworthy that in his report at the XX Party Congress Khrushchev said not a word either about the Eikhe memorandum, or about the requests for exiles and executions filed by Eikhe and himself. Instead Khrushchev praised Eikhe and depicted him as an innocent victim of Stalin’s terror.
Showing that Stalin and his closest colleagues temporarily lost control over the situation, Zhukov points out that many of the active supporters of Stalin in his democratisation reforms (Y.A. Yakovlev, B.M. Tal, A.I. Stetzky) lost their jobs and then were arrested. It is clear that Stalin was unable to defend some of his supporters. There is other evidence that Yezhov did not want to limit himself to executions of smaller figures among Stalin supporters. Later, when Yezhov was arrested papers were found in his personal safe which he collected in order to prepare ‘a case’ against Stalin.
At the same time Yezhov, Eikhe and others could not risk overthrowing Stalin and his supporters. The name of Stalin was the very embodiment of socialism. The popularity of Molotov, Voroshilov andKaganovich was also great. Many cities, factories, collective farms were named after them. Yezhov and others covered their opposition to Stalin by constant flattery and statements of fidelity to him. Yezhoveven proposed to name Moscow after Stalin and to call it Stalindar. The proposal was resolutely rejected by Stalin.
Paradoxically the attempt of Eikhe and others to divert NKVD activities from investigations of plots among the Party functionaries did not stop their arrests. Getting permission to uncover Anti-Soviet counterrevolutionary plots, some of the first secretaries hastened to demand arrests of their rivals for high posts. Thus the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Uzbekistan Communist Party A.I.Ikramov asked the Politburo on June 24 1937 to replace the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Uzbekistan Faizulla Hodzhaev ‘for his counterrevolutionary connections’. Later Hodzhaevwas arrested.
Many rivalries were settled in 1937 in the similar manner, as many of the Party functionaries tried to do away with those who might successfully compete with them for the vacancies in the Party and Soviet hierarchy. Soon the campaign of false accusations spread all over the country. Many people slandered their colleagues and they were arrested by the NKVD. This period of mass violations of law was later called the ‘Yezhovshina’. It is obvious that the illegal practices unleashed initially by a number of the Party functionaries ran counter to the principles advocated by Stalin and his policy of democratisation. This allows Yuri Zhukov to make a conclusion that ‘the attempt of Stalin to reform the political system of the Soviet Union resulted in a complete fiasco’.
This categorical statement by Yuri Zhukov might be contradicted. First, despite stubborn opposition by the influential body of the Party functionaries the Stalin Constitution was adopted and the first election to the USSR Supreme Soviet was conducted in a new way (direct, equal, secret). Second, Stalin with the support of many Communists gradually began to restore legality, which was violated by the provincial secretaries and NKVD. In January 1938 the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee condemned the ‘formalistic and bureaucratic approach to the appeals of people expelled from the All-Union Communist Party’ and demanded to take resolute measures in order to stop such practice. The decision of the Central Committee paid attention to a number of arbitrary expulsions of Party members in the second half of 1937. The decision proclaimed a return to the principles advocated by Stalin in March 1937 at the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee.
Despite the heavy losses inflicted by the Yezhovshina, the Soviet Union was not fatally weakened by it. First, among those arrested and executed in 1937-1938 were real spies and enemies of socialism. Unlike the countries of Western Europe the USSR proved to be free from the ‘Fifth Column’ which let Hitler win victories. German generals complained during the first months of the war that they lacked true information about the Red Army and the Soviet defence industry as they did not have sufficient numbers of their agents inside the USSR. With the exception of general Vlasov who surrendered to the Germans in 1942 and later collaborated with them, Hitler failed to find support among the high ranking Soviet ruling body.
And the last, but not the least consequence of the events of 30’s was the consolidation of the Soviet people around Stalin and his policies. It should be noted that the mass reprisals of the 30’s touched mostly the social strata which constituted only a minority of the Soviet people. At the same time the adoption of the Stalin Constitution which proclaimed the principles of socialist democracy and embodied the achievements of socialist construction, made most of the Soviet people realise the obvious advantages of the new socialist order. The devotion of the Soviet people to this order was demonstrated by its heroic struggle during the Great Patriotic War.
Yet Yuri Zhukov is correct in pointing out that in 1937-1938 Stalin failed to implement some of the essential features of his political reforms. Zhukov specifically mentions the fact that due to the stubborn opposition of many Party functionaries in 1937 Stalin had to forsake his plan of conducting elections with alternative candidates. The only relic of Stalin’s idea was an inscription at the top of every ballot at each election held in the Soviet Union until it ceased to exist in 1991 which said: ‘Leave in the ballot the name of ONE candidate, for whom you vote, striking out all the rest’. Though in practice the inscription did not make sense, as during these elections there was just ONE candidate, the inscription reminded that in principle the voters should have a choice out of a number of candidates.
Zhukov fails to mention also an obvious fact that Stalin’s plan of political education of Party functionaries which he unveiled in March 1937 also failed to be materialised. Perhaps the difficulties of the pre-war period, the war and later the cold war did not allow Stalin to organise the education of all acting Party functionaries. As a result many important posts were still occupied by functionaries who lacked appropriate political and general education. Among them were such persons like N.S. Khrushchev and L.P. Beria. Initially they silently sabotaged Stalin’s reforms. Then they were active in the Yezhovshina. But they were quick-witted enough to see the change in the political climate and they became active in fighting Yezhov and his supporters. Though Stalin was aware of their low level of general and political education and their other faults he valued their energies. Both Khrushchev and Beria continued to occupy important jobs.
While Stalin constantly tried to move forward persons who were wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of communism, had a good education and experience in practical work, it seems that he understood the shortcomings of the existing political leadership of the Soviet Union. During the XIX Congress of the CPSU Stalin made another effort to change the composition of the high ranks of the Party. He suggested the enlargement of the body of the newly created Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee by recruiting to it a number of outstanding leaders of the Party provinces, organisers of economic production and theoreticians. In the first months of 1953 Stalin prepared a document in which he suggested that he would resign from the post of the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers and this job would be taken by the former first secretary of Byelorussian Communist party and former chief of the General headquarters of the USSR partisan movement during the War P.K. Ponomarenko.
It is known that L.P. Beria and N.S. Khrushchev were bitter enemies of Ponomarenko since the War years. Also the appointment of Ponomarenko might signify that other changes should soon to follow. The sudden illness and then death of Stalin later caused many suspicions. It was claimed that Stalin was poisoned by his colleagues. At least it is clear that Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev who visited Stalin after he was found lying unconscious on the floor in his residence, did not even call a physician to examine him. Three years after Stalin’s death Khrushchev began his Anti-Stalin campaign.
The faults of the Soviet way of selecting persons for ruling positions became evident during the 11 years when N.S. Khrushchev occupied the job of the First Secretary of the Party Central Committee. These were the years which became notorious for a number of gross mistakes in ideology, economic and political spheres as well as in the foreign policy of the USSR. Though Khrushchev was dismissed by the unanimous vote of the Party Central Committee in October 1964, there was nothing done to modify the political system of the USSR and CPSU. The subsequent events showed that the political system of the CPSU and the USSR did not prevent coming to power such traitors of communism and their own country like Gorbachev, Yakovlev, Yeltsin.
It is quite probable that if Stalin and his supporters had managed to implement the political reforms the USSR might have had a better system of selecting their political leaders and thus prevent Khrushchev, Gorbachev and others from coming to power.