Stalinist simplifications and Soviet complications : social tensions and political conflicts in the USSR, 1933-1953 9783718651054, 371865105X, 9783718651078, 3718651076

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Stalinist simplifications and Soviet complications : social tensions and political conflicts in the USSR, 1933-1953
 9783718651054, 371865105X, 9783718651078, 3718651076

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Gabor Tamas Rittersporn

Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications Social Tensions and Political Conflicts in the USSR 1933-1953

hanvood academic publishers

S t a l in is t S im p l if ic a t io n s a n d S o v ie t C o m p l ic a t io n s

Social Orders A series of monographs and tracts Edited by Jacques Revel and Marc Augé Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France


This book is part of a series. The publisher will accept continuation orders which may be cancelled at any time and which provide for the automatic billing and shipping of each title in the series upon publication. Please write for details.

S t a l in is t S im p l if ic a t io n s a n d S o v ie t C o m p l ic a t io n s SOCIAL TENSIONS AND POLITICAL CONFLICTS IN THE USSR, 1933-1953


Gâbor Tamâs Rittersporn Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France

h # harwood academic publishers V U

chur • reading • paris • Philadelphia • tokyo • melbourne

Univ. Library, UC Santa Cruz 1993 Copyright © 1991 by Harwood Academic Publishers GmBH, Poststrasse 22, 7000 Chur, Switzerland. All rights reserved. Harwood Academic Publishers Post Office Box 90 Reading, Berkshire RG1 8JL United Kingdom

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5301 Tacony Street, Drawer 330 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19137 United States of America Originally published in French as Simplifications Staliniennes et Complications Soviétiques: Tensions sociales et conflits politiques en URSS, 1933-1953 © 1988 by Gordon and Breach Science Publishers S. A. Cover design shows a Soviet cartoon from a spring 1937 issue of Krokodil depicting an official puzzled by the news in the party daily. Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Ritterspom, Gâbor Tamâs, 1948[Simplifications Staliniennes et Complications Soviétiques. English] Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications : social tensions and political conflicts in the USSR, 1933-1953 / by Gâbor Tamâs Ritterspom. p. cm. - (Social orders : v. 5) Translation of : Simplifications staliniennes et complications soviétiques. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 3-7186-5107-6 - ISBN 3-7186-5105-X (pbk.) 1. Soviet Union—Politics and government—1936-1953. 2. Stalin, Joseph, 1979-1953. 3. Soviet Union-Social Conditions—1917I. Title II. Series. DK267.R46 1991 90-24384 947.084-dc20 CIP No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing form the publishers. Printed in the United States of America.



ml CONTENTS Acknowledgements A Note on Terminology Abbreviations Introduction

vii ix xi 1

1 Society and the State Apparatus in the USSR: Contradictions and Interferences in the 1930s


2 Between Two "Great Moscow Trials": Social Tensions and Political Manoeuvres, 1936


3 "Enemies of the People" Fighting Each Other: Terror and Chaos, 1937


4 Stalin in 1938: Rhetorical Apotheosis, Political Defeat


5 From the Gulag of the Memorial to the History of Penal Policy in the Soviet Union, 1933-1953


Conclusion: The Longue Durée of Soviet History





For É.M.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am deeply grateful to Yuri Okamoto and her family, without whose help and encouragement this work would not have been completed. I undertook some of my research in Japan where I was able, thanks to Masanori Kikuchi, to benefit from the support of the Institute for International Affairs at the University of Tokyo. In the United States the help of James H. Billington and the hospitality of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (Wilson Center, Washington) enabled me to consult a great number of sources. For the possibility to complete my documentation in German archives and to revise and enlarge the French edition of this work, I am indebted to the generous support of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Among colleagues who have helped me in France I owe particular thanks to Clemens Heller, Jacques Revel, Daniel Bertaux, Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, Robert Desrimon, Marc Ferro, François Furet, Marcel Gauchet, Alain Guéry, Georges Haupt, Claude Kamoouh, Basile Kerblay, Roland Lew, Henri Mendras, Pierre Nora and Roger Portal. I am all the more grateful for their support, since I benefited from it in spite of serious disagreements which have at times divided our opinions in certain questions; this breaks with some of the traditions of academe. I am equally indebted to the editorial staff of the Annales, Libre and Critique Politique as well as the Éditions de l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, who published the first versions of some of my studies. Warm thanks too to those friends who have patiently weeded out the more bizarre features of my style; any that remain I have managed to save by outwitting their vigilance. As well as performing most of this thankless task, Jacques Emsalem has given me precious help by his brotherly support for more than twelve years. I must express my gratitude too to J. Arch Getty who was vii



working on the same topic in parallel with me for a long time without either of us knowing of the other's existence. I have learned much from his comments and our talks, and I hope that he has noticed their effects in many places in this book during his unpleasant labour in correcting the English version. On the other hand I am afraid that Moshe Lewin will be unhappy with me for some of the conclusions that I draw here, in spite of the seminal influence that his writings and teachings had on my research. But it would be hard to list all the people to whom I have become indebted in the course of my labours. Scattered almost worldwide, few of them whether close friends or casual acquaintances would realise how much they have helped me with their comments (sometimes on topics far removed from the subject of my studies) and above all by standing by me. Finally, I cannot possibly mention all those who have helped me to understand the true importance of the problems that have occupied me, from East European intellectuals who think much as I do, to the Uzbek driver, my host in a backwater of Central Asia, an ex-convict who in 1956 "liberated" my native Budapest. G. T. R.

A NOTE ON TERMNINOLOGY The term "region" is used in the Soviet acceptance of the 1930s and 1940s and denotes the regions and territories (oblasti, kraia) as well as the autonomous and federated republics that the Party statutes of the time placed on the same hierarchical level. "Local" organisations and administrations are those of districts (raiony) and cities, as well as districts within larger cities, once again in accordance with the hierarchy of territorial division as established by the Party statutes. "Apparatus" is applied in the broad sense of the term to denote the ensemble of institutions and bodies directing political, ad­ ministrative and economic activities throughout the country. "Cadres" are officeholders of these institutions and bodies who are supposed to represent the interests of the Party-State and realise its policies, regardless of their position in a hierarchy that goes from managing and engineering personnel of the industry or grassroots officials in charge of agricultural affairs to people's commissars and secretaries of the Central Committee. Though far from all cadres are leading officials or functionaries, each of them can influence the implementation of political decisions in their daily work through compliance or noncompliance with such decisions. As a rule, "Party members" refer only to full members of the CPSU, while "membership" or "militants" include the category of candidate members.

ABBREVIATIONS B Bolshevik. Bimonthly review of the Central Committee. BO Biulleten' oppozitsii. Trotskyist opposition monthly, Paris. BSE Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia. The Great Soviet En­ cyclopedia. Dir Direktiyy KPSS i sovetskogo pravitel’stva po khoziaistvennym voprosam, vol. 3, Moscow 1958. A collection of economic directives. KhSLit Khronologicheskoe sobranie zakonov Litovskoi SSR, vol. 3, Vilnius 1958. Collection of laws of Lithuania. KhSR Khronologicheskoe sobranie zakonov, ukazov Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta i postanovlenii Pravitel'stva RSFSR, vol. 5, Moscow 1949. Collection of laws of the Russian Federation. P Pravda. Daily newspaper of the Central Committee. PA AA Documents from the Political Archives of the Foreign Office, Bonn. PS Partiinoe stroitel'stvo. Bimonthly review of the Central Com­ mittee. PZh Partiinaia zhizn'. Bimonthly review of the Central Committee. Resh Resheniia partii i pravitel’stva po khoziaistvennym voprosam, vol. 3, Moscow 1968. A collection of decisions on the economy. SIu Sovetskaia iustitsiia. Weekly of the People's Commissariat of Justice. SP Sobranie postanovlenii i rasporiazhenii Pravitel’stva SSSR. A collection of government laws. SuP Sudebnaia praktika Verkhovnogo Suda SSSR. Decisions of the USSR Supreme Court, monthly. SZ Sobranie zakonov i rasporiazhenii Raboche-Krest’ianskogo Pravitel'­ stva SSSR, chast' I. A collection of government laws. SZak Sotsialisticheskaia zakonnost'/Za sotsialisticheskuiu zakonnost'. Monthly of the USSR Procuracy. UK Ugolovnyi kodeks RSFSR. Penal code of the Russian Federation. UPK Ugolovno-protsessual’nyi kodeks RSFSR. Code of penal pro­ cedure of the Russian Federation.

xii Abbreviations VS Vlast' sovetov. Bimonthly review of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Federation. W S Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR. Bulletin of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. WKP, RS, 116/115 Documents from the Smolensk Archives (Wes­ tern Region), a portion of the archives of a regional committee of the Party, seized by the Wehrmacht and then by the American army during the war and kept today in the United States National Archives. All the documents quoted belong to the series of files with the shelf-mark WKP, numbered from 1 to 527, or to files RS 921, 924 and 115/116. The page numbers quoted refer to the numbering of the files and not to the individual documents. The abbreviations used in the Russian titles are the official Soviet abbreviations.

INTRODUCTION We like to think that we live in an age that is breaking down taboos, or at any rate that the first task that confronts anyone trying to understand contemporary reality is that they should submit till of our "certainties" to a critical re-examination. In fact, some of our deepest convictions - those for example that concern the family, madness and death - have been re-examined and at times challenged, and such re-examination has become accepted pro­ cedure. 1 Similarly, an author runs no very great risks if, after a careful re-reading of the source material, he comes to the conclusion that Caligula was not a homicidal maniac or that Richard III was not guilty of most of the atrocities that are usually laid at his door;2 at any rate he will not be suspected of leniency towards the misdeeds attributed, rightly or wrongly, to these characters. If however one tries to publish a tentative analysis of some almost totally unknown material, and to use it to throw new light on the history of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the part that Stalin played in it, one discovers that opinion tolerates challenges to the received wisdom far less than one would have thought. At best the author will receive a condescending disapproval, and if others suspect him of being perverse 3 he must think himself lucky that at least they have conceded that there are mitigating circumstances. But other critics will go further, even accusing him of an attempt to "rehabilitate Stalin",4 and hence of justifying the regime and the political attitudes which are inseparable from his name. The traditional image of the "Stalinist phenomenon" is in truth so powerful, and the political and ideological value-judgments which underlie it are so deeply emotional, that any attempt to correct it must almost inevitably appear to be taking a stand for or against the generally accepted norms that it implies. In these circumstances, to plead innocence and claim that one was only trying to see a little more clearly into the nature and the workings of a political system seems to ring false, and any attempt to rectify the current image of "Stalinism" appears quixotic. While this image affects almost everything we think we know about the past or the present of the USSR, the notions that it raises have become commonplace in the most diverse political ideologies and vocabularies, and have even entered everyday speech. To claim


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

to show that the traditional representation of the "Stalin period" is in many ways quite inaccurate is tantamount to issuing a hopeless challenge to the time-honoured patterns of thought which we are used to applying to political realities in the USSR, indeed against the common patterns of speech itself. Even the most radical and headstrong iconoclast can expect little success from such a pointless undertaking. Let us admit straight away that our ambition does not climb so high. What we propose to examine here in the specific context of a historical period is simply the everyday working of the Soviet regime and some of its methods of social control. The choice of period and phenomena for study is certainly not accidental. Research of this kind can be justified above all by the extreme inconsistency of the writing devoted to what historical orthodoxy considers to be a major event - the "Great Purge" of 1936-1938. Strange as it may seem, there are few periods of Soviet history that have been studied so superficially. Almost every author dealing with Soviet history, politics, society, economy or culture, or with the biographies of Soviet politicians, has naturally had to devote a few pages to the tumultuous events of those years, but until recently almost no-one has studied them as such. And basically it is on this sketchy description of the "Great Purge" that the commonly held view of the Soviet system is founded. Authors, whatever their theoretical, ideological or political inspiration, have all related more or less the same version. We ought by rights to be convinced by this sweet unanimity that all further investigation is superfluous. However we shall see that the quasi-canonical version of the "Great Purge" that the literature presents us with is run through with remarkable incoherencies and that its documentary support is flimsy to say the least. According to the almost unanimous view of the history books, the key event of this period was the assassination on December 1st 1934 of S. M. Kirov, secretary of the Central Committee and first secretary in Leningrad. 5 It is generally supposed that Kirov was the leader, or at least the potential leader, of a "liberal" opposition within the Central Committee itself. The "moderate" tendency that he is said to have represented in matters of economic policy, together with his tolerance towards old oppositionists of the 1920s and the period of collectivisation, are supposed to have found expression in the address he delivered early in 1934 to the 17th Party Congress. The ovation that delegates gave to this speech and the rumours (spread long after his death) that he was in line for

Introduction 3 election to become head of the Party, are supposed to be witness to the fact that he was the most popular leader in the country.6 It is even reported that almost 300 delegates voted against Stalin's election to the Central Committee and that the results were falsified.7 Hence the opinion of one author that there must have existed a "Kirov platform", a genuine programme of opposition which provoked Stalin's hostility and finally cost the ring-leader of this "liberal" faction his life.®8 According to historians then, the assassination of Kirov was the start of a ruthless purge of the Party, the elimination of almost an entire generation of old Bolsheviks, heroes of the underground movement, the Revolution and the Civil War, as well as those who opposed this criminal course of action or who supported Kirov's schemes.9 At first the purge encountered serious obstacles such that most of the Central Committee and even some members of the Politbureau tried initially to prevent it.10 But the sudden nomina­ tion of a new chief of police (NKVD) is said to have broken all resistance. This fateful removal of the people's commissar of internal affairs is said to have been carried out on the express orders of Stalin himself. It was in September 1936 while on holiday in the company of A. A. Zhdanov on the Black Sea, that Stalin is supposed to have sent a telegram to the Politburo demanding that they should depose G. G. Iagoda, who was too timid to think up excuses for the purge, and replace him with N. I. Ezhov whose enthusiasm for it was well-known.11 If we are to believe the literature, Stalin could act as he wished once he had put his man in charge of the police. Writers agree that the prime motive for the "Great Purge" was Stalin's desire to reinforce his own position at the head of the Party-State and to consolidate his power over all spheres of Soviet life, a power which from that moment on was virtually absolute.12 It is he who is supposed to have decided every political move during the period, and according to historians he was the sole begetter of the concept of the "Great Purge", and of its execution, even its most insignificant details.12 Nothing perhaps reveals more clearly the importance attributed to Stalin, than the fact that to tell the history of the period it is sufficient to tell his life-story; one of his biographers even goes so far as to imagine his intentions and his innermost thoughts,14 and these intentions and thoughts are apparently supposed to illuminate and explain all that happened. We are told that Stalin was afraid that the increasing independence



Stalinist Simplifications and Soiriet Complications

of a number of high officials would enable them to oppose him.15 At the same time the dictator is said to have had old scores to settle with all who had challenged his authority throughout his earlier career, with all those who still remembered the sometimes rather inglorious role he had played in the underground movement, the Revolution, the Civil War and its aftermath, and with those leaders who were clearly more competent and more popular than he was, and therefore his potential rivals.16 The elaborate projects for the purge went far beyond the planning stage; they are said to have been carried out faithfully.17 Apart from the role played by the police, the decisive factor in the purge was the three "Great Moscow Trials". Mounted on Stalin's express orders and directed against the Bolshevik elite, these trials are said to have served as the pretext for liquidating the old guard among the cadres of the Party-State. Most writers have tended to devote more space to these trials than to everything else that happened in the period, eventful though it was. They show how little credibility there was in the indictments, especially those relating to the attempts on the lives of Kirov and other leaders of the USSR, or the insinuations that the old Bolshevik elite were nothing but a nest of spies and traitors against their country. While recognising that some of the charges against those said to have been responsible for the sorry state of the national economy were not entirely groundless, the literature still concludes at the end of the day that they all fell prey to Stalin's vengeful blood-lust.18 The purge had disastrous results. The country's economic power was seriously affected and the USSR found itself on the eve of the Second World War fatally weakened.19 But the unanimous view of historians is that Stalin had achieved his ends. Since they owed their careers to him alone, those who were promoted to take over from the purged leaders and cadres were entirely in his pocket. So it is that the literature affirms that the dictator, now truly all-powerful and without a rival, at the 18th Congress in early 1939, rode to triumph on a wave of servile applause from the newly-appointed and obedient officials.20 This then is the version of the "Great Purge" that is usually presented to us in historical writing. Can it stand up to a simple logical criticism on the basis of its own data? Is it possible that an increasingly recalcitrant body of leaders and officials would have allowed itself to be simply wiped out without any serious resistance? Are we to imagine that a political authority having



extensive powers and composed for the most part of future victims of the purge - that Central Committee of 1936 which we are told was somewhat inclined to oppose the murderous schemes of a dreadful dictator - would have accepted the nomination of the most suspect character to the post of potential executioner? And moreover that they did this on the strength of a telegram which left no doubt what was in the mind of its author? Does this bespeak serious opposition in high circles? On the other hand, is it not probable that the reputation of Stalin's henchman and the meaning of his nomination were quite different in the historical context of the period from those authors traditionally attribute to them?21 Are we to exclude the hypothesis that powerful dignitaries did not attach too much importance to the event because the person or the post did not appear that crucial, or because their experience had convinced them of the multitude of possibilities to circumvent or subvert initiatives and actions of central bodies, including those of the secret police? And, last but not least, if it was really possible to eliminate the leading members of a vast state apparatus on the mere whim of an all-powerful tyrant and his police force, why set up the pretext of political trials whose muddled arguments would convince no-one? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the quasi-canonic version in the history books is labouring under an intractable contradiction. If the dictator they speak of was in fact all-powerful and able to wipe out all opposition, could any kind of opposition have really existed? How could the dictator enlist the support of this opposition for its own destruction, and why was it necessary to seek such flimsy excuses to have it put down? On the other hand, if the despot was tackling an opposition so powerful that he needed to use the cruellest methods of police terror and such blatantly unconvincing justifications, how did he possibly overcome it so easily without provoking resistance from his enemies who were themselves men of some power? Obviously there is no point in seeking an answer to this dilemma in the "classic" texts which are based on the axiomatic belief that contradictory phenomena of this kind, however improbable and illogical they might be anywhere else in the world, are entirely normal and indeed inherent in the Soviet system. And yet even if we were tempted to accept this line, the assertions made in the received version of the history of the "Great Purge" would still not be compatible with the source evidence.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

Simply reading through the minutes of the 17th Congress is enough to raise doubts over Kirov's role as an opposition leader. Far from making the slightest allusion to any dissident "platform", his speech asked the delegates to adopt "as law" the Central Committee report that Stalin had presented. Instead of proposing "moderate" reforms, the secretary from Leningrad praised the work of the secret police and the concentration camps. We find no trace in his contribution of any softness towards old oppositionists; quite the reverse, he jeers at them and makes fun of their repentance at the Congress.22 If he did have any dissenting thoughts they must have been well hidden, since even the editors of one Central Committee journal did not spot them, and published his speech on the first anniversary of his death.23 The intention of a group of delegates to replace Stalin by Kirov had been affirmed by certain participants of the 17th Congress and denied by others, while the almost 300 votes reportedly opposed to Stalin's membership in the Central Committee cannot be confirmed by documentary evidence. The reexamination of the ballots showed that only three delegates had opposed Stalin's election.24 To be sure, it is impossible to establish today if the documents were not falsified. But if they were and if Stalin was eager to eliminate embarrassing witnesses, he did not really proceed thoroughly, since at least three members of the electoral commission survived the "Great Purge" to give rather contradictory testimonies of the vote at the beginning of the 1960s.25 As for Kirov's assassination, the source material and the evidence we have explain it so poorly that almost any hypothesis might be allowable. True, the murder is listed among the justifications for a Party purge that was launched some five months later, in May 1935, but some documents that appeared before Kirov's death seem to indicate that the decision to take the militants in hand had already begun to ripen in the summer of 1934. One of the motives behind this operation, which was far from being a bloodthirsty witchhunt,26 arose from the need to check how local Party organisations were issuing Party cards and maintaining member­ ship records. As early as 1933 the Central Committee had already begun to have doubts over the regularity and reliability of membership returns, and the enquiries it undertook in 1934 showed that the records were so chaotic that there was great uncertainty whether tens of thousands of apparently regular cardcarrying Communists were in fact members of the Party at all.27



It is difficult to escape the impression that close reading and in some cases the taking account of easily available sources do not necessarily characterise the researches of authors who present the "traditional" version. This somewhat negligent approach may explain why they have come to give preference to all sorts of "eyewitness accounts" and "revelations", which have two ad­ vantages: they usually offer global explanations on almost every issue of the period, and at the same time they do away with the need to undertake a systematic study of original documents. How shaky the foundations of our knowledge of the "Great Purge" really are is perhaps shown most clearly when we look at the source of the episode of the fatal telegram to which authors attribute such a crucial importance.28 This is the "secret report" presented by N. S. Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU,29 which has been widely drawn on in the literature. And yet the possibility has never been taken seriously into account that that its contents might have more to do with the political issues at the time it was compiled and the tactical objectives of its authors, rather than the realities of Soviet history. The question seems all the more relevant, since this famous report contains practically nothing that was not known at the time in one way or another. Far from it. All the indications are that it was based on rumours which were current in the USSR, or even on the memoirs of émigrés published abroad, and that it was produced for the very purpose of confirming and "canonising" the best-known version of events and phenomena that had been highly compromis­ ing for the regime. It was this version and these explanations that seem to have been the most convenient at that particular moment for the authors of the report. The fact that they lay all responsibility at the door of just one person and so exonerate the rest of the leadership, at the same time avoiding any suggestion that the events and phenomena in question might have arisen from the very nature of the regime itself, seems to support this suspicion. So does the fact that this document was to become an open secret, divulged as it was at a great number of meetings before at least seven million Party members.30 N It would certainly be naive to imagine that even the most attentive reading of original source material could bring to light everything that happened during that troubled period of Soviet history, when the most important events took place far from the public eye. But it would be equally alien to the professional ethic of


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

historians to refrain from examining the available documents and to rely only on those witnesses that are the most accessible, and the most likely to confirm one preconception or another. For instance we shall see how much precious information can be gleaned from the documentation of the February-March 1937 Plenary Session of the Central Committee and from analysing how and when it was published.31 That being the case, nothing can justify the author of the lengthiest work on the "Great Purge", which is based mainly on sources like the "secret report" and émigrés' memoirs, for only quoting the testimony of a Soviet refugee. All the more so when the refugee was not present at the crucial session and the tale he relates is one he heard in a concentration camp in 1940 from another detainee who was not there either but had been told about it at the time.32 This same predilection for solutions which do not call for too much research, and certainly not too much reading of rather dry original sources, seems to be responsible for the disproportionate importance the literature gives to the "Great Moscow Trials". What could be simpler in effect than to show, from the records of proceedings which were translated into French and English by the People's Commissariat of Justice, that the charges were a complete fabrication? The first show trial in question was separated from the second by five months, the third was held a year after that. During this period other events took place which were far from insig­ nificant, so much so that they formed an intricate context which throws more light on the period than the trials themselves. True, it would be unfair to claim that earlier writers have completely failed to analyse original sources. But it must be noted that when they have done so they have become engrossed in the intentions of the leaders of the Party-State and their supposed prime mover, uncertain and at times downright unfathomable though these may be. So much so that their tendency to seek irrefutable proof for these intentions has brought them close to arbitrariness and tendentiousness in their choice and interpretation of the documents. Thus for example one of the favourite sources for historians: a decree in March 1935 forbidding the possession of knives and other edged weapons, which is frequently presented as a harbinger of the intensification of the terror.33 The authors seem unaware that other measures were being taken at about the same period to combat brigandage, armed attacks, brawls and "hooli­ ganism",34 phenomena which were all apparently on the increase at



the time. Nor do they ever point out that the decree in question gave exemption from the ban to ethnic groups whose traditional livelihood or national costume entailed the carrying of knives.35 Furthermore one should add that another decree, only a few months afterwards, made it easier for private citizens to acquire smallcalibre weapons which could be bought without special licence until February 1938.36 Another document often quoted by historians is supposed to have given judges power to sentence juvenile delinquents to death. According to the specialists, this was a form of blackmail used against old Bolsheviks who were arrested - the lives of their children were supposedly put at risk.37 One author goes so far as to surmise that the lower age limit of twelve stated in this law is a reference back to the execution of the son of the Tsar in 1918.38 We should note that this act was passed in April 1935, more than a year before large-scale arrests began among the cadres which included old Bolsheviks. And if we simply read the text, it emerges that the power to apply "all penal sanctions" applied only to children found guilty of "theft, violence, bodily harm, mutilation, murder and attempted murder".39 An instruction from the Supreme Court and the Procuracy specifically enjoined courts to use these powers only for those offences named in the act.40 Now the penal code only allowed capital punishment, even for adults, for one very specific crime and moreover it was explicitly forbidden to pronounce the death sentence on juveniles under the age of eighteen.41 In any case, historians have completely lost sight of the fact that this law was just one of a wide range of less Draconian measures that were being taken at that time to combat juvenile delinquency, which was by all accounts a great cause for concern.42 The need to take into account the historical and documentary context of the sources one quotes does not seem to be a strong point with some writers. For instance it is easy to represent a document as being a "confidential directive" ordering an increase in repression, simply because it was found among the Smolensk Archives43 which were for a long while rather difficult to gain access to. Apart from the fact that the directive in question was merely an instruction on the technical process for replacing Party membership cards and records, and it has none of the usual hallmarks of secret documents, the content of the text itself was published several times at that period, once even on the front page of Pravda.u What is

10 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications more, far from widening the circle of victims of the purge, as has been claimed, it was rather designed to reduce their number since it was put out during a truce within the Party-State.45 Although very keen to track down documents with which to demonstrate the escalation of terror and Stalin's murderous schemes, the authors of the "traditional" version are far less ready to take account of sources which do not tend to support their theses. However, when they do do so, the conclusions they draw reveal very clearly the preconceptions that govern their approach. The most typical example of this kind is shown by one specialist who is forced to conclude that it was almost a miracle that central government was able to function in the USSR during the 1930s, given the multiplicity of individual interests and the opportunities for the local administration to escape from Moscow's control, opportunities which he could not ignore from reading the Smolensk Archives.46 However this discovery seems to have caused him some embarrassment. Otherwise how is one to explain the fact that he then does his best to suggest that, in spite of everything, the leadership of the Party-State did manage to impose its will on the administration and on society in general, even though he can produce not the slightest documentary proof of this?47 He is especially careful to avoid asking himself what chance there was that the schemes and instructions of a supposedly united and disciplined higher authority would be carried out when entrusted to such an unreliable Party and state apparatus. If in fact we concede that the local records show that chaos and disobedience were widespread and endemic, touching even the highest levels of the Party-State, then it is hard not to be amazed at the extreme caution this author shows in refraining from attacking one of the fundamental weaknesses of the "classical" literature. This is the incompatibility of the postulate that the dictatorship was allpowerful with the assertion that there existed an increasingly independent body of officials with vast discretionary powers who were nevertheless easily defeated by that same apparatus that they could have manipulated to thwart the wishes of an omnipotent tyrant. To give any semblance of solidity to the traditional discourse on the "Great Purge" it is necessary to eliminate this inbuilt dilemma, though this method prohibits to delve in the proper historical problems and phenomena of the period. In fact it is this burying of heads in the sand which is largely responsible for the tendentious quotation of source material and the ease with which



authors have brought practically everything back to one single cause: Stalin. After all there is nothing easier than to attribute to him the design of virtually everything that happened over twenty years in a country covering a sixth of the earth's land-mass and home to a hundred different ethnic groups. All one has to do is to set aside any possibility of a thorough examination of the social, political and institutional context within which the regime operated and concentrate solely on the putative prime mover, refusing to touch the quite abundant material which would enable one to see the inner workings of the system. This style of approach, instead of casting light on the origins, nature and consequences of historical phenomena in all their complex variety, tends rather to put forward one-dimensional interpretations and over-simplified explanations which even at best have no more than a superficial documentary basis. At the same time it raises hypotheses which are really unverified, and at times frankly unverifiable, to the status of articles of faith. Thus, for example, the victims in high office who were dismissed and cruelly punished during this period: authors never tire of listing them at length and concluding from the mere fact of their fall that Stalin's murderous machinations were at work,48 without showing the slightest interest in what the people in question were doing, how the organisations they controlled were being run, or what disagreements they might have had with their superiors, colleagues or subordinates. To be sure, such information is almost never discernible in the sources available to us. This same very simplistic logic is in many ways what perpetuates the idea that almost all the old guard of Bolsheviks were exterminated during the "Great Purge", an allegation which is hardly borne out by the statistical facts. Certainly, since a large number of the victims of these turbulent years were officials of the Party and the state, they inevitably included a good many of the old elite who formed the backbone of the apparatus. But we should be aware that of the 24,000 Party members in 1917 and the 430,000 or so militants at the beginning of 1920, there only remained 8,000 and 135,000 respectively by 1927; this is but a small minority of the total membership which was estimated at over 1,200,000 by then and at over 2,700,000 in 1934. In March 1939 there remained within the Party some 5,000 veterans of the underground movement and 90,000 activists whose membership went back beyond 1920.49 Out of more than 700,000 Party activists at the end of the Civil War there

12 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications remained about 180,000 by 1934 and 125,000 at the beginning of 1939. By that time although they constituted only 8.3% of the full members and 5.4% of the membership as a whole, this group made up 20% of the delegates at the 18th Party Congress and 73% of the new Central Committee, and one-fifth of 27,516 leading officials of the regional and local apparatus had been Bolsheviks when Lenin was still alive.50 It therefore becomes somewhat difficult to state that the old guard of the Party had been reduced to naught, or that they were even the principal victims of the tumultuous events of 1934-1938, especially considering that the literature tends to set a figure of several million on those deported during the period. As for the number of expulsions from the Party, it has been known for more than twenty years that this stood at 278,818 in 1937-38 at the height of the "Great Purge". In 1933, however, 854,330 activists had been expelled, 342,294 in 1934 and 281,872 in 1935; these figures are all higher than in the years of the "Great Terror". In 1936 there were 95,145 expulsions from the Party.51 No-one, not even those authors who put forward the most far-fetched estimates of the number of arrests, claims that all those expelled were arrested. Yet, depending on which estimate one takes, there were as many as seven or nine million people arrested during 1937-1938.52 We should note by way of comparison that the total population of the country was less than 170 million in 1937 while, for example, the number of industrial workers was no more than eight million and the Red Army consisted of a little over 1.4 million men at that time and 4.2 million on the eve of war in 1941.53 This is not enough in itself to make the figures which are usually quoted, improbable. What matters in the final analysis is the method used to calculate them. Let us therefore examine the one case we are aware of where the method is laid out, in the work of a specialist who gives a cautious estimate of between seven and eight-and-a-half million arrests in 1937-1938. Essentially he bases this on the memoirs of ex­ prisoners who assert that between 4 and 5.5% of the Soviet population were incarcerated or deported during those years.54 It seems improbable that men who are inside penal institutions would be able to form any exact idea either of the proportion of the population which is still at liberty or the numbers recently arrived in all the other camps and prisons, which they are not personally familiar with even though they had come to know a few by being moved around. But regardless of that problem, not entirely



negligeable though it may be, we should note that our author's calculations are based on a total population of the USSR taken from the 1939 census, that is to say a figure which includes those who were not even bom in 1937 or 1938. In other words, if we take into account the fact that 22.8% of Soviet citizens were children aged under 9 in 193955 and if we suppose that they were treated a little less harshly than the rest of the population, then our author's figures will fall to the region of five to seven million. We should add that even this number seems to us somewhat exaggerated. It must be acknowledged that none of the data that we yet possess will allow us to arrive at an entirely reliable estimate of the number of arrests in those years. Nevertheless we do know of certain data which seem to challenge the orders of magnitude that have been accepted hitherto. Thus, for instance, it emerges from one file in the "Smolensk Archives" that during the first great wave of denunciations of "enemies" at the time of the first "Moscow Trial", sixty-one people were expelled from the Party in the Western Region, of whom twenty-six were arrested: hence approximately 0.19% of activists in this region fell victim to the purge.56 It is possible that the data in this file is incomplete. But it does indicate perhaps an approximate order of magnitude for the country as a whole which would bring us to an estimate of 3,945 expulsions and 1,669 arrests, based on the proportions that this archive material suggests.57 However, this particular instance relates only to Party activists and a campaign which was halted after a few weeks.58 As for the number of arrests during the "Great Purge" itself, we can try to gain some idea from the declaration of a local chief of police (RO NKVD) in the Western Region, dated 15th October 1937. According to this the police had ". . . taken away in the district 120 criminal and anti-Soviet elements. . in the period when the purge was running at its highest in the area under his supervision.59 It is noteworthy that he is not talking only of political cases. From figures taken of the population of the district we may conclude that 0.4% of its inhabitants were arrested during these crucial months,60 on political grounds as well as for other reasons. Extrapolating to the USSR as a whole, this would then give around 662,000 arrests61 for the period in question which does not necessarily coincide with the same months because of the asynchronism of the purge in the different parts of the country. Obviously it would be wrong to base one's estimates on the data of a small and unimportant country district, although most Soviet citizens at the time did live in such


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

areas.62 But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the figures often quoted are somewhat exaggerated. The more so, since data that became available on the population in Soviet concentration camps are far from confirming traditional assessments. To be sure, they show a dramatic growth in 1937-39 when the bulk of people arrested during the "Great Purge" arrived in the camps. But the figure of 1,823,750 people who had been transferred from prisons to labor camps during these three years,63 does not seem to suggest that estimates running from five to nine million arrests would be correct. A certain number of these inmates had been arrested and sentenced before 1936 and confined in prisons before being sent to camps. On the other hand, the data is only about camp population and does not include executed purge victims whose estimated number is usually between 500,000 and 1,500,00o.64 According to a Soviet publication, 353,074 persons were shot upon the sentence of courts and extra-judicial bodies in 1937 against 1,118 in the preceding year.65 Everything points to the assumption that the terror abated in 1938 and especially by 1939.66 But even in the highly improbable case when the number of death sentences did not diminish, the fact that apparently 3,778,234 people had been sentenced "for counter-revolutionary and state crimes" (including 786,098 persons who were shot) by courts and extra-judicial bodies during the whole period between 1930 and 1953,67 does not seem to signal anything near the order of magnitude of the estimates authors usually advance for the number of arrests in 1936-38. To be sure, neither these figures nor data about the growth of the camp population include people who perished in detention during the investigations or those - however modest might have been their number - who were released without being judged. It must be also noted that many people who became victims of political campaigns were sentenced for economic or official crimes as well as for the misappropriation of public property. On the other hand, a certain number of victims might have shared the fate of high officials of the NKVD who were shot through a "special procedure",68 i.e. without being sentenced. Nevertheless, all the indications are that the figures quoted by the traditional literature are incompatible with the available evidence.

It seems very likely that a less tendentious selection and a more



systematic reading of the source material than those made by the authors of the traditional version would alter our view of this crucial period in Soviet history. Seeing how inadequate the literature is which provides our knowledge, it is unlikely that any researcher who devotes himself to the considerable task of sifting through such a vast and unexplored wealth of source material would be motivated merely by perversity. But of course it all depends on the sources which he analyses and the problems with which he tries to come to grips. In fact one cannot emphasise enough the close correlation between the sources one selects and the problems one tackles, and this is more true of studies into the evolution of the USSR than perhaps any other area of historical research. In the study of history, or at least the history of political events in other societies, there is after all a fairly broad consensus on what one should take as the essential phenomena. This consensus is mainly due to the fact that it is almost always the same types of phenomena which turn out to be crucial, whatever type of documentation one chooses for one's research. On the other hand, the whole quality, even the very notion of what constitutes an event or a historical phenomenon can differ noticeably depending on the type of source material one consults when studying the past of the Soviet Union, and particularly the political history of the USSR. If the authors of the traditional version have a pronounced tendency to favour eye-witness accounts, it is very likely because they give the same, if not greater, importance to the role of individual politicians than is normal in chronicling the history of events in other societies. This tendency to largely personalise historical and political processes is a questionable one, but it may be justified in those societies of a non-Soviet type, which are relatively transparent and where the documentary evidence often reveals very clearly the actions of the most prominent politicians. On the other hand, it is the very opacity of the Soviet regime and the impossibility, on the basis of its official discourse, to identify all of the political actors, that throws into relief the one leader who is most easily visible. Thus even if there is no reason to question the sincerity of most of the authors of those memoirs, on which most of the "classical" literature is based, the frequent occurence in their accounts of themes like the role of Kirov as an opponent of Stalin as shown at the 17th Congress, or the systematic extermination of the

16 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications old guard of the Party, is such as to throw a degree of doubt on the accuracy of the information that they give, and the relevance of their explanations of the whys and wherefores of historical events across the country at large. In fact there is scarcely one of the writers of memoirs who can report from first-hand knowledge of affairs in the higher ranks of the Party-State, and yet it is these accounts that historians of the USSR quote most readily. It does not seem therefore entirely inappropriate to ask whether we are not dealing here with a series of rumours that were widespread as early as the 1930s, which then developed into an oral tradition and put down deep roots into the collective consciousness. These authors are cadres of the middle and lower levels of the hierarchy, persecuted intellectuals, Party activists with at best minimal responsibility, junior government officials or secret agents who defected after having passed the best part of their time abroad. They scarcely had access to the political bodies where the important decisions were made and where some of the crucial confrontations took place. On the other hand, some of them might prefer not to dwell on the petty intrigues and manoeuvres in which they themselves were perhaps involved, while others, particularly authors who had been forced into exile, may have been tempted to make good any lapses in their knowledge by using hearsay or published accounts. The problems that accounts of even the best placed eye-witnesses may pose are well illustrated by an article of a Soviet author who gives three versions of the event that is supposed to have led to the doom of a candidate member of the Central Committee, G. N. Kaminskii: his speech at the June 1937 Plenum.69 One of them comes from Khrushchev's "secret report", according to which Kaminskii denounced L. P. Beria, the future head of the NKVD, for his membership in the intelligence service of an anti-Bolshevik government in Azerbaidzhán during the Civil War.70 The second one is that of another participant of the Plenum who recalls that Kaminskii protested against the arrest of "honest Communists". The third version is furnished by a member of the Central Committee at the time who reports Kaminskii's words that supposedly provoked Stalin's ire: "We must cure comrade Stalin. He is gravely ill". To complicate the situation, Khrushchev tells in his memoirs that the Plenum took place in February 1939, one year after Kaminskii's execution.71 If we are to believe these memoirs,



Kaminskii emphasised that Beria had been an "English intelligence agent".72 Note that in 1953 Beria was indeed convicted of being an English spy.73 But if we believe another Soviet writer, Kaminskii was arrested in June 1937 because he had dared, "although very cautiously", to take the defence of Bukharin and Rykov at the February-March Plenary Session.74 Lastly, a Western author who refers to an unspecified "oral information" as his source, informs us that Kaminskii spoke at the February-March 1937 Plenum to pronounce an "indictment of Ezhov and his methods" before attacking Beria in June,75 without explaining why he was not soon arrested by the mighty police chief if he was immediately detained after levelling accusations against a regional secretary. Among students of history there is much debate over which political, social or cultural phenomena allow us best to grasp historical processes. There is no reason to suppose that our writers of memoirs are the most capable of identifying, in the historical context, the crucial moments or factors in the events that they personally witnessed or very often suffered. No matter how interesting their accounts of their own fortunes and the many details they can provide, when they describe and interpret matters that go beyond their personal experience and belong to the realm of history proper they are just as likely to resemble Stendhal's hero Fabrice del Dongo, lost on the battlefield of Waterloo. The image of Soviet realities in the 1930s that emerges from even the most superficial study of the original sources seems to support this hypothesis. At the same time it is bound to open new perspectives on the basic events, phenomena and historical processes of the period. Admittedly, the vast body of legal measures and Party documents, the large quantities of newspapers and journals, or the more than five hundred files in the Smolensk Archives reveal scarcely anything of the intentions and actions of Stalin and the other leaders. This may well be one of the main reasons for the casual and selective use made of these sources by the authors of the "canonic" version. On the rare occasions when the available documents do throw light on the individual roles played by the regime's high dignitaries, they appear in a way that the’ "classical" works could scarcely ever manage, since their conceptual framework is at odds with almost all the documentary evidence. Instead of furnishing material to satisfy the curiosity of authors of the traditional version, Soviet sources above all elucidate the everyday working of the regime, the problems and tensions


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

aroused by it and by the attempts to modify its patterns, the aims and objects of these attempts at change, as well as some of the ways and means that were used to advance or hinder these undertakings. And so, on the evidence of this material, the turbulent events of Soviet history in the 1930s seem essentially to be an almost inevitable consequence of the day-by-day working of the PartyState, to be phenomena inherent in the internal mechanisms of the system and its characteristic socio-political relationships. What emerges clearly from the original documents is that the "Great Purge" simply did not have the characteristics of a victorious extermination campaign, meticulously planned by a strategist thirsting for revenge and absolute power, and carried out by his monolithic and obedient forces. On the contrary, begotten by the operation of a regime that was clearly out of control and ungovernable and not by the unchallengeable power of an omnipotent dictatorship, the dramatic events of 1936-1938 were the manifestation of a kind of civil war with the ruling elite itself. It is beyond doubt that the turmoil created ideal circumstances to settle old scores with rivals and erstwhile political adversaries, and it is equally true that the period of its worst excesses was inaugurated by the launching of campaigns against leaders and militants of defunct oppositionist movements and currents. But however crucial were initiatives of top decision-making bodies and of Stalin personally for the unleashing of these campaigns, nothing seems to indicate that they were more able to plan and direct such drives than actions in the field of industrial or rural policy that did not expose a great number of people to mortal danger and proved nevertheless uncontrollable. However decisive was the role of Stalin and his most illustrious colleagues in the triggering of the hunt on former oppositionists and of the persecutions it entailed, their initiatives, directives and strategies were implemented by a prodigious number of officials who also had their own accounts to settle as well as some associates to save, and whose moves were not necessarily compatible with the orientation top dignitaries wanted to give the drive that coalesced with another set of political manoeuvres. These manoeuvres are scarcely noticed, despite the fact that they are essential for grasping the nature and stakes of the "Great Purge" and of the socio-political relationships it stemmed from. For the upheaval of 1936-1938 was above all a struggle that the Party-State had to wage against itself, incapable as it was to



preserve itself without entrusting the exercise of its political monopoly to representatives who were more interested in keeping their positions and advancing their careers than in facilitating the regular and controlled working of governmental mechanisms. Nor could it perpetuate itself without fighting practices of its own officials, whose daily activity threatened to spread a general disorder and to fragment leadership, to the point where the country ran the risk of breaking down into quasi-feudal divisions. This was in fact a particularly crucial moment in the inevitable conflict within \ the Party-State. On the one hand were those who wished to react against the very real deviations which were disorganising the apparatus and tending to bring it towards the edge of break­ down; on the other hand those who by their official position were benefiting from the exercise of arbitrary and unchecked power. These latter not only became a relatively coherent albeit paradoxi­ cally anonymous interest group, but were even able to defend themselves by the very means that the Party-State put at their disposal as its legitimate representatives, including leverages to manipulate the imagery of the struggle with "enemies" and to deflect actions directed against themselves on old oppositionists and other scapegoats. These conflicts within the apparatus grew out of a fear of conflicts within society, a subject that traditional historiography has not greatly concerned itself with. The precipitant of the unleashing of a struggle of each against all within officialdom was most probably popular discontent, engendered by the very arbitrariness, corrup­ tion and inefficiency of the regime itself. Those who wished to see the state correct its own shortcomings were trying to maintain the authority and the hegemony of an apparatus, which was less and less able to keep society under control in the face of the everincreasing - though covert - disobedience of the masses. Their opponents were seeking to retain at all costs their privileged positions, with no thought for social malaise or the need to soothe it through ensuring adequate functioning of the Party-State. This was above all a struggle among the privileged against a background of social tension which was bound inevitably to result in an unstable compromise, but one that was necessary since it was clearly impossible to modify the nature of the regime itself without destroying it, and it was equally imperative to fight the insubor­ dination of the masses that had risen to alarming proportions while internal discords had weakened the grip of the apparatus.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

Scant information about administrative or economic difficulties; sporadic data about the success or failure of steps taken by the central authorities; measures to encourage or combat some official or popular practice, to discipline some section of the apparatus or of the masses; battles waged by means of instructions or editorials or on rare occasions by high dignitaries, recommending remedies (sometimes widely differing) for the system's ills; ingenious reinterpretations of official terminology in order to justify moves apparently originating from a single source but quickly coun­ teracted, redirected or recuperated by others; initiatives and campaigns stopped, relaunched and obstructed; often conflicting attempts to mobilise various sections of the Party-State or the population - the facts, the phenomena and the events that make up the fabric of Soviet history in these stormy years, as it appears in the original sources, are in truth far from what we have been accustomed to in the "canonic" version of the "Great Purge". They are nonetheless discernible in a considerable number of official documents, even if, more often than not, these texts contain rather than explicit their most important message that is eclipsed by by gloating declarations about the regime's successes, and even if the shortcomings and difficulties they mention are represented as nothing but fleeting epiphenomena, although in reality they happen to be facts of great significance. Thus the prime interest of these sources does not lie in the ritual formulae of the officialese, but in the realities of the regime's daily functioning that the official discourse reveals, conceals, or at times attempts to hide when it talks of the tasks, the work and the problems of political, administrative or economic organisations. Very often it is not in the content that we find the information, but in the whys and wherefores of what is said, implied or concealed, in the phenomena which are being lauded or denounced, or in the nature (not always easy to determine) of the public to whom it is addressed. In fact one of the main lessons to be learnt from a methodic study of sources such as these is the discovery of different strategies to use a single system of consecrated references in order to recommend, promote, thwart, realign or interrupt very contradic­ tory schemes in the most official documents, i.e. in the discovery of traces of political strategies that are at times quite distinct from each other. Far from being unequivocal directives, these signals allow us to grasp only in the most general terms the broad outlines of the policy objectives of those who issued them. It is very rarely that we



can identify exactly the steps they propose, the audience that is addressed to and the milieux from which these signals originate. It would in fact be the height of naivety to imagine that Soviet politics can be apprehended in the very text of the official discourse, even if it is inevitably concealed somewhere in it. Contrary to the claims of official propaganda, instead of overt actions whose ins and outs are made clear and which spring always from the infallible top leadership of the Party-State, the process of Soviet politics is a web of manoeuvres undertaken and fought over at practically every level and every section of the apparatus through the interplay and manipulation of the most official bodies. Even if these manoeuvres entail the spectacular mobilisation of the elite, Party members or the population at large, they must still be introduced and promoted in official jargon, as any other political move, and they must be launched within the framework of the system's most ordinary institutions. Moreover, the phenomena to be attacked are often highly compromising the regime's authority, though inherent in the system. So much so that the official rhetoric is obliged to present these as shortcomings and failures completely alien to the system's normal universe, as the result of the "subversive" misdeeds of "class enemies" or of survivors from old opposition groups. Of course this obscures even further the true thrust of the operations proceeding under cover of these vehement denunciations. In conditions such as these it comes as no surprise that even the people directly involved in the daily intrigues of the apparatus are not always able to see what is actually at stake in the moves that are carried out, or to discern the outlines of the political process. Neither is it surprising that the ordinary Soviet citizen has little hope of drawing from his personal experience any pertinent conclusions about the historical context at large. No doubt it is officeholders most closely involved with the process of making decisions and carrying them out, who could have a more or less clear idea of the events that took place, especially in circumstances as complex and confused as those of the 1930s. But those of them who managed to decipher correctly the political conjuncture and the documents are none too keen to expatiate on their feats of those times. It is even possible that the very fact of having played a direct part in the crucial operations of those tumultuous conflicts did not necessarily imply an adequate understanding of what was going on. The denunciation of "enemies" can surely not have helped to form a


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

clear picture of what was happening, and officials were probably not too inclined to attribute "subversive" activities of their own milieux to the intrinsic working of the regime. Similarly the imagery and the traditional notions of "left" and "right", that tended to be the comerpieces of the frame of references in which the epoch's political events were apprehended, did certainly not allow to grasp the causes and circumstances of the regime's internal conflicts. But perhaps above all it should be noted that the actual policy moves of the period were complex and equivocal intrigues of barely discernible origin that took place in a very ambiguous institutional context, while the language used to describe them even in confidential documents was highly cryptic. This is the factor that was the most likely to obscure the situation for officials directly involved, who could never be sure of the intentions or the actions of their superiors, their colleagues or their subordinates, nor of the unforeseeable twists and turns of a "general line" which became harder to follow with each year that passed. Nevertheless, the original texts and, paradoxical though it may seem, documents and press material that appeared in the 1930s are rather faithfully reflecting the evolution of the political conjuncture and the contours of the most important manoeuvres and counter­ manoeuvres. This is only to be expected, since they were published in order to mobilise support for different moves within the apparatus, among cadres who were otherwise only aware of the "line" currently prevailing at the top, by means of the interpretation which prevailed at that time in their administration or region. A number of these texts were published with various sections of the population in mind and not merely as propaganda. They were aimed primarily at the rank and file of the Party, but also at a crucial moment in late 1937 at the discontented masses themselves. Though coded and often difficult to decipher, these documents contained valuable information for those contemporaries who took the time and effort to unravel them. These days there is nothing to prevent the researcher from studying this material by applying the usual methods of historical philology, which has often managed to untangle the hidden message and carefully concealed reality behind enigmatic, fragmen­ tary, faked, mendacious and even lost and reconstructed texts. Today the specialist in the West has the great advantage of being able to work from an incomparably more complete original documentation than that which used to be available to the great

Introduction 23 majority of Soviet citizens. He also benefits from the fact that he does not have to do a hot pursuit of ambiguous hints and gestures whose erroneous understanding can cost his life. There is, therefore, every reason to believe that if the elementary rules of source analysis have tended to be so long ignored in an important area of Soviet studies, it is because the motives of delving in this period of the Soviet past have differed markedly from the usual ones of historical research. In fact even the most cursory reading of the "classic" works makes it hard to avoid the impression that in many respects these are often inspired more by the state of mind prevailing in some circles in the West, than by the reality of Soviet life under Stalin. The defence of hallowed Western values against all sorts of real or imaginary threats from Russia; the assertion of genuine historical experiences as well as of all sorts of ideological assumptions; the quite proper denunciation of the revolting iniquities and atrocities that were indeed carried out, but are rather over-hastily presented as the only set of data that explains a whole era; the often judicious rejection of political illusions, beliefs and lies: these attitudes do not seem conductive to patient research and much less to open-mindedness. Whilst these attitudes are quite understandable, they have almost become an inseparable part of the work of Sovietologists, so much so that the patterns of reasoning that they give rise to have become almost indispensible to the treatment of a whole range of questions. Conversely a recalcitrant author who simply fails to include certain standard themes and lines of thought is likely to fall under the suspicion of unseemly political sympathies and ulterior motives. Let us emphasise, if there is still need, that we have no intention of denying in any way, much less of justifying, the very real horrors of the age we are about to treat of; we would surely be among the first to bring them to light if that was still necessary. But what we are trying to understand here is the internal workings of the Soviet regime, not the fate of all those who were one way or another crushed in its machinery, however tragic is their fate in our eyes. We feel this approach can be excused by the fact that the attitude usually taken by historians may well be understandable but nevertheless is bound at least in part to introduce ready-made answers in the questions it asks, and even to prevent some questions from being asked at all. In spite of the best intentions of the experts, works on one of the most important periods in the history of the USSR seem to turn at times into a kind of compulsory


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

exordstic ritual, whose subject and terminology threaten to hamper research by not letting it come to grips with some of the central problems of the Soviet phenomenon. By concentrating most of attention on the top leader and on the purported realisation of his supposed designs, authors of traditional analyses enter the logic of the official self-understanding of the regime they try grasping and risk to miss a good deal of everything that lays beyond the simplistic imagery Soviet propaganda had been conveying during several decades about the system's complicated problems. The consequences of this type of historiography and the drawbacks of the picture of the USSR that derives from it are shown best perhaps in the fact that many Sovietologists were clearly dumbfounded at the political conflicts that appeared between 1952 and 1965, even though these were evident at every level in the Party-State. Similarly many of them were unable to interpret the phenomenon of dissidence, the response of the Soviet leadership during the crises in Poland and Czechoslovakia or the problems the regime has been facing since the 1970s. In all probability a better understanding of the daily working of the regime, which would spring from a surer grasp of source analysis, would deepen our understanding of the Soviet phenom­ enon. At the same time everything points to the assumption that it is the disproportionate interest in extraordinary, spectacular, dramatic events and the inaccessible pinnacles of the Party-State on the part of the authors of the "classical" literature, which is responsible for the predisposition to speculate over the deep intentions of the leading politicians or to concentrate on the depiction of paticularly moving incidents, to the detriment of any close study of the mechanisms of the system. Yet these mechanisms and their operation had barely changed in decades - and they were likely to have an imprint on the system's transformation - even if the attempts to resolve the problems they had created in the recent past were far from entailing the terror of the "Great Purge". These are the circumstances that may justify a re-examination of this period of Soviet history, as well as our research strategy, yet which are likely to lead to a misunderstanding of our approach. We have no doubt that at the present stage of research some of our findings will be debatable and that a wide discussion is needed on these questions that would be based on an even closer study of the source material. We must however admit to a certain pessimism regarding the likelihood of such a debate taking place at this time.76

Introduction 25 Notes 1 Ph. Ariès, L'enfant et la vie familiale sous l'Ancien Régime (Paris, 1960); idem, L'homme devant la mort, (Paris, 1977); M. Foucault, Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie là l'âge classique (Paris, 1961). 2 R. Auguet, Caligula, le pouvoir là vingt ans (Paris, 1975); P. M. Kendall, Richard the Third (London, 1972). 3 Esprit, September 1980, p. 19. 4 La quinzaine littéraire, No. 324, p. 24. 5 P. Broué, Le parti bolchevique (Paris, 1966), pp. 350--352; L. B. Schapiro, The Communist Party o f the Soviet Union (New York, 1960), pp. 400-402; M. Fainsod, How Russia is Ruled (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), p. 435; R. R. Abramovitch, The Soviet Revolution (New York, 1962), pp. 384-393; T. H. Rigby, Communist Party Membership in the USSR 1917-1967 (Princeton, 1968), p. 205; J. Azrael, Managerial Power and Soviet Politics (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), p. 98; R. V. Daniels, The Conscience o f the Revolution, (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), p. 385; G. Katkov, The Trial o f Bukharin (London, 1969), p. 87; A. L.Unger, "Stalin's Renewal of the Leading Stratum: A Note on the Great Purge", Soviet Studies, vol. 20, pp. 325--326; A. Nove, An Economic History o f the USSR (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 221; I. Deutscher, Stalin - a Political Biography (New York-London, 1949), p. 355; R. Conquest, The Great Terror (London, 1968), pp. 43-60; id., .. Stalin and the Kirov Murder (Oxford, 1989), pp. 3-4. Since we do not intend to make a detailed analysis of the enormous amount of literature on the "Great Purge" we will simply point to the traditional view that is given of it and the unanimity of authors, sometimes of very different theoretical, political or scientific standpoints. For example we see little usefulness in including too many titles in this brief survey, or in reviewing all the recent works which merely repeat the orthodox version (cf J. Ellenstein's Histoire du phénomène stalinien (Paris, 1975, pp. 105 sqq.) or interpret it as do P. W. Schulze in Herrschaft und Klassen in der Sowjetgesellschaft (Frankfurt-New York 1977), pp. 183-205 or Ch. Bettleheim in Les luttes de classes en URSS, part 3: Les dominés (Paris, 1982) and Les dominants (Paris, 1983). Equally we will spare the reader a catalogue of all those works whose authors, without going into details on the "Great Purge", claim that it eliminated the old elite in order to make room for another "created" by Stalin. One example of this interpretation is J. F. Hough, Soviet Leadership in Transition (Washington, D.C., 1980), pp. 38-40 and passim. 6 W. Grottian, Das sowjetische Regierungssystem (Cologne-Opladen, 1965), pp. 109112; B. Thomson, The Premature Revolution (London, 1972), p. 169; B. Levitsky, The Stalinist Terror in the Thirties (Stanford, 1974), p. 19; Broué, pp. 349-350; Azrael, p. 97; Katkov, p. 87; Daniels, p. 381; Nove, pp. 219-220; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 3742, 236, 239; id., Kirov and the Stalin Murder, pp. 24-26, 28. It is towards late 1936 that the first rumors concerning Kirov's liberalism seem to began circulating ("Trotsky Papers", T- 4870 - quoted with the permission of the Houghton Library). 7 Conquest, Kirov and the Stalin Murder, pp. 28-29. 8 Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 38, 237. Conquest is more prudent in his recent work in which the political differences between Stalin and Kirov appear far less pronounced (Cf. Stalin and the Kirov Murder, pp. 22-35). One might wonder if the discussions he evokes were not usual between Stalin and high officials, including those who did not become victims of the terror. It is interesting to note that the memoirs of a delegate at the 17th Congress and a close collaborator of Kirov do not mention differences between his and Stalin's political views or anything of the rumours concerning the intention to promote Kirov to Stalin's place (M. Rosliakov, "Kak eto bylo", Zvezda, 1989, No. 7, pp. 79-113). 9 Z. K. Brzezinski, The Permanent Purge (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), pp. 67, 86-85, 91, 107; A. Ulam, Stalin (New York, 1973), pp. 388, 390-391, 408; W. W. Rostov, The


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

Dynamics o f Soviet Society (New York, 1953), pp. 49-51; R. S. Sullivant, Soviet Politics and the Ukraine, 1919-1957 (New York-London, 1962), p. 219; I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast (London, 1963), p. 418; idem, Stalin, pp. 346, 362-363, 383; Broué, pp. 367, 369-370, 378-379, 395; Schapiro, pp. 404, 411-413, 429-430; Grottian, pp. 109-112; Fainsod, pp. 267, 438; Abramovitch, p. 397; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 36, 236237; Levitsky, pp. 16-20; Unger, pp. 324-325. 10 J. Erickson, The Soviet High Command (London-New York, 1962), p. 455; R. McNeal, Resolutions and Decisions o f the CPSU, vol. 3 (Toronto, 1974), p. 10; Broué, pp. 377-378; Sullivant, pp. 219-220; Schapiro, pp. 402-403, 412-413; Rigby, p. 214; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp . 152-155, 192-197; Ulam, pp. 417-418; Katkov, pp. 106-107; Levitsky, p. 21. 11 Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 154-155; Ulam, p. 419; Schapiro, pp. 410-411; Abramovitch, pp. 384-^393; Katkov, pp. 106-107; Rigby, p. 214; Levitsky, p. 21; Unger, p. 236. 12 A. Avtorkhanov, The Communist Party Apparatus (Chicago, 1966), p. 64; L. Volin, A Century o f Russian Agriculture (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 272-273; Broué, pp. 395-3% ; Sullivant, p. 225; Erickson, p. 472; Schapiro, pp. 429-430, 440; Fainsod, pp. 159, 161, 438, 444; Rostow, pp. 47-51; Rigby, pp. 213-214; Azrael, pp. 59, 100, 105106; Conquest, The Great Purge, pp. 36, 156-157, 282, 469; Ulam, p. 370; Katkov, pp. 101, 117, 190-191; Levitsky, p. 19; Unger, pp. 324-325, 328. 13 Schapiro, pp. 414, 429-430, 436, 440, 460, 480; Grottian, pp. 73-74; Fainsod, pp. 438, 441-442, 444; Rostow, pp. 47-^51, 107; Avtorkhanov, p. 72; Abramovitch, p. 397; Rigby, pp. 197, 213-214; Azrael, pp. 59, 100, 105-106; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 36, 42, 198, 251-252, 277-278, 282, 454; Ulam, pp. 384-385, 388-389, 427 and passim; Daniels, pp. 387, 408; Katkov, pp. 107, 158, 171; Sullivant, p. 221; Levitsky, pp. 16, 2324, 27, 29-30; Unger, pp. 322-323; McNeal, pp. 10, 130; Broué, pp. 388-389; Deutscher, Stalin, pp. 355, 371, 380, 383.

14 Ulam, pp. 395, 405, 407-408, 417, 420, 440. 15 B. Moore Jr., Soviet Politics: The Dilemma o f Power (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. 290-295; R. Kolkowicz, The Soviet Military and the Communist Party (Princeton, 1967), p. 56; M.Fainsod, Smolensk under Soviet Rule (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. 59-60; idem, How Russia. . ., pp. 388-389, 441; Deutscher, The Prophet. . ., pp. 306-307; Sullivant, p. 225; Erickson, pp. 368-369, 402-403; Schapiro, pp. 430-431; Rostow, p. 51; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 237-240, 252; Brzezinski, pp. 80-82. 16 Deutscher, The Prophet. . ., pp. 3% , 411, 414; Sullivant, p. 225; Erickson, pp. 427, 472, 499; Schapiro, pp. 404-405, 429-430, 480; Grottian, pp. 109-112; Fainsod, How Russia. . ., pp. 438-444; Conquest, The Great Terror, p. 164; Ulam, pp. 396-397, 40&409, 507; Daniels, pp. 387-388; Levitsky, p. 30. 17 Broué, p. 354; Erikson, p. 465; Schapiro, pp. 410, 429-431, 436; Rostow, pp. 4749; Rigby, pp. 197, 213-214; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 29-42, 62-81, 164-165, 277-278; Ulam, pp. 384-^385, 414; Brzezinski, pp. 68-69, 71, 82; Sullivant, p. 219; Unger, pp. 322-^323, 326. 18 S. Schwarz, Labor in the Soviet Union (New York, 1952), pp. 197, 290-293; Broué, pp. 372, 375-376, 384; Azrael, p. 100; Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 151-200, 303304, 367-449; Ulam, pp. 421-422, 424; Daniels, p. 386; Schapiro, pp. 411, 423-427; Abramovitch, pp. 397-403; Brzezinski, pp. 72-74, 86-87; Nove, pp. 236-237; Katkov, p. 110 and passim. 19 N. Jasny, The Soviet Industrialization (Chicago, 1961), pp. 178-182; Kolkowicz, pp. 59-60; Erickson, pp. 506-507; Schapiro, pp. 450^451; Fainsod, How Russia. . ., p. 441; Volin, p. 263. 20 Broué, pp. 395-396; Sullivant, p. 225; Erickson, p. 507; Schapiro, pp. 432, 436, 442; Fainsod, How Russia. . ., pp. 161, 196; Avtorkhanov, p. 64; Abramovitch, pp. 421422; Thomson, p. 173; Rigby, p. 213; Conquest, The Great Terror, p. 471; Brzezinski, pp. 90-91; Azrael, pp. 105-108; Unger, p. 328.

Introduction 27 21 According to the reminiscences of his widow, Bukharin was among those who did not doubt Ezhov's honesty and were relieved to leam his nomination at the head of the NKVD (A. M. Larina, "Nezabyvaemoe", Znamia, 1988, No. 12, pp. 122-123). 22 XVII S'ezd VKP(b) (Moscow, 1934), pp. 252-255. It is interesting to observe that most of the speakers at the congress were of the same mind towards the ex­ oppositionists, with the notable exception of V. M. Molotov who invited them to "find a place for themselves in the ranks of the selfless builders of socialism" (Ibid., pp. 46, 64, 73-76, 115, 119, 147, 195, 224, 262, 379, 501, 576, 654). 23 PS, 1935, No. 21, pp. 10-22. 24 Izvestiia TsK KPSS, 1989, No. 7, pp. 114-121. 25 Ibid. pp. 114, 117. None of these people claimed to remember the exact returns. According to one of them who seems to be at the origin of the rumours, 123 or 125 votes were cast against Stalin, while another recalled only that he had received the least of votes. The third survivor thought that "no more than three" delegates had voted against Stalin. Khrushchev recounted that both he and Stalin were "only six votes short of unanimous election", whereas the available documentation shows that 22 delegates voted against Khrushchev (ibid, pp. 116, 118; S. Talbott, ed., Khrushchev Remembers, London, 1971, p. 49). On the faith of these documents, M. P. Tomskii and la. A. Iakovlev received the least of votes among candidate and full members of the Central Committee. 26 See infra, pp. 44-47. For a detailed analysis of the ins and outs of this purge manqué, see J. A. Getty, Origins o f the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 58-91. 27 PS, 1934, No. 19, pp. 45-46, No. 21, p. 62, No. 22, p. 6; W K P 176, pp. 81,101-102; WKP 228, p. 12; WKP 313, pp. 11-12; WKP, 499, pp. 320^321. 28 This is not to say that the episode is untrue. The problem is rather with the significance the source and the literature attribute to this single event. 29 B. Wolfe, Khrushchev and Stalin's Ghost (London, 1957), p. 130. 30 R .A. Medvedev, 'T h e Stalin Question", S. F. Cohen et a i , éd., The Soviet Union since Stalin (Bloomington-London, 1980), p. 38. It appears that even some non-Party people were admitted to these meetings because it was under the influence of this "secret report" that Medvedev decided to join a few days after such a meeting. He describes this in "Die Auswirkungen eines Parteitages", Aus der Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 1977, No. 4, p. 24. As for the number of Party members in 1956, this comes from Spravochnik partiinogo rabotnika, 18th ed. (Moscow, 1978), p. 367. 31 See infra, pp. 114-116, 118-119,121-126,133. 32 Conquest, The Great Terror, p. 192. 33 Ibid., p. 48; Ulam, p. 398; Broué, p. 354. 34 Slu, 1934, No. 2, p. 16, No. 17, p. 15; UK, 1937, pp. 132, 140, 156. 35 SZ, 1935, pp. 184-185. 36 Erickson, p. 389; WKP, 186, p. 214; VS, 1938, No. 9, p. 48. 37 Ulam, p. 398; Broué, p. 354. 38 Conquest, The Great Terror, p. 87. 39 SZ, 1935, p. 262. 40 UK, 1937, p. 105. 41 See articles 22, 136,137, 142,143,146 and 162 of the 1926 penal code. 42 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s'ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, vol. 5 (Moscow, 1971), pp. 206-211; Slu, 1935, No. 13, pp. 11-12, No. 31, pp. 9-11; 1936, No. 12, pp. 7, 9-10; SZak, 1936, No. 4, pp. 11-12. 43 McNeal, p. 156; idem, "The Decisions of the CPSU and the Great Purge", Soviet Studies, vol. 23, p. 180; Fainsod, Smolensk. . ., p. 232. 44 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . pp. 248-249; B, 1936, no. 4, pp. 5-6; "Obmen partiinykh dokumentov", P, 16.3.1936, p. 1. This relates to WKP 54, pp. 202-208 which we too identified incorrectly as confidential instructions in Recherches, 1978, No. 32/33, p. 262.


Stalinist Simplifications and. Soviet Complications

45 See infra, pp. 47, 66. 46 Fainsod, Smolensk. . pp. 85, 107-108, 121. 47 Ibid., pp. 108, 171-172, 451, 454. 48 This is the case, among many others, of Conquest, The Great Terror, pp. 201-275 passim and Elleinstein, pp. 121-131. 49 Rigby, pp. 52, 352. 50 This congress re-elected only 22.5% of the members of the previous Central Committee. In 1934 all the members of this political body had Party membership going back before the end of the Civil War, and 85% as far back as 1917, whereas in 1939 only 27% of them fell into the last category. See XVII S'ezd. . ., p. 303; XVIII S'ezd VKP(b) (Moscow, 1939), p. 149; Rigby, p. 52; Schapiro, pp. 520, 526; J. A. Getty, The "Great Purges'' Reconsidered: The Soviet Communist Party, 1933-1939, doctoral thesis (Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., 1979), pp. 502-503; N. A. Zolotarev, Vazhnyi etap organizatsionnogo ukrepleniia Kommunisticheskoi partii (1929-1937 gg.) (Moscow, 1979), p. 148. It is interesting to note that by the end of the "Great Purge", there were still at least 221 leading officials who had been members of other parties before joining the Bolsheviks and 34 who had even belonged to oppositionist groups (Zolotarev, p. 148). 51 Unger, p. 326. A Soviet publication mentions 189,053 expulsions by "territorial organisations" in 1937-38 (Zolotarev, pp. 181-182). However, this figure does not include people expelled in the army, in the transport system or in the apparatus of all-union people's commissariats. 52 Conquest, The Great Terror, 1973 edition, pp. 701-702; R. Tucker and S. Cohen, The Great Purge Trial (New York, 1965), p. XXVII. 53 A. G. Rashin, "Rost kuTtumo-tekhnicheskogo urovnia rabochego klassa SSSR v 1917-59 gg " , Istoriia SSSR, 1961, No. 2, p. 67; A. V. Mitrofanova, "Istochniki popolneniia i sostav rabochego klassa tretei piatiletki", A. G. Rashin, ed., Izmeneniia v chislennosti i sostave sovetskogo rabochego klassa (Moscow, 1961), p. 212. 54 Conquest, The Great Terror, 1973 , pp. 701-702. 55 Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR 1922-72 (Moscow, 1972), p. 30. 56 RS 924, pp. 371-546. In 1936, the organisation in the Western Region had about 32,350 members (C/. WKP 216, p. 241 where the 1935 membership is given as 37,185 and Getty, Origins o f the Great Purges, pp. 82, 89-90 for the expulsion rate in the wake of the "verification" and "exchange of Party documents"). 57 The Party had 2,076,842 full and candidate members in 1936 (Rigby, p. 52.) 58 Cf. infra, pp. 74-85. 59 WKP 322, p. 64. 60 The district in question was Tumanovo which had 29,774 inhabitants in 1937 (WKP 238, p. 221). See also WKP 322 p. 59 for a remark of a local policeman indicating that the high time of "operative work" by the district NKVD squad started in late June 1937. It seems that this period was over by October. 61 The population of the USSR was 165,400,000 in 1937 (L. Seniavskii, Izmeneniia v sotsial'noi strukture sovetskogo obshchestva, Moscow, 1973, p. 412.) 62 According to an incomplete survey done in the mid-1930s, 70% of districts in the USSR had a population below 40,000 (Sotsialisticheskoe stroitel'stvo SSSR, Moscow, 1936, p. 549). In 1937, 72% of the population lived in the countryside (Seniavskii, p. 412). 63 "'Arkhipelag GULAG': glazami pisatelia i statistika", Argumenty i fdkty, 1989, No. 45, p. 7. Since the table contains a column for inmates transferred "from other camps of the NKVD" - i.e. people who had already spent part of their term in socalled "colonies of corrective labour" under the supervision of regional administra­ tions of the NKVD - it seems logical to suppose that the really new arrivals are listed in the column for prisoners coming "from other places of detention" which includes prisons where defendants were held pending their trial. The table furnishes data



only on inmates under the authority of the Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps (GULag) of the NKVD. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that purge victims were more likely to be detained in the Gulag system of strict regime camps than in labour colonies. 762,624 prisoners were transferred from colonies to camps in 1937-^39. The number of colony inmates was 352,000 in 1940 (ibid, p. 6). 64 Conquest, The Great Terror, 1968, pp. 527-529. 65 G. Kumanev, "22-go, na rassvete", P, 22. 6. 1989, p. 3. Apparently the figure refers only to people executed as "political criminals". It is certain, however, that they constituted the overwhelming majority of people sentenced to death, especially in these years. 66 Historians note that the situation improved after the January 1938 Plenum of the Central Committee (See e. g. Schapiro, pp. 431-432). Even R. Conquest who thinks that the mass terror reached its climax in the Autumn of 1938, recognizes that it relaxed afterwards (Inside Stalin's Secret Police, Stanford, 1985, pp. 75, 77, 79). 67 "V KGB SSSR", P, 14. 2. 1990, p. 2. These are the most recent official data at the moment of writing. According to a document dated of February 1954, 3,777,380 people had been sentenced for the same motives between 1921 and 1954, of whom 642,980 to death, 2,369,220 to detention and 765,180 to exile ("D esiaf 'zheleznykh' narkomov", Komsomol'skaia pravda, 29. 9. 1989, p. 4). It is certain, however, that these figures are founded on a far less thorough scrutiny of the archival evidence than recently established data. 68 Izvestiia TsK KPSS, 1989, No. 4, p. 46. 69 L. Zagal'skii, "O n vosstal protiv Stalina", Literatumaia gazeta, 1989, No. 48, p. 12. Interestingly enough, the author does not think that the versions are difficult to reconcile with each other. 70 Izvestiia TsK KPSS, 1989, No. 3, p. 155. The report does not indicate the date of the Plenum in question. Kaminskii was arrested and executed long before Beria became deputy head and then chief of the political police (C/. Conquest, Inside Stalin's Secret Police, pp. 59, 71, 86). 71 Khrushchev Remembers, pp. 98-99. It seems interesting to observe that Khrushchev also evokes an incident with la. A. Iakovlev that supposedly took place at this Plenary Session, i. e. more than one year after Iakovlev's exclusion from the Central Committee and about six months after his execution (Cf. Izixstiia TsK KPSS, 1989, No. 12, p. 100). The memoirs are remarkably discreet about Khrushchev's activities during the "Great Purge". The author even misdates his ascension to the Politbureau (he writes 1935 instead of 1938) though it is highly probable that this promotion had something to do with his exploits (Cf. Khrushchev Remembers, pp. 49, 76-89 and infra, pp. 167-168, 190-191, 199, 201-202) 72 Khrushchev Remembers, p. 100. 73 SZak, 1954, No. 1, pp. 1-4. 74 A. Vaksberg, "Stranitsy odnoi zhizni", Znamia, 1990, No. 5, p. 162. 75 Conquest, The Great Terror, 1968, pp. 194, 262, 591. Before his promotion in the central apparatus of the NKVD around July 1938, Beria was the first secretary of the Georgian Party organisation. 76 For an excellent illustration of the difficulties of such a debate to deal with historical issues instead of being trapped by the concepts, terminology and problems of traditional analyses see The Russian Review, vol. 45,1986, pp. 355-413, vol. 46,1987, pp. 377-431.

1 SOCIETY AND THE STATE APPARATUS IN THE USSR: CONTRADICTIONS AND INTERFERENCES IN THE 1930s Traditionally historians of the USSR depict Soviet society in the 1930s as being static and monolithic. Considering that under the Soviet regime the state owns all the means of production and political control, most authors tend to visualise the state as an allpowerful force, controlling all vital resources and imposing its interests and will on all its "subjects".1 It does not occur to them that the officials themselves, while being representatives of the state, might have had personal or group interests, distinct or even divergent from those of the regime. This omnipotence attributed to the Soviet state leads one specialist to affirm that the social changes of the 1930s and 1940s were the result of controlled planning.2 Many authors maintain that the dominant force in Soviet society at that time was the absolute power of a dictator who could force the legal system to bend to his arbitrary will, suppress the "intermediate layers and social groups" which lay between the masses and the Party and state apparatus, "atomise" his "subjects" and keep them in a state of permanent mobilisation, and ensure that the privileges and powers of officials at all levels of the administration emanated from his sole authority.3 In these circumstances it comes as no surprise to find historical tradition attributing the dramatic events of 1936-1938 to the diabolic schemes of a dictator, I. V. Stalin.4 According to this tradition Stalin sought to strengthen his absolute control over the social life of the USSR by a systematic and minutely programmed extermination of all those who still attempted to oppose his will or whom he took to be personal enemies 5. Even those writers who do in

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 31 not subscribe entirely to the "totalitarian system" theory, do not entirely reject the idea of Soviet society as static, untroubled by internal divisions, and directed by one central authority whose decisions were supposedly carried out at every level by an administrative system efficient enough to make all dissent im­ possible.6 And yet a careful study of the effect of the economic, administra­ tive and political practices of the period does not permit such a representation of Soviet realities. On the contrary, they appear as divided and tom by internal conflicts which even manifested themselves within the state apparatus, and which that apparatus could not resolve, however vigorous the methods it used. ♦ Admittedly, after the great debates of the 1920s on how to exercise power and resolve the agrarian question as well as that of the industrialisation, there was by 1933 no opposition either overt or secret within the leadership to the "general line" of the Party. The need to create an industry free of all foreign influences had been accepted almost unanimously, and if the methods used to solve the agricultural issue had given rise to major controversies between 1929 and 1932, the indisputable victory of the "general' line" had persuaded leaders and cadres to comply with the situation in order to preserve their jobs. The submission of officials and Party activists who had been highly critical of the methods employed to collectivise agriculture, was facilitated by the conviction - shared even by the most determined adversaries of this violent undertak­ ing - that the egalitarian, collectivist and self-governing society that the Revolution had promised could only be built on an up-to-date industrial base. Many leaders may have tended to believe that the difficult situation brought about by the upheavals of 1929-1933 was only temporary. Moreover, the new economic order that was coming into existence, with all its social and political consequences, was not an abstraction or a debatable political ideal: it was now becoming a concrete reality posing practical problems that needed urgent solutions. During the first five-year plan a whole range of new industries appeared, spread across the vast territories of the USSR. Industrial production more than doubled during this period, and heavy

32 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications industrial output tripled.7 The number of industrial workers doubled from 3 million people to about six million between 1928 and 1932-33.8 Around 68% of the new workers came from the land. The fragmentary data that we have on the different branches of industry suggest that as late as 1935 almost half of these new workers had no specific qualifications and only 30% at best had the skills needed to carry out their daily tasks.9 Industrialisation meant concentrating resources on the develop­ ment of heavy industry at the expense of the consumer sector.10 This constraint, aggravated by a shortage of foodstuffs, made it extremely difficult if not impossible to use material incentives to raise the productivity of labour. Without such stimuli one could hardly expect satisfactory work from labour and management. Incentives were therefore created. But in the USSR in the 1930s the efficiency of the individual, the enterprise or the administration was not allowed to regulate social relationships. On the contrary, it was because the relative efficiency of both administration and production played only a secondary role, that unbridled competition for the highest possible remuneration could be avoided. And precisely because personal profit, and the competition between units of production that would have resulted from it, remained negligible, it was possible to distribute goods which were in short supply in a more or less controlled manner. This was equally true for the distribution of goods among officials or among workers, among different branches of industry, and among enterprises and administrative units which worked under highly varying condi­ tions. The operation of production units and sectors which made little or no profit but were nevertheless essential to the working of the system as a whole was thus assured, and a certain standard of living could be maintained. Otherwise economic competition would have run wild, provoking every kind of conflict and increasing social tensions. Though the elimination of the interplay among producers, consumers and the state guaranteed the primacy of the regime's initiatives, the rejection of rentability criteria made it extremely difficult to set priorities and indices of productivity for industrial and agricultural enterprises. Those who occupied key posts at every level of the economic apparatus tried to overcome this difficulty through solutions which would be to their own advantage. They were often responsible for the fulfillment of over-ambitious, vague and ill-defined plans,11 and held posts that were fairly advantageous

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 33 but which they could lose if they did not appear up to the task; it is not surprising therefore that they tended on occasion to present doctored evidence of their sector's success rather than genuinely useful products. Some factories, while reaching their assigned targets in terms of "tonnage", were systematically producing defective goods which made up 25 to 30% of their output - at times as much as 80 to 100%.12This practice seems to have been very widespread. According to some sources it was just as common in the armaments industry.13 Since success in industrial production was measured almost exclusively by quantitative criteria, and since control was usually restricted to execution of the broad outlines of plans, enterprises would devote all their efforts to producing goods which allowed them to present spectacular balance sheets. This practice often had disastrous economic consequences. For instance spare parts would not be made if their price was too low to bring in the required financial results, or managers would refuse to produce certain light metals because their weight was too low to make up the planned tonnage. These practices seriously upset relationships between the different branches of industry and resulted, for instance, in about a third of the nation's lorries being off the road.14 The use of "statistical" criteria to evaluate the execution of plans encouraged arbitrary price rises of cheap products - sometimes by as much as 100% - or the production of excessively heavy goods, and even a double accounting system was devised in order to raise production levels in the eyes of central bodies.15 In the race to meet targets, the need to economise on materials or fuel was ignored, and since the evaluation of economic success took no account of the condition of machinery, management paid no attention to it. There was no routine servicing of equipment, which seriously undermined safety conditions.16 The work of administrative and technical cadres was not made easier by the lack of training and motivation among their workforce. There were many managers who held that "methods of persuasion" were not enough to avoid deterioration of the expensive machinery that their workers were handling carelessly and that it was necessary to "add methods of coercion".17 Discipline was very poor. Even the threat of summary dismissal or the withdrawal of ration cards and hostel accommodation did not put an end to absenteeism among workers or prevent them moving from one enterprise to another. Between 1932 and 1935 and again in


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1937, the turnover of workers was greater than the total in industrial employment.18 As a result, many cadres were tempted to enforce excessively strict disciplinary measures which only made matters worse.19 This being so, various methods were sought to stimulate workers, but these only served to increase dissatisfaction among the greater part of the workers who were put at a disadvantage by attempts to create a hierarchical system of privileges.20 Preoccupied with the regime's stability and with the efficiency of industry, some leaders could not help but be worried by this state of affairs. Were not the methods of management used by the administrators of the economic system at the root of most of the difficulties? These suspicions were strengthened and to some extent vindicated by the fact that the administrators were able to play on the deficiencies in management methods and the inadequacy of productivity indices to obtain undue revenue for themselves.21 Leaders discovered that officials of the economic apparatus were systematically minimising the production potential of their enter­ prises in order to reach reduced plan targets without much difficulty.22 But it was not easy to counter these practices. Although strict legal measures were supposed to curb malpractice, fraudulent cadres were often able to buy the silence of the inspectors, so that even high officials of the accounting section of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry, whose job it was to supervise the finances of this important branch, were themselves guilty of embezzlement.23 Attempts to reform the economy revealed that the particular interests of those very people responsible for improving management methods were in fact strong enough to impede the introduction of urgently needed changes. The end of 1935 and the early months of 1936 were marked by an experiment of far-reaching political importance - an attempt to rationalise the work of industry in order to increase the produc­ tivity of labour. This move, which was given concrete form by the launch of the Stakhanovite campaign, consisted in raising output norms by 22 to 35%, either by reorganising and intensifying the work of the auxiliary labour force or by raising technical skills and introducing innovations. In addition, bonuses, "special" salaries and other material benefits were given to workers who over-fulfilled norms.24 Apart from the serious repercussions it had on the working and living conditions of most workers,25 the Stakhanovist campaign also resulted in making the position of industrial managers more perilous since they were obliged to reevaluate

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 35 production capacities and take the necessary administrative and technical measures to meet the new norms. Above all, factories' supplies of tools, spare parts, raw materials and fuel had to be reorganised27 so as to bring about a complete rationalisation o f1 industrial production. In the conditions then prevailing this undertaking was utopian, as is clearly shown by the fact that the state did not manage to institute centralised planning of the allocation of spare parts and semi-finished products until the end of the 1940s.27 It therefore comes as no surprise to find that administrative and technical cadres were opposed to the campaign, and trying to thwart the initiatives of the Stakhanovites.28 However, since open sabotage and obstruction were dangerous, the most commonly used methods were those which kept up the appearance of participating in the movement and contributing to rationalise production, while at the same time distorting the character of the campaign. It was not difficult for managers to make firm promises about improved work and then do nothing, or to limit themselves to helping to set a few individual records and then make a great fuss about these spectacular successes.29 Instead of a radical reform of management methods, it happened that ten-day "Stakhanovite blitzes" were organised during which impossible tasks were undertaken which completely upset the normal running of the enterprises.30 It was also possible to impose severe disciplinary measures on workers and to extort extra work out of them by shortening their meal-breaks and lengthening their working day.31 If all else failed some managers even took on extra staff32 which was contrary to the whole point of the exercise. Both economically and politically, Stakhanovism had negative effects. The average worker's hostility towards the stars of the campaign even led at times to violence33 The Party leadership was obliged to restrain the publicity given to Stakhanovist stars and to prevent too much emphasis being placed on competition between individual workers,34 which was only .making the position of workers more difficult while providing managers with a pretext for not initiating reforms. Many workers could not fulfill the new norms.35 The striving for spectacular records and working by fits and starts led to wasted resources and a run-down of machinery which seriously undermined safety at work.36 In addition, the rise in some wages which were reaching astronomical levels, the generous handing-out of bonuses which were not matched by any real


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

improvement in productivity, and the recourse to supplementary labour all had their inevitable detrimental effects on the economy.37 But the most inauspicious development was the effectiveness of the opposition to the Stakhanovite campaign on the part of management cadres. To be sure, obstruction was not organised. Nor did it need to be, because the cohesion of the economic apparatus made even isolated acts of self-protection extremely effective. Moreover, it was not only administrative and technical cadres who were responsible for the failure. Responsible for the economic achievements in their areas, local and regional Party bodies i colluded in the dilatory behaviour of the factory managers.38 But when the Party's top leadership obliged them to act against the most obvious saboteurs, they were so zealous in inflicting exemplary punishment on a few insignificant scapegoats that the drive had to be halted lest it should throw production into a complete shambles.39 So it proved to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rectify methods of industrial management which were both politically dangerous and economically inefficient. No less complex were the problems encountered by the administration of agriculture. By the middle of 1934, 71.4% of peasant households had been collectivised, and 87.4% of cultivated land belonged to collective farms.40 Officially, kolkhozes were not subordinated to the central, regional or local bodies of the agricultural administration, but in practice they were integrated into a centralised supply system whose primary purpose was to ensure that quotas were successfully levied.41 The amount that each kolkhoz and each farming household had to deliver was fixed in an arbitrary way without regard to the needs or abilities of the producers. It is characteristic that decrees regulating procurement often failed to mention any payment for the goods supplied.42 Deliveries were taken to be an absolute require­ ment, the fulfillment of which did not depend on the ability of the producers but only on the needs of the state.43 The peasants who made up the majority of the population and who had to pay the highest price for industrialisation,44 were transformed into secondclass citizens by the regime's agricultural policy. They had no guaranteed income, no social security.45 Over and above the compulsory levies, they had to pay special prices for goods on sale in rural areas.46 There was permanent tension in the countryside, . aggravated by often cruel abuses of power by the agencies responsible for the administration of agricultural affairs.47

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 37 Under these conditions, made even worse by a general shortage of consumer goods in the villages, peasants had no incentive to raise productivity, improve working methods or use and maintain machinery belonging to the kolkhoz with care.48 Productivity remained extremely low. In the Western Region for instance, it was taking 40 to 50 days to bring in the wheat harvest instead of 12 or 15 under normal conditions. Flax (the staple product of the region) took between 17 and 20 days to harvest instead of 8.49 Pressure brought to bear on the peasants and the mediocre income they were paid by the collective farms forced them to reduce the amount of work they did in the kolkhozes and concentrate their efforts on their household plots. The result was that these small fields which covered only some 6% of cultivated land provided 25 to 30% of all commercial agricultural produce with the exception of wheat, and that the kolkhoz markets, where farmers sold their goods, played an increasingly important role in the country's food supply.50 Passive resistance by the farmers and seemingly frequent attempts by kolkhoz chairmen to lower the obligatory deliveries,51 led to harsh responses by the administration. But while the people responsible for carrying out agricultural policy were always prepared to take high-handed measures, it was clear that at least part of their arbitrary dealings arose from their own incompetence.v The kolkhozes received little help from local agricultural administra­ tions, and practically none from regional bodies. Even farm boundaries were fixed by offices far removed from the realities of the rural economy, so that kolkhozes were deprived of important areas of land, which resulted in quarrels between neighbouring kolkhozes and anger amongst peasants whose household plots were often located far from their village.52 In practice there were no regional plans for the rotation of crops; not even the customary three-field system was guaranteed.53 The first attempt at a national plan for agriculture was not made until 1938.54 Attempts at centralised agricultural planning were not made any easier by the fact that regional and local administrations were regularly sending in statistics and reports that were inaccurate or even fraudulent, in order to embellish the results of their work.55 It was realised in official circles that the bodies responsible for agriculture and food supply were doing all they could to conceal the real situation.56 But at the same time as officials at the highest levels in the agricultural administration were pretending to be carrying


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

out their duties, using methods that wasted scarce resources and made it impossible to carry out future plans, they were managing to boost their own salaries by illegal means and awarding themelves generous bonuses misappropriated from state funds.57 Even if there was hardly any alternative at that time to the severe methods of the administration, it is certain that the use of coercion and needless violence had no effect other than to deepen the peasants' passivity and hostility and worsen the decline in agricultural production. Realising this, the authorities decided in 1935-36 to try to reduce the tensions that had been aroused by these methods, which were being used at every level of agricultural administration. From then on it was strictly forbidden for local agencies to arbitrarily increase delivery quotas each year. But this directive was not observed.58 Nor were the measures that were announced to punish officials who collected farm produce without paying for it or which obliged them to meet in full the debts they owed to the kolkhozes.59 Nothing better illustrates the situation of the kolkhozes than the necessity to decree a prohibition against drawing money on the bank deposits of collective farms at the will of administrative bodies or against arbitrarily closing these accounts.60 In 1935 more than a third of kolkhoz chairmen had been in post for less than a year and only about 30% for more than two years, and the situation did not improve by 1937 when 45.9% of them had been at the helm for less than one year and 34.5% for more than two years.61 In spite of a decree from the Central Committee and the government, these chairmen - who were supposed to be elected by a general assembly of kolkhoz members - could be ousted by local officials and even taken to court for errors that were not of their making.62 It is true that kolkhoz chairmen did tend to reduce delivery obligations and some of them were found guilty of misappropriation of public funds.63 But it was impossible to run collective farms with executives being replaced every year. In fact, local functionaries used the Stakhanovite campaign as another opportunity to increase their overbearingness towards junior agricultural management and the rural population in general. While the promoters of this campaign were hoping to urge collective farmers to improve their technical skills,64 it took a circular from the People's Commissariat of Justice to insist that only the regional procuracies were authorised to bring cases against members or leaders of collective farms or against local officials who

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 39 resisted the drive. A significant clause: suits for "counter­ revolutionary sabotage and terrorist acts against representatives of the Soviet power" could only be authorised by the Procuracy of the USSR.65 But at the same time that some leaders were trying to limit the arbitrary measures being taken by the executants of agricultural policy, the need to provide the country's food was bound to be more pressing than the wish to defuse the situation in the countryside. Since peasants had no interest in delivering products for which they were poorly paid, the levies had to be extorted. Every autumn and winter the task of collecting agricultural produce plunged the whole country into a state of siege. The fact that tough decrees concerning procurement were sent out in the name of the same authorities who had been taking steps to limit the excesses, seemed to cancel the latter, the more so since the plan had to be fulfilled. During the delivery campaign the Central Committee and the Council of People's Commissars demanded reports every five days on the progress of the operation and emphasised that local and regional officials should ensure its "personal, constant and operative management".66 In this alarmist atmosphere most of the steps taken to calm tensions in the countryside remained a dead letter. One typical circular issued by a regional administration reminded local officials that they were authorised to use "methods of legal coercion" if they encountered resistance and warned that . . i f within the next few days they would not achieve drastic changes in food procurement . . . they would be subjected to vigorous measures with all the ensuing consequences".67 It comes as no surprise to discover that an important decree exempting compulsory levies on collective or independent farmers over age sixty who had no relatives able to work, was not applied after the poor harvest of 1936.68 Similarly local and regional authorities were paying no attention to the fears expressed by the Central Committee and the government over the political repercussions that might result from the wholesale expulsions of peasants from the kolkhozes, because they then lost their household plots and were excluded from the benefit of certain tax reductions.69 It was not only the inefficient management of industry and agriculture and its attendant political risks that were becoming increasingly problematic. Those concerned with the political stability of the regime were equally anxious about the activities of


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

the administrative machinery, the local and regional soviets. Since the 1920s the soviets had been no more than the equivalent of municipal and territorial administrations. Major decisions were taken within the Party and their execution was entrusted to specialised organisations, leaving the soviets with the task of organising merely local services, levying taxes and taking part in carrying out the agricultural plans in rural areas. Since neither the levying of taxes nor the execution of agricultural programmes (whose function was simply to create the illusion of meeting foodproduction targets) encouraged citizens to play an effective role in the work of the soviets, these were in practice run bureaucratically by officials who as often as not acted against the interests of the population. The strain of industrialisation had prevented essential funds from being allocated to the budgets of local Soviets. While the population had risen in urban areas by 28% between 1928 and 1934, in some cities dwelling space was no more than 3 or 4 square meters per person, as a result of a credit shortage and overspending on prestige buildings.70 Although it had been forbidden to draw on the bank accounts of local soviets, higher authorities did not hesitate to do this, which only made the soviets' financial situation worse.71 It was not uncommon for savings to be made by delaying salary payments to employees of local and regional soviets or by reducing budget allocations to social and cultural institutions, including hospitals.72 In such circumstances, the levying of taxes and payments in kind from peasants was carried out with exemplary strictness, to which legislation only assigned limits that were vague and easily infringed. It was no accident that most of the complaints received by the various leading bodies of the Party and the state were concerned with the excesses perpetrated when taxes were col­ lected.73 Local soviets calculated the income levels of taxpayers in a way that was often arbitrary, paid no regard to legal exemptions, and encouraged massive evictions of peasants from kolkhozes in order to increase the numbers in a higher tax bracket.74 They had recourse to brutal confiscations and inflicted severe and illegal sanctions on peasants while, more often than not, their supervising agencies turned a blind eye to these goings-on.75 Local officials did not hesitate to use violence during tax collection, nor to help themselves to part of the money or the foodstuffs they obtained in this way, and they usually went unpunished, because their seniors judged the value of their work largely by its financial returns76 At

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 41 the beginning of 1937 a decree prohibited distraint without prior notice, and confiscation of homes, the last few head of cattle, fodder, essential foodstuffs, and tools of the trade. Equally forbidden was seizure of beds, shoes, and children's clothing, since these basic necessities too were being auctioned off.77 At times certain of the levies were made without authority and taxes were illegally: increased.78 Local authorities also made special provisions in the form of by­ laws, and to infringe these could result at times in absurdly strict penalties. A 1936 survey of local ordinances issued in 600 districts showed that about 30% of them were actually contrary to current legislation.79 The most frequent infringements were connected with the setting of fines and the arbitrary extension of the powers of officials.80 But there were also soviets which instituted compulsory labour for street-cleaning or introduced a system of "communal responsibility" to oblige residents to make proper use of watermains. Others gave themselves powers to demolish any building, to ban smoking and assembling in the streets, or to punish "crimes" such as not attending the public bath on the appointed day each week or wearing dirty clothes (or having them in one's home). One suspects that these rules could hardly contribute to increased sympathy towards the authorities, especially considering that some of the ordinances whose infringement was penalised were not even made public.81 Add to this the amazing arbitrariness of many of the penalties imposed on offenders. The maximum punishment that local soviets were allowed to inflict was 30 days' "corrective labour" without detention, but there were instances of a month's imprison­ ment or compulsory labour lasting a year.82 Zealous in increasing their budget revenues, officials sometimes spent the funds they acquired in dubious ways. In spite of the strictness of laws controlling local government expenditure, and in spite of increasingly serious warnings issued to anyone guilty of embezzlement, officials of soviets often misappropriated funds, sometimes at astronomical rates.83 The inefficiency and petty tyranny of a very large number of responsible people within the economic administrative and political apparatus was becoming blatant. In the eyes of the ordinary citizen, the chairman of the Council of People's Commissars or the^ secretaries of the Central Committee were not the only ones to represent the power of the Party-State. That power was also personified in a practical way in the behaviour of the junior officials


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

with whom people had direct dealings, and it was through them that the power was judged. Even if some excesses could be attributed to human error, most rebounded on the state as a whole, and on the social system. It was not easy to make a distinction between the ideal of soviet power and the reality of power as it was exercised daily by soviets, or to dissociate the idea of an egalitarian, collectivist and self-governing society from the day-by-day methods by which, it was claimed, its foundations were being laid. However, the attitude of the ordinary citizen was not the only danger raised by the practices that the administration indulged in. The activities of this immense machine governing all the affairs of such a huge country were difficult if not impossible to keep under control. The first few years after the great upheavals of collectivisa­ tion and industrialisation were to show that the creation of one system to integrate the control of all essential social activities would come up against powerful obstacles on account of the multiplicity of the tasks to be performed. And there were indications that if these problems were not overcome the normal functioning of the whole system could be at risk. It was the Party, the system's principal political force, that had to take up the complex task of identifying and removing any obstacles to the smooth running of the apparatus. But here too, most attempts at reform were paralysed. As most of them were members or officeholders of the Party, management cadres could be subjected to its investigations and disciplinary sanctions. But as members or officials of the Party it was they who decided the measures to be taken. There was more than a little doubt whether they would succeed in restraining their own actions. In any case, there was no clear definition as to who were the potential antagonists in this conflict. In all probability it was the imost senior officials who above everyone else wanted the running of the Party-State to be kept under efficient control. In this they could count on the support of ordinary citizens and the junior members of the Party and the administration, who were seeing their working and living conditions badly affected by the behaviour of their superiors. They could also count on winning over those who were keen on having their own part in the excesses forgotten. But since enquiries into these excesses, some of which were extreme, might result in charges against any official at any level of the administration, it was equally possible that personal alliances might be forged between those who felt threatened, which would

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 43 confuse the lines of battle. All the more so since the excesses were often committed under the guise of an enthusiastic application of Party policy and could be frequently justified by sanctions emanating from the highest bodies. Nevertheless, from 1933-1934 onwards attempts multiplied to exercise stricter control over the actions of the apparatus. Early in 1934, at the 17th Party Congress, the problem of the dichotomy between the decisions taken by the highest Party bodies and the practical execution of those decisions was frankly mooted.84 A resolution was passed to the effect that henceforth " . . . the Central Committee of the Party and the leading bodies of the soviets will remove from whatever post, demote to more junior positions and make strictly answerable, without consideration of person, any official who violates Party and state discipline".85 That this resolution, threatening though it was, should have been passed unanimously, shows clearly the ambiguous position that the officials found themselves in. They were well aware that the creation of an integrated system to manage all economic, ad­ ministrative and political activities demanded a very high degree of centralisation, and that the strength of the apparatus and their own positions in it depended on ruling bodies being efficient. Their social standing and the material benefits that it brought them depended on their belonging to a regime whose policies for the most part they thoroughly approved of, and yet they often found themselves drawn willy-nilly by the self-interest of their position in the hierarchy into working against the success of these very policies. Faced with the passiveness and hostility of the masses, lacking professional training or experience, often asked to meet impossible goals, they were reduced, in order to give the impression that they were succeeding, to using methods which increased discontent, disturbed the smooth running of other branches of the administration, and spread disorder throughout the; whole system which was becoming uncontrollable. Even though all opposition to the "general line" was .gone, the presence of irregularities everywhere amounted to systematic sabotage that permeated the entire administration through the interdependence of its various agencies and institutions. The success of the vast state apparatus depended on a multitude of officials from the secretaries of the Central Committee down to workshop foremen and local farm produce delivery organisers. It only took one act of violence by one of these officeholders, one


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

falsified report, for the efforts of a dozen other agencies to be set back. And at every level, the desire to keep their jobs or to help their colleagues or friends led officials to behave in this way, whereas they should have been operating like a clockwork to carry out the policy of consolidating the Party-State on which their social position and their privileges depended. It seemed that, apart from setting up special controlling bodies, which proved to be ineffective,86 one of the best ways of ensuring that central instructions were meticulously carried out would be to conduct political enquiries on all Party members. This procedure the purge - which was recognised by the 17th Congress as the "highest form of Party self-criticism"87 - would apply to all members. But the official instructions given between 1933 and 1936 and the conduct of functionaries commissioned to carry them out v reveal that the three waves of purges in the 1930s were aimed more and more deliberately at cadres. The first of the 1930s purges, in 1933, was officially justified by the need to reduce the number of Party numbers, which had almost tripled by the often unregulated admission of new and poorly motivated members.88 However, the decree from the Central Committee ordering it gave a list of reprehensible offences, allowing action to be taken against a good many officials. Alongside elements with "alien" social backgrounds, it was aimed at "doubledealers" who swore oaths of allegiance to the Party line but worked for its failure, those who broke the "iron discipline" by not carrying out their duties or discrediting the plans through calling them impossible, "renegades" who had "closed ranks with bourgeois elements" and did not struggle against embezzlers, "careerists, selfseekers and bureaucratic elements" who neglected the interests of the people and used their power to make profits, and finally "moral degenerates" who brought the Party into disrepute.89 It was not by chance that local officials were accused of trying to sabotage the purge and save their friends90 It was the so-called "passive elements", one category the official instructions did not mention, who were purged in great numbers.91 Most of these were workers.92 This practice caught on, and the new Party rules approved by the 17th Congress added "passive elements" to the list of categories to be purged.93 This unsuccessful purge of 1933 was not yet complete when, in May 1935, the "verification of Party documents" was set in motion. Although this new campaign has traditionally been seen as the

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 45 result of the assassination of Kirov, secretary of the Central Committee, on December 1st 1934, documents published before that date and confidential circulars in the archives show that the necessity of changing the way in which Party membership cards and records were issued, kept and filed began to be recognised by the authorities as early as the end of 1933.94 Nevertheless, the assassination, which remains to this day so ill-explained, did have its influence on the attempts made later to strengthen control over the activities of officeholders. Though it seems that Stalin promptly decided that the murderer must have been a "Zinovievist",95 the steps the authorities took immediately after the assassination do not suggest the beginning of a well-planned action with far-reaching goals. They ordered the execution of dozens of people on the basis of a law that was promulgated in three versions within a week, and the press hesitated for about three weeks over whether the assassin acted alone or in concert with a White conspiracy or the former Left Opposition. As it was finally decided that the murderer belonged to a "leftist plot", the mass shootings could not be taken even for retaliation, since their victims had been identified as White Guards.96 The same inconsistency characterised the version implicat­ ing the Left Opposition whose former leaders were originally cleared from suspicion and nevertheless slated for banishment; they ended up at a trial at which they were condemned to heavy prison terms, although they were not found guilty of being involved in the alleged plot.97 Whoever wanted to settle scores with the repented oppositionists (who had long been excluded from any position of power) the drive against them turned out to serve as a smokescreen. It was easier to blame the shortcomings of the regime on the "subversive activities" of the remains of the opposition than to seek their cause in the way the system itself was operating. But it should also be emphasised that to incriminate the former opposition was a device which held a great many advantages for people finding themselves in a personally delicate position as representatives of the regime with all its flaws in key posts of the economy, the administration and the political machine. It allowed them to cast responsibility onto former oppositionists and even accuse their present critics of recycling arguments that the opposition had previously used. Instructions issued to local Party secretaries enjoined them to check every cadre, remove incompetent officeholders, organise the


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

promotion of new and more efficient people and set up a "reserve" from which future officials could be drawn.98 At the same time secretaries were threatened with expulsion if their work did not come up to standard and were invited to uncover the . . 'Party simpletons' who by their criminal negligence had allowed alien and fraudulent elements to infiltrate the Party".99 But since the job of issuing Party cards to new members was the responsibility of the local secretaries, the record-checking which they undertook was often more imaginary than real. They did however demonstrate such great zeal in expelling and punishing mere scapegoats that the Central Committee was forced to protest against the more blatant of their excesses.100 At the same time the Central Committee had to hit out at local and regional officials for being negligent in their work.101 When the time allotment for the checks ended a final decision over the enquiries still had to be made in a considerable number of cases. In some areas there were a third of the Party members whose fate was in abeyance and only 81.3% of the militants could be "verified" by an official deadline that was several months behind the original schedule.102 It is claimed, however, that finally almost the entire membership underwent the "verification" and that 261,146 people had been expelled, i.e. 11.2%.103 The official report on the results of the purge did not fail to mention that the Party had "cleaned itself" of "hostile and alien elements [and] counter-revolutionary Trotskyists. . ." 104 but, contrary to past practice no details were published about the expelled "enemies". Data from Smolensk city (where the toll was the same as the national average) suggest that, besides the fact that many people were expelled on extremely shaky grounds, the small number of "hostile" elements and the embarrassingly high propor­ tion of officials and Party veterans among those unworthy of membership were accountable for Moscow's discretion. More Smolensk Party members were excluded for "moral corruption" and for having a criminal record (respectively 7 and 11.6% of the expellees, i.e. 85 people), than all purported enemies and Trotskyists (6.5%, 30 people). Even people having concealed their supposedly "class alien and hostile" background numbered less (21.8%, 99 persons), than those who were expelled for "political unreliability" and for "betraying the Party's interests" (27.9%, 127 people). Of the Smolensk expellees 55.2% (251 persons) were officials, including cadres of local and regional administrations, managers of major factories, heads of institutions of higher education and even the

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 47 chief of the personnel department of the regional NKVD. 11.4% of those expelled joined the Party before 1922 and four people claimed membership from the pre-revolutionary period.105 Long-standing members were likely to fulfill important functions, especially in the Party hierarchy where seniority was a prerequisite for investiture in leading posts. Scattered evidence shows that the situation was similar in other regions: more than 77% of the purged were "embezzlers, violators of Party discipline and morally corrupt elements" in Astrakhan and 9% of the expellees were Party functionaries in Irkutsk.107 One can estimate that, in the whole of the country, about 72,960 unreliable militants and 18,280 "morally corrupt" people were among the expelled Party members who included some 163,300 officeholders and 29,770 veteran members against 17,000 "enemies" and "Trotskyists" - a clampdown on the disseminators of "counter-revolutionary songs and anecdotes" after Kirov's assassination caught twice as many "hostile elements" as the Party purge.108 It was not of course an easy thing to admit officially that officials, some of them veterans of the Revolution and the Civil War who had distinguished themselves in the battles for collectivisation and industrialisation, were sabotaging Party policy. However, when the verification campaign was over, in the first five months of 1936, official circles stopped blaming the malfunctions of the state apparatus on the "subversive" activities of old oppositionists or "alien" elements, and tried to identify the real causes of the failures.109 Even instructions relating to members who were refused renewal of their Party cards no longer mentioned the activities of "hostile elements".110 But Party officials, who wanted to produce statistics to demonstrate how eager they were to carry out orders, had been so zealous in purging so-called "passive" members that in some weeks 5% to 8% of members under investigation found themselves marked down for expulsion.111 In the end the Central Committee found it had to give orders for a revision of all expulsions carried out during the purge.112 This period of truth-seeking did not last long. In fact there was a danger that a realistic approach towards the problems raised by the behaviour of officialdom would throw doubt on the very raison d'être of the state apparatus. It seemed that many of its functions could not be carried out without using methods that aggravated v social tension, and that carrying out most of the tasks of its officials was not possible without resorting to practices that nullified the


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

effects of every attempt at planning and central control. This danger was most certainly recognised in one or another way, and that is one of the reasons why, after the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in June 1936, summary accusations against old op­ positionists were suddenly reintroduced.113 Although the national leadership had unexpectedly "redis­ covered" the "subversive" activities of the remains of the former opposition, this did not mean that they all took the same view on how to capitalise on this renewed hunt for "hostile" elements. During the summer of 1936 circles determined to defend the particular interests of the cadres attempted to swing the new campaign solely against former opposition members, so as to focus all the repressive measures against minor scapegoats. Not until the autumn did their adversaries manage to curb this manoeuvre.114 Then, in the closing months of the year, those who favoured strict central control developed a powerful counter-offensive. It resulted in a redefinition and updating of the meaning of the term "enemy", which from now on would designate officials responsible for an administration that was economically inefficient and politically dangerous.115 But this redefinition of who was the enemy was not enough in itself to guarantee success for those who wanted to see the apparatus brought strictly into line, because recent experience had shown that none of the country's administrative bodies was likely to do its job in a co-ordinated and controlled way on a national scale. Since officials at every level had policing powers, there was no question of attacking them through relying solely on the political police. The inevitable result of that would be a sort of civil war made up of arrests and "counter-arrests", but without those really responsible being discovered. This is why those who wanted to impose strict central control on the administration, tried to appeal to the junior ranks of the Party hierarchy and the apparatus, and to mobilise potential allies. Since the 17th Congress redefined the powers that subordinate organisations of the Party could exercise in the absence of unanimity within the Central Committee,116 it was legally possible to mobilise rank and file members. The possibility to call up activists and cadres from the rank and file must have seemed an ideal solution to those who opposed "centrifugal" tendencies. Ordinary citizens and junior officeholders had been hard hit by the actions of their superiors. They were the ones who had suffered

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 49 most from the effects of zealous officials eager to unearth and punish "passive" members and "enemies". These were merely scapegoats guilty of minor peccadillos or of nothing at all, whilst those responsible for blatant abuses went unpunished because they held relatively senior positions.117 Now ordinary activists and junior officials were empowered, as Party members, to exercise a certain degree of control over their superiors. The mobilisation of malcontents at the grassroots appeared to be all the more promising, since participants at local meetings began to take up and enlarge upon the criticisms that had been expressed officially, early in 1936.118 To be sure, these meetings also took up the hunt for old oppositionists whose "subversive" activities had just been "unearthed".119 But attempts by those who favoured strict control, to "update" the definition of the "enemy" also gave rise to stormy debates in which speakers tried to "unmask" "hostile" elements in the leadership of a number of Party bodies.120 It must be admitted that some of the speakers may have deliberately exaggerated their criticisms in order to distance themselves from practices which they were themselves guilty of. On the other hand, ordinary workers only made up a third of the Party membership while in country areas the vast majority of members were paid officeholders.121 Nevertheless a kind of "All-Party discussion" was launched. The decisions of the February-March 1937 Plenum of the Central Committee decreed in effect the reelection of all officeholders in primary organisations and local and regional bodies within three months, and instituted not only secret ballots but also the right to criticise and challenge any candidacy as well as to remove officials who had been imposed in the past by higher authority, including the Central Committee itself.122 No doubt the restlessness prevailing at the grassroots encouraged the offensive that the partisans of "centralisation" were waging. But it is equally certain that many in the leadership were convinced that the latest instructions, like all those in the past, would be subjected to interpretations at local and regional level which would vitiate their effect. This conviction had to be all the more strong, since the slogans, watchwords and accusations launched during the cam­ paign against undefined "enemies" could be turned against anyone attacking officials, who in turn could resort to the powers their positions were invested with. An attack against the methods that the Party leadership were


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

trying to discredit could hardly be expected to succeed if it was conducted simply along the lines defined by the Party statutes, since the people it was trying to eliminate had themselves legal powers which they could use to throw up obstructions. But since the main object of this campaign was to reinforce the system, it had to be the officeholders as individually responsible persons who were to be challenged, and not the working rules of the system which permitted their abuse of power. Individuals were outlawed because they had arbitrarily applied those laws that gave them both power and the possibility to abuse power. The law, however, which was the foundation of the social and political system, had to be preserved. As soon as the resolution of the February-March Plenary Session had been published, there was a host of local meetings at which delegates stood up firmly against their leaders.123 But officials were prepared to use every means to defend themselves. They were determined to organise the transfer of unpopular functionaries to other positions, to intimidate protesters, to refuse to hold secret ballots or to falsify their results, and even to use repressive measures against the more outspoken of their critics.124 And, just as it seemed that these counter-measures were going to allow the threatened cadres to keep their positions, their adversaries found that another much more worrying danger had arisen. In the course of stormy meetings held in factories and attended by hundreds of people or more, the criticisms raised by grassroots activists went far beyond denouncing a few "saboteurs". These meetings turned into direct confrontations between the leaders and the led.125 Clearly, even the strongest opponents of lax practices were worried to see the manifestation of social antagonism within the Party. To make things worse, emboldened by these attacks on management, the workers were becoming more and more undis­ ciplined. Production had already been disrupted by purges carried out on scapegoats among junior executives, and was now threatened by total disorganisation.126 Faced with the danger of this disorder at grassroots, those who favoured a radical tightening of control over the apparatus considered that the strengthening of their adversaries' position was the lesser evil. This is why they did not oppose moves that their rivals took to safeguard "their" apparatus.127 But before long the defenders of the apparatus began to call for a campaign against the initiators of the purge drive unleashed by the resolutions of the

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 51 February-March Plenum.128 The imminence of this threat was probably what decided the "centralisers" to take massive police measures to settle the conflict within the Party-State once and for; all. To this end the rights and obligations of the NKVD at every level were strictly defined. Officers of the NKVD were placed under the authority of the Party bodies and organisations of which they were members, and methods of police coercion could be used against Party cells as well as against individual cadres, to force them to "unmask" and hand over anyone who seemed to be guilty of "hostile practices". But none of these measures was enough to stop officials (who wanted to show their eagerness to carry out the latest Party directives) from turning the campaign against the small fry, from accusing cadres simply because of the position they held or < ■ their "dubious" personal relationships, or from arranging spec­ tacular purges of innocent people. They were all the more at ease to proceed this way, since they were entrusted not only with the task of identifying "enemies" in their own ranks, but also with largescale purge operations among the masses.129 By the beginning of 1938 it had become clear that to continue the purge would throw the state apparatus completely out of joint, and still not be rid of the practices whose elimination was sought. Officials were intimidated and no longer dared to carry out instructions for fear of being accused of "illicit" practices, and the performance of the economy in the first months of the year was disastrous.130 The inefficiency of the "peaceful" methods of ad­ ministration is best shown by the fact that the agencies responsible for collecting taxes in 1938 were incapable of meeting the targets they were given. Although the 1937 harvest had been the best since 1913, revenues in the first quarter of 1938 were below those of the previous year when farm production had been particularly poor.131 This situation was partly explainable by the inexperience of newly-promoted officials. But in spite of the vast turnover among cadres, during the reelection of the officeholders of Party bodies in 1938 many local and regional committees remained in the hands of cliques thanks to their skillful use of the methods of those who had been purged.132 The majority of newly appointed cadres were promoted from the lower ranks of the hierarchy, as in the city and regional apparatus of Smolensk where most of nominees had records as local or regional officials.133 Alleged shielding of "suspect" people and "enemies" by the new Smolensk leadership134

52 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications seems to indicate that even fairly compromised people could be promoted and that officeholders had inevitably assimilated some­ thing of the mores and ways of the environment of their formative years. Administrators of industry and agriculture as well as those of soviets were still having to be taken to task on account of the methods they continued to use.135 This is why, all the while speakers at the 18th Congress, in March 1939, were praising the new cadres, some illustrious orators still insisted on the need evoked already at the previous congress, for strict control over the application of central directives and on the implementation of the Party's policy.136 *

Provoked by the impossibility to control the functioning of the state apparatus, the great confrontations of 1936-1938 were also a consequence of dangerous social tensions that the behaviour of the cadres had been arousing. As the unpopular practices of officialdom had been one of the arguments invoked to justify the purge drives, the tumultuous events of 1937 had the effect of dissuading cadres from taking measures that might possibly lay them open to challenge. The result was such a weakening in discipline of people working in all areas of the national economy that the outcome of any attempt to bring production back up to normal risked to be uncertain. The conflicts of 1936-1938 not only aggravated the intrinsic disorganisation of the administration, but also led to a situation where officials were less and less capable of carrying out their task of consolidating the apparatus as an organ of effective leadership. The recalcitrance of the working masses posed serious risks. Even if they could not organise radical action, their passive resistance to authority threatened to block any initiative of the Party-State. This state of affairs explains why severe measures were taken from December 1938 onwards to re-establish discipline among industrial workers and prevent collective farmers from concentrat­ ing most of their energies on exploiting their own household plots.137 It is true that the repressive measures did not spare cadres who allowed indiscipline among their subordinates.138 But these measures guaranteed their authority and managerial control. From now on the steps taken against the excessive permissiveness of the cadres would affect them only if they proved incapable of defending

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 53 the leading role of the state apparatus. Thus one of the main criteria used in assessing the performance of officials was to be whether they could ensure the conservation and reproduction of the institutional system to which they belonged. This preoccupation, which was in the end to set them in opposition to the rest of society, was bound to appear to them much more important than any concern for correcting the structural and functional inade­ quacies of "their" apparatus. The events of 1936-1938 showed that even when the majority of the cadres of the Party-State had been forced out of office, the "sabotage" they had practiced was not eliminated from their methods to direct the economic, political or administrative ap­ paratus. The "subversive" activity of the officials turned out to be an inherent feature of the way the apparatus normally operated. It may well have been necessary to wage a systematic struggle against its more dangerous manifestations, but it was impossible to wipe it out entirely. It was an objective condition of the functioning of the state apparatus. In spite of the damage it caused to the economy and the political dangers it aroused, it posed less of a risk than general paralysis or division within the leadership vis-à-vis the labouring masses. Because - and this was another objective condition of the functioning of the apparatus - it had to be protected from any interference by the rest of society, by everyone without a leading function, even if they belonged to the political organisation, the Party, that was supposed to constitute the guiding force of the system. Their attempts to intervene, either actively as Party members or passively through their negligence at work, pushed the apparatus to close ranks, even at crucial moments of fierce struggle within the leadership, as happened during the election campaign of 1937. Despite its internal divisions, the Soviet state apparatus in the 1930s constituted a separate social universe whose conditions of existence resulted from its principal function: to ensure its own continuity as the organisation in undisputed control of all the essential activities of the nation. It is this function which set it in opposition to all the rest of the nation, by turning society into nothing more than an instrument for reproducing the system. It was, in the real sense of the words, a ruling class. Its dominant role and the unity of its fundamental interests came from occupying the positions of authority which were presupposed by the existence of an integrated system running all the economic, administrative and


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

political activities of the USSR. Its rules of conduct and its ideology were conditioned by the need to maintain its own continuity, and its organisational unity was guaranteed by a set of cohesive structures and functions as well as by its inevitable opposition to the rest of society. This class had lodged itself almost entirely within the ruling apparatus of the Party-State, and so there was no other social group that could have replaced it. On the contrary, the maintenance of harmonious relations with the rest of society required it to have a wide recruitment area. But although this was solemnly proclaimed as a necessity by the official ideology, it was equally resisted by the elite who were anxious to ensure their children's future. The result was a reduction of more than 10% in the numbers of students from working-class families between 1933 and 1938. In 1938 students whose parents were "specialists" or "employees" already made up 42.2% of all students in institutions of higher education, while the children of manual workers were only 39.9%.139 Officialdom's interest in preserving the political monopoly of the apparatus guaranteed its mobilisation vis-à-vis the rest of society. But this monopoly made internal conflicts inevitable within the elite. Since economic performance could not act as a regulator of socio-political relationships, the only criterion for how effectively the apparatus was operating could be political stability, though this was systematically compromised by the actions of the cadres. There was no advantage, not even the possibility of material benefit, which was capable of ensuring that officials would obey orders. At the same time, however slight might have been the benefits of belonging to the elite in the lowest ranks of the hierarchy, they were what motivated officials in their "subversive" activities. The persistence of "subversive" practices which was an objective condition of the working of the apparatus, prevented the elite from fulfilling its functions in a regular and controllable way and disrupted social peace. The Party-State had come up against a major contradiction: its prime objective was its cohesion and stability, but it found itself forced to disturb that very cohesion in attempts to establish a lasting balance between the demands of its own continued existence and its concern not to put too much strain on its relations with the rest of society. There were, on the one hand, those groups whose self-interest required the creation of an integrated system of administration based on industrialisation and collectivisation and, on the other

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 55 hand, the working masses who had to bear the burden of these ambitious programmes, and the antagonism between the two was far more important in the USSR of the 1930s than the conflicts that divided the ruling class. But while the rulers had every means of defending and consolidating their class interests by institutionalis­ ing their functions, working people were strictly prevented from organising. They did not actually constitute a class possessing specific organisations to defend their own interests. They were merely the "rest of society", the "labouring masses" who had no other choice but to accept their condition perforce. And yet the working masses did possess one powerful means of exerting pressure: recalcitrance, the massive but uncoordinated sabotage of the collectivisation and industrialisation programmes. Peasant resistance found its expression in the stagnation in agricultural production which lasted for decades after the beginning of collectivisation, while among factory workers it appeared as carelessness at work and absenteeism, which remained high in spite of the severe measures taken in 1938 to stamp it out.140 The organisation of the apparatus was the concrete manifestation of a policy generally accepted by the ruling class. From within its ranks could come no effective opposition to the objective conditions of the functioning of the Party-State. Neither sustained opposition to central control, nor complete eradication of "subversive" methods were possible without the total collapse of the system. The organisation of the ruling class was so bound up with the state apparatus that it was incapable of resolving its own internal contradictions. Hence the unavoidable failure both of quasioppositional activities - the "subversive practices - which were inherent in the system, and of the attempts to find correctives through administrative reform or police terror which were in­ evitably deflected from their course. So whereas the very organisation of the ruling class rendered it incapable of resolving its own contradictions, much less those of society, it was the lack of organisation of the labouring masses that prevented their acts of resistance to bring about fundamental changes.

Notes 1 R. R. Abramovitch, The Soviet Revolution (New York, 1962), pp. 360-361; G. C. Guins, Soviet Law and Soviet Society (The Hague, 1954), pp. 105-106, 238, 241.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

2 A. Inkeles, Social Change in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), pp. 7, 21. 3 L. B. Schapiro, "Totalitarianism", Marxism, Communism and Western Society, vol. 8 (New York, 1972), pp. 190-192, 194; Id., The Communist Party o f the Soviet Union (New York, 1960), p. 467; Z. K. Brzezinski, The Permanent Purge (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), pp. 4r-5Id., Id., "The Nature of the Soviet System ", D. W. Treadgold ed., The Development o f the USSR (Seattle, 1964), pp. 4-5; J. Azrael, Managerial Power and Soviet Politics (Cambridge, M ass., 1966), p. 59; M. Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule (Cambridge, Mass., 1958, pp. 92, 171-172; R. A. Feldmesser, "Sodal C asses and Sodal Structure", C. E. Black ed., The Transformation o f Soviet Society (Cambridge, M ass., 1960), pp. 248-252; T. H. Rigby, Communist Party Membership in the USSR 1917-1967 (Princeton, 1968), p. 197. 4 M. Fainsod, How Russia is Ruled (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 438, 441-442, 444; W. Grottian, Das sowjetische Regierungssystem (Köln-Opladen, 1965), pp. 73-74; W. W. Rostow, The Dynamics o f Soviet Society (New York, 1953), pp. 47-51, 107; A. Avtorkhanov, The Communist Party Apparatus (Chicago, 1966), p. 72; R. Conquest, The Great Terror (London, 1968, pp. 36, 42, 198, 251-252, 277-278, 282, 454; A. Ulam, Stalin (New York, 1973), pp. 384-^385, 388-389, 407-408, 427, 440 and passim; R. V. Daniels, The Conscience o f the Revolution (Cambridge, M ass., 1960), pp. 387, 408; G. Katkov, The Trial o f Bukharin (London, 1969), pp. 107, 158, 171; R. S. Sullivant, Soviet Politics and the Ukraine (Princeton, 1971), p. 221; B. Levitsky, The Stalinist Terror o f the Thirties (Stanford, 1974), pp. 16, 23-24, 27, 29-30; A. L. Unger, "Stalin's Renewal of the Leading Stratum", Soviet Studies, vol. 20. pp. 322-323; R. McNeal, Resolutions and Decisions o f the CPSU, vol. 3 (Toronto, 1974), pp. 10, 130; R. Hinsley, "Stalin, Stalinism", Marxism, Communism. . ., vol. 8, p. 92; P.Broué, Le parti bolchevique (Paris, 1966), pp. 388-389; I. Deutscher, Stalin (New York-London, 1949), pp. 355, 371, 380, 383; Abramovitch, p. 397; Rigby, pp. 197, 213-214; Azrael, pp. 59, 100, 105-106; Schapiro, The Communist Party. . ., pp. 414, 429-430, 436, 440, 460, 480. 5 See supra, pp. 3-4. 6 A. Nove, Was Stalin Really Necessary? (London, 1964), pp. 31-32; W.Hofmann, Die Arbeitsverfassung der Sowjetunion (Berlin, 1956), pp. 494, 504-509; T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia (London, 1974), p. 170; ¡.Deutscher, The Unfinished Revolution, London 1967, pp. 31-34, 51; Id., The Prophet Outcast (London, 1963), pp. 306-307; Id., Stalin, 364; B. Moore, Soviet Politics - The Dilemma o f Power (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), pp. 290-291. 7 A. Nove, An Economic History o f the USSR (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 191. 8 R. P. Dadykin, "O chislennosti i istochnikakh popolneniia rabochego klassa SSSR", Istoricheskie zapiski (Moscow, 1971), pp. 29, 33. 9 Ibid. p. 46; Nove, An Economic History, p. 231; A. G. Rashin, "Rost kuTtumotekhicheskogo urovnia rabochego klassa SSSR v 1917-59 gg.", Istoriia SSSR, 1961, No. 2 p. 24. For data indicating higher skill levels see Industrializatsiia SSSR 1933-1937, (Moscow, 1973), pp. 475-477. 10 XVII S'ezd VKP(b) (Moscow, 1934), pp. 18, 443-455; Nove, An Economic History, p p . 226-227. 1 1 N . Jasny, The Soviet Industrialisation (Chicago, 1961), pp. 124-125; D. Granick, Management o f the Industrial Firm in the USSR (New York, 1954), pp. 72-74, 80, 116. 12 XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 267-268. 13 Ibid. pp. 230, 465. 14 "Avtomobily bez zapasnykh chastei", P, 21. 12. 1936, p.4; "Zasedanie SNK SSSR", P, 10 .5. 1937, p. 3; "Pora NKtiazhpromu likvidirovat' pozomoe otstavanie", P, 16. 6. 1937, p. 4; "O zapasnykh chastiakh. . P, 17. 6. 1937 p. 2; "O beloi zhesti. . P, 19. 6. 1937, p. 3. 15 A. Samoilov, "Planovykh del mastera", P, 1. 7.1937, p. 3; XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 273274; see also S. G. Strumilin ed.: Ekonomicheskaia zhizn' SSSR 1917-65 (Moscow, 1961), p. 300.

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 57 16 XVII S'ezd. . .,, pp. 116, 120, 178, 270-271; "Pozomoe otstvanie. . ", P, 4. 8. 1936, p. 4; B, 1936, No. 11 p. 62; Granick, p. 127. 17 XVII S'ezd. . p. 149; V. Andrle, Workers in Stalin's Russia (New York, 1988), p. 139. 18 Industrializatsiia SSSR 1933-1937, pp. 421, 511-512; S. Schwarz, Labor in the Soviet Union (New York, 1952), pp. 99-100. 19 WKP 84, pp. 24, 28, 39; WKP 87, p. 7; WKP 189, pp. 12-13; UPK 1937, pp. 141142; I. V. Stalin, Sochineniia, t. 1 (XIV) R. McNeal ed. (Stanford, 1967), pp. 62-63. 20 PS, 1934, No. 19, p. 46; WKP 84, pp. 32, 40. 21 A. Samoilov, "Chastnaia lavochka na gosudarstvennom predpriatii", P, 1. 4. 1937, p. 4; Id., "Chastniki na zavode Kalibr", P, 9. 4. 1937 p. 4; Id., "O t. n. direktorskom fonde", P, 13. 4. 1937, p. 3; Id., "Premirovanie naiznaku", P, 19. 4. 1937, p. 3; "V Prokature SSSR", P, 28. 4. 1937, p. 6; Samoilov, P, 1. 7. 1937, p. 3. 22 PS, 1935, No. 6, p. 47; WKP 84, p. 37; B, 1937, No. 5-6, p. 33; Stalin, 214-215. 23 SZ, 1935 pp. 51S-516, 535, 1936 p. 328; A. Shkvarin, "Sobstvennye" dachi za gosudarstvennyi schet", P, 21. 5.1 937, p. 4; A. Samoilov, "V zashchitu bukhgaltera", P, 5. 8. 1937, p. 3. 24 Istoriia SSSR s drevneishikh uremen do nashikh dnei, t. 9 (Moscow, 1971), p. 105; WKP 97, pp. 6-7; S. Heinman, "O biudzhete rabochego SSSR", P, 2. 3. 1936, p. 2; BO, 1936, No. 47, pp. 5, 7; L. Trotsky, La révolution trahie (Paris, 1936), pp. 149-150; Bor'ba partii za sotsialisticheskuiu rekonstruktsiiu (Moscow, 1961), p. 466; KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s'ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, t. 5 (Moscow ,1971), p. 232; D. Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization (London, 1986), pp. 183-188; Granick, pp. 243-244; Andrle, pp. 184-185, 187-188. 25 "Raschistit* puf stakhanovtsam Donbassa", P, 15. 4. 1936, p. 1; "Bor'ba za vnedrenie stakhanovskikh metodov. . ", P, 2. 6. 1936, p. 2; "Osvoit7 novye normy. . P, 21. 10. 1936, p. 1; B, 1936, No. 21 p. 67, WKP 239, p. 222; BO, 1936, No. 47, p. 8; Trotsky, p. 149. 26 WKP 97, p. 6; WKP 189, p. 26; KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 233-235, V. M. Molotov, "Plan i nashi zadachi", P, 17. 1. 1936, p. 1; N. S. Khrushchev, "Itogi dekabrskogo plenuma. . ", P, 20.1. 1936, p. 3; "Interesy gosudarstva prezhde vsego", P, 8. 5. 1936, p. 1; Bor'ba partii. . p. 455. See also Granick pp. 243-244 and Schwarz, pp. 196-198. 27 Granick, p. 72. 28 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 233-234; Molotov, P, 17. 1. 1936 p. 1; A. A. Zhdanov, "Itogi dekabrskogo plenuma. . ", P, 18. 1. 1936, p. 4; M. Usherenko, "Stakhanovets Antoshin. . .", P, 3. 3. 1936, p. 4; A. Popov, "Liubov7 k banketam", P, 19. 3. 1936, p. 5; L. Dolgomolov, "Meshaiut rabotaf po-stakhanovski", P, 4. 4.1936, p. 3; Stalin, pp. 85, 97, 99; Bor'ba partii. . p. 455; WKP 97, p. 6; L. H. Siegelbaum, Stakhanomsm and the Politics o f Productivity in the USSR, 1935-1941 (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 81-86; Andrle, p. 194 29 WKP 499, p. 26; "Soveshchanie komandirov i politrabotnikov. . .", P, 3. 3.1936, p. 2; PS, 1936, No. 8, p. 56. See also RS 924, pp. 75, 96, 114. 30 "Ogon' po sabotazhnikam stakhanovskogo dvizheniia!", P, 26. 3. 1936, p. 1; PS, 1936, No. 7, pp. 54-55; "Raschistit7. . P, 15. 4. 1936, p. 1; Siegelbaum, pp. 105-111. 31 WKP 499, p.27; "Proizvodtsvenno-tekhnicheskie shtaby. . .", P, 21 .2. 1936, p. 1; "Vyshe znamia sotsialistichskogo sorevnovaniia!", P, 1. 3. 1936, p. 1. 32 B, 1936, No 11, p. 64; "Usloviia pobedy. . P, 23. 6. 1936, p. 1. 33 BO, 1936, No. 47, p. 8; Trotsky, p. 149; Filtzer, pp. 200-204; Siegelbaum, pp. 9192, 195-201. 34 WKP 97, pp. 5-7; "Vyshe. . ", P, 1. 3. 1936, p. 1; Istoriia KPSS, t. 4, kniga 2-ia (Moscow, 1971), pp. 381-383.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

35 "Rashchistit\ . ", P, 15. 4. 1936, p. 1; "Bor'ba za vnedrenie. . ", P, 2. 6. 1936, p. 2; //Ostvoit/. . P, 21. 10. 1936, p. 1; B, 1936, No.21, p. 67; Filtzer, p. 191. 36 Usherenko, P, 3. 3. 1936, p. 4; "Ogon'. . P, 26. 3. 1936, p. 1; "Rashchistit'. . P, 15. 4.1 936, p. 1; B, 1936, No. 11, p. 62. 37 B, 1936, No. 11, p. 64; Jasny, p. 131. See also J. Scott, Behind theUrals (Bloomington, 1973), p. 165. 38 N. Kuzovkin, "Kabinetnye chinoviniki", P, 2. 3. 1936, p. 4; Usherenko, P, 3. 3. 1936, p. 4; Popov, P, 19. 3. 1936, p. 5; PS, 1936, No. 7, pp. 54-55, No. 8, p. 56; WKP 499, pp. 26-27. 39 "Bor'ba za vnedrenie. . ", P, 2. 6.1 936, p. 2; "Urok Donbassa", P, 7. 6. 1936, p. 1; F. Benvenuti, Fuoco sui sabotatori! - Stachanovismo e organizzazione industriale in Urss, 1934-1938 (Rome, 1988), pp. 312-338; Filtzer, pp. 197-199; Siegelbaum, pp. 117-


40 lstoriia KPSS, p. 431. 41 M. A. Vyltsan, "Obshchestvenno-ekonomicheskii stroi kolkhoznoi derevni v 1933-40 gg "/ lstoriia SSSR, 1966, No. 2. p. 53; M. Lewin, "Auseinandersetzungen in der Agrarfrage und die Wirklichkeit in der UdSSR 1928-1940", P. Hennicke, ed., Probleme des Sozialismus und der Übergangsgesellschaften (Frankfurt a. M. 1973), pp. 348-349. 42 N. Jasny, The Socialized Agriculture o f the USSR (Stanford, 1949), p. 363. 43 Ibid, pp. 370-371; Vyltsan, p. 57. 44 On the controversial subject of the unequal exchange between urban and rural sectors of the Soviet economy during industrialisation, see A. A. Barsov, Balans stoimostnykh obmenov mezhdu gorodom i dereunei (Moscow, 1969) and the articles by J. R. Millar and A. Nove in volumes 22 and 23 of Soviet Studies, (1970-1971), as well as the studies done by Millar (Slavic Review, 1974), M. Ellman (Economic Journal, 1975), by A. Vyas (Cambridge Journal o f Economics, 1979), by A. Nove-D. Morrison and by S. G. Wheatcroft in Ch. Bettelheim, ed. L'Industrialisation soviétique dans les années trente (Paris, 1982). 45 Lewin, p. 354. 46 Nove, An Economic History, p. 253. 47 SZ, 1935, pp. 758-759; Vyltsan, p. 55; Jasny, The Socialized. . ., p. 365. 48 XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 54, 144, 149; SZ, 1935, pp. 765-769; "O vypolnenii Tsentrosoyuzom postanovleniia SNK SSSR i TsK. . ", P, 30. 5. 1936, pp. 1-2; Lewin, pp. 348-^49. 49 WKP 390, p. 329. 50 Vyltsan, p. 59; Lewin, pp. 356-^358. The proportion of total production raised on household plots was 52.1% of potatoes and vegetables, 56.6% of fruit, 70.9% of meat and 71.4% of milk. Most of this produce was consumed by the farmers themselves (Vyltsan, p. 47). 51 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 178, 213; WKP 390, pp. 330, 345-346; see also B, 1936, No. 7, pp. 8-9. 52 "O plane sel'skokhoziaistvennykh rabot na 1938 g .", P, 22. 1. 1938, p. 2; WKP 238, pp. 211-214, 261-263. 53 WKP 390, pp. 331-333. 54 Strumilin, pp. 345-346. 55 XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 153-154, 289. 56 Ibid., p. 23. 57 "Gosudarstvennye interesy vyshe vsego", P, 13. 3. 1936 p. 1; "V KPK pri TsK VKP(b)", P, 27. 5. 1936, p. 3; "K novym uspekham sotsialisticheskogo stroitel'stva", P, 30. 6. 1937, p. 1; Dopolneniia k kodeksam (Moscow, 1937), pp. 25-26; Strumilin, p. 339. 58 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 45-46, 212-213; Jasny, The Socialize. . ., p. 265; L. Volin, A Century o f Russian Agriculture (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), p. 244.

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 59 59 SZ, 1935, pp. 202, 758-759; Istoriia SSSR, p. 154; WKP 390, p. 347; WKP 499, p.


60 SZ, 1935, p. 202. 61 NKZem SSSR, Kolkhozy v 1937 godu (Moscow, 1939), pp. 80-81. 62 SZ, 1935, pp. 918-919; Istoriia SSSR, p. 154; "Iurlovskie nravy",P, 7.3. 1936,p.3; WKP 390, pp. 338-339; VS, 1937, No. 5, pp. 11-12. 63 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 178, 213; SZ, 1935,p.201;SIu,1936,No.11, p.5. 64 Molotov, P 17.1.1936, p. 2. 65 UPK, 1937, p. 147. 66 WKP 176, p. 181; WKP 186, pp. 178, 180. 67 WKP 192, p. 11. 68 SZ, 1936, Decree No. 386, 1937, Decree No. 135; WKP 238, pp. 361-362. 69 Jtes/i. . ., p. 524; SZ, 1935, pp. 918-919; A. Baev, "Nezakonnye iskliucheniia iz kolkhozov Odeschiny", P, 3. 3. 1936, p. 2; I. Grekov, "Pokaiannye rechi. . .", P, 8. 4. 1937, p. 4; B. Levin, "Politicheskaia blizurukost"', P, 30. 6. 1937, p. 3; WKP 390, pp. 343-344; Vyltsan, p. 46. 70 Sotsialisticheskoe stroitel'stvo SSSR (Moscow, 1936), pp. 542, 545; WKP 103, pp. 78-81; WKP 392, p. 99; VS, 1938, No. 13, pp. 40-41; G. M. Skobeleva et a l , Iz istorii sotsialisticheskoi industrializatsii srednego Povolzh'ia (Kuibyshev, 1973), p. 240; L. N. Kogan-B. S. Pavlov, Molodoi rabochii vchera, segodnia (Sverdlovsk, 1976), p. 63. See also E. V. Klopov et al., Sotsial'noe razvitie rabochego klassa SSSR (Moscow, 1977), pp. 16&-169, 171-172. 71 SZ, 1935, pp. 358-359, 642-648; Strumilin, pp. 305, 315-316. 72 VS, 1936, No. 14, p. 10; N. Antipov, "Sovetskaia Konstitutsiia i sovetskii apparat", P, 25. 11. 1936, p. 4. 73 VS,1936, No. 5, pp. 11-12. 74 SZ, 1935, p. 643; US, 1936, No. 15,p. 32; Baev, P, 3. 3. 1936, p. 2. 75 VS,1936, No. 1, pp. 46-48, No. 7, pp. 18-19, No. 11, pp. 39-40. 76 VS, 1936, No. 1, pp. 32-33, No. 7, pp. 18-19, No. 11, pp. 39-40. 77 SZ, 1937, pp. 258-259; T. Gorbunov, "Lepel'skoe delo", P, 9. 3. 1937, p. 6; A. Perovskii, "Klubok eshche ne rasputan", P 31. 5. 1937, p. 4; "Sud nad byvshimi rukovoditeliami Shiriaevskogo raiona", P, 16. 6. 1937, p. 6; VS, 1937, No. 6-7, pp. 6970, No. 11, pp. 19-20. 78 SZ, 1935, pp. 840-841; VS, 1936, No. 7, p. 3, No. 9, p. 3, No. 14, pp. 11-12. 79 VS, 1936, No. 11, p. 37. 80 Ibid. pp. 38-39. 81 VS, 1936, No. 9, p. 8, No. 10, pp.16-18, No. 16, p. 24. 82 VS, 1936, No. 9, p. 9. 83 SZ, 1936, pp. 294, 328, 429-437, 474; WKP 103, pp. 174, 181, 184; WKP 191, p. 7; VS, 1936, No. 7, p. 3; V. Murivenko, "Krugovaia poruka", P, 1. 3. 1937, p. 2; Perovskii, P, 31. 5. 1937, p. 4; N, Tokarev, "Chto delalos' v NKsobese Kryma", P, 20. 6. 1937, p. 6; PS, 1937, No. 15, pp. 41^ 2. 84 XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 33, 35, 48, 533, 582, 600, 619; KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., pp. 152154, 158. 85 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., p. 160; see also XVII S'ezd. . ., p. 34. 86 PS, 1934, No. 7, pp. 46-47, No. 17, pp. 75-77, No. 22, pp. 1^4, 1935, No. 13, pp. 46-47, No. 18, pp. 48, 53; B,1936, No. 7, pp. 12-20; "O rabote upolnomochennykh KPK", P, 17. 3. 1936, p. 2; "O rabote partkollegii KPK. . ibid, p. 3. 87 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . pp. 152, 155. 88 Ibid., pp. 99, 101; XVII S'ezd. . pp. 552, 553; PS, 1935, No. 12, p. 79. 89 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . p. 100. 90 XVII S'ezd. . ., pp. 285-286, 298.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

91 Ibid. p. 552. 92 PS, 1939, No. 5, p. 36; Istoriia KPSS, p. 283. 93 XVII S'ezd. . ., p. 675. 94 PS, 1934, No. 19, pp. 45-46, No. 21, p. 62, No. 22, p. 6, 1935, No. 16, p. 44; WKP 176, pp. 81, 101-102; WKP 228, p. 12; WKP 313, pp. 111-112. 95 Izvestiia TsK KPSS, 1989, No. 7, p. 69. 96 "V Prezidiume TsIK SSSR", P, 4. 12. 1934, p. 1; "O vnesenii izmenenii", P, 5. 12. 1934, p. 1; "O prigovore Voennoi Kollegii", P, 6, 12 and 18. 12. 1934, pp. 2, 6; Editorial, P, 17. 12. 1934, p. 1; "V NKVD SSSR", P, 22.12.1934, p. 1; U P K 1956, p. 118; J. A. Getty, Origins o f the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 19331938 (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 209-210. 97 "V NKVD SSSR", P, 23. 12. 1934, p. 6; "O prigovore Voennoi Kollegii Verkhovnogo Suda", P, 18. 1. 1935, p. 3. 98 PS, 1935, No. 8. p. 9; WKP 186, p. 199; WKP 237, p. 236. 99 WKP 186, p. 137. 100 PS, 1935, No. 16, pp. 44-45; "O rabote. . P, 17. 3.1936, p. 3; WKP 186, p. 157; WKP 191, p. 1. 101 PS, 1935, No. 13, pp. 46-47, No. 16, p. 46, No. 17, pp. 4-6, No. 18, p. 53, 1936, No. 2, p. 14. 102 PS, 1935, No. 15, p. 4, No. 18, pp. 57-58, 65-66, No. 19-20, p. 68, 1936, No. 2, p. 12. 103 N. A Zolotarev, Vazhnyi etap organizatsionnogo ukrepleniia Kommunisticheskoi partii (1928-1937 gg.) (Moscow, 1979), pp. 174-175. 104 PS, 1936, No. 2, p. 12. 105 WKP 384, pp. 144-149, 151-152, 213. Some 21.5% of the 455 expellees were benchworkers (98 people) and 2.1% kolkhoz peasants (11 persons), while the others were students, teachers and researchers, pensioners or without occupation. As for purported oppositionists, at least one of them was a reputed Trotskyist readmitted in the Party by the Central Control Commission after having been expelled in 1927, while another militant was just a friend of alleged ex-oppositionists whom he had helped to find jobs. Apart from these "crim es", it was only their lack of vehement criticism of Trotskyist views that could be quoted against them. Two other people were suspected of propagating oppositionist ideas, but one of them freely expressed his allegedly deviationist opinions in word and print until January 1935 when, apparently because the regional leadership needed a cause célèbre, he came under fire. Except for one of the oldest Bolsheviks who was supposedly an "enemy agent", it does not seem possible to establish the reasons for the exclusion of the veterans with pre-revolutionary membership. Six or seven regional officials were probably victims of the leadership's zeal to crack down on "hostile elements" (WKP 384, pp. 148-149, 215, 218-221, 226 230; WKP 237, p. 8). 106 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . ., p. 379. 107 Ocherki istorii astrakhanskoi partiinoi organizatsii (Volgograd, 1971), p. 365; Ocherki istorii irkutskoi organizatsii KPSS (Irkutsk, 1976), p. 246. 108 Cf. infra, pp. 264, 311. The national average of expelled 'Trotskyists" was somewhat higher than in Smolensk dty: 3% against 2.4% . This meant some 7,800 alleged ex-oppositionists in the country as a whole (Zolotarev, p. 174). 109 See for example "Gosudarstvennye interesy. . .", P, 13. 3. 1936, p. 1; "O rabote. . .", P, 17. 3. 1936, pp. 2-3; "Partorganizatsiia otvechaet za povedenie kommunista", P, 18. 3. 1936, p. 1; "Kommunist i sovetskii zakon", P, 1. 4. 1936, p. 2; "Raschistit'. . P, 15. 4. 1936, p. 1; "Partiinyi apparat", P, 9. 5. 1936, p. 1; "V KPK. . P, 27. 5. 1936, p. 3; PS, 1936, No. 8, p. 50; B, 1936, No. 15, pp. 45-48; SZ, 1936, pp. 473-474. 110 KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh. . pp. 248-249; B, 1936, No .4, pp. 5-6; "Obmen partiinykh dokumentov", P, 16. 3. 1936, p. 1; WKP 54, p. 203. See also infra, p. 66.

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 61 111 "Obmen partiinykh dokumentov", P, 16. 3. 1936, p. 1; PS, 1936, No. 7, pp. 5152, No. 9, pp. 55, 57, 59-60. 112 "O khode. . P, 24. 5. 1936, p. 1. 113 See for example "Protiv zaznaistva i samouspokoennosti", P, 8. 6. 1936, p. 1; "Vysokaia ideinost', splochennost', bditel'nost"', P, 11. 6. 1936, p. 1; "Ob itogakh. . .", P, 11 and 12. 6. 1936, p. 2; L. Beriia, "Novaya Konstitutsiia SSSR i Zakavzskaia Federatsiia", P, 12. 6. 1936, p. 4. See also infra, pp. 74, 77-78. 114 See infra, pp. 78-86, 89. 115 See infra, pp. 92-95, 97-103. 116 XVII S'ezd. . p. 679; lstoriia KPSS, pp. 273-274. 117 "O rabote. . .", P, 17. 3. 1936, p. 3; "Partorganizatsiia otvechaet. . P, 18. 3. 1936, p. 1; "Rastif partiinykh kadrov", P, 23. 3. 1936, p. 1; "Kommunist i sovetskii zakon", P, 1. 4. 1936, p. 2; B, 1936, No. 7, pp. 12-20. 118 M. Vorov'ev, "Osvobozhdaemsia ot negodnykh rabotnikov", P, 14. 3. 1936, p. 3; "V Sverdlovske ne prislyshivaiutsia. . .", P, 1. 6. 1936, p. 2; "Rost vnutripartiinoi demkoratii", P, 7. 6. 1936, p. 2; B. Levin, "Uroki oshibok orslovskogo gorkoma", P, 29. 7. 1936, p. 3. 119 V. Sharangovich, "Uroki odnogo déla", P, 4. 8. 1936, p. 4; V. Solov'ev, "Trotskisto-zinov'evskie. . P, 5. 8. 1936, p. 4; "Prezrennye dvurushniki", P, 13. 8. 1936, p. 1; "Postanovlenie. . .", ibid., p. 3; "Vragi naroda poimany. . P, 15. .8. Ip. 1; D. Ortenberg, "Trotskistskie dvurushniki. . P, 19. 8. 1936, p. 3; PS, 1936, No. 15, p. 36. 120 "Sobranie partaktiva Rostova. . P, 25. 12. 1936, p. 3; M. Domrachev, "Sobranie partaktiva Novosibirska", P, 2. 2. 1937, p. 3; R. Eikhe, "Nekotorye voprosy. . P, 24. 2. 1937, p. 3; WKP 357, p. 5. 121 C f lstoriia KPSS, pp. 366, 507 and Spravochnik partiinogo rabotnika, 18th ed. (Moscow, 1978), p. 366. See also V. Z. Drobizhev, "Rol' rabochego klassa v formirovanii komandnykh kadrov. . ", lstoriia SSSR, 1961, No. 4, pp. 73-74; WKP 94, p. 36; WKP 499, p. 279. 122 "Podgotovka partorganizatsii k vyboram v Verkhovnyi Sovet SSSR. . .", P, 6. 3. 1937, p. 1; WKP 111, p. 62; WKP 252, p. 51. 123 See infra, pp. 119-120. 124 See infra, pp. 121, 128-129, 134-135. 125 See infra, pp. 129-131. 126 SZ, 1937, pp. 246-248; "Navesti poriadok. . P, 29. 4. 1937, p. 1; "Likvidirovat' pozomoe otstavanie Donbassa", P, 11. 5. 1937, p. 1; D. Vadimov, "V Donbasse. . ", P, 14. 5. 1937, p. 3; "Chto delaet Prokuratura. . P, 15. 5. 1937, p. 2; D. Vadimov, "V Donbasse sabotiruiut bor'bu s progulami", P, 23. 5. 1937, p. 6; "K novomu pod'emu. . P, 6. 6. 1937, p. 1; "Bol'shevistskaia samokritika i trudovaia distsiplina", P, 24. 6. 1937, p. 1. See also Dopolneniia k kodeksam, pp. 38-39; UPK, 1937, pp. 145-146. 127 See infra, pp. 131-135. 128 See infra, pp. 137. 129 On the dramatic events of June-December 1937 see infra, pp. 139-170. 130 VS, 1938, No. 1, pp. 26-27; "Podniat' distsiplinu sredi zheleznodorozhnikov", P, 24. 1. 1938, p. 1; I. Pavlovskii, "V Rtishcheve net trudovoi distsipliny", P, 26. 1. 1938, p. 6; "O vypolnenii plana NKTP na 1938 g .", P, 30. 1. 1938, p. 3; D. Voronchikhin, "Antigosudarstvennaia praktika. . ", P, 12. 2. 1938, p. 6; "Dobymsia obraztsovoi kul'tury proizvodstva!", P, 27. 3. 1938, p. 1; "Zasedanie SNK SSSR", P, 16. 4. 1938, p. 3; "Khoziaistvennye rukovoditeli proveriaiutsia delami", P, 17. 4. 1938, p. 1; B, 1938, No. 9, pp. 85-86; SZ, 1938, p. 116. 131 VS, 1936, No. 10-11, pp. 52-53; "Strogo berech' narodnye sredstva", P, 12.8.1938, p. 1; "Zasedanie SNK. . .", P, 16. 4.1938, p. 3. For agricultural production in the pre-revolutionary period and in the twenties and thirties, see Wheatcroft, p. 76.


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

132 P. Sintsov, "Na odnom "obraztsovom" sobranii", P, 16. 4. 1938, p. 2; M. Krugov, "Gastrol'nye poezdki. . P, 18. 4. 1938, p. 3; A. Kozlov, "Bezprintsipnyi otvod", P, 23. 4. 1938, p. 4; "Tochno sobliudat' instruktsiiu. . P, 24. 4. 1938, p. 4; L. Perevozkin, "V Nizhnem Tagile. . P, 5. 5. 1938, p. 4; P. Lidov, "Negodnye metody. . .", P, 13. 5. 1938, p. 2; "Raionnye partkonferentsii", P, 16. 5. 1938, p. 1; A. Kozlov, "Alliluishchina vmesto bol'shevistskoi kritiki", P, 17. 5. 1938, p. 4; P. Manuilov, "Rezul'taty. . ", P, 18. 5. 1938, p. 4; M. Kotliarov, "Nebolshevistskaia pozitsiia TsK KP(b) Armenii", P, 22. 5. 1938, p. 4; V.Vermitskii, "Iaroslavskii obkom. . ", P, 23. 5. 1938, p. 4; V. Verkhovskii, "Na gorodskoi partkonferentsii Stalinabada" and V. Vdovichenko, "Pervye itogi. . P, 5. 6. 1938, p. 3; K. Orlov, "Negodnye metody podbora kadrov", P, 23. 6. 1938, p. 4. 133 WKP 323, pp. 46, 158, 174-180, 184-185. 54% of regional and 66.5% of local secretaries promoted in 1936-38 had been working in the apparatus or heading primary organisations (XV/// S'ezd VKP(b), Moscow, 1938, pp. 106, 529). 134 V. Makarov,"Istoriia odnogo otvoda", P, 6. 6. 1938, p. 4; Id., "V Smolenske oberegaiut negodnykh rabotnikov", P, 21. 6. 1938, p. 3; Id., "Kto vozglavliaet partkollegiiu v Smolenske", P, 7. 12. 1938, p. 3. 135 For the persistence of practices understood as "sabotage" in industrial management, see I. Gudov, "Na mashinostroitel'nykh zavodakh Ukrainy", P, 19. 7. 1938, p. 2; "Zasedanie SNK SSSR", P, 27. 7. 1938, p. 2; B. Pagirev, "Pochemu sryvaetsia. . P, 11. 8. 1938, p. 6; "Rech' deputata Pichurginoi, P. N .", P, 13. 8. 1938, p. 2; "Rech' Predsedatelia Gosplana SSSR t. Voznesenskogo, N. A .", P, 15. 8. 1938, p. 5; "Kapital'nyi remont. . ", P, 26. 8. 1938, p. 1; A. Frolkov, "Bystree likvidirovat' posledstviia vreditel'stva v metallurgii", P, 31. 8. 1938, p. 2; "Zasedanie SNK SSSR", P, 27. 9. 1938, p. 3; N. Mikhailovskii, "Prestupnoe otnoshenie k tekhnike bezopasnosti", P, 16. 10. 1938, p. 6; "Ukreplenie khozrascheta. . ", P, 27. 11. 1938, p. 1; XVIII S'ezd. . ., pp. 27, 97, 246-247, 303-^04, 353, 359^^60, 388, 439, 472; Strumilin, p. 349. For the persistence of "hostile" acts in agricultural administration, see for instance "Obespechit' bol'shevistskoe rukovodstvo sevom", P, 6. 5. 1938, p. 1; N. Kuzovkin, "Prestupnoe otnosheniie k kolkhozniku", P, 21. 6. 1938, p. 4; "Urozhai ubraf bez poter'!", P, 13. 7. 1938, p. 1; "Vyshe tempy. . ", P, 22. 7. 1938, p. 1; "Nezyblemyi zakon kolkhoznoi zhizni", P, 28. 8. 1938, p. 1; "Organizovanee. . ", P, 20. 10. 1938, p. 1; "Strogo sobliudat' ustav", P, 3. 12. 1938, p. 1. On the survival of typically "subversive" activities in the administration of the soviets, see VS 1938, No. 10-11, pp. 53-54;, No. 13, pp. 41-42; V. Suchkov, "Kurskaia shtrafnaia anomaliia", P, 8. 7. 1938, p. 6; N. Kuzovkin, "Gruboe izvrashchenie. . P, 27. 7. 1938, p. 4; "Boevaia zadacha. . ", P, 6. 10. 1938, p. 1; "Neustanno zabotit'sia. . P, 19. 10. 1938, p. 1; L. Sadovskii, "Belorusskie zakonniki", P, 1. 11. 1938, p. 2. 136 XVIII S'ezd. . ., pp. 106-108, 144, 186, 224, 266, 530, 557-558; Stalin, pp. 376379, 400. 137 KPSS v rezjolyutsiyakh. . ., pp. 324-332, 399; PS 1939, No. 2, p. 51, No. 3, p. 64. See also infra, pp. XX. 138 Schwarz, pp. 110-111; Filtzer, pp. 236-246. 139 M. P. Kim, ed., Sovetskaia intelligentsiia (Moscow, 1968), p. 190. At the time, workers and their family constituted 33.5% of the population whose 16.7% were white-collar employees and members of their family (Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1979 g., Moscow, 1980, p. 8). No nation-wide data were published for subsequent years. Scattered evidence suggests, however, that the trend continued, since even at a provincial university like that of Gorky, 72% of freshmen came from white-collar background by 1952 against 20% of their classmates who were of worker origin (A. A. Terent'ev et al., Sotsiologiia i vysshaia shkola, Gorky, 1975, p. 58). 140 A. V. Mitrofanova, "Istochniki popolneniia i sostav rabochego klassa. . A.

Society and the state apparatus in the USSR 63 G. Rashin ed., Izmeneniia v chislennosti i sostave sovetskogo rabochego klassa (Moscow, 1962), pp. 215-216; P. Beshchev et al. ed., Zheleznodorozhnyi transport v gody industrializatsii SSSR (1926-1941) (Moscow, 1970), p. 340; Filtzer, p. 135.

2 BETWEEN TWO "GREAT MOSCOW TRIALS": SOCIAL TENSIONS AND POLITICAL MANOEUVRES 1936 "The period of the Great Trials". Thus runs the traditional epithet, specific enough to leave no doubt as to the character of the period of Soviet history that it refers to. The injustice of these legalised murders seems to symbolise the iniquitous abuses visited upon so many Soviet citizens during those years. So much so that one is sorely tempted to see the blatantly false accusations and the unarguably corrupt procedures of the "Great Moscow Trials" as the very epitome of those turbulent times. The temptation is made greater by the contrast between the obscurity which hides the persecution of masses of unknown or little-known victims, and the abundance of works published on the sentencing of a few of the best-known Bolsheviks. Decoding their inner meaning would seem then to be the most promising route one can take to the centre of the tangled web of those crudal years. On the other hand it might seem equally logical to proceed backwards, starting from the context of the "Great Trials" in order to understand their complexities and those of the wave of repression with which they are forever linked. By focussing exclusively on the trials we run the risk of overlooking other equally important phenomena and of giving the trials themselves a very high degree of significance, a priori. In any case, only by putting them in the context of other major events of the time will we begin to see what was actually at issue. It must be admitted immediately that this approach is bound to reduce to some extent the importance that they have been credited with in the past. As soon as one tries to place them in the context of

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


other events to which they are related, one finds that each of the "Great Trials" throws light on the special circumstances in which it took place, but does not really explain the fundamental historical trends of the period. They were spectacular coups among a mishmash of political manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres, but they are in fact inseparable from the particular circumstances at the moment of their inception, so much so that their real meaning is determined by those factors and their true role can scarcely be understood out of context. It is hoped that this study will show how the first of the "Great Moscow Trials" grew out of the ever more complex battles and rifts in the Party-State, and the rivalries and ever increasing con­ troversies that the various circles within the Soviet leadership were engaged in in order to resolve the social and political conflicts of their regime, or else to deflect attempted solutions onto scapegoats. Although these cases have a symbolic role, with all their arbitrary injustice, we shall see that the charges and the conduct of the trials scarcely begin to explain the inner conflicts of the system, much less the causes or details of what was virtually a civil war being waged within the state apparatus. The trials were intended to set and reset the course of political campaigns in specific and changing con­ junctures, and at the same time they served to mask the real significance of the associated manoeuvres and counter-manouevres, and to disguise the actual nature and stakes in the conflict of which these campaigns and manoeuvres were only a part. One cannot help but conclude that the "Great Moscow Trials" enjoyed a success beyond their authors' wildest hopes. This is perhaps best borne out by the pride of place given to them by historians even today, to the neglect of the socio-political reality of which they form part. *

By the beginning of 1936 it was officially recognised that the Party had been purged of its hostile elements.1 So far as Soviet society in general wds concerned, the head of government V. M. Molotov declared that the enemy within was no more than a few insignificant individual criminals who were isolated from the masses supporting the regime, and who were reduced to desperate acts of extremism.2 This view seems to have been further confirmed


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

by the rehabilitation of a group of "class enemies" par excellence, nine "bourgeois specialists" who had received heavy prison sentences in 1930 after a political show trial.3 The purge of 1935, originally launched under the pretext of checking Party cards, was indeed renewed, and local committees were indeed authorised to withhold membership from those who "did not deserve" new cards, but a directive from the Central Committee brought about a significant reduction in the numbers of people likely to be excluded: "If in the course of checking Party documents, Party organisations had concentrated their attention mainly on unmask­ ing enemies of the Party - all kinds of rogues and swindlers who had fraudulently made their way into the ranks of the CPSU during the exchange [of Party cards] it is necessary to concentrate the main attention on getting rid of passive [individuals] who do not deserve the honourable title of Party member, [on excluding] people who are in the ranks of the CPSU by accident".4 It also seems significant that between January and June 1936 "subversive acts" by former oppositionists or "alien" elements were not blamed for any irregularities in the way the state apparatus functioned. Far from it: there were even signs of a change in official thinking, marked by a number of declarations about the real reasons for the problems being faced in both the economic and political fields. It was during this period that the Stakhanovist campaign was launched on a national scale.5 Similarly, during these same months, some circles in the higher reaches of the apparatus were beginning to take greater note of political reactions from among the population and the lower ranks of the establishment. In fact as events turned out it is clear that these circles were trying to s turn the increasingly manifest discontent among the masses to their own advantage. The spring of 1936 seems then to have been punctuated by warnings sent down from the top leadership, concerning the lack of interest so often shown by the authorities when they received letters of complaint and protest from ordinary working people.6 During March a decree went out from the Central Committee denouncing the "political blindness" of two regional newspaper editors and criticising their attitude to this sort of readers' letters as "bureaucratic" and "feudal". It ordered newspapers to publish the "politically most important" correspondence and to examine any allegations contained in it. In addition the decree contained a sharp

Between two "Great Moscow Trials" 67 attack on the current practice of forwarding letters of complaint to the people complained about.7 Later, the leadership of the Western Region ordered that complaints received by various bodies of the Party or of the soviets should be looked into carefully,8 and the archive material of this region gives evidence of an unprecedented zeal in analysing information coming up "from below". Quite obviously the initiative did not come from the regional leadership. In May 1936 a decree from the Commission of Soviet Control, approved by the Council of People's Commissars and receiving wide press coverage, severely condemned the abuse of power by officials of "soviet institutions" - that is the cadres running the administrative and economic apparatus of the whole country. Pointing out that most of the complaints received were about cadres overstepping their powers, the decree laid an increased responsibil­ ity on officialdom in the whole matter of examining and rectifying without delay the errors or faults that people wrote about.9 It was followed a few weeks later by another decree, this time signed by the Central Executive Committee, the highest body of state power. It is curious to note that this important act of legislation was published with a delay of more than seven months (it came into force in fact in late 1935), and that it was printed only in the official collection of laws, whereas the decree from the Commission of 1 Soviet Control at the same time was commented widely on in the press. Its long delay and discreet publication are perhaps at­ tributable to the severe tone it took, and the unusually radical proposals it put forward. This decree constituted nothing less than an forthright condem­ nation of the "soviet apparatus", that is of the state apparatus itself, on account of its negligence in carrying out the repeated directives of the Party and the government, over taking into account objections and complaints by the public. The decree did more than order that complaints must not be passed on to the official concerned, it set time limits on investigating and dealing with them, and specify the individual responsibility of cadres at every level of the apparatus. It even made provision for officials to be brought to court if they should be guilty of slowness or failure in carrying out action to remedy faults brought to their attention in letters.10 There is a great deal of evidence to show that the provisions laid down by the Central Executive Committee stood little chance of being carried out in practice, and that the momentary interest aroused in letters of complaint at the local level scarcely lasted beyond the summer and


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

autumn of 1936.11 But the fact remains that some of the most highly placed Soviet leaders were interested in making sure that this correspondence, (though it was often hard to read) should be properly studied and consistently followed up, and it is still possible to trace the origins of their interest on the basis of some important clues quite independent of the documents in the archives of the Western Region. This is how one elderly and highly respected Bolshevik com­ mented on the decree of the Commission of Soviet Control, of which she was a member: "These requests and complaints are different in character from a few years ago . . . Working people are reacting more sharply to individual bureaucratic deformations and in a number of cases are putting questions to the bodies of soviets that have wide social implications . . . The demands of working people show the large number of cases of administrative arbitrari­ ness and of irresponsibility of a number of heads of institutions and organisations. . ." 12 The letters and complaints in the archives of the Western Region cover virtually all the problems of daily life, from collective farms 13 to industrial enterprises.14 They denounce the practices of the heads of these organisations, as well as the behaviour of cadres of local soviets15 and even Party officials.16 With each letter go the papers showing what investigations were made, the reports and the evidence obtained, and other such documents. One can find that complainants were not always objective in their criticisms and that at times the allegations were false; but the most interesting discovery lies not in the facts and conclusions drawn, but in "the sharp reaction of the working people" and the kind of bitter conflicts that led to it. In this correspondence there are suggestions of a certain confidence in the regime's justice. In all probability it can be seen as 1the motive for a group of workers outraged by the abuses of their bosses: "we are writing . . . because all those workers who are ignorant and lack [class-]consciousness are cursing the [state] power, on account of idiots like these. . ." 17 But closer examination suggests that threats of appealing to Moscow, even to Stalin in person if the complaint is not taken up,18 by no means indicate an unconditional confidence in the ability of the regime to enforce its own regulations. Not infrequently the writers seem convinced that the problem is created or made insoluble by the fact that their adversaries are part of the establishment. It is a commonplace to

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


find it openly stated that because of their position in the apparatus or their Party membership, transgressing or corrupt officials escape punishment for offences that would have led to the prosecution of any ordinary citizen.19 There is no doubt that this increasingly deliberate and open display of antagonism between ordinary citizens and officialdom, between the unprotected masses and the uncontrolled repre­ sentatives of authority, which runs through a great many of these letters must have alerted some readers in high places to the danger of aggravating social tension. The increasingly radical expression of social conflict called for an inevitable political response from the leadership, before it would find other outlets. How could they help but be struck by the often-repeated assertion that there was a conflict of interests between the cadres of the state apparatus, and the rest of society? The letters also speak of "rulers" protected by the judiciary.20 It is not mere impatience which lies at the heart of angry questions such as: "How long are such bureaucrats, plunderers and drunkards going to mock of me and abuse the honest kolkhoz labourer. . .?"21 Managers were described " . . . comfortably installed in their niches . . . who . . . infuriate the workers . . . and unwittingly remind of that rotten factory-owner who made only scandals and drank. . Z'22 Factory hands moved beyond wage dispute when they to threatened to walk out, declaring: " . . . the bosses care only about themselves, they get salaries and receive also bonuses . . . there are health resorts and rest-homes for them but there is nothing for the worker."23 While the tensions between the Party-State and society at large were clearly serious, the circumstances of minor officials were not greatly different from those of the masses. It cannot be hard to imagine the atmosphere there must have been in local Party organisations where sometimes 30% to 50% of the ordinary members had already had various disciplinary measures taken against them for insignificant infractions and where everyone was daily threatened with punishments up to and including expulsion, while high-ranking officials' harassment of their staff was arbitrary, routine and unchecked; and yet there was every probability that they would escape retribution even if their offences clearly violated the criminal law.24 . . People feel [their] power has no bounds. . ." wrote one local member in a bitter complaint against the Party leaders in his district.25 "It is very bad when activists . . . are

70 Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications working out of fear instead of [following the call of] communist conscience" wrote another, adding: "You say one word and you have it hanging over you for years."26 A resolution of the Commission of Party Control in March 1936 shows clearly that some circles at the top apprehended the possible repercussions of this arbitrary use of power. It rigorously con­ demned the disciplinary zeal of local and regional officials, and protested against the immunity that they tended to grant them­ selves.27 This text was quite exceptional in ordering punishment for "Party bureaucrats" who had deprived people of their jobs and handed them over to the law without good cause, after they had been expelled from the Party. In fact, from autumn 1935 onwards there were more and more indications that a special interest was being taken in the activities and the circumstances of members who had been purged. Even if confidential instructions recommended that "socially dangerous" elements among them should be kept under observation, and if necessary arrest, the instructions did stipulate that only those in positions of responsibility should be sacked and that those expelled should not be left unemployed. In ' April 1936 one such official document even required local secretaries to guarantee them work within five days.28 But while Pravda was condemning the routine manner of expulsions which were justified by ridiculous petty details from members' private lives or by slanderous denunciations, Party officials - full of a desire to blazon their "vigilance" - were so zealous in pursuing allegedly "passive" members that the Central Committee had to order in June 1936 a reassessment of the expulsions carried out during the verification and renewal of Party cards.29 Far from being a crusade against "class enemies", "Trotskyists" and "spies" - they had hardly been mentioned since the beginning of the year - the purge that took place in the first few months of 1936 was in fact aimed largely at members who were insufficiently "active", negligent or found to be ill-fitted to their daily work in production, although at the same time it targeted militants who . .disregard the public opinion of the Party, who have lost contact with the masses, become bureaucrats, and make use of their Party card for personal and egotistic aims."30 Against this last group, increasingly stem warnings and legal measures were taken one after another, from late 1935 onwards, with the purpose of discouraging and preventing embezzlement and fraud among officials.31 But there seemed to be nothing that would ensure that the actions of officials,

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


some very highly placed, would meet the requirements of a smoothrunning and controllable state machine, or that the machinery itself was able to alleviate social tensions. Far from it: the vicissitudes and the poor results of the Stakhanovist campaign showed how little regard cadres had for directives on economic efficiency, discipline within their ranks or social peace. At the highest official level there was a need to deplore the fact that the work of the Commission of Party Control had made such little impact, and to speak out against the disobedience of certain local and regional Party officials.32 At the same time timid attempts were made to find other means of control than the administrative or punitive ones. On the one hand there were efforts to activate collective decision-making and controlling bodies at the lower levels of the Party hierarchy.33 One the other hand "the public opinion of the Party" received remarkable encouragement to oppose unpopular leaders. This comes out clearly in the quite uncommon publicity given by the Central Committee press to the apparently ever more frequent cases of grassroots militants trying to get rid of their secretary, or else members trying to prevent the re-election of officials who belonged ex officio to the local leadership.34 Such activities were not without their difficulties and dangers, given that voting was not by secret ballot. If in spite of this, activists dared to risk a confrontation with the local establishment, they probably did so with the feeling that the time had come for an attack on unpopular leaders. Indeed they must have been quite encouraged to read in Pravda criticisms of Party officials which went far beyond anything seen before: "Certain officials understood the significance of the Party as the unique leading force of the Soviet state in their own way: everything is permitted for them - the Party apparatus is everything. Hence [their] don't-give-a-damn attitude towards Soviet law, hence [their] disregard for the decisions of higher bodies."35 It must have been equally reassuring that the official diagnosis of the reasons for the poor performance of the apparatus focussed on the way the administration and the economy were being operated day by day, and not on the "subversive" acts of elements quite outside the normal universe of the system. Seen from this viewpoint, the decree of the Commission of Soviet Control concerning the need to take account of the public's complaints, was of particular significance. The document was not merely concerned with registrating and examining letters of complaint. In fact it accused leading cadres of


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

the administrative and economic apparatus of perpetrating revolt­ ing abuses. Thus they were reproached for imposing heavy punishments on people within their "jurisdiction" in order to enhance their own political reputation, and even of shuffling off responsibility by bringing about the prosecution of subordinates who were acting under their instructions. The decree went on to condemn the practice of refusing to employ people of "suspect" social background or "dubious" past and of having periodic purges against them in order to put on a veneer of irreproachability. Last but not least, the decree proceeded to point out that it was "inadmissible" to resolve ". . .b y disciplinary means matters of an obviously criminal character (embezzlement, abuse of authority, etc.)".36 That is, the Commission of Soviet Control officially rejected the practices used hitherto by officials to ward off the threat of censure. There was an explicit declaration that it was not on their social origins or their past that people should be judged, but on 'i their present actions; that serious charges should be brought not against subordinates who were guilty merely of "dubious extrac­ tion" or a troubled past, but against their superiors if they had in fact committed offences; and even that the time had come, as an editorial in Pravda on the subject emphasised, for ensuring that laws could not be supplanted by ". . . the arbitrary rule of this or that bureaucrat".37 Though the unusually open exposure of the officials' practice of penalising politically vulnerable people and other scapegoats instead of disciplining erring associates was not ascribed to "hostile" intentions, phoney vigilance was sometimes denounced as risking to divert attention from the real "enemies".38 The propa­ ganda did not dwell on the identity and deeds of the latter. But even if nothing seemed to indicate a campaign against "hostile elements", they were by no means forgotten in leading circles. As early as the spring of 1935, the chairman of the Commission of Party Control, N. I. Ezhov, explained in an unpublished manuscript that former oppositionists were bound to become "counter­ revolutionaries", and somewhat later he informed a deputy head of the NKVD that "according to the opinion of the Central Com­ mittee. . ., there is an undisclosed centre of Trotskyists that must be found and liquidated".39 Ezhov played an important role in the clampdown on activists of the former Left Opposition after Kirov's assassination, and even if their leaders were not found guilty of the murder, his manuscript affirmed that they had "terrorist" intentions

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


and "applied themselves to deprive the revolution of its head" through trying to kill Stalin.40 In July 1935, 110 people were accused of preparing an attempt on Stalin's life and handed in camera sentences that ranged from exile and long prison terms to capital punishment,41 but their case received no publicity. As for the Central Committee, its opinion concerning ex-oppositionists was not necessarily as unanimous as Ezhov claimed. 843 alleged deviationists were arrested in Leningrad in the first two months of 1935, and a Politbureau resolution of late January specified that 663 Leningrad "Zinovievists" had to be exiled for three to four years, whereas 325 Party members with oppositionist pasts were merely to be transferred from the city to work in other regions.42 Although a confidential letter of the Central Committee was circulated in early 1935 to warn against the dangers represented by former op­ positionists, their repented leaders continued to hold more or less important posts, including membership in the Central Committee, throughout the "verification" and "exchange" of Party cards.43 Ezhov's instruction in mid-1935 to carry out a "mass operation" against Moscow Trotskyists44 does not seem to have been followed; by immediate effect. So much so, that the renewal of the search for ex-oppositionists had nothing to do with a wholesale purge of Trotskyists in the capital. The action was relaunched after the arrest, in the first days of 1936, of a foreigner in Gorky who was pressed into admitting by the end of January that he had arrived in the USSR on the orders of Trotsky to organise an attempt on Stalin's life.45 The reason of his arrest is impossible to determine on the basis of the available sources which signal, however, that the man had indeed contacted Trotsky in the past: he wanted to become secretary of the exiled politician, who was dissuaded by his collaborators from hiring him because they suspected him of being a Soviet agent.46 In early February, a deputy head of the secret police dispatched an instruction about "underground terrorist formations" among ac­ tivists of the defunct Left Opposition and about the necessity to uncover them, and it seems that this signaled the beginning of the arrest of ex-Trotskyists.47 At the end of March 1936, the Procurator General gave his sanction to a proposal of the head of the NKVD to arrest and imprison exiled Trotskyists as well as people expelled i from the Party as Trotskyists, and to shoot those of them whose "involvement in terror was established", while the police was exhorted to repress "all Trotskyist double-dealers", but it took


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

almost two more months for Stalin to draft a Politbureau resolution to this effect.48 A reason for this lack of haste must have been that not too many ex-oppositionists were believed to represent any danger: 508 of them were arrested by April and 82 persons were alleged to be terrorists by the 19th of June.49 The operations took place in secret, and nothing in the first months of the year signaled that a mass campaign would be designed to "unmask" former Trotskyists. On the contrary: far from mobilising against old oppositionists, the scenario of the period's show trial signaled a search for ways to expose abuse of power among current, non-oppositionist of­ ficeholders. As chiefs of an outpost of the regime in the Far North, the defendants were veritable lords over life and death for the local population and responsible for the murder of two physicians who opposed them and tried to take up the defence of the natives. The officials acted in concert with a small group of local notables and under the protection of the Party secretary who was supposed to stand trial at a later date.50 Everything points to the assumption that the case was intended to create a precedent. Having taken place in a faraway comer of the country, the affair was unknown to the public: there was hardly other reason for its being highlighted in the press than the intention to attract attention to a category of dangerous criminals. In one form or another, some of the main accusations were to surface toward the end of the year in charges leveled against the "enemies of the people". But no drive for oppositionist "enemies" was on the agenda during the spring of 1936, and there was no unanimity in high places about their identity when the dangers they allegedly represented were at last "rediscovered". Nothing shows better how much was at stake in the search for the true begetters of the system's ills, than the fact that it was shortly after this trial and after the publication of the decree of the Commission of Soviet Control, that "subversive activities" of "class enemies" and in particular former Trotskyists were suddenly "rediscovered" by the propaganda, in the wake of the June 1936 Plenary Session of the Central Committee. It seems revealing that the laborious pursuit of this search between late 1935 and June 1936 was a manifest indication of the resistance being put up by certain leading groups, whereas this sudden challenge to it did not bring - about a direct response by those who had been aiming to identify clearly and denounce the faults of the apparatus and the abuses of its officials. They reacted energetically to the steps their opponents

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


took, but they did so on the premises imposed by the "rediscovery" of "enemies" and under cover of the struggle against "Trotskyist subversion". In other words the "centralizers", by accepting the formulation that oppositionists were the real "enemy", agreed to dissimulate the real origins of the problem, allowing themselves - v but also their adversaries - a great deal of room for all manner of manoeuvres and diversions. Leaders, whose position required them to maintain efficient control, were bound to see the disruptive and ultimately destructive side of the routine activities of officialdom as a major political threat. They were likely to see them as "centrifugal" tendencies which must be actively opposed. But at the same time they were linked to these cadres who after all represented them, by a fundamental community of interest which made it difficult to take counter-measures. Since they themselves were office-holders of the apparatus, how could they fail to have a direct interest in its preservation and development? And having grown up in the same school, they must have been aware that their colleagues' arbitrari­ ness, extemporising and deceit were almost inevitable behaviour. Yet how could they accept the idea that in most leading positions there was no other choice for incumbents but to evade control from above and use whatever means came to hand, thereby preventing any coherent and regulated running of the state apparatus and at the same time contributing to aggravate social tensions? To admit this would have meant not only conceding that the system hardly allowed a rational policy able to command the assent of the public, but also that the raison d'être of the entire apparatus and the privileged position of its agents were questionable. Hence the very precise rules defining the conduct of partisans of strict central control. They were against "centrifugal" tendencies, certainly, but they made the clearest possible distinction, in theory at least, between the general run of affairs and the "harmful" and disruptive side of the work done by erring cadres that were presented as faults and failings quite alien to the proper realm of normal behaviour within the system. This line of approach was all the more necessary, since the apparatus and its policies represented the very essence, in official parlance, of the interests of the working masses - in other words society at large who had borne the heavy burden of the collectivisation and industrialisation policies. From a theoretical viewpoint there was no problem in separating the


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

apparatus itself from the "centrifugal" tendencies inherent in it: all that was necessary was to make them a criminal offence, blaming them loudly on the machinations of elements hostile to the prevailing social and political order. The difficulty was that in practice finding and neutralising these carriers of disease risked to create more problems than it solved. Who, if not the official representatives of the public authority and legal power, could be trusted with the task of pursuing those responsible for the defects of the administration? Who, in other words, but the culprits themselves, who were ideally placed to make the task impossible? The very modest outcome of the attempts that had already been made to correct or reform management methods within the administration and the economy had amply demonstrated that, far from imposing uniform rules of conduct on officialdom, the everyday and after all normal operation of governmental mechanisms supposed disobedience, abuses and high-handedness at practically every level and in every branch of the apparatus. At the same time the distrust and discontent prevalent among the masses were a strong argument against mobilising them against the ills of the regime. It was possible to resort to the police. But there again many officials of the administrative and political apparatus had by virtue of their positions quasi-police powers, which put them in a position to protect themselves if need be and to respond with police counter­ measures. Not to mention the fact that the representatives of the "centrifugal" tendencies had support within the central leadership, as became clear at the time when "enemies" were "rediscovered" and the first campaign that followed. However, one should not imagine two clearly delimited camps, facing each other on definite political lines with watchwords laid down once and for all and with leaders who can be easily identified - even at the highest level of the state apparatus. The positions taken are relatively stable and coherent, but not the people holding them though, as one can imagine, certain leading positions of a strictly political character would push their incumbents into siding with the advocates of reinforced central control. About-faces from one camp to the other were frequent, and the standard method of turning one's coat was to adopt the slogans and measures of the opposing camp, and then turn their use to one's own advantage. So, having identified the positions being held, it is extremely difficult to identify the leaders.

Between two "Great Moscow Trials"


This being so, it is understandable that the hostilities that broke out in June 1936 inside the Party-State were in no way a victorious war of extermination, carefully planned and waged by an om­ nipotent strategist, his general staff and their monolithic army. On the contrary, from the early weeks of this great confrontation the operations appeared more like the manoeuvres and counter­ manoeuvres of a civil war, with the outcome far from certain. The relaunched struggle against "hostile" activity, and especially the identification of the "enemy" as former oppositionists, was very possibly the result of a compromise extracted by the defenders of those at fault, or even more likely a tactical failure by their opponents. But it looks very much as if the former managed at first to take advantage of the situation, immediately after the Plenary; Session of June. Three days after the Plenum an editorial in Pravda reminded readers that the renewal of Party cards had revealed the "seifconceit" of certain officeholders and concluded that they had dropped their guard and allowed themselves to be manipulated by "enemies". It recalled the assassination of Kirov and noted that even though the culprits had been punished, leftovers of the former Left Opposition, which was officially held responsible, still survived even inside the Party apparatus.51 In the next few days the newspaper was virtually inundated with articles calling for vigil­ ance against the "subversive" activities of former Trotskyists and reporting alarmist resolutions taken by assemblies of cadres.52 Nothing perhaps characterises better this sudden shift in the situation than the fact that the president of the Commission of Soviet Control himself virtually overruled the decree that his own organisation had just published against abuses of the administra­ tion, stating that the document did not mean an amnesty for "hostile elements" of an "alien" social background.53 Leningrad had once been a stronghold of the Left Opposition, and the minutes of Party meetings that had been held there between 1925 and 1927 were sifted through to see if militants had been making statements which might have shown suspicious tendencies.54 The first victims of the campaign were junior officials who were well-known for having belonged to the ex-opposition in the past or for showing sympathy towards its members who had returned to the fold.55 Even though they were occasionally accused of some abuse or other in their administration, the lesson that the


Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications

newspapers tended to draw from them having been "unmasked" was that all former Trotskyists needed hunting out. In the u circumstances there was little likelihood that a timid editorial warning in the theoretical journal of the Central Committee, saying that only "the enemies" would gain from this mock show of vigilance,56 would be taken terribly seriously by those who knew very well that things had to be pushed to excess in order to prevent the new campaign from continuing the policy that had been attempted in the first few months of the year: the hunt for i malfeasance in the current apparatus. However, the ground did not seem sufficiently prepared for a crusade against "subversive elements". After the relative calm of the months that had led up to the June Plenum, the sudden "discovery" of the "dangers" presented by the scant remains of the defunct opposition must have come like a bolt from the blue. But the strenuous efforts that the promoters of this new "struggle" against "the enemies" felt obliged to make, suggest that they were still facing problems in getting their line accepted. The remarkable speed with which they tried to stage the first of the "Great Moscow Trials" to justify the hunt for the ex-Trotskyists, was certainly dictated by the need to present their opponents with a fait accompli, while the success which the latter achieved - the assumption of control over the trial preparations and the halting of this wave of purges - demonstrated on the other hand their ability to regain the initiative. In fact the circumstances in which the trial was organised, the way the accused were chosen, the type of offences ("they were charged with and the somewhat contradictory lessons that the propaganda machine drew from it - all these indicate clearly that this show trial had become a bone of contention among the divided leadership of the Party-State. Even though the source documents are not able to reveal the names of the heads of the rival groups, they at least allow us to follow the moves and counter