The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

Learn about the workings of the evil communist system and its history in this stunning 500 page book.

The Black Book of 



Stephane Courtois 
Nicolas Werth 
Jean-Louis Panne 
Andrzej Paczkowski 
Karel Bartosek 
Jean-Louis Margolin 

Harvard University Press 
Cambridge, Massachusetts 
London, England 1999 

Translated by Jonathan Murphy 

and Mark Kramer 

Consulting Editor Mark Kramer 

Copyright © 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College 

All rights reserved 

Printed in the United States of America 

First published in France as Le Ixvre rwirdu Communisme: Crimes, terreur, repression 

Cj Editions Robert LafTont, S.A., Paris, 1997 

Library of Congress Cutaloging-tn-Publtcarion Data 

Livre noir du communisme, English 

The black hx>k of communism : crimes, terror, repression / Stephane Courtois ... [et aj.] 
translated by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer; consulting editor, Mark Kramer. 

p. cm. 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 0-674-07608-7 (alk. paper) 

1. Communism — History — 20th century. 2. Political persecution. 
3. Terrorism. I. Courtois, Stephane, 1947- fl. Kramer Mark 

HI. Title. 
HX44.L59 1999 
320.53'2 — dc21 99-29759 


Foreword: The Uses of Atrocity 
Mar I in Malta 

Introduction: The Crimes of Communism 

Stephane Courtois 

Part I A State against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror 
in the Soviet Union 

Nicolas Werth 

1 Paradoxes and Misunderstandings Surrounding the 
October Revolution 

2 The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 

3 The Red Terror 

4 The Dirty War 

5 From Tambov to the Great Famine 






6 From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 

7 Forced Collectivization and Dekulaki/ation 

8 The Great Famine 

9 Socially Foreign Elements and the Cycles of Repression 

10 The Great Terror (1936-1938) 

11 The Empire of the Camps 

12 The Other Side of Victory 

13 Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 

14 The Last Conspiracy 

15 The Exit from Stalinism 

Part II Word Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Stephane Courtois, Jean-Louis Panne, and Remi Kauffer 

16 The Comintern in Action 

Stephane Courtois and Jean- Louts Pa tine 

17 The Shadow of the NKVI) in Spain 

Stephane Courtois and Jean-Louts Panne 

18 Communism and Terrorism 

Retm Kauffer 

Part III The Other Europe: Victim of Communism 

Andrzej Paczkowski and Karel Bartosek 

1 9 Poland, the "Enemy Nation" 

Andrzej Paczkowski 

20 Central and Southeastern Europe 

Karel Bartosek 




2. SO 






Part IV Communism in Asia: Between Reeducation and Massacre 

Jean-Louis Margolin and Pierre Rigoulot 


21 China: A Long March into Night 

Jean- Louts Margolin 

22 Crimes, Terror, and Secrecy in North Korea 

Pierre Rigoulot 

23 Vietnam and Laos: The Impasse of War Communism 

Jean- Louis Margolin 

24 Cambodia: The Country of Disconcerting Crimes 

Jean- Lou is Mar go lin 


Select Bibliography for Asia 

Part V The Third World 

Pascal Fontaine, Yves Santamaria, and Sylvain Boulouque 

25 Communism in Latin America 

Pascal Fontaine 

26 Afrocommunism: Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique 

Yves Santamaria 

27 Communism in Afghanistan 

Sylvain Boulouque 

Conclusion: Why? 

Stephane Courtois 

About the Authors 












Foreword: The Uses of Atrocity 

Martin Malia 

Uommunism has been the great story of the twentieth century. 
Bursting into history from the most unlikely corner of Europe amid the 
trauma of World War I, in the wake of the cataclysm of 1939-1945 it made a 
great leap westward to the middle of Germany and an even greater one east- 
ward to the China Seas. With this feat, the apogee of its fortunes, it had come 
to rule a third of mankind and seemed poised to advance indefinitely. For seven 
decades it haunted world politics, polarizing opinion between those who saw it 
as the socialist end of history and those who considered it history's most total 

One might therefore expect that a priority of modern historians would be 
to explain why Communism's power grew for so long only to collapse like a 
house of cards. Yet surprisingly, more than eighty years after 1917, probing 
examination of the Big Questions raised by the Marxist-Leninist phenomenon 
has hardly begun. Can The Black Book of Communism, recently a sensation in 
France and much of Europe, provide the salutary shock that will make a 

Because a serious historiography was precluded in Soviet Russia by the 
regime's mandatory ideology, scholarly investigation of Communism has until 
recently fallen disproportionately to Westerners. And though these outside 
observers could not entirely escape the ideological magnetic field emanating 



from their subject, in the half-century after World War II they indeed accom- 
plished an impressive amount. 1 Even so, a basic problem remains: the concep- 
tual poverty of the Western empirical effort, 

This poverty flows from the premise that Communism can be understood, 
in an aseptic and value-free mode, as the pure product of social process. 
Accordingly, researchers have endlessly insisted that the October Revolution 
was a workers' revolt and not a Party coup d'etat, when it was obviously the 
latter riding piggyback on the former. Besides, the central issue in Communist 
history is not the Party's ephemeral worker "base"; it is what the intelligentsia 
victors of October later did with their permanent coup d'etat, and so far this 
has scarcely been explored. 

More exactly, the matter has been obscured by two fantasies holding out 
the promise of a better Soviet socialism than the one the Bolsheviks actually 
built. The first is the "Bukharin alternative" to Stalin, a thesis that purports to 
offer a nonviolent, market road to socialism — that is, Marx's integral socialism, 
which necessitates the full suppression of private property, profit, and the 
market. 2 The second fantasy purports to find the impetus behind Stalin's 
"revolution from above" of 1929-1933 in a "cultural revolution" from below 
by Party activists and workers against the "bourgeois" specialists dear to Buk- 
harin, a revolution ultimately leading to massive upward mobility from the 
factory bench. 1 

With such fables now consigned to what Trotsky called "the ash heap of 
history," perhaps a moral, rather than a social, approach to the Communist 
phenomenon can yield a truer understanding — for the much-investigated So- 
viet social process claimed victims on a scale that has never aroused a scholarly- 
curiosity at all proportionate to the magnitude of the disaster. The Black Book 
offers us the first attempt to determine, overall, the actual magnitude of what 
occurred, by systematically detailing Leninism's "crimes, terror, and repres- 
sion" from Russia in 1917 to Afghanistan in 1989. 

This factual approach puts Communism in what is, after all, its basic 
human perspective. For it was in truth a "tragedy of planetary dimensions" (in 
the French publisher's characterization), with a grand total of victims variously 
estimated by contributors to the volume at between 85 million and 1(H) million. 
Either way, the Communist record offers the most colossal case of political 
carnage in history. And when this fact began to sink in with the French public, 
an apparently dry academic work became a publishing sensation, the focus of 
impassioned political and intellectual debate. 

The shocking dimensions of the Communist tragedy, however, are hardlv 
news to any serious student of twentieth-century history, at least when the 
different Leninist regimes are taken individually The real news is that at this 
late date the truth should come as such a shock to the public at large. To be 
sure, each major episode of the tragedy— Stalin's Gulag, Mao Zedong's Great 



Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge — had its 
moment of notoriety. But these horrors soon faded away into "history"; nor 
did anyone trouble to add up the total and set it before the public. The surpris- 
ing size of this total, then, partly explains the shock the volume provoked. 

The full power of the shock, however, was delivered by the unavoidable 
comparison of this sum with that for Nazism, which at an estimated 25 million 
turns out to be distinctly less murderous than Communism. And the volume's 
editor, Stephane Courtois, rather than let the figures speak for themselves, 
spelled out the comparison, thereby making the volume a firebrand. Arguing 
from the fact that some Nuremberg jurisprudence has been incorporated into 
French law (to accommodate such cases as that of Maurice Papon, a former 
minister of Giscard d'Estaing tried in 1997-98 for complicity in deporting Jews 
while a local official of Vichy), Courtois explicitly equated the "class genocide" 
of Communism with the "race genocide" of Nazism, and categorized both as 
"crimes against humanity." What is more, he raised the question of the "com- 
plicity" with Communist crime of the legions of Western apologists for Stalin, 
Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and indeed Pol Pot who, even when they 
"abandoned their idols of yesteryear, did so discreetly and in silence." 

These issues have a special resonance in France. Since the 1930s, the left 
has been able to come to power only as a popular front of Socialists and 
Communists (whether under Leon Blum or Francois Mitterrand), a tandem in 
which the democratic partner was always compromised by its ally's allegiance 
to totalitarian Moscow. Conversely, since 1940 the right has been tainted by 
Vichy's links with Nazism (the subtext of the Papon affair). In such a historical 
context, u knowing the truth about the US.S.R." has never been an academic 

Furthermore, it happens that at the time the volume appeared the Socialist 
prime minister Lionel Jospin stood in need of Communist votes to assemble a 
parliamentary majority Orators of the right, therefore, citing The Black Book, 
rose in the National Assembly to attack his government for harboring allies 
with an unrepented "criminal past." Jospin countered by recalling the Libera- 
tion coalition between Gaullists and Communists (which was fair game), only 
the better to conclude that he was "proud" t0 govern with them too (which was 
a gaffe, for at the Liberation the Gulag was not yet known). Nor was this just 
a hasty choice of words; in the eyes of the left that he leads, the Communists, 
despite their past errors, belong to the camp of democratic progress, whereas 
the right is open to suspicion of softness toward the National Front of the 
"fascist" Jean-Marie Le Pen (after all, the conservatives had once rallied to 
Vichy). The incident ended with the non-Gaullist right walking out of the 
chamber, while the Gaullists remained awkwardly in place. Thereupon the 
debate spread to television and the press. 

Indeed, the debate divides the book's own authors. All are research schol- 



ars associated with the Centre d'Etude d'Histoire et de Sociologie du Commu- 
nisme and its review, Communisme. Founded by the pioneer of academic Com- 
munist studies, the late Annie Kriegel, its mission is to exploit our new access 
to Soviet archives in conjunction with younger Russian historians. Equally to 
the point, these researchers are former Communists or close fellow-travelers; 
and it is over the assessment of their common past that they divide. Thus, once 
The Black Blook raised the foreseeable political storm, Courtois's two key 
collaborators — Nicolas Werth for Russia, and Jean-Louis Margolin for 
China — publicly dissociated themselves from his bolder conclusions. 

So let us begin with the debate, which is hardly specific to France. It breaks out 
wherever the question of the moral equivalence of our century's two totalitari- 
anisms is raised, indeed whenever the very concept of "totalitarianism" is 
invoked. For Nazism's unique status as "absolute evil" is now so entrenched 
that any comparison with it easily appears suspect. 

Of the several reasons for this assessment of Nazism, the most obvious is 
that the Western democracies fought World War II in a kind of global "popular 
front" against "fascism." Moreover, whereas the Nazis occupied most of 
Europe, the Communists during the Cold War menaced only from afar. Thus, 
although the stakes for democracy in the new conflict were as high as in its hot 
predecessor, the stress of waging it was significantly lower; and it ended with 
the last general secretary of the "evil empire," Mikhail Gorbachev, in the 
comradely embrace of the ultimate cold warrior, President Ronald Reagan. 
Communism's fall, therefore, brought with it no Nuremberg trial, and hence 
no de-Communization to solemnly put Leninism beyond the pale of civiliza- 
tion; and of course there still exist Communist regimes in international good 

Another reason for our dual perception is that defeat cut down Nazism in 
the prime of its iniquity, thereby eternally fixing its full horror in the world's 
memory. By contrast, Communism, at the peak of its iniquity, was rewarded 
with an epic victory— and thereby gained a half-century in which to lose its 
dynamism, to half-repent of Stalin, and even, in the case of some unsuccessful 
leaders (such as Czechoslovakia's Alexander Dubcek in 1968), to attempt giving 
the system a "human face." As a result of these contrasting endings of the two 
totalitarianisms all Nazism's secrets were bared fifty years ago, whereas we are 
only beginning to explore Soviet archives, and those of East Asia and Cuba 
remain sealed. 

The effect of this unequal access to information was magnified by more 
subjective considerations. Nazism seemed all the more monstrous to Western- 
ers for having arisen in the heart of civilized Europe, in the homeland of 
Luther, Kant, Goethe, Beethoven, and indeed Marx. Communism, by contrast, 



appeared as less of a historical aberration in the Russian borderland of 
E ur0 p e — almost "Asia" after all — where, despite Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, civi- 
lization had never taken deep root. 

The ultimate distinguishing characteristic of Nazism, of course, is the 
Holocaust, considered as the historically unique crime of seeking the extermi- 
nation of an entire people, a crime for which the term "genocide" was coined 
around the time of Nuremberg. And therewith the Jewish people acquired the 
solemn obligation to keep the memory of its martyrs alive in the conscience of 
the world. Even so, general awareness of the Final Solution was slow to emerge, 
in fact coming only in the 1970s and 1980s — the very years when Communism 
was gradually mellowing. So between these contrasting circumstances, by the 
time of Communism's fall the liberal world had had fifty years to settle into a 
double standard regarding its two late adversaries. 

Accordingly, Hitler and Nazism are now a constant presence in Western 
print and on Western television, whereas Stalin and Communism materialize 
only sporadically. The status of ex-Communist carries with it no stigma, even 
when unaccompanied by any expression of regret; past contact with Nazism, 
however, no matter how marginal or remote, confers an indelible stain. Thus 
Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man have been enduringly compromised and 
the substance of their thought tainted. By contrast, Louis Aragon, for years 
under Stalin the editor of the French Communist Party's literary magazine, in 
1996 was published among the classics of the Pleiade; the press was lyrical in 
praise of his art, while virtually mute about his politics. (The Black Book 
reproduces a 1931 poem to the KGB's predecessor, the GPU) Likewise, the 
Stalinist poet and Nobel laureate, Pablo Neruda, in the same year was senti- 
mentalized, together with his cause, by an acclaimed film, II postino — even 
though in 1939 as a Chilean diplomat in Spain he acted as a de facto agent of 
the Comintern, and in 1953 mourned Stalin with a fulsome ode. And this list 
of unparallel lives could be extended indefinitely. 

Even more skewed is the situation in the East. No Gulag camps have been 
turned into museums to commemorate their inmates; all were bulldozed into 
the ground during Khrushchev's de-Stalinization. The only memorial to 
Stalin's victims is a modest stone brought to Moscow from the Arctic camp of 
Solovki and placed in Lubyanka Square (though well off to the side), where 
the KGB's former headquarters still stands. Nor are there any regular visitors 
to this lonely slab (one must cross a stream of traffic to reach it) and no more 
than an occasional wilted bouquet. By contrast, Lenin's statue still dominates 
most city centers, and his mummy reposes honorably in its Mausoleum. 

Throughout the former Communist world, moreover, virtually none of 
its responsible officials has been put on trial or punished. Indeed, everywhere 
Communist parties, though usually under new names, compete in politics. 



Thus, in Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, onetime member of General 
Jaruzelski's government, in 1996 won the presidency against the symbol of 
resistance to Communism, Lech Wale_sa (admittedly an inept campaigner). 
Gulya Horn, the prime minister of Hungary from 1994 to 1998, was a member 
of the country's last Communist government, and a member of the militia that 
helped suppress the 1956 revolt alongside the Soviet army. In neighboring 
Austria, by contrast, former president Kurt Waldheim was ostracized world- 
wide once his Nazi past was uncovered. Granted, card-carrying Western literati 
and latter-day Eastern apparatchiki never served as executioners for Stalin. 
Even so, does the present silence about their past mean that Communism was 
all that less bad than Nazism? 

The debate around The Black Book can help frame an answer. On the one side, 
commentators in the liberal Le Monde argue that it is illegitimate to speak of a 
single Communist movement from Phnom Penh to Paris. Rather, the rampage 
of the Khmer Rouge is like the ethnic massacres of third-world Rwanda; or the 
"rural" Communism of Asia is radically different from the "urban" Commu- 
nism of Europe; or Asian Communism is really only anticolonial nationalism. 
The subtext of such Eurocentric condescension is that conflating sociologically 
diverse movements is merely a stratagem to obtain a higher body count against 
Communism, and thus against all the left. In answer, commentators in the 
conservative Le Figaro, spurning reductionist sociology as a device to exculpate 
Communism, reply that Marxist-Leninist regimes are cast in the same ideo- 
logical and organizational mold throughout the world. And this pertinent point 
also has its admonitory subtext: that socialists of whatever stripe cannot be 
trusted to resist their ever-present demons on the far left (those popular fronts 
were no accident after all). 

Yet if we let the divided contributors to The Black Book arbitrate the 
dispute, we find no disagreement in this matter: the Leninist matrix indeed 
served for all the once "fraternal" parties. To be sure, the model was applied 
differently in different cultural settings. As Margolin points out, the chief agent 
of represssion in Russia was a specially created political police, the Cheka- 
GPU-NKVD-KGB, while in China it was the People's Liberation Army, and 
in Cambodia it was gun-toting adolescents from the countryside: thus popular 
ideological mobilization went deeper in Asia than in Russia. Still, everywhere 
the aim was to repress "enemies of the people" — "like noxious insects," as 
Lenin said early on, thus inaugurating Commmunism's "animalization" of its 
adversaries. Moreover, the line of inheritance from Stalin, to Mao, to Ho, to 
Kim II Sung, to Pol Pot was quite clear, with each new leader receiving both 
materia] aid and ideological inspiration from his predecessor. And, to come full 
circle, Pol Pot first learned his Marxism in Paris in 1952 (when such philoso- 



phers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty were explaining how 
terror could be the midwife of "humanism"). 4 So if the debate remains on the 
level of the quantitative atrocity, the double standard collapses, and Commu- 
nism appears as the more criminal totalitarianism. 

But if the debate is shifted to qualitative crime, this outcome is easily reversed. 
And here the decisive factor is, again, the Holocaust as the confirmation of 
Nazism's uniquely evil nature. Indeed, this standard has become so universal 
that other persecuted groups, from Armenians to the native peoples of both 
Americas, have appropriated (with varying degrees of plausibility) the term 
"genocide" to characterize their own experience. Not surprisingly, many of 
these implicit comparisons to the Holocaust have been rejected as illegitimate, 
even slanderous. And in fact one overexcited op-ed piece in Le Monde, from a 
respected researcher, denounced Courtois's introduction as antisemitic. 

Yet there are other, less emotionally charged arguments for assigning a 
significant distinctiveness to Nazi terror. The criminal law everywhere distin- 
guishes degrees of murder, according to the motivation, the cruelty of the 
means employed, and so on. Thus, Raymond Aron long ago, and Francois 
Furet recently, though both unequivocal about the evil of Communism, distin- 
guished between extermination practiced to achieve a political objective, no 
matter how perverse, and extermination as an end in itself. 5 And in this per- 
spective, Communism once again comes off as less evil than Nazism. 

This plausible distinction, however, can easily be turned on its head. In 
particular, Eastern European dissidents have argued that mass murder in the 
name of a noble ideal is more perverse than it is in the name of a base one. 6 The 
Nazis, after all, never pretended to be virtuous. The Communists, by contrast, 
trumpeting their humanism, hoodwinked millions around the globe for dec- 
ades, and so got away with murder on the ultimate scale. The Nazis, moreover, 
killed off their victims without ideological ceremony; the Communists, by 
contrast, usually compelled their prey to confess their "guilt" in signed depo- 
sitions therebv acknowledging the Party line's political "correctness." Nazism, 
finally, was a unique case (Mussolini's Facism was not really competitive), and 
it developed no worldwide clientle. By contrast, Communism's universalism 
permitted it to metastasize worldwide. 

A final position, forcefully expressed by Alain Besancon, is that murder is 
murder whatever the ideological motivation; and this is undeniably true for the 
equally dead victims of both Nazism and Communism. 7 Such absolute equiva- 
lence is also expressed in Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism: both 
systems massacred their victims not for what they did (such as resisting the 
regime) but for who they were, whether Jews or kulaks. In this perspective, the 
distinction made by some, that the term petit-bourgeois "kulak" is more elastic 



and hence less lethal than biological "Jew," is invalidated: the social and the 
racial categories are equally psuedoscientific. 

Yet none of these qualitative arguments can be "clinched"— unlike an 
empirically established victim count. And since there can be no consensus 
regarding degrees of political "evil," some researchers would claim that all 
value judgments merely express the ideological preferences of their authors. 

Such "Positivist" social scientists, therefore, have averred that moral questions 
are irrelevant to understanding the past. An example is a recent volume devoted 
to political denunciation in modern Europe. 8 The introduction presents some 
fascinating facts: in 1939 the Gestapo employed 7,500 people in contrast to the 
NKVD's 366,000 (including Gulag personnel); and the Communist Partv 
made denunciation an obligation, whereas the Nazi Party did not. But no 
conclusions are drawn from these contrasts. Instead we are told that under both 
regimes the population was given to denunciation as "an everyday practice," 
and for reasons of self-advancement more than for reasons of ideology. We arc 
told further that denunciation was endemic in prerevolutionary rural Russia, 
and that it flourished under the French Jacobins and the English Puritans, the 
Spanish Inquisition and American McCarthyism. And in fact all the "witch 
crazes" enumerated in the introduction did have some traits in common. 

The rub is, however, that this perspective reduces politics and ideology 
everywhere to anthropology. And with this accomplished, the editors blandly 
assure us that, contrary to Hannah Arendt, the "Nazi/Soviet similarities" arc 
insufficient to make denunciation "a specifically 'totalitarian' phenomenon. " 
What is more, the difference between Nazi/Communist systems and Western 
ones is "not qualitative but quantitative." By implication, therefore, singling 
out Communist and Nazi terror in order to equate them becomes Cold War 
slander — the ideological subtext, as it happens, of twenty-five years of "revi- 
sionist," social-reductionist Sovietology. 

By the same token, this fact-for-fact's-sake approach suggests that there 
is nothing specifically Communist about Communist terror — and, it would 
seem, nothing particularly Nazi about Nazi terror either. So the bloody Soviet 
experiment is banalized in one great gray anthropological blur; and the Soviet 
Union is transmogrified into just another country in just another age, neither 
more nor less evil than any other regime going. But this is obviously nonsense. 
Hence we are back with the problem of moral judgment, which is inseparable 
from any real understanding of the past— indeed, inseparable from being hu- 


In the twentieth century, however, morality is not primarily a matter of eternal 
verities or transcendental imperatives. It is above all a matter of political alle- 
giances. That is, it is a matter of left versus right, roughly defined as the 



priority of compassionate egalitarianism for the one, and as the primacy of 
prudential order for the other. Yet since neither principle can be applied abso- 
lutely without destroying society, the modern world lives in perpetual tension 
between the irresistible pressure for equality and the functional necessity of 

It is this syndrome that gives the permanent qualitative advantage to 
Communism over Nazism in any evaluation of their quantitative atrocities. For 
the Communist project, in origin, claimed commitment to universalistic and 
egalitarian goals, whereas the Nazi project offered only unabashed national 
egoism. Small matter, then, that their practices were comparable; their moral 
auras were antithetical, and it is the latter feature that counts in Western, 
domestic politics. And so we arrive at the fulcrum of the debate: A moral man 
can have "no enemies to the left," a perspective in which undue insistence on 
Communist crime only "plays into the hands of the right" — if, indeed, any 
anticommunism is not simply a mask for antiliberalism. 

In this spirit, Le Monde's editorialist deemed The Black Book inopportune 
because equating Communism with Nazism removed the "last barriers to 
legitimating the extreme right," that is, Le Pen. It is true that Le Pen's party 
and similar hate-mongering, xenophobic movements elsewhere in Europe rep- 
resent an alarming new phenomenon that properly concerns all liberal demo- 
crats. But it in no way follows that Communism's criminal past should be 
ignored or minimized. Such an argument is only a variant, in new historical 
circumstances, of Sartre's celebrated sophism that one should keep silent about 
Soviet camps "pour ne pas descsperer Billancout" (in order not to throw the 
auto workers of Billancout into despair). To which his onetime colleague, 
Albert Camus, long ago replied that the truth is the truth, and denying it mocks 
the causes both of humanity and of morality. 9 

In fact, the persistence of such sophistry is precisely why The Black Book is so 
opportune. What, therefore, do its provocative pages contain? Without preten- 
sion to originality, it presents a balance sheet of our current knowledge of 
Communism's human costs, archivally based where possible and elsewhere 
drawing on the best available secondary evidence, and with due allowance for 
the difficulties of quantification. Yet the very sobriety of this inventory is what 
gives the book its power; and indeed, as we are led from country to country and 
from horror to horror, the cumulative impact is overwhelming. 

At the same time, the book quietly advances a number of important 
analytical points. The first is that Communist regimes did not just commit 
criminal acts (all states do so on occasion); they were criminal enterprises in 
their very essence: on principle, so to speak, they all ruled lawlessly, by violence, 
and without regard for human life. Werth's section on the Soviet Union is thus 



titled U A State against Its People" and takes us methodically through the 
successive cycles of terror, from Great October in 1917 to Stalin's death in 
1953. By way of comparison, he notes that between 1825 and 1917 tsarism 
carried out 6,321 political executions (most of them during the revolution of 
1905-1907), whereas in two months of official "Red Terror" in the fall of 1918 
Bolshevism achieved some 15,000. And so on for a third of a century; for 
example, 6 million deaths during the collectivization famine of 1932-33, 
720,000 executions during the Great Purge, 7 million people entering the Gulag 
(where huge numbers died) in the years 1934-1941, and 2,750,000 still there 
at Stalin's death. True, these aggregates represent different modes of state 
violence, not all of them immediately lethal; but all betoken terror as a routine 
means of government. 

And the less familiar figures in Margolin's chapter on China's u Long 
March into Nightt" are even more staggering: at a minimum, 10 million "direct 
victims"; probably 20 million deaths out of the multitudes that passed through 
China's "hidden Gulag," the laogai; more than 20 million deaths from the 
"political famine" of the Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961, the largest famine 
in history. Finally, in Pol Pot's aping of Mao's Great Leap, around one Cam- 
bodian in seven perished, the highest proportion of the population in any 
Communist country. 

The book's second point is that there never was a benign, initial phase of 
Communism before some mythical "wrong turn" threw it off track. From the 
start Lenin expected, indeed wanted, civil war to crush all "class enemies"; and 
this war, principally against the peasants, continued with only short pauses until 
1953. So much for the fable of "good Lenin/bad Stalin." (And if anyone doubts 
that it is still necessary to make this case, the answer may be found, for example, 
in the maudlin article "Lenin" in the current edition of the Encyclopaedia 
Bntanmca.) Still another point is of a "technical" nature: the use of famine to 
break peasant resistance to regime economic "plans." And ever since Solzhenit- 
syn, such "pharaonic" methods have been contrasted with the technologically 
advanced Nazi gas chamber. 

A more basic point is that Red terror cannot be explained as the prolon- 
gation of prerevolutionary political cultures. Communist repression did not 
originate from above, in traditional autocracies; nor was it simply an intensifica- 
tion of violent folk practices from below — whether the peasant anarchism of 
Russia, or the cyclical millenarian revolts of China, or the exacerbated nation- 
alism of Cambodia, although all these traditions were exploited by the new 
regime. Nor does the source of Communist practices reside in the violence of 
the two world wars, important though this brutal conditioning was. Rather, in 
each case, mass violence against the population was a deliberate policy of the 
new revolutionary order; and its scope and inhumanity far exceeded anything 
in the national past. 



A final point, insisted on by Courtois yet clear also in his colleagues' 
accounts, is that Communism's recourse to "permanent civil war" rested on 
the "scientific" Marxist belief in class struggle as the "violent midwife of 
history," in Marx's famous metaphor. Similarly, Courtois adds, Nazi violence 
was founded on a scientistic social Darwinism promising national regeneration 
through racial struggle. 

This valid emphasis on ideology as the wellspring of Communist mass 
murder reaches its apogee in Margolin's depiction of escalating radicalism as 
the revolution moved East. Stalin, of course, had already begun the escalation 
by presenting himself as the "Lenin of today" and his first Five-Year Plan as 
a second October. Then, in 1953, four years after Mao came to power, his heirs 
ended mass terror: it had simply become too costly to their now superpuissant 
regime. To the Chinese comrades, however, Moscow's moderation amounted 
to "betrayal" of the world revolution just as it was taking off^in Asia. Conse- 
quentlv, in 1959-1961 Mao was goaded to surpass his Soviet mentors by a 
"Great Leap Forward" beyond mere socialism, Moscow style, to full Commu- 
nism as Marx had imagined it in the Communist Manifesto and the Critique of 
the Gotha Program. And in 1966-1976, by directing the anarchy of the Cultural 
Revolution against his own Party, he proceeded to outdo Stalin's Great Purge 
of his Party in 1937-1939. But the most demented spinoff of this whole 
tradition was Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge of 1975-1979; for this rampage against 
urban, "bourgeois" civilization expressed nothing less than an ambition to 
propel tiny Cambodia beyond Mao's "achievements" into the front rank of 
world revolution. 

Yet the long-term inefficiency of such "progress" eventually led Mao's 
heirs, in their turn, to "betray" the Marxist-Leninist impetus by halting mass 
terror and turning halfway to the market. Thereby, after 1979, Deng Xiaoping 
ended worldwide the perverse Prometheanism launched in October 1917. Thus 
the Communist trajectory, as The Black Book traces it from Petrograd to the 
China Seas, inevitably suggests that ideology, not social process, fueled the 
movement's meteoric rise, and that ideology's practical failure produced its 
precipitate fall. 

This transnational perspective goes far toward answering the great ques- 
tion posed by Communist history: namely, why did a doctrine premised on 
proletarian revolution in industrial societies come to power only in predomi- 
nantly agrarian ones, by Marxist definition those least prepared for "socialism"? ^ 
But socialist revolution for Marx was not just a matter of economic develop- 
ment; it was at bottom an eschatological "leap from the kingdom of necessity 
to the kingdom of freedom." Since such quasi-miraculous transformation has 
the strongest allure for those who have the greatest lag to overcome, it is hardly 
surprising that Marxism's line of march turned out to lead ever farther into 
the politically and economically backward East. Only by taking account of this 



paradoxical eastward escalation through increasingly extravagant "leaps" can 
we build a real historiography of the great twentieth-century story that was 

And this brings us back to the vexed — and vexing — question raised by 
Stephane Courtois in The Black Book: What of the moral equivalence of 
Communism with Nazism? After fifty years of debate, it is clear that no matter 
what the hard facts are, degrees of totalitarian evil will be measured as much in 
terms of present politics as in terms of past realities. So we will always encoun- 
ter a double standard as long as there exist a left and a right — which will be a 
very long time indeed. No matter how thoroughly the Communist failure may 
come to be documented (and new research makes it look worse every day), we 
will always have reactions such as that of a Moscow correspondent for a major 
Western paper, who, after the fall, could still privately salute the Russian people 
with: "Thanks for having tried!"; and there will always be kindred spirits to 
dismiss The Black Book, a priori, as "right-wing anti-Communist rhetoric." 
For more mundane observers, however, it is at last becoming clear that our 
current qualitative judgments are scandalously out of line with the century's 
real balance sheet of political crime. 

And this very absurdity perhaps brings us to a turning point. Ten years 
ago, the authors of The Black Book would have refused to believe what they 
now write. And exploration of the Soviet archives — and eventually those of 
East Asia — will continue to redress the balance. This comes at a time, moreover, 
when historical writing is turning increasingly to retrospective affirmative ac- 
tion, to fulfilling our "duty of remembrance" to all the oppressed of the 
past— indeed, when governments and churches formally apologize for their 
historic sins. Surely, then, the Party of humanity can spare a little compassion 
for the victims of the inhumanity so long meted out by so many of its own 

Even so, such an effort at retrospective justice will always encounter one 
intractable obstacle. Any realistic accounting of Communist crime would effec- 
tively shut the door on Utopia; and too many good souls in this unjust world 
cannot abandon hope for an absolute end to inequality (and some less good 
souls will always offer them "rational" curative nostrums). And so, all com- 
rade-questers after historical truth should gird their loins for a very Long 
March indeed before Communism is accorded its fair share of absolute evil. 

The Black Book of Communism 

Introduction: The Crimes of Communism 

Stephane Courtois 

Life cannot withstand death, but memory is gaining in its struggle against 
Tzvetan Todorov, Les abus de la memoire 

It has been written that "history is the science of human misfor- 
tune." 1 Our bloodstained century of violence amply confirms this statement. In 
previous centuries few people and countries were spared from mass violence. 
The major European powers were involved in the African slave trade. The 
French Republic practiced colonization, which despite some good was tar- 
nished by repugnant episodes that persisted until recently. The United States 
remains heavily influenced by a culture of violence deeply rooted in two major 
historical tragedies — the enslavement of black Africans and the extermination 
of Native Americans. 

The fact remains that our century has outdone its predecessors in its 
bloodthirstiness. A quick glance at the past leads to one damning conclusion: 
ours is the century of human catastrophes — two world wars and Nazism, to 
say nothing of more localized tragedies, such as those in Armenia, Biafra, and 
Rwanda, The Ottoman Empire was undoubtedly involved in the genocide of 
the Armenians, and Germany in the genocide of the Jews and Gypsies. Italy 
under Mussolini slaughtered Ethiopians. The Czechs are reluctant to admit 
that their behavior toward the Sudeten Germans in 1945 and 1946 was by no 
means exemplary. Even Switzerland has recently been embroiled in a scandal 
over its role in administering gold stolen by the Nazis from exterminated Jews, 
although the country's behavior is not on the same level as genocide. 


Communism has its place in this historical setting overflowing with trage- 
dies. Indeed, it occupies one of the most violent and most significant places of 
all. Communism, the defining characteristic of the "short twentieth century" 
that began in Sarajevo in 1914 and ended in Moscow in 1991, finds itself at 
center stage in the story. Communism predated fascism and Nazism, outlived 
both, and left its mark on four continents. 

What exactly do we mean by the term "Communism 1 '? We must make a 
distinction between the doctrine of communism and its practice. As a political 
philosophy, communism has existed for centuries, even millennia. Was it not 
Plato who in his Republic introduced the concept of an ideal city, in which 
people would not be corrupted by money and power and in which wisdom, 
reason, and justice would prevail? And consider the scholar and statesman Sir 
Thomas More, chancellor of England in 1530, author of Utopia, and victim of 
the executioner's ax by order of Henry VIII, who also described an ideal society. 
Utopian philosophy may have its place as a technique for evaluating society. It 
draws its sustenance from ideas, the lifeblood of the world's democracies. But 
the Communism that concerns us does not exist in the transcendent sphere of 
ideas. This Communism is altogether real; it has existed at key moments of 
history and in particular countries, brought to life by its famous leaders — 
Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Josif Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, 
and, in France, by Maurice Thorez, Jacques Duclos, and Georges Marchais. 

Regardless of the role that theoretical communist doctrines may have 
played in the practice of real Communism before 1917— and we shall return 
to this later — it was flesh-and-blood Communism that imposed wholesale re- 
pression, culminating in a state-sponsored reign of terror. Is the ideology itself 
blameless? There will always be some nitpickers who maintain that actual 
Communism has nothing in common with theoretical communism. And of 
course it would be absurd to claim that doctrines expounded prior to Jesus 
Christ, during the Renaissance, or even in the nineteenth century were respon- 
sible for the events that took place in the twentieth century. Nonetheless, as 
Ignazio Silone has written, "Revolutions, like trees, are recognized by the fruit 
they bear." It was not without reason that the Russian Social Democrats, better 
known to history as the Bolsheviks, decided in November 1917 to call them- 
selves "Communists," They had a reason for erecting at the Kremlin a monu- 
ment to those whom they considered to be their predecessors, namely Sir 
Thomas More and Tommaso Campanella. 

Having gone beyond individual crimes and small-scale ad-hoc massacres, 
the Communist regimes, in order to consolidate their grip on power, turned 
mass crime into a full-blown system of government. After varying periods, 
ranging from a few years in Eastern Europe to several decades in the U.S.S.R. 
and China, the terror faded, and the regimes settled into a routine of admin- 

The Crimes of Communism 

istering repressive measures on a daily basis, as well as censoring all means of 
communication, controlling borders, and expelling dissidents. However, the 
memory of the terror has continued to preserve the credibility, and thus the 
effectiveness, of the threat of repression. None of the Communist regimes 
currently in vogue in the West is an exception to this rule — not the China of 
the "Great Helmsman, 11 nor the North Korea of Kim II Sung, nor even the 
Vietnam of "good old Uncle Ho 11 or the Cuba of the flamboyant Fidel Castro, 
flanked by the hard-liner Che Guevara. Nor can we forget Ethiopia under 
Mengistu Haile Mariam, Angola under Agostinho Neto, or Afghanistan under 
Mohammed Najibullah. 

Incredibly, the crimes of Communism have yet to receive a fair and just 
assessment from both historical and moral viewpoints. This book is one of the 
first attempts to study Communism with a focus on its criminal dimensions, in 
both the central regions of Communist rule and the farthest reaches of the 
globe. Some will say that most of these crimes were actions conducted in 
accordance with a system of law that was enforced by the regimes' official 
institutions, which were recognized internationally and whose heads of state 
continued to be welcomed with open arms. But was this not the case with 
Nazism as well? The crimes we shall expose are to be judged not by the 
standards of Communist regimes, but by the unwritten code of the natural laws 
of humanity. 

The history of Communist regimes and parties, their policies, and their 
relations with their own national societies and with the international commu- 
nity are of course not purely synonymous with criminal behavior, let alone with 
terror and repression. In the U.S.S.R. and in the "people's democracies" after 
Stalin's death, as well as in China after Mao, terror became less pronounced, 
society began to recover something of its old normalcy, and "peaceful coexis- 
tence"— if only as "the pursuit of the class struggle by other means" — had 
become an international fact of life. Nevertheless, many archives and witnesses 
prove conclusively that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of 
modern Communism. Let us abandon once and for all the idea that the execu- 
tion of hostages by firing squads, the slaughter of rebellious workers, and the 
forced starvation of the peasantry were only short-term "accidents" peculiar 
to a specific country or era. Our approach will encompass all geographic areas 
and focus on crime as a defining characteristic of the Communist system 
throughout its existence. 

Exactly w hat crimes are we going to examine? Communism has committed 
a multitude of crimes not only against individual human beings but also against 
world civilization and national cultures. Stalin demolished dozens of churches 
in Moscow; Nicolae Ceau^escu destroyed the historical heart of Bucharest to 
give free rein to his megalomania; Pol Pot dismantled the Phnom Penh cathe- 


dral stone by stone and allowed the jungle to take over the temples of Angkor 
Wat; and during Mao's Cultural Revolution, priceless treasures were smashed 
or burned by the Red Guards. Yet however terrible this destruction may ulti- 
mately prove for the nations in question and for humanity as a whole, how does 
it compare with the mass murder of human beings — of men, women, and 

Thus we have delimited crimes against civilians as the essence of the 
phenomenon of terror. These crimes tend to fit a recognizable pattern even if 
the practices vary to some extent by regime. The pattern includes execution by 
various means, such as firing squads, hanging, drowning, battering, and, in 
certain cases, gassing, poisoning, or "car accidents"; destruction of the popu- 
lation by starvation, through man-made famine, the withholding of food, or 
both; deportation, through which death can occur in transit (either through 
physical exhaustion or through confinement in an enclosed space), at one's 
place of residence, or through forced labor (exhaustion, illness, hunger, cold). 
Periods described as times of "civil war" are more complex — it is not always 
easy to distinguish between events caused by fighting between rulers and rebels 
and events that can properly be described only as a massacre of the civilian 

Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere. The following rough approxi- 
mation, based on unofficial estimates, gives some sense of the scale and gravity 
of these crimes: 

U.S.S.R.: 20 million deaths 
China: 65 million deaths 
Vietnam: 1 million deaths 
North Korea: 2 million deaths 
Cambodia: 2 million deaths 
Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths 
Latin America: 150,000 deaths 
Africa: 1.7 million deaths 
Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths 

The international Communist movement and Communist parties not in 
power: about 10,000 deaths 

The total approaches 100 million people killed. 

The immense number of deaths conceals some wide disparities according 
to context. Unquestionably, if we approach these figures in terms of relative 
weight, first place goes to Cambodia, where Pol Pot, in three and a half years, 
engaged in the most atrocious slaughter, through torture and widespread fam- 
ine, of about one-fourth of the country's total population. However, China's 

The Crimes of Communism 

experience under Mao is unprecedented in terms of the sheer number of people 
who lost their lives. As for the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, the blood 
turns cold at its venture into planned, logical, and "politically correct" mass 

This bare-bones approach inevitably fails to do justice to the numerous issues 
involved. A thorough investigation requires a "qualitative" study based on a 
meaningful definition of the term "crime." Objective and legal criteria are also 
important. The legal ramifications of crimes committed by a specific country 
were first confronted in 1945 at the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was organized 
by the Allies to consider the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The nature of 
these crimes was defined by Article 6 of the Charter of the International 
Military Tribunal, which identified three major offenses: crimes against peace, 
war crimes, and crimes against humanity. An examination of all the crimes 
committed by the Leninist/Stalinist regime, and in the Communist world as a 
whole, reveals crimes that fit into each of these three categories. 

Crimes against peace, defined by Article 6a, are concerned with the "plan- 
ning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in 
violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation 
in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the forego- 
ing." Unquestionably, Stalin committed such a crime by secretly negotiating 
two treaties with Hitler — those of 23 August and 28 September 1939 on the 
partition of Poland and on the annexation of the Baltic states, northern Buk- 
ovina, and Bessarabia to the U.S.S.R., respectively. By freeing Germany from 
the risk of waging war on two fronts, the treaty of 23 August 1939 led directly 
to the outbreak of World War II. Stalin perpetrated yet another crime against 
peace by attacking Finland on 30 November 1939. The unexpected incursion 
into South Korea by North Korea on 25 June 1950 and the massive intervention 
in that war by the Chinese army are of comparable magnitude. The methods 
of subversion long used by the Moscow-backed Communist parties likewise 
deserve categorization as crimes against peace, since they began wars; thus a 
Communist coup in Afghanistan led to a massive Soviet military intervention 
on 27 December 1979, unleashing a conflict that continues to this day. 

War crimes are defined in Article 6b as "violations of the laws or customs 
of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, the ill-treat- 
ment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor 
camps or for any other purpose, the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of 
war or persons on the seas, the killing of hostages, the plunder of public or 
private property, the wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, and any 
devastation not justified by military necessity." The laws and customs of war 
are written down in various conventions, particularly the Hague Convention of 


1907, which states that in times of war "the inhabitants and the belligerents 
remain under the protection and the rule of the principles of the law of nations, 
as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples, from laws 
of humanity, and the dictates of the public conscience." 

Stalin gave the go-ahead for large numbers of war crimes. The liquidation 
of almost all the Polish officers taken prisoner in 1939, with 4,500 men butch- 
ered at Katyri, is only one such episode, albeit the most spectacular. However, 
other crimes on a much larger scale are habitually overlooked, including the 
murder or death in the gulag of tens of thousands of German soldiers taken 
prisoner from 1943 to 1945. Nor should we forget the rape of countless German 
women by Red Army soldiers in occupied Germany, as well as the systematic 
plundering of all industrial equipment in the countries occupied by the Red 
Army Also covered by Article 6b would be the organized resistance fighters 
who openly waged war against Communist rulers and who were executed by 
firing squads or deported after being taken prisoner — for example, the soldiers 
of the anti-Nazi Polish resistance organizations, members of various Ukrainian 
and Baltic armed partisan organizations, and Afghan resistance fighters. 

The expression "crime against humanity" first appeared on 19 May 1915 
in a joint French, British, and Russian declaration condemning Turkey's mas- 
sacre of the Armenians as a "new crime by Turkey against humanity and 
civilization." The atrocities committed by the Nazis obliged the Nuremberg 
Tribunal to redefine the concept, as stated in Article 6c: "Murder, extermina- 
tion, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any 
civilian population before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, 
or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the 
jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of 
the country where perpetrated." 

In his arguments at Nuremberg the French prosecutor general, Francois 
de Menthon, emphasized the ideological dimension of these crimes: 

I propose today to prove to you that all this organized and vast criminal- 
ity springs from what I may be allowed to call a crime against the spirit, 
I mean a doctrine that, by denying all spiritual, rational, or moral values 
by which nations have tried for thousands of years to improve human 
conditions, aims to plunge humanity back into barbarism, no longer the 
natural and spontaneous barbarism of primitive nations, but into a dia- 
bolical barbarism, conscious of itself and using for its ends all material 
means put at the disposal of humanity by contemporary science. This 
sin against the spirit is the original sin of National Socialism from which 
all crimes spring. 

This monstrous doctrine is that of racism . . . 

Whether we consider a crime against peace or war crimes, we are 

The Crimes of Communism 

therefore not faced by an accidental or an occasional criminality that 
events could explain without justifying it. We are in fact faced by sys- 
tematic criminality, which derives directly and of necessity from a mon- 
strous doctrine put into practice with deliberate intent by the masters of 
Nazi Germany. 

Francois de Menthon also noted that deportations were meant to provide 
additional labor for the German war machine, and the fact that the Nazis sought 
to exterminate their opponents was merely "a natural consequence of the 
National Socialist doctrine for which man has no intrinsic value unless he serves 
the German race." All statements made to the Nuremberg Tribunal stressed 
one of the chief characteristics of crimes against humanity — the fact that the 
power of the state is placed in the service of criminal policies and practice. 
However, the jurisdiction of the Nuremberg Tribunal was limited to crimes 
committed during World War II. Therefore, we must broaden the legal defini- 
tion of war crimes to include situations that extend beyond that war. The new 
French criminal code, adopted on 23 July 1992, defines war crimes in the 
following way: "The deportation, enslavement, or mass-scale and systematic 
practice of summary executions, abduction of persons following their disap- 
pearance, torture, or inhuman acts inspired by political, philosophical racial, or 
religious motives, and organized for the purpose of implementing a concerted 
effort against a civilian population group" (emphasis added). 

All these definitions, especially the recent French definition, are relevant 
to any number of crimes committed by Lenin and above all by Stalin and 
subsequently by the leaders of all Communist countries, with the exception (we 
hope) of Cuba and the Nicaragua of the Sandinistas, Nevertheless, the main 
conclusions are inescapable — Communist regimes have acted "in the name of 
a state practicing a policy of ideological hegemony." Thus in the name of an 
ideological belief system were tens of millions of innocent victims systemati- 
cally butchered, unless of course it is a crime to be middle-class, of noble birth, 
a kulak, a Ukrainian, or even a worker or a member of the Communist Party. 
Active intolerance was high on the Communists' agenda. It was Mikhail Tom- 
sky, the leader of the Soviet trade unions, who in the 13 November 1927 issue 
of Trud (Labor) stated: "We allow other parties to exist. However, the funda- 
mental principle that distinguishes us from the West is as follows: one party 
rules, and all the others are in jail!" 2 

The concept of a crime against humanity is a complex one and is directly 
relevant to the crimes under consideration here. One of the most specific is 
genocide. Following the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis, and in order to 
clarify Article 6c of the Nuremberg Tribunal, crimes against humanity were 
defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment 


of Genocide of 9 December 1948 in the following way: "Genocide means any 
of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a 
national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the 
group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) 
deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about 
its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to 
prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group 
to another group." 

The new French criminal code defines genocide still more broadly: "The 
deed of executing a concerted effort that strives to destroy totally or partially a 
national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or a group that has been determined on 
the basis of any other arbitrary criterion" (emphasis added). This legal definition 
is not inconsistent with the philosophical approach of Andre Frossard, who 
believes that "it is a crime against humanity when someone is put to death 
purely by virtue of his or her birth."- 1 And in his short but magnificent novel 
Forever Flowing, Vasily Grossman says of his hero, Ivan Grigorevich, who has 
returned from the camps, "he had remained exactly what he had been from his 
birth: a human being. 1 ' 4 That, of course, was precisely why he was singled out 
in the first place. The French definition helps remind us that genocide comes 
in many shapes and sizes — it can be racial (as in the case of the Jews), but it 
can also target social groups. In The Red Terror in Russia, published in Berlin 
in 1924, the Russian historian and socialist Sergei Melgunov cited Martin 
Latsis, one of the first leaders of the Cheka (the Soviet political police), as 
giving the following order on 1 November 1918 to his henchmen: "We don't 
make war against any people in particular. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie 
as a class. In your investigations don't look for documents and pieces of evi- 
dence about what the defendant has done, whether in deed or in speaking or 
acting against Soviet authority. The first question you should ask him is what 
class he comes from, what are his roots, his education, his training, and his 
occupation." 5 

Lenin and his comrades initially found themselves embroiled in a merci- 
less "class war," in which political and ideological adversaries, as well as the 
more recalcitrant members of the general public, were branded as enemies and 
marked for destruction. The Bolsheviks had decided to eliminate, by legal and 
physical means, any challenge or resistance, even if passive, to their absolute 
power. This strategy applied not only to groups with opposing political views, 
but also to such social groups as the nobility, the middle class, the intelligentsia, 
and the clergy, as well as professional groups such as military officers and the 
police. Sometimes the Bolsheviks subjected these people to genocide. The 
policy of "de-Cossackization" begun in 1920 corresponds largely to our defini- 
tion of genocide: a population group firmly established in a particular territory, 

The Crimes of Communism 

the Cossacks as such were exterminated, the men shot, the women, children, 
and the elderly deported, and the villages razed or handed over to new, non- 
Cossack occupants. Lenin compared the Cossacks to the Vendee during the 
French Revolution and gladly subjected them to a program of what Gracchus 
Babeuf, the "inventor" of modern Communism, characterized in 1795 as 
"populicide." 6 

The "dekulakization" of 1930-1932 repeated the policy of "de-Cossacki- 
zation" but on a much grander scale. Its primary objective, in accordance with 
the official order issued for this operation (and the regime's propaganda), was 
"to exterminate the kulaks as a class." The kulaks who resisted collectivization 
were shot, and the others were deported with their wives, children, and elderly 
family members. Although not all kulaks were exterminated directly, sentences 
of forced labor in wilderness areas of Siberia or the far north left them with 
scant chance of survival. Several tens of thousands perished there; the exact 
number of victims remains unknown. As for the great famine in Ukraine in 
1932-33, which resulted from the rural population's resistance to forced col- 
lectivization, 6 million died in a period of several months. 

Here, the genocide of a "class" may well be tantamount to the genocide 
of a "race" — the deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result 
of the famine caused by Stalin's regime "is equal to" the starvation of a Jewish 
child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime. 
Such arguments in no way detract from the unique nature of Auschwitz — the 
mobilization of leading-edge technological resources and their use in an "in- 
dustrial process" involving the construction of an "extermination factory," the 
use of gas, and cremation. However, this argument highlights one particular 
feature of many Communist regimes — their systematic use of famine as a 
weapon. The regime aimed to control the total available food supply and, with 
immense ingenuity, to distribute food purely on the basis of "merits" and 
"demerits" earned by individuals. This policy was a recipe for creating famine 
on a massive scale. Remember that in the period after 1918, only Communist 
countries experienced such famines, which led to the deaths of hundreds of 
thousands, and in some cases millions, of people. And again in the 1980s, two 
African countries that claimed to be Marxist-Leninist, Ethiopia and Mozam- 
bique, were the only such countries to suffer these deadly famines. 

A preliminary global accounting of the crimes committed by Communist 
regimes shows the following: 

The execution of tens of thousands of hostages and prisoners without 
trial, and the murder of hundreds of thousands or rebellious workers 
and peasants from 1918 to 1922 
The famine of 1922, which caused the deaths of 5 million people 



■ The extermination and deportation of the Don Cossacks in 1920 

• The murder of tens of thousands in concentration camps from 1918 to 

• The liquidation of almost 690,000 people in the Great Purge of 1937-38 

- The deportation of 2 million kulaks (and so-called kulaks) in 1930-1932 

■ The destruction of 4 million Ukrainians and 2 million others by means 
of an artificial and systematically perpetuated famine in 1932-33 

• The deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles, Ukrainians, Baits, 
Moldovans, and Bessarabians from 1939 to 1941, and again in 1944-45 

■ The deportation of the Volga Germans in 1941 

■ The wholesale deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1943 

• The wholesale deportation of the Chechens in 1944 

- The wholesale deportation of the Ingush in 1944 

■ The deportation and extermination of the urban population in 
Cambodia from 1975 to 1978 

• The stow destruction of the Tibetans by the Chinese since 1950 

No list of the crimes committed in the name of Leninism and Stalinism 
would be complete without mentioning the virtually identical crimes commit- 
ted by the regimes of Mao Zedong, Kim II Sung, and Pol Pot. 

A difficult epistemological question remains: Should the historian employ 
the primarily legal categories of "crime against humanity 11 and "genocide"? Are 
these concepts not unduly time specific — focusing on the condemnation of 
Nazism at Nuremberg — for use in historical research aimed at deriving relevant 
medium-term conclusions? On the other hand, are these concepts not some- 
what tainted with questionable "values' 1 that distort the objectivity of historical 

First and foremost, the history of the twentieth century has shown us that 
the Nazis had no monopoly over the use of mass murder by states and party- 
states. The recent experiences in Bosnia and Rwanda indicate that this practice 
continues as one of the hallmarks of this century. 

Second, although it might not be appropriate to revive historical methods 
of the nineteenth century, whereby historians performed research more for the 
purpose of passing judgment than for understanding the issue in question, the 
immense human tragedies directly caused by certain ideologies and political 
concepts make it impossible to ignore the humanist ideas implicit in our Judeo- 
Christian civilization and democratic traditions — for example, the idea of re- 
spect for human life. A number of renowned historians readily use the 
expression "crime against humanity" to describe Nazi crimes, including Jean- 
Perre Azema in his article "Auschwitz" 7 and Pierre Vidal-Naquet on the trial 
of Paul Touvier. 8 Therefore, it does not seem inappropriate to use such terms 
and concepts to characterize the crimes committed by Communist regimes. 

The Crimes of Communism 


In addition to the question of whether the Communists in power were 
directly responsible for these crimes, there is also the issue of complicity. Article 
7(3.77) of the Canadian criminal code, amended in 1987, states that crimes 
against humanity include infractions of attempting, conspiring, counseling, 
aiding, and providing encouragement for de facto complicity? This accords with 
the definition of crimes against humanity in Article 7(3.76) of the same code: 
"attempting or conspiring to commit, counseling any person to commit, aiding 
or abetting anv person in the commission of, or being an accessory after the fact 
in relation to the act" (emphasis added). Incredibly, from the 1920s to the 1950s, 
when hundreds of thousands of people served in the ranks of the Communist 
International and local sections of the "world party of the revolution," Com- 
munists and fellow-travelers around the world warmly approved Lenin's and 
subsequently Stalin's policies. From the 1950s to the 1970s, hundreds of thou- 
sands of people sang the praises of the "Great Helmsman" of the Chinese 
Revolution and extolled the virtues of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural 
Revolution. Much closer to our time, there was widespread rejoicing when Pol 
Pot came to power. 111 Many will say that they "didn't know." Undoubtedly, of 
course, it was not always easy to learn the facts or to discover the truth, for 
Communist regimes had mastered the art of censorship as their favorite tech- 
nique for concealing their true activities. But quite often this ignorance was 
merely the result of ideologically motivated self-deception. Starting in the 
1940s and 1950s, many facts about these atrocities had become public knowl- 
edge and undeniable. And although many of these apologists have cast aside 
their gods of vesterdav, they have done so quietly and discreetly. What are we 
to make of a profoundly amoral doctrine that seeks to stamp out every last trace 
of eivic-mindedness in men's souls, and damn the consequences? 

In 1968 one of the pioneers in the study of Communist terror, Robert 
Conquest, wrote: "The fact that so many people 'swallowed 1 [the Great Terror! 
hook, line, and sinker was probably one of the reasons that the Terror suc- 
ceeded so well. In particular, the trials would not be so significant had they not 
received the blessing of some 'independent' foreign commentators. These pun- 
dits should be held accountable as accomplices in the bloody politics of the 
purges or at least blamed for the fact that the political assassinations resumed 
when the first show trial, regarding Zinoviev in 1936, was given an ill-deserved 
stamp of approval." 11 If the moral and intellectual complicity of a number of 
non-Communists is judged by this criterion, what can be said of the complicity 
of the Communists 3 Louis Aragon, for one, has publicly expressed regret for 
having appealed in a 1931 poem for the creation of a Communist political police 
in France. 12 

Joseph Berger, a former Comintern official who was "purged" and then 
exiled to the camps, quotes a letter received from a former gulag deportee who 
remained a Partv member even after her return: 



My generation of Communists everywhere accepted the Stalinist form 
of leadership. We acquiesced in the crimes. That is true not only of 
Soviet Communists, but of Communists all over the world. We, espe- 
cially the active and leading members of the Party, carry a stain on our 
consciences individually and collectively. The only way we can erase it is 
to make sure that nothing of the sort ever happens again. How was all 
this possible? Did we all go crazy, or have we now become traitors to 
Communism? The truth is that all of us, including the leaders directly 
under Stalin, saw r these crimes as the opposite of what they were. We 
believed that they were important contributions to the victory of social- 
ism. We thought everything that promoted the power politics of the 
Communist Party in the Soviet Union and in the world was good for 
socialism. We never suspected that conflict between Communist politics 
and Communist ethics was possible. 11 

Berger, however, tries to have it both ways. "On the other hand, I person- 
ally feel that there is a difference between criticizing people for having accepted 
Stalin's policy, which many Communists did not do, and blaming them for not 
having prevented his crimes. To suppose that this could have been done by any 
individual, no matter how important he might have been, is to misunderstand 
Stalin's byzantine tyranny." 14 Thus Berger has found an excuse for having been 
in the US.S.R. and for having been caught up in its infernal machine without 
any means of escape. But what self-deception kept Western European Com- 
munists, who had not been directly arrested by the People's Commissariat of 
Internal Affairs (NKVD, the secret police), blindly babbling away about the 
system and its leader? Why could they not hear the wake-up call at the very 
start? In his remarkable work on the Russian Revolution, The Soviet Tragedy, 
Martin Malia lifts a corner of the curtain when he speaks of "this paradox . . . 
that . . . [it] takes a great ideal to produce a great crime." 15 Annie Kriegel, 
another major student of Communism, insists that there is a cause-and-effect 
relationship between the two faces of Communism, as surely as day follows 

Tzvetan Todorov offered the first response to this paradox: 

A citizen of a Western democracy fondly imagines that totalitarianism 
lies utterly beyond the pale of normal human aspirations. And yet, 
totalitarianism could never have survived so long had it not been able to 
draw so many people into its fold. There is something else — it is a 
formidably efficient machine. Communist ideology offers an idealized 
model for society and exhorts us toward it. The desire to change the 
world in the name of an ideal is, after all, an essential characteristic of 
human identity , . . Furthermore, Communist society strips the individ- 
ual of his responsibilities. It is always "somebody else" who makes the 

The Crimes of Communism 


decisions. Remember, individual responsibility can feel like a crushing 
burden . . . The attraction of a totalitarian system, which has had a 
powerful allure for many, has its roots in a fear of freedom and responsi- 
bility. This explains the popularity of authoritarian regimes (which is 
Frieh I'YomnVs thesis in Escape from Freedom). None of this is new; 
Boethius had the right idea long ago when he spoke of "voluntary 
servitude." 1 " 

The complicity of those who rushed into voluntary servitude has not 
always been as abstract and theoretical as it may seem. Simple acceptance 
and /or dissemination of propaganda designed to conceal the truth is invariably 
a svmptom of active complicity. Although it may not always succeed, as is 
demonstrated by the tragedy in Rwanda, the glare of the spotlight is the only 
effective response to mass crimes that are committed in secret and kept hidden 
from prying eyes. 

An analysis of terror and dictatorship — the defining characteristics of Com- 
munists in power is no easy task. Jean KUenstein has defined Stalinism as a 
combination of Greek tragedy and Oriental despotism. This definition is ap- 
pealing, but it fails to account for the sheer modernity of the Communist 
experience, its totalitarian impact distinct from previously existing forms of 
dictatorship. A comparative synopsis may help to put it in context. 

First, we should consider the possibility that responsibility for the crimes 
of Communism can be traced to a Russian penchant for oppression. However, 
the tsarist regime of terror against which the Bolsheviks fought pales in com- 
parison with the horrors committed by the Bolsheviks when they took power. 
The tsar allowed political prisoners to face a meaningful justice system. The 
counsel for the defendant could represent his client up to the time of indict- 
ment and even beyond, and he could also appeal to national and international 
public opinion, an option unavailable under Communist regimes. Prisoners and 
convicts benefited from a set of rules governing the prisons, and the system of 
imprisonment and deportation was relatively lenient. Those who were deported 
could take their families, read and write as they pleased, go hunting and fishing, 
and talk about their "misfortune" with their companions. Lenin and Stalin had 
firsthand experience of this. Kven the events described by Fyodor Dostoevsky 
in Memoirs from (he House of the Dead, which had such a great impact when it 
was published, seem tame by comparison with the horrors of Communism. 
True, riots and insurrections were brutally crushed by the ancien regime. How- 
ever, from 1 825 to 1917 the total number of people sentenced to death in Russia 
for their political beliefs or activities was 6,360, of whom only 3,932 were 
executed. This number can be subdivided chronologically into 19 1 for the years 
1825-1905 and 3,741 for 1906-1910. These figures were surpassed by the 



Bolsheviks in March 1 9 18, after they had been in power for only four months. 
It follows that tsarist repression was not in the same league as Communist 

From the 1920s to the 1940s, Communism set a standard for terror to 
which fascist regimes could aspire. A glance at the figures for these regimes 
shows that a comparison may not be as straightforward as it would first appear. 
Italian Fascism, the first regime of its kind and the first that openly claimed to 
be "totalitarian," undoubtedly imprisoned and regularly mistreated its political 
opponents. Although incarceration seldom led to death, during the 1930s Irak 
had a few hundred political prisoners and several hundred lon/ituiti, placed 
under house arrest on the country's coastal islands. In addition, of course, there 
were tens of thousands of political exiles. 

Before World War II, Na/i terror targeted several groups. Opponents of 
the Na/i regime, consisting mostly of Communists, Socialists, anarchists, and 
trade union activists, were incarcerated in prisons and invariably interned in 
concentration camps, where they were subjected to extreme brutalitv. All told, 
from 1933 to 1939 about 20,000 left-wing militants were killed after trial or 
without trial in the camps and prisons, These figures do not include the 
slaughter of other Nazis to settle old scores, as in "The Night of the Long 
Knives" in June 1934. Another category of victims doomed to die were Ger- 
mans who did not meet the proper racial criteria of "tall blond Aryans/ 1 such 
as those who were old or mentally or physically defective. As a result of the 
war, Hitler forged ahead with a euthanasia program — 70,000 Germans were 
gassed between the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1941, when churches 
began to demand that this program be stopped. The gassing methods devised 
for this euthanasia program were applied to the third group of victims, the 

Before World War II, crackdowns against the Jews were widespread; per- 
secution reached its peak during Kristullnacht, with several hundred deaths and 
35,000 rounded up for internment in concentration camps. These figures apply 
only to the period before the invasion of the Soviet Union. Thereafter the full 
terror of the Nazis was unleashed, producing the following body count- 15 
million civilians killed in occupied countries, 6 million Jews, 3.3 million Soviet 
prisoners of war, 1.1 million deportees who died in the camps, and several 
hundred thousand Gypsies. We should add another 8 million who succumbed 
to the ravages of forced labor and 1.6 million surviving inmates of the concen- 
tration camps. 

The Nazi terror captures the imagination for three reasons. First, it 
touched the lives of Europeans so closely. Second, because the Nazis were 
vanquished and their leaders prosecuted at Nuremberg, their crimes have been 
officially exposed and categorized as crimes. And finally, the revelation of the 

The Crimes of Communism 


genocide carried out against the Jews outraged the conscience of humanity by 
its irrationality, racism, and unprecedented bloodthirstiness. 

Our purpose here is not to devise some kind of macabre comparative 
system for crunching numbers, some kind of grand total that doubles the 
horror, some kind of hierarchy of cruelty. But the intransigent facts demon- 
strate that Communist regimes have victimized approximately 100 million 
people in contrast to the approximately 25 million victims of the Nazis. This 
clear record should provide at least some basis for assessing the similarity 
between the Nazi regime, which since 1945 has been considered the most 
viciously criminal regime of this century, and the Communist system, which 
as late as 1991 had preserved its international legitimacy unimpaired and which, 
even today, is still in power in certain countries and continues to protect its 
supporters the world over. And even though many Communist parties have 
belatedly acknowledged Stalinism's crimes, most have not abandoned Lxnin's 
principles and scarcely question their own involvement in acts ot terrorism. 

The methods implemented by Lenin and perfected by Stalin and their 
henchmen bring to mind the methods used by the Nazis, but most often this 
is because the latter adopted the techniques developed by the former. Rudolf 
Hess, charged with organizing the camp at Auschwitz and later appointed its 
commandant, is a perfect example: "The Reich Security I lead Office issued to 
the commandants a full collection of reports concerning the Russian concen- 
tration camps. These described in great detail the conditions in, and organiza- 
tion of, the Russian camps, as supplied by former prisoners who had managed 
to escape. Great emphasis was placed on the fact that the Russians, by their 
massive employment of forced labor, had destroyed whole peoples." 1 ' However, 
the fact that the techniques of mass violence and the intensity of their use 
originated with the Communists and that the Nazis were inspired by them does 
not imply, in our view, that one can postulate a cause-and-effect relationship 
between the Bolshevik revolution and the rise of Nazism. 

From the end of the 1920s, the State Political Directorate (GPU, the new 
name for the Chcka) introduced a quota method— each region and district had 
to arrest, deport, or shoot a certain percentage of people who were members 
of several "enemy" social classes. These quotas were centrally defined under 
the supervision of the Party. The mania for planning and maintaining statistics 
was not confined to the economy: it was also an important weapon in the arsenal 
of terror. 1'Yom 1920 on, with the victory of the Red Army over the White 
Army in the Crimea, statistical and sociological methods made an appearance, 
with victims selected according to precise criteria on the basis of a compulsory 
questionnaire. The same "sociological" methods were used by the Soviet Union 
to organize mass deportations and liquidations in the Baltic states and occupied 
Poland in 1939-1941. As with the Nazis, the transportation of deportees in 



cattle cars ushered in "aberrations." In ] 943 and 1944, in the middle of the 
war, Stalin diverted thousands of trucks and hundreds of thousands of soldiers 
serving in the special NKVD troops from the front on a short-term basis in 
order to deport, the various peoples living in the Caucasus. This genocidal 
impulse, which aims at "the total or partial destruction of a national, ethnic, 
racial, or religious group, or a group that has been determined on the basis of 
any other arbitrary criterion," was applied by Communist rulers against groups 
branded as enemies and to entire segments of society, and was pursued to its 
maximum by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. 

Efforts to draw parallels between Nazism and Communism on the basis 
of their respective extermination tactics may give offense to some people. 
However, we should recall how in Forever Flowing Vasily Grossman, whose 
mother was killed by the Nazis in the Berdychiv ghetto, who authored the first 
work on Treblinka, and who was one of the editors of the Black Booh on the 
extermination of Soviet Jews, has one of his characters describe the famine in 
Ukraine: "writers kept writing . . . Stalin himself, too: the kulaks are parasites; 
they are burning grain; they are killing children. And it was openly proclaimed 
'that the rage and wrath of the masses must be inflamed against them, they 
must be destroyed as a class, because they arc accursed." 1 He adds: "To mas- 
sacre them, it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings, just 
as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings. Thus did Lenin 
and Stalin say: kulaks are not human beings." In conclusion, Grossman says of 
the children of the kulaks: "That is exactly how the Nazis put the Jewish 
children into the Nazi gas chambers: 'You are not allowed to live vou are all 
Jews!'" 1 " 

Time and again the focus of the terror was less on targeted individuals 
than on groups of people. The purpose of the terror was to exterminate a group 
that had been designated as the enemy. Even though it might be only a small 
fraction of society, it had to be stamped out to satisfy this genocidal impulse. 
Thus, the techniques of segregation and exclusion employed in a "class-based 
totalitarianism" closely resemble the techniques of "race-based totalitarian- 
ism." The future Nazi society was to be built upon a "pure race," and the future 
Communist society was to be built upon a proletarian people purified of the 
dregs of the bourgeoisie. The restructuring of these two societies was envi- 
sioned in the same way, even if the crackdowns were different. Therefore, it 
would be foolish to pretend that Communism is a form of universalism. Com- 
munism may have a worldwide purpose, but like Nazism it deems a part of 
humanity unworthy of existence. The difference is that the Communist model 
is based on the class system, the Nazi model on race and territory Thus the 
transgressions of Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, and the Khmer Rouge pose a 
fresh challenge for humanity, and particularly for legal scholars and historians: 

The Crimes of Communism 


specifically, how do we describe a crime designed to exterminate not merely 
individuals or opposing groups but entire segments of society on a massive 
scale for their political and ideological beliefs? A whole new language is needed 
for this. Some authors in the English-speaking countries use the term "politi- 
cide." Or is the term "Communist crimes," suggested by Czech legal scholars, 

How arc we to assess Communism's crimes? What lessons are we to learn from 
them? Why has it been necessary to wait until the end of the twentieth century 
for this subject to show up on the academic radar screen? It is undoubtedly the 
case that the study of Stalinist and Communist terror, when compared to the 
study of Nazi crimes, has a great deal of catching-up to do (although such 
research is gaining popularity in Eastern Europe). 

One cannot help noticing the strong contrast between the study of Nazi 
and Communist crimes. The victors of 1945 legitimately made Nazi crimes — 
and especially the genocide of the Jews — the central focus of their condemna- 
tion of Nazism. A number of researchers around the world have been working 
on these issues for decades. Thousands of books and dozens of films — most 
notably Night arid Fog, Shoah, Sophie's Choice, and Schmdlers List— have been 
devoted to the subject. Raul Hilberg, to name but one example, has centered 
his major work upon a detailed description of the methods used to put Jews to 
death in the Third Reich. lv 

Yet scholars have neglected the crimes committed by the Communists. 
While names such as Himmler and Eichmann are recognized around the world 
as bywords for twentieth-century barbarism, the names of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, 
Genrikh Yagoda, and Nikolai Ezhov languish in obscurity. As for Lenin, Mao, 
Ho Chi Minn, and even Stalin, they have always enjoyed a surprising reverence. 
A French government agency, the National Lottery, was crazy enough to use 
Stalin and Mao in one of its advertising campaigns. Would anyone even dare 
to come up with the idea of featuring Hitler or Goebbels in commercials? 

The extraordinary attention paid to Hitler's crimes is entirely justified. It 
respects the wishes of the surviving witnesses, it satisfies the needs of re- 
searchers trying to understand these events, and it reflects the desire of moral 
and political authorities to strengthen democratic values. But the revelations 
concerning Communist crimes cause barely a stir. Why is there such an awk- 
ward silence from politicians? Why such a deafening silence from the academic 
world regarding the Communist catastrophe, which touched the lives of about 
one-third of humanity on four continents during a period spanning eighty 
years? Why is there such widespread reluctance to make such a crucial factor 
as crime — mass crime, systematic crime, and crime against humanity — a cen- 
tral factor in the analysis of Communism? Is this really something that is 



beyond human understanding? Or are we talking: about a refusal to scrutinize 
the subject too closely for fear of learning the truth about it? 

The reasons for this reticence are many and various. P'irst, there is the 
dictators' understandable urge to erase their crimes and to justify the actions 
they cannot hide. Khrushchev's "Secret Speech 11 of 1956 was the first admis- 
sion of Communist atrocities by a Communist leader. It was also the statement 
of a tyrant seeking to gloss over the crimes he himself committed when he 
headed the Ukrainian Communist Party at the height of the terror, crimes that 
he cleverly attributed to Stalin by claiming that he and his henchmen were 
merely obeying orders. To cover up the vast majority of Communist offenses, 
Khrushchev spoke only of victims who were Communists, although thev were 
far fewer in number than the other kind. He defined these crimes with a 
euphemism, describing them in his conclusion as "abuses committed under 
Stalin" in order to justify the continuity of the system that retained the same 
principles, the same structure, and the same people. 

In his inimitable fashion Khrushchev described the opposition he faced 
while preparing his "Secret Speech; 1 especially from one of Stalin's confidants: 
"[Lazar] Kaganovich was such a yes-man that he would have cut his own 
father's throat if Stalin had winked and said it was in the interests of the 
cause — the Stalinist cause, that is . . . He was arguing against me out of a selfish 
fear for his own hide. He was motivated entirely by his eagerness to escape am 
responsibility for what had happened. If crimes had been committed, Ka- 
ganovich wanted to make sure his own tracks were covered." 20 The absolute 
denial of access to archives in Communist countries, the total control of the 
print and other media as well as of border crossings, the propaganda trumpet- 
ing the regime's "successes; 1 and the entire apparatus for keeping information 
under lock and key were designed primarily to ensure that the awful truth 
would never see the light of day. 

Not satisfied with the concealment of their misdeeds, the tyrants system- 
atically attacked all who dared to expose their crimes. After World War 11 this 
became starkly clear on two occasions in France. From January to April 1949, 
the "trial" of Viktor Kravchenko — a former senior official who wrote / Chose 
Freedom, in which he described Stalin's dictatorship—was conducted in Pans 
in the pages of the Communist magazine Les letlres francaiscs, which was 
managed by Louis Aragon and which heaped abuse on Kravchenko. From 
November 1950 to January 1951, again in Paris, Les letlres franchises held 
another "trial" — of David Rousset, an intellectual and former Trotskvite who 
was deported to Germany by the Nazis and who in 1946 received the Renaudot 
Prize for his book The World of Concentration Camps. On 12 November 1949 
Rousset urged all former Nazi camp deportees to form a commission of inquiry 
into the Soviet camp system and was savagely attacked by the Communist press, 

The Crimes of Communism 


which denied the existence of such camps. Following Rousset's call, Margaret 
Buber-Neumann recounted her experience of being twice deported to concen- 
tration camps — once to a Nazi camp and once to a Soviet camp— in an article 
published on 25 February 1950 in Figaro iitteratre, u An Inquiry on Soviet 
Camps: Who Is Worse, Satan or Beelzebub?" 

Despite these efforts to enlighten humankind, the tyrants continued to 
wheel out heavy artillery to silence all those who stood in their way anywhere 
in the world. The Communist assassins set out to incapacitate, discredit, and 
intimidate their adversaries. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Bukovsky, Al- 
eksandr Zinoviev, and Feomd Plyushch were expelled from their own country; 
Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky; General Pctro Hryhorenko was thrown 
into a psychiatric hospital; and Georgi Markov was assassinated with an um- 
brella that fired pellets rilled with poison. 

In the face of such incessant intimidation and cover-ups, the victims grew 
reluctant to speak out and were effectively prevented from reentering main- 
stream society, where their accusers and executioners were ever-present. Vasily 
Grossman eloquently describes their despair. 21 In contrast to the Jewish Holo- 
caust, which the international Jewish community has actively commemorated, 
it has been impossible for victims of Communism and their legal advocates to 
keep the memory of the tragedy alive, and any requests for commemoration or 
demands for reparation are brushed aside. 

When the tyrants could no longer hide the truth—the firing squads, the 
concentration camps, the man-made famine— they did their best to justify these 
atrocities by glossing them over. After admitting the use of terror, they justified 
it as a necessary aspect of revolution through the use of such catchphrases as 
"When you cut down a forest, the shavings get blown away" or "You can't make 
an omelet without breaking eggs." Vladimir Bukovsky retorted that he had seen 
the broken eggs, but no one he knew had ever tasted the omelet! Perhaps the 
single greatest evil was the perversion of language. As if by magic, the concen- 
tration-Lamp system was turned into a "reeducation system," and the tyrants 
became "educators" who transformed the people of the old society into u new 
people. 11 The zeks, a term used for Soviet concentration camp prisoners, were 
forcibly "invited" to place their trust in a system that enslaved them. In China 
the concentration-camp prisoner is called a "student, 11 and he is required to 
studv the correct thoughts of the Party and to reform his own faulty thinking. 
As is usually the case, a lie is not, strictly speaking, the opposite of the 
truth, and a lie will generally contain an element of truth. Perverted words are 
situated in a twisted vision that distorts the landscape; one is confronted with 
a mvopic social and political philosophy. Attitudes twisted by Communist 
propaganda are easy to correct, but it is monumentally difficult to instruct false 
prophets in the ways of intellectual tolerance. The first impression is always 



the one that lingers. Like martial artists, the Communists, thanks to their 
incomparable propaganda strength grounded in the subversion of language, 
successfully turned the tables on the criticisms leveled against their terrorist 
tactics, continually uniting the ranks of their militants and sympathizers by 
renewing the Communist act of faith. Thus they held fast to their fundamental 
principle of ideological belief, as formulated by Tertullian for his own era: "I 
believe, because it is absurd." 

Like common prostitutes, intellectuals found themselves inveigled into 
counterpropaganda operations. In 1928 Maksim Gorky accepted an invitation 
to go on an "excursion" to the Solovetski Islands, an experimental concentra- 
tion camp that would '"metastasize" (to use Solzhenitsyn's word) into the Gulag 
system. On his return Gorky wrote a book extolling the glories of the Solovetski 
camps and the Soviet government. A French writer, Henri Barbusse, recipient 
of the 1916 Prix Goncourt, did not hesitate to praise Stalin's regime for a fee. 
His 1928 book on "marvelous Georgia" made no mention of the massacre 
carried out there in 1921 by Stalin and his henchman Sergo Ordzhonikidze. It 
also ignored Lavrenti Beria, head of the NKVD, who was noteworthy for his 
Machiavellian sensibility and his sadism. In 1935 Barbusse brought out the first 
official biography of Stalin. More recently Maria Antonietta Macciochi spoke 
gushingly about Mao Zedong, and Alain Peyrefitte echoed the same sentiments 
to a lesser degree, while Danielle Mitterrand chimed in to praise the deeds of 
Fidel Castro. Cupidity, spinelessness, vanity, fascination with power, violence, 
and revolutionary fervor — whatever the motivation, totalitarian dictatorships 
have always found plenty of diehard supporters when they had need of them, 
and the same is true of Communist as of other dictatorships. 

Confronted with this onslaught of Communist propaganda, the West has 
long labored under an extraordinary self-deception, simultaneously fueled bv 
naivete in the face of a particularly devious system, by the fear of Soviet power, 
and by the cynicism of politicians. There was self-deception at the meeting in 
Yalta, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ceded F.astern Europe to 
Stalin in return for a solemn undertaking that the latter would hold free 
elections at the earliest opportunity. Realism and resignation had a rendezvous 
with destiny in Moscow in December 1944, when General Charles de Gaulle 
abandoned hapless Poland to the devil in return for guarantees of social and 
political peace, duly assured by Maurice Thorez on his return to Paris. 

This self-deception was a source of comfort and was given quasi-legiti- 
macy by the widespread belief among Communists (and many leftists) in the 
West that while these countries were "building socialism," the Communist 
"Utopia," a breeding ground for social and political conflicts, would remain 
safely distant. Simone Weil epitomized this pro-Communist trendiness when 
she said, "revolutionary workers are only too thankful to have a state backing 

The Crimes of Communism 


them a state that gives an official character, legitimacy, and reality to their 

actions as only a state can, and that at the same time is sufficiently far away 
from them geographically to avoid seeming oppressive." 22 Communism was 
supposedly showing its true colors — it claimed to be an emissary of the En- 
lightenment, of a tradition of social and human emancipation, of a dream of 
u true equality," and of "happiness for all" as envisioned by Gracchus Babeuf. 
And paradoxically, it was this image of "enlightenment" that helped keep the 
true nature of its evil almost entirely concealed. 

Whether intentional or not, when dealing with this ignorance of the 
criminal dimension of Communism, our contemporaries' indifference to their 
fellow humans can never be forgotten. It is not that these individuals are 
coldhearted. On the contrary, in certain situations they can draw on vast un- 
tapped reserves of brotherhood, friendship, affection, even love. However, as 
T/.vetan Todorov has pointed out, "remembrance of our own woes prevents us 
from perceiving the suffering of others." 21 And at the end of both world wars, 
no European or Asian nation was spared the endless grief and sorrow of licking 
its own wounds. France s own hesitancy to confront the history of the dark 
years of the Occupation is a compelling illustration in and of itself The history, 
or rather nonhistory, of the Occupation continues to overshadow the French 
conscience. We encounter the same pattern, albeit to a lesser degree, with the 
history of the "Nazi" period in Germany, the "Fascist" period in Italy, the 
"Franco" era in Spain, the civil war in Greece, and so on. In this century of 
blood and iron, everyone has been too preoccupied with his own misfortunes 
to worry much about the misfortunes of others. 

However, there are three more specific reasons for the cover-up of the 
criminal aspects of Communism. The first is the fascination with the whole 
notion of revolution itself. In today's world, breast-beating over the idea of 
"revolution," as dreamed about in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is 
far from over. The icons of revolution— the red flag, the International, and the 
raised fist— rccmcrgc with each social movement and on a grand scale. Che 
Guevara is back in fashion. Openly revolutionary groups are active and enjoy 
everv legal right to state their views, hurling abuse on even the mildest criti- 
cisms of crimes committed by their predecessors and only too eager to spout 
the eternal verities regarding the "achievements" of Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao. 
This revolutionary fervor is not embraced solely by revolutionaries. Many 
contributors to this book themselves used to believe in Communist propaganda. 
The second reason is the participation of the Soviet Union in the victory 
over Nazism, which allowed the Communists to use fervent patriotism as a 
mask to conceal their latest plans to take power into their own hands. From 
June 1941, Communists in all occupied countries commenced an active and 
frequently armed resistance against Nazi or Italian occupation forces. Like 



resistance fighters everywhere, they paid the price for their efforts, with thou- 
sands being executed by firing squad, slaughtered, or deported. And they 
"played the martyr 11 in order to sanctify the Communist cause and to silence 
all criticism of it. Jn addition to this, during the Resistance many non- 
Communists became comrades-in-arms, forged bonds of solidarity, and shed 
their blood alongside their Communist fellows. As a result of this past these 
non-Communists may have been willing to turn a blind eye to certain things. 
In France, the Gaul list attitude was often influenced by this shared memory 
and was a factor behind the politics of General dc Gaulle, who tried to play off 
the Soviet Union against the Americans. 24 

The Communists 1 participation in the war and in the victory over Nazism 
institutionalized the whole notion of antifascism as an article of faith for the 
left. The Communists, of course, portrayed themselves as the best repre- 
sentatives and defenders of this antifascism. For Communism, antifascism 
became a brilliantly effective label that could be used to silence one's opponents 
quickly. Francois Furet wrote some superb articles on the subject. The defeated 
Nazism was labeled the "Supreme Evil" by the Allies, and Communism thus 
automatically wound up on the side of Good. This was made crvstal clear 
during the Nuremberg trials, where Soviet jurists were among the prosecutors. 
Thus a veil was drawn over embarrassing antidemocratic episodes, such as the 
German-Soviet pact of 1939 and the massacre at Katyn. Victory over the Nazis 
was supposed to demonstrate the superiority of the Communist system. In the 
Furope liberated by the British and the Americans (which was spared the 
sufferings of occupation) this was done for propaganda purposes to arouse a 
keen sense of gratitude to the Red Army and a sense of guilt for the sacrifices 
made by the peoples of the US.S.R. The Communists did not hesitate to play 
upon the sentiments of Europeans in spreading the Communist message. 

By the same token, the ways in which Eastern Europe was "liberated 11 bv 
the Red Army remain largely unknown in the West, where historians assimilate 
two very different kinds of "liberation, 11 one leading to the restoration of 
democracies, the other paving the way for the advent of dictatorships. In 
Central and Eastern Furope, the Soviet system succeeded the Thousand Year 
Reich, and Witold Gombrowicz neatly captured the tragedy facing these peo- 
ples: "The end of the war did not bring liberation to the Poles. In the battle- 
grounds of Central Europe, it simply meant swapping one form of evil for 
another, Hitler's henchmen for Stalin's. While sycophants cheered and rejoiced 
at the 'emancipation of the Polish people from the feudal yoke,' the same lit 
cigarette was simply passed from hand to hand in Poland and continued to burn 
the skin of people." 25 Therein lay the fault line between two European folk 
memories. However, a number of publications have lifted the curtain to show 

The Crimes of Communism 


how the US.S.R. "liberated" the Poles, Germans, Czechs, and Slovaks from 

Nazism. 26 

The final reason for the gentle treatment of Communism is subtler and a 
little trickier to explain. After 1945 the Jewish genocide became a byword for 
modern barbarism, the epitome of twentieth-century mass terror. After initially 
disputing the unique nature of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis, the 
Communists soon grasped the benefits involved in immortalizing the Holocaust 
as a way of rekindling antifascism on a more systematic basis. The specter of 
u thc filthy beast whose stomach is fertile again 11 — to use Bertolt Brecht's fa- 
mous phrase— was invoked incessantly and constantly. More recently, a single- 
minded focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the 
Holocaust as a unique atrocity has also prevented an assessment of other 
episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world. After all, it seems 
scarcelv plausible that the victors who had helped bring about the destruction 
of a genocidal apparatus might themselves have put the very same methods into 
practice. When faced with this paradox, people generally preferred to bury their 
heads in the sand. 

The first turning point in the official recognition of Communist crimes came 
on the evening of 24 February 1956, when First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev 
took the podium at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the 
Soviet Union, the CPSU The proceedings were conducted behind closed 
doors; only delegates to the Congress were present. In absolute silence, 
stunned by what they were hearing, the delegates listened as the first secretary 
of the Party systematically dismantled the image of the "little father of the 
peoples," of the "genius Stalin," who for thirty years had been the hero of 
world Communism. This report, immortalized as Khrushchev's "Secret 
Speech," was one of the watersheds in the life of contemporary Communism. 
For the first time, a high-ranking Communist leader had officially acknowl- 
edged, albeit only as a tactical concession, that the regime that assumed power 
in 1917 had undergone a criminal "deviation." 

Khrushchev's motivations for breaking one of the great taboos of the 
Soviet regime were numerous. Khrushchev's primary aim was to attribute the 
crimes of Communism only to Stalin, thus circumscribing the evil, and to 
eradicate it once and for all in an effort to salvage the Communist regime. A 
determination to carry out an attack on Stalin's clique, which stood in the way 
of Khrushchev's power and believed in the methods practiced by their former 
boss, entered equally into his decision. Beginning in June 1957, these men were 
systematically removed from office. However, for the first time since 1934, the 
act of "being put to death politically" was not followed by an actual death, and 



this telling detail itself illustrates that Khrushchev's motives were more com- 
plex. Having been the boss of Ukraine for years and, in this capacity, having 
carried out and covered up the slaughter of innocent civilians on a massive 
scale, he may have grown weary of all this bloodshed. In his memoirs, in which 
he was naturally concerned with portraying himself in a flattering light, 
Khrushchev recalled his feelings: "The Congress will end, and resolutions will 
be passed, all as a matter of form. But then what? The hundreds and thousands 
of people who were shot will stay on our consciences," As a result, he severely 
reprimanded his colleagues: 

What are we going to do about all those who were arrested and elimi- 
nated? . . . We now know that the people who suffered during the re- 
pressions were innocent. We have indisputable proof that, far from 
being enemies of the people, they were honest men and women, devoted 
to the Party, dedicated to the Revolution, and committed to the Leninist 
cause and to the building of" Socialism and Communism in the Soviet 
Union ... I still think it's impossible to cover everything up. Sooner or 
later people will be coming out of the prisons and the camps, and they'll 
return to the cities. They'll tell their relatives, friends, and comrades, 
and everyone back home what happened . . . we're obliged to speak 
candidly to the delegates about the conduct of the Party leadership 
during the years in question . . . How ean we pretend not to know what 
happened 3 We know there was a reign of repression and arbitrarv rule in 
the Party, and Me must tell the Congress what we know ... In the life of 
anyone who has committed a crime, there comes a moment when a 
confession will assure him leniency if not exculpation.- 7 

Among some of the men who had had a hand in the crimes perpetrated 
under Stalin and who generally owed their promotions to the extermination of 
their predecessors in office, a certain kind of remorse took hold — a lukewarm 
remorse, a self-interested remorse, the remorse of a politician, but remorse 
nonetheless. It was necessary for someone to put a stop to the slaughter. 
Khrushchev had the courage to do this even if, in 1956, he sent Soviet tanks 
into Budapest. 

In 1961, during the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev 
recalled not only the victims who were Communists but all of Stalin's victims 
and even proposed that a monument be erected in their memory. At this point 
Khrushchev may have overstepped the invisible boundary beyond which the 
very raison d'etre of Communism was being challenged — namely, the absolute 
monopoly on power reserved for the Communist Party. The monument never 
saw the light of day. In 1962 the first secretary authorized the publication of 
One Day in the Life of Ivan Dermovkh, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsvn. On 24 

The Crimes of Communism 


October 1964 Khrushchev was stripped of his powers, but his life was spared, 
and he died in obscurity in 1971. 

There is a substantial degree of scholarly consensus regarding the impor- 
tance of the "Secret Speech," which represented a fundamental break in Com- 
munism's twentieth-century trajectory. Francois Furet, on the verge of quitting 
the French Communist Party in 1954, wrote these words on the subject: 

Now all of a sudden the "Secret Speech" of February 1956 had single- 
handedly shattered the Communist idea then prevailing around the 
world. The voice that denounced Stalin's crimes did not come from the 
West but from Moscow, and from the "holy of holies" in Moscow, the 
Kremlin. It was not the voice of a Communist who had been ostracized 
but the voice of the leading Communist in the world, the head of the 
Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Thus, instead of being tainted 
by the suspicion that was invariably leveled at accusations made by 
ex-Communists, Khrushchev's remarks gained the luster that reflected 
glory upon its leader . . . The extraordinary power of the "Secret 
Speech" on the mind stemmed from the fact that it did not have any 
opponents. 28 

This event was especially paradoxical inasmuch as a number of contem- 
poraries had long warned the Bolsheviks about the inherent dangers of this 
course of action. From 1917 to 1918 disgruntlement arose even within the 
socialist movement itself, including among believers in the "great light from 
the East," who were suddenly relentless in their criticism of the Bolsheviks. 
Essentially the dispute centered upon the methods used by Lenin: violence, 
crime, and terror. From the 1920s to the 1950s, while the dark side of Bolshe- 
vism was being exposed by a number of witnesses, victims, and skilled ob- 
servers (as well as in countless articles and other publications), people had to 
bide their time until the Communist rulers would recognize this themselves. 
Alas, the significance of this undoubtedly important development was misin- 
terpreted by the growing body of public opinion as a recognition of the errors 
of Communism. This was indeed a misinterpretation, since the "Secret 
Speech" tackled only the question of Communists as victims; but at least this 
was a step in the right direction. It was the first confirmation of the testimony 
by witnesses and of previous studies, and it corroborated long-standing suspi- 
cions that Communism was responsible for creating a colossal tragedy in 


The leaders of many "fraternal parties" were initially unconvinced of the 
need to jump on Khrushchev's bandwagon. After some delay, a few leaders in 
other countries did follow Khrushchev's lead in exposing these atrocities. How- 
ever, it was not until 1979 that the Chinese Communist Party divided Mao's 



policies between "great merits; 1 which lasted until 1957, and "great errors, 11 
which came afterward. The Vietnamese contented themselves with oblique 
references to the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot. As for Castro, the atrocities 
committed under him have been denied. 

Before Khrushchev's speech, denunciation of crimes committed by Com- 
munists came only from their enemies or from Trotskyite dissidents or anar- 
chists; and such denunciations had not been especially effective. The desire to 
bear witness was as strong among the survivors of Communist massacres as it 
had been among those who survived the Nazi slaughters. However, the survi- 
vors were few and far between, especially in France, where tangible experience 
of the Soviet concentration-camp system had directly affected only a few 
isolated groups, such as a In Spite of Ourselves, 11 from Alsace-Lorraine.- 9 Most 
of the time, however, the witness statements and the work carried out by 
independent commissions, such as David Roussct's International Commission 
on the Concentration Camp System and the Commission to Find the Truth 
about Stalin's Crimes, have been buried beneath an avalanche of Communist 
propaganda, aided and abetted by a silence born of cowardliness or indiffer- 
ence. This silence generally managed to win out over the sporadic moments ol 
self-awareness resulting from the appearance of a new analytical work (such as 
Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago) or an irreproachable eyewitness account 
(such as Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales and Pin Yathays Stay Alive, My 
Son). M) Regrettably, it was most tenacious in Western societies whenever the 
phenomenon of Communism came under the microscope. Until now they have 
refused to face the reality that the Communist system, albeit in varying degrees, 
possessed fundamentally criminal underpinnings. By refusing to acknowledge 
this, they were co-conspirators in "the lie," as perhaps best summed up by 
Friedrich Nietzsche: "Men believe in the truth of anything so long as they see 
that others strongly believe it is true. 1 ' 

Despite widespread reluctance to confront the issue, a number ot ob- 
servers have risen to the challenge. From the 1920s to the 1950s, lor want of 
more reliable data (which were assiduously concealed by the Soviet regime) 
researchers were wholly reliant on information provided by defectors. Not only 
were these eyewitness accounts subject to the normal skepticism with which 
historians treat such testimony; they were also systematically discredited by 
sympathizers of the Communist system, who accused the defectors of being 
motivated by vengeance or of being the tools of anti-Communist powers. Who 
would have thought, in 1959, that a description of the Gulag could be provided 
by a high-ranking KGB defector, as in the book by Paul Barton?-" And who 
would have thought of consulting Barton himself, an exile from Czechoslovakia 
whose real name was Jin Veltrusky, who was one of the organizers of the 
anti-Nazi insurrections in Prague in 1945 and who was forced to flee his 

The Crimes of Communism 


country in 1948? Yet anyone who confronts the information held in recently 
opened classified archives will find that the accounts provided in 1959 were 
totally accurate. 

In the 1960s and 1980s, Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and later the 
"Red Wheel" cycle on the Russian Revolution produced a quantum shift in 
public opinion. Precisely because it was literature, and from a master craftsman, 
The Gulag Archipelago captured the true nature of an unspeakable system. 
However, even Solzhenitsyn had trouble piercing the veil. In 1975 one journal- 
ist from a major French daily compared Solzhenitsyn to Pierre Laval, Jacques 
Doriot, and Marcel Deat, "who welcomed the Nazis as liberators." 12 Nonethe- 
less, his account was instrumental in exposing the system in much the same 
way that Shalamov brought Kolyma to life and Pin Yathay laid bare the atroci- 
ties in Cambodia. More recently still, Vladimir Bukovsky, one of the leading 
Soviet dissidents under Leonid Brezhnev, cried out in protest in Reckoning with 
Moscow, demanding the establishment of a new Nuremberg Tribunal to judge 
the criminal activities of the Communist regime. His book enjoyed considerable 
success in the West. At the same time, however, publications rehabilitating 
Stalin began to appear. 11 

At the end of the twentieth century, what motivation impels us to explore an 
issue so mired in tragedy, confusion, and controversy? Today, archives confirm 
these sporadic accounts of yesteryear, but they also allow us to go a step 
further. The internal archives maintained by the repressive apparatuses of the 
former Soviet Union, of the former u peoples democracies," and of Cambodia 
bring to light the ghastly truth of the massive and systematic nature of the 
terror, which all too often resulted in full-scale crimes against humanity. The 
time has come to take a scholarly approach to this subject by documenting hard 
facts and by illuminating the political and ideological issues that obscure the 
matter at hand, the key issue that all these observers have raised: What is the 
true significance of crime in the Communist system? 

From this perspective, what scholarly support can we count on? In the 
first place, our methods reflect our sense of duty to history. A good historian 
leaves no stone unturned. No other factors or considerations, be they political, 
ideological, or personal, should hinder the historian from engaging in the quest 
for knowledge, the unearthing and interpretation of facts, especially when these 
facts have been long and deliberately buried in the immense recesses of gov- 
ernment archives and the conscience of the people. This history of Communist 
terror is one of the major chapters in the history of Europe and is directly 
linked to the two goals of the study of historical writing on totalitarianism. 
After all, we all know about the Hitlerian brand of totalitarianism; but we must 
not forget that there was also a Leninist and Stalinist version. It is no longer 



good enough to write partial histories that ignore the Communist brand of 
totalitarianism. It is untenable to draw a veil over the issue to ensure that the 
history of Communism is narrowed to its national, social, and cultural dimen- 
sions. The justice of this argument is amply confirmed by the fact that the 
phenomenon of totalitarianism was not limited to Europe and the Soviet pe- 
riod. The same applies to Maoist China, North Korea, and Pol Pot's Cambodia. 
Each national Communism has been linked by an umbilical cord to the Soviet 
womb, with its goal of expanding the worldwide movement. The history with 
which we are dealing is the history of a phenomenon that has spread through- 
out the world and that concerns all of humanity. 

The second purpose of this book is to serve as a memorial. There is a 
moral obligation to honor the memory of the innocent and anonymous victims 
of a juggernaut that has systematically sought to erase even their memory. After 
the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism's center of power 
in Moscow, Europe, the continent that played host to the twentieth century's 
many tragedies, has set itself the task of reconstructing popular memory. This 
book is our contribution to that effort. The authors of this book carry that 
memory within themselves. Two of our contributors have a particular attach- 
ment to Central Europe, while the others are connected by firsthand experience 
with the theory and practice of revolution in 1968 or more recently. 

This book, as both memorial and history, covers very diverse settings. It 
touches on countries in which Communism had almost no practical influence, 
either on society or on government power — Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, 
and others. Elsewhere Communism would show up as a powerful source of 
fear — in the United States after 1946 — or as a strong movement (even if it 
never actually seized power there), as in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and 
Portugal. In still other countries, where it had lost its decades-long grip on 
power, Communism is again reasserting itself— in Eastern Europe and Russia. 
Finally, its small flame is wavering in countries in which Communism still 
formally prevails — China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. 

Others may have different perspectives on the issues of history and mem- 
ory. In countries in which Communism had little influence or was merely 
dreaded, these issues will require a simple course of study and understanding. 
The countries that actually experienced the Communist system will have to 
address the issue of national reconciliation and decide whether the former 
Communist rulers are to be punished. In this connection, the reunified Ger- 
many may represent the most surprising and "miraculous" example — one need 
only think of the Yugoslav disaster by way of contrast. However, the former 
Czechoslovakia — now the Czech Republic and Slovakia — Poland, and Cambo- 
dia alike confront considerable trauma and suffering in their memorv and 
history of Communism. In such places a modicum of amnesia, whether con- 

The Crimes of Communism 


scious or unconscious, may seem indispensable in helping to heal the spiritual, 
mental, emotional, personal, and collective wounds inflicted by a half-century 
or more of Communism. Where Communism still clings to power, the tyrants 
and their successors have either systematically covered up their actions, as in 
Cuba and China, or have continued to promote terror as a form of government, 
as in North Korea. 

The responsibility for preserving history and memory undoubtedly has a 
moral dimension. Those whom we condemn may respond, "Who has given you 
the authority to say what is Good and what is Bad? 11 

According to the criteria proposed here, this issue was addressed well by 
the Catholic Church when Pope Pius 1 condemned Nazism and Communism 
respectively in the encyclicals Mil Rrennemier Snrg* of 14 March 1937 and 
Diniii rciiemptoris of 19 March 1937. The latter proclaimed that God endowed 
humanity with certain rights, "the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the 
necessary means of existence; the right to pursue one's ultimate goal in the path 
marked out for him by God; the right of association, and the right to possess 
and use property.' 1 Even though there is i certain hypocrisy in the church's 
pronouncement against the excessive enrichment of one class of people at the 
expense of others, the importance of the pope's appeal for the respect of human 
dignity is beyond question. 

As earh as 1931, Pius I had proclaimed in the encyclical Quadragesima 
anno; "Communism teaches and seeks two objectives: unrelenting class warfare 
and the complete eradication of private ownership. Not secret I v or hv hidden 
methods does it do this, but publicly, openly, and by employing any means 
possible, even the most violent. To achieve these objectives there is nothing it 
is afraid to do, nothing for which it has respect or reverence. When it comes to 
power, it is ferocious in its cruelty and inhumanity. The horrible slaughter and 
destruction through which it has laid waste to vast regions of Eastern Europe 
and Asia give evidence of this. 1 ' Admittedly, these words originated from an 
institution that for several centuries had systematically justified the murder of 
non-Christians, spread the Inquisition, stilled freedom of thought, and sup- 
ported dictatorial regimes such as those of General Francisco Franco and 
Antonio Sala/ar. 

However, even if the church was functioning in its capacity as a guardian 
of morality, how is a historian to respond when confronted by a "heroic" saga 
of Communist partisans or bv a heartbreaking account from their victims? In 
his Memoirs Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand wrote: "When in the silence of 
abjection, no sound can be heard save that of the chains of the slave and the 
voice of the informer; when all tremble before the tyrant, and it is as dangerous 
to incur his favor as to merit his displeasure, the historian appears, entrusted 
with the vengeance of the people. Nero prospers in vain, for Tacitus has already 



been born within the Empire." 14 Far be it from us to advocate the cryptic 
concept of the "vengeance of the people." Chateaubriand no longer believed 
in this idea by the end of his life. However, at some modest level and almost 
despite himself, the historian can speak on behalf of those who have had their 
voices silenced as a result of terror. The historian is there to produce works of 
scholarship, and his first task is to establish the facts and data that will then 
become knowledge. Moreover, the historian's relationship to the history of 
Communism is an unusual one: Historians are obligated to chronicle the his- 
toriography of "the lie." And even if the opening of archives has provided them 
with access to essential materials, historians must guard against naivete in the 
face of a number of complicated factors that are deviously calculated to stir up 
controversy. Nonetheless, this kind of historical knowledge cannot be seen in 
isolation from certain fundamental principles, such as respect for the rules of 
a representative democracy and, above all, respect for life and human dignity. 
This is the yardstick that historians use to "judge" the actors on the stage of 

For these general reasons, no work of history or human memory can 
remain untouched by personal motives. Some of the contributors to this book 
were not always strangers to the fascinations of Communism. Sometimes they 
themselves took part (even if only on a modest scale) in the Communist system, 
either in the orthodox Leninist-Stalinist school or in its related or dissident 
varieties (Trotskyite, Maoist). And if they still remain closely wedded to the 
left — or, rather, precisely because they are still wedded to the left—it is neces- 
sary to take a closer look at the reasons for their self-deception. This mindset 
has led them down a certain intellectual pathway, characterized by the choice 
of topics they study, by their scholarly publications, and by the journals (such 
as La nouvelle alternative and Commumsme) in which they publish. This book 
can do no more than provide an impetus for this particular type of reassess- 
ment. If these leftists pursue the task conscientiously, they will show that they 
too have a right to be heard on this issue, rather than leaving it to the increas- 
ingly influential extreme right wing. The crimes of Communism need to be 
judged from the standpoint of democratic values, not from the standpoint of 
ultranationalist or fascist philosophies. 

This approach calls for cross-country analysis, including comparisons of 
China and the US.S.R., Cuba and Vietnam, and others. Alas, the documents 
currently available are decidedly mixed in quantity and quality; in some cases 
the archives have not yet been opened. However, we felt that we should carry 
on regardless, confining ourselves to facts that are crystal-clear and beyond 
question. We want this book to be a groundbreaking work that will lay a broad 
foundation for further study and thought by others. 

This book contains many words but few pictures. The dearth of pictures 

The Crimes of Communism 


is one of the more delicate issues involved in the cover-up of Communist 
crimes. In a media-saturated global society, the photographed or televised 
image has become the fount of "truth." Alas, we have only a handful of rare 
archival photographs of the Gulag and the iaogai. There are no photographs 
of dekulakization or of the famine during the Great Leap Forward. The 
victorious powers at Nuremberg could at least photograph and film the thou- 
sands of bodies found at Bergen-Belsen. Those investigators also found pho- 
tographs that had been taken by the tyrants themselves— for example, the 
picture of a Nazi shooting point blank at a woman with an infant in her arms. 
No such parallels existed in the darkness of the Communist world, where terror 
had been organized in strictest secrecy. 

Readers may feel less than satisfied with the few photographic documents 
assembled here. They will need time to read, page after page, about the ordeal 
to which millions of people were subjected. They will have to make an effort 
to imagine the scale of the tragedy and to realize and appreciate how it will 
leave its mark on the history of the world for decades to come. Then readers 
must ask themselves the essential question, "Why?" Why did Lenin, Trotsky, 
Stalin, and others believe it necessary to exterminate all those whom they had 
branded as "enemies"? What made them imagine they could violate one of the 
basic tenets of civilization, "Thou shall not kill"? We will try, through this book, 
to answer that question. 

A State against Its People: Violence, 
Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Union 

Nicolas Werth 

 3 Slftinfi* II 1 

a '< 




The Gulag archipelago 

'^*.* fc " Major timber/logging routes and railways 

Z^ Large canals built by prisoners 
O Towns built by prisoners 

1X1 Mining 

500 km 

Paradoxes and Misunderstandings Surrounding 
the October Revolution 


With the 

iall of Communism, the necessity of demonstrating 
the 'historically inevitable' character of the Great Socialist October Revolution 
faded into the background, and 1917 could at last become a 'normal' historical 
event. Unfortunately, historians, like everyone else in our society, seem unwill- 
ing to break with the founding myth of Year Zero, of the year when it all 
seemed to begin™the happiness or misery of the Russian People." 

These words, by a contemporary Russian historian, serve to illustrate an 
idea that has become a constant theme, More than eighty years after the event, 
the battle for control over the story of 1917 continues to rage. 

For one historical school, which includes the proponents of what we might 
term the "liberal" version of events, the October Revolution was nothing more 
than a putsch imposed on a passive society. For these historians, October was 
the result of a clever conspiracy dreamed up by a handful of resourceful and 
cynical fanatics who had no real support anywhere else in the country. Today 
this is the preferred version of events for almost all Russian historians, as well 
as for the cultured elite and the leaders of post-Communist Russia. Deprived 
of all social and historical weight, the October Revolution of 1917 is reread as 
an accident that changed the course of history, diverting a prosperous, hard- 
working prere olutionary Russia, well on its way to democracy, from its natural 
course. This view is defended quite loudly and fiercely, and as long as there 



A State against Its People 

exists a remarkable continuity in the power structure of post-Soviet Russia 
(nearly all of whose leaders are former Communist officials), there is a clear 
benefit to distancing present Russian society from the "monstrous Soviet pa- 
renthesis. 11 All too clearly, it serves to liberate Russian society from any burden 
of guilt, and it marks a break with those obvious, public acts of contrition 
elicited by the painful rediscovery of Stalinism during the perestroiku years. If 
it can be shown that the Bolshevik coup d'etat of 1917 was nothing more than 
an accident, it follows that the Russian people were the collective innocent 
victims of these events. 

Alternatively, Soviet historiography has attempted to demonstrate that the 
events of October 1917 were the logical, foreseeable, and inevitable culmination 
of a process of liberation undertaken by the masses, who consciously rallied to 
Bolshevism. In its various forms, this current of historiography has connected 
the story of 1917 to the issue of the legitimacy of the whole Soviet regime. If 
the Great Socialist October Revolution was the result of the inexorable march 
of history, and if it was an event that conveyed a message of emancipation to 
the entire world, then the Soviet political system and the state institutions that 
resulted from the revolution, despite the errors of the Stalinist period, were all 
necessarily legitimate. The fall of the Soviet regime naturally brought both a 
wholesale delegitimarion of the October Revolution and the disappearance of 
the traditional Marxist view, which in its turn was consigned, in the famous 
Bolshevik formula, to "the dustbin of history." Nonetheless, like the memory 
of the Stalinist terror, the memory of the Marxist version of events lives on, 
perhaps even more vividly in the West than it does in the former L'.S.S.R. 

Rejecting both the liberal view and Marxist dogma, a third historiographic 
current has recently attempted to remove ideology from the history of the 
Russian Revolution altogether, in order to make clear, in the words of Marc 
Ferro, "why the uprising of October 1917 was simultaneously a mass movement 
and an event in which so few people actually took part. 11 Among the many 
questions arising from the events of 1917, historians who refuse to accept the 
dominant oversimplified liberal view of events have identified some key prob- 
lems. What role was played by the militarization of the economy and by the 
social unrest following from the entry of the Russian empire into World War 
I? Did a specific current of violence emerge that paved the way for political 
violence exercised against society in general? How did it come about that an 
essentially popular and plebeian movement, which was profoundly antiauthori- 
tarian and antistate, brought to power the most dictatorial and most statist of 
political groups? Finally, what linkage can be established between the undeni- 
able radicalization of Russian society throughout the year 1917 and the specific 
phenomenon of Bolshevism? 

With the passage of time, and as a result of much recent stimulating and 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


lively debate among historians, the October Revolution of 1917 now appears as 
the momentary convergence of two movements: on the one hand the carefully 
organized seizure of power by a party that differed radically in its practices, its 
ideology, and its organization from all other participants in the revolutionary 
process; and on the other a vast social revolution, which took many forms. The 
social revolution had many facets, including an immensely powerful and deep- 
rooted movement of rebellion among the peasantry, a rebellion whose origins 
stretched far back into Russian history and which was marked not simply by a 
hatred of the landowners, but also by profound distrust of both the city and 
the outside world in general—a distrust, in practice, of any form of state 

The summer and autumn of 1917 thus appear as the culmination of the 
great cycle of revolts that began in 1902, and whose first real effects were felt 
from 1905 to 1907. The year 1917 was a decisive stage in the great agrarian 
revolution, a confrontation between the peasantry and the great landowners 
over the ownership of land, and, in the eyes of the peasants, the final longed-for 
realization of the "Black-Earth partition," or distribution of land according to 
the number of mouths to be fed in each family. But it was also an important 
stage in the confrontation between the peasantry and the state, in which the 
peasantry rejected all control by the city over the countryside. Seen from this 
point of view, 1917 was no more than a stage in the series of confrontations 
that continued in 1918-1922 and 1929-1933, and that ended in total defeat for 
the countryside as a result of enforced collectivization. 

Throughout 1917, at the same time that the peasant revolution was gain- 
ing momentum, a process of fundamental decay was taking place in the army, 
which was made up of more than 10 million peasant soldiers mobilized to fight 
a war whose significance escaped them. Russian generals unanimously deplored 
the lack of patriotism among these peasant soldiers, whose civic horizons 
seldom extended beyond the boundaries of their own rural communities. 

A third basic movement arose within the politically active industrial work- 
ing class, highly concentrated in the big cities, which accounted for scarcely 
3 percent of the working population. The urban milieu distilled all the social 
contradictions arising from a process of economic modernization that had 
lasted no more than a single generation. From this environment was born a 
movement aimed at the protection of the rights of workers, understood 
through a few key political slogans such as "workers 1 power 11 and "power to 
the Soviets. 11 

The fourth and final movement originated in the rapid emancipation of 
the diverse nations under imperial Russian rule. Many of these nations de- 
manded first autonomy, then independence. 

Each of these movements progressed at its own pace, according to its own 


A State against Its People 

internal dynamic; and each had its own specific aspirations, aspirations that 
clearly were not reducible to Bolshevik slogans or the political activities of that 
party. But each of these became a catalyst for the destruction of traditional 
institutions and the erosion of all forms of authority. For a brief but decisive 
instant in October 1917, the Bolshevik revolt— the action of a political minority 
acting in what was effectively a political vacuum — coincided with the aspira- 
tions of all these other movements, despite their disparate medium- and long- 
term objectives. For a short time the political coup d'etat and social revolution 
coincided, or, more precisely, were telescoped together, before they moved apart 
again in the ensuing decades of dictatorship. 

The social and national movements that exploded in the autumn of 1917 
developed out of a particular conjunction of circumstances, including severe 
economic crisis, upheavals in social relations, the general failure of the appara- 
tus of the state, and, perhaps most important, a total war that contributed to 
the general climate of brutality. 

Far from reviving the tsarist regime and reinforcing the imperfect cohe- 
sion of society, World War 1 ruthlessly revealed the fragility of an autocracy 
already shaken by the revolution of 1905-06 and progressively weakened by 
political vacillation between insufficient concessions and reversions to stubborn 
conservatism. The war also underscored the weaknesses of an incomplete 
economic modernization dependent on regular inflows of foreign capital, spe- 
cialists, and technology. Finally, the war reinforced the deep divide between 
urban Russia, the seat of power and industry, and rural Russia, the locus ol 
largely independent and traditional communities. 

Like all the other participants in the conflict, the tsarist government had 
counted on a quick war. Russia's lack of access to the sea and the economic 
blockade brutally revealed the extent of the country's dependence on foreign 
suppliers. The loss of its western provinces after the 1915 invasion by Austro- 
Hungarian forces deprived Russia of the products of Poland's highly developed 
industry. The domestic economy did not long withstand the test of war: a lack 
of spare parts plunged the transportation system into chaos as early as 191: v 
The almost complete conversion of Russian factories to the war effort squeezed 
production for domestic consumption, and within a few months shortages were 
common and inflation and poverty rampant. The situation deteriorated rapidly 
in the countryside: an abrupt end to agricultural loans and land reallocation, a 
large-scale mobilization of men into the army, the requisitioning of livestock 
and grain, the scarcity of manufactured goods, and the destruction of networks 
of exchange between town and country all brought the process of agrarian 
transformation, begun in 1906 by Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (assassinated 
in 191 1), to a grinding halt. Three consecutive years of war strengthened the 
peasant belief that the state was an alien and hostile force. Daily privations in 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


an army in which soldiers were treated more like serfs than like citizens exac- 
erbated the tensions between officers and their men, while a series of defeats 
undercut the little prestige remaining to the imperial regime. The deep-seated 
tradition of violence in the Russian countryside, expressed in the immense 
uprisings of 1902-1906, grew ever stronger. 

By the end of 1915 it was clear that the forces of law and order no longer 
existed. In the face of the regime's apparent passivity, committees and associa- 
tions began to spring up everywhere, taking control of services no longer 
provided by the state, such as tending to the sick and bringing food to the cities 
and the army. The Russians in effect began to govern themselves; a great 
movement took shape whose depth and scope no one could have predicted. But 
in order to prevail, this movement would have needed encouragement and help 
from the seat of power, whose forces were concurrently dissolving. 

Instead of attempting to build bridges between the government and the 
most advanced elements of civic society, Nicholas II clung to the image of 
himself as a populist monarch, the good paterfamilias of the state and the 
peasantry, lie assumed personal command of the armies, a suicidal act for an 
autocracy staring national defeat in the face. Isolated in his private train at the 
Mogilev headquarters, from the autumn of 1915 onward, Nicholas II ceased to 
govern the country, surrendering that task to the Empress Alexandra, whose 
German origins made her very unpopular. 

In fact the government had been losing its grip on power throughout 1916. 
The Duma, Russia's first nationally elected assembly, sat for only a few weeks 
a year, and governments and ministers, all equally unpopular and incompetent, 
came and went in quick succession. Rumors abounded that the Empress Alex- 
andra's coterie, which included Rasputin, had conspired to open the country 
to enemy invasion. It became clear that the autocracy was incapable of winning 
the war, and b the end of 1916 the country was in effect ungovernable. In an 
atmosphere of political crisis, typified by the assassination of Rasputin on 31 
December, strikes, which had been extremely rare at the outbreak of the war, 
became increasingly common. Unrest spread to the army, and the total chaos 
of the transport system broke the munitions distribution network. The days of 
February 1917 thus overtook an entirely discredited and weakened regime. 

The fall of the tsarist regime, which came after just five days of workers' 
demonstrations and the mutiny of a few thousand men in the Petrograd garri- 
son, revealed not only the weakness of the regime and the disarray of an army 
whose commanders did not even dare try to quell the popular uprising, but also 
the unpreparcdness of the profoundly divided opposition, from the liberals of 
the Constitutional Democratic Party to the Social Democrats. 

At no time did the political forces of the opposition shape or guide this 
spontaneous popular revolution, which began in the streets and ended in the 


A State against Its People 

plush suites of the Tauride Palace, the seat of the Duma. The liberals feared 
the mob; the socialists feared military reaction. Protracted negotiations between 
the liberals, who were concerned about the spread of the disturbances, and the 
socialists, who saw this "bourgeois" revolution as perhaps the first step on the 
long path to a socialist revolution, resulted in a vague idea of power-sharing. 
The liberal and socialist camps came to be represented in two distinct and 
incompatible institutions. The provisional government, concerned with the 
liberal objectives of social order and parliamentary democracy, strove to build 
a Russia that was modern, capitalist, and resolutely faithful to its French and 
British allies. Its archrival was the Petrograd Soviet, created by a handful of 
militant socialists in the great tradition of the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905 to 
represent directly the revolutionary will of "the masses." But this soviet was 
itself a rapidly evolving phenomenon, at the mercy of its own expanding, 
decentralized structure and of the ever-changing public opinion it claimed to 

The three successive provisional governments that ruled Russia from 
2 March to 25 October 1917 proved incapable of solving the problems inherited 
from the ancien regime: the economic crisis, the failing war effort, working-class 
unrest, and the agrarian problem. The new men in power — the liberals of the 
Constitutional Democratic Party, the majority in the first two governments, and 
the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, the majority in the third — be- 
longed to the cultivated urban elite, those advanced elements of civil society 
who were torn between a naive, blind trust in the "people" and a (ear of the 
incomprehensible u dark masses" who engulfed them. For the most part, at least 
for the first few months of a revolution remarkable for its pacific nature, they 
gave free rein to the democratic impulse that had emerged with the fall of the 
old regime. Idealists like Prince Lvov, the head of the first two provisional 
governments, dreamed of making Russia "the freest country in the world." 
"The spirit of the Russian people," he wrote in one of his first manifestos, "has 
shown itself, of its own accord, to be a universally democratic spirit. It is a spirit 
that seeks not only to dissolve into universal democracy, but also to lead the 
way proudly down the path first marked out by the French revolution, toward 
Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." 

Guided by these beliefs, the provisional government extended democratic- 
principles to as many as it could, bringing new freedoms and universal suffrage, 
outlawing all discrimination on grounds of class, race, or religion, recognizing 
the rights of both Poland and Finland to home rule, and promising autonomy 
to nationalist minorities. The government imagined that all these efforts would 
have far-reaching effects, causing an upsurge in patriotism, consolidating social 
cohesion, assuring military victory alongside the Allied forces, and solidly 
linking the new regime to other Western democracies. But out of a fimckv 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


solicitude for legality the government refused, in wartime conditions, to adopt 
measures that would have secured the future. It held firmly to remaining 
"provisional" and deliberately left unresolved the most pressing issues: the 
problem of the war and the problem of land. In the few months of its rule the 
provisional government proved no more capable than its predecessor of coping 
with the economic crisis, closely linked to the waging of the war; problems of 
supply, poverty, inflation, the breakdown of economic networks, the closing of 
businesses, and the massive upsurge in unemployment all exacerbated the 
climate of social tension. 

In the face of the government's passivity, society continued to organize 
itself independently. Within a few weeks thousands of Soviets, neighborhood 
and factor)' committees, armed groups of workers (the Red Guards), and 
committees of soldiers, peasants, Cossacks, and housewives sprang into exist- 
ence. These were new forms of political expression in Russia, providing pre- 
viously unknown forums for public opinion, claims for compensation, new 
initiatives, and debates. It was a veritable festival of liberty, which became more 
violent dav by dav, as the February revolution had unleashed resentment and 
social frustration long held in check. Mitingovunie ("the never-ending meet- 
ing") was the opposite of the democratic parliamentary process envisaged by 
the politicians of the new regime. The radicalization of social movements 
continued throughout 1917. 

The workers 1 demands evolved from the economic — an eight-hour day, 
an end to fines and other onerous regulations, social insurance, wage in- 
creases — to political demands that implied a radical shift in social relations 
between workers and employers. Workers organized into factory committees 
whose chief objectives were control of the hiring process, the prevention of 
factory closings, and even control of the means of production. But to be viable, 
worker control required a completely new form of government, "soviet power," 
which alone was capable of radical measures, especially the seizure and 
nationalization of business, an aim that had been inconceivable in the spring of 

The role of the peasant-soldiers — a mass of 10 million mobilized men — 
was decisive in the revolutions of 1917. The rapid dissolution of the Russian 
armv, hastened by desertion and pacifism, propelled the collapse of state insti- 
tutions. Basing their authority on the first decree issued by the provisional 
government— the famous "Order Number One," abolishing the worst of the 
disciplinary rules for soldiers in the imperial army— committees of soldiers 
pushed the limits of their power. They elected new officers and even took part 
in planning military strategies and tactics. This idea of "soldier power" paved 
the wav for what General Aleksei Brusilov, commander in chief of the Russian 
armv, termed a "Bolshevism of the trenches." In his description, "The soldiers 


A State against Its People 

didn't have the faintest idea of what Communism, the proletariat, or the 
constitution actually meant. They wanted peace, land, and the freedom to live 
without laws, without officers, and without landlords. Their Bolshevism was 
nothing more than a longing for an idealized sort of liberty — anarchy, in fact. 11 

After the failure of the last Russian offensive in June 1917, the army began 
to fall apart; hundreds of officers, accused by the troops of being counterrevo- 
lutionaries, were arrested by the soldiers and massacred. The number of de- 
sertions soared — by August and September there were tens of thousands every 
day. The peasant-soldiers had one goal — to return home as quickly as possible, 
so as not to miss out on the distribution of land and livestock previously 
belonging to the landowners. From June to October 1917 more than 2 million 
soldiers, tired of the fighting and of the appalling deprivations they had lived 
through in their garrisons and trenches, deserted the rapidly disintegrating 
army. Inevitably their return increased the unrest pervading the countryside. 

Until the summer of 1917, the agrarian trouble spots had been relatively 
localized, particularly in comparison with the agrarian revolts during the revo- 
lution of 1905-06. Once news of the tsar's abdication had spread, a peasant 
assembly met and drew up a petition containing their grievances and demands; 
the land should be given to whose who worked it, fallow land belonging to the 
landowners should be immediately redistributed, and all rents should be dras- 
tically reduced. Slowly the peasants became more and more organized, setting 
up agricultural committees on local and regional levels headed by leading 
members of the rural intelligentsia such as schoolteachers, agronomists, doc- 
tors, and Orthodox priests, all of whom sympathized with the aims of the 
Socialist Revolutionaries. From May and June onward, many agrarian commit- 
tees simply seized agricultural material and livestock belonging to the land- 
owners and appropriated woods, pastures, and fallow land. In this battle for 
land, the main victims clearly were the great land barons, but the kulaks (the 
better-off peasants, who had taken advantage of Stolypin's reforms to set up 
small holdings on their own and thus become free of obligations to the com- 
munity) also suffered as a group. Even before the October Revolution the 
kulaks, who had been the soft targets of Bolshevik rhetoric — which caricatured 
them in slogans as "money-grubbing peasants,' 1 "the rural bourgeoisie," and 
"blood-sucking kulaks"— were no longer the important force they had been, in 
fact by this point many of them had been forced to return most of their 
livestock, machinery, and land to the community, which then redistributed it 
according to the ancestral egalitarian principle that counted the number of 
mouths to be fed. 

During the summer the agrarian troubles became more and more violent, 
fueled by the return of hundreds of thousands of armed deserters. By the end 
of August, disillusioned by the broken promises of a government that seemed 
to be delaying agrarian reforms, the peasants mounted assaults on the manor 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


houses, burning and sacking them in the hope of driving out the hated land- 
owners once and for all. In Ukraine and in the central provinces of Russia — 
Tambov, Penza, Voronezh, Saratov, Orel, Tula, and Ryazan — thousands of 
houses were burned and hundreds of landowners killed. 

Faced with the expansion of this social revolution, the ruling elite and the 
political parties — with the notable exception of the Bolsheviks — all wavered 
between the desire to control the movement in some fashion and the temptation 
of a simple military putsch. After taking their places in the government in May, 
both the Menshcviks, who were popular in working-class areas, and the Social- 
ist Revolutionaries, who had a stronger base in the countryside than any other 
political group, proved unable to carry out the reforms they had always de- 
manded — particularly in the case of the Socialist Revolutionaries, land reform. 
For the most part, this failure stemmed from the fact that they were cooperating 
with a government concerned primarily with social order and law-abiding- 
behavior. Once they had become the managers and leaders of an essentially 
bourgeois state, the moderate socialist parties left the more radical calls for 
reform to the bolsheviks, without, however, reaping any great benefit from their 
participation in a government that was slowly losing its grip on the political 
realities in the country. 

In the face of this growing anarchy, the captains of industry, the land- 
owners, the leaders of the army, and some of the more disillusioned liberals 
considered mounting a military coup, an idea proposed by General Lavr 
Kornilov. Most of them abandoned the idea, since a military putsch would 
inevitably have destroyed the civil power of the elected provisional government 
led by Aleksandr Kerensky. The failure of General Kornilov's putsch on 24-27 
August did, however, lead to the final crisis of the provisional government. 
While the proponents of civil versus military dictatorships engaged in fruitless 
arguments, the central institutions of the state— the justice system, the civil 
service, the arm) — were disintegrating. 

But it would be a mistake to describe the radiealization of the urban and 
rural populations as a process of "bolshevization." The shared slogans — 
"workers' power 1 ' and "power to the Soviets' 1 — had different meanings for the 
militant workers and the Bolshevik leaders. In the army, the "Bolshevism of 
the trenches" reflected above all a general aspiration for peace, shared by 
combatants from all the countries engaged in the bloodiest and most all- 
consuming war that the world had ever seen. The peasant revolution followed 
a more or less autonomous course, more sympathetic to the Socialist Revolu- 
tionary program, which favored the "Black-Earth partition" of land. The 
Bolshevik approach to the agrarian question was in fact antithetical to peasant 
wishes, favoring the nationalization of all land and its subsequent exploitation 
through enormous collective farms. In the countryside little was known about 
the Bolsheviks except for the confused reports brought home by deserters, 


A State against Its People 

whose message could be summed up in those two magic words 'land" and 
"peace." Membership in the Bolshevik movement seems to have numbered no 
more than two thousand at the beginning of October 1917. But as a constella- 
tion of committees, Soviets, and other small groups rushed to rill the wholesale 
institutional vacuum of that autumn, the environment was perfect for a small, 
well-organized group to exercise a disproportionate amount of power. And that 
is exactly what the Bolshevik Party did. 

Since its founding in 1903, the party had remained outside the other 
currents of social democracy in both Russia and Europe, chiefly because of its 
will to break radically with the existing social and political order and because 
of its conception of itself as a highly structured, disciplined, elitist avant-garde 
of professional revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were thus the complete oppo- 
site of the Menshevik and other European social-democratic parties, which 
allowed large memberships and widely differing points of view. 

World War I further distilled Leninist Bolshevism. Rejecting collaboration 
with all other currents of social democracy, Lenin became increasingly isolated, 
justifying his theoretical position in essays like Imperialism, the Highest Stage 
of Capitalism. He began to argue that the revolution was destined to occur not 
in countries where capitalism was most advanced, but rather in countries like 
Russia that were considerably less developed economically, provided that the 
revolutionary movement was led by a disciplined avant-garde of revolutionaries 
who were prepared to go to extremes. That meant, in this case, creating a 
dictatorship of the proletariat and transforming "the imperialist war 11 into a 
civil war. 

In a letter of 17 October 1917 to Aleksandr Shlyapnikov, Lenin wrote: 

The least bad thing that could happen in the short term would be the 
defeat of tsarism in the war . . , The essence of our work (which must be 
persistent, systematic, and perhaps extremely long-term) is to aim for 
the transformation of the war into a civil war. When that will happen is 
another question, as it is not yet clear. We must wait for the moment to 
ripen, and systematically force it to ripen . . . We can neither promise 
civil war nor decree it, but we must work toward that end for as long as 
we have to. 

Throughout the war Lenin returned to the idea that the Bolsheviks had to be 
ready to encourage civil war by all possible means. "Anyone who believes in 
class war," he wrote in September 1916, "must recognize that civil war, in any 
class-based society, is the natural continuation, development, and result of 
class war." 

After the February revolution (which occurred while most of the Bolshe- 
viks were in exile or abroad), Lenin — unlike the vast majority of the leaders of 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


his party — predicted the failure of the conciliatory policies pursued by the 
provisional government. In his four Letters from Abroad, penned in Zurich on 
20-25 March 1917, of which the Bolshevik daily Pravda dared print only the 
first (so far were they from the political ideas held at the time by the leaders of 
the Petrograd Bolsheviks), he demanded an immediate rupture between the 
Petrograd Soviet and the provisional government, as well as active preparations 
for the subsequent "proletarian" stage of the revolution. As he saw it, the 
appearance of the Soviets was the sign that the revolution had already passed 
through its "bourgeois phase." Revolutionary agents should now seize power 
by force and put a stop to the imperialist war, even if this meant the beginning 
of a civil war. 

When he returned to Russia on 3 April 1917, Lenin continued to defend 
these extreme positions. In his famous April Theses he reiterated his implacable 
hostility to both a parliamentary republic and the democratic process. Met with 
blank incomprehension and outright hostility by most of the Bolshevik leaders 
in Petrograd, Lenin's ideas nevertheless began to take hold, particularly among 
the new recruits to the party, whom Stalin termed praktiki, "practitioners" (as 
opposed to the theoreticians). Within a few months plebeian elements, includ- 
ing peasant-soldiers, occupied a central place in the party and outnumbered the 
urban and intellectual elements. These militants, with their more humble ori- 
gins, brought with them the violence of Russian peasant culture exacerbated 
bv three vears of war. With little background in politics, they sought to trans- 
form the original theoretical and intellectual Bolshevism unhindered by any of 
the limitations imposed by Marxist dogma. In particular, they had little interest 
in the question of whether a "bourgeois stage" was necessary in the transition 
to real socialism. Believing only in direct action and in force, they supported a 
strand of Bolshevism in which theoretical debates increasingly gave way to the 
far more pressing issue of the seizure of power. 

Lenin was caught between two opposing forces: a plebeian mass increas- 
ingly impatient for action, made up of the sailors at the Kronstadt naval base 
near Petrograd, certain regiments in the capital, and the worker battalions of 
Red Guards in Vyborg; and a group of leaders haunted by fear that an overhasty 
insurrection would fail. Contrary to commonly held historical opinion, 
throughout 1917 the Bolshevik Party was profoundly divided, torn between the 
timidity of one group and the overcnthusiasm of the other. At this stage the 
famous party discipline was more an act of faith than a concrete reality. In July 
1917, as a result of troubles at the naval base and confrontations with the 
government forces, the Bolshevik Party was very nearly destroyed altogether. 
In the aftermath of the bloody demonstrations in Petrograd from 3 to 5 July, 
its leaders were arrested, and some, like Lenin himself, were forced into exile. 
But the Bolshevik Party resurfaced at the end of August 1917, in a situ- 


A State against Its People 

ation quite favorable for an armed seizure of power. The powerlessness of the 
government to resolve the great problems it faced had become clear, particularly 
in the wake of the decay of traditional institutions and authorities, the growth 
of social movements, and the failure of General Kornilov's attempted military 

Again Lenin's personal role, both as theorist and as strategist of the 
seizure of power, was decisive. In the weeks preceding the Bolshevik coup d'etat 
of 25 October 1917, he personally prepared all the necessary stages for the 
military takeover. He was to be deterred neither by an unforeseen uprising of 
the masses nor by the "revolutionary legalism" of Bolsheviks such as Grigory 
Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, who, made cautious by the bitter experience of the 
July days, preferred to have the support of a majority of social democrats and 
revolutionary socialists of all tendencies. From exile in Finland, Lenin sent a 
constant stream of articles and letters to the Central Committee of the Bolshe- 
vik Party, calling for the uprising to begin. "By making immediate offers of 
peace and giving land to the peasants, the Bolsheviks will establish a power base 
that no one will be able to overturn," he wrote. "There is no point in waiting 
for a formal majority for the Bolsheviks; revolutions do not wait lor such things. 
History will never forgive us if we do not seize power immediately." 

Lenin's urgency in the face of an increasingly revolutionary situation left 
most of the Bolshevik leaders skeptical and perplexed. It was surely enough, 
they believed, to stick behind the masses and incite them to spontaneous acts 
of violence, to encourage the disruptive influence of social movements, and to 
sit tight until the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, planned for 20 
October. It was more than likely that the Bolsheviks would achieve a plurality 
at the assembly, since they would be overrepresented by the Soviets from the 
great working-class areas and from the army. Lenin, however, greatly feared 
the power-sharing that might result if the transfer of power took place as a 
result of a vote at the Congress of Soviets. For months he had been clamoring 
for power to devolve to the Bolsheviks alone, and he wanted at all costs to ensure 
that the Bolsheviks seized power through a military insurrection, before the 
opening of the Second Congress. He knew that the other socialist parties would 
universally condemn such a move, and thus effectively force themselves into 
opposition, leaving all power in the hands of the Bolsheviks. 

On 10 October, having returned secretly to Petrograd, Lenin gathered 
together twelve of the twenty-one members of the Central Committee of the 
Bolshevik Party. After ten hours of negotiations he persuaded a majority to vote 
in favor of the most important decision ever made by the party — to undertake 
an immediate armed uprising. The decision was approved by ten to two, the 
dissenters being Zinoviev and Kamenev, who wished to wait for the Second 

Paradoxes of the October Revolution 


Congress of Soviets. On 16 October, despite opposition from the moderate 
socialists, Trotsky therefore set up the Petrograd Revolutionary Military Com- 
mittee (PRMC), a military organization theoretically under the control of the 
Petrograd Soviet but in fact run by the Bolsheviks. Its task was to organize the 
seizure of power through an armed insurrection — and thus to prevent a popu- 
lar anarchist uprising that might have eclipsed the Bolshevik Party. 

In accordance with Lenin's wishes, the number of direct participants in 
the Great Socialist October Revolution was extremely limited — a few thousand 
soldiers, the sailors from Kronstadt, Red Guards who had rallied to the cause 
of the PRMC, and a few hundred militant Bolsheviks from factory committees. 
Careful preparation and a lack of opposition allowed the whole operation to 
proceed smoothly and with very few casualties. Significantly, the seizure of 
power was accomplished in the name of the PRMC. Thus the Bolshevik leaders 
attributed all their power to a single event that no one outside the party's 
Central Committee could link to the Congress of Soviets. 

Lenin's strategy worked. Faced with xWuifait accompli, the moderate so- 
cialists, alter denouncing "an organized military action deliberately planned 
behind the back of the Soviets, 11 simply walked out of the Congress. Only the 
small group of left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries remained, and they joined 
the Bolsheviks in ratilving the coup, voting in a text drawn up by Lenin that 
gave "all power to the Soviets. 1 ' This purely formal resolution allowed the 
Bolsheviks to authenticate a fiction that was to deceive credulous generations 
for decades to come — that they governed in the name of the people in "the 
Soviet state. 1 ' A few hours later, before breaking up, the Congress ratified a new 
Bolshevik government — the Soviet Council of People's Commissars (SNK), 
presided over by Lenin— and approved two decrees about peace and land. 

Very soon misunderstandings and conflicts arose between the new regime 
and the social movements, which until then had acted independently to destroy 
the old political, social, and economic order. The first conflict of interest 
concerned the agrarian revolution. The Bolsheviks, who had always stood for 
the nationalization of all land, were now compelled by a combination of unfa- 
vorable circumstances to hijack the Socialist Revolutionary program and to 
approve the redistribution of land to the peasants, The "Decree on Land 1 ' 
stated that "all right of property regarding the land is hereby abolished without 
indemnitv, and all land is hereby put at the disposal of local agrarian commit- 
tees for redistribution" In practice it did little more than legitimate what had 
already taken place since the summer of 1917, namely the peasant confiscation 
of land from the landlords and the kulaks. Forced to go along with this autono- 
mous peasant resolution because it had facilitated their own seizure of power, 
the Bolsheviks were to wait a decade before having their way. The enforced 


A State against Its People 

collectivization of the countryside, which was to be the bitterest confrontation 
between the Soviet regime and the peasantry, was the tragic resolution of the 
1917 conflict. 

The second conflict arose between the Bolshevik Party and all the spon- 
taneous new social structures, such as factory committees, unions, socialist 
parties, neighborhood organizations, Red Guards, and above all Soviets, which 
had helped destroy traditional institutions of power and were now righting for 
the extension of their own mandates. In a few weeks these structures found 
themselves either subordinated to the Bolshevik Party or suppressed altogether. 
By a clever sleight-of-hand, "All power to the Soviets/' probably the single most 
popular slogan in the whole of Russia in October 1917, became a cloak hiding 
the power of the Bolshevik Party over the Soviets. "Workers 1 control, 1 ' another 
major demand of the workers, in whose interest the Bolsheviks claimed to be 
acting, was rapidly sidelined in favor of state control in the name of the workers 
over businesses and workforces. A mutual incomprehension was born between 
the workers, who were obsessed by unemployment, decline in real wages, and 
ever-present hunger, and a state whose only concern was economic efficiency. 
From as early as December 1917 the new regime was forced to confront 
mounting claims from workers and an increasing number of strikes. In a few- 
weeks the Bolsheviks lost the greater part of the confidence that thev had 
carefully cultivated in the labor force throughout the year. 

The third misunderstanding developed between the Bolsheviks and the 
satellite nations of the former tsarist empire. The Bolshevik coup d'etat had 
accelerated their desire for independence, and they thought that the new regime 
would support their cause. In recognizing the equality and sovereignty of the 
peoples of the old empire, as well as their right to self-determination and 
secession, the Bolsheviks seemed to have invited these peoples to break avvav 
from centralized Russian control. In a few months the Finns, Poles, Baltic 
nations, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis were claiming 
their independence. Overwhelmed, the Bolsheviks soon put their own eco- 
nomic needs before the rights of these nations, since Ukrainian wheat, the 
petroleum and minerals of the Caucasus, and all the other vital economic 
interests of the new state were perceived to be irreplaceable. In terms of the 
control it exercised over its territories, the new regime proved itself to be a 
more worthy inheritor of the empire than even the provisional government had 

These conflicts and misunderstandings were never truly resolved, but 
continued to grow, spawning an ever increasing divide between the new Soviet 
regime and society as a whole. Faced with new obstacles and the seeming 
intransigence of the population, the Bolshevik regime turned to terror and 
violence to consolidate its hold on the institutions of power. 


The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


he new Bolshevik power structure was quite complicated. Its 
public face, "the power of the Soviets," was formally represented by the Cen- 
tral Kxeeutive Committee, while the lawmaking apparatus of government was 
the Soviet Council of People's Commissars (SNK), which struggled to achieve 
some degree of domestic and international legitimacy and recognition. The 
government also had its revolutionary organization in the form of the Petro- 
grad Revolutionary Military Committee (PRMC), which had been so central in 
the actual seizure of power. Feliks Dzerzhinsky, who from the earliest days had 
played a decisive role in the PRMC, characterized it as "a light, flexible struc- 
ture that could swing into action at a moment's notice, without any bureau- 
cratic interference. There were no restrictions when the time came for the iron 
fist of the dictatorship of the proletariat to smite its foe." 

I low did this "iron fist of the dictatorship of the proletariat" (an expres- 
sion later used to describe the Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka) work in 
practice 5 Its organization was simple and extremely effective. The PRMC was 
made up of some sixty officials, including forty-eight Bolsheviks, a few Socialist 
Revolutionaries of the far left, and a handful of anarchists; and it was officially 
under the direction of a chairman, the Socialist Revolutionary Aleksandr Laz- 
imir, who was assisted in his operations by a group of four that included 
Aleksandr Antonov-Ovseenko and Dzerzhinsky. In fact during the fifty-three 



A State against Its People 

days of the PRMCs existence, more than 6,000 orders were drawn up, most 
of them scribbled on old bits of paper, and some twenty different people signed 
their name as chairman or secretary. 

The same operational simplicity was to be found in the transmission of 
directives and the execution of orders: the PRMC acted through the interme- 
diary of a network of nearly one thousand "commissars," who operated in 
many different fields — in military units, Soviets, neighborhood committees, and 
administrations. Responsible only to the PRMC, these commissars often made 
decisions independently of the government or of the Bolshevik Central Com- 
mittee. Beginning on 26 October (8 November), 1 while the Bolshevik leaders 
were off forming the government, a few obscure, anonymous commissars de- 
cided to "strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat" by the following meas- 
ures: forbidding counterrevolutionary tracts, closing all seven of the capital's 
principal newspapers (bourgeois and moderate socialist), taking control of" radio 
and telegraph stations, and setting up a project for the requisitioning of apart- 
ments and privately owned cars. The closing of the newspapers was legalized 
by a government decree a few days later, and within another week, after some 
quite acrimonious discussions, it was approved by the Central Executive Com- 
mittee of the Soviets. 2 

Unsure of their strength, and using the same tactic that had succeeded so 
well earlier, the Bolshevik leaders at first encouraged what they called the 
"revolutionary spontaneity of the masses." Replying to a delegation of repre- 
sentatives from rural Soviets, who had come from the province of Pskov to 
inquire what measures should be taken to avoid anarchy, Dzer/hinsky explained 

the task at hand is to break up the old order. We, the Bolsheviks, are not 
numerous enough to accomplish this task alone. We must allow the 
revolutionary spontaneity of the masses who are righting for their eman- 
cipation to take its course. After that, we Bolsheviks will show the 
masses which road to follow. Through the PRMC it is the masses who 
speak, and who act against their class enemy, against the enemies of the 
people. We are here only to channel and direct the hate and the legiti- 
mate desire for revenge of the oppressed against their oppressors. 

A few days earlier, at the 29 October (11 November) meeting of the 
PRMC, a few unidentified people had mentioned a need to combat the "ene- 
mies of the people" more vigorously. This formula would meet with great 
success in the months, years, and decades to follow. It was taken up again in 
the PRMC proclamation dated 13 November (26 November): "High-ranking 
functionaries in state administration, banks, the treasury, the railways, and the 
post and telegraph offices are all sabotaging the measures of the Bolshevik 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


government. Henceforth such individuals are to be described as 'enemies of 
the people. 1 Their names will be printed in all newspapers, and lists of the 
enemies of the people will be put up in public places." 1 A few days after these 
lists were published, a new proclamation was issued: "All individuals suspected 
of sabotage, speculation, and opportunism are now liable to be arrested imme- 
diately as enemies of the people and transferred to the Kronstadt prisons." 4 In 
the space of a few days the PRMC had introduced two new notions that were 
to have lasting consequences: the idea of the "enemy of the people" and the 
idea of the "suspect." 

On 28 November (11 December) the government institutionalized the 
notion of "enemy of the people." A decree signed by Lenin stipulated that "all 
leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of 
the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested imme- 
diately and brought before a revolutionary court." 5 Such courts had just been 
set up in accordance with "Order Number One regarding the Courts," which 
effectively abolished all laws that "were in contradiction with the worker and 
peasant government, or with the political programs of the Social Democratic 
or Socialist Revolutionary parties." While waiting for the new penal code to be 
drawn up, judges were granted tremendous latitude to assess the validity of 
existing legislation "in accordance with revolutionary order and legality," a 
notion so vague that it encouraged all sorts of abuses. The courts of the old 
regime were immediately suppressed and replaced by people's courts and 
revolutionary courts to judge crimes and misdemeanors committed "against the 
proletarian state," "sabotage," "espionage," "abuse of one's position," and 
other "counterrevolutionary crimes." As Dmitry Kursky, the people's commis- 
sar of justice from 1918 to 1928, recognized, the revolutionary courts were not 
courts in the normal "bourgeois" sense of the term at all, but courts of the 
dictatorship of the proletariat, and weapons in the struggle against the coun- 
terrevolution, whose main concern was eradication rather than judgment.' 1 
Among the revolutionary courts was a "revolutionary press court," whose role 
was to judge all crimes committed by the press and to suspend any publication 
found to be "sowing discord in the minds of the people by deliberately pub- 
lishing erroneous news."' 

While these new and previously unheard-of categories ("suspects," "ene- 
mies of the people") were appearing and the new means of dealing with them 
emerging, the Petrograd Revolutionary Military Committee continued its own 
process of restructuring. In a city in which stocks of flour were so low that 
rations were less than half a pound of bread per day per adult, the question of 
the food supply was naturally of great importance. 

On 4 (17) November a Food Commission was established, and its first 
proclamation stigmatized "the rich classes who profit from the misery of oth- 


A State against Its People 

ers," noting that "the time has come to requisition the surpluses of the rich, 
and all their goods as well." On 11 (24) November the Food Commission 
decided to send special detachments, made up of soldiers, sailors, workers, and 
Red Guards, to the provinces where cereals were produced "to procure food 
needed in Petrograd and at the front. "* This measure, taken by one of the 
PRJV1C commissions, prefigured the forced requisitioning policy that was en- 
forced for three years by detachments from the "food army, 1 ' which was to be 
the essential factor in the conflicts between the new regime and the peasantry 
and was to provoke much violence and terror. 

The Military Investigation Commission, established on 10 (23) Novem- 
ber, was in charge of the arrest of "counterrevolutionary" officers (who were 
usually denounced by their own soldiers), members of "bourgeois" parties, 
and functionaries accused of "sabotage." In a very short time this commission 
was in charge of a diffuse array of issues. In the troubled climate of a starving 
city, where detachments of Red Guards and ad hoc militia groups were con- 
stantly requisitioning, commandeering, and pillaging in the name of the revo- 
lution, or on the strength of an uncertain mandate signed by some commissar, 
hundreds of individuals every day were brought before the commission for a 
wide variety of so-called crimes, including looting, "speculation," "hoarding 
products of the utmost necessity," "drunkenness," and "belonging to a hostile 
class." 9 

The Bolshevik appeals to the revolutionary spontaneity of the masses were 
in practice a difficult tool to use. Violence and the settling of old scores were 
widespread, as were armed robberies and the looting of shops, particularly of 
the underground stocks of the Winter Palace and of shops selling alcohol. As 
time passed the phenomenon became so widespread that at Dzerzhinsky's 
suggestion the PRMC established a commission to combat drunkenness and 
civil unrest. On 6 (19) December the commission declared a state of emergency 
in Petrograd and imposed a curfew to "put an end to the troubles and the unrest 
brought about by unsavory elements masquerading as revolutionaries." 111 

More than these sporadic troubles, what the revolutionary government 
feared was a widespread strike by state employees, which had started in the 
immediate aftermath of the coup d'etat of 25 October (7 November). This 
threat was the pretext for the creation on 7 (20) December of the I serossiiskaya 
C/zrezvychainaya ATomissiya po bor'be s kontr-revolyutsiei, spekulyatsiei i sabo- 
tazhem — the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat the Counter- 
revolution, Speculation, and Sabotage — which was to enter history under its 
initials as the VChK, abbreviated to the Cheka. 

A few days after the creation of the Cheka, the government decided, not 
without hesitation, to disband the PRMC. As a provisional operating structure 
set up on the eve of the insurrection to direct operations on the ground, it had 
accomplished its task: it had facilitated the seizure of power and defended the 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


new regime until it had time to create its own state apparatus. Henceforth, to 
avoid confusion about power structures and the danger of spreading responsi- 
bilities too widely, it was to transfer all its prerogatives to the legal government, 
the Council of People's Commissars. 

At a moment judged to be so critical by their leaders, how could the 
Bolsheviks do without this "iron fist of the dictatorship of the proletariat"? At 
a meeting on 6(19) December the government entrusted "Comrade Dzerzhin- 
sky to establish a special commission to examine means to combat, with the 
most revolutionary energy possible, the general strike of state employees, and 
to investigate methods to combat sabotage." What Dzerzhinsky did gave rise 
to no discussion, as it seemed so clearly to be the correct response. A few days 
earlier, Lenin, always eager to draw parallels between the French Revolution 
and the Russian Revolution of 1917, had confided in his secretary Vladimir 
Bonch-Bruevich an urgent need to find "our own Fouquier-Tinville, to combat 
the counterrevolutionary rabble." 11 On 6 December Lenin's choice of a "solid 
proletarian Jacobin" resulted in the unanimous election of Dzerzhinsky, who 
in a few weeks, thanks to his energetic actions as part of the PRMC, had become 
the great specialist on questions of security. Besides, as Lenin explained to 
Bonch-Bruevich, "of all of us, it's Fcliks who spent the most time behind bars 
of the tsarist prisons, and who had the most contact with the Okhrana [the 
tsarist political police]. He knows what he's doing!" 

Before the government meeting of 7 (20) December Lenin sent a note to 

With reference to your report of today, would it not be possible to write 
a decree with a preamble such as the following: The bourgeoisie are still 
persistently committing the most abominable crimes and recruiting the 
very dregs of society to organize riots. The accomplices of the bourgeoi- 
sie, notably high-ranking functionaries and bank cadres, are also in- 
volved in sabotage and organizing strikes to undermine the measures the 
government is taking with a view to the socialist transformation of 
society. The bourgeoisie is even going so far as to sabotage the food 
supply, thus condemning millions to death by starvation. Exceptional 
measures will have to be taken to combat these saboteurs and counter- 
revolutionaries. Consequently, the Soviet Council of People's Commis- 
sars decrees that . . , 12 

During the evening of 7 (20) December Dzerzhinsky presented his project 
to the SNK. He began his intervention with a speech on the dangers faced by 
the revolution "from within": 

To address this problem, the crudest and most dangerous of all the 
problems we face, we must make use of determined comrades— solid, 
hard men without pity— who are ready to sacrifice everything for the 


A State against Its People 

sake of the revolution. Do not imagine, comrades, that I am simply 
looking for a revolutionary form of justice. We have no concern about 
justice at this hour! We are at war, on the front where the enemy is 
advancing, and the fight is to the death. What 1 am proposing, what 1 am 
demanding, is the creation of a mechanism that, in a truly revolutionary 
and suitably Bolshevik fashion, will filter out the counterrevolutionaries 
once and for all! 

Dzerzhinsky then launched into the core of his speech, transcribed as it 
appears in the minutes of the meeting: 

The task of the Commission is as follows: (I) to suppress and liquidate 
any act or attempted act of counterrevolutionary activity or sabotage, 
whatever its origin, anywhere on Russian soil; (2) to bring all saboteurs 
and counterrevolutionaries before a revolutionary court. 

The Commission will proceed by a preliminary inquiry, wherever 
this is indispensable to its task. 

The Commission will be divided into three sections: (1) Informa- 
tion; (2) Organization; (3) Operation. 

The Commission will attach particular importance to questions 
regarding the press, sabotage, the KDs [Constitutional Democrats], the 
right Socialist Revolutionaries, saboteurs, and strikers. 

The Commission is entitled to take the following repressive meas- 
ures: to confiscate goods, expel people from their homes, remove ration 
cards, publish lists of enemies of the people, etc. 

Resolution: to approve this draft. To name the commission the 
All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat the Counterrevolu- 
tion, Speculation, and Sabotage. 

These resolutions are to be made public. '■' 

This text, which discusses the founding of the Soviet secret police, un- 
doubtedly raises a few questions. How, for example, is the difference between 
Dzerzhinsky's fiery-sounding speech and the relative modesty of the powers 
accorded the Cheka to be interpreted? The Bolsheviks were on the point of 
concluding an agreement with the left Socialist Revolutionaries (six of whose 
leaders had been admitted to the government on 12 December) to break their 
political isolation, at the crucial moment when they had to face the question of 
calling the Constituent Assembly, in which they still held only a minority. 
Accordingly they decided to keep a low profile, and contrary to the resolution 
adopted by the government on 7 (20) December, no decree announcing the 
creation of the Cheka and outlining its role was actually published. 

As an "extraordinary commission," the Cheka was to prosper and act 
without the slightest basis in law. Dzerzhinsky, who like Lenin wanted nothing 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


so much as a free hand, described it in the following astonishing fashion: "It is 
life itself that shows the Cheka the direction to follow." Life in this instance 
meant the "revolutionary terror of the masses," the street violence fervently 
encouraged by many of the Bolshevik leaders, who had momentarily forgotten 
their profound distrust of the spontaneous actions of the people. 

When Trotsky, a people's commissar during the war, was addressing the 
delegates of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets on 1 (14) Decem- 
ber, he warned that "in less than a month, this terror is going to take extremely 
violent forms, just as it did during the great French Revolution. Not only prison 
awaits our enemies, but the guillotine, that remarkable invention of the French 
Revolution which has the capacity to make a man a whole head shorter." 14 

A few weeks later, speaking at a workers 1 assembly, Lenin again called for 
terror, describing it as revolutionary class justice: 

The Soviet regime has acted in the way that all revolutionary proletari- 
ats should act; it has made a clean break with bourgeois justice, which is 
an instrument of the oppressive classes . . . Soldiers and workers must 
understand that no one will help them unless they help themselves. If 
the masses do not rise up spontaneously, none of this will lead to any- 
thing . . . For as long as we fail to treat speculators the way they de- 
serve — with a bullet in the head — we will not get anywhere at all. 15 

These calls for terror intensified the violence already unleashed in society 
by the Bolsheviks' rise to power. Since the autumn of 1917 thousands of the 
great agricultural properties had been attacked by brigades of angry peasants, 
and hundreds of the major landowners had been massacred. Violence had been 
omnipresent in Russia in the summer of 1917. The violence itself was nothing 
new, but the events of the year had allowed several different types of violence, 
already there in a latent state, to converge: an urban violence reacting against 
the brutality of capitalist relations at the heart of an industrial society; tradi- 
tional peasant violence; and the modern violence of World War I, which had 
reintroduced extraordinary regression and brutality into human relations. The 
combination of these three forms of violence made for an explosive mix, whose 
effect was potentially devastating during the Russian Revolution, marked as it 
was by the failure of normal institutions of order and authority, by a rising 
sense of resentment and social frustrations accumulated over a long period, and 
bv the political use of popular violence. Mutual suspicion had always been the 
norm between the townspeople and the peasants. For the peasants, more now 
than ever, the city was the seat of power and oppression; for the urban elite, 
and for professional revolutionaries who by a large majority were from the 
intelligentsia, the peasants were still, in Gorky's words, "a mass of half-savage 

60 A State against Its People 

people 1 ' whose a cruel instincts" and "animal individualism 1 ' ought to be 
brought to book by the "organized reason of the city." At the same time, 
politicians and intellectuals were all perfectly conscious that it was the peasant 
revolts that had shaken the provisional government, allowing the Bolsheviks, 
who were really a tiny minority in the country, to seize the initiative in the 
power vacuum that had resulted. 

At the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918, the new regime faced no serious 
opposition, and one month after the Bolshevik coup d'etat it effectively con- 
trolled most of the north and the center of Russia as far as the mid-Volga, as 
well as some of the bigger cities, such as Baku in the Caucasus and Tashkent in 
Central Asia. Ukraine and Finland had seceded but were not demonstrating 
any warlike intentions. The only organized anti-Bolshevik military force was a 
small army of about 3,000 volunteers, the embryonic form of the future 
"White Army' 1 that was being formed in southern Russia by General Mikhail 
Alekseev and General Kornilov These tsarist generals were placing all their 
hopes in the Cossacks of the Don and the Kuban. The Cossacks were radically 
different from the other Russian peasants; their main privilege under the old 
regime had been to receive 30 hectares of land in exchange for military service 
up to the age of thirty-six. If they had no desire to acquire more land, they 
were zealous to keep the land they had already acquired. Desiring above all to 
retain their status and their independence, and worried by the Bolshevik proc- 
lamations that had proved so injurious to the kulaks, the Cossacks aligned 
themselves with the anti-Bolshevik forces in the spring of 1918. 

"Civil war 1 ' may not be the most appropriate term to describe the first 
clashes of the winter of 1917 and the spring of 1918 in southern Russia, which 
involved a few thousand men from the army of volunteers and General Rudolf" 
Sivers' Bolshevik troops, who numbered scarcely 6,000. What is immediately 
striking is the contrast between the relatively modest number of troops involved 
in these clashes and the extraordinary repressive violence exercised by the 
Bolsheviks, not simply against the soldiers they captured but also against 
civilians. Established in June 1919 by General Anton Denikin, commander in 
chief of the armed forces in the south of Russia, the Commission to Investigate 
Bolshevik Crimes tried to record, in the few months of its existence, the 
atrocities committed by the Bolsheviks in Ukraine, the Kuban, the Don region, 
and the Crimea. The statements gathered by this commission, which constitute 
the principal source of Sergei Melgunov's 1926 classic, The Red Terror in 
Russia, 1918-1924, demonstrate that innumerable atrocities were committed 
from January 1918 onward. In Taganrog units from Sivers' army had thrown 
fifty Junkers and "White" officers, their hands and feet bound, into a blast 
furnace. In Evpatoria several hundred officers and "bourgeois" were tied up, 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


tortured, and thrown into the sea. Similar acts of violence occurred in most of 
the cities of the Crimea occupied by the Bolsheviks, including Sevastopol, 
Yalta, Alushta, and Simferopol. Similar atrocities are recorded from April and 
May 1918 in the big Cossack cities then in revolt. The extremely precise files 
of the Denikin commission record "corpses with the hands cut off, broken 
bones, heads ripped off, broken jaws, and genitals removed." 16 

As Melgunov notes, it is nonetheless difficult to distinguish the systematic 
practice of organized terror from what might otherwise be considered simply 
uncontrolled excesses. There is rarely mention of a local Cheka directing such 
massacres until August and September 1918; until that time the Cheka network 
was still quite sparse. These massacres, which targeted not only enemy com- 
batants but also civilian "enemies of the people" (for instance, among the 240 
people killed in Yalta at the beginning of March 1918, there were some 70 
politicians, lawyers, journalists, and teachers, as well as 165 officers), were often 
carried out by "armed detachments," "Red Guards," and other, unspecified 
"Bolshevik elements." Exterminating the enemy of the people was simply the 
logical extension of a revolution that was both political and social. This con- 
ception of the world did not suddenly spring into being in the aftermath of 
October 1917, but the Bolshevik seizure of power, which was quite explicit on 
the issue, did play a role in its subsequent legitimation. 

In March 1917 a young captain wrote a perceptive letter assessing the 
revolution and its effects on his regiment: "Between the soldiers and ourselves, 
the gap cannot be bridged. For them, we are, and will always remain, the barini 
| masters |. To their way of thinking, what has just taken place isn't a political 
revolution but a social movement, in which they are the winners and we are the 
losers. They say to us: 'You were the barini before, but now it's our turn!' They 
think that they will now have their revenge, after all those centuries of servi- 
tude." 17 

The Bolshevik leaders encouraged anything that might promote this as- 
piration to "social revenge" among the masses, seeing it as a moral legitimation 
of the terror, or what Lenin called "the just civil war." On 15 (28) December 
1917 D/erzhinsky published an appeal in Izvestiya (News) inviting all Soviets 
to organize their own Chekas. The result was a swift flourishing of "commis- 
sions," "detachments," and other "extraordinary organizations" that the cen- 
tral authorities had great problems in controlling when they decided, a few 
months later, to end such "mass initiatives" and to organize a centralized, 
structured network of Chekas. lx 

Summing up the first six months of the Cheka's existence in July 1918, 
Dzerzhinsky wrote: "This was a period of improvisation and hesitation, during 
which our organization was not always up to the complexities of the situ- 
ation." 14 Yet even bv that date the Cheka's record as an instrument of repression 


A State against Its People 

was already enormous. And the organization, whose personnel had numbered 
no more than 100 in December 1917, had increased to 12,000 in a mere six 

Its beginnings had been modest. On 11 (24) January 1918 Dzerzhinsky 
had sent a note to Lenin: u We find the present situation intolerable, despite the 
important services we have already rendered. We have no money whatever. We 
work night and day without bread, sugar, tea, butter, or cheese. Either take 
measures to authorize decent rations for us or give us the power to make our 
own requisitions from the bourgeoisie." 20 Dzerzhinsky had recruited approxi- 
mately 100 men, for the most part old comrades-in-arms, mostly Poles and 
people from the Baltic states, nearly all of whom had also worked for the 
PRMC, and who became the future leaders of the GPU of the 1920s and the 
NKVD of the 1930s: Martin Latsis, Viacheslav Menzhinsky, Stanislav Mess- 
ing, Grigory Moroz, Jan Peters, Meir Trilisser, Josif Unshlikht, and Genrikh 

The first action of the Cheka was to break a strike by state employees in 
Petrograd. The method was swift and effective — all its leaders were arrested — 
and the justification simple: "Anyone who no longer wishes to work with the 
people has no place among them," declared Dzerzhinsky, who also arrested a 
number of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary deputies elected to the 
Constituent Assembly. This arbitrary act was immediately condemned by Isaac 
Steinberg, the people's commissar of justice, who was himself a left Socialist 
Revolutionary and had been elected to the government a few days previously. 
This first clash between the Cheka and the judiciary raised the important issue 
of the legal position of the secret police. 

"What is the point of a 'People's Commissariat for Justice'?" Steinberg 
asked Lenin. "It would be more honest to have a People's Commissariat for 
Social Extermination. People would understand more clearly." 

"Excellent idea," Lenin countered. "That's exactly how I see it. Unfortu- 
nately, it wouldn't do to call it that!" 21 

Lenin arbitrated in the conflict between Steinberg, who argued for a strict 
subordination of the Cheka to the processes of justice, and Dzerzhinsky, who 
argued against what he called "the nitpicking legalism of the old school of the 
ancien regime" In Dzerzhinsky 's view, the Cheka should be responsible for its 
acts only to the government itself. 

The sixth (nineteenth) of January marked an important point in the 
consolidation of the Bolshevik dictatorship. Early in the morning the Constitu- 
ent Assembly, which had been elected in November-December 1917 and in 
which the Bolsheviks were a minority (they had only 175 deputies out of 707 
seats), was broken up by force, having met for a single day. This arbitrary act 
seemed to provoke no particular reaction anywhere in the country. A small 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


demonstration against the dissolution of the assembly was broken up by troops, 
causing some twenty deaths, a high price to pay for a democratic parliamentary 
experiment that lasted only a few hours. 22 

In the days and weeks that followed the dissolution of the Constituent 
Assembly, the position of the Bolshevik government in Petrograd became 
increasingly uncomfortable, at the very moment when Trotsky, Kamenev, Adolf 
Yoffe, and Karl Radek were negotiating peace conditions with delegations from 
the Central Powers at Brest Litovsk. On 9 (22) January 1918 the government 
devoted all business to the question of its transfer to Moscow. 21 

What worried the Bolshevik leaders was not the German threat — the 
armistice had held good since 15 (28) December — but the possibility of a 
workers 1 uprising. Discontent was growing rapidly in working-class areas that 
just two months before had been solidly behind them. With demobilization and 
the consequent slump in large-scale orders from the military, businesses had 
laid off tens of thousands of workers, and increasing difficulties in supply had 
caused the daily bread ration to fall to a mere quarter of a pound. Unable to 
do anything to improve this situation, Lenin merely spoke out against 
"profiteers" and "speculators," whom he chose as scapegoats. "Every factory, 
every company must set up its own requisitioning detachments. Everyone must 
be mobilized in the search for bread, not simply volunteers, but absolutely 
everyone; anyone who fails to cooperate will have his ration card confiscated 
immediately" he wrote on 22 January (4 February) 1918. IA 

Trotsky's nomination, on his return from Brest Litovsk on .11 January 
1918, to head the Extraordinary Commission for Food and Transport was a 
clear sign from the government of the decisive importance it was giving to the 
"hunt for food," which was the first stage in the "dictatorship of food," Lenin 
turned to this commission in mid-February with a draft decree that the mem- 
bers of the commission — who besides Trotsky included Aleksandr Tsyurupa, 
the people's commissar of food — rejected. According to the text prepared by 
Lenin, all peasants were to be required to hand over any surplus food in 
exchange for a receipt. Any defaulters who failed to hand in supplies within the 
required time were to be executed. "When we read this proposal we were at a 
loss for words," Tsyurupa recalled in his memoirs. "To carry out a project like 
this would have led to executions on a massive scale. Lenin's project was simply 
abandoned." 2 ' 

The episode was nonetheless extremely revealing. Since the beginning of 
1918, Lenin had found himself trapped in an impasse of" his own making, and 
he was worried about the catastrophic supply situation of the big industrial 
centers, which were seen as isolated Bolshevik strongholds among the great 
mass of peasants. 1 le was prepared to do anything to get the grain he needed 
without altering his policies. Conflict was inevitable here, between a peasantry 


A State against Its People 

determined to keep for itself the fruits of its labors and to reject any external 
interference, and the new regime, which was attempting to place its stamp on 
the situation, refused to understand how economic supply actually functioned, 
and desired more than anything to bring under control what it saw as growing 
social anarchy. 

On 21 February 1918, in the face of a huge advance by the German army 
after the failure of the talks at Brest Litovsk, the government declared the 
socialist fatherland to be in danger. The call for resistance against the invaders 
was accompanied by a call for mass terror: "All enemy agents, speculators, 
hooligans, counterrevolutionary agitators, and German spies will be shot on 
sight." 26 This proclamation effectively installed martial law in all military /ones. 
When peace was finally agreed at Brest Litovsk on 3 March 1918, it technically 
lost its legal force, and legally the death penalty was reestablished again only 
on 16 June 1918. Nevertheless, from February 1918 on the Cheka carried out 
numerous summary executions, even outside the military /ones. 

On 10 March 1918 the government left Petrograd for Moscow, the new 
capital. The Cheka headquarters were set up near the Kremlin, in Bolshaya 
Lubyanka Street, in a building that had previously belonged to an insurance 
company. Under a series of names (including the GPU, OGPU, NKVD, M 1 X 
and KGB) the Cheka would occupy the building until the fall of the Soviet 
regime. From a mere 600 in March, the number of Cheka employees working 
at the central headquarters had risen to 2,000 in July 1918, excluding the special 
troops. At this same date the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, whose 
task was to direct the immense apparatus of local Soviets throughout the 
country, had a staff of 400. 

The Cheka launched its first major operation on the night of 1 1-12 April 
1918, when more than 1,000 men from its special troop detachments stormed 
some twenty anarchist strongholds in Moscow. After several hours of hard 
fighting, 520 anarchists were arrested; 25 were summarily executed as "ban- 
dits," a term that from then on would designate workers on strike, deserters 
fleeing conscription, or peasants resisting the forced requisitioning of grain.-' 
After this first success, which was followed by other Opacification" opera- 
tions in both Moscow and Petrograd, Dzcrzhinsky wrote a letter to the Central 
Executive Committee on 29 April 1918 requesting a considerable increase in 
Cheka resources. u At this particular time," he wrote, u Cheka activity is almost 
bound to increase exponentially, in the face of the increase in counterrevolu- 
tionary activity on all sides." 2 * 

The "particular time" to which Dzerzhinsky was referring seemed indeed 
to be a decisive period for the installation of the political and economic dicta- 
torship and the strengthening of repression against a population that appeared 
to regard the Bolsheviks with ever-increasing hostility. Since October 1917 the 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


Bolsheviks had done nothing to improve the everyday lot of the average Rus- 
sian, nor had they safeguarded the fundamental liberties that had accrued 
throughout 1917. Formerly regarded as the only political force that would allow 
peasants to seize the land they had so long desired, the Bolsheviks were now 
perceived as Communists, who wanted to steal the fruits of the peasants' labors. 
Could these really be the same people, the peasants wondered, the Bolsheviks 
who had finally given them the land, and the Communists who seemed to be 
holding them for ransom, and wanted even the shirts from their backs? 

The spring of 1918 was a crucial period, when everything was still up for 
grabs. The Soviets had not yet been muzzled and transformed into simple tools 
of the state apparatus; they were still a forum for real political debate between 
Bolsheviks and moderate socialists. Opposition newspapers, though attacked 
almost daily, continued to exist. Political life flourished as different institutions 
competed for popular support. And during this period, which was marked by 
a deterioration in living conditions and the total breakdown of economic rela- 
tions between the town and the country, Socialist Revolutionaries and Men- 
sheviks scored undeniable political victories. In elections to the new Soviets, 
despite a certain amount of intimidation and vote-rigging, they achieved out- 
right victories in nineteen of the thirty main provincial seats where voting took 
place and the results were made public. 29 

The government responded by strengthening its dictatorship on both the 
political and the economic fronts. Networks of economic distribution had fallen 
apart as a result of the spectacular breakdown in communications, particularly 
in the railways, and all incentive for farmers seemed to have been lost, as the 
lack of manufacturing products provided no impetus for peasants to sell their 
goods. The fundamental problem was thus to assure the food supply to the 
army and to the cities, the seat of power and of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks 
had two choices: they could cither attempt to resurrect some sort of market 
economy or use additional constraints. They chose the second option, con- 
vinced of the need to go ever further in the struggle to destroy the old order. 

Speaking before the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets on 29 
April 1918, Lenin went straight to the point: "The smallholders, the people 
who owned only a parcel of land, fought side by side with the proletariat when 
the time came to overthrow the capitalists and the major landowners. But now 
our paths have diverged. Smallholders have always been afraid of discipline 
and organization. The time has come for us to have no mercy, and to turn 
against them." m A few days later the people's commissar of food told the same 
assembly: u [ say it quite openly; we are now at war, and it is only with guns 
that we will get the grain we need." Trotsky himself added: "Our only choice 
now is civil war. Civil war is the struggle for bread . . . Long live civil war!" 31 

A 1921 text bv Karl Radek, one of the Bolshevik leaders, is revealing of 


A State against Its People 

Bolshevik policies in the spring of 1918, several months before the outbreak of 
the armed conflict that for two years would find Reds and Whites at war: 

The peasants had just received the land from the state, they had just 
returned home from the front, they had kept their guns, and their 
attitude to the state could be summed up as "Who needs it?" They 
couldn't have cared less about it. If we had decided to come up with 
some sort of food tax, it wouldn't have worked, for none of the state 
apparatus remained. The old order had disappeared, and the peasants 
wouldn't have handed over anything without actually being forced. Our 
task at the beginning of 1918 was quite simple: we had to make the 
peasants understand two quite simple things: that the state had some 
claim on what they produced, and that it had the means to exercise those 
rights.- 12 

In May and June 1918 the Bolshevik government took two decisive meas- 
ures that inaugurated the period of civil war, which has come to be known as 
"War Communism." On 13 May 1918 a decree granted extraordinary powers 
to the People's Commissariat of Food, requiring it to requisition all foodstuffs 
and to establish what was in fact a "food army." By July nearly 12,000 people 
were involved in these "food detachments, 1 ' which at their height in 1920 were 
to number more than 24,000 men, over half of whom were unemployed work- 
ers from Petrograd, attracted by the promise of a decent salary and a propor- 
tional share of the confiscated food. The second decisive measure was the 
decree of 1 1 June 1918, which established committees of poor peasants, order- 
ing them to work in close collaboration with the food detachments and also to 
requisition, in exchange for a share of the profits, any agricultural surpluses 
that the better-off peasants might be keeping for themselves. These committees 
of poor peasants soon displaced the rural Soviets, which the government judged 
to be untrustworthy, as they were contaminated with Socialist Revolutionary 
ideology. Given the tasks they were ordered to carry out — to seize by force the 
results of other people's labor— and the motivations that were used to spur 
them on (power, a feeling of frustration toward and envy of the rich, and the 
promise of a share in the spoils), one can imagine what these first repre- 
sentatives of Bolshevik power in the countryside were really like. As Andrea 
Graziosi acutely notes: "For these people, devotion to the cause — or rather to 
the new state — and an undeniable operational capacity went hand in hand with 
a rather faltering social and political conscience, an interest in self-advance- 
ment, and traditional modes of behavior, including brutality to their subordi- 
nates, alcoholism, and nepotism . . . What we have here is a good example of 
the manner in which the 'spirit' of the plebeian revolution penetrated the new 



The Iron Fist of tha Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


Despite a few initial successes, the organization of the Committees for the 
Poor took a long time to get off the ground. The very idea of using the poorest 
section of the peasantry reflected the deep mistrust the Bolsheviks felt toward 
peasant society. In accordance with a rather simplistic Marxist schema, they 
imagined ir to be divided into warring classes, whereas in fact it presented a 
fairly solid front to the world, and particularly when faced with strangers from 
the city. When the question arose of handing over surpluses, the egalitarian and 
community-minded reflex found in all the villages took over, and instead of 
persecuting a few rich peasants, by far the greater part of the requisitions were 
simply redistributed in the same village, in accordance with people's needs. 
This policy alienated the large central mass of the peasantry, and discontent 
was soon widespread, with troubles breaking out in numerous regions. Con- 
fronted by the brutality of the food detachments, who were often reinforced by 
the army or by Cheka units, a real guerrilla force began to take shape from June 
1918 onward. In July and August 110 peasant insurrections, described by the 
Bolsheviks as kulak rebellions — which in their terminology meant uprisings 
involving whole villages, with insurgents from all classes -broke out in the 
zones they controlled. All the trust that the Bolsheviks had gained by not 
opposing the seizure of land in 1917 evaporated in a matter of weeks, and for 
more than three years the policy of requisitioning food was to provoke thou- 
sands of riots and uprisings, which were to degenerate into real peasant wars 
that were quelled with terrible violence. 

The political effects of the hardening of the dictatorship in the spring of 
1918 included the complete shutdown of all non-Bolshevik newspapers, the 
forcible dissolution of all non-Bolshevik Soviets, the arrest of opposition lead- 
ers, and the brutal repression of manv strikes. In May and June 1918, 205 of 
the opposition socialist newspapers were finally closed down. The mostly Men- 
shevik or Socialist Revolutionary Soviets of Kaluga, Tver, Yaroslavl, Ryazan, 
Kostroma, Kazan, Saratov, Penza, Tambov, Voronezh, Orel, and Vologda were 
broken up by force. 14 F cry where the scenario was almost identical: a few days 
after victory bv the opposing party and the consequent formation of a new 
soviet, the Bolshevik detachment would call for an armed force, usually a 
detachment of the Cheka, which then proclaimed martial law and arrested the 
opposition leaders. 

Dzer/hinsky, who had sent his principal collaborators into towns that had 
initially been won by the opposing parties, was an unabashed advocate of the 
use of force, as can be seen clearly from the directive he sent on 31 May 1918 
to A. V. Fiduk, his plenipotentiary on a mission to Tver: 

The workers, under the influence of the Mcnsheviks, the Socialist Revo- 
lutionaries, and other counterrevolutionary bastards, have all gone on 


A State against Its People 

strike, and demonstrated in favor of a government made up of all the 
different socialist parties. Put big posters up all over the town saying 
that the Cheka will execute on the spot any bandit, thief, speculator, or 
counterrevolutionary found to be conspiring against the soviet. Levy an 
extraordinary tax on all bourgeois residents of the town, and make a list 
of them, as that will be very useful if things start happening. You ask 
how to form the local Cheka: just round up all the most resolute people 
you can, who understand that there is nothing more effective than a 
bullet in the head to shut people up. Experience has shown me that you 
only need a small number of people like that to turn a whole situation 
around. b 

The dissolution of the Soviets held by the opposition, and the expulsion 
on 14 June 1918 of all Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries from the 
All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets, provoked protests and 
strikes in many working-class towns, where, to make matters worse, the food 
situation was still steadily deteriorating. In Kolpino, near Petrograd, the leader 
of a Cheka detachment ordered his troops to open fire on a hunger march 
organized by workers whose monthly ration of bread had fallen to two pounds. 
There were ten deaths. On the same day, in the Berezovsky factory, near 
Ekaterinburg, fifteen people were killed by a detachment of Red Guards at a 
meeting called to protest against Bolshevik commissars who were accused of 
confiscating the most impressive properties in the town and of keeping for 
themselves the 150-ruble tax they had levied on the bourgeoisie. The next day 
the local authorities declared a state of martial law, and fourteen people were 
immediately executed by the local Cheka, who refrained from mentioning this 
detail to headquarters in Moscow. 36 

In the latter half of May and in June 1918, numerous working-class 
demonstrations were put down bloodily in Sormovo, Yaroslavl, and Tula, as 
well as in the industrial cities of Uralsk, Nizhni-Tagil, Beloretsk, Zlatoust, and 
Ekaterinburg. The ever-increasing involvement of the local Chekas in these 
repressions is attested by the growing frequency in working-class environments 
of slogans directed against the "New Okhrana" (the tsarist secret police) who 
worked for what they termed the "commissarocracy." 17 

From 8 to 11 June 1918 Dzerzhinsky presided over the first All-Russian 
Conference of Chekas, attended by 100 delegates from forty-three local sec- 
tions, which already employed more than 12,000 men. That figure would rise 
to 40,000 by the end of 1918, and to more than 280,000 by the beginning of 
1921. Claiming to be above the Soviets and, according to certain Bolsheviks, 
even above the Party, the conference declared its intention to u take full respon- 
sibility for the struggle against the counterrevolution throughout the republic, 
in its role as supreme enforcer of administrative power in Soviet Russia. 11 The 

The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 


role that it proclaimed for itself at the end of the conference revealed the extent 
of the huge field of activity in which the political police was already operating, 
before the great wave of counterrevolutionary actions that would mark the 
summer. Modeled on the organization of the Lubyanka headquarters, each 
provincial Cheka was to establish the following departments and offices: 

1. Information Department. Offices: Red Army, monarchists, cadets, right 
Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, anarchists, bourgeoisie and 
church people, unions and workers' committees, and foreigners. The ap- 
propriate offices were to draw up lists of suspects corresponding to all 
the above categories. 

2. Department for the Struggle against the Counterrevolution. Offices: 
Red Army, monarchists, cadets, right Socialist Revolutionaries and 
Mensheviks, anarchists, unionists, national minorities, foreigners, alco- 
holism, pogroms and public order, and press affairs. 

3. Department for the Struggle against Speculation and Abuses of 

4. Department of Transport, Communication, and Ports. 

5. Operational Department, including special Cheka units.™ 

Two days after the All-Russian Conference of Chekas, the government 
reinstated the death penalty, which had been abolished after the revolution of 
February 1917. Though formally reinstated by Kerensky in July 1917, it had 
been applied only at the front, in areas under military control. One of the first 
measures taken by the Second Congress of Soviets on 26 October (8 Novem- 
ber) 1917 had been to abolish capital punishment, a decision that elicited a 
furious reaction from Lenin: "It's an error, an unforgivable weakness, a pacifist 
delusion!"™ I .enin and Dzerzhinsky had been constantly trying to reinstate the 
penalty while knowing very well that in practice it could already be used 
whenever necessary, without any "nitpicking legalism, 11 by organizations like 
the Cheka, which operated outside the law. The first legal death sentence was 
pronounced by a revolutionary court on 21 June 1918; Admiral A. Shchastnyi 
was the first "counterrevolutionary" to be shot "legally." 

On 20 June V. Volodarsky, a Bolshevik leader in Petrograd, was shot down 
by a militant Socialist Revolutionary. This event occurred at a time of extreme 
tension in the old capital. In the preceding weeks, relations between Bolsheviks 
and workers had gone from bad to worse, and in May and June the Petrograd 
Cheka recorded seventy "incidents 11 — strikes, anti-Bolshevik meetings, demon- 
strations — led principally by metalworkers from labor strongholds, who had 
been the most ardent supporters of the Bolsheviks in the period leading up to 
the events of 1917. The authorities responded to strikes with lockouts at the 
large state-owned factories, a practice that became more and more widespread 


A State against Its People 

in the following months to break the workers' resistance. Volodarsky's assassi- 
nation was followed by an unprecedented wave of arrests in the working-class 
areas of Petrograd. The Assembly of Workers' Representatives, a mainly Men- 
shevik group that organized working-class opposition and was in fact a real 
opposition power to the Petrograd soviet, was dissolved. More than 800 leaders 
were arrested in two days. The workers' response to this huge wave of arrests 
was to call a general strike for 21 July 1918. w 

From Moscow Lenin sent a letter to Grigori Zinoviev, president of the 
Petrograd Committee of the Bolshevik Party. The document is extremely 
revealing, both of Lenin's conception of terror and of an extraordinary political 
delusion. Lenin was in fact committing a huge political mistake when he 
claimed that the workers were protesting Volodarsky's death. 

Comrade Zinoviev! We have just learned that the workers of Petrograd 
wish to respond to Comrade Volodarsky's murder with mass terror, and 
that you (not you personally, but the members of the Party Committee 
in Petrograd) are trying to stop them: I want to protest most vehemently 
against this. We are eompromising ourselves; we are calling for mass 
terror in the resolutions passed by the Soviet, but when the time comes 
for action, we obstruct the natural reactions of the masses. This cannot 
be! The terrorists will start to think we are being halfhearted. This is the 
hour of truth: It is of supreme importance that we encourage and make 
use of the energy of mass terror directed against the counterrevolution- 
aries, especially those of Petrograd, whose example is decisive. Regards. 
Lenin. 41 


The Red Terror 


I he Bolsheviks are saying openly that their days are numbered," 
Karl Helfferich, the German ambassador to Moscow, told his government on 
3 August 1918. "A veritable panic has overtaken Moscow . . . The craziest 
rumors imaginable are rife, about so-called 'traitors' who are supposed to be in 
hiding around the city." 

The Bolsheviks certainly never felt as much under threat as they did in 
1918. The territory they controlled amounted to little more than the traditional 
province of Muscovy, which now faced anti-Bolshevik opposition on three 
solidly established fronts: the first in the region of the Don, occupied by the 
Cossack troops of Ataman Krasnov and by General Denikin's White Army; 
the second in Ukraine, which was in the hands of the Germans and of the 
Rada, the national Ukrainian government; and a third front all along the 
Trans-Siberian Railway, where most of the big cities had fallen to the Czech 
Legion, whose offensive had been supported by the Socialist Revolutionary 
government in Samara. 

In the regions that were more or less under Bolshevik control, nearly 140 
major revolts and insurrections broke out in the summer of 1918; most involved 
peasant communities resisting the enforced commandeering of food supplies, 
which was being carried out with such brutality by the food army; protests 
against the limitations on trade and exchange; or protests against the new 



A State against Its People 

compulsory conscription for the Red Army. 1 Typically the angry peasants 
would flock en masse to the nearest town, besiege the soviet, and sometimes 
even attempt to set fire to it. The incidents usually degenerated into violence, 
and either local militias or, more and more often, detachments from the local 
Cheka opened fire on the protesters. In these confrontations, which became 
more frequent as time passed, the Bolshevik leaders saw a vast counterrevolu- 
tionary conspiracy directed against their regime by "kulaks disguised as White 


"It is quite clear that preparations are being made for a White Guard 
uprising in Nizhni Novgorod/ 1 wrote Lenin in a telegram on 9 August 1918 to 
the president of the Executive Committee of the Nizhni Novgorod soviet, in 
response to a report about peasant protests against requisitioning. "Your first 
response must be to establish a dictatorial troika (i.e., you, Markin, and one 
other person) and introduce mass terror, shooting or deporting the hundreds 
of prostitutes who are causing all the soldiers to drink, all the ex-officers, etc. 
There is not a moment to lose; you must act resolutely, with massive reprisals. 
Immediate execution for anyone caught in possession of a firearm. Massive 
deportations of Mensheviks and other suspect elements." 2 The next day Lenin 
sent a similar telegram to the Central Executive Committee of the Penza soviet: 

Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed 
without pity. The interests of the whole revolution demand such ac- 
tions, for the final struggle with the kulaks has now begun. You must 
make an example of these people. (I) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so 
that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known blood- 
suckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out 
the hostages per my instructions in yesterday's telegram. Do all this so 
that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell 
themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that vc will 
continue to do so. Reply saving you have received and carried out these 
instructions. Yours, Lenin. 

PS. Find tougher people.' 

In fact a close reading of Cheka reports on the revolts of the summer of 
1918, reveals that the only uprisings planned in advance were those in Yaroslavl, 
Rybinsk, and Murom, which were organized by the Union for the Defense of 
the Fatherland, led by the Socialist Revolutionary Boris Savinkov; and that of 
workers in the arms factory of Evsk, at the instigation of Mensheviks and local 
Socialist Revolutionaries. All the other insurrections were a spontaneous, direct 
result of incidents involving local peasantry faced with requisitions or con- 
scription. They were put down in a few days with great ferocity by trusted units 
from the Red Army or the Cheka. Only Yaroslavl, where Savinkov's detach- 

The Red Terror 


ments had ousted the local Bolsheviks from power, managed to hold out for a 
few weeks. After the town fell, Dzerzhinsky sent a "special investigative com- 
mission," which in five days, from 24 to 28 July 1918, executed 428 people. 4 

In August 1918, before the official beginning of the period of Red Terror 
on 3 September, the Bolshevik leaders, and in particular Lenin and Dzerzhin- 
sky, sent a great number of telegrams to local Cheka and Party leaders, instruct- 
ing them to take "prophylactic measures" to prevent any attempted 
insurrection. Among these measures, explained Dzerzhinsky, "the most effec- 
tive are the taking of hostages among the bourgeoisie, on the basis of the lists 
that you have drawn up for exceptional taxes levied on the bourgeoisie . . . the 
arrest and the incarceration of all hostages and suspects in concentration 
camps. "■** On 8 August Lenin asked Tsyurupa, the people's commissar of food, 
to draw up a decree stipulating that "in all grain-producing areas, twenty-five 
designated hostages drawn from the best-off of the local inhabitants will answer 
with their lives for any failure in the requisitioning plan." As Tsyurupa turned 
a deaf ear to this, on the pretext that it was too difficult to organize the taking 
of hostages, Lenin sent him a second, more explicit note: "I am not suggesting 
that these hostages actually be taken, but that they are to be named explicitly 
in all the relevant areas. The purpose of this is that the rich, just as they are 
responsible for their own contribution, will also have to answer with their lives 
for the immediate realization of the requisitioning plan in their whole district "^ 

In addition to this new system for taking hostages, the Bolshevik leaders 
experimented in August 1918 with a tool of oppression that had made its first 
appearance in Russia during the war: the concentration camp. On 9 August 
Lenin sent a telegram to the Executive Committee of the province of Penza 
instructing them to intern "kulaks, priests, White Guards, and other doubtful 
elements in a concentration camp." 7 

A few days earlier both Dzerzhinsky and Trotsky had also called for the 
confinement of hostages in concentration camps. These concentration camps 
were simple internment camps in which, as a simple interim administrative 
measure and independently of any judicial process, "doubtful elements" were 
to be kept. As in every other country at this time, numerous camps for prisoners 
of war already existed in Russia. 

First and foremost among the "doubtful elements" to be arrested were the 
leaders of opposition parties who were still at liberty. On 1 5 August 1918 Lenin 
and Dzerzhinsky jointly signed an order for the arrest of Yuri Martov, Fedor 
Dan, Aleksandr Potresov, and Mikhail Goldman, the principal leaders of the 
Menshevik Party, whose press had long been silenced and whose repre- 
sentatives had been hounded out of the Soviets. 8 

For the Bolshevik leaders, distinctions among types of opponents no 
longer existed, because, as they explained, civil wars have their own laws. "Civil 


A State against Its People 

war has no written laws," wrote Martin Latsis, one of Dzerzhinsky's principal 
collaborators, in Izvestiya on 23 August 1918. 

Capitalist wars have a written constitution, but civil war has its own laws 
... One must not only destroy the active forces of the enemy, but also 
demonstrate that anyone who raises a hand in protest against class war 
will die by the sword. These are the laws that the bourgeoisie itself drew 
up in the civil wars to oppress the proletariat ... We have yet to assimi- 
late these rules sufficiently. Our own people are being killed by the 
hundreds of thousands, yet we carry out executions one by one after 
lengthy deliberations in commissions and courts. In a civil war, there 
should be no courts for the enemy. It is a fight to the death. If you don't 
kill, you will die. So kill, if you don't want to be killed! 9 

Two assassination attempts on 30 August— one against M. S. Uritsky, the 
head of the Petrograd Cheka, the other against Lenin— seemed to confirm the 
Bolshevik leaders' theory that a real conspiracy was threatening their existence. 
In fact it now appears that there was no link between the two events. The first 
was carried out in the well-established tradition of populist revolutionary ter- 
ror, by a young student who wanted to avenge the death of an officer friend 
killed a few days earlier by the Petrograd Cheka. The second incident was long 
attributed to Fanny Kaplan, a militant socialist with anarchist and Socialist 
Revolutionary leanings. She was arrested immediately and shot three days later 
without trial, but it now appears that there may have been a larger conspiracy 
against Lenin, which escaped detection at the time, in the Cheka itself. 10 The 
Bolshevik government immediately blamed both assassination attempts on 
"right Socialist Revolutionaries, the servants of French and English imperial- 
ism." The response was immediate: the next day, articles in the press and 
official declarations called for more terror. "Workers," said an article in Pravda 
(Truth) on 31 August, "the time has come for us to crush the bourgeoisie or 
be crushed by it. The corruption of the bourgeoisie must be cleansed from our 
towns immediately. Files will now be kept on all men concerned, and those who 
represent a danger to the revolutionary cause will be executed . . . The anthem 
of the working class will be a song of hatred and revenge!" 

On the same day Dzerzhinsky and his assistant Jan Peters drafted an 
"Appeal to the Working Classes" in a similar vein: 'The working classes must 
crush the hydra of the counterrevolution with massive terror! We must let the 
enemies of the working classes know that anyone caught in illegal possession 
of a firearm will be immediately executed, and that anyone who dares to spread 
the slightest rumor against the Soviet regime will be arrested immediately and 
sent to a concentration camp!" Printed in Izvestiya on 3 September, this appeal 
was followed the next day by the publication of instructions sent by 
N. Petrovsky, the people's commissar of internal affairs, to all the Soviets. 

The Red Terror 


Petrovsky complained that despite the "massive repressions" organized by 
enemies of the state against the working masses, the "Red Terror" was too slow 
in its effects: 

The time has come to put a stop to all this weakness and sentimentality. 
All the right Socialist Revolutionaries must be arrested immediately. A 
great number of hostages must be taken among the officers and the 
bourgeoisie. The slightest resistance must be greeted with widespread 
executions. Provincial Executive Committees must lead the way here. 
The Chekas and the other organized militia must seek out and arrest 
suspects and immediately execute all those found to be involved with 
counterrevolutionary practices . . . Leaders of the Executive Commit- 
tees must immediately report any weakness or indecision on the part of 
the local Soviets to the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. No 
weakness or indecision can be tolerated during this period of mass 
terror. 11 

This telegram, which marked the official start of full-scale Red Terror, 
gives the lie to Dzerzhinsky 's and Peters 1 later claims that the Red Terror "was 
a general and spontaneous reaction of indignation by the masses to the at- 
tempted assassinations of 30 August 1918, and began without any initiative 
from the central organizations." The truth was that the Red Terror was the 
natural outlet for the almost abstract hatred that most of the Bolshevik leaders 
felt toward their "oppressors," whom they wished to liquidate not on an indi- 
vidual basis, but as a class. In his memoirs the Menshevik leader Rafael Abra- 
movich recalled a revealing conversation that he had in August 1917 with 
Dzerzhinsky, the future leader of the Cheka: 

"Abramovich, do you remember Lasalle's speech about the essence of a 

"Of course.' 1 

"He said that any Constitution is always determined by the relation 
between the social forces at work in a given country at the time in 
question. 1 wonder how this correlation between the political and the 
social might be changed?" 

"Well, bv the various processes of change that are at work in the 
fields of politics and economics at any time, by the emergence of new 
forms of economic growth, the rise of different social classes, all those 
things that you know perfectly well already, Feliks . . ." 

"Yes, but couldn't one change things much more radically than 
that 5 By forcing certain classes into submission, or by exterminating 
them altogether? ,,|J 

This cold, calculating, and cynical cruelty, the logical result of an implac- 
able class war pushed to its extreme, was shared by many Bolsheviks. Grigory 
Zinoviev, one of the main leaders, declared in September 1918: "To dispose of 

76 A State against Its People 

our enemies, we will have to create our own socialist terror. For this we will 
have to train 90 million of the 100 million Russians and have them all on our 
side. We have nothing to say to the other 10 million; we'll have to get rid of 
them." 13 

On 5 September the Soviet government legalized terror with the famous 
decree "On Red Terror": "At this moment it is absolutely vital that the Chekas 
be reinforced ... to protect the Soviet Republic from its class enemies, who 
must all be locked up in concentration camps. Anyone found to have had any 
dealings with the White Guard organizations, plots, insurrections, or riots will 
be summarily executed, and the names of all these people, together with the 
reasons for their execution, will be announced publicly." 1 "* As Dzcrzhinsky was 
later to acknowledge, "The texts of 3 and 5 September finally gave us a legal 
right that even Party comrades had been campaigning against until then- -the 
right immediately to dispose of the counterrevolutionary rabble, without hav- 
ing to defer to anyone else's authority at all." 

In an internal circular dated 17 September, Dzerzhinksy, invited all local 
Chekas to "accelerate procedures and terminate, that is, liquidate, any pending 
business." 15 In fact the "liquidations" had started as early as 31 August. On 3 
September Izvesttya reported that in the previous few days more than 500 
hostages had been executed by the local Cheka in Petrograd. According to 
Cheka sources, more than 800 people were executed in September in Petrograd 
alone. The actual figure must be considerably higher than that. An eyewitness 
relates the following details: "For Petrograd, even a conservative estimate must 
be 1,300 executions . . . The Bolsheviks didn't count, in their 'statistics, 1 the 
hundreds of officers and civilians who were executed on the orders of the local 
authorities in Kronstadt. In Kronstadt alone, in one night, more than 400 
people were shot. Three massive trenches were dug in the middle of the 
courtyard, 400 people were lined up in front of them and executed one after 
the other." 16 In an interview given to the newspaper Utro Moshvy (Moscow 
morning) on 3 November 1918, Peters admitted that "those rather oversensitive 
[sic Cheka members in Petrograd lost their heads and went a little too far. 
Before Uritsky's assassination, no one was executed at all — and believe me, 
despite anything that people might tell you, I am not as bloodthirsty as they 
say — but since then there have been too many killed, often quite indiscrimi- 
nately. But then again, Moscow's only response to the attempt on Lenin's life 
was the execution of a few tsarist ministers." 17 According to Izvestiya again, a 
"mere" 29 hostages from the concentration camp were shot in Moscow on 3 
and 4 September. Among the dead were two former ministers from the regime 
of Tsar Nicholas II, N. Khvostov (internal affairs) and I. Shchcglovitov (jus- 
tice). Nonetheless, numerous eyewitness reports concur that hundreds of hos- 
tages were executed during the "September massacres" in the prisons of 

The Red Terror 


In these times of Red Terror, Dzerzhinsky founded a new newspaper, 
Ezhenedetnik VChK (Cheka weekly), which was openly intended to vaunt the 
merits of the secret police and to encourage "the just desire of the masses for 
revenge. 1 ' For the six weeks of its existence (it was closed down by an order 
from the Central Committee after the raison d'etre of the Cheka was called into 
question by a number of Bolshevik leaders), the paper candidly and unasham- 
edly described the taking of hostages, their internment in concentration camps, 
and their execution. It thus constituted an official basic minimum of informa- 
tion of the Red Terror for September and October 1918. For instance, the 
newspaper reported that in the medium-sized city of Nizhni Novgorod the 
Cheka, who were particularly zealous under the leadership of Nikolai Bulganin 
(later the head of the Soviet state from 1954 to 1957), executed 141 hostages 
after 31 August, and once took more than 700 hostages in a mere three days. 
In Vyatka the Cheka for the Ural region reported the execution of 23 "ex- 
policemen," 154 "counterrevolutionaries," 8 "monarchists," 28 "members of 
the Constitutional Democratic party," 186 "officers," and 10 "Mensheviks and 
right Socialist Revolutionaries," all in the space of a week. The Ivanovo Vozne- 
sensk Cheka reported taking 181 hostages, executing 25 "counterrevolutionar- 
ies," and setting up a concentration camp with space for 1,000 people. The 
Cheka of the small town of Sebezhsk reported shooting u 17 kulaks and one 
priest, who had celebrated a mass for the bloody tyrant Nicholas II"; the Tver 
Cheka reported 130 hostages and 39 executions; the Perm Cheka reported 50 
executions. This macabre catalogue could be extended considerably; these are 
merely a few extracts from the six issues of the Cheka Weekly}* 

Other provincial journals also reported thousands of arrests and execu- 
tions in the autumn of 1918. To take but two examples, the single published 
issue of Izvestiya Isanlsymkot Gubcheha (News of the Tsaritsyn Province 
Cheka) reported the execution of 103 people for the week of 3-10 September. 
From 1 to 8 November 371 people appeared in the local Cheka court; 50 were 
condemned to death, the rest "to a concentration camp as a measure of hy- 
giene, as hostages, until the complete liquidation of all counterrevolutionary 
insurrections." The only issue of Izvestiya Penzenskm Gubcheka (News of the 
Penza Province Cheka) reported, without commentary, that "in response to 
the assassination of Comrade Fgorov, a Petrograd worker on a mission in one 
of the detachments of the Food Army, 150 White Guards have been exe- 
cuted by the Cheka. In the future, other, more rigorous measures will be taken 
against anyone who raises a hand in protest against the iron fist of the prole- 

The svodki, or confidential reports that the local Chekas sent to Moscow, 
which have only recently become public, also confirm the brutality of responses 
to the slightest incidents between the peasant community and the local authori- 
ties. These incidents almost invariably concerned a refusal to accept the requi- 


A State against Its People 

sitioning process or conscription, and they were systematically catalogued in 
the files as "counterrevolutionary kulak riots" and suppressed without mercy. 

It is impossible to come up with an exact figure for the number of people 
who fell victim to this first great wave of the Red Terror. Latsis, who was one 
of the main leaders of the Cheka, claimed that in the second half of 1918 the 
Cheka executed 4,500 people, adding with some cynicism: "If the Cheka can 
be accused of anything, it isn't of being overzealous in its executions, but rather 
of failure in the need to apply the supreme punishment. An iron hand will 
always mean a smaller number of victims in the long term." 19 At the end of 
October 1918 the Menshevik leader Yuri Martov estimated the number of 
direct victims of the Cheka since the start of September to be "in excess of 
H^OOO." 20 

Whatever the exact number of victims may have been that autumn — and 
the total reported in the official press alone suggests that at the very least it 
must be between 10,000 and 15,000 — the Red Terror marked the definitive 
beginning of the Bolshevik practice of treating any form of real or potential 
opposition as an act of civil war, which, as Latsis put it, had "its own laws." 
When workers went on strike to protest the Bolshevik practice of rationing 
"according to social origin" and abuses of power by the local Cheka, as at the 
armaments factory at Motovilikha, the authorities declared the whole factory 
to be "in a state of insurrection.' 1 The Cheka did not negotiate with the strikers, 
but enforced a lockout and fired the workers. The leaders were arrested, and 
all the "Menshevik counterrevolutionaries," who were suspected of having 
incited the strike, were hunted down. 21 Such practices were normal in the 
summer of 1918. By autumn the local Chekas, now better organized and more 
motivated by calls from Moscow for bloodier repressions, went considerably 
further and executed more than 100 of the strikers without any trial. 

The size of these numbers alone — between 10,000 and 15,000 summary 
executions in two months — marked a radical break with the practices of the 
tsarist regime. For the whole period 1825-1917 the number of death sentences 
passed by the tsarist courts (including courts-martial) "relating to political 
matters" came to only 6,323, with the highest figure of 1,310 recorded in 1906, 
the year of the reaction against the 1905 revolution. Moreover, not all death 
sentences were carried out; a good number were converted to forced labor. 22 In 
the space of a few weeks the Cheka alone had executed two to three times the 
total number of people condemned to death by the tsarist regime over ninety- 
two years. 

The change of scale went well beyond the figures. The introduction of 
new categories such as "suspect," "enemy of the people," "hostage," "concen- 
tration camp," and "revolutionary court," and of previously unknown practices 
such as "prophylactic measures, " summary execution without judicial process 

The Red Terror 


of hundreds and thousands of people, and arrest by a new kind of political 
police who were above the law, might all be said to have constituted a sort of 
Copernican revolution. 

The change was so powerful that it took even some of the Bolshevik 
leaders by surprise, as can be judged from the arguments that broke out within 
the Party hierarchy from October to December 1918 regarding the role of the 
Cheka. On 25 October in the absence of Dzerzhinsky — who had been sent away 
incognito for a month to rebuild his mental and physical health in Switzer- 
land — the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party discussed a new status 
for the Cheka. Criticizing the "full powers given to an organization that seems 
to be acting above the Soviets and above even the party itself," Nikolai Bukharin, 
Aleksandr Olminsky, who was one of the oldest members of the Party, and 
Petrovsky, the people's commissar of internal affairs, demanded that measures 
be taken to curb the "excessive zeal of an organization filled with criminals, 
sadists, and degenerate elements from the lumpenproletariat." A commission 
for political control was established. Lev Kamenev, who was part of it, went so 
far as to propose the abolition of the Cheka. 2 ' 

But the diehard proponents of the Cheka soon regained the upper hand. 
Among their number, besides Dzerzhinsky, were the major names in the Party: 
Yakov Sverdlov, Stalin, Trotsky, and of course Lenin himself Me resolutely 
came to the defense of an institution "unjustly accused of excesses by a few 
unrealistic intellectuals . . . incapable of considering the problem of terror in a 
wider perspective." 24 On 19 December 1918, at Lenin's instigation, the Central 
Committee adopted a resolution forbidding the Bolshevik press to publish 
"defamatory articles about institutions, notably the Cheka, which goes about 
its business under particularly difficult circumstances." And that was the end 
of the debate. The "iron fist of the dictatorship of the proletariat" was thus 
accorded its infallibility. In Lenin's words, "A good Communist is also a good 

At the beginning of 1919 Dzerzhinsky received authorization from the 
Central Committee to establish the Cheka special departments, which thereaf- 
ter were to be responsible for military security. On 16 March he was made 
people's commissar of internal affairs and set about a reorganization, under the 
aegis of the Cheka, of all militias, troops, detachments, and auxiliary units, 
which until then had been attached to different administrations. In May all 
these units — railway militias, food detachments, frontier guards, and Cheka 
battalions — were combined into a single body, the Troops for the Internal 
Defense of the Republic, which by 1921 numbered 200,000. These troops' 
various duties included policing the camps, stations, and other points of stra- 
tegic importance; controlling requisitioning operations; and, most important, 
putting down peasant rebellions, riots by workers, and mutinies in the Red 


A State against Its People 

Army. The Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic represented a 
formidable force for control and oppression. It was a loyal army within the 
larger Red Army, which was constantly plagued by desertions and which never 
managed, despite a theoretical enrollment of between 3 million and 5 million, 
to muster a fighting force in excess of 500,000 well-equipped soldiers. 2 ' 

One of the first decrees of the new people's commissar of internal affairs 
concerned the organization of the camps that had existed since the summer of 

1918 without any legal basis or systematic organization. The decree of 15 April 

1919 drew a distinction between "coercive work camps,' 1 where, in principle, 
all the prisoners had been condemned by a court, and "concentration camps, 11 
where people were held, often as hostages, as a result of administrative meas- 
ures. That this distinction was somewhat artificial in practice is evidenced in 
the complementary instruction of 17 May 1919, which directed the creation of 
"at least one camp in each province, with room for a minimum of 300 people 11 
and listed the sixteen categories of prisoners to be interned. The categories 
were as diverse as "hostages from the haute bourgeoisie"; "functionaries from 
the ancien regime, up to the rank of college assessor, procurator, and their 
assistants, mayors and assistant mayors of cities, including district capitals 11 ; 
"people condemned, under the Soviet regime, for any crime of parasitism, 
prostitution, or procuring"; and "ordinary deserters (not repeat offenders) and 
soldiers who are prisoners in the civil war." 26 

The number of people imprisoned in work camps and concentration 
camps increased steadily from around 16,000 in May 1919 to more than 70,000 
in September 1921 P These figures do not include several camps that had been 
established in regions that were in revolt against Soviet power. In Tambov 
Province, for example, in the summer of 1921 there were at least 50,000 
"bandits" and "members of the families of bandits taken as hostages 11 in the 
seven concentration camps opened by the authorities as part of the measures 
to put down the peasant revolt. 28 


The Dirty War 

I he civil war in Russia has generally been analyzed as a conflict 
between the Red Bolsheviks and the White monarchists; but in fact the events 
that took place behind the lines of military confrontation are considerably 
more important. This was the interior front of the civil war. It was charac- 
terized above all by multifarious forms of repression carried out by each side — 
the Red repressions being much more general and systematic — against militant 
politicians of opposing parties or opposition groups, against workers striking 
for any grievance, against deserters fleeing either their units or the conscription 
process, or quite simply against citizens who happened to belong to a "suspect" 
or "hostile" social class, whose only crime often was simply to have been living 
in a town that fell to the enemy. The struggle on the interior front of the civil 
war included all acts of resistance carried out by millions of peasants, rebels, 
and deserters, and the group that both the Reds and the Whites called the 
Greens often played a decisive role in the advance or retreat of one or other 

In 1919, for instance, massive peasant revolts against the Bolshevik powers 
in the mid-Volga region and in Ukraine allowed Admiral Kolchak and General 
Denikin to advance hundreds of miles behind Bolshevik lines. Similarly, several 
months later, the uprising of Siberian peasants who were incensed at the 
reestablishmcnt of the ancient rights of the landowners precipitated the retreat 
of Kolchak's White Army before the advancing Reds. 


A State against Its People 

Although large-scale military operations between the Whites and Reds 
lasted little more than a year, from the end of 1918 to the beginning of 1920, 
the greater part of what is normally termed the civil war was actually a dirty 
war, an attempt by all the different authorities, Red and White, civil and 
military, to stamp out all real or potential opponents in the zones that often 
changed hands several times. In regions held by the Bolsheviks it was the "class 
struggle 11 against the "aristocrats, 11 the bourgeoisie, and socially undesirable 
elements, the hunt for all non-Bolshevik militants from opposing parties, and 
the putting down of workers 1 strikes, of mutinies in the less secure elements 
of the Red Army, and of peasant revolts. In the zones held by the Whites, it 
was open season on anyone suspected of having possible "Judeo-Bolshcvik' 1 

The Bolsheviks certainly did not have a monopoly on terror. There was 
also a White Terror, whose worst moment was the terrible wave of pogroms 
carried out in Ukraine in the summer and autumn of 1919 by Simon Petlyura's 
detachments from Denikin's armies, which accounted for more than 150,000 
victims. But as most historians of the Red Terror and White Terror have 
already pointed out, the two types of terror were not on the same plane. The 
Bolshevik policy of terror was more systematic, better organized, and targeted 
at whole social classes. Moreover, it had been thought out and put into practice 
before the outbreak of the civil war. The White Terror was never systematized 
in such a fashion. It was almost invariably the work of detachments that were 
out of control, taking measures not officially authorized by the military com- 
mand that was attempting, without much success, to act as a government. If 
one discounts the pogroms, which Denikin himself condemned, the White 
Terror most often was a series of reprisals by the police acting as a sort of 
military counterespionage force. The Cheka and the Troops for the Internal 
Defense of the Republic were a structured and powerful instrument of repres- 
sion of a completely different order, which had support at the highest level 
from the Bolshevik regime. 

As in all civil wars, it is extremely difficult to derive a complete picture of 
all the forms of terror employed by the two warring parties. The Bolshevik 
Terror, with its clear methodology, its specificity, and its carefully chosen aims, 
easily predated the civil war, which developed into a full-scale conflict only at 
the end of the summer of 1918. The following list indicates in chronological 
order the evolution of different types of terror and its different targets from 
the early months of the regime; 

Non-Bolshevik political militants, from anarchists to monarchists, 
Workers fighting for the most basic rights, including bread, work, and a 
minimum of liberty and dignity. 

The Dirty War 


Peasants — often deserters — implicated in any of the innumerable peas- 
ant revolts or Red Army mutinies. 

Cossacks, who were deported en masse as a social and ethnic group sup- 
posedly hostile to the Soviet regime. "De-Cossackization" prefigured 
the massive deportations of the 1930s called "dekulakization" (another 
example of the deportation of ethnic groups) and underlines the funda- 
mental continuity between the Leninist and Stalinist policies of political 

"Socially undesirable elements" and other "enemies of the people, 11 
"suspects, 11 and "hostages' 1 liquidated "as a preventive measure, 11 par- 
ticularly when the Bolsheviks were enforcing the evacuation of villages 
or when they took back territory or towns that had been in the hands of 
the Whites. 

The best-known repressions are those that concerned political militants from 
the various parries opposed to the Bolsheviks. Numerous statements were 
made bv the main leaders of the opposition parties, who were often imprisoned 
and exiled, but whose lives were generally spared, unlike militant workers and 
peasants, who were shot without trial or massacred during punitive Cheka 

One of the first acts of terror was the attack launched on 11 April 1918 
against the Moscow anarchists, dozens of whom were immediately executed. 
The struggle against the anarchists intensified over the following years, al- 
though a certain number did transfer their allegiance to the Bolshevik Party, 
even becoming high-ranking Cheka officials, such as Aleksandr Goldberg, 
Mikhail Brener, and Timofei Samsonov. The dilemma faced by most anarchists 
in their opposition to both the new Bolshevik dictatorship and the return of 
the old regime is well illustrated by the U-turns of the great peasant anarchist 
leader Nestor Makhno, who for a while allied himself with the Red Army in 
the struggle against the Whites, then turned against the Bolsheviks after the 
White threat had been eliminated. Thousands of anonymous militant anar- 
chists were executed as bandits as part of the repression against the peasant 
army of Makhno and his partisans. It would appear that these peasants consti- 
tuted the immense majority of anarchist victims, at least according to the 
figures presented by the Russian anarchists in exile in Berlin in 1922. These 
incomplete figures note 138 militant anarchists executed in the years 1919- 
1921, 281 sent into exile, and 608 still in prison as of 1 January 1922. ' 

The left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were allies of the Bolsheviks until 
the summer of 1918, were treated with relative leniency until February 1919. 
As late as December 19)8 their most famous leader, Maria Spiridonova, pre- 
sided over a party congress that was tolerated by the Bolsheviks. However, on 


A State against Its People 

10 February 1919, after she condemned the terror that was being carried out 
on a daily basis by the Cheka, she was arrested with 210 other militants and 
sentenced by a revolutionary court to "detention in a sanatorium on account 
of her hysterical state." This action seems to be the first example under the 
Soviet regime of the sentencing of a political opponent to detention in a 
psychiatric hospital. Spiridonova managed to escape and continued secretly to 
lead the left Socialist Revolutionary Party, which by then had been banned by 
the Soviet government. According to Cheka sources, fifty-eight left Socialist 
Revolutionary organizations were disbanded in 1919, and another forty-five in 
1920. In these two years 1,875 militants were imprisoned as hostages, in re- 
sponse to Dzerzhinsky's instructions. He had declared, on 18 March 1919: 
"Henceforth the Cheka is to make no distinction between White Guards of the 
Krasnov variety and White Guards from the socialist camp . . . The Socialist 
Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks arrested are to be considered as hostages, 
and their fate will depend on the subsequent behavior of the parties they belong 
to." 2 

To the Bolsheviks, the right Socialist Revolutionaries had always seemed 
the most dangerous political rivals. No one had forgotten that they had regis- 
tered a large majority in the free and democratic elections of November and 
December 1917. After the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, in which 
they held a clear majority of seats, the Socialist Revolutionaries had continued 
to serve in the Soviets and on the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, 
from which they were then expelled together with the Mensheviks in June 1918. 
Some Socialist Revolutionaries, together with Mensheviks and Constitutional 
Democrats, then established temporary and short-lived governments in Samara 
and Omsk, which were soon overturned by the White Admiral Kolchak. 
Caught between the Bolsheviks and the Whites, the Socialist Revolutionaries 
and the Mensheviks encountered considerable difficulties in defining a coherent 
set of policies with which to oppose the Bolshevik regime. The Bolsheviks, in 
turn, were extremely able politicians who used measures of appeasement, 
infiltration, and outright oppression to second-guess the more moderate social- 
ist opposition. 

After authorizing the reappearance of the Socialist Revolutionary news- 
paper Deio naroda (The people's cause) from 20 to 30 March, when Admiral 
Kolchak's offensive was at its height, the Cheka rounded up all the Socialist 
Revolutionaries and Mensheviks that it could on 31 March 1919, at a time when 
there was no legal restriction on membership of either of the two parties. More 
than 1,900 militants were arrested in Moscow, Tula, Smolensk, Voronezh, 
Penza, Samara, and Kostroma. 3 No one can say how many were summarily 
executed in the putting down of strikes and peasant revolts organized by 
Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. Very few statistics are available, and 

The Dirty War 


even if we know approximately the number of victims in particular incidents, 
we have no idea of the proportion of political activists who were caught up in 
the massacres. 

A second wave of arrests followed an article published by Lenin in Pravda 
on 28 August 1919, in which he again berated the Socialist Revolutionaries and 
the Mensheviks, accusing them of being ''accomplices and footservants of the 
Whites, the landlords, and the capitalists. 11 According to the Cheka records, 
2,380 Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks were arrested in the last four 
months of 1919. * The repressions against socialist activists intensified after a 
meeting of a typography union, called in honor of a visiting delegation of 
Knglish workers on 23 May 1920. At that meeting, under an assumed name 
and in disguise, the Socialist Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov, who had 
been president of the Constituent Assembly for the single day of its existence 
and was in hiding from the secret police, publicly ridiculed the Cheka and the 
government, The whole of Chernov's family were taken as hostages, and all 
the Socialist Revolutionary leaders still at liberty were thrown into prison. 5 In 
the summer of 1920 more than 2,000 Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik 
activists were registered, arrested, and kept as hostages. A Cheka internal memo 
dated 1 July 1919 laid out with extraordinary cynicism the outlines of the plan 
to deal with the opposing socialists: 

Instead of merely outlawing these parties, which would simply force 
them underground and make them even more difficult to control, it 
seems preferable to grant them a son of semilegal status. In this way we 
can have them at hand, and whenever wc need to wc can simply pluck 
out troublemakers, renegades, or the informers that we need ... As far 
as these anti-Soviet parties are concerned, we must make use of the 
present war situation to blame crimes on their members, such as "coun- 
terrevolutionary activities," "high treason," "illegal action behind the 
lines," "spying for interventionist foreign powers,' 1 etc. h 

Of all the repressive episodes, the one most carefully hidden by the new regime 
was the violence used against workers, in whose name the Bolsheviks had first 
come to power. Beginning in 1918, the repressions increased over the following 
two years, culminating in 1921 with the well-known episode in Kronstadt. 
l'Yom early 1918 the workers of Petrograd had shown their defiance of the 
Bolsheviks. After the collapse of the general strike on 2 July 1918, trouble 
broke out again among the workers in the former capital in March 1919, after 
the Bolsheviks had arrested a number of Socialist Revolutionary leaders, in- 
cluding Maria Spiridonova, who had just carried out a memorable tour of the 
Petrograd factories, where she had been greeted with tremendous popular 
acclaim. The moment was already one of extreme delicacy because of dire 


A State against Its People 

shortages of food, and these arrests led to strikes and a vast protest movement. 
On 10 March the general assembly of workers of the Putilov factories, at a 
meeting of more than ten thousand members, adopted a resolution that sol- 
emnly condemned the Bolshevik actions: u This government is nothing less 
than the dictatorship of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, kept 
in place thanks to the Cheka and the revolutionary courts." 7 

The proclamation called for power to be handed over to the Soviets, free 
elections for the Soviets and for the factory committees, an end to limitations 
on the quantity of food that workers could bring into the city from the coun- 
tryside (1.5 pudy, or about 55 pounds), the release of political prisoners from 
the ''authentic revolutionary parties," and above all the release of Maria Spiri- 
donova. To try to put a brake on this movement, which seemed to get more 
powerful by the day, Lenin came to Petrograd in person on 12 and 13 March 
1919. But when he tried to address the workers who were striking in the 
factories, he was booed off the stage, along with Zinoviev, to cries of 'Down 
with Jews and commissars!" 8 Deep-rooted popular antiscmitism, which was 
never far below the surface, had been quick to associate Bolsheviks and Jews, 
so that the Bolsheviks quickly lost much of the credibility they had been 
accorded in the aftermath of the October Revolution in 1917. The fact that 
several of the best-known Bolshevik leaders (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Alek- 
sei Rykov, Karl Radek) were Jewish served to justify, in the mind of the masses, 
this amalgamation of the labels "Jew" and "Bolshevik." 

On 16 March 1919 Cheka detachments stormed the Putilov factor), which 
was defended by armed workers. Approximately 900 workers were arrested. In 
the next few days more than 200 strikers were executed without trial in the 
Schlusselburg fortress, about thirty-rive miles from Petrograd. A new working 
practice was set in place whereby all the strikers were fired and were rehired 
only after they had signed a declaration stating that they had been deceived and 
"led into crime" by counterrevolutionary leaders. 9 Henceforth all workers were 
to be kept under close surveillance. After the spring of 1919, in several work- 
ing-class centers a secret Cheka department set up a network of spies and 
informers who were to submit regular reports about the u state of mind 11 in the 
factory in question. The working classes were clearly considered to be dan- 

The spring of 1919 was marked by numerous strikes, which were savagely 
put down, in some of the great working-class centers in Russia, such as Tula, 
Sormovo, Orel, Bryansk, Tver, Ivanovo Voznesensk, and Astrakhan. 10 The 
workers' grievances were identical almost everywhere. Reduced to starvation 
by minuscule salaries that barely covered the price of a ration card for a 
half-pound of bread a day, the strikers sought first to obtain rations matching 
those of soldiers in the Red Army. But the more urgent demands were all 

The Dirty War 


political: the elimination of special privileges for Communists, the release of 
political prisoners, free elections for Soviets and factory committees, the end of 
conscription into the Red Army, freedom of association, freedom of expression, 
freedom of the press, and so forth. 

What made these movements even more dangerous in the eyes of the 
Bolshevik authorities was their frequent success in rallying to their cause the 
military units stationed in the town in question. In Orel, Bryansk, Gomel, and 
Astrakhan mutinying soldiers joined forces with the strikers, shouting "Death 
to Jews! Down with the Bolshevik commissars!," taking over and looting parts 
of the city, which were retaken by Cheka detachments and troops faithful to 
the regime only after several days of fighting." The repressions in response to 
such strikes and mutinies ranged from massive lockouts of whole factories and 
the confiscation of ration cards — the threat of hunger was one of the most 
useful weapons the Bolsheviks had — to the execution of strikers and rebel 
soldiers by the hundreds. 

Among the most significant of the repressions were those in Tula and 
Astrakhan in March and April 1919. Dzer/hinsky came to Tula, the historical 
capital of the Russian army, on 3 April 1919 to put down a strike by workers 
in the munitions factories. In the winter of 1918-19 these factories had already 
been the scene of strikes and industrial action, and they were vital to the Red 
Army, turning out more than 80 percent of all the rifles made in Russia. 
Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were very much in the majority 
among the political activists in the highly skilled workforce there. The arrest, 
in early March 1919, of hundreds of socialist activists provoked a wave of 
protests that culminated on 27 March in a huge "March for Freedom and 
against Hunger," which brought together thousands of industrial and railway 
workers. On 4 April Dzer/hinsky had another 800 "leaders" arrested and 
forcibly emptied the factories, which had been occupied for several weeks by 
the strikers. All the workers were fired. Their resistance was broken by hunger; 
for several weeks their ration cards had not been honored. To receive replace- 
ment cards, giving the right to a half-pound of bread and the right to work 
again after the general lockout, workers had to sign a job application form 
stipulating, in particular, that any stoppage in the future would be considered 
an act of desertion and would thus be punishable by death. Production resumed 
on 10 April. The night before that, 26 "leaders" had been executed. 12 

The town of Astrakhan, near the mouth of the Volga, had major strategic 
importance in the spring of 1919, as it was the last Bolshevik stronghold 
preventing Admiral Kolchak's troops in the northwest from joining up with 
those of General Denikin in the southwest. This circumstance alone probably 
explains the extraordinary violence with which the workers' strike in the town 
was suppressed in March. Having begun for both economic reasons (the paltry 

A State against Its People 

rations) and political reasons (the arrest of socialist activists), the strike inten- 
sified on 10 March when the 45th Infantry Regiment refused to open fire on 
workers marching through the city. Joining forces with the strikers, the soldiers 
stormed the Bolshevik Party headquarters and killed several members of the 
staff. Sergei Kirov, the president of the regional Revolutionary Military Com- 
mittee, immediately ordered "the merciless extermination of these White 
Guard lice by any means possible." Troops who had remained faithful to the 
regime and to the Cheka blocked all entrances to the town and methodically set 
about retaking it. When the prisons were full, the soldiers and strikers were 
loaded onto barges and then thrown by the hundreds into the Volga with stones 
around their necks. From 12 to 14 March between 2,000 and 4,000 strikers were 
shot or drowned. After 15 March the repressions were concentrated on the 
bourgeoisie of the town, on the pretext that they had been behind this "White 
Guard conspiracy" for which the workers and soldiers were merely cannon 
fodder. For two days all the merchants' houses were systematically looted and 
their owners arrested and shot. Estimates of the number of bourgeois victims 
of the massacres in Astrakhan range from 600 to 1,000. In one week between 
3,000 and 5,000 people were either shot or drowned. By contrast, the number 
of Communists buried with great pomp and circumstance on 18 March — the 
anniversary of the Paris Commune, as the authorities were at pains to point 
out — was a mere 47. Long remembered as a small incident in the war between 
the Whites and the Reds, the true scale of the killing in Astrakhan is now 
known, thanks to recently published archival documents. 1 - 1 These documents 
reveal that it was the largest massacre of workers by Bolsheviks before the 
events at Kronstadt. 

At the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920 relations between the 
Bolsheviks and the workers deteriorated even further, following the militariza- 
tion of more than 2,000 businesses. As the principal architect of the militari- 
zation of the workplace, Trotsky laid out his ideas on the issue at the Ninth 
Party Congress in March 1920. Trotsky explained that humans are naturally 
lazy. Under capitalism, people were forced to search for work to survive. The 
capitalist market acted as a stimulus to man, but under socialism "the utilization 
of work resources replaces the market." It was thus the job of the state to direct, 
assign, and place the workers, who were to obey the state as soldiers obey orders 
in the army, because the state was working in the interests of the proletariat. 
Such was the basis of the militarization of the workplace, which was vigorously 
criticized by a minority of syndicalists, union leaders, and Bolshevik directors. 
In practice this meant the outlawing of strikes, which were compared to deser- 
tion in times of war; an increase in the disciplinary powers of employers; the 
total subordination of all unions and factory committees, whose role henceforth 
was to be simply one of support for the producers' policies; a ban on workers' 

The Dirty War 

leaving their posts; and punishments for absenteeism and lateness, both of 
which were exceedingly widespread because workers were often out searching 
for food. 

The general discontent in the workplace brought about by militarization 
was compounded by the difficulties of everyday life. As was noted in a report 
submitted by the Cheka to the government on 16 December 1919: 

Of late the food crisis has gone from bad to worse, and the working 
masses arc starving. They no longer have the physical strength necessary 
to continue working, and more and more often they are absent simply as 
a result of the combined effects of cold and hunger. In many of the 
metallurgical companies in Moscow, the workers are desperate and 
ready to take to take any measures necessary — strikes, riots, insurrec- 
tions—unless some sort of solution to these problems is found immedi- 
ately. 14 

At the beginning of 1920 the monthly salary for a worker in Petrograd 
was between 7,000 and 12,000 rubles. On the free market a pound of butter 
cost 5,000 rubles, a pound of meat cost 3,000, and a pint of milk 500. Each 
worker was also entitled to a certain number of products according to the 
category in which he was classed. In Petrograd at the end of 1919, a worker in 
heavy industry was entitled to a half-pound of bread a day, a pound of sugar a 
month, half a pound of fat, and four pounds of sour herring. 

In theory citizens were divided into five categories of "stomach," from the 
workers in heavy industry and Red Army soldiers to the "sedentary" — a par- 
ticularly harsh classification that included any intellectual — and were given 
rations accordingly. Because the "sedentary" — the intellectuals and aristo- 
crats — were served last, they often received nothing at all, since often there was 
nothing left. The "workers" were divided into an array of categories that 
favored the sectors vital to the survival of the regime. In Petrograd in the winter 
of 1919-20 there were thirty-three categories of ration cards, which were never 
valid for more than one month. In the centralized food distribution system that 
the Bolsheviks had put in place, the food weapon played a major role in 
rewarding or punishing different categories of citizens. "The bread ration 
should be reduced for anyone who doesn't work in the transport sector, as it is 
now of such capital importance, and it should be increased for people who do 
work in this sector," wrote Lenin to Trotsky on 1 February 1920. 'if it must 
be so, then let thousands die as a result, but the country must be saved." 15 

When this policy came into force, all those who had links with the country, 
and that meant a considerable number of people, tried desperately to go back 
to their villages as often as possible to bring back some food. 

The militarization measures, designed to "restore order" in the factories, 


A State against Its People 

had the opposite effect, and led to numerous stoppages, strikes, and riots, all 
of which were ruthlessly crushed. u The best place for strikers, those noxious 
yellow parasites," said Pravda on 12 February 1920, u is the concentration 
camp!" According to the records kept at the People's Commissariat of Labor, 
77 percent of all large and medium-sized companies in Russia were affected by 
strikes in the first half of 1920. Significantly, the areas worst affected — metal- 
lurgy, the mines, and the transport sector — were also the areas in which mili- 
tarization was most advanced. Reports from the secret Cheka department 
addressed to the Bolshevik leaders throw a harsh and revealing light on the 
repression used against factories and workers who resisted the militarization 
process. Once arrested, they were usually sentenced by revolutionary courts for 
crimes of "sabotage 11 and "desertion. 1 ' At Simbirsk (formerly Ulyanovsk), to 
take but one example, twelve workers from the armaments factory were sent to 
camps in April 1920 for having "carried out acts of sabotage by striking in the 
Italian manner . . . spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, playing on the religious 
superstitions and the weak political convictions of the masses . , . and spreading 
erroneous information about Soviet policies regarding salaries." ,h Behind this 
obfuscatory language lay the likelihood that the accused had done little more 
than take breaks that were not authorized by their bosses, protested against 
having to work on Sundays, criticized the Communists, and complained about 
their own miserable salaries. 

The top leaders of the Party, including Lenin, called for an example to be 
made of the strikers. On 29 January 1920, worried by the tense situation 
regarding workers in the Ural region, Lenin sent a telegram to Vladimir 
Smirnov, head of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Fifth Army: "P. 
has informed me that the railway workers are clearly involved in acts of sabo- 
tage ... I am told that workers from Izhevsk are also involved in this. 1 am 
surprised that you are taking the matter so lightly, and are not immediately 
executing large numbers of strikers for the crime of sabotage." 17 Many strikes 
started up in 1920 as a direct result of militarization: in Ekaterinburg in March 
1920, 80 workers were arrested and sent to camps; on the Ryazan-Ural Railway 
in April 1920, 100 railway workers were given the same punishment; on the 
Moscow-Kursk line in May 1920, 160 workers met the same fate, as did 152 
workers in a metallurgy factory in Bryansk in June 1920. Many other strikes 
protesting militarization were suppressed in a similarly brutal fashion. 1 " 

One of the most remarkable strikes took place in the Tula arms factory, a 
crucial center of protest against the Bolshevik regime, which had already been 
severely punished for its actions in April 1919. On Sunday, 6 June 1920, a 
number of metallurgy workers refused to work the extra hours that the bosses 
demanded. Female workers then refused to work on that Sunday and on 
Sundays thereafter in general, explaining that Sunday was the only day they 

The Dirty War 


could go out looking for food in the surrounding countryside. In response to a 
call from the factory bosses, a large detachment from the Cheka arrived to arrest 
the strikers. Martial law was decreed, and a troika made up of Party repre- 
sentatives and representatives of the Cheka was instructed to denounce a 
"counterrevolutionary conspiracy fomented by Polish spies and the Black Hun- 
dreds to weaken the combat strength of the Red Army." 

While the strike spread and arrests of the "leaders" multiplied, a new 
development changed the usual course of developments; in hundreds, and then 
in thousands, female workers and simple housewives presented themselves to 
the Cheka asking to be arrested too. The movement spread, and the men 
demanded to be arrested en masse as well in order to make the idea of a Polish 
conspiracy appear even more ridiculous. In four days more than 10,000 people 
were detained in a huge open-air space guarded by the Cheka. Temporarily 
overwhelmed by the numbers, and at a loss about how to present the informa- 
tion to Moscow, the local Party organizations and the Cheka finally persuaded 
the central authorities that there was indeed an enormous conspiracy afoot. A 
Committee for the Liquidation of the Tula Conspiracy interrogated thousands 
of prisoners in the hope of finding a few guilty conspirators. To be set free, 
hired again, and given a new ration book, all the workers who had been arrested 
had to sign the following statement: "I, the undersigned, a filthy criminal dog, 
repent before the revolutionary court and the Red Army, confess my sins, and 
promise to work conscientiously in the future." 

In contrast to other protest strikes, the Tula confrontation in the summer 
of 1920 was treated with comparative leniency: only 28 people were sentenced 
to camps, and 200 were sent into exile. V) At a time when a highly skilled 
workforce was comparatively rare, the Bolsheviks could hardly do without the 
best armaments workers in the country. Terror, like food, had to take into 
account the importance of the sector in question and the higher interests of 
the regime. 

 lowever important the workers 1 front was strategically and symbolically, it was 
only one of the man) internal fronts of the civil war. The struggle against the 
Greens, the peasants who were resisting requisitioning and conscription, was 
often far more important. Reports now available for the first time from the 
special departments of the Cheka and from the Troops for the Internal De- 
fense of the Republic, whose task was to deal with deserters and to put down 
mutinies and peasant riots, reveal the full horror of the extraordinary violence 
of this "dirtv war," which went on beyond the more obvious conflicts between 
the Reds and the Whites. It was in this crucial struggle between Bolshevik 
power and the peasantry that the policy of terror, based on an extremely 
pessimistic view of the masses, was really forged: "They are so ignorant," 


A State against Its People 

wrote Dzerzhinsky, "that they have no idea what is really in their own inter- 
est." The brute masses, it was felt, could be tamed only by force, by the "iron 
broom" that Trotsky mentioned in a characteristic image when describing the 
repressions he had used "to clean" Ukraine and "sweep away" the u bandit 
hordes" led by Nestor Makhno and other peasant chiefs. 20 

The peasant revolts had started in the summer of 1918. They became 
much more widespread in 1919 and 1920 and culminated in 1920-21, when 
they momentarily obliged the Bolshevik forces to retreat slightly. 

There were two obvious reasons for these peasant revolts: the constant 
requisitioning of goods and the enforced conscription into the Red Army. In 
January 1919 the rather disorganized foraging for agricultural surpluses that 
had characterized the first operations of the summer of 1918 was replaced by 
a centralized and more carefully planned requisitioning system. Every prov- 
ince, district, canton (volost), and village community had to hand over to the 
state a quota that was fixed in advance in accordance with estimates about the 
size of the harvest. In addition to grains, the quotas included some twenty-odd 
products such as potatoes, honey, eggs, butter, cooking oil, meat, cream, and 
milk. Each community was responsible for the collection itself. Only when the 
whole village had filled its quota did the authorities distribute receipts allowing 
people to buy manufactured goods, and even then only about 15 percent of the 
people's needs in that department were actually met. Payment for the agricul- 
tural harvest was more or less symbolic by this stage. By the end of 1920 the 
ruble had lost 96 percent of its previous value relative to the prewar gold- 
standard ruble. From 1918 to 1920 agricultural requisitioning increased three- 
fold, and peasant revolts, though difficult to calculate exactly, seem to have 
increased at approximately the same rate. 21 

Opposition to conscription, after three years in the trenches in "the im- 
perialist war, 1 ' was the second most frequent reason for the peasant revolts, 
often led by the Greens. It also accounted for the groups of deserters hiding in 
the woods. It is now believed that in 1919 and 1920 there were more than 
3 million deserters. In 1919 around 500,000 deserters were arrested by various 
departments of the Cheka and the special divisions created to combat desertion; 
in the following year the figure rose to between 700,000 and 800,000. Even so, 
somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million deserters, most of them peasants who 
knew the territory extremely well, managed to elude the authorities. 22 

Faced with the scale of the problem, the government took ever more 
repressive measures. Not only were thousands of deserters shot, but the fami- 
lies of deserters were often treated as hostages. After the summer of 1918 the 
hostage principle was applied in more and more ordinary situations. For exam- 
ple, a government decree of 15 February 1919 signed by Lenin encouraged 
local Chekas to take hostages from among the peasants in regions where the 

The Dirty War 


railway lines had not yet been cleared of snow to a satisfactory standard: "And 
if the lines aren't sw r ept properly, the hostages are to be shot." 2:i On 12 May 
1920 Lenin sent the following instructions to all the provincial commissions 
and detachments responsible for tracing deserters: "After the expiration of the 
seven-day deadline for deserters to turn themselves in, punishments must be 
increased for these incorrigible traitors to the cause of the people. Families and 
anyone found to be assisting them in any way whatsoever are to be considered 
as hostages and treated accordingly." 24 In practice this decree did nothing more 
than legally sanction what was already common practice. The tidal wave of 
desertions nonetheless rolled on. In 1920 and 1921, as in 1919, deserters 
accounted for most of the Green partisans, against whom, for three years (or 
in some regions four or even five), the Bolsheviks waged a relentless war of 
unimaginable cruelty. 

Besides their resistance to requisitioning and conscription, the peasants 
generally rejected any intervention by what they considered to be a foreign 
power, in this case the Communists from the cities. As far as many of the 
peasants were concerned, the Communists responsible for the requisitioning 
were simply not the same people as the Bolsheviks who had encouraged the 
agricultural revolution in 1917. In the regions that were constantly changing 
hands between the Reds and the Whites, confusion and violence were at their 

The reports from different departments of the Cheka responsible for 
suppressing the insurrections are an exceptionally good source of information, 
and allow us to see many different sides of this guerrilla war. They often draw 
a distinction between two types of peasant movement: the bunt, a spontaneous 
revolt and brief flare-up of violence with a relatively limited number of par- 
ticipants, typically between a few dozen to a hundred or so rebels; and the 
vosstatiie, a large-scale insurrection involving thousands or even tens of thou- 
sands of peasants, organized into veritable armies capable of storming towns 
and cities, and held together by a coherent political program, usually with 
anarchist or Socialist Revolutionary tendencies. Excerpts from these reports 
give some idea of what went on: 

30 April 1919. Tambov Province. At the beginning of April, in the 
Lebyadinsky district, a riot broke out among kulaks and deserters pro- 
testing the mobilization of men and horses and the requisitioning of 
grain. With cries of "Down with the Communists! Down with the 
Soviets!" the rebels stormed and burned several of the Executive Com- 
mittees in the canton and killed seven Communists in a barbaric fashion, 
sawing them in half while they were still alive. Summoned by members 
of the requisitioning detachment, the 212th Battalion of the Cheka 
arrived and put down the kulak revolt. Sixty people were arrested, and 

94 A State against Its People 

fifty were executed immediately; the village where the rebellion started 
was razed. 

Voronezh Province, 11 June 1919, 16:15. Telegram. The situation is 
improving. The revolt in the Novokhopersk region is nearly over. Our 
planes bombed and set fire to the town of Tretyaki, one of the principal 
bandit strongholds. Mopping-up operations are continuing. 

Yaroslavl Province, 23 June 1919. The uprising of the deserters in the 
Petropavlovskaya volost has been put down. The families of the desert- 
ers have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person 
from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and 
surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example. 2 ' 

Thousands of simitar reports bear witness to the great violence of this 
war between the authorities and peasant guerrillas, often caused by desertion 
but described in the reports as kulak revolts or bandit uprisings. 2f> The three 
excerpts above demonstrate the varieties of repression used most often by the 
authorities: the arrest and execution of hostages taken from the families of 
deserters or "bandits," and the bombing and burning of villages. These blind 
and disproportionate reprisals were based on the idea of the collective respon- 
sibility of the whole village community. The authorities generally laid down a 
deadline for the return of deserters, and once the deadline had expired, the 
deserters were considered to be "forest bandits" who were liable to be shot on 
sight. Moreover, it was made clear in the tracts of both the civil and the military 
authorities that "if the inhabitants of a village help the bandits in the forests 
in any way whatever, the whole village will be burned down." 

Some of the more general Cheka reports give a clearer idea of the scale 
of this war in the countryside. In the period 15 October-30 November 1918, 
in twelve provinces of Russia alone, there were 44 bunt riots, in which 2,320 
people were arrested, 620 were killed in the fighting, and 982 subsequently 
executed. During these disorders 480 Soviet functionaries were killed, as were 
112 men from the food detachments, the Red Army, and the Cheka. In Sep- 
tember 1919, for the ten Russian provinces for which reports are available, 
48,735 deserters and 7,325 "bandits" were arrested, 1,826 were killed, 2,230 
were executed, and there were 430 victims among the functionaries and the 
Soviet military. These very fragmentary reports do not include the much 
greater losses during the larger-scale peasant uprisings. 

The uprisings can be grouped around several periods of greater intensity: 
March and April 1919 for the regions of the mid-Volga and Ukraine; Febru- 
ary-August 1920 for the provinces of Samara, Ufa, Kazan, Tambov, and again 
Ukraine, which was retaken from the Whites by the Bolsheviks but whose 
heartlands were still controlled by the guerrilla peasants. From late 1920 

The Dirty War 


through the first half of 1921 the peasant movement, very much on the defen- 
sive in Ukraine, the Don, and the Kuban, culminated in huge resistance in the 
central provinces of Tambov, Penza, Samara, Saratov, Simbirsk, and Tsarit- 
syn. 27 The only factor that diminished the intensity of the peasant war here was 
the arrival of one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. 

It was in the rich provinces of Samara and Simbirsk, which in 1919 were 
required to provide more than one-fifth of the grain requisitions for the whole 
of Russia, that spontaneous peasant riots were transformed for the first time in 
March 1919 into a genuine insurrection. Do/ens of towns were taken by the 
insurrectionist peasant army, which by then numbered more than 30,000 armed 
soldiers. The Bolshevik central powers lost all control of Samara for more than 
a month. The rebellion facilitated the advance Toward the Volga of units from 
Admiral Kolchak's White Army, as the Bolsheviks were forced to send tens of 
thousands of men to deal with this extremely well-organized peasant army with 
a clear political program calling lor free trade, free elections to the Soviets, and 
an end to requisitioning and the "Bolshevik comrmssaroeracy." Summing up 
the situation in April 1919, after the end of the uprising, the head of the Cheka 
in Samara noted that 4,240 of the rebels had been killed in the fighting, 625 
had been subsequently shot, and 6,210 deserters and "bandits" had been ar- 

Just when the fire seemed to have been damped in Samara, it flared up 
again with unparalleled intensity in Ukraine. After the Germans and the Aus- 
tro-Hunganans had left at the end of 1918, the Bolshevik government had 
decided to recapture Ukraine. The breadbasket of the old tsarist empire, 
Ukraine was now to ctx the proletariat of Moscow and Petrograd. Requisi- 
tioning quotas were higher there than anywhere else in the Soviet empire. To 
meet them would have been to condemn thousands of villages, already badly 
damaged by the German and Austro-1 lungarian occupations, to certain star- 
vation, [n addition, unlike the policy in Russia at the end of 1917 for the sharing 
of land among the peasant communities, the Bolshevik intention for Ukraine 
was a straightforward nationalization of all the great properties, which were the 
most modern in the old empire. This policy, which aimed to transform the great 
sugar- and grain-producing areas into huge collective farms with the peasants 
as nothing more than agricultural laborers, was bound to provoke resistance. 
The peasants hail become militarized in the fight against the German and 
Austm-I lungarian occupying forces. By 1919 there existed real armies of tens 
of thousands of peasants, commanded by military chiefs and Ukrainian politi- 
cians such as Simon Pctlvura, Nestor Makhno, Mykola Hrvhorviv, and Zeleny. 
J he peasant armies were determined to implement their version of an agrarian 
revolution: land for the peasants, free trade, and free elections to the Soviets, 
"without Muscovites or Jews; 1 For many of the Ukrainian peasants, who had 


A State against Its People 

been born into a long tradition of antagonism between the countryside and the 
mostly Russian and Jewish towns, it was temptingly simple to make the equa- 
tion Muscovites = Bolsheviks = Jews. They were all to be expelled from 

These particularities of Ukraine explain the brutality and the length of 
the confrontations between the Bolsheviks and a large part of the Ukrainian 
peasantry. The presence of another party, the Whites, who were under assault 
at once by the Bolsheviks and by various peasant Ukrainian armies who op- 
posed the return of the great landowners, rendered the political and military 
situation even more complex; some cities, such as Kyiv, were to change hands 
fourteen times in the space of two years. 

The first great revolts against the Bolsheviks and their food-requisitioning 
detachments took place in April 1919. In that month alone, 93 peasant revolts 
took place in the provinces of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, and Odessa. For the 
first twenty days of July 1919 the Cheka's own statistics note 210 revolts, 
involving more than 100,000 armed combatants and several hundred thousand 
peasants. The peasant armies of Hryhoryiv, numbering more than 20,000, 
including several mutinying units from the Red Army, with 50 cannon and 
more than 700 heavy machine guns, took a whole series of towns in southern 
Ukraine in April and May 1919, including Cherkassy, Kherson, Nikolaev, and 
Odessa. They set up an independent interim government whose slogans stated 
their intentions quite clearly: "All power to the Soviets of the Ukrainian peo- 
ple," "Ukraine for the Ukrainians, down with the Bolsheviks and the Jews," 1 
"Share out the land," "Free enterprise, free trade." 2 * Zeleny's partisans, nearly 
20,000 armed men, held the entire province of Kyiv except for a few big cities. 
Under the slogan "Long live Soviet power, down with the Bolsheviks and the 
Jews!" they organized dozens of bloody pogroms against the Jewish commu- 
nities in the towns and villages of Kyiv and Chernihiv. The best known, thanks 
to numerous studies, are the actions of Nestor Makhno. At the head of a 
peasant army numbering tens of thousands, he espoused a simultaneously 
nationalist and social anarchist program that had been elaborated in several 
peasant congresses, including the Congress of Delegate Peasants, Workers, and 
Rebels of Gulyai-Pole, held in April 1919 in the midst of the Makhno uprising. 
The Makhnovists voiced their rejection of all interference by the state in 
peasant affairs and a desire for peasant self-government on the basis of freelv 
elected Soviets. Along with these basic demands came another series of claims, 
shared by other peasant movements, such as calls for the end of requisitioning, 
the elimination of taxes, freedom for socialist and anarchist parties, the redis- 
tribution of land, the end of the "Bolshevik eommissarocracy," and the expul- 
sion of the special troops and the Cheka. 2 '' 

The hundreds of peasant uprisings in the spring and summer of 1919 

The Dirty War 


behind the lines of the Red Army played a key role in the short-lived victories 
by General Denikin's troops. Moving out of southern Ukraine on 19 May 1919, 
the White Army advanced rapidly while the Red Army was busy putting down 
the peasant rebellions. Denikin's troops took Kharkiv on 12 June, Kyiv on 28 
August, and Voronezh on 30 September. The retreat of the Bolsheviks, who 
had established a power base only in the big cities and left the countryside in 
the hands of the peasants, was greeted by large-scale executions of prisoners 
and hostages. In a hasty retreat through the countryside held by the peasant 
guerrillas, the Red Army detachments and the Cheka gave no quarter. They 
burned villages by the hundreds and carried out massive executions of bandits, 
deserters, and hostages. The retreat and the subsequent reconquest of Ukraine 
at the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920 were the settings for scenes of 
extraordinary violence against the civilian population, as recounted in Isaac 
Babel's masterpiece, The Red Cavalry. M) 

By early 1920 the White armies, with the exception of a few straggling 
units that had taken refuge in the Crimea under the command of Baron Pyotr 
Wrangel, Dcnikin's successor, had been defeated. The Bolshevik forces and the 
peasants were thus left face to face. From then until 1922, the conflict with the 
Bolshevik authorities precipitated extremely bloody repression. In February 
and March 1920 a huge new uprising, known as the "Pitchfork Rebellion," 
stretched from the Volga to the Urals, in the provinces of Kazan, Simbirsk, 
and Ufa. Populated by Russians, but also by Tatars and Bashkirs, the regions 
in question had been subject to particularly heavy requisitioning. Within weeks 
the rebellion had taken root in almost a dozen districts. The peasant army 
known as "The Black Eagle" counted more than 50,000 soldiers at its height. 
Armed with cannons and heavy machine guns, the Troops for the Internal 
Defense of the Republic overwhelmed the rebels, who were armed with only 
pitchforks and axes. In a few days thousands of rebels were massacred and 
hundreds of villages burned. 31 

Despite the rapid crushing of the Pitchfork Rebellion, the peasant revolts 
continued to spread, flaring up next in the provinces of the mid-Volga region, 
in Tambov, Penza, Samara, Saratov, and Tsaritsyn, all of which had suffered 
heavily from requisitioning. The Bolshevik leader Antonov-Ovseenko, who led 
the repressions against the rebel peasants in Tambov, later acknowledged that 
the requisitioning plans of 1920 and 1921, if carried out as instructed, would 
have meant the certain death of the peasants. On average, they were left with 
1 pud (35 pounds) of grain and 1.5 pudy (about 55 pounds) of potatoes per 
person each year — approximately one-tenth of the minimum requirements for 
life. These peasants in the provinces were thus engaged in a straightforward 
fight for survival in the summer of 1920. It was to continue for two years, until 
the rebels were finally defeated by hunger. 


A State against Its People 

The third great center of conflict between peasants and Bolsheviks in 1920 
was Ukraine itself, most of which had been reconquered from the White armies 
between December 1919 and February 1920; but the countryside had remained 
under the control of hundreds of detachments of free Greens of various 
allegiances, many of them affiliated with Makhno's command. Unlike the Black 
Eagles, the Ukrainian detachments were well armed, since they were made up 
largely of deserters. In the summer of 1920 Makhno's army numbered 15,000 
men, 2,500 cavalry, approximately 100 heavy machine guns, twenty artillery 
pieces, and two armored vehicles. Hundreds of smaller groups, numbering 
from a dozen to several hundred, also put up stout resistance against the 
Bolshevik incursions. To fight these peasant guerrillas, the government in May 
1920 called on the services of Feliks D/er/hinsky, naming him "Commander 
in Chief of the Rear Front of the Southwest.' 1 Dzerzhinsky remained in 
Kharkiv for more than two months, setting up twenty-four special units of the 
Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic, elite units with special cavalry 
detachments trained to pursue retreating rebels, as well as airplanes to bomb 
bandit strongholds. 12 Their task was to eradicate all peasant guerrillas within 
three months. In fact the operation took more than two years, lasting from 
the summer of 1920 until the autumn of 1922, and cost tens of thousands of 

Among the episodes in the struggle between peasants and the Bolshevik 
authorities, "de-Cossackization" — the systematic elimination of the Cossacks 
of the Don and the Kuban as social groups — occupies a special place. For the 
first time, on the principle of collective responsibility, a new regime took a 
series of measures specially designed to eliminate, exterminate, and deport the 
population of a whole territory, which Soviet leaders had taken to calling the 
"Soviet Vendee."-" These operations were plainly not the result of military 
excesses in the heat of battle, but were carefully planned in advance in response 
to decrees from the highest levels of state authority, directly implicating nu- 
merous top-ranking politicians, including Lenin, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Sergei 
Syrtsov, Grigory Sokolnikov, and Isaac Reingold. Momentarily halted in the 
spring of 1919 because of military setbacks, the process of dc-Cossackization 
resumed with even greater cruelty in 1920, after Bolshevik victories in the Don 
and the Kuban. 

The Cossacks, who since December 1917 had been deprived of the status 
they had enjoyed under the old regime, were classified by the Bolsheviks as 
"kulaks" and "class enemies"; and as a result they joined forces with the White 
armies that had united in southern Russia in the spring of 1918 under the 
banner of Ataman Krasnov. In February 1919, after the general advance of the 
Bolsheviks into Ukraine and southern Russia, the first detachment of the Red 

The Dirty War 


Army penetrated the Cossack territories along the Don. At the outset the 
Bolsheviks took measures to destroy everything that made the Cossacks a 
separate group: their land was confiscated and redistributed among Russian 
colonizers or local peasants who did not have Cossack status; they were ordered, 
on pain of death, to surrender all their arms (historically, as the traditional 
frontier soldiers of the Russian empire, all Cossacks had a right to bear arms); 
and all Cossack administrative assemblies were immediately dissolved. 

All these measures were part of the preestablished de-Cossackization plan 
approved in a secret resolution of the Bolshevik Party's Central Committee on 
24 January 1919: "In view of the experiences of the civil war against the 
Cossacks, we must recognize as the only politically correct measure massive 
terror and a merciless fight against the rich Cossacks, who must be extermi- 
nated and physically disposed of, down to the last man."- 14 

In practice, as acknowledged by Reingold, the president of the Revolu- 
tionary Committee of the Don, who was entrusted with imposing Bolshevik 
rule in the Cossack territories, "what was carried out instead against the 
Cossacks was an indiscriminate policy of massive extermination. "^ From mid- 
February to mid-March 1919, Bolshevik detachments executed more than 
8,000 Cossacks.-*' 1 In each stamina (Cossack village) revolutionary courts passed 
summary judgments in a matter of minutes, and whole lists of suspects were 
condemned to death, generally for "counterrevolutionary behavior." In the face 
of this relentless destruction, the Cossacks had no choice but to revolt. 

The revolt began in the district of Veshenskaya on 11 March 1919. The 
well-organized rebels decreed the general mobilization of all males aged sixteen 
to fifty-five and sent out telegrams urging the whole population to rise up 
against the Bolsheviks throughout the Don region and as far as the remote 
province of Voronezh. 

"We, the Cossacks," they explained, "are not anti-Soviet. We are in favor 
of free elections. We are against the Communists, collective farming, and the 
Jews. We are against requisitioning, theft, and the endless round of executions 
practiced by the Chekas." 17 At the beginning of April the Cossack rebels 
represented a well-armed force of nearly 30,000 men, all hardened by battle. 
Operating behind the lines of the Red Army, which, farther south, was fighting 
Denikin's troops together with the Kuban Cossacks, these rebels of the Don, 
like their Ukrainian counterparts, contributed in no small measure to the huge 
advance of the White Army in May and June 1919. At the beginning of June 
the Cossacks of the Don and the Kuban joined up with the greater part of the 
White armies. The whole of the "Cossack Vendee" was freed from the dreaded 
power of the "Muscovites, Jews, and Bolsheviks." 

But the Bolsheviks were back in February 1920. The second military 
occupation of the Cossack lands was even more murderous than the first. The 


A State against Its People 

whole Don region was forced to make a grain contribution of 36 million pudy, 
a quantity that easily surpassed the total annual production of the area; and the 
whole local population was robbed not only of its meager food and grain 
reserves but also of all its goods, including "shoes, clothes, bedding, and samo- 
vars," according to a Cheka report. 18 Every man who was still fit to fight 
responded to this institutionalized pillaging by joining groups of rebel Greens, 
which by July 1920 numbered at least 35,000 in the Kuban and Don regions. 
Trapped in the Crimea since February, General Wrangel decided in a last 
desperate attempt to free himself from the Bolsheviks 1 grip on the region by 
joining forces with the Cossacks and the Greens of Kuban. On 17 August 1 920, 
5,000 men landed near Novorossiisk. Faced with the combined forces of the 
Whites, Cossacks, and Greens, the Bolsheviks were forced to abandon Ekater- 
inodar, the main city of the Kuban region, and then to retreat from the region 
altogether. Although Wrangel made progress in the south of Ukraine, the 
Whites' successes were short-lived. Overcome by the numerically superior 
Bolshevik forces, Wrangel's troops, hampered by the large number of civilians 
that accompanied them, retreated in total disarray toward the Crimea at the 
end of October. The retaking of the Crimea by the Bolsheviks, the last con- 
frontation between the Red and White forces, was the occasion of one of rhe 
largest massacres in the civil war. At least 50,000 civilians were killed by the 
Bolsheviks in November and December 1920.- 19 

Finding themselves again on the losing side, the Cossacks were again 
devastated by the Red Terror. One of the principal leaders of the Cheka, the 
Latvian Karl Lander, was named ''Plenipotentiary of the Northern Caucasus 
and the Don" One of his first actions was to establish troiki, special commis- 
sions in charge of de-Cossackization. In October 1920 alone these troiki con- 
demned more than 6,000 people to death, all of whom were executed 
immediately. 40 The families, and sometimes even the neighbors, of Green par- 
tisans or of Cossacks who had taken up arms against the regime and had 
escaped capture, were systematically arrested as hostages and thrown into 
concentration camps, which Martin Latsis, the head of the Ukrainian Cheka, 
acknowledged in a report as being genuine death camps: "Gathered together 
in a camp near Maikop, the hostages, women, children, and old men survive in 
the most appalling conditions, in the cold and the mud of October . . . They 
are dying like flies. The women will do anything to escape death. The soldiers 
guarding the camp take advantage of this and treat them as prostitutes.' 141 

All resistance was mercilessly punished. When its chief fell into an am- 
bush, the Pyatigorsk Cheka organized a "day of Red Terror" that went well 
beyond instructions from Lander, who had recommended that "this act of 
terrorism should be turned to our advantage to take important hostages with a 
view to executing them, and as a reason to speed up the executions of White 

The Dirty War 


spies and counterrevolutionaries in general. 1 " In Lander's words, "The Pya- 
tigorsk Cheka decided straight out to execute 300 people in one day. They 
divided up the town into various boroughs and took a quota of people from 
each, and ordered the Party to draw up execution lists . . . This rather unsat- 
isfactory method led to a great deal of private settling of old scores ... In 
Kislovodsk, for lack of a better idea, it was decided to kill people who were in 
the hospital. 1142 

One of the most effective means of de-Cossackization was the destruction 
of Cossack towns and the deportation of all survivors. The files of Sergo 
Ordzhonikidze, who was president of the Revolutionary Committee of the 
Northern Caucasus at the time, contain documents detailing one such opera- 
tion in late October and early November 1920. On 23 October Ordzhonikidze 

1. The town of Kalinovskaya to be burned 

2. The inhabitants of Ermolovskaya, Romanovskaya, Samachin- 
skava, and Mikhailovskaya to be driven out of their homes, and 
the houses and land redistributed among the poor peasants, par- 
ticularly among the Chechens, who have always shown great re- 
spect for Soviet power 

3. All males aged eighteen to fifty from the above-mentioned 
towns to be gathered into convoys and deported under armed es- 
cort to the north, where they will be forced into heavy labor 

4. Women, children, and old people to be driven from their homes, 
although they are to be allowed to resettle farther north 

5. All the cattle and goods of the above-mentioned towns to be 
seized 4 ' 

Three weeks later Ordzhonikidze received a report outlining how the operation 
had progressed: 

Kalinovskaya: town razed and the whole population (4,220) deported or 

Ermolovskaya: emptied of all inhabitants (3,218) 
Romanovskaya: 1,600 deported, 1,661 awaiting deportation 
Samaehinskaya: 1,018 deported, 1,900 awaiting deportation 
Mikhailovskaya: 600 deported, 2,200 awaiting deportation 

In addition, 1 54 carriages of foodstuffs have been sent to Grozny. In the 
three towns where the process of deportation is not yet complete, the 
first people to be deported were the families of Whites and Greens and 
anyone who participated in the last uprising. Among those still awaiting 
deportation are the known supporters of the Soviet regime and the 
families of Red Army soldiers, Soviet officials, and Communists. The 


A State agatnst Its People 

delay is to be explained by the Jack of railway carriages. On average, only 
one convoy per day can be devoted to these operations. To finish the 
operation as soon as possible, we urgently request 306 extra railway 
carriages. 44 

How did such "operations" come to an end? Unfortunately, there are no 
documents to provide an answer. It is clear that they continued for a consider- 
able time, and that they almost always ended with deportations not to the great 
northern regions, as was to be the case for many years to come, but instead to 
the mines of Donetsk, which were closer. Given the state of the railways in 
1920, the operation must have been fairly chaotic. Nonetheless, in their general 
shape and intention the de-Cossackization operations of 1920 prefigure the 
larger-scale dekulakization operations of ten years later. They share the same 
idea of collective responsibility, the same process of deportation in convoys, 
the same organizational problems, the same unpreparedness of the destinations 
for the arrival of prisoners, and the same principle of forcing deportees into 
heavy labor. The Cossack regions of the Don and the Kuban paid a heavy price 
for their opposition to the Bolsheviks. According to the most reliable estimates, 
between 300,000 and 500,000 people were killed or deported in 1919 and 1920, 
out of a population of no more than 3 million. 

Among the atrocities whose scale is the most difficult to gauge are the 
massacres of prisoners and hostages who were taken simply on the basis of 
their "belonging to an enemy class" or being "socially undesirable." These 
massacres were part of the logic of the Red Terror in the second half of 1918, 
but on an even larger scale. The massacres on the basis of class were constantly 
justified with the claim that a new world was coming into being, and that 
everything was permitted to assist the difficult birth, as an editorial explained 
in the first issue of Krasnyt mech (The Red sword), the newspaper of the kyiv 

We reject the old systems of morality and "humanity" invented by the 
bourgeoisie to oppress and exploit the "lower classes." Our morality has 
no precedent, and our humanity is absolute because it rests on a new 
ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and violence. To us, 
everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to 
oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate humanity from 
its shackles . . . Blood? Let blood flow like water! Let blood stain forever 
the black pirate's flag flown by the bourgeoisie, and let our flag be 
blood-red forever! For only through the death of the old world can we 
liberate ourselves forever from the return of those jackals! 4 ' 

Such murderous calls found many ready to respond, and the ranks of the 
Cheka were filled with social elements anxious for revenge, recruited as they 

The Dirty War 


often were, as the Bolshevik leaders themselves acknowledged and even recom- 
mended, from the ranks of u the criminals and the socially degenerate." In a 
letter of 22 March to Lenin, the Bolshevik leader Serafina Gopner described 
the activities of the Ekaterinoslavl Cheka: "This organization is rotten to the 
core: the canker of criminality, violence, and totally arbitrary decisions abounds, 
and it is filled with common criminals and the dregs of society, men armed to 
the teeth who simply execute anyone they don't like. They steal, loot, rape, and 
throw anyone into prison, forge documents, practice extortion and blackmail, 
and will let anyone go in exchange for huge sums of money." 46 

The files of the Central Committee, like those of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, 
contain innumerable reports from Party leaders or inspectors from the secret 
police detailing the "degenerate acts" of local Chekas "driven mad by blood 
and violence." The absence of any juridical or moral norm often resulted in 
complete autonomy for local Chekas. No longer answerable for their actions to 
any higher authority, they became bloodthirsty and tyrannical regimes, uncon- 
trolled and uncontrollable. Three extracts from dozens of almost identical 
Cheka reports illustrate the slide into almost total anarchy. 

First, a report from Smirnov, a Cheka training instructor in Syzran, in 
Tambov Province, to Dzerzhinsky, on 22 March 1919: 

I have checked up on the events surrounding the kulak uprising in the 
Novo-Matryonskaya volost. The interrogations were carried out in a 
totally chaotic manner. Seventy-five people were tortured, hut it is im- 
possible to make head or tail of any of the written reports . . . Five 
people were shot on 16 February, and thirteen the following day. The 
report on the death sentences and the executions is dated 28 February. 
When I asked the local Cheka leader to explain himself, he answered, 
"We didn't have time to write the reports at the time. What does it 
matter anyway, when we are trying to wipe out the bourgeoisie and the 
kulaks as a class?" 4 ' 

Next, a report from the secretary of the regional organization of the 
Bolshevik Party in Yaroslavl on 26 September 1919: "The Cheka are looting 
and arresting everyone indiscriminately. Safe in the knowledge that they cannot 
be punished, they have transformed the Cheka headquarters into a huge brothel 
where they take all the bourgeois women. Drunkenness is rife. Cocaine is being 
used quite widely among the supervisors, " 4S 

Finally, a report from N. Roscntal, inspector of the leadership of special 
departments, dated 16 October 1919: 

Atarbekov, chief of the special departments of the Eleventh Army, is 
now refusing to recognize the authority of headquarters. On 30 July, 
when Comrade [Andrei | Zakovsky, who was sent from Moscow to ex- 


A State against Its People 

amine the work of special departments, came to see [Georgy] Atarbekov, 
the latter answered openly, u Tell Dzerzhinsky I am refusing his con- 
trol." No administrative norm is being respected by these people, who 
for the most part are highly dubious, if not plainly criminal in their 
behavior. The Operations Department keeps almost no records what- 
ever. For death sentences and the execution of such sentences, I found 
no individual judgments, just lists, for the most part incomplete, of 
people killed, with the mention "Shot at the behest of Comrade Atar- 
bekov." As for the events of March, it is impossible to get any clear idea 
of who was shot or why . . . Orgies and drunkenness are daily occur- 
rences. Almost all the personnel of the Cheka are heavy cocaine users. 
They say that this helps them deal with the sight of so much blood on a 
daily basis. Drunk with blood and violence, the Cheka is doing its duty, 
but it is made up of uncontrollable elements that will require close 
surveillance. 49 

The internal reports of the Party and the Cheka confirm the numerous 
statements collected in 1919 and 1920 by the enemies of the Bolsheviks, and 
particularly by the Commission of Special Inquiry into Bolshevik Crimes, 
established by General Denikin, whose archives, after being transferred from 
Prague to Moscow in 1945, were long inaccessible but are now open to public 
scrutiny. In 1926 the Russian Socialist Revolutionary historian Sergei Mel- 
gunov, in his book The Red Terror in Russia, had tried to catalogue the main 
massacres of prisoners, hostages, and civilians who were killed en masse by the 
Bolsheviks, usually on the basis of class. Though incomplete, the list of the 
principal episodes mentioned in that pioneering work is fully confirmed by a 
whole variety of documentary sources coming from the two different camps in 
question. Because of the organizational chaos that reigned in the Chekas, there 
are still gaps in this information regarding the exact number of people who 
died in the massacres, although we can be fairly certain of the number of 
massacres that took place. Using these various sources, one can attempt at least 
to list them in order of size. 

The massacres of "suspects," "hostages," and other "enemies of the peo- 
ple" who were locked up as a preventive measure or for simple administrative 
reasons in prisons or concentration camps started in September 1918, in the 
first wave of Red Terror. Once the categories of "suspects," "hostages," and 
"enemies of the people" had been established, and the concentration camps 
were in place, the machinery of repression could simply swing into action. The 
trigger for this war, in which territory so often changed hands and each month 
brought some sort of turnaround in military fortunes, was usually nothing 
more than the taking of a village that until then had been occupied by the 

The Dirty War 


The imposition of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in cities that had 
been captured or retaken always went through the same stages: the dissolution 
of previously elected assemblies, a ban on all trade— which invariably meant 
immediate price rises for food, and subsequent shortages— the nationalization 
of all businesses, and the levying of a huge tax on the bourgeoisie— 600 million 
rubles in Kharkiv in February 1919, 500 million in Odessa in April 1919. To 
ensure that this contribution was paid, hundreds of bourgeois would be taken 
as hostages and locked up in the concentration camps. In fact this contribution 
meant a sort of institutionalized pillaging, expropriation, and intimidation, the 
first step in the destruction of the "bourgeoisie as a social class." 

"In accordance with the resolutions of the Workers 1 Soviet, 13 May has 
been declared the day of expropriation of the property of the bourgeoisie," 
announced the lzvestiya of the Council of Workers' Delegates of Odessa on 
13 May 1919. "The property-owning classes will be required to fill in a ques- 
tionnaire detailing foodstuffs, shoes, clothes, jewels, bicycles, bedding, sheets, 
silverware, crockery, and other articles indispensable to the working population 
... It is the duty of all to assist the expropriation commissions in this sacred 
task. Anyone failing to assist the expropriation commissions will be arrested 
immediately. Anyone resisting will be executed without further delay." 

As Latsis, chief of the Cheka in Ukraine, acknowledged in a circular to 
local Chekas, the fruits of these expropriations went straight into the pockets 
of the Cheka or remained in the hands of the chiefs of the innumerable 
expropriation and requisitioning detachments or Red Guards. 

The second stage of the expropriations was the confiscation of bourgeois 
apartments. In this "class war," humiliation of the enemy was extremely im- 
portant. "We must treat them the way they deserve: the bourgeoisie respect 
only authority that punishes and kills," said the report of 26 April 1919 in the 
Odessa newspaper mentioned above. "If we execute a few dozen of these 
bloodsucking idiots, if we reduce them to the status of street sweepers and force 
their women to clean the Red Army barracks (and that would be an honor for 
them), they will understand that our power is here to stay, and that no one, 
neither the Knglish nor the Hottentots, is going to come and help them/' 50 

A recurring theme in numerous articles in Bolshevik newspapers in 
Odessa, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kkaterinoslav, as well as in Perm, Ural, and Nizhni 
Novgorod, was the "humiliation" of bourgeois women, who were forced to 
clean toilets or the barracks of the Cheka or Red Guards. But this was merely 
the toned-down and politically presentable face of the much more brutal reality 
of rape, which according to innumerable statements took on gigantic propor- 
tions, particularly in the second reconquest of Ukraine and the Cossack regions 
of the Crimea in 1920. 

The logical culmination of the "extermination of the bourgeoisie as a 


A State against Its People 

class," the execution of prisoners, suspects, and hostages imprisoned simply 
on the basis of their belonging to the "possessing classes," is recorded in many 
of the cities taken by the Bolsheviks. In Kharkiv there were between 2,000 and 
3,000 executions in February-June 1919, and another 1,000-2,000 when the 
town was taken again in December of that year; in Rostov-on-Don, approxi- 
mately 1,000 in January 1920; in Odessa, 2,200 in May-August 1919, then 
1,500^3,000 between February 1920 and February 1921; in Kyiv, at least 3,000 
in February-August 1919; in Ekaterinodar, at least 3,000 between August 1920 
and February 1921; in Armavir, a small town in Kuban, between 2,000 and 
3,000 in August-October 1920. The list could go on and on. 

In fact many other executions took place elsewhere, but were not subject 
to close examination very soon afterward. Hence those that occurred in Ukraine 
or southern Russia are much better known than those of the Caucasus, Central 
Asia, and the Urals. The pace of executions was often stepped up as the enemy 
approached, or when the Bolsheviks were abandoning their position and "emp- 
tying" the prisons. In Kharkiv, in the days leading up to the arrival of the 
Whites, on 8 and 9 June 1919, hundreds of hostages were executed. In Kyiv 
more than 1,800 people were executed on 22-28 August, before the town was 
retaken by the Whites on 30 August. The same scenario played out at Ekater- 
inodar, where, in the face of the advancing Cossack troops, Atarbekov, head of 
the local Cheka, disposed of 1,600 bourgeois on 17-19 August, in a small 
provincial town whose population before the war numbered a mere 30,000 
inhabitants. 51 

Documents from the inquiry commissions of the White Army, which 
sometimes arrived a few days or even a few hours after the executions, contain 
a mass of statements, testimonies, autopsy reports, and photographs of the 
massacres and information about the identity of the victims. Although those 
who were executed at the last minute, generally with a bullet in the back of the 
head, showed few traces of torture, this was not always the case for the bodies 
that were dug out of the mass graves. The use of the most dreadful types of 
torture is evident from autopsy reports, circumstantial evidence, and eyewitness 
reports. Detailed descriptions of the torture are to be found both in Sergei 
Melgunov's Red Terror in Russia and in the report by the Central Committee 
of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, Cheka, published in Berlin in 1922. S2 

It was in the Crimea, when the last units of WrangePs White forces and 
the civilians who had fled before the Bolshevik advance were moving out, that 
these massacres were most intensive. From mid-November to the end of De- 
cember 1920, more than 50,000 people were shot or hanged.' 1 A large number 
of the executions happened immediately after the departure of WrangePs 
troops. In Sevastopol several hundred dock workers were shot on 26 November 
for having assisted in the White evacuation. On 28 and 30 November the 

The Dirty War 


Izvestiya of the Revolutionary Committee of Sevastopol published two lists of 
victims; the first contained 1,634 names, the second 1,202. In early December, 
when the first wave of executions had somewhat abated, the authorities began 
to draw up as complete a list as possible of the population of the main towns 
of the Crimea, where, they believed, tens or hundreds of thousands of bour- 
geois were hiding. On 6 December Lenin told an assembly in Moscow that 
300,000 bourgeois were hiding out in the Crimea. He gave an assurance that in 
the very near future these "elements," which constituted "a reservoir of spies 
and secret agents ready to leap to the defense of capitalism," would all be 
"punished." 54 

The military cordon that was closing off the Perekop isthmus, the only 
escape route by land, was reinforced; and once the trap was laid, the authorities 
ordered all inhabitants to present themselves to the local Cheka to fill in a 
questionnaire containing some fifty questions about their social origins, past 
actions, income, and other matters, especially their whereabouts in November 
1920 and their opinions about Poland, Wrangel, and the Bolsheviks. On the 
basis of these inquiries, the population was divided into three groups: those to 
be shot, those to be sent to concentration camps, and those to be saved. 
Statements from the few survivors, published in emigre newspapers the follow- 
ing year, describe Sevastopol, one of the towns that suffered most heavily under 
the repressions, as "the city of the hanged." "From Nakhimovsky, all one could 
see was the hanging bodies of officers, soldiers, and civilians arrested in the 
streets. The town was dead, and the only people left alive were hiding in lofts 
or basements. All the walls, shop fronts, and telegraph poles were covered with 
posters calling for 'Death to the traitors. 1 They were hanging people for fun." 55 
The last episode in the conflict between Whites and Reds was not to be 
the end of the terror. The military front of the civil war no longer existed, but 
the war to eradicate the enemy was to continue for another two years. 


From Tambov to the Great Famine 


X the end of 1920 the Bolshevik regime seemed poised to tri- 
umph. The remnants of the White armies had been defeated, the Cossacks had 
been beaten, and Makhno's detachments were in retreat. But although the war 
against the Whites was effectively over, the conflict between the new regime 
and large sections of the population was intensifying. The war against the 
peasants reached its height in the early months of 1921, when whole provinces 
were effectively beyond the control of the Bolsheviks. In the province of 
Tambov, one of the Volga provinces (which also included Samara, Saratov, 
Tsaritsyn, and Simbirsk) in western Siberia, the Bolsheviks held only the city 
of Tambov itself. The countryside was either in the hands of one of hundreds 
of groups of Greens or under the control of one of the peasant armies. Muti- 
nies broke out daily in the local Red Army garrisons. Strikes, riots, and work- 
ers' protest movements multiplied in the few areas of the countrv where 
industry still functioned— Moscow, Petrograd, Ivanovo Voznesensk, and Tula. 
At the end of February 1921, sailors from the Kronstadt naval base near 
Petrograd mutinied. The situation was becoming explosive, and the countrv 
was becoming ungovernable. In the face of a huge wave of social unrest that 
threatened to sweep away the regime, the Bolshevik leaders were forced to 
retreat and take the only step that could momentarily calm the massive, dan- 
gerous, and widespread discontent: they promised an end to requisitioning, 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 

which was to be replaced by taxes in kind. In March 1921, against this back- 
drop of conflict between society and the regime, the New Economic Policy 
(NEP) came into being. 

The dominant version of events has exaggerated for too long the extent 
to which March 1921 marked a break with the past. Hastily adopted on the last 
day of the Bolsheviks 1 Tenth Party Congress, the substitution of taxes in kind 
for requisitioning brought neither the end of the workers' strikes nor an abate- 
ment in terror. The archives that can now be consulted show that peace did not 
immediately result from this new regulation in the spring of 1921. In fact 
tensions remained extremely high until at least the summer of 1922 and in some 
regions until considerably later. Requisitioning detachments continued to scour 
the countryside, strikes were still put down brutally, and the last militant 
socialists were arrested. The "eradication of the bandits from the forests" was 
still pursued by any means possible, including large-scale executions of hos- 
tages and the bombing of villages with poison gas. In the final analysis, the 
rebellious countryside was beaten by the great famine of 1921-22: the areas 
that had suffered most heavily from requisitioning were the areas of rebellion 
and also the areas that suffered worst during the famine. As an "objective" ally 
of the regime, hunger was the most powerful weapon imaginable, and it also 
served as a pretext for the Bolsheviks to strike a heavy blow against both 
the Orthodox Church and the intelligentsia who had risen up against the 


Of all the revolts that had broken out since the introduction of requisi- 
tioning in the summer of 1918, the revolt of the peasants in Tambov was the 
largest, the most organized, and therefore the longest-lasting. Located less than 
300 miles southeast of Moscow, Tambov Province had been one of the bastions 
of the Socialist Revolutionary Party since the turn of the century. From 1918 
to 1920, despite heavy sanctions, the Party still had numerous militant activists. 
Tambov Province was also the largest wheat-producing area near Moscow, and 
since the autumn of 1918 more than 100 requisitioning detachments had been 
scouring this densely populated agricultural region. In 1919 a number of bunty 
(short-lived riots) had been put down as soon as they had flared up. In 1920 
the requisitioning requirements were increased, from 18 million to 27 million 
pudy while the peasants had considerably reduced the amount they sowed, 
knowing that anything they did not consume themselves would be immediately 
requisitioned. 1 To fill the quotas was thus to force the peasants into death by 
starvation On 19 August 1920 routine incidents involving the food detach- 
ments abruptly degenerated in the town of Khitrovo. As the local authorities 
themselves acknowledged, "the detachments committed a series of abuses. 
They looted everything in their path, even pillows and kitchen utensils, shared 
out the booty, and beat up old men of seventy in full view of the public. The 




A State against Its People 

old men were being punished for the absence of their sons, who were deserters 
hiding in the woods. The peasants were also angry that the confiscated grain, 
which had been taken to the nearest station by the cartload, was being left to 
rot in the open air." 2 

From Khitrovo the revolt spread rapidly. By the end of August 1920 more 
than 14,000 men, mostly deserters, armed with rifles, pitchforks, and scythes, 
had chased out or massacred all representatives of the Soviet regime from the 
three districts of Tambov Province. In the space of a few weeks, this peasant 
revolt, which at first could not be distinguished from the hundreds of others 
that had broken out all over Russia and Ukraine over the previous two years, 
was transformed into a well-organized uprising under the inspirational leader- 
ship of a first-class warlord, Aleksandr Stepanovich Antonov. 

A Socialist Revolutionary activist since 1906, Antonov had spent the years 
after 1908 as a political exile in Siberia, returning only in October 1917. Like 
many left Socialist Revolutionaries, he had rallied to the Bolshevik cause for a 
time, and had been the head of the local militia in Kirsanov, his native region. 
In August 1918 he had broken with the Bolsheviks and assumed leadership of 
one of the many bands of deserters that roamed the countryside, righting in 
guerrilla style against the requisitioning detachments and attacking the few- 
Soviet officials who dared go out into the remote villages. When the peasant 
revolt took hold in Kirsanov in August 1920, Antonov organized both a highly 
effective peasant militia and a remarkable information network that infiltrated 
even the Tambov Cheka. He also organized a propaganda service that distrib- 
uted tracts and proclamations denouncing the "Bolshevik commissarocracv" 
and mobilized the peasants around key popular demands such as free trade, the 
end of requisitioning, free elections, the elimination of Bolshevik commissari- 
ats, and the disbanding of the Cheka. * 

In parallel, the underground Socialist Revolutionary Party organization 
established the Union of Working Peasants, a clandestine network of militant 
peasants from the surrounding area. Despite serious tensions between Antonov 
and the leaders of the Union of Working Peasants, the peasant movement in 
the Tambov region basically had a military organization, an information net- 
work, and a political program that lent it strength and unity, things that no 
other peasant movement (with the possible exception of the Makhnovist move- 
ment) had possessed. 

In October 1920 the Bolsheviks controlled no more than the city of 
Tambov and a few provincial urban centers. Deserters flocked by the thousands 
to join Antonov's peasant army, which at its peak numbered more than 50,000. 
On 19 October, realizing at last the gravity of the situation, Lenin wrote to 
Dzerzhinsky: "It is vital that this movement be crushed as swiftly as possible 
in the most exemplary fashion: we must be more energetic than this!' H 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


At the beginning of November the Bolsheviks in the area numbered no 
more than 5,000 Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic. After the 
defeat of Wrangel in the Crimea, the number of troops deployed to Tambov 
Province quickly reached 100,000, including some detachments from the Red 
Army, who were nonetheless kept to a minimum when it came to suppressing 
popular revolts. 

After 1 January the peasant revolts spread to several other regions, includ- 
ing the whole of the lower Volga (the provinces of Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn, 
and Astrakhan), as well as western Siberia. The situation became explosive as 
famine threatened these rich, fertile regions that had been overtaxed for several 
years. In Samara Province the commander of the Volga Military District re- 
ported on 12 February 1921 that "crowds of thousands of starving peasants 
are besieging the barns where the food detachments have stored the grain that 
has been requisitioned for urban areas and the army. The situation has dete- 
riorated several times, and the army has been forced to open fire repeatedly on 
the enraged crowd." From Saratov the local Bolshevik leaders sent the follow- 
ing telegram to Moscow: "Banditry has overwhelmed the whole province. The 
peasants have seized all the stocks — 3 million pudy — from the state grain stores. 
They are heavily armed, thanks to all the rifles from the deserters. Whole units 
of the Red Army have simply vanished. " 

At the same time, about 600 miles eastward, a new trouble spot was 
emerging. Having extracted all the resources that it could from the prosperous 
agricultural regions of southern Russia and Ukraine, the Bolshevik government 
in the autumn of 1919 had turned to western Siberia, where the quotas were 
fixed arbitrarily on the basis of wheat export figures dating from 1913. Evi- 
dently no attempt was made to consider the difference between the old harvest, 
which had been destined for export and had been paid for with gold-standard 
rubles, and the pitifully meager reserves that the peasants had set aside for 
requisitioning. As in other regions, the Siberian peasants responded with an 
uprising to protect the results of their labors and to assure their own survival. 
From January to March 1921 the Bolsheviks lost control of the provinces of 
Tyumen, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Ekaterinburg — a territory larger than 
France. The Trans-Siberian Railway, the only link between western Russia and 
Siberia, was also cut off. On 21 February a Russian peasant army seized the 
city of Tobolsk, which Red Army units did not manage to retake until 30 
March. 5 

At the other end of the country, in both Petrograd, the old capital, and 
Moscow, the new one, the situation at the beginning of 1921 was almost as 
explosive. The economy had nearly stopped, and the transport system had 
ground to a halt. Most of the factories were closed or working at half-speed 
because of lack of fuel, and food supplies to the cities were in danger of ceasing 


A State against Its People 

altogether. All the workers were in the streets, in the surrounding villages 
scavenging for food, or standing around and talking in the freezing, half-empty 
factories, many of which had been stripped for items to exchange for food. 

"Discontent is widespread," said a Cheka Information Department report 
on 16 January. "The workers arc predicting the imminent demise of the regime. 
No one works any more because they are all too hungry. Strikes on a huge scale 
are bound to start any day now. The garrisons in Moscow are less and less 
trustworthy and could become uncontrollable at any moment. Preventive meas- 
ures are required."* 

On 21 January a government decree ordered a 30 percent reduction in 
bread rations for Moscow; Petrograd, Ivanovo Vozncsensk, and Kronstadt. 
Coming at a time when the last White armies had been defeated and the 
government could no longer claim that the counterrevolutionaries were to 
blame, this measure was enough to light the powderkeg of rebellion. From the 
end of January to mid-March 1921, strikes, protest meetings, hunger marches, 
demonstrations, and factory sit-ins occurred daily, reaching their height in 
Moscow and Petrograd at the end of February and the beginning of March. 
In Moscow from 22 to 24 March there were serious confrontations between 
Cheka detachments and groups of demonstrators who were attempting to force 
their way into the barracks to join forces with the soldiers. Man)- of the workers 
were shot, and hundreds were arrested. 7 

In Petrograd the troubles became more widespread after 22 February, 
when workers from several of the main factories voted in a new "Plenipoten- 
tiary Workers' Assembly" that was strongly Menshevik and Socialist Revolu- 
tionary in character. In its first decree the assembly demanded the elimination 
of the Bolshevik dictatorship, free elections to the soviet, freedom of speech, 
assembly, and the press, and the release of all political prisoners. To achieve 
these ends the assembly called for a general strike. The military command failed 
to stop several regiments from holding meetings that passed motions of support 
for the strikers. On 24 February Cheka detachments opened fire on a workers 1 
demonstration, killing twelve men. That same day, more than 1,000 workers 
and militant socialists were arrested. 8 Yet the ranks of the strikers continued to 
swell, with thousands of soldiers leaving their units to join forces with the 
workers. Four years after the February days that had overturned the tsarist 
regime, history seemed to be repeating itself as militant workers and mutinying 
soldiers joined forces. On 26 February at 9:00 p.m. Grigory Zinoviev, the head 
of the Bolshevik Party in Petrograd, sent a telegram to Lenin in panic: "The 
workers have joined up with the soldiers in the barracks . . . We are still waiting 
for the reinforcements we demanded from Novgorod. If they don't arrive in 
the next few hours, we are going to be overrun." 

Two days later came the event that the Bolshevik leaders had been fearing 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


above all else: a mutiny of the sailors aboard the two warships in the Kronstadt 
base near Petrograd. Zinoviev sent another telegram to Lenin on 28 February 
at 11:00 p.m.: "Kronstadt: the two main ships, the Sevastopol and the 
Petropavlovsk, have adopted Socialist Revolutionary and Black Hundred reso- 
lutions and given us an ultimatum to which we have twenty-four hours to 
respond. The situation among the workers is very unstable. All the main 
factories are on strike. We think that the Socialist Revolutionaries are going to 
step up protests." 9 

The demands that Zinoviev labeled "Socialist Revolutionary and Black 
Hundred" were the same things that the immense majority of citizens were 
demanding after three years of Bolshevik dictatorship: free and secret elections, 
freedom of speech, and freedom of the press — at least for "workers, peasants, 
anarchists, and left-wing socialist parties." They also demanded equal rations 
for all, the freeing of all political prisoners, the convocation of a special com- 
mission to reexamine the cases of those imprisoned in concentration camps, an 
end to requisitioning, the abolition of special Cheka detachments, and freedom 
for the peasants "to do whatever they want with their land, and to raise their 
own livestock, provided they do it using their own resources " 10 

At Kronstadt events were gathering momentum. On 1 March a huge 
meeting gathered together more than 1 5,000 people, a quarter of the entire civil 
and military population of the naval base. Mikhail Kalinin, president of the 
Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, arrived in person to try to defuse 
the situation; but he failed to make himself heard over the boos of the crowd. 
The following day the rebels, joined by at least 2,000 Bolsheviks from Kron- 
stadt, formed a provisional revolutionary committee that attempted to link up 
with the strikers and soldiers from Petrograd. 

The daily Cheka reports on the situation in Petrograd in the first week of 
March 1921 leave no doubt about the widespread popular support for the 
mutiny at Kronstadt: "The Kronstadt revolutionary committee clearly expects 
a general uprising in Petrograd any day now. They have made contact with the 
mutineers and with a number of the factories. Today, at a meeting in the Arsenal 
factory, workers voted for a resolution to join the general insurrection. A 
delegation of three people — including an anarchist, a Menshevik, and a Social- 
ist Revolutionary — has been elected to keep in contact with Kronstadt." 11 

On 7 March the Petrograd Cheka received the order to "undertake deci- 
sive action against the workers." Within forty-eight hours more than 2,000 
workers, all known socialist or anarchist sympathizers or activists, were ar- 
rested. Unlike the mutineers, the workers were unarmed and could put up little 
resistance to the Cheka detachments. Having thus broken the support for the 
insurrection, the Bolsheviks carefully prepared the assault on Kronstadt itself 
The task of liquidating the rebellion was entrusted to General Mikhail Tuk- 


A State against Its People 

hachevsky. In opening fire on the crowd, the victor from the Polish campaign 
of 1920 used young recruits from the military school, who had no tradition of 
revolution, and special detachments from the Cheka. The operation began on 
8 March. Ten days later Kronstadt fell after thousands of people had lost their 
lives. Several hundred rebels who had been taken prisoner were shot over the 
next few days. The records of the event, recently published for the first time, 
show that from April to June 1921, 2,103 were sentenced to death and 6,459 
were sent to prison or to the camps. 12 Just before the fall of Kronstadt nearly 
8,000 people managed to escape across the ice to Finland, where they were 
interned in transit camps in Terioki, Vyborg, and Ino. Deceived by the promise 
of an amnesty, a number of them returned to Russia in 1922, where they were 
immediately arrested and sent to camps on the Solovetski Islands and to Khol- 
mogory, one of the worst concentration camps, near Arkhangelsk. 1 * According 
to one anarchist source, of the 5,000 Kronstadt prisoners who were sent to 
Kholmogory, fewer than 1,500 were stilt alive in the spring of 1922. u 

The Kholmogory camp, on the great river Dvina, was sadly famous for 
the swift manner in which it dispatched a great number of its prisoners. They 
were often loaded onto barges, stones were tied around their necks, their arms 
and legs were tied, and they were thrown overboard into the river. Mikhail 
Kedrov, one of the main leaders of the Cheka, had started these massive 
drownings in June 1920. Several eyewitness reports concur that a large number 
of the mutineers from Kronstadt, together with Cossacks and peasants from 
Tambov Province who had also been deported to Kholmogory, were drowned 
in the Dvina in this fashion in 1922. That same year, a special evacuation 
committee deported to Siberia some 2,514 civilians from Kronstadt, merely on 
the grounds that they had stayed in the town through the events. 1 ' 

Once the Kronstadt rebellion had been crushed, the regime concentrated its 
energies on hunting down socialist activists, fighting strikes and ''workers' 
complacency," quelling the peasant uprisings that continued despite the official 
ending of requisitioning, and taking measures to repress the church. 

On 28 February 1921 Dzerzhinsky had ordered all the provincial Chekas 
"(1) to carry out immediate arrests of all anarchist, Menshcvik, and Socialist 
Revolutionary intelligentsia, in particular the officials working in the People's 
Commissariats of Agriculture and Food; and (2) to arrest all Mensheviks, 
anarchists, and Socialist Revolutionaries working in factories and liable to call 
for strikes or demonstrations." 16 

Rather than marking the beginning of a relaxation in the repressive poli- 
cies, the introduction of the NEP was accompanied by a resurgence in the 
repressions against the moderate socialist activists. The repressions were mo- 
tivated not by the danger of their perceived opposition to the New Economic 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


Policy, but by the fact that they had been campaigning for it for so long, and 
might thus use it to justify their own approach to politics. "The only place for 
Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, whether they hide their allegiances 
or are open about them," wrote Lenin in 1921, u is prison." 

A few months later, judging that the socialists were still making too much 
trouble, he wrote: "If the Mensheviks or Socialist Revolutionaries so much as 
peek out again, they must all be shot without pity." Between March and June 
1921 more than 2,000 moderate socialist activists and sympathizers were again 
arrested. By now all the members of the Central Committee of the Menshevik 
Party were in prison; when threatened with expulsion to Siberia in January 
1921 they began a hunger strike, and twelve of the leaders, including Fedor 
Dan and Boris Nikolaevsky, were expelled abroad and arrived in Berlin in 
February 1922. 

One of the main priorities of the regime in the spring of 192 1 was to revive 
industrial production, which had fallen to 10 percent of what it had been in 
1911 Rather than relaxing the pressure on workers, the Bolsheviks maintained 
and even increased the militarization begun over the preceding years. The 
policies pursued in 1921 after the adoption of the NEP in the great industrial 
and mining region of the Donbass, which produced more than 80 percent of 
the country's coal and steel, seem particularly revealing of the sort of dictatorial 
methods used by the Bolsheviks to get the workers back to work. At the end 
of 1920 Gcorgy Pyatakov, one of the main leaders who was close to Trotsky, 
had been appointed head of the Central Directory of the Coal Industry. Within 
a year he increased coal production fivefold by means of a policy of unremitting 
exploitation and intimidation. Pyatokov imposed excruciating discipline on his 
120,000 workers: any absenteeism was equated with an act of sabotage and 
punished with expulsion to a camp or even a death sentence. In 1921 18 miners 
were executed for "persistent parasitism." Work hours were increased, particu- 
larly on Sundays, and Pyatokov effectively blackmailed the workers into in- 
creasing productivity by threatening the confiscation of ration cards. These 
measures were taken at a time when the workers received between one-third 
and one-half of the bread ration they needed to survive; often at the end of the 
day they had to lend their boots to comrades who were taking over the next 
shift. The directory acknowledged that absenteeism among the workforce was 
due in part to epidemics, "permanent hunger," and "a total absence of clothes, 
trousers, and shoes." To reduce the number of mouths to feed when the threat 
of famine was at its height, Pyatokov on 24 June 1921 ordered the expulsion 
from the mining villages of everyone who did not work in the mines. Ration 
cards were confiscated from family members of miners. Rationing was also 
calculated strictly in accordance with the production of individual miners, thus 
introducing a rudimentary form of productivity-related pay. 17 


A State against Its People 

Such practices went directly against the ideas of equality of treatment that 
many workers, deceived by Bolshevik rhetoric, still cherished. In a remarkable 
way these measures prefigured those taken against the working classes in the 
1930s. The working masses were nothing more than the rabsila — the work- 
force — which had to be exploited in the most effective manner possible. Doing 
so involved overturning legislation and the appeals of the unions, which were 
totally hamstrung and were ordered to support the directives of management 
at all costs. Militarization of the workforce seemed to be the most effective 
means of forcing the hungry, stubborn, and unproductive workers to cooperate. 
The similarities between this exploitation of the theoretically free workforce 
and the forced labor of the great penal colonies created in the early 1930s seem 
inescapable. Like so many other episodes in the formative years of Bolshevism, 
none of which can be explained through the context of the civil war, the events 
in the Donbass in 1921 prefigured a series of practices that were later to be 
found at the heart of Stalinism. 

Among the other top-priority operations for the Bolshevik regime in the 
spring of 1921 was the "pacification" of all the regions that were in the hands 
of the peasants. On 27 April 1921 the Politburo appointed General Tuk- 
hachevsky to lead "operations to liquidate the Antonov elements in Tambov 
Province." With nearly 100,000 men at his disposal, including many special 
Cheka detachments, and equipped with airplanes and heavy artillery, Tuk- 
hachevsky waged war on the Antonov units with extraordinary violence. To- 
gether with Antonov-Ovseenko, president of the Plenipotentiary Commission 
of the Central Executive Committee established to constitute an occupying 
force in the region, he took hostages on an enormous scale, carried out execu- 
tions, set up death camps where prisoners were gassed, and deported entire 
villages suspected of assisting or collaborating with the so-called bandits. 1 * 

Order No. 171, dated 11 June 1921 and signed by Antonov-Ovseenko and 
Tukhachevsky, shows clearly the sorts of methods used to "pacify" Tambov 
Province. The order stipulated: 

1 . Shoot on sight any citizens who refuse to give their names. 

2. District and Regional Political Commissions are hereby autho- 
rized to pronounce sentence on any village where arms are be- 
ing hidden, and to arrest hostages and shoot them if the 
whereabouts of the arms are not revealed. 

3. Wherever arms are found, execute immediately the eldest son in 
the family. 

4. Any family that has harbored a bandit is to be arrested and de- 
ported from the province, their possessions are to be seized, and 
the eldest son is to be executed immediately. 

5. Any families sheltering other families who have harbored ban- 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


dits are to be punished in the same manner, and their eldest son 
is to be shot. 

6. In the event that bandit families have fled, their possessions are 
to be redistributed among peasants who are loyal to the Soviet 
regime, and their houses are to be burned or demolished. 

7. These orders are to be carried out rigorously and without 

The day after Order No. 171 was sent out, Tukhachevsky ordered all 
rebels to be gassed. "The remnants of the defeated rebel gangs and a few 
isolated bandits are still hiding in the forests . . . The forests where the bandits 
are hiding are to be cleared by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully 
calculated, so that the layer of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone 
hiding there. The artillery inspector is to provide the necessary amounts of gas 
immediately, and find staff qualified to carry out this sort of operation." 20 

On 10 Julv 1921 the head of a five-member commission on the measures 
taken against the "bandits" in Tambov Province reported: 

Mopping-up operations in the Kudryukovskaya volost began on 27 June 
in the village of Ossinovki, which in the past has been a known hideout 
for bandits. The attitude of peasants toward our detachments is perhaps 
best described as one of mistrust. They refused to name the bandits in 
the forests, and when asked questions they replied that they knew noth- 

We took some forty hostages, declared the village to be under a 
state of siege, and gave the villagers two hours to hand over the bandits 
and their arms. The villagers then called a meeting, where it was appar- 
ent that they were undecided as to how to respond; but they resolved not 
to provide active help in the hunt for the bandits. Undoubtedly they had 
not taken seriously our threat to shoot the hostages. When the deadline 
had passed, we executed twenty-one of the hostages before the village 
assembly. These public executions, in accordance with the usual proce- 
dure, were carried out one by one in the presence of all five members of 
the Plenipotentiary Commission, and had a considerable effect on the 

Regarding the village of kareevka, which was a bandit stronghold 
because of its geographical situation, the commission decided to strike it 
from the map. The whole population was deported and their possessions 
confiscated, with the exception of the families of soldiers serving in the 
Red Army, who were transferred to the town of Kurdyuki and relocated 
in houses previously occupied by the families of bandits. After objects 
of value had been removed — window frames, glass, wooden objects, and 
other such items — all the houses in the village were set on fire. 

On 3 July we began operations in the town of Bogoslovka. We have 


A State against Its People 

rarely come across peasants so stubborn or well organized. No matter 
wbom we spoke to, of whatever age, they invariably replied with an air 
of surprise, "Bandits? In these parts? Not at all. We might have seen one 
or two people go by, but we couldn't say whether they were bandits or 
not. We live quietly here, minding our own business. We don't know 

We took the same measures as in Ossinovki: we took 58 hostages. 
On 4 July we publicly executed a first group of 21, another 15 the next 
day, and removed the families of about 60 bandits, about 200 people in 
all. We finally achieved our objectives, and the peasants were obliged to 
go out looking for the bandits and the weapons caches. 

The mopping-up operations in the above-mentioned towns and 
villages came to an end on 6 July. The operation was a great success, and 
its impact was felt even further afield than the neighboring cantons. The 
bandit elements are still surrendering. 

President of the Plenipotentiary Commission of Five Members, 
[M.V.] Uskonin. 21 

On 19 July, as a result of much high-level opposition to this extreme form of 
"eradication," Order No. 171 was annulled. 

By July 1921 the military authorities and the Cheka had set up seven 
concentration camps. According to information that even now is incomplete, 
at least 50,000 people were interned in the camps, for the most part women, 
children, and the elderly, as well as hostages and members of the families of 
deserters. The conditions in these camps were intolerable: typhus and cholera 
were endemic, and the half-naked prisoners lacked even basic requirements. A 
famine began in the summer of 1921, and by the autumn the mortality rate had 
climbed to 15-20 percent a month. The peasant movement, which in February 
had numbered some 40,000, was reduced to 1 ,000 by the beginning of Septem- 
ber. From November onward, long after the "pacification" of the countryside, 
several thousand of the strongest prisoners were deported to the concentration 
camps in northern Russia, to Arkhangelsk and Kholmogory. 22 

As is evident from the weekly Cheka reports to the Bolshevik leaders, the 
"pacification' 1 of the countryside continued at least into the second half of 1922 
in many regions of Ukraine, western Siberia, the Volga provinces, and the 
Caucasus. The habits of earlier years died hard, and although requisitioning 
had officially been abolished in March 1921, taxes in kind also were levied with 
extreme brutality. Given the catastrophic agricultural situation of 1921, the 
quotas were extremely high, and this meant a constant state of tension in the 
countryside, where many of the peasants were still armed. 

Describing his impressions of a trip to the provinces of Tula, Orel, and 
Voronezh in May 1921, Nikolai Osinsky, the people's commissar of agriculture, 
reported that local officials were convinced that requisitioning would be 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


brought back in the autumn. Moreover, local authorities ''seemed incapable of 
considering the peasants to be anything other than born saboteurs." 23 

To facilitate the collection of taxes in Siberia, the region expected to 
provide most of the wheat after famine began ravaging the provinces of the 
Volga, Feliks Dzerzhinsky was sent there in December 1921 as extraordinary 
plenipotentiary. He established "flying revolutionary courts" whose mission 
was to travel through the villages and pass sentence immediately on peasants 
who had not paid their taxes, handing out prison sentences or sending them 
off to camps. 24 Like the requisitioning detachments, these courts, bolstered by 
"fiscal detachments," were responsible for so many abuses that the President 
of the Supreme Court himself, Nikolai Krylenko, was forced to open an inquiry. 
From Omsk on 14 February 1922 one inspector wrote: 

Abuses of position by the requisitioning detachments, frankly speaking, 
have now reached unbelievable levels. Systematically, the peasants who 
are arrested are all locked up in big unhealed barns; they are then 
whipped and threatened with execution. Those who have not filled the 
whole of their quota are bound and forced to run naked all along the 
main street of the village and then locked up in another unheated han- 
gar. A great number of women have been beaten until they are uncon- 
scious and then thrown naked into holes dug in the snow . . . 

The situation remained extremely tense in all the provinces. 

A great deal can also be derived from these excerpts from the secret 
police reports for October 1922, a year and half after the NEP had come 
into force: 

In Pskov Province the quotas fixed for the taxes in kind represent two- 
thirds of the harvest. Four districts have taken up arms ... In the 
province of Novgorod the quotas will not be filled, despite the 25 per- 
cent reduction that was recently approved because of the exceptionally 
poor harvest. In the provinces of Ryazan and Tver a 100 percent realiza- 
tion of the targets would condemn the peasants to death by starva- 
tion ... In the province of Novonikolaevsk [Novosibirsk] the famine is 
threatening and the peasants are already reduced to trying to eat grass 
and roots ... But this information seems mild compared with the re- 
ports we are receiving from Kyiv, where the suicide rate has never been 
so high. Peasants are killing themselves en masse because they can nei- 
ther pay their taxes nor rebel, since all their arms have been confiscated. 
Famine has been hanging over the regions for more than a year now, and 
the peasants are extremely pessimistic about the future. 2 ' 

After the autumn of 1922 the worst seemed over. Following two years of 
famine, the survivors managed to store enough of a harvest to get them through 
the winter, provided that taxes were not levied in their entirety. 'This year the 


A State against Its People 

grain harvest will be lower than the average for the last decade": these were the 
laconic terms in which Pravda, in a short article on the back page on 2 July 
1921, had first mentioned the existence of a "feeding problem on the agricul- 
tural front." In an "Appeal to All the Citizens of Soviet Russia" published in 
Pravda on 12 July 1921, Mikhail Kalinin, president of the Central Executive 
Committee of Soviets, admitted that "in numerous districts, the drought this 
year has destroyed the harvest." 

"This calamity is not solely a result of the drought," explained a resolution 
of the Central Committee dated 21 July. 

It is the result of all our past history, of the backwardness of our 
agriculture, of the lack of organization, of the low level of our knowl- 
edge of agronomy, of the lack of materials, and of outdated methods of 
crop rotation. The situation has been exacerbated by the war and by the 
economic blockade, by the rearguard action fought by the landowners, 
capitalists, and their servants, and by the constant actions of bandits 
carrying out the orders of organizations hostile to Soviet Russia and its 
working population. 26 

In a long enumeration of the causes of this ''calamity," whose real nature 
no one yet dared mention, one major factor was lacking: the requisitioning 
policy that for years had been such a drain on the resources of the already 
fragile agricultural system. All the leaders of the provinces where the famine 
was beginning to be felt, summoned to Moscow in June 1921, emphasized the 
government's responsibility and pointed out in particular the causal role of the 
all-powerful People's Commissariat of Food. I. N. Vavilin, the representative 
for the Samara region, explained that the provincial food committee, since the 
first introduction of requisitioning, had constantly inflated the estimates for the 

Despite the bad harvest of 1920, 10 million pudy had been requisitioned 
that year. All grain stocks, even the seed for the future harvest, had been seized. 
Numerous peasants had had virtually nothing to eat since January 1921. The 
mortality rate had immediately increased in February. In the space of two to 
three months, riots and revolts against the regime had effectively stopped in 
the province of Samara. "Today," Vavilin explained, "there are no more revolts. 
We see new phenomena instead: crowds of thousands of starving people gather 
around the Executive Committee or the Party headquarters of the soviet to 
wait, for days and days, for the miraculous appearance of the food they need. 
It is impossible to chase this crowd away, and every day more of them die. They 
are dropping like flies ... I think there must be at least 900,000 starving people 
in this province." 27 

The Cheka reports and the military bulletins make it clear that famine had 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


been threatening the region since at least 19 19. The situation had deteriorated 
considerably throughout 1920. In their internal reports that summer the Cheka, 
the People's Commissariat of Agriculture, and the People's Commissariat of 
Food, fully aware of the gravity of the situation, drew up lists of districts and 
provinces judged to be starving or threatened by imminent famine. In January 
1921 one report claimed that among the causes of the famine in Tambov was 
the u orgy" of requisitioning of 1920. It was quite obvious to the common 
people, as conversations reported by the political police made clear, that the 
"soviet regime is trying to starve out all the peasants who dare resist it." 
Though perfectly well informed of the inevitable consequences of the requisi- 
tioning policy, the government took no steps to combat these predicted effects. 
On 30 July 1921, while famine gripped a growing number of regions, Lenin 
and Molotov sent a telegram to all leaders of regional and provincial Party 
committees asking them to "bolster the mechanisms for food collection . . . step 
up the propaganda for the rural population, explaining the economic and 
political importance of the prompt paying of taxes ... put at the disposal of 
the agencies for the collection of taxes in kind all the authority of the Party, 
and allow them to use all the disciplinary measures that the state itself would 



Faced with this attitude of the authorities, who seemed to be pursuing a 
policy of starving out the peasantry at all cost, the more enlightened intelli- 
gentsia began to react. In June 1921 the agronomists, economists, and univer- 
sity lecturers who belonged to the Moscow Agricultural Society established a 
Social Committee for the Fight against Famine. Among the first members were 
the eminent economists Nikolai Kondratyev and Sergei Prokopovich, who had 
been a minister of food in the provisional government; the journalist Ekatenna 
Kuskova, a close friend of Maksim Gorky; and various writers, doctors, and 
agronomists. In mid-July, with the help of Gorky, who was highly influential 
among Party leaders, a delegation from the committee obtained an audience 
with Lev Kamenev after Lenin had refused to see them. Following the inter- 
view Lenin, still distrusting what he described as the overly emotional reactions 
of certain other Bolshevik leaders, sent the following note to his colleagues in 
the Politburo: "This Kuskova woman must not cause any damage ... We will 
use her name and her signature, and a carriage or two from the people who 
sympathize with her and her kind. Nothing more than that." 29 

Finally the committee members convinced some Party leaders of their 
usefulness. As internationally prominent scientists and writers, they were well 
known abroad, and many of them had taken an active part in aid for the victims 
of the famine of 1891. Moreover, they had numerous contacts with other 
intellectuals the world over, and seemed to be guarantors that the food would 
reach its intended destination, in the event that the appeal was successful. They 


A State against Its People 

were prepared to allow their names to be used, provided that some sort of 
official status was granted to the Committee for Aid to the Hungry. 

On 21 July 1921 the Bolshevik government reluctantly legalized the com- 
mittee, naming it the All-Russian Committee for Aid to the Starving. It was 
immediately given the emblem of the Red Cross and was permitted to collect 
food, medicine, and animal feed both in Russia and abroad and to share it out 
among the needy. It was allowed to use whatever means of transport necessary 
to distribute the food, to set up soup kitchens and local and regional commit- 
tees, "to communicate freely with designated organizations abroad," and even 
"to discuss measures taken by local or central authorities that in its opinion are 
relevant to the question of the struggle against the famine. 1 ' 10 At no other 
moment in the history of the Soviet regime was any other organization granted 
such privileges. The government's concessions were a measure of the scale of 
the catastrophe facing the country, four months after the official (and somewhat 
muted) introduction of the NEP. 

One of the committee's first actions was to establish contact with the 
Patriarch Tikhon, head of the Orthodox Church, who immediately set up an 
All-Russian Ecclesiastical Committee for Aid to the Hungry. On 7 July 1921 
the patriarch had a letter read out in all the churches: "Rotten meat would be 
gladly eaten by the starving population, but even that is now impossible to find. 
Cries and moans are all that one hears wherever one goes. People's minds turn 
even to thoughts of cannibalism . . . Lend a helping hand to your brothers and 
sisters! With the consent of your brethren, you may use church treasures that 
have no sacramental value, such as rings, chains, bracelets, decorations that 
adorn icons, and other items to help the hungry." 

Having obtained the assistance of the church, the All-Russian Committee 
for Aid to the Starving contacted various international organizations, including 
the Red Cross, the Quakers, and the American Relief Association (ARA), 
presided over by Herbert Hoover; all responded positively. Even so, coopera- 
tion between the committee and the regime lasted only five weeks; on 27 August 
1921 the committee was dissolved, six days after the government had signed 
an agreement with a representative of the ARA. For Lenin, now that the 
Americans were sending the first cargoes of food, the committee had served its 
purpose: "The name and the signature of Kuskova" had played the required 
role, and that was enough. In announcing this decision, Lenin wrote: 

I propose to dissolve the Committee immediately . . . Prokopovich is to 
be arrested for seditious behavior and kept in prison for three 
months . . . The other Committee members are to be exiled from Mos- 
cow immediately, sent to the chief cities of different regions, cut off if 
possible from all means of communication, including railways, and kept 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


under close surveillance. Tomorrow we will release a brief governmental 
communique saying that the Committee has been dissolved because it 
refused to work. Instruct all newspapers to begin insulting these people, 
and heap opprobrium upon them, accusing them of being closet White 
Guard supporters and bourgeois do-gooders who are much keener to 
travel abroad than to help at home. In general, make them look ridicu- 
lous and mock them at least once a week for the next two months. 31 

Following these instructions to the letter, the press unleashed a ferocious 
attack against the sixty famous intellectuals who had served on the committee. 
The titles alone of the articles demonstrate the eloquence of this campaign of 
defamation: "You shouldn't play with hunger" (Pravda, 30 August 1921); 
"Hunger Speculators" (Kommunistuheskii trucl, 31 August 1921); u Committee 
for Aid ... to the Counterrevolution" (Izvestiya, 30 August 1921). When 
someone tried to intercede in favor of the committee members who had been 
arrested and deported, Josif Unshlikht, one of Dzerzhinsky's assistants at the 
Cheka, declared: "You say the Committee has done nothing wrong. It's possi- 
ble. But it has become a rallying point in society, and that we cannot allow. 
When you put a seed in water, it soon starts to sprout roots, and the Committee 
was beginning to spread its roots throughout society, undermining collectivity 
. . . we had no choice but to pull it up by the roots and to crush it." 12 

In place of the committee the government set up a Central Commission 
for Help for the Hungry, a slow-moving and bureaucratic organization made 
up of civil servants from various People's Commissariats, which was charac- 
terized by inefficiency and corruption. When the famine was at its worst in the 
summer of 1922 and nearly 30 million people were starving, the Central Com- 
mission was assuring an irregular supply to about 3 million people, whereas the 
Red Cross, the Quakers, and the ARA supplied about 11 million people per 
dav. Despite the massive international relief effort, at least 5 million of the 29 
million Russians affected died of hunger in 1921 and 1922.-" 

The last great famine that Russia had known, in 1891, had affected most 
of the same regions (mid-Russia, the lower Volga, and part of Kazakhstan) and 
had been responsible for the deaths of between 400,000 and 500,000 people. 
Both the state and society in general had fought extremely hard to save lives. 
A young lawyer called Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov was then living in Samara, the 
regional capital of one of the areas worst affected by the famine. He was the 
only member of the local intelligentsia who not only refused to participate in 
the aid for the hungry, but publicly opposed it. As one of his friends later 
recalled, "Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov had the courage to come out and say openly 
that famine would have numerous positive results, particularly in the appear- 
ance of a new industrial proletariat, which would take over from the bourgeoi- 
sie .. . Famine, he explained, in destroying the outdated peasant economy, 


A State against Its People 

would bring about the next stage more rapidly, and usher in socialism, the stage 
that necessarily followed capitalism. Famine would also destroy faith not only 
in the tsar, but in God too." 14 

Thirty years later, when the young lawyer had become the head of the 
Bolshevik government, his ideas remained unchanged: famine could and should 
"strike a mortal blow against the enemy." The enemy in question was the 
Orthodox Church. "Electricity will replace God. The peasants should pray to 
it; in any case they will feel its effects long before they feel any effect from on 
high/' said Lenin in 1918 when discussing the electrification of Russia with 
Leonid Krasin. As soon as the Bolshevik regime had come to power, relations 
with the Orthodox Church had deteriorated. On 5 February 1918 the govern- 
ment had declared the separation of church and state and of the church and 
schools, proclaimed freedom of conscience and worship, and announced the 
nationalization of all church property. Patriarch Tikhon had vigorously pro- 
tested this attack on the traditional role of the church in four pastoral letters 
to the faithful. The behavior of the Bolsheviks became more and more provoca- 
tive. They ordered all church relics to be "valued," organized antireligious 
carnivals to coincide with traditional feast days, and demanded that the great 
monastery of the Trinity and St. Sergius near Moscow, where the relics of St. 
Sergius of Radonezh were kept, be turned into a museum of atheism. Numer- 
ous priests and bishops had already been arrested for protesting the intimida- 
tory measures of the state when the Bolshevik leaders, on Lenin's orders, used 
the famine as a pretext to launch a large-scale campaign against the church. 

On 26 February 1922 a government decree was published in the press 
ordering "the immediate confiscation from churches of all precious objects of 
gold or silver and of all precious stones that do not have a religious importance. 
These objects will be sent to the People's Commissariat of Finance and will 
then be transferred to the Central Committee for Help for the Hungry." The 
confiscations began in early March and were accompanied by many confronta- 
tions between the detachments responsible for impounding the church treas- 
ures and the church faithful. The most serious incidents took place on 15 
March 1922 in Cbuya, a small industrial town in Ivanovo Province, where 
troops opened fire on the crowd and killed a dozen of the faithful. Lenin used 
this massacre as a pretext to step up the antireligious campaign. 

In a letter addressed to the Politburo on 19 March 1922, he explained, 
with characteristic cynicism, how the famine could be turned to the Bolsheviks' 
advantage and exploited to strike the enemy a mortal blow: 

Regarding the events at Chuya, which the Politburo will be discussing, I 
think a firm decision should be adopted immediately as part of the 
general campaign on this front ... If we bear in mind what the newspa- 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


pers are saying about the attitude of the clergy toward the confiscation 
of church goods, and the subversive attitude that is being adopted by the 
Patriarch Tikhon, it becomes apparent that the Black Hundred clergy 
are putting into action a plan that has been developed to strike a decisive 
blow against us ... I think our enemies are committing a monumental 
strategic error. In fact the present moment favors us far more than it 
does them. We are almost 99 percent sure that we can strike a mortal 
blow against them and consolidate the central position that we are going 
to need to occupy for several decades to come. With the help of all those 
starving people who are starting to eat each other, who are dying by the 
millions, and whose bodies litter the roadside all over the country, it is 
now and only now that we can — and therefore must — confiscate all 
church property with all the ruthless energy we can still muster. This is 
precisely the moment when the masses will support us most fervently, 
and rise up against the reactionary machinations of the petit-bourgeois 
and Black Hundred religious conspirators ... we must therefore amass a 
treasure of hundreds of millions of gold rubles (think how rich some of 
those monasteries are!). Without treasure on that scale, no state projects, 
no economic projects, and no shoring up of our present position will be 
conceivable. No matter what the cost, we must have those hundreds of 
millions (or even billions) of rubles. This can be carried out only at the 
present moment. All evidence suggests that we could not do this at any 
other moment, because our only hope is the despair engendered in the 
masses by the famine, which will cause them to look at us in a favorable 
light or, at the very least, with indifference. I thus can affirm categori- 
cally that this is the moment to crush the Black Hundred clergy in the 
most decisive manner possible, and to act without any mercy at all, with 
the sort of brutality that they will remember for decades. I propose to 
implement our plan in the following manner: Only Comrade Kalinin 
will act openly. Whatever happens, Comrade Trotsky will not appear in 
the press or in public . . . One of the most intelligent and energetic 
members of the Central Executive Committee must be sent to Chuya, 
with oral instructions from one of the members of the Politburo. These 
instructions will stipulate that his mission in Chuya is to arrest a large 
number of members of the clergy, of bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, 
several dozen at least, who will all be accused of direct or indirect 
participation in violent resistance against the decree regarding the 
confiscation of church goods. Once back from this mission, the envoy 
will make a full report to the entire Politburo or to a meeting of two or 
three members. On the basis of this report, the Politburo, again orally, 
will issue precise instructions to the judicial authorities, to the effect that 
the trial of the Chuya rebels is to be expedited as rapidly as possible. 
The result of the trial is to be the execution, by public shooting, of a 
large number of the Chuya Black Hundreds as well as the shooting of as 


A State against Its People 

many as possible from Moscow and other important religious cen- 
ters . . . The more representatives from the reactionary clergy and the 
recalcitrant bourgeoisie we shoot, the better it will be for us. We must 
teach these people a lesson as quickly as possible, so that the thought of 
protesting again doesn't occur to them for decades to come."" 

As the weekly reports from the secret police indicate, the campaign to 
confiscate church goods was at its height in March, April, and May 1922, when 
it led to 1,414 incidents and the arrest of thousands of priests, nuns, and monks. 
According to church records, 2,691 priests, 1,962 monks, and 3,447 nuns were 
killed that year. 16 The government organized several large show -trials for mem- 
bers of the clergy in Moscow, Ivanovo, Chuya, Smolensk, and Pctrograd. A 
week after the incidents in Chuya, in accordance with Lenin's instructions, the 
Politburo proposed a series of measures: u Arrest the synod and the patriarch, 
not immediately, but between a fortnight and a month from now. Make public 
the circumstances surrounding the business in Chuya. Bring to trial all the 
priests and lay members of Chuya in one week's time. Shoot all the rebel 
leaders."" In a note to the Politburo, Dzerzhinsky indicated that 

the patriarch and his followers ... are openly resisting the confiscation 
of church goods ... We already have enough evidence to arrest Tikhon 
and the more reactionary members of the synod. In the view of the 
GPU: (1) the time is right for the arrest of the patriarch and the synod; 

(2) permission should not be granted for the formation of a new synod; 

(3) all priests resisting the confiscation of church goods should be desig- 
nated enemies of the people and exiled to one of the Volga regions most 
affected by the famine. 38 

In Petrograd 77 priests were sent to camps; 4 were sentenced to death, 
including the metropolitan of Petrograd, Benjamin, who had been elected in 
1917 and enjoyed a wide popular following. Ironically, he was among those who 
had spoken strongly in favor of the separation of church and state. In Moscow 
148 priests and lay brethren were sent to the camps, and 6 received death 
sentences that were immediately carried out. Patriarch Tikhon was placed 
under close surveillance in the Donskoi monastery in Moscow. 

On 6 June 1922, a few weeks after these legal travesties in Moscow, a large 
public trial began, announced in the press since the end of February: thirty- 
four Socialist Revolutionaries were accused of "counterrevolutionary and ter- 
rorist activities against the Soviet government," including most notably the 
attempt to assassinate Lenin on 31 August 1918 and participation in the Tam- 
bov peasant revolt. In a scenario that was replayed over and over in the 1930s, 
the accused included authentic political leaders, such as the twelve members of 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


the Central Committee of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, led by Avraham 
Gots and Dmitry Donskoi, and agents provocateurs instructed to testify against 
the others and to "confess their crimes." As Helene Carrere d'Encausse has 
pointed out, this trial permitted the authorities to "test out the 'Russian doll' 
method of accusation, whereby one solid accusation — the fact that since 1918 
the Socialist Revolutionaries had been opposed to Bolshevik rule — was cited to 
'prove' that any opposition to the Bolsheviks' policies was, in the final analysis, 
an act of cooperation with the international bourgeoisie."^ 

At the conclusion of this parody of justice, after the authorities had 
orchestrated political demonstrations calling for the death penalty for the "ter- 
rorists," eleven of the accused leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party were 
condemned to death. Faced with protests from the international community, 
organized largely by exiled Russian socialists, and with the more serious threat 
of uprisings in the pro-Socialist Revolutionary countryside, the sentences were 
suspended on the condition that "the Socialist Revolutionary Party ends all 
conspiratorial, insurrectionary, and terrorist activities." In January 1924 the 
death sentences were reduced to five years' internment in the camps. Needless 
to say the prisoners were never set free, and were in fact executed in the 1930s, 
when international opinion and the danger of peasant uprisings no longer 
posed a threat to the Bolshevik leadership. 

The trial of the Socialist Revolutionaries was one of the first opportunities 
to test the new penal code, which had come into force on 1 June 1922. Lenin 
had followed its elaboration quite closely. One of the code's functions was to 
permit the use of all necessary violence against political enemies even though 
the civil war was over and "expeditious elimination" could no longer be 
justified. The first drafts of the code, shown to Lenin on 15 May 1922, pro- 
voked the following reply to Kursky, the people's commissar of justice: "It is 
my view that the leeway for applying the death penalty should be considerably 
enlarged, and should include all the activities of Mensheviks, Socialist Revolu- 
tionaries, and others. Create a new punishment involving banishment abroad. 
And find some formulation that will link all these activities to the international 
bourgeoisie. 1140 Two days later Lenin wrote again: 

Comrade Kursky, I want you to add this draft of a complementary 
paragraph to the penal code ... It is quite clear for the most part. We 
must openly — and not simply in narrow juridical terms — espouse a 
politically just principle that is the essence and motivation for terror, 
showing its necessity and its limits. The courts must not end the terror 
or suppress it in any way. To do so would be deception. They must give 
it a solid basis, and clearly legalize all its principles without any form of 
deception or deceit. It must be formulated as openly as possible: what 


A State against Its People 

we need to encourage is a revolutionary legal consciousness that will 
allow it to be applied wherever it is needed. 4 ' 

In accordance with Lenin's instructions, the penal code defined counter- 
revolutionary activity as any action "aiming to attack or destabilize the power 
given to Soviet workers and peasants by the revolutionary proletariat,' 1 as well 
as "any action in favor of the international bourgeoisie that fails to recognize 
the validity of the Communist system and the fair distribution of property as 
a natural successor to the capitalist system, and any action that tries to reverse 
the situation by force, military intervention, economic blockade, espionage, 
illegal financing of the press, or other such means." 

Anything that was classified as a counterrevolutionary action, including 
rebellion, rioting, sabotage, and espionage, was immediately punishable by 
death, as was participation in or support for any organization "that might 
provide support for the international bourgeoisie." Even "propaganda that 
might be of use to the international bourgeoisie" was considered a counter- 
revolutionary crime, punishable by incarceration for not less than three years 
or by lifelong exile. 

Along with the legalization of political violence, discussed in early 1922, 
came nominal changes within the secret police. On 6 February 1922 the Chcka 
was abolished by decree, to be immediately replaced by the State Political 
Directorate Administration (Gosudastvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie; GPU), 
which was responsible to the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. Al- 
though the name had changed, the staff and the administrative structure re- 
mained the same, ensuring a high degree of continuity within the institution. 
The change in title emphasized that whereas the Cheka had been an extraor- 
dinary agency, which in principle was only transitory, the GPU was permanent. 
The state thus gained a ubiquitous mechanism for political repression and 
control. Lying behind the name change were the legalization and the institu- 
tionalization of terror as a means of resolving all conflict between the people 
and the state. 

One of the new punishments instituted in the new penal code was lifelong 
banishment, with the understanding that any return to the US.S.R. would be 
greeted with immediate execution. It was put into practice from as early as 1922 
as part of a long expulsion operation that affected nearly 200 well-known 
intellectuals suspected of opposing Bolshevism. Among them were many of the 
prominent figures who had participated in the Social Committee for the Fight 
against Famine, which had been dissolved on 27 July of that year. 

In a long letter to Dzerzhinsky dated 20 May 1922, Lenin laid out a vast 
plan for the "banishment abroad of all writers and teachers who have assisted 
the counterrevolution . . . This operation must be planned with great care. A 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 

special commission must be set up. All members of the Politburo must spend 
two to three hours each week carefully examining books and newspapers 
Information must be gathered systematically on the political past, the work, 
and the literary activity of teachers and writers." 
Lenin led the way with an example: 

As far as the journal Ekonomist is concerned, for example, it is clearly a 
center for White Guard activity. On the cover of the third issue (N.B.: as 
early as that!) all the collaborators are listed. I think they are all legiti- 
mate candidates for expulsion. They are all known counterrevolutionar- 
ies and accomplices of the Entente, and they make up a network of its 
servants, spies, and corrupters of youth. Things must be set in motion 
such that they are hunted down and imprisoned in a systematic and 
organized fashion and banished abroad. 42 

On 22 May the Politburo established a special commission, including 
notably Kamenev, Kursky, Unshlikht, and Vasily Mantsev (the last two being 
Dzerzhinksy's two assistants), to collect information on intellectuals to be 
arrested and expelled. The first two people expelled in this fashion were the 
two main leaders of the Social Committee for the Fight against Famine, Sergei 
Prokopovich and Ekaterina Kuskova. A first group of 160 well-known intellec- 
tuals, philosophers, writers, historians, and university professors, who were 
arrested on 1 6 and 1 7 August, were deported in September. Some of the names 
on the list were already famous internationally or would soon become so: 
Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Scmyon Frank, Nikolai Loski, Lev Kar- 
savin, Fyodor Stepun, Sergei Trubetskoi, Alcksandr Isgoev, Mikhail Ossorgin, 
Aleksandr Kiesewetter. Each was forced to sign a document stating that he 
understood that if he ever returned to the US.S.R., he would immediately be 
shot. Each was allowed to take one winter coat and one summer coat, one suit 
and change of clothes, two shirts, two nightshirts, two pairs of socks, two sets 
of underwear, and twenty dollars in foreign currency. 

Parallel to these expulsions, the secret police proceeded with its policy of 
gathering information about all second-tier intellectuals who were under sus- 
picion and were destined either for administrative deportation to remote areas 
of the country, codified in law by a decree on 10 August 1922, or for the 
concentration camps. On 5 September Dzerzhinsky wrote to his assistant 

Comrade Unshlikht! Regarding the files kept on the intelligentsia, the 
system is not nearly sophisticated enough. Since [Yakov] Agronov left, 
we seem to have no one capable of organizing this properly, Zaraysky is 
still too young. It seems to me that if we are going to make any progress 
at all, Menzhinsky is going to have to take things in hand ... It is 



A State against Its People 

essential to devise a clear plan that can be regularly completed and 
updated. The intelligentsia must be classed into groups and subgroups: 

1. Writers 

2. Journalists and politicians 

3. Economists: subgroups are very important here: (a) financiers, 
(b) workers in the energy sector, (c) transport specialists, (d) 
tradesmen, (e) people with experience in cooperatives, etc. 

4. Technical specialists: here too subgroups are necessary: (a) engi- 
neers, (b) agronomists, (c) doctors, etc. 

5. University lecturers and their assistants, etc. 

Information on all such people must go to specific departments and 
be synthesized by the Main Department on the Intelligentsia. Every 
intellectual must have his own file . . . It must be clear in our minds that 
the objective of the department is not simply to expel or arrest individu- 
als, but to contribute to general political matters and policies concerning 
intellectuals. They must be controlled, closely watched and divided up, 
and those who are ready to support the Soviet regime and demonstrate 
this by their actions and their words should be considered for promo- 
tion. 43 

A few days later Lenin sent a long memorandum to Stalin in which he 
returned over and over, in almost maniacal detail, to the question of a "defini- 
tive purging" of all socialists, intellectuals, and liberals in Russia: 

Regarding the question of the expulsion of Mensheviks, populist social- 
ists, cadets, etc., I would like to raise a few questions here. This issue 
came up in my absence and has not yet been dealt with fully Mas the 
decision been made yet to root out all the popular socialists? [Andrei] 
Pechekhonov, [Aleksandr] Myakotin, [A.G.] Gornfeld, [N.] Petrishchcv, 
and the like? I think the time has come for them to be exiled. They are 
more dangerous than the Socialist Revolutionaries because they arc 
more cunning. We could say the same of [Aleksandr] Potresov, [Alek- 
sandr] Isgoev, and the rest of the staff at the journal Ekonomist, such as 
Ozerov and several others. The same applies to the Mensheviks such as 
[Vasily] Rozanov (a doctor, not to be trusted), Vigdorshik (Migulo or 
something like that), Lyubov Nikolaevna Radchenko and her young 
daughter (who seem to be two of the worst enemies of Bolshevism), and 
N. A. Rozhkov (he must be exiled, he really is incorrigible) . . . The 
Mantsev-Messing commission must draw up lists, and hundreds of 
these people should be expelled immediately. It is our duty to clean up 
Russia once and for all . . . All the authors at the House of Writers and 
Thinkers in Petrograd, too, must go. Kharkiv must be searched from top 
to bottom. We currently have absolutely no idea what is happening 

From Tambov to the Great Famine 


there; it might as well be in a foreign country. The city needs a radical 
cleansing as soon as possible, right after the trial of all the Socialist 
Revolutionaries. Do something about all those authors and writers in 
Petrograd (you can find all their addresses in New Russian Thought, no. 
4, 1922, p. 37) and all the editors of small publishing houses too (their 
names and addresses are on page 29). This is all of supreme impor- 
tance. 44 


From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 

lor slightly less than five years, from early 1923 until the end of 
1927, there was a pause in the confrontation between society and the new 
regime. Lenin had died on 24 January 1924, already politically sidelined since 
his third stroke in March 1923, and the in-fighting surrounding his succession 
accounted for much of the political activity of the other Bolshevik leaders. 
Meanwhile society licked its wounds. 

During this long truce the peasantry, who made up more than 85 percent 
of the population, tried to get agriculture moving again, to negotiate a price 
for their product, and to live, in the words of historian Michael Confino, "as 
though the peasant Utopia actually worked." This "peasant Utopia, 11 which the 
Bolsheviks called eserovshchina (a term whose closest translation would be 
something like "Socialist Revolutionary mentality"), was based on four princi- 
ples that had been at the heart of all the peasant programs for decades: first, 
the destruction of the traditional large estates, with the land distributed by 
household in accordance with the number of mouths to be fed; second, the 
freedom to dispose of the fruits of their labor however they wished, with all 
the benefits of free trade; third, peasant self-government, represented by a 
traditional village community; and finally, the Bolshevik state reduced to its 
simplest possible expression, one rural soviet for several villages, and a Com- 
munist Party cell for every hundred villages. 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 

Market mechanisms, which had not been operational from 1914 to 1922, 
were partly reinstated by the Bolshevik authorities and were temporarily toler- 
ated in recognition of the backwardness of the peasantry. Seasonal migration 
into the towns, which had been such a feature of the old regime, immediately 
started up again. Because the state-run industrial sector had neglected the 
production of consumer goods, rural industries began to take off again. Fam- 
ines became more and more rare, and the peasants once again could eat as much 
as they needed. 

The apparent calm of these years should not conceal the persistence of 
deep-seated tensions between the regime and a society that had not forgotten 
the years of violence. The peasants still had many reasons for discontent. 1 
Agricultural prices were very low, manufactured goods were both rare and 
extremely expensive, and taxes were extremely high. Peasants sensed that they 
were second-class citizens by comparison with city dwellers and in particular 
the working class. Above all, the peasants complained about the innumerable 
abuses of power committed by the local representatives of the Soviet regime, 
who had grown up in the tradition of "War Communism." They were often 
subject to the arbitrary decisions of absolute local authority, which still prac- 
ticed many of the recent methods of the Red Terror. "The justice system, the 
government administration, and the police are all totally corrupted by wide- 
spread alcoholism. Bribery is commonplace, and everything is characterized by 
excessive bureaucracy and a general distaste for the peasant masses," according 
to a long report from the secret police at the end of 1925 on "The Position of 
the Socialist Legal System in the Countryside." 2 

Although the Bolshevik leaders condemned the most obvious abuses by 
Soviet officials, they still considered the countryside to be a vast and dangerous 
terra incognita "crawling with kulaks, Socialist Revolutionaries, religious lead- 
ers, and old-fashioned landowners who have not yet been eliminated," accord- 
ing to a report from the chief of the secret police in Tula Province.-' 

Numerous documents from the Information Department of the GPU 
reveal that ordinary workers were also still under close surveillance. As a social 
group that was still rebuilding after years of war, revolution, and civil war, 
workers were always suspected of maintaining links with the hostile world of 
the countryside. Informers, placed in every enterprise, reported suspicious 
conversations, unusual actions, and "peasant attitudes" that the workers, re- 
turning from working in the countryside during their days off, were suspected 
of importing back into the cities. Police reports divided the workers into 
"hostile elements," "those obviously under the influence of counterrevolution- 
ary cells," "politically backward groups" that generally originated in the coun- 
tryside, and the few elements judged to be worthy of the label "politically 
aware." Any strike or work stoppage, both of which were now quite rare in 




A State against Its People 

these years of high unemployment and slowly improving standards of living, 
was analyzed in great detail, and its instigators arrested. 

Internal documents from the secret police demonstrate that after several 
years of extremely rapid growth, police institutions actually began to decline, 
precisely because of the Bolsheviks' waning desire to transform society. From 
1924 to 1926 Dzerzhinsky had to fight quite hard against Party leaders who 
considered the GPU much too big for the job it was required to do. As a result, 
for the only time since its creation until 1953, the secret police experienced a 
considerable decrease in the number of its employees. In 1921 the Cheka 
employed approximately 105,000 civilians and nearly 180,000 troops of differ- 
ent types, including frontier guards, railway police, and camp officials. By 1925 
the numbers had shrunk to about 26,000 civilians and 63,000 troops. To these 
figures should be added 30,000 informers; their number in 1921 cannot yet be 
gauged from the available documentation. 4 In December 1924 Nikolai Bukharin 
wrote to Feliks Dzerzhinsky: "It is my belief that we should now progress to 
a more liberal form of Soviet power: less repression, more legality, more open 
discussions, more responsibility at local levels (under the leadership of the 
Party naturaliter), etc." 5 

A few months later, on 1 May 1925, the president of the Revolutionary 
Court, Nikolai Krylenko, who had presided over the farcical trial of the Social- 
ist Revolutionaries, wrote a long note to the Politburo in which he criticized 
the excesses of the GPU Several decrees that had been promulgated in 1922 
and 1923 had limited the role of the GPU to matters of espionage, banditry, 
counterfeiting, and counterrevolutionary activities. For crimes that fell into any 
of those categories, the GPU was the sole judge, and its special court was 
entitled to pronounce sentences of deportation and house arrest for up to three 
years, deportation to concentration camps, and even the death penalty. Of the 
62,000 dossiers that the GPU opened in 1924, more than 52,000 were trans- 
ferred to ordinary courts. The GPU special units themselves had investigated 
more than 9,000 cases, a high number given the relatively stable political 
situation. Krylenko concluded: u The conditions suffered by people who are 
deported and forced to live penniless in some forgotten corner of Siberia are 
dreadful. The people sent there are often seventeen or eighteen years old, often 
from student backgrounds, or old men of seventy, members of the clergy, and 
old women belonging to 'socially dangerous classes. 1 " 

Krylenko proposed that the term "counterrevolutionary'' be reserved for 
people known to be members of "political parties representing the interests of 
the bourgeoisie." This limitation, he argued, would avoid "wrongful interpre- 
tations of the term by the services of the GPU." 6 

Dzerzhinsky and his aides reacted swiftly to such criticism by supplying 
the high-ranking members of the Party, and Stalin in particular, with alarmist 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


reports about the persistence of serious internal problems, including supposed 
diversionary tactics orchestrated by Poland, the Baltic states, Great Britain, 
France, and Japan. According to the GPU's annual report for 1924, the secret 
police had 

• arrested 1 1,453 bandits, 1,853 of whom were immediately executed 

• apprehended 926 foreigners (357 of whom were deported) and 1,542 

• prevented a White Guard uprising in the Crimea (132 people were exe- 
cuted during this operation) 

■ carried out 81 operations against anarchist groups, which resulted in 
266 arrests 

liquidated 14 Menshevik organizations (540 arrests), 6 right Socialist 
Revolutionary organizations (152 arrests), 7 left Socialist Revolutionary 
organizations (52 arrests), 117 "diverse intellectual organizations" (1,360 
arrests), 24 monarchist movements (1,245 arrests), 85 clerical and sectar- 
ian organizations (1,765 arrests), and 675 "kulak groups" (1,148 arrests) 
exiled, in two large-scale operations in February and July 1924, approxi- 
mately 4,500 "thieves, persistent offenders and nepmen" (entrepreneurs 
and small businessmen) from Moscow and Leningrad 

■ placed under house arrest 18,200 "socially dangerous" individuals 

■ read 5,078,174 letters and diverse pieces of correspondence 7 

One may well wonder how trustworthy these figures are, in their appar- 
ently scrupulous bureaucratic exactitude. The figures were included in the 
projected budget for the GPU for 1925, and their function may well have been 
to demonstrate that the secret police were not lowering their guard in the face 
of threats from abroad and should thus be considered for an increase in fund- 
ing. Nonetheless the figures are invaluable for historians because they reveal 
the permanence of the methods used, the same obsessions with potential ene- 
mies, and the extent of a network that was momentarily less active but remained 
very much operational. 

Despite the cuts in the budget and the criticism from low-ranking Bol- 
shevik officials, the activities of the GPU began to increase again, thanks to 
increasingly hard-line penal legislation. In practice the Fundamental Principles 
of the Penal Legislation of the U.S.S.R., adopted on 31 October 1924, as well 
as the code adopted in 1926, significantly broadened the definition of what was 
considered a counterrevolutionary crime, and also codified the notion of a 
"socially dangerous person." Among counterrevolutionary crimes, the law in- 
cluded any activity that, without directly aiming to overthrow or weaken the 
Soviet regime, was in itself "an attack on the political or economic achievements 


A State against Its People 

of the revolutionary proletariat. " The law thus not only punished intentional 
transgressions but also proscribed possible or unintentional acts. 

A "socially dangerous person" was defined as "any person who has com- 
mitted an act dangerous to society, who has maintained relations with criminal 
circles, or whose past actions might be considered a danger to society. 1 ' Anyone 
who fell within the scope of these extremely elastic categories could be sen- 
tenced, even in a case of total absence of guilt: "the court may use these 
measures of social protection to deal with anyone classified as a danger to 
society, either for a specific crime that has been committed or when, even if 
exonerated of a particular crime, the person is still reckoned to pose a threat 
to society." The measures that came into force in 1926, including the famous 
Article 58 of the penal code, with its fourteen definitions of counterrevolution- 
ary activity, reinforced the legal foundation of the terror. 8 On 4 May 1926 
Dzerzhinsky sent his aide Genrikh Yagoda a letter in which he laid out a vast 
program for "the fight against speculation." The letter is revealing about the 
limits of the NEP and the permanence of the "spirit of civil war" among 
high-ranking Bolshevik officials: 

The fight against "speculation" is now of exceptional importance . . . 
Moscow must be cleansed of these parasitic speculators. 1 have asked 
Pauker to assemble all available documentation from the files of the 
inhabitants of Moscow regarding this problem. As yet I have received 
nothing from him. Do you not think that the GPU should set up a 
special penal colony unit, which could be financed with a speciaj fund 
from the money confiscated? We could resettle all of these parasites in 
our most distant and inhospitable regions, in accordance with a prees- 
tablished governmental plan. Otherwise the parasites will be our undo- 
ing. Because of them there are no more goods for the peasants, and 
through their machinations the prices are constantly rising and the value 
of the ruble falling. The GPU must tackle this problem directly as soon 
as possible/' 1 

Among other peculiarities of the Soviet penal system was the existence of 
two quite separate systems for prosecution in criminal matters, one judicial and 
the other administrative, and of two systems of detention, one run by the 
Ministry of Internal Affairs and the other by the GPU. In addition to the 
regular prisons that housed those who were sentenced through the normal legal 
channels, a whole network of camps was run by the GPU, reserved for anyone 
sentenced for crimes under its special jurisdiction. Such crimes included any 
form of counterrevolutionary activity, banditry, counterfeiting, and crimes 
committed by the political police themselves. 

In 1922 the government proposed that the GPU set up a huge camp on 
^ie islands in the Solovetski archipelago, in the White Sea near Arkhangelsk, 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


the main island of which was home to one of the largest Russian Orthodox 
monasteries. The GPU expelled the monks and established a chain of camps 
with the common name Special Camps of Solovetski (SLON). The first in- 
ternees, from the Kholmogory and Pertaminsk camps, arrived in early July 
1923. By the end of that year there were more than 4,000 prisoners, by 1927 
there were 15,000, and by the end of 1928 there were nearly 38,000. 

One of the peculiarities of the Solovetski camps was their relative auton- 
omy. Apart from the director and a handful of support staff, all posts in the 
camps were filled by the prisoners themselves. Most of these were people who 
had collaborated with the secret police but had been sentenced for particularly 
serious abuses of their position. In the hands of such people, autonomy was 
bound to give rise to anarchy. 

Under the NEP, the GPU administration recognized three categories of 
prisoners. The first included all those involved in politics, that is, people who 
were members of the old Menshevik, Socialist Revolutionary, or anarchist 
parties. In 1921 they had convinced Dzerzhinsky, who himself had spent nearly 
ten years as a political prisoner under the tsarist regime, that they deserved a 
less stringent fate. As a result they received a slightly larger food ration, known 
as the political ration, were allowed to keep more of their personal belongings, 
and were permitted to receive newspapers and journals. They lived in commu- 
nities, and above all they were spared any forced labor. This privileged status 
was to last until the end of the decade. 

The second group, numerically by far the largest, contained all the coun- 
terrevolutionaries: members of nonsocialist or new anarchist political parties, 
members of the clergy, veteran officers from the tsarist armies, civil servants 
from the old regime, Cossacks, participants in the Kronstadt and Tambov 
revolts, and anyone else who had been sentenced under Article 58 of the penal 

The third category grouped together all common criminals sentenced by 
the GPU (bandits, counterfeiters) and former members of the Cheka who had 
been prosecuted for any number of offenses. The counterrevolutionaries, hav- 
ing been imprisoned with the common criminals who made all the laws in the 
camp, thus underwent endless privations and suffered starvation, the extreme 
cold of the winters, and the summer mosquitoes; one of the commonest tor- 
tures was to tie up prisoners naked in the woods, at the mercy of the mosqui- 
toes, which were particularly voracious in these northern islands. The writer 
Varlam Shalamov, one of the most famous of the Solovetski prisoners, recalled 
that prisoners would deliberately ask to have their hands tied behind their 
backs, a procedure that was in fact enshrined in the regulations. "This was the 
only means of defense that the prisoners had against the laconic formula 'killed 
while attempting to escape.' 1110 


A State against Its People 

It was the Solovetski camps that, after the years of improvisation during 
the civil war, perfected the system of enforced labor that would see such a 
tremendous expansion after 1929. Until 1925 prisoners were kept occupied in 
a relatively unproductive manner inside the camps; but beginning in 1926 the 
camp administrators decided to set up production contracts with a number of 
state organizations. This arrangement meant the use of forced labor as a source 
of profit rather than as a tool for reeducation — the original ideology of the 
corrective work camps of 1919 and 1920. Reorganized under the name Direc- 
torate for Special Camps in the Northern Region (USLON), the Solovetski 
camps expanded in the surrounding area, initially on the shores of the White 
Sea. In 1926 and 1927 new camps were established near the mouth of the 
Pechora River, at Kern, and at other inhospitable nearby sites with densely 
wooded hinterlands. The prisoners carried out a precise program of produc- 
tion, chiefly involving the felling and cutting of timber. The exponential growth 
of the production programs soon required an even greater number of prisoners 
and eventually led, in June 1929, to a major restructuring of the detention 
system. Prisoners who were sentenced to more than three years were sent to 
work camps. This measure implied a veritable explosion in the work-camp 
system. As the experimental laboratory for forced labor, the "special camps" of 
the Solovetski archipelago were the testing ground for another archipelago that 
was coming into being, the immense Gulag archipelago. 

The everyday activities of the GPU, including the sentencing of thousands of 
people to house arrest or to the camps, did not deter the secret police from 
involvement in specific operations of repression on a totally different scale. In 
the apparently calm years of the NEP, from 1923 to 1927, the peripheral 
republics of Russia — Transcaucasia and Central Asia — saw the bloodiest and 
most massive repressions. Most of these nations had fiercely resisted Russian 
expansionism in the nineteenth century and had only recently been recon- 
quered by the Bolsheviks: Azerbaijan in April 1920, Armenia in December 
1920, Georgia in February 1921, Dagestan at the end of 1921, and Turkestan, 
including Bukhara, in the autumn of 1920. They were still putting up strong 
resistance to the process of Sovietization. "We still control only the main cities, 
or rather the main city centers," wrote Jan Peters, the Cheka plenipotentiary 
envoy, in January 1923. From 1918 until the end of the 1920s, and in some 
regions until 1935-36, the greater part of Central Asia, with the exception of 
the towns, was still in the hands of the basmachis. The term basmachis ("brig- 
ands" in Uzbek) was applied by the Russians to all the partisans, both seden- 
tary and nomadic, such as Uzbeks, Turkmenians, and Kirgiz, who were acting 
independently of one another in the various regions. 

The main crucible of revolt was in the Fergana valley. After Bukhara fell 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


to the Red Army in September 1 920, the uprising spread to the western and 
southern regions of the old emirate of Bukhara and to the western region of 
the Turkmcnian steppes. In early 192 1 Red Army headquarters estimated the 
number of armed basmachis at about 30,000. The leadership of the movement 
was extremely heterogeneous, made up as it was of local chiefs from villages or 
tribes, traditional religious leaders, and Muslim nationalist leaders from abroad, 
such as Enver Pasha, the former Turkish minister of defense, who was killed 
in a battle with Cheka detachments in 1922. 

The basmachi movement was a spontaneous uprising against the "infidel" 
and the "Russian oppressor," the old enemy who had returned in a new guise 
and who this time not only wanted land and cattle but also was attempting to 
profane the Muslim spiritual world. This essentially colonial war of "pacifica- 
tion," waged for more than ten years, required a large part of the Russian armed 
forces and the special troops of the secret police, one of whose principal 
sections became the Oriental Department. It is still impossible even to guess at 
the number of victims in this war. 11 

The second major sector of the GPU's Oriental Department was Tran- 
scaucasia. In the first half of the 1920s Dagestan, Georgia, and Chechnya were 
severely affected by the repressions. Dagestan resisted the Soviet invasion until 
1921. Under the direction of Sheikh Uzun Hadji, the Muslim brotherhood of 
the Nakshbandis led a major rebellion among the people of the mountains, and 
the struggle against the Russian invaders took on the character of a holy war. 
It lasted for more than a year, and some regions were "pacified" only by heavy 
bombing and huge massacres of civilians, which persisted into 1924. n 

After three years of independence under a Menshevik government, Geor- 
gia was occupied by the Red Army in February 1921, and it remained, in the 
words of Aleksandr Myasnikov, secretary of the Bolshevik Party Committee in 
Transcaucasia, "a distinctly arduous affair." The local Party was skeletal, having 
recruited scarcely 10,000 members over three years, and it faced opposition in 
the form of a highly educated and noble class of about 100,000 and a vigorous 
Menshevik resistance group (the Menshevik Party in 1920 had numbered some 
60,000 local members). The terror in Georgia was carried out by the all-pow- 
erful Georgian Cheka, largely independent of Moscow and led by Lavrenti 
Beria, a twenty-five-year-old policeman who would soon rise rapidly in the 
Cheka. Despite this, at the end of 1922, the exiled Menshevik leaders managed 
to organize all the anti-Bolshevik parties into a secret committee for Georgian 
independence that prepared for an uprising. The revolt, which began in the 
small town of Chiatura, consisted mainly of peasants from the Gurev region 
and spread within a few days to five of the twenty-five Georgian regions. 
However, faced with the superior forces of a Russian army equipped with heavy 
artillery and air power, the insurrection was crushed within a week. Sergo 


A State against Its People 

Ordzhonikidze, the first secretary of the Bolshevik Party Committee in Tran- 
scaucasia, and Lavrenti Beria used this uprising as the pretext to "finish off the 
Mensheviks and the Georgian nobility once and for all." According to recently 
published data, 12,578 people were shot between 29 August and 5 September 
1924. Repressions were so widespread that even the Politburo reacted. The 
Party leadership sent a message to Ordzhonikidze instructing him not to exe- 
cute a disproportionate number of people or to dispose of political enemies in 
such fashion without express authorization from the Central Committee. Nev- 
ertheless, summary executions continued for some months. Before a meeting 
of the Central Committee in Moscow in October 1924, Ordzhonikidze admit- 
ted that "perhaps we did go a little far, but we couldn't help ourselves." 1 -* 

A year after the Georgian uprising had been crushed, the regime launched 
a massive "pacification" campaign in Chechnya, where people still went about 
their business as though Soviet power did not exist. From 27 August to 15 
September 1925 more than 10,000 regular troops from the Red Army under 
the leadership of General Ierome Uborevich, backed by special units from the 
GPU, began an enormous operation to try to disarm the Chechen partisans 
who still held the countryside. Tens of thousands of arms were seized and 
nearly 1,000 "bandits" arrested. So fierce was the resistance that the GPU 
leader Unshlikht reported that "the troops were forced to resort to heavy 
artillery to bombard the rebel strongholds." At the end of this new "pacifica- 
tion" operation, carried out during what might be called the GPU's finest hour, 
Unshlikht concluded his report thus: "As was demonstrated by the experience 
of our struggle against the basmachis in Turkestan, and against the bandits in 
Ukraine, military repression is effective only when it is followed by an intensive 
process of Sovietization in the core of the country." 14 

After the death of Dzerzhinsky at the end of 1926, the GPU came under 
the leadership of Vyacheslav Rudolfovich Menzhinsky, who had been its foun- 
der's righthand man (and who was also of Polish extraction). By now the GPU 
was called upon more frequently by Stalin, who was preparing his political 
offensive against both Trotsky and Bukharin. In January 1927 the GPU re- 
ceived an order instructing it to accelerate the classification of "anti-Soviet and 
socially dangerous elements" in the countryside. In a single year the number 
of people thus classified rose from 30,000 to about 72,000. In September 1927 
the GPU launched campaigns in several provinces to arrest kulaks and other 
"socially dangerous elements." With hindsight, these operations seem to have 
been preparatory operations for the great "dekulakization" programs of the 
winter of 1929-30. 

In 1926 and 1927 the GPU showed itself also to be extremely active in the 
hunt for Communists of opposing tendencies, who were classified as either 
"Zinovievites" or "Trotskyites." The practice of classifying and following 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


Communists of different tendencies had first appeared in 1921. In September 
1923 Dzerzhinsky had proposed "to tighten the ideological unity of the Party" 
by insisting that Communists agree to inform the secret police about the 
existence of splits or disagreements within the Party. The proposal had met 
with considerable hostility from several leaders, including Trotsky himself. 
Nonetheless, the practice of placing opponents under surveillance became 
increasingly widespread in the years that followed. The GPU was very closely 
involved with the purge of the Communist organization in Leningrad, carried 
out under Zinoviev in January and February 1927. Opponents were not simply 
expelled from the Party; several hundred were exiled to distant towns in the 
countryside, where their position was very precarious, since no one dared to 
offer them any work. In 1927 the hunt for Trotskyites — who numbered several 
thousand around the country — intensified considerably, and for a month it 
involved a number of units from the GPU. AH opponents were classified, and 
hundreds of militant Trotskyites were arrested and then exiled as a simple 
administrative measure. In November 1927 all the main leaders of the so-called 
Left Opposition, including Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, and Rakovsky, 
were expelled from the Party and arrested. Anyone who failed to make a public 
confession was exiled. On 19 January 1928 Pravda announced the departure of 
Trotsky and a group of thirty Opposition leaders from Moscow to exile in 
Alma-Ata. A year later Trotsky was banned from the U.S.S.R. altogether. With 
the transformation of one of the main architects of the Bolshevik terror into a 
"counterrevolutionary," it was clear that a new era had dawned, and that a new 
Party strongman had emerged — Josif Stalin, 

In early 1928, when the Trotskyite opposition had been eliminated, the 
Stalinist majority in the Politburo decided to end the truce with society, which 
seemed to be straying increasingly from the original path set by the Bolsheviks. 
The main enemy now, as ten years previously, was the peasantry, which was 
still perceived as a hostile, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable mass. This second 
stage of the war against the peasantry, as the historian Andrea Graziosi notes, 
"was markedly different from the first. The initiative was taken very much by 
the state this time, and all the peasantry could do was react, with ever decreasing 
strength, to the attacks carried out against it," 15 

Although the state of agriculture had improved since the catastrophic 
events of 1918-1922, the end of the decade saw the "peasant enemy" still 
weaker, and the state considerably stronger, than at the beginning. The authori- 
ties, for example, had considerably more information at their disposal about 
what actually went on in the villages. Thanks to its files on "socially dangerous 
elements," the GPU could carry out the first dekulakization raids, stamp out 
more and more "banditry," disarm the peasants, increase the proportion of 
villagers recruited as soldiers, and expand Soviet education. As the correspon- 


A State against Its People 

dence of Party leaders and the records of high-level discussions within the 
Party demonstrate, the Stalinist leadership, like its opponents Bukharin, Rykov, 
and Kamenev, was perfectly aware of what was at stake in this new assault on 
the peasantry. "There will be a peasant war, as in 1918-19," warned Bukharin. 
But Stalin was ready, since he knew that, whatever the cost, the regime would 
emerge the victor. 16 

The harvest crisis at the end of 1927 provided Stalin with the pretext he 
needed. November was marked by a spectacular decline in deliveries of agri- 
cultural products to the state collection centers, and by December this was 
beginning to take on catastrophic proportions. In January 1928 the facts had to 
be faced: despite a good harvest, the peasants had delivered only 4.8 million 
tons, down from 6.8 million the previous year. The new crisis had many causes, 
including the decline in the prices offered by the state, the cost and the scarcity 
of manufactured products, the disorganization of the collection agencies, the 
rumors of war, and, in general, the peasants' discontent with the regime, 
Nonetheless, Stalin was quick to label this a "kulak strike. 11 

The Stalinist faction quickly used the reduced deliveries as a pretext to 
return to requisitioning and to the repressive measures used during the period 
of War Communism. Stalin visited Siberia in person. Other leaders, including 
Andrei Andreev, Anastas Mikoyan, Pavel Postyshev, and Stanislas Kossior, also 
left for the grain-producing centers in the Black Earth territories (fertile re- 
gions in southern Russia), Ukraine, and the Northern Caucasus. On 14 January 
1928 the Politburo sent a circular to local authorities ordering them to "arrest 
speculators, kulaks, and anyone else interfering in the markets or in pricing 
policies." "Plenipotentiaries" (the term itself was a throwback to the requisi- 
tioning policies of 1918-1921) and detachments of militant Communists were 
sent into the countryside to remove local authorities judged to be too compla- 
cent toward the kulaks. They also sought out hidden grain surpluses, if neces- 
sary with the help of poor peasants, who were promised a quarter of all 
confiscated grain as compensation for their assistance. 

To punish peasants who were unwilling to hand over their agricultural 
products at prices that were a mere third or even a quarter of the going market 
rate, the Soviet authorities doubled, tripled, or even quintupled the original 
amount to be collected. Article 107 of the penal code, which set a prison term 
of three years for anyone acting in a manner liable to increase prices, was also 
widely used. Taxes on the kulaks were increased tenfold in two years. The 
markets themselves were closed, a move that affected wealthier and poorer 
peasants alike. Within a few weeks all these measures clearly vitiated the uneasy 
truce existing between the regime and the peasantry since 1922-23. The req- 
uisitioning and repressive measures merely worsened the agricultural situation. 
In the short term, the use of force had allowed the authorities to obtain a harvest 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


approximately the same size as that from the preceding year. In the long term, 
however, the consequences were similar to those during War Communism: 
peasants reacted by sowing considerably less the following year.' 7 

The harvest crisis of the winter of 1927-28 played a crucial role in the 
events that followed. In particular, Stalin drew a whole series of conclusions 
from this crisis. He decided to to create "fortresses of socialism" in the coun- 
tryside—giant sovkhozy, pilot farms run by the state, and kolkhozy, or collective 
farms— and to get rid of the kulaks once and for all by "liquidating them as a 

In 1928 the regime also broke its truce with another social group, the 
spetsy, the "bourgeois specialists" left over from the intelligentsia of the ancien 
regime, who at the end of the 1920s still filled most of the managerial positions 
in industrial and government departments. At a meeting of the Central Com- 
mittee in April 1928, it was announced that an industrial sabotage plan had 
been discovered in the Shakhty region, one of the mining areas of the Donbass, 
among the workers of the Donugol Company, which was known to employ 
"bourgeois specialists" and to have relations with finance companies in the 
West. A few weeks later, 53 of the accused, most of them engineers and 
middle-management workers, were tried in public in the first open political trial 
since that of the Socialist Revolutionaries in 1922; 1 1 were condemned to death, 
and 5 were executed. This show-trial, which was reported extensively in the 
press, serves as an illustration of the obsessive hunt for "saboteurs in the pay 
of foreign powers," a term used as a rallying call for activists and informers in 
the pay of the GPU "Saboteurs" were blamed for all economic failures, and 
they became the excuse for using thousands of white-collar workers to build 
the new special offices of the GPU, known as the sharashki. Thousands of 
engineers and technicians who had been convicted of sabotage were punished 
by being sent to construction sites and high-profile civil engineering projects. 
In the months following the Shakhty trial the Economic Department of the 
GPU fabricated dozens of similar affairs, notably in Ukraine. In the Yugostal 
metallurgy complex in Dnepropetrovsk, 1 1 2 white-collar workers were arrested 
in May 1928, 1X 

Not only white-collar industrial workers were targeted in the vast anti- 
specialist operations begun in 1928. Numerous university professors and stu- 
dents of "socially unacceptable" background were excluded from higher 
education in a series of purges of the universities designed to advance the 
careers of the new Red "proletarian" intelligentsia. 

The new repressive measures and the economic difficulties of the later 
years of the NEP, which were marked by growing unemployment and upsurges 
in criminal activity, resulted in a huge increase in the number of criminal 
convictions: 578,000 in 1926, 709,000 in 1927, 909,000 in 1928, and 1,778,000 


A State against Its People 

in 1929. I9 To curtail the rapid growth of the prison population, which in 1928 
was supposed to be no higher than 150,000, the government made two impor- 
tant decisions. The first, a decree of 26 March 1928, was a proposal to replace 
all short-term prison sentences for minor offenses with corrective work, to be 
carried out without remuneration "in industry, on construction projects, or in 
forestry work." The second measure was a decree of 27 June 1929, which had 
enormous consequences. It recommended the transfer of all prisoners who 
were sentenced to more than three years to work camps whose aim was to be 
"the development of the natural resources of the northern and eastern regions 
of the country," an idea that had been in the air for a few years. The GPU was 
already involved in a vast enterprise of wood production for the export market, 
and had repeatedly asked for additional workers from the organizations at the 
Ministry of Internal Affairs responsible for incarcerations. The GPU's own 
prisoners in the special Solovetski camps, who numbered 38,000 in 1928, were 
not sufficient to meet the desired production targets. 20 

The drawing-up of the first Five-Year Plan highlighted questions about 
the division of the labor force and the exploitation of the inhospitable regions 
that were so rich in natural resources. In that respect the penal workforce, 
heretofore an untapped source of manpower, was considered a potentially 
extremely valuable asset — a major source of revenue, influence, and power. The 
leaders of the GPU, and in particular Menzhinsky and his aide Yagoda, both 
of whom had Stalin's backing, were well aware of the potential importance of 
the prisoners. In the summer of 1929 they put together an ambitious plan to 
colonize the Narym region, which covered 225,000 square miles of marshy pine 
forest in western Siberia. This plan was implemented in a decree of 27 June 
1929. It was in this context that the idea of dekulakization began to take shape. 
The idea was to deport kulaks, defined as the better-off peasants, whom the 
official circles considered necessarily opposed to collectivization. 21 

Nonetheless, it took an entire year for Stalin and his followers to persuade 
other Party leaders to accept the policies of enforced collectivization, dekulaki- 
zation, and accelerated industrialization— the three key aspects of a coherent 
program for the brutal transformation of the economy and society. The pro- 
gram called for the simultaneous dissolution of the traditional market economy, 
expropriation of all peasant land, and development of the natural resources of 
the inhospitable regions of the country using the forced labor of "kulaks" and 
other groups that were the targets of this "second revolution." 

The "right-wing" opposition to these ideas, led notably by Rykov and 
Bukharin, thought that collectivization would result only in a new feudal ex- 
ploitation of the peasantry, leading to civil war, increased terror, chaos, and new 
famines. This obstacle was finally eliminated in April 1929. Throughout the 
summer of 1929 the "rightists" were attacked in the Soviet press with unprece- 

From the Truce to the Great Turning Point 


dented venom, accused of collaborating with capitalist elements and colluding 
with Trotskyites. Totally discredited, these opponents were forced to make 
public confessions at the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in Novem- 
ber 1929. 

During these episodes in the struggle between proponents and opponents 
of the NEP, the country sank further and further into economic crisis. The 
agricultural figures for 1928-29 were disastrous. Despite systematic recourse 
to a whole arsenal of coercive measures directed against the peasantry, includ- 
ing steep fines and prison sentences for anyone who refused to sell produce to 
the state, the amount gathered by the state in the winter of 1928-29 was 
considerably smaller than the preceding year, which understandably created a 
situation of extreme tension in the countryside. From January 1928 to Decem- 
ber 1929 — that is, even before enforced collectivization— the GPU recorded 
more than 1,300 riots and mass demonstrations in the countryside, which led 
to the arrest of tens of thousands of peasants. One other statistic is also a good 
indicator of the climate in the countryside at that time: in 1929 more than 3,200 
Soviet civil servants were victims of terrorist attacks. In February ration cards 
appeared for the first time since the introduction of the NEP. Poverty again 
became widespread after the authorities closed down most small companies and 
peasant workshops, labeling them capitalist throwbacks. 

In Stalin's view, the crisis in agriculture was the work of kulaks and other 
hostile forces who were attempting to undermine the Soviet regime. The stakes 
were set: the choice was to be made between rural capitalism and the kolkhozy. 
In June 1929 the government announced the beginning of a new phase, that of 
"mass collectivization." The targets of the first Five- Year Plan, ratified in April 
by the Sixteenth Party Congress, were retroactively rounded upward. The plan 
had originally foreseen the collectivization of around 5 million (or approxi- 
mately 20 percent) of all farms before the end of the Five- Year Plan. In June 
it was announced that the objective was now 8 million farms for 1930 alone; by 
September the projected figure had risen to 13 million. Throughout the sum- 
mer the authorities mobilized tens of thousands of Communists, trade union- 
ists, members of the Communist youth organizations (the Komsomols), 
laborers, and students and sent them into rural villages together with local Party 
leaders and GPU officials. The pressure on the peasants intensified as local 
Party organizations strove to outdo each other to beat the collectivization 
records. On 31 October 1929 Pravda called for "total collectivization." A week 
later, on the twelfth anniversary of the Revolution, Stalin published his famous 
article "The Great Turning Point," which was based on the fundamentally 
erroneous idea that "the average peasant has welcomed the arrival of the 
kolkhoz'" The NEP was definitively over. 


Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


lecent research in the newly accessible archives has confirmed 
that the forced collectivization of the countryside was in effect a war declared 
by the Soviet state on a nation of smallholders. More than 2 million peasants 
were deported (1.8 million in 1930-31 alone), 6 million died of hunger, and 
hundreds of thousands died as a direct result of deportation. Such figures, 
however, only hint at the size of this human tragedy. Far from being confined 
to the winter of 1929-30, the war dragged on until the mid- 1930s and was at its 
peak in 1932 and 1933, which were marked by a terrible famine deliberately 
provoked by the authorities to break the resistance of the peasants. The vio- 
lence used against the peasants allowed the authorities to experiment with 
methods that would later be used against other social groups. In that respect it 
marked a decisive step in the development of Stalinist terror. 

In a report to a Central Committee plenum in November 1929, Vyacheslav 
Molotov declared: 'The speed of collectivization is not really at issue in the 
plan ... We still have November, December, January, February, and March, 
four and a half months in which, if the imperialists do not attack us head-on, 
we can make a decisive breakthrough in the economy and in collectivization. 1 ' 
The committee endorsed the decision to speed up the pace of collectivization. 
A commission drew up a new timetable that was optimistically revised several 
times before being officially published on 5 January 1930. The Northern Cau- 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 

casus and the lower and middle regions of the Volga were to be fully collectiv- 
ized by the autumn of 1930, and the other grain-producing regions a year later. 1 

On 27 December 1929 Stalin demanded "the eradication of all kulak 
tendencies and the elimination of the kulaks as a class." A commission from 
the Politburo, presided over by Molotov, was charged with pursuing all meas- 
ures needed to achieve this goal. The commission defined three categories of 
kulaks: those engaged in "counterrevolutionary activities" were to be arrested 
and transferred to GPU work camps or executed if they put up any sign of 
resistance. Their families were to be deported and all their property confiscated. 
Kulaks of the second category, who were defined as "showing less active oppo- 
sition, but nonetheless archexploiters with an innate tendency to destabilize the 
regime,' 1 were to be arrested and deported with their families to distant regions 
of the country. Those in the third category, classified as loyal to the regime, 
were to be officially transferred to the peripheral regions of the districts in 
which they lived, "outside the collectivized zones, on land requiring improve- 
ment. 1 ' The decree also stipulated that "the number of kulak farms to be 
liquidated within the next four months . . . should be between 3 percent and 
5 percent of the total number of farms," a figure intended as a general guideline 
for the size of dekulakization operations. 2 

Coordinated in each district by a troika composed of the first secretary of 
the local Party Committee, the president of the local Soviet Executive Com- 
mittee, and the chief of the local GPU, operations were carried out on the 
ground by special dekulakization commissions and brigades. The list of kulaks 
in the first category, which, according to the Politburo's guidelines, was to 
comprise some 60,000 heads of household, was to be drawn up by the secret 
police themselves. Lists of kulaks in the other two categories were made in situ 
at the recommendation of local village activists. Sergo Ordzhonkidze, one of 
Stalin's closest advisers, explained who these "activists 11 really were: "Because 
there are almost no Party activists in the villages, we generally install a young 
Communist in the village and force two or three poor peasants to join him, and 
it is this aktiv [activist cell] that personally carries out all the village business 
of collectivization and dekulakization. "■* Their instructions were quite clear: 
they were to collectivize as many farms as possible, and to arrest and label as a 
kulak anyone who put up resistance. 

These practices naturally opened the way to all sorts of abuses and the 
settling of old scores, and difficult questions were raised regarding the catego- 
ries of kulaks. In January and February 1930 the criteria established by the 
Party after considering innumerable reports from committees of economists 
and ideologues were scarcely applicable, since the ever-increasing taxes had 
impoverished all previously wealthy peasants. In the absence of external signs 
of wealth, the commissions had to resort to outdated and often incomplete tax 




A State against Its People 

returns kept by the rural soviet, information provided by the GPU, and denun- 
ciations by neighbors tempted by the possibility of gain. In practice, instead of 
the precise and detailed inventory that they were instructed to draw up before 
expropriating goods for the kolkhoz, the dekulakization brigades seemed to 
follow the motto "Eat, drink, and be merry, for it all belongs to us. 1 ' According 
to a GPU report from Smolensk, "the brigades took from the wealthy peasants 
their winter clothes, their warm underclothes, and above all their shoes. They 
left the kulaks standing in their underwear and took everything, even old rubber 
socks, women's clothes, tea worth no more than fifty kopeks, water pitchers, 
and pokers . . . The brigades confiscated everything, even the pillows from 
under the heads of babies, and stew from the family pot, which they smeared 
on the icons they had smashed."** Dekulakized properties were often simply 
looted or sold at auction by the dekulakization brigades for absurd prices: 
wooden houses were bought for sixty kopeks, cows for fifteen. 

In such conditions it is not surprising that in certain districts between 80 
and 90 percent of those victimized by the dekulakization process were 
serednyakt, or middle-income peasants. The brigades had to meet the required 
quotas and, if possible, surpass them. Peasants were arrested and deported for 
having sold grain on the market or for having had an employee to help with 
harvest back in 1925 or 1926, for possessing two samovars, for having killed a 
pig in September 1 929 "with the intention of consuming it themselves and thus 
keeping it from socialist appropriation." Peasants were arrested on the pretext 
that they had "taken part in commerce," when all they had done was sell 
something of their own making. One peasant was deported on the pretext that 
his uncle had been a tsarist officer; another was labeled a kulak on account of 
his "excessive visits to the church." But most often people were classed as 
kulaks simply on the grounds that they had resisted collectivization. At times 
confusion reigned in the dekulakization brigades to an almost comic extreme: 
in one city in Ukraine, for example, a serednyak who was a member of a 
dekulakization brigade was himself arrested by a member of another brigade 
that was operating on the other side of the town. 

After a first phase that allowed some to settle old scores or quite simply 
to engage in looting, village communities began to harden their attitudes to 
both dekulakization and collectivization. The GPU recorded 402 revolts and 
mass peasant demonstrations against dekulakization and collectivization in 
January 1930, 1,048 in February, and 6,528 in March. 5 

This massive and quite unexpected resistance caused the government 
briefly to alter its plans. On 2 March 1930 all Soviet newspapers carried Stalin's 
famous article "Dizzy with Success," which condemned "the numerous abuses 
of the principle of voluntary collectivization" and blamed the excesses of 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


collectivization and dekulakization on local bosses who were "drunk on suc- 
cess." The impact of the article was immediate: in March alone more than 5 
million peasants left the kolkhozy Trouble and unrest, linked to the often 
violent reappropriation of tools and cattle by their original owners, immediately 
flared up. Throughout March the central authorities received daily reports 
from the GPU of massive uprisings in western Ukraine, in the central Black 
Earth region, in the Northern Caucasus, and in Kazakhstan. The GPU counted 
more than 6,500 mass demonstrations during that critical month, more than 
800 of which had to be put down by force. During these events more than 1 ,500 
civil servants were killed, wounded, or badly beaten. The number of victims 
among the rebels is not known but must easily have totaled several thousand. 6 

By early April the authorities were forced into further concessions. Several 
circulars were sent to local authorities calling for a slowdown in collectivization, 
acknowledging that there was a genuine danger of "a veritable tidal wave of 
peasant wars" and of u thc death of at least half of all local Soviet civil servants." 
That month the number of uprisings and peasant demonstrations began to 
decline, though it remained exceedingly high. The GPU reported 1,992 pro- 
tests for April. The decrease became more apparent as the summer wore on. 
In June there were 886 revolts, 618 in July, and 256 in August. In all of 1930 
nearly 2.5 million peasants took part in approximately 14,000 revolts, riots, and 
mass demonstrations against the regime. The regions most affected were the 
Black Earth region, the Northern Caucasus, and Ukraine, particularly the 
western parts, where whole districts, and notably the areas that bordered on 
Poland and Romania, temporarily slipped out of the control of the Soviet 
regime. 7 

One of the peculiarities of these movements was the key role played by 
women peasants, who were sometimes sent to the front lines in the hope that 
they would not suffer as severe a fate as the men who were captured. H Although 
the demonstrations by women often focused on the closure of churches or the 
collectivization of dairy farming, there were also bloody confrontations between 
GPU detachments and groups of peasants armed with axes and pitchforks. 
Hundreds of Soviet officials were attacked, and for a few hours or a few days 
the peasants would try to reclaim the administration of village affairs, demand- 
ing the return of confiscated tools and cattle, the dissolution of the kolkhoz, 
the ^introduction of free trade, the reopening of the churches, the restitution 
of all goods to the kulaks, the return of the peasants who had been deported, 
the abolition of Bolshevik power, and, in Ukraine at least, national inde- 
pendence. 9 

The peasants managed to postpone collectivization only through March 
and April. Their actions did not lead to the creation of a central movement of 


A State against Its People 

resistance, with leaders and regional organizations. Weapons, too, were in short 
supply, having been steadily seized by the authorities over the preceding decade. 
Even so, the revolts were difficult to put down. 

The repressions were horrifying. By the end of March 1930, "mopping- 
up operations against counterrevolutionary elements" on the borders of west- 
ern Ukraine led to the arrest of more than 15,000 people. In about forty days, 
from 1 February to 1 5 March, the Ukrainian GPU arrested 26,000 people, of 
whom 650 were immediately executed. According to the GPU's own records, 
20,200 people received death sentences that year through the courts alone. 10 

While carrying out this repression of "counterrevolutionary elements," 
the GPU began to apply Yagoda's Directive No. 44/21, which called for the 
arrest of 60,000 kulaks of the first category. To judge by the daily reports that 
were sent to him, the operation was carried out exactly as planned. The first 
report, dated 6 February, noted 15,985 arrests; by 9 February the GPU noted 
that 25,245 kulaks had been "taken out of circulation." A secret report 
(spetssvodka) dated 15 February gave the following details: "The total number 
of liquidations, including both individuals taken out of circulation and larger- 
scale operations, has now reached 64,589. Of these, 52,166 are first category, 
arrested during preparatory operations, and 12,423 were arrested in larger-scale 
operations." In just a few days the target figure of 60,000 first-category kulaks 
had already been met." 

In reality the kulaks represented only one group of people "taken out of 
circulation." Local GPU agents everywhere had taken the opportunity to clear 
their district of "socially dangerous elements," among whom were "police 
officers from the old regime," "White officers," "priests," "nuns," "rural arti- 
sans," former "shopkeepers," "members of the rural intelligentsia," and "oth- 
ers." At the bottom of the report dated 15 February 1930, which detailed the 
categories of individuals arrested as part of the liquidation of kulaks of the first 
class, Yagoda wrote: "The regions of the northeast and of Leningrad have not 
understood the orders, or at least are pretending not to have understood them. 
They must be forced to understand. We are not trying to clear the territory of 
religious leaders, shopkeepers, and 'others.' If they write 'others, 1 that means 
they don't even know who it is they are arresting. There will be plenty of time 
to dispose of shopkeepers and religious leaders. What we are trying to do now 
is to strike at the heart of the problem by weeding out the kulaks and kulak 
counterrevolutionaries " 12 Even today it is impossible to say how many of the 
"kulaks of the first category" who were "liquidated" were actually executed, 
since there are no figures available. 

Undoubtedly "kulaks of the first category" were a major part of the first 
groups of prisoners who were transferred to the labor camps. By the summer 
of 1930 the GPU had already established a vast network of such camps. The 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


oldest group of prisons, on the Solovetski Islands, continued its expansion on 
the shores of the White Sea, from Karelia to Arkhangelsk. More than 40,000 
prisoners built the Kem-Ukhta road, and thus facilitated most of the wood 
production that was exported from Arkhangelsk. The group of camps in the 
north, where nearly 40,000 other prisoners were detained, set about the con- 
struction of a 200-mile railway line between Ust, Sysolk, and Pinyug, and a 
road of the same length between Ust, Sysolk, and Ukhta. The 1 5,000 prisoners 
in the camps in the east were the sole source of labor for the Boguchachinsk 
Railway. The fourth group of camps, in Vichera, where some 20,000 prisoners 
were detained, provided the labor force for the construction of the great chemi- 
cal plant of Berezniki in the Urals. Finally, the camps in Siberia, where 80,000 
people were kept, provided the labor for the Tomsk-Eniseisk Railway and the 
Kuznetsk metallurgy complex.' 1 

In a year and half, from the end of 1928 to the summer of 1930, forced 
labor in the GPU camps had more than tripled, from 40,000 to approximately 
140,000. The successful use of forced labor encouraged the government to 
tackle more projects on a similar scale. In June 1930 the government decided 
to construct a canal more than 150 miles long, most of it through granite, 
linking the Baltic to the White Sea. In the absence of the necessary technology 
and machinery, it was calculated that a labor force of 125,000 would be required 
to carry out the task, using nothing but pickaxes, buckets, and wheelbarrows. 
Such a labor force was unprecedented; but in the summer of 1930, when 
dekulakization was at its height, the authorities had precisely that sort of spare 
labor capacity at their disposal. 

In fact the number of people deported as kulaks was so great — more than 
700,000 people by the end of 1930, more than 1.8 million by the end of 
1931 M — that the framework designed to cope with the process could not pos- 
sibly keep up. Most of the kulaks in the second or third category were deported 
in improvised operations of almost total chaos, which often resulted in an 
unprecedented phenomenon of "abandonment in deportation." This provided 
no economic benefit for the authorities, although the plan had been to utilize 
this forced labor to its maximum capacity to develop the regions of the country 
that were inhospitable but rich in natural resources. 15 

Deportation of kulaks of the second category began in the first week of 
February 1930. According to a plan approved by the Politburo, 60,000 families 
were to be deported as part of a first phase that was to last until the end of 
April. The northern region was to receive 45,000 families, and the Urals 1 5,000. 
However, as early as 16 February, Stalin sent a telegram to Robert Eikhe, first 
secretary of the Party's regional committee in western Siberia: "It is inexcus- 
able that Siberia and Kazakhstan are claiming not to be ready to receive deport- 
ees! It is imperative that Siberia receive 15,000 families between now and the 


A State against Its People 

end of April." In reply, Eikhe sent Moscow an estimate of the installation costs 
for the planned contingent of deportees, which he calculated to be 40 million 
rubles — a sum that he never, of course, received. 16 

The deportation operations were thus characterized by a complete lack of 
coordination between the place of departure and the destination. Peasants who 
had been arrested were thus sometimes kept for weeks in improvised prisons — 
barracks, administrative buildings, and railway stations — from which a great 
number managed to escape. The GPU had allocated 240 convoys of 53 car- 
riages for the first phase. Each convoy, according to GPU regulations, consisted 
of 44 cattle trucks with 40 deportees apiece; 8 carriages to carry the tools, food, 
and personal belongings of the deportees (limited to 480 kilos per family), and 
1 carriage to transport the guards. As the rather acerbic correspondence be- 
tween the GPU and the People's Commissariat of Transport demonstrates, the 
formation of the convoys was invariably a painfully slow process. In the great 
depots, such as Vologda, Kotlas, Rostov, Sverdlovsk, and Omsk, convoys would 
remain for weeks, filled with their human cargo. These masses of women, 
children, and old men rarely passed unnoticed by the local population; many 
group letters, signed by the "Workers' and Employees' Collective of Vologda" 
or the "Railway Workers of Kotlas," were sent to Moscow complaining about 
"massacres of the innocent." 17 

Few detailed records were kept of the mortality rates for the convoys of 
1930 and 1931, but the appalling conditions, the cold, the lack of food, and the 
rapid spread of disease must have cost a large number of lives. 

When the railway convoys finally arrived at a station, the men were often 
separated from their families, kept provisionally in flimsy cabins, and then 
escorted to the new colonies, which, in accordance with official instructions, 
were "some way distant from any means of communication." The interminable 
journey thus sometimes continued for several hundred more kilometers, with 
or without the family, sometimes on convoys of sledges in the winter, in carts 
in the summer, or even on foot. From a practical point of view, the last stage 
in the journey of kulaks of the second category was often indistinguishable 
from the deportation of kulaks of the third category, who were being relocated 
to lands requiring improvement in the peripheral regions — regions that in 
Siberia or the Urals covered hundreds of thousands of square miles. As the 
authorities in the district of Tomsk, in western Siberia, reported on 7 March 

The first convoys of third-category kulaks arrived on foot, since we have 
no horses, sleighs, or harnesses ... In general the horses that are as- 
signed to the convoys are totally unsuited to journeys that are often of 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


more than 200 miles, for when the convoys are being made up, any of 
the good horses belonging to the deportees are quickly replaced with old 
nags ... In view of the present situation, it is impossible to transport the 
two months' supplies that the kulaks are entitled to bring with them. It 
is also very hard to deal with the children and old men who usually make 
up some 50 percent of the contingent. ,s 

In a similar report the Central Executive Committee of western Siberia 
demonstrated the impossibility of carrying out the instructions of the GPU 
regarding the deportation of 4,902 kulaks of the third category to two districts 
in the province of Novosibirsk: u The transportation, along 225 miles of road 
in appalling disrepair, of the 8,560 tons of grain and animal feed to which the 
deportees are theoretically entitled Tor their journey and their settling in,' 
would require the use of 28,909 horses and 7,227 horsemen (1 horseman for 
4 horses)." The report concluded that "carrying out an operation of this scale 
would seriously compromise the spring sowing program, because the horses 
would be exhausted as a result, and would require several weeks of rest ... It 
is thus of capital importance that the volume of provisions that the deportees 
are allowed to bring with them be decreased considerably." 19 

It was thus without provisions or tools, and often without any shelter, that 
the prisoners had to begin their new lives. One report from the province of 
Arkhangelsk in September 1930 admitted that of the planned 1,641 living 
quarters for the deportees, only 7 had been built. The deportees often "settled" 
on the bare earth, on the open steppes, or in the middle of the marshy pine 
forests. The fortunate ones who had been able to bring some tools with them 
could construct some sort of rudimentary shelter, often the traditional zemly- 
anka, a simple hole in the ground covered with branches. In some cases, when 
the deportees were to reside by the thousands near a large building or industrial 
complex that was under construction, they were lodged in primitive military 
camps, where they slept in three-tier bunk beds, with several hundred people 
per shack. 

In all, 1,803,392 people were officially deported as part of the dekulakiza- 
tion program in 1930 and 1931. One might well wonder how many died of cold 
and hunger in the first few months of their "new life." The archives in Novosi- 
birsk contain one startling document in the form of a report sent to Stalin in 
May 1933 by an instructor of the Party committee in Narym in western Siberia, 
concerning the fate met by two convoys of more than 6,000 people deported 
from Moscow and Leningrad. Although it concerns a later period and deals 
with a different category of deportee — not peasants but "outdated elements" 
thrown out of a new socialist town at the end of 1932 — the document describes 
the fairly common phenomenon of "abandonment in deportation." 


A State against Its People 

On 29 and 30 April 1933 two convoys of "outdated dements" were sent 
to us by train from Moscow and Leningrad. On their arrival in Tomsk 
they were transferred to barges and unloaded, on 18 May and 26 May, 
onto the island of Nazino, which is situated at the juncture of the Ob 
and Nazina rivers. The first convoy contained 5,070 people, and the 
second 1,044: 6,114 in all. The transport conditions were appalling: the 
little food that was available was inedible, and the deportees were 
cramped into nearly airtight spaces . . . The result was a daily mortality 
rate of 35 — 40 people. These living conditions, however, proved to be 
luxurious in comparison to what awaited the deportees on the island of 
Nazino (from which they were supposed to be sent on in groups to their 
final destination, the new sectors that are being colonized farther up the 
Nazina River). The island of Nazino is a totally uninhabited place, 
devoid of any settlements . . . There were no tools, no grain, and no 
food. That is how their new life began. The day after the arrival of the 
first convoy, on 19 May, snow began to fall again, and the wind picked 
up. Starving, emaciated from months of insufficient food, without shel- 
ter, and without tools, . . . they were trapped. They weren't even able to 
light fires to ward off the cold. More and more of them began to die . . . 
On the first day, 295 people were buried. It was only on the fourth or 
fifth day after the convoy's arrival on the island that the authorities sent 
a bit of flour by boat, really no more than a few pounds per person. Qnce 
they had received their meager ration, people ran to the edge of the 
water and tried to mix some of the flour with water in their hats, their 
trousers, or their jackets. Most of them just tried to eat it straight off, 
and some of them even choked to death. These tiny amounts of flour 
were the only food that the deportees received during the entire period 
of their stay on the island. The more resourceful among them tried to 
make some rudimentary sort of pancakes, but they had nothing to mix 
or cook them in ... It was not long before the first cases of cannibalism 

At the end of June the deportees began to be transported to the so-called 
village colonies. These places were nearly 150 miles farther up the river, deep 
in forests. They were not villages, but untamed wilderness. Some of the de- 
portees somehow managed to build a primitive oven, so that they could bake 
bread. But for the rest there was little change from life as it had been on the 
island: the same feeling of purposelessness, the same fires, the same nakedness. 
The only difference was the bread ration, which came around every few days. 
The mortality rate was still appalling; for example, of the seventy-eight people 
who embarked from the island to the fifth colonial village, twelve were still alive 
when the boat arrived. Soon the authorities realized that these regions were 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


simply not habitable, and the whole contingent was sent down the river once 
again. Escape attempts became more and more common. 

At the new location the surviving deportees were at last given some 
tools, and in the second half of July they began to build shelters that 
were half sunk into the ground . . . Cases of cannibalism were still being 
recorded. Slowly, however, life began to take a more normal course, and 
people began to work again, but they were so worn out from the events 
of the preceding months that even with rations of 1.5 to 2 pounds of 
bread a day they still fell ill and died, and ate moss, grass, leaves, etc. 
The result of all this was that of the 6,100 people sent from Tomsk (to 
whom another 500-700 were subsequently added from the surrounding 
regions), only 2,200 were still alive by 20 August. 20 

It is impossible to gauge how many similar cases of the abandonment of 
deportees there were, but some of the official figures give an indication of the 
losses. From February 1930 to December 1931 more than 1.8 million kulaks 
were deported; but on 1 January 1932, when the authorities carried out a 
general census, only 1,317,022 kulak deportees were recorded. Losses were thus 
close to half a million people, or nearly 30 percent of all deportees. 21 Undoubt- 
edly, a not insignificant proportion of those had managed to escape. 22 In 1932 
the fate of these "contingents" was for the first time made an object of system- 
atic study by the GPU After the summer of 1931 the GPU itself was respon- 
sible for all deportations of what were termed "specially displaced," from the 
initial deportation itself to the creation and management of the new village 
colonies. According to that initial study, there had been more than 210,000 
escapes and approximately 90,000 deaths. In 1933, the year of the great famine, 
the authorities recorded the deaths of 151,601 of the 1,142,022 "specially 
displaced" who had been included in the census of 1 January 1933. The annual 
death rate was thus in the vicinity of 6.8 percent in 1932 and 13.3 percent in 
1933. For 1930 and 1931 the data are incomplete but nonetheless eloquent: in 
1931 the mortality rate was 1.3 percent per month among the deportees to 
Kazakhstan, and 0.8 percent per month for those to western Siberia. Infant 
mortality hovered around 8 percent and 12 percent per month and peaked at 
15 percent per month for Magnitogorsk. From 1 June 1931 to June 1932 the 
mortality rate among the deportees in the region of Narym, in western Siberia, 
reached 1 1 .7 percent for the year. On the whole, it is unlikely that the mortality 
rate for this period was lower than that of 1932, and was thus very likely in the 
same vicinity of 10 percent. One can thus estimate that approximately 300,000 
deportees died during the process of deportation. 2 ^ 

For the central authorities, who were eager to make as much profit as 


A State against Its People 

possible from the labors of those they termed "special deportees, 11 and after 
1932 the labor of prisoners in "work colonies," the abandonment of deportees 
was a last resort, which could be blamed, as noted by N. Puzitsky, one of the 
GPU officials in charge of work-colony prisoners, on "the criminal negligence 
and political shortsightedness of local leaders, who haven't yet got used to the 
idea of colonization by ex-kulaks. 1 ' 2 " 1 

In March 1931 a special commission was established to try to halt "the 
dreadful mess of the deportation of manpower. 11 The commission was directly 
attached to the Politburo and presided over by V. Andreev, with Yagoda playing 
a key role. The first objective was the "rational and effective management of 
the work colonies.' 1 Preliminary inquiries by the commission had revealed that 
the productivity of the deported workforce was almost zero. Of the 300, 000 
workers in the colonies of the Urals, for example, in April 1 93 1 a mere 8 percent 
were detailed to "wood chopping and other productive activities. 11 All other 
able-bodied adults were "building their own living quarters . . . and generally 
just trying to survive. 11 Another document calculated that the massive program 
of dekulakization had actually lost the state money. The average value of goods 
confiscated from kulaks in 1930 was 564 rubles per farm, a derisory sum 
(equivalent to fifteen months 1 wages for an average laborer). This figure dem- 
onstrates clearly how minimal the supposed riches of the kulaks actually were. 
The cost of deporting a kulak family, by contrast, was often more than 1,000 
rubles. 25 

For the Andreev commission, rationalization of the management of "work 
colonies 11 entailed first and foremost an administrative reorganization of all the 
mechanisms dealing with the deportees. In the summer of 1931 the GPU had 
been given sole control of the administrative management of all population 
displacements, which previously had been under the control of the local 
authorities. A whole network of komandatury (commands) had been put into 
place; these became in effect a rival government administration that allowed 
the GPU to place huge areas under its control, where the specially displaced 
made up the greater part of the local population. The colonies were subject to 
extremely tight controls. Forced to reside in designated areas, workers were 
transferred by the administration either into state-run companies, into "agri- 
cultural or artisanal co-operative[s] of special status under the supervision of 
the local GPU commander," or into construction work, road-mending, or 
land-clearing. They were expected to produce 30-50 percent more than the free 
workers, and their pay (when they were paid at all) was cut by 15 percent or 
25 percent. The rest was taken for the local GPU administration. 

As documents from the Andreev commission confirm, the GPU was 
extremely proud that the resettlement cost of workers in the colonies was nine 

Forced Collectivization and Dekulakization 


times less than that of camp prisoners. In June 1933 the 203,000 "specially 
displaced" in western Siberia, divided among 93 komandatury, were directed 
by a skeletal staff of 97 1. 26 It was the goal of the GPU to provide, in exchange 
for a commission (derived from a percentage of the wages earned plus an initial 
fixed sum), its own workforce for a number of industrial enterprises. These 
enterprises — such as Urallesprom (forestry), Uralugol, Vostugol (coal mining), 
Vostokstal (steel), Tsvetmetzoloto (nonferrous minerals), and Kuznetstroi 
(metallurgy) — exploited the various natural resources in the northern and east- 
ern regions. In principle the companies were to provide living quarters for their 
workers, schools for the children, and a regular supply of food for all. In reality 
the managers usually treated these workers, whose status was comparable to 
that of prisoners, as a free source of labor. Workers in the colonies often 
received no salary, since whatever money they earned was generally less than 
the amount the administration kept for the construction of buildings, tools, 
obligatory contributions to unions, state loans, and other functions. 

As the lowest category in the rationing hierarchy, these people were treated 
as pariahs, were often kept in conditions of near starvation, and were subject 
to all sorts of abuses and intimidatory practices. Among the most flagrant 
abuses cited in the reports were totally unrealistic work targets, nonpayment of 
wages, beatings, and confinement in unheated prison cells in the dead of winter. 
Women prisoners were traded with GPU officers in exchange for food or 
were sent as maids "for all services" to the local chiefs. The following remark 
by the director of one of the forestry companies in the Urals was quoted and 
often criticized in GPU reports of the summer of 1933, and summed up 
very well the attitude of many such directors toward their highly expendable 
human resources: "If we wanted to, we could liquidate all of you. If we were 
to do so, the GPU would promptly send us another hundred thousand just like 

Gradually the use of forced labor began to take on a more rational char- 
acter, if only because of the need for higher industrial productivity. During 
1932 the idea of colonizing the most inhospitable regions with deportees was 
abandoned, and increasing numbers were sent to civil engineering projects and 
to industrial and mining areas. In certain sectors the proportion of deportees 
working and even living alongside free workers was extremely high, and in some 
places deportees were in the majority. In the Kuzbass mines at the end of 1933, 
more than 41,000 forced laborers accounted for 47 percent of the miners. In 
Magnitogorsk the 42,462 deportees recorded in the census of September 1932 
constituted two-thirds of the local population. 27 Living in specially designated 
areas between one and four miles from the construction site, they worked in 
teams alongside free workers, and inevitably the differences between them 


A State against Its People 

gradually eroded. By force of circumstance — that is, through economic neces- 
sity — those who had suffered from dekulakization and were promoted to the 
status of forced laborers were slowly reintegrated into a society in which all 
levels of society were marked by a general fear of repression, and no one knew 
which class would be the next to suffer exclusion. 


The Great Famine 

I he great famine of 1932-33 has always been recognized as one of 
the darkest periods in Soviet history. According to the irrefutable evidence that 
is now available, more than 6 million people died as a result of it. 1 However, the 
catastrophe was not simply another in the series of famines that Russia had 
suffered at irregular intervals under the tsars. It was a direct result of the new 
system that Nikolai Bukharin, the Bolshevik leader who opposed Stalin on this 
issue, termed the "military and feudal exploitation'' of the peasantry. Famine 
was a tragic illustration of the formidable social regression that accompanied 
the assault on the countryside through forced collectivization at the end of the 

Unlike the famine of 1921-22, which the Soviet authorities acknowledged 
and even sought to redress with help from the international community, the 
famine of 1932-33 was always denied by the regime. The few voices abroad 
that attempted to draw attention to the tragedy were silenced by Soviet propa- 
ganda. The Soviet authorities were assisted by statements such as that made 
by Edouard Herriot, the French senator and leader of the Radical Party, who 
traveled through Ukraine in 1933. Upon his return he told the world that 
Ukraine was full of "admirably irrigated and cultivated fields and collective 
farms" resulting in "magnificent harvests." He concluded: "I have crossed the 
whole of Ukraine, and I can assure you that the entire country is like a garden 



A State against Its People 

in full bloom." 2 Such blindness was the result of a marvelous show put on for 
foreign guests by the GPU, with an itinerary that included nothing but kolkhozy 
and model children's gardens. The blindness was perhaps also reinforced by 
political considerations, notably the desire of French leaders not to jeopardize 
the meeting of minds with the Soviet Union regarding Germany, which had 
become a threat with Adolf Hitler's rise to power. 

Nonetheless a number of high-ranking politicians in Germany and Italy 
had remarkably precise information about the scale of the catastrophe facing 
the Soviet Union. Reports from Italian diplomats posted in Kharkiv, Odessa, 
and Novorossiisk, recently discovered and published by the Italian historian 
Andrea Graziosi, show that Mussolini read such texts extremely carefully and 
was fully aware of the situation but did not use it in his anti-Communist 
propaganda. 3 On the contrary, the summer of 1933 was marked by the signing 
of an important Italian-Soviet trade agreement and a pact of friendship and 
nonaggression. Denied, or sacrificed on the altar of "reasons of state," the truth 
about the great famine, long known only through small-circulation pamphlets 
published by Ukrainian emigre organizations, was not widely comprehended 
until the latter half of the 1980s, following the publication of a series of works 
by Western historians and by a number of researchers in the former Soviet 

To come to grips with the famine of 1932-33, it is vital to understand the 
context of the relations existing between the Soviet state and the peasantry as 
a result of the forced collectivization of the countryside. In the newiv collec- 
tivized areas, the role of the kolkhoz was a strategic one. Part of its role was to 
ensure the delivery of a fixed supply of agricultural products to the state bv 
taking an ever-larger share of the collective harvest. Every autumn the govern- 
ment collection campaign became a sort of trial of strength between the state 
and the peasants, who desperately tried to keep back enough of the harvest to 
supply their own needs. Quite simply, the requisitioning was a threat to the 
peasants 1 survival. The more fertile a region, the bigger a share the state 
demanded. In 1930 the state took 30 percent of the agricultural production of 
Ukraine, 38 percent in the rich plains of the Kuban in the Northern Caucasus, 
33 percent of the harvest in Kazakhstan. In 1931, when the harvest was con- 
siderably smaller, the percentages for the same areas were 41.5, 47, and 39.5 
percent, respectively. Removing produce on such a scale created total chaos in 
the cycle of production. Under the NEP, peasants sold between 15 and 20 
percent of their total production, keeping 12-1 5 percent back for sowing, 25-39 
percent for their cattle, and the rest for their own consumption. Conflict was 
inevitable between the peasants, who had decided to use every possible means 
to keep a part of the harvest, and the local authorities, who were obliged to 
carry out at all costs a plan that looked ever more unrealistic, particularly so in 

The Great Famine 


1932, when the government collection target was 32 percent higher than it had 
been the previous year. 4 

The collection campaign in 1932 got off to a very slow start. As soon as 
the threshing began, the collective farmers tried to hide or steal part of the 
harvest every night. A movement of passive resistance took shape, strengthened 
by the tacit agreement of almost all concerned, including collective farm work- 
ers, brigadiers, accountants, farm managers (many of whom had themselves 
been peasant workers until their recent promotion), and even local secretaries 
of the Party. To collect the grain they wanted, the central authorities had to 
send out new shock troops, recruited in the towns from among the Communists 
and Komsomols. 

The following report, from an instructor of the Central Executive Com- 
mittee to his superiors regarding his mission in a grain-producing region in the 
lower Volga, gives an idea of the warlike climate in the countryside at this time: 

The arrests and searches are being carried out by almost anyone: by 
members of the rural soviet, anyone sent from the towns, the shock 
troops, and any Komsomol that has the time and energy. This year, 12 
percent of all the farmers have been tried already, and that doesn't 
include the deported kulaks, peasants who were fined, etc. According to 
the calculations of the previous district procurator, over the course of 
the last year 15 percent of the whole adult population has been the 
victim of some sort of repression or other. If one adds the fact that over 
the last month about 800 farmers have been thrown out of the kolkhozy, 
you get an idea of the scale of this government repression ... If we 
discount the cases in which large-scale repressions are really justified, 
we must admit that the effectiveness of repressive measures is bound to 
diminish whenever they pass a certain threshold, since it becomes liter- 
ally impossible to carry them out . . . The prisons are all full to bursting 
point. Balachevo prison contains more than five times as many people as 
it was originally designed to hold, and there are 610 people crammed 
into the tiny district prison in Elan. Over the last month, Balachevo 
prison has sent 78 prisoners back to Elan, and 48 of them were less than 
ten years old. Twenty-one were immediately released. To show how 
insane this method is — I mean coercion, the only method they use — I 
will say a few words about the individual peasants here, who are just 
trying to be good farmers. 

One example of how the peasants are being victimized: In Mortsy 
one peasant, who had actually fulfilled his quota, came to see Comrade 
Fomichev, the president of the District Executive Committee, and asked 
to be deported to the north, because, as he explained, "No one can live 
under these conditions." I know of another similar instance in which 
sixteen peasants from the rural soviet of Aleksandrov all signed a peti- 


A State against Its People 

tion also asking to be deported out of their region ... In short, violence 
seems to be the only way of thinking now, and we always "attack 1 ' 
everything. We "start the onslaught 1 ' on the harvest, on the loans, etc. 
Everything is an assault; we "attack" the night from nine or ten in the 
evening till dawn. Everyone gets attacked: the shock troops call in every- 
one who has not met his obligations and "convince" him, using all the 
means you can imagine. They assault everyone on their list, and so it 
goes, night after night. 5 

Among the whole range of repressive laws, one famous decree, promulgated on 
7 August 1932, played a decisive role when the war between the peasantry and 
the regime was at its height. It provided for the execution or sentencing to ten 
years in a camp for "any theft or damage of socialist property." It came to be 
known among the people as "the ear law," for people condemned under it had 
often done nothing more than take a few ears of corn or rye from the fields of 
the kolkhoz. From August 1932 to December 1933 more than 125,000 people- 
were sentenced under this terrible law, and 5,400 received death sentences/' 

Despite these draconian measures, the amount collected was still in- 
sufficient. In mid-October 1932 the government collection plan for the main 
grain-producing areas of the country had achieved only 15-20 percent ol its 
target. On 22 October the Politburo sent two extraordinary commissions to 
Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus, one led by Vyacheslav Molotov, the other 
by Lazar Kaganovich, in an attempt to speed up the collection process/ On 2 
November KaganovicrTs commission, which included Gcnrikh Yagoda, arrived 
in Rostov-on-Don. They immediately called a meeting of all the Party district 
secretaries for the Northern Caucasus region, who adopted the following reso- 
lution: "Following the particularly shameful failure of the grain collection plan, 
all local Party organizations are to be obliged to break up the sabotage networks 
of kulaks and counterrevolutionaries, and to crush the resistance of the rural 
Communists and kolkhoz presidents who have taken the lead in this sabotage. " 
For certain districts that had been blacklisted (according to the official termi- 
nology), the following measures were adopted: the immediate removal of all 
products from shops, a total ban on trade, the immediate repayment of all loans, 
sudden extraordinary taxes, and the swift arrest of all "saboteurs, 1 ' "foreign 
elements," and "counterrevolutionaries" with the help of the GPU Where 
sabotage was suspected, the population was deported on a massive scale. 

In November 1932, the first month of the fight against sabotage, 5,000 
rural Communists who were judged to have been "criminally complacent" 
regarding sabotage of the collection campaign and 15,000 collective farm work- 
ers were arrested in the region of the Northern Caucasus, which was highly 
strategic from the standpoint of agricultural production. In December the 
massive deportation of whole villages began, including the Cossack stunitsy that 

The Great Famine 


had already suffered similar measures in 1920.* The number of special work 
colonizers deported began to climb rapidly again. Records from the gulags note 
the arrival of 71,236 deportees in 1932; the following year the number of new 
"specially displaced" soared to 268,09 1. 9 

In Ukraine the Molotov commission took similar measures. The commis- 
sion blacklisted all districts in which the required collection targets had not 
been met, with the same consequences described above: a purge of local Party 
administrations, the massive arrest not simply of workers on the collective 
farms, but also of managers suspected of "minimizing production." Soon the 
same measures were being applied in other grain-producing regions as well. 

Could these repressive measures employed by the state have won the war 
against the peasants? Definitely not, according to one lucid report from the 
Italian consul in Novorossiisk: 

The Soviet state is powerful, and armed to the teeth, but it cannot fight 
this sort of battle. There is no enemy against which to take up a battle 
formation on the steppes. The enemy is everywhere and must be fought 
on innumerable fronts in tiny operations: here a field needs hoeing, there 
a few hundredweight of corn are stashed; a tractor is broken here, 
another sabotaged there; a third has gone astray ... A depot has been 
raided, the books have been cooked, the directors of kolkhozy, through 
incompetence or dishonesty, never tell the truth about the harvest . . . 
and so on, infinitely, everywhere in this enormous country . . . The 
enemy is in every house, in village after village. One might as well try to 
carry water in a sieve. 10 

To defeat the enemy, only one solution was possible: he would have to be 
starved out. 

The first reports on the risk of a "critical food situation" for the winter 
of 1932-33 reached Moscow in the summer of 1932. In August Molotov 
reported to the Politburo that there was "a real risk of famine even in areas 
where the harvest has been exceptionally good." But his intention was still to 
carry out the projected collection plan, regardless of the cost. That same 
month, Pyotr Isaev, the president of the Council of People's Commissars of 
Kazakhstan, informed Stalin of the scale of the famine in that republic, where 
collectivization and enforced settlement programs had totally destabilized the 
traditional nomadic economy. Even hard-line Stalinists such as Stanislas Kos- 
sior, first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and Mikhail 
Khataevich, first Party secretary in the region of Dnepropetrovsk, asked Stalin 
to revise the collection plan downward. "If only so that in the future production 
can increase in accordance with the needs of the proletarian state," wrote 
Khataevich to Molotov in November 1932, "we must take into consideration 


A State against Its People 

the minimum needs of the collective farmers, or there will be no one left to sow 
next year's harvest." 

"Your position is profoundly mistaken, and not at all Bolshevik," Molotov 
replied. "We Bolsheviks cannot afford to put the needs of the state — needs that 
have been carefully defined by Party resolutions — in second place, let alone 
discount them as priorities at all." 11 A few days later the Politburo sent local 
authorities a letter ordering new raids on all collective farms that had not met 
the required targets; this time they were to be emptied of all the grain they 
contained — including the reserves kept back for sowing the next year's harvest. 

Forced by threats and sometimes torture to hand over all their meager 
reserves, and lacking the means or even the possibility of buying any food, 
millions of peasants from these rich agricultural regions had no option but to 
leave for the cities. On 27 December, however, in an attempt to curtail the rural 
exodus, "liquidate social parasitism," and combat "kulak infiltration of the 
towns," the government introduced new identity papers and obligatory regis- 
tration for all citizens. In the face of the peasants' flight for survival, on 22 
January 1933 it effectively decreed the death of millions who were starving. An 
order signed by Molotov and Stalin instructed local authorities and above all 
the GPU to ban "by all means necessary the large-scale departure of peasants 
from Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus for the towns. Once these counter- 
revolutionary elements have been arrested, they are to be escorted back to their 
original place of residence." The circular explained the situation as follows: 
"The Central Committee and the government are in possession of definite 
proof that this massive exodus of the peasants has been organized by the 
enemies of the Soviet regime, by counterrevolutionaries, and by Polish agents 
as a propaganda coup against the process of collectivization in particular and 
the Soviet government in general." 12 

In all regions affected by the famine, the sale of railway tickets was 
immediately suspended, and special barricades were set up by the GPU to 
prevent peasants from leaving their district. At the beginning of March 1933 a 
report from the secret police noted that in one month 219,460 people had been 
intercepted as part of the operation to limit the exodus of starving peasants to 
the cities, that 186,588 had been escorted back to their place of origin, and that 
others had been arrested and sentenced. No mention was made of the fate of 
the people expelled from the towns. 

On that point the following testimony from the Italian consul in Kharkiv, 
one of the regions worst affected by the famine, is more revealing: 

A week ago, a special service was set up to try to protect children who 
have been abandoned. Along with the peasants who flock to the towns 
because there is no hope of survival in the countryside, there are also 

The Great Famine 


children who are simply brought here and abandoned by their parents, 
who then return to their village to die. Their hope is that someone in the 
town will be able to look after their children ... So for a week now, the 
town has been patrolled by dvorniki, attendants in white uniforms, who 
collect the children and take them to the nearest police station . . . 
Around midnight they arc all transported in trucks to the freight station 
at Severodonetsk. That's where all the children who are found in sta- 
tions and on trains, the peasant families, the old people, and all the 
peasants who have been picked up during the day are gathered to- 
gether ... A medical team does a sort of selection process . . . Anyone 
who is not yet swollen up and still has a chance of survival is directed to 
the Kholodnaya Gora buildings, where a constant population of about 
8,000 lies dying on straw beds in the big hangars. Most of them are 
children. People who are already starting to swell up are moved out in 
goods trains and abandoned about forty miles out of town so that they 
can die out of sight. When they arrive at the destination, huge ditches 
are dug, and the dead are carried out of the wagons. u 

In the countryside the death rate was at its highest in the summer of 1933. 
As though hunger were not enough, typhus was soon common, and in towns 
with populations of several thousand there were sometimes fewer than two 
do/en survivors. Cases of cannibalism are recorded both in GPU reports and 
in Italian diplomatic bulletins from Kharkiv: "Every night the bodies of more 
than 250 people who have died from hunger or typhus are collected. Many of 
these bodies have had the liver removed, through a large slit in the abdomen. 
The police finally picked up some of these mysterious 'amputators 1 who con- 
fessed that they were using the meat as a filling for the meat pies that they were 
selling in the market." 14 

In April 1933 the writer Mikhail Sholokhov, who was passing through the 
city of Kuban, wrote two letters to Stalin detailing the manner in which the 
local authorities had tortured all the workers on the collective farm to force 
them ro hand over all their remaining supplies. He demanded that the first 
secretary send some sort of food aid. Here are excerpts from his letter of 
4 April. 

The Vechenski district, along with many other districts in the Northern 
Caucasus, failed to fulfill its grain quota this year not on account of 
some u kulak sabotage," but because of bad leadership at the local Party 
headquarters . . . 

Last December the Party regional committee, with a view to accel- 
erating the government's collection campaign, sent the plenipotentiary 
Ovchinnikov. He took the following measures: (1) he requisitioned all 
available grain, including the advance given by the kolkhoz leaders to all 
the collective farmers for sowing this year's harvest; and (2) he divided 


A State against Its People 

by family the entire quota that was due to the state from the collective 
farmers. The immediate result of these measures was that when the 
requisitioning began, the peasants hid and buried the grain. The grand 
total found came to 5,930 hundredweight . . . And here are some of the 
methods that were used to recover these 593 tons, some of which had 
been buried since 1918: 

The u cold" method: the worker is stripped bare and left out in the 
cold, stark naked in a hangar. Sometimes whole brigades of collective 
workers are treated in this fashion. 

The "hot" method: the feet and the bottom of the skirt of female 
workers are doused with gasoline and then set alight. The flames are put 
out, and the process is repeated . . . 

In the Napolovski kolkhoz a certain Plotkin, plenipotentiary for the 
district committee, forced the collective workers to stretch out on stoves 
heated till they were white hot; then he cooled them off by leaving them 
naked in a hangar . . . 

In the Lebyazhenski kolkhoz the workers were all lined up against a 
wall and an execution was simulated. 

I could give a multitude of similar examples. These are not 
"abuses" of the system; this is the present system for collecting grain. 

If it seems to you that this letter is worthy of the attention of the 
Central Committee, then please send us some real Communists, who 
could unmask the people here who have struck a mortal blow against the 
collective farming system. You are our only hope. 15 

In his reply on 6 May, Stalin made no attempt to feign compassion: 

Dear Comrade Sholokhov, 

I have received both of your letters and have granted the things 
that you request. I have sent Comrade Shkiryatov to sort out the matters 
to which you referred. I would ask you to assist him. But, Comrade, that 
is not all I wish to say. Your two letters paint a picture that is far from 
objective, and I would like to say a few words about that. 

I have already thanked you for these letters, which pick up on one 
of the minor inconveniences of our system, in which, while we try to do 
good and to disarm our enemies, some of our Party officials attack our 
friends, and sometimes can be quite sadistic about this. But do not allow 
these remarks to fool you into thinking that I agree with everything you 
say. You see one aspect of things and describe it quite forcefully, but it is 
still only one aspect of things. To avoid being mistaken in politics — and 
your letters, in this instance, are not literature, they are pure politics- 
one must see another aspect of reality too. And the other aspect in this 
instance is that the workers in your district— not just in your district, 
but in many districts — went on strike, carried out acts of sabotage, and 
were prepared to leave workers from the Red Army without bread! The 

The Great Famine 


fact that this sabotage was silent and appeared to be quite peaceful (there 
was no bloodshed) changes nothing — these people deliberately tried to 
undermine the Soviet state. It is a fight to the death, Comrade Sholo- 

Of course this cannot justify all the abuses carried out by our staff. 
The guilty few will be forced to answer for their actions. But it is as clear 
as day that our respected workers are far from being the innocent lambs 
that one might imagine from reading your letters. 

I hope you stay well, and I offer a warm handshake. Yours, 
J. Stalin 16 

In 1933, while these millions were dying of hunger, the Soviet government 
continued to export grain, shipping 18 million hundredweight of grain abroad 
u in the interests of industrialization." 

Using the demographic archives and the censuses of 1937 and 1939, which 
were kept secret until very recently, it is possible to evaluate the scale of the 
famine in 1 933. Geographically, the hunger zone covered the whole of Ukraine, 
part of the Black Earth territories, the fertile plains of the Don, the Kuban, 
and the Northern Caucasus, and much of Kazakhstan. Nearly 40 million people 
were affected by famine or scarcity. In the regions worst affected, such as the 
rural zones surrounding Kharkiv, the mortality rate from January to June 1933 
was ten times higher than normal: 100,000 deaths in June 1933 as opposed to 
9,000 deaths in June 1932. Many deaths went unrecorded. The mortality rates 
were higher in the countryside than in the cities, but the cities were scarcely 
spared: Kharkiv lost 120,000 inhabitants in a year, Krasnodar 40,000, and 
Stavropol 20,000. 

Outside the immediate hunger zone, demographic losses attributable to 
the scarcity of food were far from negligible. In the rural zones around Moscow, 
mortality rates climbed by 50 percent from January to June 1933; in the town 
of Ivanovo, for instance, which had been a center for hunger riots in 1932, 
mortality rose by 35 percent in the first half of the year. In total, for the year 
1933 and for the whole of the country, there were 6 million more deaths than 
usual. As the immense majority of those deaths can be attributed directly to 
hunger, the death toll for the whole tragedy must therefore be nearly 6 million. 
The peasants of Ukraine suffered worst of all, with 4 million lives lost. There 
were a million deaths in Kazakhstan, most of them among the nomadic tribes 
who had been deprived of their cattle by collectivization and forced to settle in 
one place. The Northern Caucasus and the Black F.arth region accounted for 
a million more. 17 

Five years before the Great Terror that was to strike the intelligentsia, 
industrial administrators, and the Party itself, the Great Famine of 1932-33 
appeared as the decisive episode in the creation of a system of repression that 


A State against Its People 

was to consume class after class and social group after social group. Through 
the violence, torture, and killing of entire populations, the great famine was a 
huge step backward both politically and socially. Tyrants and local despots 
proliferated, ready to take any step necessary to force peasants to abandon their 
goods and their last provisions, and barbarism took over. Extortion became an 
everyday practice, children were abandoned, cannibalism reappeared, epidem- 
ics and banditry were rampant, new death camps were set up, and peasants were 
forced to face a new form of slavery, the iron rule of the Party-state. As Sergo 
Ordzhonikidze lucidly remarked to Sergei Kirov in January 1934, "Our mem- 
bers who saw the situation of 1932-33 and who stood up to it are now tempered 
like steel. I think that with people like that, we can build a state such as history 
has never seen." 

Should one see this famine as "a genocide of the Ukrainian people," as a 
number of Ukrainian historians and researchers do today? 18 It is undeniable 
that the Ukrainian peasantry were the principal victims in the famine of 1932- 
33, and that this "assault" was preceded in 1929 by several offensives against 
the Ukrainian intelligentsia, who were accused of "nationalist deviations," and 
then against some of the Ukrainian Communists after 1932. It is equally 
undeniable that, as Andrei Sakharov noted, Stalin suffered from "Ukrainopho- 
bia." But proportionally the famine was just as severe in the Cossack territories 
of the Kuban and the Don and in Kazakhstan. In this last republic, from 1930 
onward, the enforced collectivization and settling of the indigenous nomadic 
peoples had disastrous consequences, with 80 percent of all livestock killed in 
two years. Dispossessed of their goods and reduced to a state of famine, 
2 million Kazakhs emigrated; nearly half a million went to Central Asia, and 
approximately 1.5 million went to China. 

In many regions, including Ukraine, the Cossack areas, and certain dis- 
tricts of the Black Earth territories, the famine was the last episode in the 
confrontation between the Bolshevik state and the peasantry that had begun in 
1918-1922. There is a remarkable coincidence between the areas that mounted 
stiff resistance to requisitioning in 1918-1921 and to collectivization in 1929- 
30, and the zones that were worst affected by the famine. Of the 14,000 riots 
and peasant revolts recorded by the GPU in 1930, more than 85 percent took 
place in regions "punished" by the famine of 1932-33. The richest and most 
dynamic agricultural regions, which had the most to offer the state and the 
most to lose in the extortionate system of enforced collectivization, were pre- 
cisely the regions worst affected by the great famine of 1932-33. 


Socially Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


Ithough the peasantry as a whole paid the heaviest price in the 
Stalinist transformation of society, other social groups, classified as "socially 
alien elements" in the "new socialist society," were also stigmatized, deprived 
of their civil rights, thrown out of their jobs and their homes, pushed further 
down the social scale, and sent into exile. "Bourgeois specialists," "aristocrats," 
members of the clergy and of the liberal professions, entrepreneurs, shopkeep- 
ers, and craftsmen were all victims of the anticapitalist revolution that was 
launched in the early 1930s. Other townspeople who simply failed to fit into the 
category of "proletarian worker and builder of socialism" also suffered various 
repressive measures. 

The infamous Shakhty trial clearly marked the end of the truce that had begun 
in 1921 between the regime and the "specialists." Coming as it did just before 
the launching of the first Five- Year Plan, the political lesson of the trial was 
clear: skepticism, indecision, and indifference regarding the aims of the Party 
would automatically be labeled "sabotage." To doubt was to betray. Spetseed- 
stvo — harassment of the specialist — was deeply rooted in the Bolshevik men- 
tality, and the political signal given by the Shakhty trial was received loud and 
clear at a grass-roots level. The spetsy were to become the scapegoats for 
economic failure and for the frustrations engendered by the sharp decline in 



A State against Its People 

living standards. By the end of 1928, thousands of managers and hourgeois 
engineers had been fired and deprived of both ration cards and the right to 
medical attention; sometimes they were even driven out of their homes. In 
1929 thousands of civil servants in the State Planning Administration (Gos- 
plan), the Supreme National Council for the Economy, and the People's Com- 
missariats of Finance, Commerce, and Agriculture were purged because of 
their "right-wing deviations," "sabotage," or "membership in a socially alien 
class." It was notable that 80 percent of the more senior civil servants at the 
People's Commissariat of Finance had served under the old regime. 1 

The purge of certain sectors of the administration intensified after the 
summer of 1930, when Stalin decided to dispose of all "right-wingers 11 such 
as Aleksei Rykov, claiming that they were secretly conspiring with "specialist 
saboteurs." In August and September 1930 the GPU stepped up its campaign 
and arrested all well-known specialists working for Gosplan, the State Bank, 
and the People's Commissariats of Finance, Commerce, and Agriculture. 
Those arrested included Professor Nikolai Kondratyev, the inventor of the 
famous "Kondratyev cycle," former deputy minister in charge of food supplies 
for the provisional government of 1917, and then the director of an Institute 
for Economic Studies at the Finance Ministry. Others arrested included Pro- 
fessors Nikolai Makarov and Aleksandr Chayanov, who occupied important 
posts in the Agriculture Ministry; Professor Andrei Sadyrin, a member of the 
board of directors at the State Bank; and Professor Vladimir Groman, one of 
the best-known economic statisticians at Gosplan. 2 

In all these cases Stalin personally instructed the GPU, since he was 
careful to follow all matters pertaining to the "bourgeois specialists." The GPU 
prepared dossiers demonstrating the existence of a network of anti-Soviet 
organizations, linked together by a "Peasant Workers' Party," supposedly 
headed by Kondratyev, and an "Industrial Party" headed by Aleksandr Ramzin. 
The investigators extracted a number of confessions from some of those ar- 
rested. Many admitted their connection with "right-wingers" such as Rykov, 
Bukharin, and Sergei Syrtsov; many others confirmed their participation in 
totally fictitious plots to eliminate Stalin and overthrow the Soviet regime with 
the assistance of emigre anti-Soviet and secret service organizations abroad. 
Pursuing the matter further, the GPU extracted confessions from two instruc- 
tors at the military academy concerning preparations for a plot to be led by the 
chief of the General Staff of the Red Army, Mikhail Tukhachevsky. In a letter 
to Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Stalin made it clear that he could not risk arresting 
Tukhachevsky himself but was content with the destruction of smaller targets, 
other "specialist saboteurs." 1 Thus the techniques for fabricating evidence to 
implicate as "terrorists" any who opposed the Stalinist party line were already 
perfectly honed by 1930. For the time being, however, Stalin was content to 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


use relatively moderate tactics designed to discourage the little opposition that 
remained, and to frighten into submission those who were as yet undecided. 

On 22 September 1930 Pravda published the "confessions" of forty-eight 
civil servants from the People's Commissariats of Finance and Commerce, all 
of whom took responsibility for "the difficulties currently being experienced 
in the supply of food, and for the sudden disappearance of silver coins." A few 
days previously, in a letter addressed to Molotov, Stalin had given strict instruc- 
tions: "It is imperative to: (1) carry out a radical purge of the whole of the 
People's Commissariat of Finance and the State Bank, regardless of any objec- 
tions from doubtful Communists like Pyatakov and [Aleksandr] Bryukhanov; 
(2) shoot at least twenty or thirty of the saboteurs who have managed to 
infiltrate these organizations . . . (3) step up GPU operations all over the coun- 
try to try to recover all the silver coins that are still in circulation." On 25 
September 1930 all forty-eight civil servants were executed. 4 

In the months that followed there were several identical show-trials. Some 
were held in camera, including the trials of specialists from the Supreme 
Council of the National Economy and from the "Peasant Workers' Party." 
Others were held in public, such as the trial of specialists from the "Industrial 
Party, 11 eight of whom "confessed" to having established a vast network of 
2,000 specialists dedicated to organizing economic subversion at the instigation 
of foreign embassies. All these trials ic< the myth of sabotage, which, like the 
myth of the conspiracy, was soon at the center of Stalinist ideology. 

In four years, from 1928 to 1931, 138,000 civil servants were removed from 
office, and 23,000 of these were classed as "enemies of Soviet power" and 
stripped of their civil rights.' The specialist witch-hunt became even more 
widespread in industry, where the great pressure to increase productivity led 
to an increase in the number of accidents, a considerable decline in quality of 
production, and more frequent breakdowns. Between January 1930 and June 
1931, 48 percent of all engineers in the Donbass region were dismissed or 
arrested, and 4,500 "specialist saboteurs" were "unmasked" in the first half of 
1931 in the transport sector alone. The hunt for these specialists, new and 
totally unattainable industrial targets set by the authorities, and growing indis- 
cipline in the workplace caused considerable long-term damage to Soviet in- 

Realizing the scale of the problem, Party leaders were forced to adopt a 
series of corrective measures. On 10 July 1931 the Politburo took steps to try 
to limit the number of victims among the spetsy. The Politburo immediately 
released several thousand engineers and technicians, "above all those working 
in metallurgy and the coal industry," ended the entry restrictions to higher 
education for the children of "specialists," and banned the GPU from arresting 
"specialists" without prior permission from the relevant ministry. The mere 


A State against Its People 

fact that these measures were announced demonstrates how widespread dis- 
crimination and oppression had become. After the Shakhty trial, tens of thou- 
sands of engineers, agronomists, technicians, and administrators had been 
victims of this form of terror. 5 

Among the other social categories proscribed in the "new socialist society/' 
members of the clergy fared especially badly. The years 1929 and 1930 were 
marked by a second great offensive by the Soviet state against the church, 
following up on the attacks of 1918-1922. At the end of the 1920s, a number of 
prelates opposed the pledge of allegiance to the Soviet regime announced by 
Metropolitan Sergei, who had succeeded Tikhon as head of the church. Even 
so, the Orthodox Church remained an important force in Soviet society. Of the 
54,692 churches that had been active in 1914, around 39,000 were still holding 
services at the beginning of 1929. 7 Emelyan Yaroslavsky, president of the 
"League of the Militant Godless," founded in 1925, admitted that fewer than 
10 million people, out of a total population of 130 million, had actual I v broken 
with religion. 

The antireligious offensive of 1929-30 occurred in two stages. The first 
began in the spring and summer of 1929 and was marked by a reintroduction 
and reinforcement of the antireligious legislation of 1918-1922. On 8 April 
1929 an important decree was promulgated to increase the local authorities' 
control over parish life, imposing new restrictions on the activity of religious 
societies. Henceforth any activity "going beyond the limits of the simple satis- 
faction of religious aspirations" fell under the law. Notably, section 10 of the 
much-feared Article 58 of the penal code stipulated that "any use of the 
religious prejudices of the masses . . . for destabilizing the state' 1 was punish- 
able "by anything from a minimum three-year sentence up to and including the 
death penalty." On 26 August 1929 the government instituted the new rive-dav 
work week — five days of work, and one day of rest — which made it impossible 
to observe Sunday as a day of rest. This measure was deliberatelv introduced 
"to facilitate the struggle to eliminate religion." 8 

These decrees were no more than a prelude to a second, much larger phase 
of the antireligious campaign. In October 1929 the seizure of all church bells 
was ordered because "the sound of bells disturbs the right to peace of the vast 
majority of atheists in the towns and the countryside." Anyone closely associ- 
ated with the church was treated like a kulak and forced to pay special taxes. 
The taxes paid by religious leaders increased tenfold from 1928 to 1930, and 
the leaders were stripped of their civil rights, which meant that they lost their 
ration cards and their right to medical care. Many were arrested, exiled, or 
deported. According to the incomplete records, more than 13,000 priests were 
"dekulakized" in 1930. In many villages and towns, collectivization be^an 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


symbolically with the closure of the church, and dekulakization began with the 
removal of the local religious leaders. Significantly, nearly 14 percent of riots 
and peasant uprisings in 1930 were sparked by the closure of a church or the 
removal of its bells. 9 The antireligious campaign reached its height in the winter 
of 1929-30; by 1 March 1930, 6,715 churches had been closed or destroyed. 
In the aftermath of Stalin's famous article "Dizzy with Success" on 2 March 
1930, a resolution from the Central Committee cynically condemned "inadmis- 
sible deviations in the struggle against religious prejudices, particularly the 
administrative closure of churches without the consent of the local inhabi- 
tants." This formal condemnation had no effect on the fate of people deported 
on religious grounds. 

Over the next few years these great offensives against the church were 
replaced by daily administrative harassment of priests and religious organiza- 
tions. Freely interpreting the sixty-eight articles of the government decree of 
8 April 1929, and going considerably beyond their mandate when it came to 
the closure of churches, local authorities continued their guerrilla war with a 
series of justifications: "unsanitary condition or extreme age" of the buildings 
in question, "unpaid insurance," and nonpayment of taxes or other of the 
innumerable contributions imposed on the members of religious communities. 
Stripped of their civil rights and their right to teach, and without the possibility 
of taking up other paid employment — a status that left them arbitrarily clas- 
sified as "parasitic elements living on unearned wages" — a number of priests 
had no option but to become peripatetic and to lead a secret life on the edges 
of society. Hence, despite Metropolitan Sergei's pledge of allegiance to the 
Soviet regime, schisms developed within the church, particularly in the prov- 
inces of Voronezh and Tambov. 

The followers of Aleksei Bui, a bishop of Voronezh who had been arrested 
in 1929 for his unflagging hostility to any compromise between the church and 
the regime, set up their own autonomous church, the "True Orthodox 
Church," which had its own clergy of wandering priests who had been expelled 
from the church headed by the patriarch. This u Desert Church" had no build- 
ings of its own; the faithful would meet to pray in any number of places, such 
as private homes, hermitages, or even caves. 10 These u True Orthodox Chris- 
tians," as they called themselves, were persecuted with particular severity; 
several thousand of them were arrested and deported as "specially displaced" 
or simply sent to camps. The Orthodox Church itself, in the face of this 
constant pressure from the authorities, saw a clear decline in the numbers of 
its followers, even if, as the census of 1937 was to demonstrate, 70 percent of 
adults continued to think of themselves as having religious beliefs. On 1 April 
1936 only 15,835 Orthodox churches remained in service in the US.S.R. (28 
percent of the prerevolutionary total), 4,830 mosques (32 percent of the pre- 


A State against Its People 

revolutionary figure), and a few dozen Catholic and Protestant churches. The 
number of registered priests was a mere 17,857, in contrast to 112,629 in 1914 
and 70,000 in 1928. The clergy, in the official terminology, had become "the 
debris of a dying class." 11 

The kulaks, spetsy, and members of the clergy were not the only victims of the 
terror of the early 1930s. In January 1930 the authorities launched a vast 
campaign to "evict all entrepreneurs." The operation was aimed in particular 
at shopkeepers, craftsmen, and members of the liberal professions — all of the 
nearly 1.5 million people who had worked in the minuscule private sector 
under the NEP. These small entrepreneurs, whose average working capital did 
not exceed 1,000 rubles, and 98 percent of whom did not have a single em- 
ployee, were rapidly evicted by a tenfold increase in their taxes and the confis- 
cation of their goods. As "socially undesirable elements," "socially 
unnecessary," or "alien elements," they were stripped of their rights in the 
same way as the disparate collection of "aristocrats" and "members of the 
possessing classes and of the apparatus of the old tsarist state." A decree of 12 
December 1930 noted more than 30 different categories of itshentsy, citizens 
who had been deprived of their civil rights, including "ex-landowners," "ex- 
shopkeepers," "ex-nobles," "ex-policemen," "ex-tsarist civil servants," "ex- 
kulaks," "ex- employees or owners of private companies," "ex-White officers," 
ex-priests, ex-monks, ex-nuns, and "ex-members of political parties." The 
discrimination carried out against the lishentsy, who in 1932 together with their 
families totaled some 7 million people, entailed the elimination of their voting 
rights and their rights to housing, health care, and ration cards. In 1933 and 
1934 the measures became even stricter with the inception of "passportization" 
to clear the towns of "socially undesirable elements." 12 

By destroying social structures and traditional rural ways of life, the forced 
collectivization of the countryside and the accelerated program of industriali- 
zation spurred the migration of an enormous number of peasants to the towns. 
Peasant Russia became filled with vagabonds, the Rusbrodyashchaya. From late 
1928 until late 1932, Soviet cities were flooded by an influx of peasants — 12 
million by official estimates — fleeing collectivization and dekulakization. The 
regions surrounding Moscow and Leningrad alone were swollen by more than 
3.5 million migrants. Among these were a number of enterprising peasants 
who had preferred to flee their villages, even at the price of being classified as 
kulaks, rather than enter a kolkhoz. In 1930-31 the huge public works pro- 
grams absorbed these peasants without too many difficulties. But in 1932 the 
authorities began to worry about the massive and uncontrolled movements of a 
vagabond population that threatened to destabilize the urban areas. Their 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


presence also threatened to jeopardize the rationing system that had been 
carefully structured since 1929; the claimants for ration cards increased from 
26 million in 1929 to nearly 40 million in late 1932. Migrants often forced the 
authorities to transform factories into huge refugee camps. Gradually the mi- 
grants were considered responsible for an increasing range of negative phe- 
nomena, such as absenteeism, lapses in discipline at work, hooliganism, poor 
quality of work, alcoholism, and criminality, all of which had a long-term 
destabilizing effect on industrial production. 11 

To combat this stikhia—z blanket term used to describe natural disasters, 
anarchy, or any sort of disorder — the authorities enacted a series of repressive 
measures in October 1932, ranging from harsh new employment laws to purges 
of "socially foreign elements." The law of 15 November 1932 severely punished 
absenteeism at work by immediate dismissal, confiscation of cards, and even 
eviction. Its affirmed intention was to unmask "pseudoworkers." The decree 
of 4 December 1932, which gave employers responsibility for issuing ration 
cards, aimed chiefly at the removal of all "dead souls" and "parasites" who were 
wrongfully included on some of the less tightly controlled municipal rationing 

The keystone of the new legislation was the introduction of the internal 
passport on 27 December 1932. The "passportization" of the population ad- 
dressed several carefully defined objectives, as the preamble to the decree 
explained: it was intended "to eliminate all social parasitism," to prevent "infil- 
tration" by kulaks into city centers and markets, to limit the rural exodus, and 
to safeguard the social purity of the towns. All adult townspeople over age 
sixteen who had not yet been deprived of their rights, such as railway workers, 
permanent workers on construction sites, and agricultural workers on state 
farms, automatically received a passport from the police. The passport was 
valid only after it received an official stamp (propiska) showing the legal resi- 
dence of the citizen in question. The status of the individual depended on his 
or her propiska and could determine whether an individual received a ration 
card, a social security card, or the right to a home. All towns were categorized 
as either "open" or "closed." The closed cities — initially Moscow, Leningrad, 
Kyiv, Odessa, Minsk, Kharkiv, Rostov-on-Don, and Vladivostok — were those 
that had been awarded a privileged status and were better supplied. Right of 
residence in a closed city was obtainable only through family ties, marriage, or 
a specific job that officially entitled the worker to a propiska. In the open cities, 
a propiska was much easier to obtain. 

The passportization operations lasted a whole year, and by the end of 
1933, 27 million passports had been issued. The first effect was to allow the 
authorities to purge the cities of undesirable elements. Begun in Moscow on 
5 January 1933, within the first week passportization "discovered" 3,450 "ex- 


A State against Its People 

White Guards, ex-kulaks, and other criminal elements. 11 Nearly 385,000 people 
were refused passports in the closed cities and forced to vacate their homes 
within ten days. Moreover, they were prohibited from residing in any other city, 
even an open one. The chief of the passport department of the K 1) noted 
in his report of 13 August 1934 that "to that figure should be added all those 
who preferred to leave the towns of their own accord when passporti/arion was 
first announced, knowing that they would in any case be refused a passport. In 
Magnitogorsk for example, nearly 35,000 immediately left the town . . . fn 
Moscow, during the first two months of the operation, the population fell bv 
60,000. In Leningrad, in a single month, 54,000 people vanished back into the 
countryside." Some 420,000 people were expelled from the open cities. 14 

Police raids and spot-checks for papers resulted in the exile of hundreds 
of thousands of people. In December 1933 Genrikh Yagoda ordered his men 
to "clean up" the railway stations and the markets in the closed cities even 
week. In the first eight months of 1934 more than 630,000 people in the closed 
cities were stopped for violations of the passport laws. Of these, 65,661 were 
imprisoned and then usually deported as socially undesirable elements with the 
status of "special displaced." Some 3,596 were tried in court, and 175,627 were 
sent into exile without any status; the others escaped with a fine. 1 ' 

The most spectacular operations took place in 1933. From 28 )une to 
3 July, 5,470 Gypsies from Moscow were arrested and deported to Siberian 
"work villages"; 16 from 8 to 12 July, 4,750 "socially undesirable elements 11 were 
arrested and deported from Kyiv; in April, June, and July, three waves of police 
activity in Moscow and Leningrad resulted in the deportation of 18,000 peo- 
ple. 17 The first of those contingents was sent to the island of Na/ino, with the 
results described earlier. More than two-thirds of the deportees died within a 

A Party instructor in Narym, in the report quoted earlier, commented on 
the identity of "socially undesirable elements" who had been deported as the 
result of a simple police raid: 

There are many such examples of totally unjustified deportations. Un- 
fortunately, all these people, many of whom were Party members or 
workers, are now dead. They were precisely the people who were least 
adapted to the situation. For example, Vladimir Novo/hilov from Mos- 
cow was a driver in the steamroller factory in Moscow who had been 
decorated three times and was married with a child. I Ie tried to go to the 
cinema with his wife, and while she was getting ready he went out 
without his papers to buy cigarettes. He was then stopped by the police 
in the street and picked up. Another example was [K.J Vinogradov, a 
collective farm worker. She was going to visit her brother, the chief of 
police in the eighth sector in Moscow, when she got picked up bv the 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


police after getting off the train at the wrong station. She was deported. 
Or Nikolai Vasilievich Voikin, who had been a member of the Komso- 
mol since 1929, and was a worker in the Serpukhov Red Textile factory, 
having been decorated three times. He was on his way to a soccer game 
one Sunday and had forgotten his papers. He was arrested and deported. 
Or I. M. Matveev, a builder on the construction site of the new No. 9 
bakery. He had a seasonal worker's passport, valid until December 1933, 
and was picked up with that passport. He reported that no one had even 
wanted to look at his papers. '* 

In 1933 the purge in the towns was accompanied by numerous similar 
operations in industry and government. In the railways, a strategic sector ruled 
by Andreev and then by Kaganovich, 8 percent of all personnel (nearly 20,000 
people) were removed in the spring of 1933. The following extract from a 
report by the chief of the Transport Department of the GPU on "The Elimi- 
nation of Anti-Soviet and Counterrevolutionary Elements from the Railways" 
describes how such operations were normally carried out: 

The purge operations carried out by the Transport Department of the 
GPU of the Eighth Region had the following results: In the penultimate 
purge operation, 700 people were arrested and tried. The numbers were 
as follows: there were 325 parcel pilferers, 221 smalltime hooligans and 
criminals, 27 bandits, and 127 counterrevolutionaries. Some 73 of the 
people pilfering parcels were clearly part of an organized network and 
were consequently executed. In the last purge operation, around 200 
people were arrested. For the most part these were kulaks. More than 
300 suspect employees have also been dismissed by the administration. 
This means that in the last four months, the total number of people who 
have been expelled from the network for one reason or another is 1,270. 
The purge continues. 1 *' 

In the spring of 1934 the government took a series of repressive measures 
aimed at curbing the number of young vagabonds and juvenile delinquents, 
the products of dekulakization, the famine, and the general breakdown in social 
relations whose influence was beginning to be felt more and more in the cities. 
On 7 April 1935 the Politburo promulgated a decree aimed at "bringing to 
justice, and punishing with the full force of the law, any adolescent older than 
twelve years who is convicted of burglary, acts of violence, grievous bodily 
harm, mutilation, or murder." A few days later the government sent out secret 
instructions to the courts confirming that the penal sanctions regarding adoles- 
cents "did indeed include society's last line of defense" — the death penalty. 
The previous portions of the penal code that forbade the sentencing of minors 
to death were thereby abrogated. 20 The NKVD was also instructed to reorgan- 


A State against Its People 

ize the detention centers for underage criminals, which until then had been run 
under the auspices of the Legal Department of the People's Commissariat of 
Preliminary Investigations, and to set up a network of "work colonics" for 
minors instead. However, in the face of growing juvenile delinquency and 
homelessness, the measures had little discernible effect. A report on "The 
Elimination of Underage Vagabondage during the Period from 1 Julv 1935 to 
1 October 1937" concluded: 

Despite the reorganization of the services, the situation has barely im- 
proved . . . After February 1937 there was a large influx of vagabonds 
from the country and the rural areas, particularly from the areas affected 
by the poor harvest of 1936 . . . The large-scale departure of children 
from the countryside because of temporary material difficulties affect- 
ing their families can be explained not only by the bad organization of 
the "poor funds" in the ko/khozy, but also by the criminal practices of 
many kolkhoz directors, who, in an attempt to get rid of young beggars 
and vagabonds, give them a "certificate of vagabondage and mendi- 
cancy" and send them off to the railway station for the nearest town 
The problem is compounded by the railway administration and the 
transport police, who, instead of arresting these underage vagabonds 
and sending them to the special NKVD centers built for that purpose, 
simply put them all on special trains "to clean up their sector" and pack 
them off to the big cities. 21 

A few figures provide an idea of the magnitude of the problem. In 1936 
alone more than 125,000 underage vagabonds passed through the special 
NKVD centers. From 1935 to 1939 more than 155,000 minors were sent to the 
NKVD work colonies, and 92,000 children aged twelve to sixteen appeared in 
court from 1936 to 1939. On I April 1939 it was calculated that more than 
10,000 children were incarcerated in the gulags. 22 

In the first half of the 1930s, the repression carried out by the Party and state 
against society varied in its intensity. Moments of violent confrontation, with 
terrorist measures and massive purges, alternated with moments of quiet, 
when a certain equilibrium was found and a brake was put on the chaos. 

The spring of 1933 marked the apogee of the first great cycle of terror 
launched in 1929 with the dekulakization program. The authorities were con- 
fronted by several previously unknown problems. How, for example, could a 
harvest be assured the following year in areas that had been almost emptied by 
famine? "Unless we take into consideration the basic needs of these collective 
farmers," warned a high-ranking regional Party official in the autumn of 1932, 
"there will be no one left to sow, Jet alone reap, the harvest." 

Similarly, what was to be done with the hundreds of thousands who then 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


filled the prisons, but whose labor the camp system was not yet ready to exploit? 
"What possible effect can these super-repressive laws have on the population," 
wondered another local Party official in March 1933, "when they know that at 
the judiciary's suggestion, hundreds of collective farmers, who last month were 
condemned to two years' imprisonment for sabotaging the harvest, have already 
been released?" 

In the summer of 1933 the authorities came up with answers revelatory 
of the two diverse directions that social policy was to take in the years leading 
up to the Great Terror in the autumn of 1936. The first question, how to ensure 
a reasonable harvest in areas ravaged by famine, was answered with cold logic: 
large numbers of the urban population were rounded up and sent out to the 
fields in an extremely militarized fashion. On 20 July 1933 the Italian consul 
in Kharkiv described this phenomenon: "The enforced conscription of people 
from the city is assuming enormous proportions. This week alone, at least 
20,000 people are being sent out to the countryside every day . . . The day 
before yesterday, the market was surrounded, and every able-bodied person- 
men, women, young boys and girls— was rounded up, escorted to the railway 
station by the GPU, and sent off to the fields." 21 

The large-scale arrival of city-dwellers in the starving countryside created 
its own tensions. On several occasions peasants set fire to the living quarters 
reserved for the "conscripts," who had been warned by the authorities not to 
venture out into the villages, which were "filled with cannibals." Despite this 
hostility the harvest for 1932-33, collected in October, was respectable. That 
development was attributable to several factors, including exceptionally good 
weather, the mobilization of every available spare worker, and the will to survive 
of those who were trapped in their own villages. 

The second question, how to deal with the tremendous increase in the 
prison population, was also answered in a pragmatic manner — with the release 
of several hundred thousand people. A confidential circular from the Central 
Committee on 8 May 1933 acknowledged the necessity of "regulating arrests 
. . . presently made by just about anyone, 11 "curbing the overcrowding of 
prisons," and "reducing the population of the prisons, over the next two 
months, from 800,000 to 400,000, not including the camps." 24 The operation 
in fact took over a year and finally resulted in the release of 320,000 prisoners. 

The year 1934 was marked by a certain relaxation of political repression. 
The number of convictions handed down by the GPU declined from 240,000 
in 1932 to 79,000 in 1933. 2S The secret police were reorganized. As a result of 
a government decree on 10 July 1934, the GPU became a department of the 
new People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, whose authority extended 
throughout the U.S.S.R. Henceforth it had the same name as the People's 
Commissariat of Internal Affairs itself — Narodnyi komissariat vnutrennikh 


A State against Its People 

del, or NKVD — and it lost some of its previous judicial powers. In the new 
scheme of things, after initial questioning all files had to be sent u to the relevant 
judicial departments." Moreover, the police no longer had the power to pass 
death sentences on prisoners without first consulting the central political 
authorities. An appeals procedure was also set up, and all death sentences were 
now to be approved by a special commission of the Politburo. 

These changes, proudly depicted as measures to "reinforce the legal 
mechanism of socialism," had very limited effects in practice. The new legal 
regulations to control the number of arrests had almost no impact, since Andrei 
Vyshinsky, the procurator general, gave a free hand to all the repressive organi- 
zations. Moreover, as early as September 1934 the Politburo broke its own rules 
regarding the need to confirm all death sentences, authorizing local leaders in 
a number of different areas to pass death sentences without first consulting 
Moscow. The calm was therefore short-lived. 

After Sergei Kirov, a member of the Politburo and first secretary of the 
Party organization in Leningrad, was shot on 1 December 1934 by Leonid 
Nikolaev, a young Communist who had managed to find his way into the 
Leningrad Party headquarters with a gun, a new cycle of terror began. 

For several decades it was widely believed that Stalin had played an 
important role in the assassination of Kirov, who was his chief political rival. 
This belief stemmed from the "revelations" made by Nikita Khrushchev in the 
secret report he presented on the night of 24-25 February 1956 to the Soviet 
delegates at the Twentieth Party Congress. The theory has recently been called 
into question, particularly in the work of Alia Kirilina, who draws on pre- 
viously unavailable archival sources. 26 In any case it is indisputable that Stalin 
used the assassination for his own political ends to crystallize the idea of 
conspiracy, which was always a central motif in Stalinist rhetoric. It allowed 
him to maintain the atmosphere of crisis and tension by "proving" the existence 
of a huge conspiracy against the country, its leaders, and socialism itself It even 
became a convenient explanation for the failures of the system: when every- 
thing went badly and life was no longer "happy and merry;' in Stalin's famous 
expression, then it was "all the fault of Kirov's assassins." 

A few hours after the assassination was announced, Stalin drafted the 
decree that came to be known as the "Law of 1 December." This extraordinary 
measure, authorized by the Politburo two days later, ordered that the period of 
questioning for suspected terrorists be reduced to ten days, allowed suspects to 
be tried without legal representation, and permitted executions to be carried 
out immediately. The law marked a radical break with the relaxation of terror 
only a few months earlier, and it became the ideal instrument for the launching 
of the Great Terror. 27 

In the following weeks a number of Stalin's opponents within the Party 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


were accused of terrorist activities. The press announced that the "odious 
crime" had been the work of a secret terrorist group directed from its "Center 
in Leningrad," and that it included, besides Nikolaev himself, thirteen former 
Zinovievites. All members of the group were tried in camera on 28 and 29 
December, condemned to death, and immediately executed. On 9 January 1935 
the infamous trial of the "Leningrad Zinovievite Counterrevolutionary Cen- 
ter" began, and 77 people, including many famous Party militants who had 
opposed Stalin at some point, received prison sentences. The unmasking of the 
"Leningrad Center" led to the subsequent discovery of a "Moscow Center," 
whose 19 supposed members included Zinoviev and Kamenev themselves. 
Members of the "Moscow Center" were accused of "ideological complicity 11 
with Kirov's assassins and went to trial on 16 January 1935. Zinoviev and 
Kamenev admitted that their "previous activity in opposing the Party line, 
when looked at objectively, could not fail to have acted as a catalyst and pro- 
voked the worst instincts of these criminals." This extraordinary public admis- 
sion of "ideological complicity," coming after so many disavowals and public 
denials, led to five- and ten-year sentences respectively. From December 1934 
to February 1935, 6,500 people were sentenced under the new procedures to 
combat terrorism. 2 * 

The dav after Zinoviev and Kamenev were convicted, the Central Com- 
mittee sent a secret circular to all Party organizations, titled "Lessons to Be 
Drawn from the Cowardly Murder of Comrade Kirov." The text affirmed the 
existence of a plot that had been led by "two Zinovievite cells . . . which were 
fronts for White Guard organizations 1 ' and reminded all members of the per- 
manent struggle against "anti-Party groups" such as Trotskyites, Democratic 
Centralists, and right- and left-wing splinter groups. Anyone who had pre- 
viously opposed Stalin on any matter became a suspect. The hunt for enemies 
intensified, and in January 1935, 988 former Zinoviev supporters were exiled 
from Leningrad to Siberia and Yakutsk. The Central Committee ordered all 
local Party organizations to draw up lists of Communists who had been banned 
in 1926-1928 for belonging to the "Trotskyite and Zinoviev-Trotskyite bloc," 
and arrests were later carried out solely on the basis of these lists. In May 1935 
Stalin sent out another letter to all Party organizations ordering careful checks 
to be carried out on the Party membership card of every Communist. 

The official version of Kirov's assassination, which claimed that it had 
been carried out by someone who had entered Smolny using a fake Party 
membership card, served to demonstrate the "immense political importance" 
of the campaign to check all membership cards. The operation went on for 
more than six months and was carried out with the full assistance of the secret 
police. The NKVD supplied all the files required on "suspicious Communists," 
and the Party organizations in turn informed the NKVD about people barred 


A State against Its People 

from the Party as a result of the campaign. The whole operation resulted in 
the exclusion of 9 percent of Party members, or approximately 250,000 peo- 
ple. 29 At a Central Committee meeting in late December 1935 Nikolai Ezhov, 
the head of the Main Department in charge of the operation, produced incom- 
plete data suggesting that 15,218 of the "enemies" who had been expelled from 
the Party had also been arrested during the campaign. Nevertheless Ezhov 
believed that the purge had not been a great success because it had taken three 
times longer than originally planned, on account of the "ill will and sabotage" 
of several "bureaucratic elements who were still working in the directorate." 
Although one of the Party's main concerns had been to root out Trotskyites 
and Zinovievites, only 3 percent of those who had been excluded actually 
belonged to either of those categories. Local Party leaders had often been 
reluctant u to contact the NKVD and hand over lists of people to be exiled 
immediately by means of an administrative decision." In short, in Ezhov's 
opinion, the card-check campaign had revealed the extent to which local Party 
offices were inclined to present a united front of passive resistance against the 
authorities. 30 This was an important lesson that Stalin would always remember. 
The wave of terror that struck immediately after the assassination of 
Kirov did not affect just the previous opponents of Stalin within the Party. On 
the pretext that "White Guard terrorist elements have penetrated the country 
from the West," the Politburo on 27 December 1934 ordered the deportation 
of 2,000 "anti-Soviet" families from the frontier districts of Ukraine. On 15 
March 1935 similar measures were taken to deport "all doubtful elements from 
the frontier districts of the Leningrad region and the autonomous republic of 
Karelia ... to Kazakhstan and western Siberia." The principal victims were 
nearly 10,000 Finns, the first of many ethnic groups to suffer deportations that 
would reach their peak during World War II. In the spring of 1936 a second 
mass deportation of 15,000 families took place, involving nearly 50,000 people, 
most of them Poles and Germans from Ukraine, who were deported to the 
Karaganda region in Kazakhstan and settled there on the collective farms. 11 

The cycle of repression intensified over the next two years, with the NKVD 
handing down 267,000 sentences in 1935 and 274,000 in 1936. At the same 
time a few measures were taken to appease the population. The category of 
lishentsy was abolished, sentences of less than five years of imprisonment for 
collective farm workers were annulled, 37,000 people who had been sentenced 
under the law of 27 August 1932 were released early, the civil rights of the 
"specially displaced" were reinstated, and discriminatory practices were ended 
that had forbidden the children of deportees from gaining access to higher 
education. Such measures often had contradictory results. Deported kulaks, 
for example, who had their civil rights reinstated five years after their deporta- 

Foreign Elements and Cycles of Repression 


tion, were ultimately forbidden to leave the area in which they had been reset- 
tled. As soon as their rights had been returned, they had begun to go back to 
their villages, which had resulted in a multitude of insoluble problems: Were 
they to be allowed to join the collective farms? Where were they to live now 
that their houses and goods had been confiscated? The logic of repression 
allowed for only slight pauses in the process: there was no going back. 

Tension between society and the regime increased still further when the 
government decided to endorse the Stakhanovite movement, named after An- 
drei Stakhanov, who, thanks to an extraordinary process of teamwork and 
reorganization, had managed to increase coal production fourteenfold. A huge 
productivity campaign began, and two months later, in November 1935, a 
"Conference of Avant-Garde Workers" was held in Moscow. Stalin himself 
emphasized the "profoundly revolutionary nature of a movement that has 
managed to free itself of the habitual conservatism of engineers, technicians, 
and managers." In fact, given the nature of Soviet industry at the time, the 
introduction of Stakhanovite days, weeks, and even decades had a profoundly 
negative effect on production: equipment wore out more quickly, accidents in 
the workplace soared, and increases in production were almost inevitably fol- 
lowed by a period of decline. Returning to the spetseedstvo theme of the late 
1920s, the authorities again took to blaming economic difficulties on so-called 
saboteurs who had infiltrated the management, especially the engineers and 
specialists. Once again any doubt expressed about the Stakhanovites, any break 
in the rhythm of production, or any technical breakdown came to be regarded 
as counterrevolutionary action. In the first six months of 1936 more than 14,000 
managers in industry were arrested for sabotage. Stalin used the Stakhanovite 
campaign to unleash a new wave of terror, to be remembered forever as the 
Great Terror. 

The Great Terror (1936-1938) 


uch has been written about the Great Terror, which was also 
known in the Soviet Union as the Ezhovshchina, "The Reign of Ezhov." It is 
undoubtedly true to say that when Nikolai Ezhov was in charge of the NKVD 
(from September 1936 to November 1938), the effects of repression were felt 
at every level of Soviet society, from the Politburo all the way down to simple 
citizens arrested in the street. For decades the tragedy of the Great Terror was 
passed over in silence. The West saw only the three spectacular public trials in 
Moscow in August 1936, January 1937, and March 1938, when Lenin's most 
illustrious companions (among them Zinoviev, Kamenev, Nikolai Krestinsky, 
Rykov, Pyatokov, Radek, and Bukharin) admitted to organizing terrorist cen- 
ters with Trotskyite and Zinovievite or right-wing Trotskyite tendencies, plot- 
ting to overthrow the Soviet government or to assassinate its leaders, plotting 
to reinstate capitalism, carrying out acts of sabotage, undermining the military 
might of the U.S.S.R., and conniving to break up the Soviet Union and help 
foreign powers by facilitating the independence of Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, 
Armenia, and the Soviet Far East . . . 

As huge, stage-managed events, the trials in Moscow were also a highly 
effective tactic to deflect the attention of fascinated foreign observers from 
events that were going on elsewhere, especially the massive repressions against 
all social categories. For these observers, who had already kept silent about 


The Great Terror 


dekulakization, the famine, and the development of the camp system, the events 
of 1936-1938 were no more than the last act in the political fight that for more 
than ten years had seen Stalin pitted against his principal rivals. This was the 
end of the power struggle between the Stalinist "Thermidor" bureaucracy and 
the Leninist old guard, which had always remained faithful to its revolutionary 

Picking up on the main ideas of Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed, published 
in 1936, the author of a leading article in the French daily Le temps had the 
following to say on 27 July 1936: "The Russian revolution has now entered its 
Thermidor period. Stalin has understood the impracticality of pure Marxist 
ideology and the myth of the universal revolution. As a good socialist, but above 
all as a true patriot, he is aware of the dangers posed to the country by both 
ideology and myth. His dream is probably a sort of enlightened dictatorship, a 
paternalism very far from capitalism, but equally distant from the chimera of 

Lecho tie Pans expressed much the same sentiment, in slightly more 
colorful and disrespectful terms, on 30 January 1937: "That Georgian lowbrow 
has unwittingly joined the ranks of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and 
Catherine II. The people he is eliminating are the revolutionaries who have 
remained faithful to their diabolical cause, madmen filled with a permanent will 
to destroy." 1 

It was only on 25 February 1956, in Khrushchev's "Secret Report to the 
Twentieth Congress of the CPSU," that the veil was finally lifted on the 
"numerous illegal acts against leaders and Party members from 1936 to 1938." 
In the years that followed, a number of leaders, especially from the military, 
were rehabilitated. But silence persisted about the ordinary victims. At the 
Twenty-second Party Congress in October 1961, Khrushchev publicly admit- 
ted that "mass repressions . . . had also struck simple and honest Soviet citi- 
zens," but the scale of the repressions, in which he and many other leaders of 
his generation had personally been involved, was passed over in silence. 

Toward the end of the 1960s, on the basis of eyewitness statements from 
Soviet citizens who had come to the West and the evidence in both emigre 
publications and Soviet publications in the years of the Khrushchev thaw, the 
historian Robert Conquest first drew up the general outlines of the Great 
Terror. Some of his extrapolations about the power structures and the number 
of victims involved have subsequently been disproved. 2 

Conquest's work began an enormous debate about the extent to which the 
terror was a centralized phenomenon, about the respective roles of Ezhov and 
Stalin, and about the number of victims involved. Certain American historians 
of the revisionist school contested the idea that Stalin had carefully planned 
the events of 1936-1938. Stressing instead the increasing tension between the 


A State Against Its People 

central authorities and ever-more-powerful local authorities, as well as isolated 
instances of excessive zeal, they attempted to explain the exceptional scale of 
the repressions of 1936-1938 by the notion that local authorities had found 
innumerable scapegoats on which to carry out the terror, so that they could 
deflect the terror that was actually being directed at them. In this way local 
officials tried to demonstrate to the central authorities their vigilance and 
intransigence in the struggle against the common enemy. 1 

Another disagreement arose about the number of victims. For Conquest 
and his followers, the Great Terror Jed to at least 6 million arrests, 3 million 
executions, and 2 million deaths in the camps. Revisionist historians regard 
these figures as somewhat inflated. 

Even the partial opening of the Soviet archives has allowed historians to 
see the Great Terror in a new light. Other studies have already retraced the 
extraordinarily complex and tragic story of the two bloodiest years of the Soviet 
regime. Our intention here is to address some of the questions raised bv the 
debate, notably the extent to which the terror was a centralized phenomenon, 
and the categories and numbers of the victims. 

On the question of the centralization of the terror, documents from the 
Politburo that are now accessible confirm that the mass repressions were indeed 
the result of initiatives taken at the very top level of the Party, in the Politburo, 
and by Stalin in particular. 4 The organization and implementation of one of 
the bloodiest repressions, the operation to "liquidate ex-kulaks, criminals, and 
other anti-Soviet elements," which took place from August 1937 to Mav 1938, 
are quite revealing about the respective roles of central and local agencies.-' 

Beginning in 1935-36, the ultimate fate of the deported ex-kulaks had 
been a burning issue. Despite the often-repeated ban on their leaving the places 
to which they had been assigned, more and more of the "specially displaced" 
were gradually becoming indistinguishable from the mass of free workers. In a 
report dated August 1936, Rudolf Berman, chief of the Gulag Administration, 
wrote that "taking advantage of the fairly lax manner in which they are guarded, 
numerous 'specially displaced,' who for some time have been working in the 
same teams as free workers, have now left their place of residence. They are 
becoming more and more difficult to pick out. In fact they often have special 
skills that make them valuable as managers, and many of them have been able 
to get passports. Many also have married free workers and now own houses."" 
Although many of the "specially displaced" who had been assigned to 
reside on the industrial sites were beginning to blend in with the local working 
classes, others fled farther afield. Many of these so-called runaways who had 
no papers and were homeless joined the gangs of socially marginal elements 
and petty criminals that were increasingly to be found on the outskirts of most 
of the big cities. Inspections carried out in the autumn of 1936 in certain 

The Great Terror 


komandatury revealed situations that were intolerable in the eyes of the authori- 
ties. In the region of Arkhangelsk, for example, of the 89,700 colonizers who 
had been assigned residency there, a mere 37,000 remained. 

The obsession with the ideas of the kulak saboteur who had managed to 
infiltrate a business and of the kulak bandit who roamed the streets goes some 
way toward explaining how this "category" became the centerpiece in the great 
repressive operation that Stalin concocted in early July 1937. 

On 2 July 1937 the Politburo sent local authorities a telegram ordering 
that "all kulaks and criminals must be immediately arrested . . . and after trial 
before a troika [a commission consisting of the regional Party first secretary, 
the procurator, and the regional NKVD chief] the most hostile are to be shot, 
and the less active but still hostile elements deported ... It is the Central 
Committee's wish that the composition of the troiki be presented to it within 
five days, together with the numbers of those shot and deported." 

In the following weeks the central authorities received "indicative figures" 
sent in by the local authorities, on the basis of which Ezhov prepared Opera- 
tional Order No. 00447, dated 30 July 1937, which he submitted to the Polit- 
buro for ratification the same day. During this particular operation 259,450 
people were arrested and 72,950 shot. 7 These numbers were inexact, since many 
regions had not yet sent their calculations to the central authorities. As in the 
days of the dckulakization operations, all regions received quotas for each of 
the two categories: those to be shot and those to be deported. 

It is notable that the victims of this operation belonged to a mysterious 
sociopolitical group that was much larger than the categories initially enumer- 
ated. Besides the "ex-kulaks" and the "criminal elements," those to be found 
now included "socially dangerous elements," "members of anti-Soviet parties," 
"former tsarist civil servants," and "White Guards" These designations were 
applied quite freely to any suspect, regardless of whether he was a Party 
member, a member of the intelligentsia, or an ordinary worker. The relevant 
offices of the GPU and the NKVD had had many years to draw up the 
necessary lists of suspects, and plenty of time to keep them up to date. 

The operational order of 30 July 1937 also gave local leaders the right to 
ask Moscow for further lists of suspects to be eliminated. The families of 
people condemned to the camps or to death could also be arrested to swell the 

By the end of August the Politburo was assailed with numerous requests 
for the quotas to be raised. From 28 August to 15 December 1937 it ratified 
various proposals for increases so that an additional 22,500 individuals were 
executed and another 16,800 were condemned to camps. On 31 January 1938, 
at the instigation of the NKVD, a further increase of 57,200 was accepted, 
48,000 of whom were to be executed. All operations were to have been finished 


A State Against Its People 

on 15 March 1938, but once again the local authorities, who had been purged 
several times in the preceding years and whose new staff were eager to show 
their zeal, demanded another increase in the numbers. From 1 February to 29 
August 1938 the Politburo ratified the requests, thus sanctioning the elimina- 
tion of a further 90,000 suspects. 

In this fashion, an operation that was originally planned for four months 
went on for over a year, and affected at least 200,000 more people than those 
originally planned for in the quotas. 8 Any individual suspected of the wrong 
social origins was a potential victim. People living in the frontier zones were 
also particularly vulnerable, as was anyone who had any contacts outside the 
country, no matter how far removed. Such people, including anyone who owned 
a radio transmitter, collected stamps, or spoke Esperanto, stood a very good 
chance of being accused of espionage. From 6 August to 21 December 1937, 
at least ten operations similar to the one begun by Operational Order No. 00447 
were launched by the Politburo and the NKVD to liquidate groups of sus- 
pected spies or "subversives 11 nationality by nationality: Germans, Poles, Japa- 
nese, Romanians, Finns, Lithuanians, Latvians, Greeks, and Turks. Over a 
fifteen-month period, from August 1937 to November 1938, several hundred 
thousand people were arrested in these antiespionage operations. 

Among the operations about which some information is available (al- 
though it is still fragmentary; the ex-KGB and Russian Presidential archives, 
where the most sensitive documents are kept, are still secret and closed to 
researchers) are the following: 

• The operation to "liquidate the German contingent working in all 
offices linked to National Defense" on 20 July 1937 

• The operation to "liquidate all terrorist activity, subversion, and espio- 
nage by the network of Japanese repatriated from Kharbin, 1 ' launched 
on 19 September 1937 

• The operation to "liquidate the right-wing military and Japanese 
Cossack organization," launched on 4 August 1937, in which more than 
19,000 people died from September to December 1937 

• The operation to "repress the families of enemies of the people, 1 ' set in 
motion by NKVD Order No. 00486 on 15 August 1937 

This very incomplete list of one small part of the operations decreed by 
the Politburo and carried out by the NKVD suffices to underscore the central- 
ized nature of the mass repressions of 1937 and 1938. These actions, like all 
the actions decided by the center but implemented by local authorities — in- 
cluding dekulakization, the purging of the towns, and the hunt for specialists— 
were often carried out with tragic excesses in the local communities. After the 
Great Terror, a single commission was sent to make inquiries in Turkmenistan 

The Great Terror 


about excesses committed under the Ezhovshchma. In this small republic of 1.3 
million inhabitants (0.7 percent of the Soviet population), 13,259 had been 
sentenced by the NKVD troiki in the period August 1937-September 1938 as 
part of the operation to "liquidate ex-kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet 
elements." Of these, 4,037 had been shot. The quotas fixed by Moscow had 
been respectively 6,227 (the total number of sentences) and 3,225 (the total 
number of executions). 9 One can easily imagine that similar excesses were 
common in all other regions of the country. They were a natural result of the 
quota scheme. Planned orders from the center and bureaucratic reflexes, which 
had been well assimilated and drummed into civil servants for many years, 
naturally spurred local officials to try to anticipate and surpass the desires of 
superiors further up the hierarchy and the directives that arrived from Moscow. 

Another series of documents also highlights the centralized nature of the 
mass slaughter ordered by Stalin and ratified by the Politburo. These are the 
lists of people to be sentenced that were drawn up by the Commission for 
Judicial Affairs of the Politburo. The sentences for people who were summoned 
before the military collegium of the Supreme Court, the military courts, or the 
Special Board of the NKVD were all predetermined by the Commission for 
Judicial Affairs of the Politburo. This commission, of which Ezhov himself 
was a member, submitted at least 383 lists to be signed by Stalin and the 
Politburo. These lists contained some 44,000 names of Party leaders or mem- 
bers, as well as the names of prominent figures from industry and the army. At 
least 39,000 of them were condemned to death. Stalin's own signature appears 
at the bottom of 362 lists, with Molotov's signature on 373, Kliment Voroshi- 
lov's on 195, Kaganovich's on 191, Andrei Zhdanov's on 177, and Mikoyan's 
on 62. m 

All these leaders arrived in person to carry out purges of local Party 
organizations after the summer of 1937. Kaganovich was sent to purge the 
Donbass regions of Chelyabinsk, Yaroslavl, Ivanovo, and Smolensk; Zhdanov, 
after purging his own region of Leningrad, went to Orenburg, Bashkiria, and 
Tatarstan; Andreev went to the Northern Caucasus, Uzbekistan, and Tajikis- 
tan; Mikoyan went to Armenia; and Khrushchev went to Ukraine. 

While most instructions about mass repressions, like all other resolutions 
adopted by the Politburo, were ratified by Stalin as a matter of course, it now 
appears, in the light of archival material that has recently become available, that 
Stalin was also the author and initiator of most of the repressive measures. For 
example, when on 27 August 1937 at 5:00 p.m. the Secretariat of the Central 
Committee received a communication from Mikhail Koroshenko, first secretary 
of the regional Party committee in western Siberia, regarding the proceedings 
of a trial of some agronomists who had been accused of sabotage, Stalin himself 
sent a telegram back ten minutes later, saying: "1 advise the sentencing to death 


A State Against Its People 

of all saboteurs in Andreev's district, and the public proclamation of their 
execution in the local papers." 11 

All documents that are now available (protocols from the Politburo, 
Stalin's diary, and the list of visitors he received at the Kremlin) demonstrate 
that Stalin meticulously controlled and directed Ezhov's every move. He cor- 
rected instructions to the NKVD, masterminded all the big public trials, and 
even wrote the scripts for them. During preparations for the trial of Marshal 
Tukhachevsky and other Red Army leaders for their participation in a "military 
conspiracy," Stalin saw Ezhov every day 12 At each stage of Ezhovshchina, Stalin 
retained political control of events. It was he who decided the nomination of 
Ezhov to the post of people's commissar of internal affairs, sending the famous 
telegram from Sochi to the Politburo on 25 September 1936: "It is absolutely 
necessary and extremely urgent that Comrade Ezhov be nominated to the post 
of People's Commissar of Internal Affairs. Yagoda is plainly not up to the task 
of unmasking the Trotskyite and Zinovievite coalition. The GPU is now four 
years behind in this business " It was also Stalin who decided to put a stop to 
the "excesses of the NKVD." On 17 November 1938 a decree from the Central 
Committee put a (provisional) stop to the organization of "large-scale arrest 
and deportation procedures." One week later, Ezhov was dismissed from the 
post of People's Commissar and replaced by Beria. The Great Terror thus 
ended as it had begun, on Stalin's orders. 

In seeking to tally the number and categories of the victims of the 
Ezhovshchina, we now have at our disposal a few extremely confidential docu- 
ments drawn up for Nikita Khrushchev and the main leaders of the Party 
during de-Stalinization. Foremost among these is a long study of "repressions 
carried out during the era of the personality cult," conducted by a commission 
established at the Twenty-second Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and 
led by Nikolai Shvernik. 11 Researchers can thus compare these figures with 
other sources of statistics about the Gulag Administration, the People's Com- 
missariat of Justice, and legal records that are now also available. 14 

It appears that during 1937 and 1938, 1,575,000 people were arrested by 
the NKVD; of these, 1,345,000 (85.4 percent) received some sort of sentence 
and 681,692 (51 percent of those who were sentenced) were executed. 

People arrested were sentenced in different ways. Cases involving white- 
collar workers, politicians, military leaders, economists, and members of the 
intelligentsia— the highest-profile category — were judged by military tribunals 
and the Special Board of the NKVD. Given the scale of these operations, the 
government in late August 1937 set up troiki at regional levels made up of the 
local procurator, the chief of the local police, and the head of the local branch 
of the NKVD. These trniki meted out an extremely perfunctory form of justice, 
since their main aim was to comply with resolutions and quotas sent out in 

The Great Terror 


advance by the central offices. Often they did little more than pick up suspects 
who had been under surveillance for some time, "reactivating" old lists. The 
trial was as simple as possible; the troiki would often see hundreds of files in a 
single day, as is evident from the recent publication of the Leningrad List of 
Martyrs, a directory showing month by month the names of inhabitants of the 
city who were condemned to death as a result of Article 58 of the penal code, 
beginning in August 1937. The usual interval between the arrest and the death 
sentence was a few weeks. The sentence, against which there was no appeal, 
was then carried out in a few days. The probability of being arrested merely to 
fill a quota for a specific operation depended on a series of coincidences in all 
the large-scale repressive operations carried out around that time, including the 
liquidation of the kulaks launched on 30 July 1937, the operation to liquidate 
criminal elements begun on 1 2 September 1 937, and the "repression of families 
of enemies of the people." If the list of names on file was not long enough, the 
local authorities would use any means necessary to find the extra names to 
"comply with the established norms " To give but one example, in order to fill 
the category of "saboteurs," the NKVD in Turkmenia used the pretext of an 
industrial fire to arrest everyone who was on the site and forced them all to 
name their "accomplices." 15 Communist cadres were only a tiny share of the 
681,692 people executed. Programmed from on high and arbitrarily inventing 
categories of political enemies, the terror, by its very nature, generated side 
effects that were always highly indicative of the culture of violence endemic at 
the lowest levels of the hierarchy. 

These figures are far from exhaustive. They do not include any of the 
deportations carried out during these years, such as those from the Soviet Far 
East between May and October 1937, when 172,000 Koreans were moved to 
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Nor do they include the number of people who 
died from torture during imprisonment or on the way to the camps (an un- 
known number), or the number of prisoners who died in the camps during 
these years (approximately 25,000 in 1937, more than 90,000 in 1938).' 6 Even 
when rounded down in relation to extrapolating from the eyewitness reports 
of survivors, the figures are still a shocking reminder of the size of these mass 
killings, carried out by the hundreds of thousands against a whole society. 

It is now possible to analyze further the categories of victims of these mass 
slaughters. We now have some statistics, to be discussed at length in the next 
chapter, on the number of prisoners in the gulags at the end of the 1930s. This 
information covers all groups of prisoners, not simply those arrested during 
the Great Terror, without specifying the categories of victims condemned to 
the camps during the Ezhovshchina. Nevertheless, some patterns are discern- 
ible, notably a sharp increase in the number of victims who had had some form 
of higher education (over 70 percent in 1936-1939), confirming that the terror 


A State Against Its People 

at the end of the decade was aimed particularly at the educated elite, whether 
they were Party members or not. 

Because the purge of Party cadres was the first event of the Stalin era to 
be publicly denounced (at the Twentieth Party Congress), it is one of the 
best-known aspects of the Great Terror. In his "Secret Speech' 1 at the Con- 
gress, Khrushchev covered this phenomenon at some length. It had affected 
five members of the Politburo who were faithful Stalinists (Postyshev, Jan 
Rudzutak, Eikhe, Kossior, Anatoly Chubar), 98 of the 139 members of the 
Central Committee, and 1,108 of the 1,996 delegates to the Seventeenth Party 
Congress in 1934. It had equally affected the leaders of the Komsomol: 72 of 
the 93 members of the Central Committee were arrested, as well as 319 of the 
385 regional secretaries and 2,210 of the 2,750 district secretaries. Generally 
speaking, the local and regional headquarters of the Party and the Komsomol 
were entirely restaffed. All were suspected of sabotaging the decisions handed 
down by Moscow and of opposing central control of local affairs. In 1 .eningrad, 
where the Party had been led by Zinoviev and where Kirov had been assassi- 
nated, Zhdanov and Zakovsky (the chief of the regional NKVD) arrested more 
than 90 percent of the Party cadres. These numbers represent only a tiny share 
of the people from Leningrad who were victims of repression from 1936 to 
1939. 17 To ensure that the purges were carried out with maximum efficiency, 
representatives from the central authorities together with troops from the 
NKVD were sent out in the provinces on a mission described in Pravdu as an 
attempt u to smoke out and destroy the bugs 1 nests of the Trotskyite-fascists." 
Some regions seemed to suffer more than others, especially Ukraine. In 
1938 alone, after the nomination of Khrushchev as head of the Ukrainian 
Communist Party, more than 106,000 people were arrested in Ukraine, and the 
majority of these were executed. Of the 200 members of the Central Commit- 
tee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, 3 survived. The same scenario was 
repeated in all local and regional Party headquarters, where do/ens of public 
trials were organized for previous Communist leaders. 

Unlike the trials in camera or the secret sessions of the troiki, in which the 
fate of the accused was dispatched in a few minutes, the public trials of leaders 
were strongly populist in nature and fulfilled an important propaganda role. As 
Stalin said in a speech of 3 March 1937, the intention was to denounce these 
local leaders, "those new lords, who are so smug and filled with overconhdence 
. . . and who through their inhuman attitudes inevitably create suffering and 
discontent, and end up encouraging the formation of an army of Trotskyites." 
It was thought that this would strengthen the alliance between "the ordinary 
people, the simple militants who believed in justice," and the Leader himself 
Imitating the great trials in Moscow, but this time on a local and district scale, 
these public trials were generally reported in detail in the relevant local press 

The Great Terror 


and became the extraordinary focus of ideological, popular, and populist mo- 
bilization. Because of the manner in which these public trails unmasked con- 
spiracies, the central preoccupation with Communist ideology, and the carnival 
atmosphere that reigned when those who had been rich and powerful were cast 
down and the poor people exalted, the trials, in Annie Kriegel's words, became 
u a formidable mechanism for social cleansing." 

The repression directed at local Party leaders was, of course, only the tip 
of the iceberg. One example is a detailed report from the regional department 
of the NKVD in Orenburg "on operational measures for the liquidation of 
clandestine groups of Trotskyites and Bukharinites, as well as other counter- 
revolutionary groups, carried out from 1 April to 18 September 1937" (that is, 
before Zhdanov visited the province to accelerate the purge). ,H In this province 
the following Party members were arrested: 

420 "Trotskyites," all of whom were politicians or economists of the 

first rank 
120 "right-wingers," all of whom were local leaders of some importance 

These 540 Party cadres represented 45 percent of the local officials. After 
Zhdanov's mission to Oranienburg, 598 more cadres were arrested and exe- 
cuted. Before the autumn of 1937 almost all Party leaders in the province and 
every economist of note were eliminated. They were replaced by a new genera- 
tion, who were rapidly promoted to the front line, the generation of Brezhnev, 
Kosygin, Dmitry Ustinov, and Gromyko — in short, the generation that was to 
make up the Politburo of the 1970s. 

In addition to the thousands of Party cadres who were arrested, there were 
a number of ordinary Party members and ex-Communists, who were particu- 
larly vulnerable. These simple citizens, who had been in the NKVD's files for 
years, in fact made up the greater part of the victims who suffered in the Great 
Terror. To return to the Orenburg NKVD report: 

Slightly more than 2,000 members of a right-wing military Japa- 
nese Cossack organization [of whom approximately 1,500 were 

More than 1,500 officers and tsarist civil servants exiled to Orani- 
enburg from Leningrad in 1935 [these were "socially alien ele- 
ments" exiled to various regions after the assassination of 

250 people arrested as part of the Polish affair 

95 people arrested ... as part of the affair concerning elements 
originating from Kharbin 


A State Against Its People 

3,290 people arrested as part of the operation to liquidate all ex- 

1,399 people arrested during the operation to liquidate all criminal 

If one also includes the 30-odd people from the Komsomol and 50 cadets 
from the local military training academy, it becomes apparent that the NKVD 
arrested more than 7,500 people in this province in five months. Again, this 
was before the intensification of the repression under Andrei Zhdanov. As 
spectacular as this proportion might appear, the arrest of 90 percent of the local 
nomenklatura represented only a negligible proportion of the victims of the 
repression, most of whom fell into other categories specifically defined by the 
Politburo and approved by Stalin himself. 

Certain categories of officials were particularly singled out: for example, 
diplomats and all the personnel at the People's Commissariat of Foreign Af- 
fairs, who naturally were accused of espionage; or factory directors and per- 
sonnel from the ministries for economic affairs, who were often suspected of 
sabotage. Among high-ranking diplomats arrested and, for the most part, exe- 
cuted were Krestinsky, Grigory Sokolnikov, Aleksandr Bogomolov, Konstantin 
Yurenev, Nikolai Ostrovsky, and Antonov-Ovsccnko, who were posted respec- 
tively in Berlin, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Bucharest, and Madrid. 19 

Whole ministries fell victim to the repressions. In the relatively obscure 
People's Commissariat of Machine Tools, an entire directorate was replaced; 
and all but two of the managers of factories dependent on this ministry were 
arrested, together with almost all engineers and technicians. The same was true 
for several other industrial sectors, notably aeronautical industry, naval con- 
struction, metallurgy, and transport, for which only fragmentary information 
is available. After the end of the Great Terror, at the Seventeenth Congress in 
March 1939, Kaganovich noted that "in 1937 and 1938 the leading personnel 
in all heavy industry was entirely replaced, and thousands of new men were 
appointed to the posts of those who had been unmasked as saboteurs. In some 
branches of industry, there had been several layers of saboteurs and spies . . . 
Now we have in their place cadres who will accept any task assigned to them 
by Comrade Stalin." 

Among the party cadres hit hardest by the Ezhovshschinu were the leaders 
of foreign Communist parties and leaders of the Communist International, 
w r ho were staying in Moscow at the Hotel Lux. 2(1 German Communist Part) 
leaders who were arrested included Heinz Neumann, Hermann Remmel, Fritz 
Schulte, and Hermann Schubert, all of whom had been members of the Pol- 
itburo; Leo Flieg, a secretary of the Central Committee; Heinrich Susskind and 
Werner Hirsch, the editors of the newspaper Rote Fahne; and Hugo Eberlein, 

The Great Terror 


who had been the German Party delegate at the founding conference of the 
Communist International. In February 1940, several months after the signing 
of the German-Soviet pact, 570 German Communists who had been locked up 
in Moscow prisons were handed over to the Gestapo on the frontier bridge at 
Brest Litovsk. 

The purges were equally savage in the Hungarian Workers' (Communist) 
Party Bcla Kun, the instigator of the Hungarian revolution in 1919, was 
arrested and executed, together with twelve other people's commissars from 
the ephemeral Communist government in Budapest who had taken refuge in 
Moscow. Nearly 200 Italian Communists were also arrested (including Paolo 
Robotti, the brother-in-law of Palmiro Togliatti, the Italian Communist Party 
leader), as well as approximately 100 Yugoslav Communists (including Milan 
Gorkic, the Party secretary general; Vladimir topic, secretary and director of 
the Organization of the International Brigades; and three-quarters of the mem- 
bers of the Central Committee). 

The vast majority of the victims of the Great Terror were anonymous. 
The following is an excerpt from an ''ordinary" file of 1938, dossier no. 24260: 2 ' 

1. Name: Sidorov 

2. First name; Vasily Klcmentovich 

3. Place and date of birth: Sechevo, Moscow region, 1893 

4. Address: Sechevo, Rolomcnskii district, Moscow region 

5. Profession: co-operative employee 

6. Union membership: co-operative employees' union 

7. Possessions at time of arrest (detailed description): 1 wooden 
house, 8 meters by 8, covered in sheet metal, with partially cov- 
ered courtyard 20 meters by 7; 1 cow, 4 sheep, 2 pigs, chickens 

8. Property in 1929: identical, plus 1 horse 

9. Property in 1917: 1 wooden house, 8 meters by 8, 1 partially 
covered courtyard 30 meters by 20, 2 barns, 2 hangars, 2 
horses, 2 cows, 7 sheep 

10. Social situation at moment of arrest: employed 

1 1. Service in tsarist army: 1915 16 foot-soldier, second class, 6th 
Infantry Regiment of Turkestan 

1 2. Military service in the White Army: none 

13. Military service in the Red Army: none 

14. Social origin: I consider myself the son of an ordinary peasant 

15. Political history: no party memberships 

16. Nationality and citizenship: Russian, US.S.R. citizen 

17. Communist Party membership: no 

18. Education: basic 

19. Present military situation: reservist 

20. Criminal record: no 


A State Against Its People 

21. State of health: hernia 

22. Family situation: married. Wife: Anastasia Fedorovna, 43 
years old, kolkhoz worker; daughter: Nina, 24 years old 

Arrested 13 February 1938 on the orders of the leaders of the 
district NKVD. 

An excerpt from the interrogation protocol: 

Question: Explain your social origins, your social situation, and your 
situation before 1917. 

Reply: I come originally from a family of small merchants. Until 
about 1904 my father had a little shop in Moscow, on Zolotorozhskaya 
Street, where, according to what he told me, he did business but had no 
employees. After 1904 he was forced to close the shop, for he couldn't 
compete with the bigger shops. He came back to the country, to 
Sechevo, and rented six hectares of arable land and two hectares of 
meadow. He had one employee, a man called Goryachev, who worked 
with him for many years, until 1916. After 1917 we kept the farm, but 
we lost the horses. I worked with my father until 1925; then, after he 
died, my brother and I shared out the land between us. 

I don't think I am guilty of anything at all. 

An excerpt from the charges drawn up: 

Sidorov, hostile to the Soviet regime in general and to the Party in 
particular, was given to systematically spreading anti-Soviet propa- 
ganda, saying, "Stalin and his gang won't give up power. Stalin has 
killed a whole mass of people, but he doesn't want to go. The Bolsheviks 
will hold on to power and go on arresting honest people, and you can't 
even talk about that, or you'll end up in a camp for 25 years." 

The accused pleaded not guilty but was unmasked by several wit- 
nesses. The affair has been passed on to the troika for judgment. 

Signed: S. Salakayev, Second Lieutenant in the Kolomenskaya dis- 
trict police. 

Agreed: Galkin, Lieutenant in the State Security, Chief of the 
State Security detachment in the Kolomenskaya district. 

An excerpt from the protocol of the troika's decision, 16 July 1938: 

V. K. Sidorov affair. Ex-shopkeeper, previously kept a shop with his 
father. Accused of spreading counterrevolutionary ideas among kolkhoz 
workers, characterized by defeatist statements together with threats 
against Communists, criticism of Party policies and of the government. 
Verdict: SHOOT Sidorov Vassily Klementovich; confiscate all his 

The Great Terror 


Sentence carried out on 3 August 1938. 
Posthumously rehabilitated on 24 January 1989. 

The heaviest price of all was paid by the Polish Communist Party. The 
situation of Polish Communists was somewhat unusual, in that their Party 
emerged out of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdoms of Poland and 
Lithuania, which in 1906 was admitted, on an autonomous basis, to the Social 
Democratic Workers' Party in Russia. The links between the Russian Party and 
the Polish Party had always been very close. Many Social Democratic Poles— 
Dzer/hinsky, Men/hinsky, Unshlikht (all of whom had been directors of the 
GPU), and Radek, to name but a few — had gone on to make a career in the 
Bolshevik Party, 

In 1937-38 the Polish Communist Party was completely liquidated. The 
twelve Polish members of the Central Committee living in Russia were exe- 
cuted, as were all Polish representatives of the various offices of the Communist 
International. On 28 November 1937 Stalin signed a document proposing a 
"purge" of the Polish Communist Party. Generally, after a party had been 
purged Stalin chose new personnel to lead it from one of the rival factions of 
the liquidated group. In the case of the Polish Communist Party, all the factions 
were equally accused of "following the orders of counterrevolutionary Polish 
secret services." On 16 August 1938 the Executive Committee of the Interna- 
tional voted for the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party. As Dmitry 
Manuilsky explained, "Polish fascist agents have infiltrated the party and taken 
up all the key positions.' 1 

On the grounds that they had been "caught out" and found 'lacking in 
vigilance, 11 Soviet officials in the Communist International were naturally the 
next victims of the purges. Almost all the Soviet cadres in the International 
(including Wilhclm Knorin, a member of the Central Executive Committee; 
V. A. Mirov-Abramov, chief of the Department of Foreign Ties; and Gevork 
Alikhanov, the head of the Department of Cadres), a total of several hundred 
people, were removed. The only survivors of the International purge were a 
few leaders such as Manuilsky and Otto Kuusincn, who were completely in 
Stalin's power. 

The military was another sector hit hard in 1937 and 1938, as carefully kept 
records testify. 22 On 11 June 1937 the press announced that a military court 
sitting in camera had condemned Marshal Tukhachevsky to death for treason 
and espionage. Tukhachevsky was deputy commissar of defense and the prin- 
cipal architect of the modernization of the Red Army. Recurring differences 
had led to his growing opposition to Stalin and Voroshilov after the Polish 


A State Against Its People 

campaign of 1920. Also condemned were seven army generals: Jonas Yakir, the 
military commander of the Kyiv region; Uborevich, commander of the Belarus 
region; and Robert Eideman, Avgust Kork, Vitvot Putna, Fred Feldman, and 
Vital y Primakov. Over the next ten days 980 high-ranking officers were ar- 
rested, including twenty-one army corps generals and thirty-seven division 
generals. The "military conspiracy" affair, implicating Tukhachevski and his 
accomplices, had been several months in the planning. The accused were ar- 
rested in May 1937. Subject to brutal interrogation led by Ezhov himself 
(when Tukhachevsky was rehabilitated twenty years later, it was revealed that 
several pages of the deposition were stained with blood), all were forced into 
confessions before judgment was passed. Stalin personally supervised the 
whole affair. Around 15 May he had received via the Soviet ambassador in 
Prague falsified files compiled by the Nazi secret services containing fake let- 
ters that had supposedly passed between Tukhachevsky and members of the 
German high command. In fact the German secret service had been manipu- 
lated by the NKVD. 

In two years the purge of the Red Army eliminated: 

3 out of 5 marshals (Tukhachevsky, Aleksandr Egorov, and Vasili 

Blucher, the last two executed in February and October 1937, respec- 

13 out of 15 army generals 

8 out of 9 admirals 

50 out of 57 army corps generals 

154 out of 186 division generals 

16 out of 16 army commissars 

25 out of 28 army corps commissars 

From May 1937 to September 1938, 35,020 officers were arrested or 
expelled from the army. It is still unclear how many were executed. Around 
1 1,000 (including Generals Konstantin Rokossovsky and Aleksandr Gorbatov) 
were recalled in 1939-1941. But a new wave of purges began after September 
1938, so that according to the most serious estimates, the total number of 
arrests in the army during the Great Terror was about 30,000 cadres out of a 
possible 178,000. 2y Though proportionally less significant than has generally 
been believed, the purge of the Red Army, notably at the higher levels, had 
serious effects on the Russo-Finnish conflict of 1939^0 and the initial phase 
of the war with Germany, when it constituted one of the heaviest handicaps 
for Soviet military effectiveness. 

Stalin took the menace of Nazi Germany much less seriously than did 
other Bolshevik leaders, especially Bukharin and Maksim Litvinov, who was 

The Great Terror 


people's commissar of foreign affairs until April 1939. Stalin did not hesitate 
to sacrifice the majority of the best officers in the Red Army and replace them 
with entirely untried substitutes. Stalin wished his army to be staffed with those 
who had no memory of the controversial episodes in which he had participated 
as military chief in the civil war, and who would not be tempted to argue, as 
Field Marshal Tukhachevsky might have, with the military and political deci- 
sions that Stalin took at the end of the 1930s, especially the rapprochement 
with Nazi Germany. 

The intelligentsia were another social group who fell victim to the Great 
Terror, and about whom relatively abundant information is available. 24 A rec- 
ognized social group since the mid-nineteenth century, most of the Russian 
intelligentsia had been a center of resistance against tyranny and intellectual 
constraint. This fact had accounted for their victimization in the previous 
purges of 1922 and 1928-1931. Now, in March and April 1937, a virulent press 
campaign railed against "deviationism" in economics, history, and literature. 
All branches of learning and creativity were targeted, and political and doc- 
trinal pretexts often served to cover personal ambition or rivalry. In the field of 
history, for example, all the followers of Mikhail Pokrovsky, who had died in 
1932, were arrested. Teachers and professors were especially vulnerable, since 
their lectures were readily accessible to zealous informers. Universities, insti- 
tutes, and academicians were all decimated, notably in Belorussia (where 87 of 
the 105 academics were arrested as u Polish spies") and in Ukraine. In the latter 
republic a first purge of "bourgeois nationalists 11 had taken place in 1933, when 
several thousand Ukrainian intellectuals were arrested for "having transformed 
the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the Shevchenko Institute, the Agricul- 
tural Academy, the Ukrainian Marxist-Leninist Institute, and the People's 
Commissariats of Kducation, Agriculture, and Justice into havens for bour- 
geois nationalists and counterrevolutionaries' 1 (a speech by Pavel Postyshev, 22 
June 1933). The Great Purge of 1937-38 thus finished off an operation that 
had actually begun four years earlier. 

All scholarly fields with the slightest connection to politics, ideology, 
economics, or defense were also affected. The main figures in the aeronautics 
industry, notably Andrei Tupolev (the renowned aeronautical engineer) and 
Sergei Korolev (one of the founders of the first Soviet space program), were 
arrested and sent to NKVD research centers similar to the those described by 
Solzhenitsyn in First Circle. Of the twenty-nine astronomers at the great Pulk- 
ovo observatory, twenty-seven were arrested. Nearly all the statisticians from 
the national economic headquarters were arrested after completing the January 
1937 census, which was annulled for u gross violations of elementary procedures 
of the science of statistics, and for contravening governmental orders. 11 Arrests 


A State Against Its People 

were made of numerous linguists opposed to the theories of the Marxist 
linguist Nikolai Marr, who was officially supported by Stalin; and of several 
hundred biologists who opposed the charlatanism of the "official" biologist 
Trofim Lysenko. Other victims included Professor Solomon Levit, the director 
of the medical genetics institute; Nikolai Tulaikov, the director of the Institute 
of Cereals; the botanist A. Yanata; and the academician Nikolai Vavilov, presi- 
dent of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Science, who was arrested on 
6 August 1940 and died in prison on 26 January 1943. 

Accused of defending hostile and foreign points of view and of straying 
beyond the boundaries of Socialist Realism, writers, publishers, theater direc- 
tors, and journalists all paid a heavy price during the Ezhovshchina. Approxi- 
mately 2,000 members of the writers' union were arrested, deported to camps, 
or executed. Among the most famous victims were Isaac Babei, author of The 
Red Cavalry and Odessa Tales, who was shot on 27 January 1940; the writers 
Boris Pilnyak, Yury Oiesha, Panteleimon Romanov; and the poets Nikolai 
Klyuev, Nikolai Zabolotsky, Osip Mandelstam (who died in a Siberian transit 
camp on 26 December 1938), Gurgen Maari, and Titsian Tabidze. Many 
musicians were also arrested, including the composer Andrei Zhelyaev and the 
conductor E. Mikoladze, as were famous figures from the theater, such as the 
great director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose theater was closed early in 1938 on 
the ground that it was "foreign to Soviet art." Having refused to make a public 
act of contrition, Meyerhold was arrested in June 1939, tortured, and executed 
on 2 February 1940. 

During these years the authorities sought the "complete liquidation" (to 
use their own expression) of the last remaining members of the clergy. The 
census of January 1937 revealed that approximately 70 percent of the popula- 
tion, despite the pressures placed on them, still replied in the affirmative when 
asked "Are you a believer?" Hence Soviet leaders embarked on a third and 
decisive offensive against the church. In April 1937 Malenkov sent a note to 
Stalin suggesting that legislation concerning religious organizations was out- 
dated, and he proposed the abrogation of the decree of 8 April 1929. "This 
decree," he noted, "gave a legal basis for the most active sections of the 
churches and cults to create a whole organized network of individuals hostile 
to the Soviet regime." He concluded: "The time has come to finish once and 
for al I with all clerical organizations and ecclesiastical hierarchies." 25 Thousands 
of priests and nearly all the bishops were sent to camps, and this time the vast 
majority were executed. Of the 20,000 churches and mosques that were still 
active in 1936, fewer than 1,000 were still open for services at the beginning of 
1941. In early 1941 the number of officially registered clerics of all religions 
had fallen to 5,665 (more than half of whom came from the Baltic territories, 

The Great Terror 


Poland, Moldavia, and western Ukraine, all of which had been incorporated in 
1939-1941), from over 24,000 in 1936. 26 

From this information it is possible to conclude that the Great Terror was a 
political operation initiated and led by people at the highest levels in the party 
under the supreme direction of Stalin. 

Moreover, the Great Terror achieved two of its main objectives. The first 
was to establish a civil and military bureaucracy made up of young cadres 
brought up in the strict Stalinist spirit of the 1930s. These were officials who, 
as Kaganovich said at the Seventeenth Party Congress, "would accept without 
question any task assigned to them by Comrade Stalin." Before the late 1930s, 
various government administrations were a heterogeneous mixture of "bour- 
geois specialists" trained under the old regime and Bolshevik cadres, many of 
whom had been trained on the job during the civil war and were quite incom- 
petent. Each institution had tried to preserve some sort of professionalism and 
administrative logic, as well as a degree of autonomy from the ideological 
voluntarism and orders that came from the center. This was particularly dem- 
onstrated in the campaign to verify all Party identity cards in 1935, when local 
Communist leaders had put up passive resistance. It was also obvious in the 
refusal of statisticians to "brighten up" the figures from the January 1937 
census and bring them into line with Stalin's wishes. Stalin realized that a 
significant proportion of the cadres, whether Communist or not, were not 
prepared to follow blindly orders that came from the center. His goal was to 
replace these officials with people more obedient to his wishes. 

The second objective of the Great Terror was to complete the elimination 
of "socially dangerous elements," a group whose members continued to grow. 
As the penal code indicated, any individual "who had committed an act hostile 
or dangerous to society, or who had relations with a criminal milieu or a criminal 
record" was liable to be classed as a socially dangerous element. Hence, anyone 
whose social group contained the prefix "ex-" was socially dangerous: ex- 
kulaks, ex-criminals, ex-tsarist civil servants, ex-members of the Menshcvik 
Party, ex-Socialist Revolutionaries, and so on. All these categories had to be 
eliminated during the Great Terror because, as Stalin stated at the plenum of 
the Central Committee in February-March 1937, "the nearer we come to 
socialism, the more the remnants of the moribund social classes fight back." 

In this speech Stalin had emphasized the idea that the US.S.R. — the only 
country that had built socialism — was surrounded by hostile enemy powers. 
According to Stalin, the countries bordering the US.S.R. —Finland, the Baltic 
states, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Japan, and others, assisted by France and 
Great Britain — were sending "armies of spies and subversives" on a mission 


A State Ay<!inst Its Peoplu 

to sabotage ihe socialist project. As a unique and sacred stale, the I .S.S.R. had 
inviolable frontiers that were the front lines in a struggle against an ever present- 
enemy. In this context, the hunt for spies (that is, amonc who had simpK made 
eoniact with the outside world, no nutter how tenuous it might liave been) took 
on great importance. The elimination of potential and muhical "hYrh eoluni 
nisrs" was at the heart of the Great Terror. 

fhe huge categories of victims listed above cadres and specialists, so 
cially dangerous and alien elements, and spies all demonstrate the logic of t he 
massive killings of the (ircat 'I error, which was responsible for neark 700,001) 
deaths in two ears. 

Moslow, I'r^h. Si all 1 1 is -»ui rounded (tnnii let! lo right) b V K hrnsluhev, u hu disliiiMiiislied himself in 
ihe repressions in I kr.iiiu : . Vulano, .111 ideolu;>ual olluia! who launehed the post \ ar eampaign 
auainst "i.'oMiitipolii.inisin"; I. ka'.'.aiun ieh, the radu a eoninns',ai'; K.  nrnshilm, eonunissar ot defense; 
V lnloio, Stalin's rhn.1 assisiani, who died in 198ft; 1. kalinm; and Marshal VI. Tukluelmski, who 
was liquidated in 1 ( >.>7. Simiul row ; < ). Malenkm (2nd I'rmu let! ), Y biih'.aniu (5th), and Kiss Stassuva 
|Sih), u ho endorsed Stahn' - pohiu •■ inside tlir ( innintern. 1 nh nis-,cs tk phntnjMaphir., krasnosiursk 

Vchks I )/ershirisk, founder ot the ( aheka and 
lu ad dI' the GPi (sccrci police) until he died m 
1^26, leaui;,' a permanent mark un the regime. 
■ 13. it; 

I .. tieria niiu; in an imitation ot deiuneraee s 
the suen^sor in V len/lnnsk, ( r. ^.ij'.ml.i, and 
V I- /hoc llena eontrolled thr SCCFC1 police .ind 
the FbreCS lif repression until be was artesied in 
Jfumc W'53 1> his rivals Kdirushehec Malenknc 
and Mi)lnin. 1 1 ,.ipi  iplkl 

\ hrii itu Uulsln' ikh m.u U'll ilu 
t 'i il « .i!' iln.  unh a- hi d .t rt .i e 

(if  Ink'lH V nil .1 ■-« ,ll( tin' V. HI 1(1 

luul r.nvK m l'Q 1 k'fv in i )r,ha 

III ]'lh .1 I'nllsll nllh il i 
Ii.UI'.'l'i.I and nnpalrd bft *i iklk'P-- 
ut llu Rt'«h i r^atttl lol i niv 
1 'illu.!! .iiinii Viiiiu 

A terrible (amine devastated rise Volua 
region .is a result of the cjs i! war and 
li(iMu'ik policies in the eountryjfhtc. 

In  1 >1 ami WU ihr tamine led lo 
tlie- death ul ainuiul 15 million people; 
ilk' lirsl ietinis were almost imari 
ahh rlnkh'en i liisniriiMuiiT inn 
UlUpoiMllH- lii )l( . 

Kyiv, 1**18, ller [he retreat (it' llu- Ret) nm, the HfHli^S ut' ieiinv. M t lu I luk.i sutv 
exhumrd ill "i Saiknaa Slice! , \!n-iv (he "uistrumrni ul Hnlsheul. T t ■ i « >r " (dS I he 
( !heka diserihed iiselt') inaintami-d one oi iis l.ieiliiie--. MiiMX d'tii*Hi|£f t . . ■ ■ r-L ■ i ■ | ^ .r .itiif 

Lenin was tint Til m aeeepl aid 

trom alunat.!, aiul liain-. tilled 

with munitions, rami' in tmm 

the Kill t inss, the Xanseil 

(. nmniittee, ami ihe ineriean 

Relief dminr-traUnn Russian 

mnl kit luiIs u lii) helped ar 

range tin.- aid were subsequently 

arrested aiul svntviicvil Ul di'aik 

on I .riun's orders. \ hen 

K Naiisen lunr-rlt mu-rwued, 

thr wrrr banished Irom Russia 

instead. I lnvr M'lllslnirr 
k ul]Uin|ii)i,iiiH lii )K, 

1930-SV. 1'casanrs resisting cnllcciii/a[ion confronted the Kul Ouai'ds who came to seize the luncst 
and then look refuuv in the forests. C i PL troops often sci fire to the lives 10 tone the peasants to ctttcfee 
* 1). K. 

To collect it ia 1 1 it land in .i "■_!]'( at ass;iuli on ihe peasant r," Sialin used sianaiinn as a weapon, 
particular!) auainst ihe I krauuans The- polio resulted in ihe death of I'ouv.hK 6 million people, 
ineliuliii'. 1 , 4 inillion in I krauie I fete in k li,irki in lTv the peasants became indifferent lo the dailv 
jiheiioinenon pi death. Cannibalism was su w idespread that the vownnnent printed posters lhat said: 
" in 1 .. 1 our children k an an of barbarism." i Dk. 

The construction site of the BIJK, or Bclomnrkanal, the canal hetween (he \ hue Sea and the 
mtlt This pharaonic project resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of prisoners in 
! ( M2 TV The canal was opened amid pm pomp by Stalin and his aeobtes but proud m be 
useless. I Coll. Tonus/ Ki/n A u 


The Belnmnrkana! urchesti a. C .uiistruetinn of Mu', an absurd enterprise, was intruded to he tjj 

I he "avducariorT of rhe detainees. ■ ] ). R 

1 be hacks n! propaganda photographs wvw often used In detainees to draw attention i,» their pli-.dn ai 
to ponra life and death in the Snwei eaffijSL This drauim: b Kwosina kcrneskaa purine urrival in 
"reeducation work camp" m Siberia in Apia I 1943, i I tesxtti <k Kcfsmv&un 

 purgt: ■-.(.'■■..■aiin ui thfc 

...,['.. Initially used as a 

means ol ](.lmh.".' iti] 

Ltmtrol nvcr militant 

Parl workers, the 

kisihi (purge) becarrHJ a 

nl l l li I that rould lead to 
In: drmim aalion nl ,ui 

oik'. Sell criticism fics 

sions resulted more and 

more often in arrests a 

feu da « or weeks later. 

1 koKci  lolks 

"Innocent Russia writhed 
if) pain lieiicath the 

blnoih boots .' and the 
| dark w luv Is of I he lilack 
Marias," wrote the poet 
inia khmato a in her 

well knou n **ftt<juli?m. M 

1 ler <a n son was impris 
oncd and killed. These 
U an ks, kia i\ n In MusCO 
 He as "bhu k n'uu" 
Innk prisoners trnm the 
I nibwnka to I .einrdwo 
s ami Hut rka prisons, Tin' 
truck-, were sometimes 
disguised as bakers' dcli 
en ans. i fcger  ioIU-i 

The I .iihani,a, Vlo.S 
cow, about ]'»„'.*. In 
thi' basement oi the 

( il'l h wtHiusr ttrf* 

well' special room:-, in 

u h it. I i enemies nt l he 

revmn wiir r ■-ciiiied 

« ith a built I in ihe 

invk. I fee huiidiuu 

eainr in s mhoh/e llu 

arbitraiw i rueh  nf 

the regime, i I ). K. 

Mitr lihi in.i mil aiii ii|t£? 4 

MiliiiH$pUttuttH£ili : | 
"^i! Ill I It 

! he Shakhn (rial in 1 >onbass in <)>H maugufatd a new caie^nn of enemies of the ,n ; „„r lIu 'WU 
isrs, who *e« accused of sabotage w hen Stalin launched the first Fivv ,ar Mian. The intention wa- » 
impose Snlm'S priod^ of the ^second nMuttato" «m cadres in nulustn. Mandm,. n,ht: p.ocurah, 
N. Kryk-nko, who was himself liquidated in WM t fe™ Violld 

U.A f 

( )ue ot ilk- mam ceru 
lion orders sinned dail 
b Stalin elu.rJTTg i lu- 
( heal lerroi. This dual 
ment sealed tin talc i>j 
h,nl)() people more lhan 

all the political tfpjftHtenfc 

euruied dunm.> the cenlun 
precctiing the liolsheik cqujp 
i" PM7. I Coll . l&jufcttvslri 

Valk, I, stoma, l 4 M 1 '. When the I ><>lslie iks attempted to sei/c power, ihe executed hostages taken from 
the ranks ot' the elite. \ hen lhc withdrew, ihe left behind hundreds of death The extermination of 
polilieal .tdwrsarie-, and tjf enure soeial groups was considered nccessan tor victors in the eiil war. 
I hese massacres prefigured the lar.-c scale deportations ol l.stomans, Lat Kins, and I aruanians in l l M()~ 
41 and 9M ti • I) K 

(iermam, Pentecost  { H~.  national iiurliiu* of the Role I'Vont (Red I'Voni), a paramilitary or/ani/aium 
;.icnerall considered lo haw been an cmbrwiiik' Red Annv The Rvd front bad Us origins m die culture 
of ciul war celebrated In Louis vras'.on; "Proletariat, know our siren:.!,!!)/ know our s[reii"ih and nn 
leash il.< . . . Open lire on those on those know il all Social 1 Vmocrats ( )pen lire, open hre . ( )pcu 

fne, I tell ou / I mlcr the guidance ot'thc ( .onmninist Part . . ." (from Ac jrmti ftiugi . *$M) '■ IU, 

S C L"* *-*C - !"* 

Spain, 1437. 1 loping to exploit the Spanish ci il war to his adanta. .-, Siahn sem a number u1 einissar 
ics and agents. The NKV'J) (the successor lo the (i|H ) uas msiniehJ in liquidate aftvom who 
obstructed its international slrntcp, incliutint; anarchists, TmisUiies. and nnhi.mi fft>tt1 il»r LntM 
Workers' Unification Parry. The leader of thai parts, Andreu m, was kidnaped in |,nk- [<fc*y .mil 
tortured before being killed b agents workmu under Krno C iem, the future li .id- t\ [Jw I lun^jrun 
Communist Party. Meanwhile an international campaign was earned oui in ih. i tmiitHJntii] press, 
accusing the antifascists of being agents working for Franco. 'MR 

On 20 August <>M Ramon Mercadcr, an agent from the Special Ta.k, !) qi ,r„HM «j fe XK|. 
attacked I .eon I rotsky (right) with an ,ce pfcfc Trotskv died ,hc neM fry. Stalin I ,d pfcmmdK ,-nkred 
the chid erf the department, Pavel Sudoplatov (left, rn , pim.iv iron, & >,. mdimm^ ft*fc who 

at the time was the head of the lamrth International. . UR. ,/,/,,-, | Kl , L , r  ll)Mt , 

K.iKii, Kw>sia, pfi 1*H v kin- ( rennatis discovered here the bodies of 4.500 Polish officers buried in 
nu>s .i.e. e>.  Ked < rov-, eominrsion concl uded lhallhe hail been killed b So iel troops in the spring 
rn ]«» Ul. w hen around J'vOUII people disappeared, kalui came to be a smbo) of' mass murder and official 
h<-. I mil P'V tin ( .omnium .1 .',oi! nment in Poland and ( '.uiumunists throughout the world attributed 
the massacre n > the ( rerraiafts. ! M It. 

 .iuriM, 1 kiame, bun- 1943. Here livnche-. datirm from l l >.>7 3.8 were opened and hundreds ot bodies 
^xliumcd. I'ln- auihoriii.-, bad huili a park and a summer theater on the site. Similar trenches were 
disalvyrtrti m /lniuniw, Kamenets Podolski, and uther areas. Sueh macabre disco erics continue een 
ItxlM In t*»7, 1,1 IH) budie, were exhumed m St. Petersburg, and another u ,000 were found in a mass 
fcrSVC m ibe fofCStN of Karelia, i I ) R 

Witold Pileeki, a Polish re$ig 
ranee riiduer, deliberate!) had 
himself captured b C jltdkui 

forces (above) so that he coutd 
set up a resistance network in 
Auschwitz. 1 le subsei|ucnti 
escaped and continued to tiLrhr 

I he Nazis. 1 le was arrested in 
Ma 1947 by the Communist 

secret police (below), tortured, 
sentenced to death, and exe- 
cuted. I [e was rehabilitated in 

HftO. I i). R. 

A monument erected in War- 
saw in PJ% in homage to Jew- 
ish and ( '.atholic Poles who 
were deported to rhe far north, 
Siberia. Kazakhstan, ami other 
distant regions in |$3& ] L M1 
and 1944 43. < A. Tabor 


rwoocoW B'i. 



I'he Jewish cemeten, Warsaw.  mnminu-nl 
erected in secret in I9H7 In the rueinop. ui  ik 
tor ltcr and I lennk Krhch. Leader-. o( ih< 
Jewish Socialist Worker/ Pan, the weir In t 
sentenced tnr siippusedh h.i ir ■ tics with tin 
Nazi Parte The] were M.'iiluhi d lit death , -,ei 
ond tune and kept m soliun cnuiineineni i ■ 
li'Ch han-ed himself in Ins c< 11 on is la I'M.!; 

Alter was shut on t ) |-'el>niar> IMiik-v, Aa S 
alter (he ictor at Stalimu ad. I I). K 

k'.ast Merlin, 1/ June 1'LT Protesting \a;.'e cuts, workers went on strike on 16 June and dcntmislraud ui 
(be fleets. So lei Kinks then look up position (hereon the I .eip/ie.erstrasse), Sixteen demonstrators were 
killed, lumdrrds weif wounded, anil thousands ol people received Ion;.' prison sentences. The Last (icr 
man upusim> was die lust eicat crack to appear in a "people's democracy" * 1 1 U 

Budapest, l Vtoher PJsh. The rir.t antitotaliiarian revolution mobili/ed the entire population 
avauist the secret peilicc and ihr ( '.ommunisi Paris, I'hc resistance h:.>.htcrs managed t f * Jclav. 
Soviet intervention, i nlnr I'huiir. 

Budapest, November m& Soviet tanks look lu the streets; iIk" population resisted with ,,ins. The 
Hun^ri^iU.H-kcrsMC^nnnunisilf^n^^hca.Liiun'sonlv p:im , was reestablished in pmerai the est 
ol l|»ttl 3JH» lues. More ihim 25,0(10 people were hnprttimd Tens of thousands irf I lumumns lied 
into exile, i I ). R. 

I'o/nam Poland, 2* June p$. Workers ,n a raikax iacmn wo, „„ sinL, and demuiistrat.uns l«,| 
lowed, with sliouis of -bread and l.bemT Dozens rffal ,n the ensuing repressions. I >cmunMra„n-. here 
are waving- a blood -stained Polish flag in from of the 1'iat taclorv. I I . s. 1. fey ,, | mi ~, T k,,,w 

(ulansk, I Krember I'J'/O. Sirikin; 1 , workers in the Baltic ports demonstrated against sharp increases in 
food prices. 1 lundreds o| demonstrators were killed and wounded. ( )ne ot the ictinis was carried on a 
door (below) and immortalized in a ballad: "A ho from (irabowek / A bo from C.hvlonia / Tuda the 
police opened tire • and Janek Wismewski tell." The son; 1 , was reied in uiuist !0S0, when the tree 
SohdariK irade onion was born. ( \ R. 

»trf ^ 

f |^ S^iiff ? • 

Nikolai Pctkov, a democrat who 

fought in the resistance against 

rhe fascists, was deput prime 

minister in the conlirion g*$v 

eminent afrer the liberation 

oi Imiguria. Having resigned in protest 

against the terror, he was arrested and condemned m 

death after a show-trial on 16 August l ( H7. He was 

handed on IS September. £ I"). R. 

In the State ( inuri in Prague 
Mikida ] lorako a (secoru 
from left) was condemned k 
death on N June l l >5() wird 
three other defendants. Tlie 
were handed on 27 June t'V.SO. 
i !). K. 

Prague Gym Up. During ,hc Suva, invasion «hc inhabitants of rh, ci,v *#■ qll ick ,o dfc* I eomnan 
son «,* ,hc Nm mam «rf lf» ) km rimy pet <f* Soviet rrnops w,,h moek Nazi sakms. I ,, R 

The Empire of the Camps 


fie 1930s, marked by repression against society on a hitherto 
unknown scale, also saw a huge expansion of the coneenrration-eamp system. 
The C iiilag Administration archives now available allow a close examination oi' 
the evolution of these institutions, revealing changes in organizational struc- 
ture, periods of great activity, the number of" prisoners, their economic status, 
the sort of crimes for which they had been condemned, and their division by 
age, sex, nationality, and educational background. 1 Hut many gra areas re- 
main. In particular, although the Chilag bureaucracy kept efficient records of 
the numbers of inmates, little is known about the fate of those who failed lo 
arrie at their destination; and this despite numerous individual testimonies. 

By mid 1930 approximately 140,000 prisoners were already working in 
the camps run by the (iPl . The huge project to dig a canal connecting the 
White Sea and the Baltic, which alone required more than 120,000 men, re 
suited in the transfer of tens of thousands from prison to camp. The number 
of people receiving some sort of custodial sentence continued to rise: more than 
50,000 were sentenced b rhe G PI: in 1929, and 208,000 in 1930 (this compared 
with 1,178,000 cases prosecuted by bodies other than the GPU in 1929, and 
1,238,000 in 1931).- One can therefore calculate that in early 1932 more than 
300,000 prisoners were laboring on the GPl' projects, where the annual mop 



A State against Its People 

tality rate often reached 10 percent, as was the case for the Baltic-White Sea 

When the GPU was reorganized and renamed the NKVD in July 1934, 
the Gulag absorbed 780 small penal colonies and some 212,000 prisoners from 
camps that had been judged inefficient or badly run under the People's Com- 
missariat of Justice. To increase productivity, and to match the image they were 
trying to create for the rest of the country, camps became bigger and more 
specialized. Huge penal complexes, each holding tens of thousands of prison- 
ers, were to be a major factor in the economy of Stalin's U.S.S.R. On 1 January 
1935 the newly unified Gulag system contained more than 965,000 prisoners— 
725,000 in work camps and 240,000 in work colonies, smaller units where less 
socially dangerous elements were sent, usually for a period of less than three 
years. 3 

In this fashion, the map of the gulags for the next two decades was drawn. 
The penal colonies of the Solovetski Islands, which contained some 45,000 
prisoners, spawned "flying camps" that were moved to places where wood was 
to be cut: in Karelia, along the shores of the White Sea, and in the Vologda 
region. The large Svirlag group of camps, which held around 43,000 prisoners, 
had the task of keeping the Leningrad area supplied with wood for heating, 
while the Temnikovo camps fulfilled the same role for the Moscow area. 

From the strategic crossroads at Kotlas, a railway was laid down along the 
"Northern Route" to West Vym, Ukhta, Pechora, and Vorkuta, with woodcut- 
ting operations and mines along the way. In the far north, the Ukhtpechlag 
used its 51,000 prisoners to build roads, mine coal, and extract petroleum. 
Another branch snaked out toward the Urals and the chemical centers at 
Solikamsk and Berezniki, while to the southeast all the camps in western Siberia 
and their 63,000 prisoners provided free manpower for the great mining com- 
plex at Kuzbassugol. 

Farther south, in the Karaganda region in Kazakhstan, the "agricultural 
camps" of the Steplag, containing some 30,000 prisoners, pioneered a project 
to cultivate the steppes. Apparently the regime there was less harsh than at the 
huge Dmitlag complex, which in the mid-1930s contained some 196,000 pris- 
oners. After the completion of the Baltic-White Sea canal in 1933 it was 
detailed to construct the second great Stalinist canal, from Moscow to the 

Another huge construction project was the BAM, the Baikal-Amur- 
Magistral, the railway that was to run parallel to the Trans-Siberian line be- 
tween Baikal and Amur. In early 1935 about 150,000 prisoners from the group 
of concentration camps at Bamlag, organized into some thirty divisions, 
worked on the first section of the railway. In 1939 the Bamlag with its 260,000 
prisoners was the biggest Soviet concentration camp of all. 

The Empire of the Camps 


Finally, after 1932 the Sevvostlag, a group of camps in the northeast, 
provided manpower for a center of great strategic importance, the Dalstroi. Its 
task was the production of gold to finance purchases from the West of equip- 
ment for industrialization. All the gold seams were situated in a particularly 
inhospitable region — in Kolyma. Accessible only by sea, Kolyma was to become 
the region most symbolic of the gulags. Magadan, the capital and the port 
where all new arrivals disembarked, had been built by the prisoners themselves. 
Its single road, a vital artery that had also been built by the prisoners, served 
only to link these camps. The living conditions were particularly inhumane and 
are well described in the works of Varlam Shalamov. Between 1932 and 1939, 
the gold extracted by the Kolyma prisoners — who numbered 138,000 in 1939 — 
rose from 276 kilos to 48 metric tons, which accounted for 35 percent of all 
Soviet gold produced that year. 4 

In June 1935 the government launched a new huge project that could be 
carried out only with penal labor- the construction of a large nickel production 
center in Norilsk, north of the Arctic Circle. At the height of the Gulag years, 
in the 1950s, the prisoners in the concentration camps in Norilsk would number 
70,000. The productive function of this camp, known as a "corrective work 
camp," clearly reflected the internal structure of the Gulag. Its central organi- 
zation was neither geographical nor functional, but entirely economic, with 
centers for hydroelectric production, for railway construction, for bridge and 
road building, and so on. For both the administration of the penal centers and 
the government ministries of industry, prisoners and work colonizers were just 
so much merchandise to be parceled out by contract. 5 

In the second half of the 1930s the Gulag population doubled, from 
965,000 prisoners in early 1935 to 1,930,000 in early 1941. In 1937 alone it grew 
by 700,000. h The massive influx of new prisoners so destabilized production 
that it fell by 13 percent from the previous year's. It continued to stagnate in 
1938 until the new people's commissar of internal affairs, Lavrenti Beria, took 
vigorous measures to rationalize the work carried out by prisoners. In a note 
addressed to the Politburo on 10 April 1939, Beria laid out his program for the 
reorganization of the gulags. He argued that his predecessor, Nikolai Ezhov, 
had placed a much higher priority on hunting down class enemies than he had 
on healthy economic management. The normal food allowance for the prison- 
ers, set at 1,400 calories per day; had been calculated for people who did nothing 
but sit around a prison cell all day. 7 As a result, the number of prisoners capable 
of working had shrunk considerably over the previous years: some 250,000 
prisoners were unable to work on 1 March 1939, and 8 percent of all prisoners 
had died in the previous year. To meet the production targets set by the NKVD, 
Beria called for an increase in food rations. In addition, he called for a halt to 
the early release of prisoners and to exemplary punishments of malingerers or 


A State against Its People 

"production disorganizes." He recommended the extension of the working 
day to eleven hours, with three rest days allowed per month, "to exploit, as 
much as possible, all the physical capacities of all the prisoners." 

Contrary to popular belief, the Gulag archives demonstrate that the turn- 
over of prisoners was quite high; 20-35 percent were released each year. This 
rotation can be explained by the relatively high number of sentences of less 
than he years, nearly 57 percent of all sentences in early 1 940. But the arbitrary 
nature of the camp administration and the justice system, particularly where 
the political prisoners of 1937-38 were concerned, often meant that sentences 
were mysteriously extended. Release often did not mean freedom, but subjec- 
tion to a whole series of measures such as exile or house arrest. 

Also contrary to popular belief, the Gulag camps were not filled only with 
political prisoners— sentenced for "counterrevolutionary activities" according 
to the fourteen definitions of the infamous Article 58 of the penal code. The 
political contingent oscillated between one-quarter and one-third of all prison- 
ers in the gulags each year. The other prisoners were not necessarily common 
criminals. Many were sentenced to camps for having committed crimes spe- 
cially created by the Party, ranging from "destruction of Soviet property" to 
"breaking the passport law," "hooliganism," "speculation," "leaving one's work 
post," "sabotage," or even "nonfulfillment of the minimum number of working 
days" in the koikhozy. Most prisoners in the gulags were simply ordinary 
citizens who were victims of particularly harsh laws in the workplace and a 
growing number of regulations regarding social behavior. They were the result 
of a decade of repressive measures taken by the Party-state against ever-larger 
sections of society. 8 

A provisional balance sheet of statistics on the terror might run as follows: 

6 million dead as a result of the famine of 1932-33, a catastrophe that 
can be blamed largely on the policy of enforced collectivization and the 
predatory tactics of the central government in seizing the harvests of the 

720,000 executions, 680,000 of which were carried out in 1937-38, usu- 
ally after some sort of travesty of justice by a special GPU or NKVD 

300,000 known deaths in the camps from 1934 to 1940. By extrapolating 
these figures back to 1930-1933 (years for which very few records are 
available), we can estimate that some 400,000 died during the decade, 
not counting the incalculable number of those who died between the mo- 
ment of their arrest and their registration as prisoners in one of the 

The Empire of the Camps 


600,000 registered deaths among the deportees, refugees, and "specially 

Approximately 2,200,000 deported, forcibly moved, or exiled as "spe- 
cially displaced people." 

A cumulative figure of 7 million people who entered the camps and Gu- 
lag colonies from 1934 to 1941 (information for the years 1930-1933 re- 
mains imprecise). 

On 1 January 1940 some 1,670,000 prisoners were being held in the 53 
groups of corrective work camps and the 425 corrective work colonies. One 
year later the figure had risen to 1,930,000. In addition, prisons held 200,000 
people awaiting trial or a transfer to camp. Finally, the NKVD komandatury 
were in charge of approximately 1 .2 million "specially displaced people." 9 Even 
if these figures are heavily rounded down to bring them into line with estimates 
made by previous historians and eyewitnesses, which often confused the num- 
bers of those entering the gulags with the numbers already present at a certain 
date, the data still give a good idea of the scale of the repressive measures 
against the Soviet people in the 1930s. 

From the end of 1939 to the summer of 1941 the camps, colonies, and special 
Gulag settlements saw the arrival of yet another wave of prisoners. This was 
partly the result of the Sovietization of the new territories, and partly the 
result of the unprecedented criminalization of various sorts of behavior, nota- 
bly in the workplace. 

On 24 August 1939 the world was stunned to learn that a mutual pact of 
nonaggression had been signed the previous day between Stalin's US.S.R. and 
Hitler's Germany. The announcement of the pact sent shock waves through 
much of the world, where public opinion was totally unprepared for what 
appeared to be a volte-face in international relations. At the time, few people 
had realized what could link two regimes that apparently professed such op- 
posed ideologies. 

On 21 August 1939 the Soviet government adjourned negotiations with 
the Franco-British mission that had arrived in Moscow on 11 August. The 
mission had hoped to conclude a pact that would reciprocally engage all three 
of the parties in the event of a hostile action by Germany against any one of 
them. Since early that year, Soviet diplomats, led by Vyacheslav Molotov, had 
progressively distanced themselves from the idea of an agreement with France 
and Britain, which Moscow suspected were prepared to sign another Munich 
treaty to sacrifice Poland, leaving the Germans a free hand in the east, While 
negotiations between the Soviet Union on the one hand, and the French and 


A State against Its People 

British on the other, became bogged down in insoluble problems, especially the 
question of permission for Soviet troops to cross Polish territory, contacts 
between Soviet and German representatives at various levels took a new turn. 
On 14 August von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, offered to come 
to Moscow to conclude a momentous political agreement with the Soviet 
Union. The following day, Stalin accepted the offer. 

On 19 August, after a series of negotiations begun in late 1938, the 
German and Soviet delegations signed a commercial treaty that looked ex- 
tremely promising for the U.S.S.R. That same evening, the Soviet Union 
accepted von Ribbentrop's offer to visit Moscow to sign the pact of nonaggres- 
sion already worked out in Moscow and sent ahead to Berlin. The German 
minister, who had been given extraordinary powers for the occasion, arrived in 
Moscow on the afternoon of 23 August. The nonaggression treaty was signed 
during the night and made public the following day. Meant to last for ten years, 
it was to come into effect immediately. The most important part of the agree- 
ment, outlining spheres of influence and annexations in Eastern Europe, obvi- 
ously remained secret. The Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret 
protocol until 1989. According to the secret agreement, Lithuania fell under 
German control, and Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Bessarabia would be given 
to Soviet control. The maintenance of some sort of sovereign Polish state was 
left unresolved, but it was clear that after German and Soviet military inter- 
vention in Poland, the U.S.S.R. was to recover the Ukrainian and Belorussian 
territories it had lost under the Riga treaty in 1920, together with part of rhe 
"historically and ethnically Polish" territories in the provinces of Lublin and 

Eight days after the signing of the pact, Nazi troops marched into Poland. 
One week later, after all Polish resistance had been crushed, and at the insis- 
tence of the Germans, the Soviet government proclaimed its intention to 
occupy the territories to which it was entitled under the secret protocol of 23 
August. On 17 September the Red Army entered Poland, on the pretext that 
it was coming to the aid of its "Ukrainian and Belorussian blood brothers," 
who were in danger because of "the disintegration of the Polish state." Soviet 
intervention met with little resistance, since the Polish army had been almost 
completely destroyed. The Soviet Union took 230,000 prisoners of war, includ- 
ing 15,000 officers. 10 

The idea of installing some sort of Polish puppet government was rapid I v 
abandoned, and negotiations were opened on the fixing of the border between 
Germany and the U.S.S.R. On 22 September it was drawn along the Vistula in 
Warsaw, but after von Ribbentrop's visit to Moscow on 28 September it was 
pushed farther east, to the Bug. In exchange for this concession, Germany 
agreed to include Lithuania in the sphere of Soviet control. The partitioning 

The Empire of the Camps 


of Poland allowed the U.S.S.R. to annex vast territories of 180,000 square 
kilometers, with a population of 12 million Belorussians, Ukrainians, and Poles. 
On 1 and 2 November, after a farcical referendum, these territories were 
attached to the Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belorussia. 

By this time the NKVD "cleansing" of the regions was already under way. 
The first targets were the Poles, who were arrested and deported en masse as 
"hostile elements." Those most at risk were landowners, industrialists, shop- 
keepers, civil servants, policemen, and "military colonists" (osadnicy wojskowe) 
who had received a parcel of land from the Polish government in recognition 
of their service in the Soviet-Polish war of 1920. According to records kept in 
the Special Colonies Department of the Gulag, 381,000 Polish civilians from 
the territories taken over by the U.S.S.R. in September 1939 were deported 
between February 1940 and June 1941 as "specially displaced people" to Sibe- 
ria, the Arkhangelsk region, Kazakhstan, and other far-flung corners of the 
U.S.S.R. 11 The figures given by Polish historians are much higher, arguing for 
approximately 1 million deportees. 12 There are no precise figures for the arrest 
and deportation of civilians carried out between September 1939 and January 

For later periods, archival documents contain evidence for three great 
waves of arrests and deportations, on 9 and 10 February, 12 and 13 April, and 
28 and 29 June 1940. 11 The return trip for the convoys between the Polish 
border and Siberia, Kazakhstan, or the Arctic regions took two months. As for 
the Polish prisoners of war, only 82,000 out of 230,000 were still alive in the 
summer of 1941. Losses among the Polish deportees were also extremely high. 
In August 1941, after reaching an agreement with the Polish government-in- 
exile, the Soviet government granted an amnesty to all Poles who had been 
deported since November 1939, but to only 243,100 of the 381,000 "specially 
displaced. " In total more than 388,000 Polish prisoners of war, interned refu- 
gees, and deported civilians benefited from this amnesty. Several hundred 
thousand had died in the previous two years. A great number had been executed 
on the pretext that they were "unrepentant and determined enemies of Soviet 

Among the latter were the 25,700 officers and Polish civilians whom Beria, 
in a top-secret letter to Stalin on 5 March 1940, had proposed to shoot. 

A Urge number of ex-officers from the Polish army, ex-officials from the 
Polish police and information departments, members of nationalist 
counterrevolutionary parties, members of opposition counterrevolu- 
tionary organizations that have rightly been unmasked, renegades, and 
many others, all sworn enemies of the Soviet system, are at present 
being detained in prisoner-of-war camps run by the NKVD in the 


A State against Its People 

U.S.S.R. and in the prisons situated in the western regions of Ukraine 
and Belorussia. 

The army officers and policemen who are being held prisoner are 
still attempting to pursue their counterrevolutionary activities and are 
fomenting anti-Soviet actions. They are all eagerly awaiting their libera- 
tion so that once more they may enter actively into the struggle against 
the Soviet regime. 

NKVD organizations in the western regions of Ukraine and in 
Belorussia have uncovered a number of rebel counterrevolutionary or- 
ganizations. The Polish ex-army officers and policemen have all been 
playing an active role at the head of these organizations. 

Among the renegades and those who have violated state borders are 
numerous people who have been identified as belonging to counterrevo- 
lutionary espionage and resistance movements. 

14,736 ex-officers, officials, landowners, policemen, prison guards, 
border settlers (osadmki), and information agents (more than 97 percent 
of whom are Polish) are at present being detained in prisoner of war 
camps. Neither private soldiers nor noncommissioned officers are in- 
cluded in this number. Among them are: 

295 generals, colonels, and lieutenant colonels 

2,080 commanders and captains 

6,049 lieutenants, second lieutenants, and officers in training 

1,030 officers and police NCOs, border guards, and gendarmes 

5,138 policemen, gendarmes, prison guards, and information 

144 officials, landowners, priests, and border settlers 

In addition to the above, 18,632 men are detained in prisons in the 
western regions of Ukraine and Belorussia (10,685 of whom are Polish). 
They include: 

1,207 ex-officers 

5,141 ex-information officers, police, and gendarmes 
347 spies and saboteurs 

465 ex-landowners, factory managers, and officials 
5,345 members of various counterrevolutionary resistance move- 
ments and diverse other elements 
6,127 renegades 

Insofar as all the above individuals are sworn and incorrigible ene- 
mies of the Soviet regime, the U.S.S.R. NKVD believes it necessary to: 

The Empire of the Camps 


1. Order the U.S.S.R. NKVD to pass judgment before special 
courts on: 

a. the 14,700 ex-officers, officials, landowners, police officers, 
information officers, gendarmes, special border guards, and 
prison guards detained in prisoner-of-war camps 

b. the 1 1,000 members of the diverse counterrevolutionary es- 
pionage and sabotage organizations, ex-landowners, factory 
managers, ex-officers of the Polish army, officials, and rene- 
gades who have been arrested and are being held in the pris- 
ons in the western regions of Ukraine and Belorussia, so that 

2. Order that individual files be studied in the absence of the ac- 
cused, and without particular charges being lodged. The conclu- 
sions of the inquiries and the final sentence should be presented 
as follows: 

a. a certificate produced by the Directorate for Prisoner of War 
Affairs of the NKVD of the U.S.S.R. for all individuals de- 
tained in prisoner-of-war camps 

b. a certificate produced by the Ukrainian branch of the 
NKVD and the Belorussian NKVD for all other people ar- 

3. Files should be examined and sentences passed by a tribunal 
made up of three people— Comrades [Vsevolod] Merkulov, 
[Bogdanl Kobulov, and flvan L.] Bashtakov. 

Some of the mass graves containing the bodies of those executed were 
discovered by the Germans in April 1943 in the Katyn forest. Several huge 
graves were found to contain the remains of 4,000 Polish officers. The Soviet 
authorities tried to blame this massacre on the Germans; only in 1992, on the 
occasion of a visit by Boris Yeltsin to Warsaw, did the Russian government 
acknowledge the Soviet Politburo's sole responsibility for the massacre of the 
Polish officers in 1940. 

As soon as the Polish territories were annexed, the Soviet government 
summoned the heads of the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian governments 
to Moscow and imposed "mutual assistance treaties 11 on them, according to 
which they "invited" the U.S.S.R. to set up military bases on their territory. 
Immediately, 25,000 Soviet soldiers marched into Estonia, 30,000 into Latvia, 
and 20,000 into Lithuania. These troops far outnumbered the standing armies 
in each of the theoretically independent countries. The entry of Soviet troops 
in October 1939 marked the real end of the independence of the Baltic states. 
On 1 1 October Beria gave the order to "stamp out anti-Soviet and antisociahst 


A State against Its People 

elements" in these countries. The Soviet military police then began arresting 
officers, civil servants, and intellectuals considered untrustworthy. 

In June 1940, shortly after the successful German offensive in France, the 
Soviet government acted on the clauses contained in the secret protocol of 23 
August 1939. On 14 June, on the pretext that there had been "acts of provoca- 
tion carried out against the Soviet garrisons," it sent an ultimatum to the Baltic 
leaders, ordering them to form "governments prepared to guarantee the honest 
application of a treaty of mutual assistance, and to take steps to punish all 
opponents of such a treaty." In the days that followed, several hundred thou- 
sand more Soviet troops marched into the Baltic states. Stalin sent repre- 
sentatives to the capital cities: Vyshinsky to Riga, Zhdanov to Tallinn, and 
Vladimir Dekanozov, the chief of the secret police and deputy minister of 
foreign affairs in the U.S.S.R., to Kaunas. Their mission was to carry out the 
Sovietization of the three republics. Parliaments and all local institutions were 
dissolved and most of the members arrested. Only the Communist Party was 
authorized to present candidates for the elections on 14 and 15 July 1940. 

In the weeks following the farcical elections, the NKVD, under the lead- 
ership of Genera] Ivan Serov, arrested between 15,000 and 20,000 "hostile 
elements." In Latvia alone, 1,480 people were summarily executed at the be- 
ginning of July. The newly "elected" parliaments requested that their countries 
be admitted into the U.S.S.R., a request that was granted in early August by 
the Supreme Soviet, which then proclaimed the birth of three new Soviet 
Socialist Republics. While Pravda wrote that "the sun of the great Stalinist 
constitution will henceforth be shining its gratifying rays on new territories and 
new peoples," what was actually beginning for the Baltic states was a long 
period of arrests, deportations, and executions. 

Soviet archives also contain the details of a large deportation operation 
carried out under the orders of General Serov during the night of 13-14 May, 
when "socially hostile" elements from the Baltic region, Moldavia, Belorussia, 
and western Ukraine were rounded up. The operation had been planned a few 
weeks previously, and on 16 May 1941 Beria wrote to Stalin regarding the latest 
project to "clean up regions recently integrated into the U.S.S.R. and remove 
all criminal, socially alien, and anti-Soviet elements." In total, 85,716 people 
were deported in June 1941, including 25,711 from the Baltic states. Vsevolod 
Merkulov, the second in command at the NKVD, in a report dated 17 July 
1941, tabulated the results of the operation in the Baltics. During the night of 
13-14 June, 11,038 members of "bourgeois nationalist" families, 3,240 mem- 
bers of the families of former policemen, 7,124 members of families of land- 
owners, industrialists, and civil servants, 1,649 members of the families of 
former officers, and 2,907 "others" were deported. The document makes clear 

The Empire of the Camps 


that the heads of these families had been arrested, and in all probability had 
already been executed. The operation carried out on 13 June was aimed exclu- 
sively at the remaining family members of those who had been deemed "socially 

alien." H 

Each deported family was allowed 100 kilograms of baggage, which was 
supposed to include enough food for one month. The NKVD itself accepted 
no responsibility for providing food during the whole deportation process. The 
convoys arrived at their destination at the end of July 1941, most of them going 
to Novosibirsk and Kazakhstan. Some of them did not reach their destination 
in the Altai region until mid-September. No information is available on the 
number of deportees who died in transit, but one can imagine that the numbers 
were high. The journey took from six to twelve weeks, and the deportees were 
fifty to a wagon in the cattle trucks used to transport them, kept together with 
all their food and baggage in the same place. Beria planned a similar large-scale 
operation for the night of 27-28 June 1941. The choice of this date can be 
taken as further confirmation that the Soviet high command was not prepared 
for the German attack planned for 22 June. Operation Barbarossa delayed for 
several years the NKVD "cleansing" of the Baltic states. 

A few days after the occupation of the Baltic states, the Soviet government 
sent an ultimatum to Romania demanding the immediate return of Bessarabia 
and Northern Bukovina to the U.S.S.R.— another provision of the secret Ger- 
man-Soviet protocol of 23 August 1939. Abandoned by the Germans, the 
Romanians immediately gave in. Bukovina and part of Bessarabia were incor- 
porated into Ukraine, and the remaining part of Bessarabia became the Soviet 
Socialist Republic of Moldavia, proclaimed on 2 August 1940. Kobulov, Beria's 
assistant, signed a deportation order that same day for 31,699 "anti-Soviet 
elements" who lived in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia, and for 
another 12,191 in the Romanian regions that had been incorporated into 
Ukraine. Within a few months all these "elements" had been classified and filed 
in what was by then the tried and tested manner. The previous evening, on 
1 August 1940, Molotov had given a triumphant speech to the Supreme Soviet 
regarding the German-Soviet pact, which had given the U.S.S.R. 23 million 
new inhabitants. 

The year 1940 was also remarkable for one other statistic. It was the year when 
the number of prisoners in gulags and Soviet prisons reached their height. On 
1 January 1941 the gulags contained more than 1,930,000 people, 270,000 more 
than the previous year. More than 500,000 people in the new "Sovietized" 
territories had been deported, in addition to the 1.2 million "specially dis- 
placed people" who had been counted at the end of 1939. Soviet prisons, which 


A State against Its People 

had a theoretical limit of 234,000 inmates, held 462,000 people;' 5 and the total 
number of sentences passed that year saw a huge rise, climbing in one year 
from 700,000 to 2,300,000. l( > 

This spectacular increase was the result of an unprecedented effort to 
criminalize different types of social behavior. In the workplace the date of 26 
June 1940 remained imprinted on the minds of many because of the decree 
"on the adoption of the eight-hour working day, the seven-day working week, 
and the ban on leaving work of one's own accord." Any unjustified absence, 
including any lateness of more than twenty minutes, was henceforth treated as 
a criminal offense. Lawbreakers were liable to six months 1 uninterrupted "cor- 
rective work," the loss of 25 percent of their salary, and the possibility of a 
prison sentence of between two and four months. 

On 10 August another decree increased the punishments for any act of 
"hooliganism," shoddy work, or petty theft in the workplace to as much as three 
years of imprisonment in the camps. In the conditions that then prevailed in 
Soviet industry, almost any worker could be prosecuted under this severe new 

These decrees, which would remain on the statute books until 1956, 
marked a new stage in the criminalization of the labor laws. In the first six 
months after they came into effect, more than 1.5 million people received 
sentences; the fact that 400,000 of these were custodial sentences partly ex- 
plains the huge increase in prison numbers after the summer of 1941. The 
number of "hooligans" sentenced to the camps rose from 108,000 in 19S9 to 
200,000 in 1940. I7 

The end of the Great Terror was thus marked by a new offensive against 
the ordinary citizens of the country, those who refused to bend to accommodate 
the new factory or kolkhoz laws. In response to the severe laws of the summer 
of 1940, a number of workers, if one is to judge by the reports of NKVD 
informers, fell into what were termed "unhealthy states of mind," particularly 
during the first few weeks of the Nazi invasion. They openly called for "the 
elimination of all Jews and Communists" and began to spread what the NKVD 
termed "provocative rumors." For example, one Moscow worker claimed that 
"when Hitler takes our towns, he will put up posters saying, i won't put 
workers on trial, like your government does, just because they are twenty-one 
minutes late for work. 1 " 18 Any such comment was treated with extreme severity, 
as is indicated by the report of the military procurator general on "crimes and 
misdemeanors committed on the railways between 22 June and 1 September 
1941." This report recorded 2,254 sentences against individuals, including 204 
death sentences; 412 people were sentenced for "the spreading of counterrevo- 
lutionary rumors," and 110 railway workers were condemned to death for this 


, 19 

The Empire of the Camps 


A collection of documents recently published details the mood of the 
Moscow population during the first few months of the war. What emerges most 
clearly is the total confusion felt by people during the German advances in the 
summer of 1941. 2() Muscovites seemed to fall into one of three categories: 
patriots, a large group of ambivalent individuals who latched on to rumors, and 
the defeatists, who wished for a swift German victory to get rid of the "Jews 
and Bolsheviks" perceived to have ruined the country. In October 1941, when 
factories were dismantled and moved farther east in the country, an "anti-Soviet 
disorder" broke out in the textile industry in the Ivanovo district. 21 The defeat- 
ist slogans of the workers were quite revealing of the despair felt by much of 
the workforce, which since 1940 had labored under ever-harsher conditions. 

The barbarism of the Nazis created some reconciliation between the 
Soviet government and the people, in that Germany classed Russians as sub- 
humans destined for extermination or slavery. After the German invasion there 
was a swift upturn in patriotism. Stalin very cleverly began to reaffirm tradi- 
tional patriotic Russian values. In a famous radio address to the nation on 3 July 
1941, he again used the language and imagery that had unified Russians for 
more than a century: "Brothers and sisters, a grave danger is threatening our 
land." References to the Great Russian Nation of Plekhanov, Lenin, Pushkin, 
Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Lermontov, Suvorov, and Kutuzov were used to call for 
a holy war, the "Great Patriotic War." On 7 November 1941, while reviewing 
battalions of volunteers who were leaving for the front, Stalin called on them 
to fight according to "the glorious examples of our ancestors Aleksandr Nevsky 
and Dmitry Donskoi." The former had saved Russia from the Teutonic 
Knights in the thirteenth century, and the second, a century later, had finally 
shaken off the Tatar yoke. 


The Other Side of Victory 

Tor a long time, one of the best-kept secrets of Soviet history was 
the deportation of whole ethnic groups during the Great Patriotic War—na- 
tions that were collectively accused of "subversive tactics, espionage, and col- 
laboration with the occupying Nazi forces." Only at the end of the 1950s did 
the authorities finally admit that "excesses and generalizations" had taken 
place. In the 1960s the legal existence of a number of autonomous republics, 
which had been struck off the map for collaboration with the enemy, was 
finally reestablished. But it was only in 1972 that the remainder of the living 
deportees were finally given a "free choice of their place of abode." And it was 
only in 1989 that the Crimean Tatars were fully rehabilitated. Until the mid- 
1960s, the progressive removal of the sanctions against these peoples was still 
top secret, and the decrees issued before 1964 were never made public. Only 
with the "Declaration of the Supreme Soviet" of 14 November 1989 did the 
Soviet state finally acknowledge "the criminal illegality of the barbarous acts 
committed by the Stalinist regime against the peoples deported en masse." 

The Germans were the first ethnic group to be collectively deported, a 
few weeks after the German invasion of the U.S.S.R. According to the 1939 
census, there were then 1,427,000 Germans living in the Soviet Union, most 
of them descendants of the German colonists invited by Catherine II to settle 
the vast empty spaces of southern Russia. In 1924 the Soviet government had 


The Other Side of Victory 


created the autonomous Volga German Republic. Numbering around 370,000, 
the Volga Germans accounted for only a quarter of the population of German 
immigrants located throughout Russia (chiefly in the regions of Saratov, Stal- 
ingrad, Voronezh, Moscow, and Leningrad), Ukraine (where there were 
390,000), the Northern Caucasus (chiefly in the regions of Krasnodar, 
Ordzhonikidze, and Stavropol), and even in the Crimea and Georgia. On 28 
August 1941 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued a decree stipulating 
that all Germans in the autonomous Volga Republic, the Saratov region, and 
Stalingrad were to be deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The decree por- 
trayed this move as a humanitarian measure. 

At a time when the Red Army was retreating on all fronts and losing tens 
of thousands every day as soldiers were killed or taken prisoner, Beria diverted 
more than 14,000 men from the NKVD for this operation, which was led by 
the people's commissar of internal affairs, General Ivan Serov, who had already 
shown his efficiency in this sort of exercise during the ethnic cleansing of the 
Baltic states. Even if one takes account of the extraordinary circumstances and 
the unforeseen defeat of the Red Army, the cruelty with which the operation 
was carried out is astounding. From 3 to 5 September 1941, 446,480 Germans 
were deported in 230 convoys, which on average contained 50 trucks. This 
meant that there were nearly 2,000 people per convoy, or 40 per truck. Travel- 
ing at only a few kilometers per hour, these convoys took between four and 
eight weeks to reach their destinations in Omsk, Novosibirsk, Barnaul in south- 
ern Siberia, and the Krasnoyarsk region of eastern Siberia. As in the case of 
the previous deportations from the Baltic states, the displaced persons, accord- 
ing to the official instructions, had a a certain time to gather enough food for a 
minimum period of one month." 

The following are excerpts from the decree of 28 August 1941. 

According to reliable information received by the military authorities, 
the German population living in the Volga region is harboring tens of 
thousands of saboteurs and spies who, at the first hint of a signal from 
Germany, will immediately organize disruptive activities in the regions 
they inhabit. The Soviet authorities had not previously been aware of 
the presence or the numbers of these saboteurs and spies. The German 
population of the Volga is nurturing in its bosom enemies of the people 
and of Soviet power . . . 

If acts of sabotage are indeed carried out on Germany's orders by 
German saboteurs and spies in the autonomous Volga Republic or in 
neighboring areas, then blood will flow, and the Soviet government, as is 
only appropriate in times of war, will be obliged to take punitive meas- 
ures against the German population of the Volga. To avoid this eventu- 
ality and to save much bloodletting, the Presidium of the Supreme 


A State against Its People 

Soviet of the U.S.S.R. has approved a decision to transfer the whole 
German population of the Volga district elsewhere, providing them 
with land and help from the state so that they can resettle in other 

Districts where abundant land is available have been put aside to 
this end in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Altai, Kazakhstan, and other areas 
contiguous with these territories. 

While the main deportation was under way, secondary operations were 
carried out as military fortunes rose and fell. On 29 August 1941 Molotov, 
Malenkov, and Zhdanov proposed to Stalin that they should cleanse the city 
and region of Leningrad of the 96,000 people of German and Finnish origin 
living there. The following day, German troops reached the Neva, cutting the 
railway line that linked Leningrad with the rest of the country. The risk of 
encirclement became more and more serious by the day, and the relevant 
authorities had taken no measures to evacuate the civilian population of the city 
or to prepare any foodstocks in the event of a siege. Nonetheless, on that same 
day, 30 August, Beria sent out a circular ordering the deportation of 132,000 
people from the Leningrad region: 96,000 by train and 36,000 by river. As it 
turned out, the NKVD had time to arrest and deport only 11,000 Soviet 
citizens of German origin before the arrival of German army units forced a 
suspension of the deportations. 

Over the next several weeks similar operations were begun in the Moscow 
region, where 9,640 Germans were deported on 15 September; in Tula, where 
2,700 were deported on 21 September; in Gorky (formerly Nizhni Novgorod), 
where 3,162 were deported on 14 September; in Rostov, where 38,288 were 
deported between 10 and 20 September; in Zaporizhzhia (31,320 between 25 
September and 10 October); in Krasnodar (38,136 on 15 September); and in 
Ordzhonikidze (77,570 on 20 September), In October 1941 there was a further 
deportation of 100,000 Germans living in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the 
Northern Caucasus, and the Crimea. As of 25 December 1941, 894,600 Ger- 
mans had been deported, most of them to Kazakhstan and Siberia. If the 
Germans deported in 1942 are taken into account, in all roughly 1 ,209,430 were 
deported in less than a year— very close to the 1,427,000 Germans reported in 
the 1939 census. 

More than 82 percent of the German population in Soviet territory were 
thus deported, at a moment when all police and military forces should have 
been concentrating on the armed struggle against the invading enemy rather 
than the deportation of hundreds of thousands of innocent Soviet citizens. In 
fact the proportion of Soviet citizens of German origin who were deported was 
even higher than these figures suggest, if one also includes the tens of thou- 
sands of soldiers and officers of German origin who were expelled from Red 

The Other Side of Victory 


Army units and sent off in disciplinary battalions of the "work army" to 
Vorkuta, Kotlas, Kemerovo, and Chelyabinsk. In this last city alone, more than 
25,000 Germans were soon working in the metallurgy plant. Working condi- 
tions and the chances of survival were little better in the work camps than they 
were in the gulags. 

Because information about the convoys is so piecemeal, it is impossible 
today to calculate how many of these Germans died in the transfer to the new 
settlements. It is also unclear how many convoys actually reached their desti- 
nation in the chaos engulfing Russia in the autumn of 1941. At the end of 
November, according to the plan, 29,600 German deportees were to arrive in 
the region of Karaganda. But on 1 January 1942 only 8,304 had actually 
arrived. The intention was for 130,998 individuals to settle in the area, but in 
fact no more than 1 16,612 made it. What happened to the others? Did they die 
en route, or were they transferred elsewhere? The Altai region was slated to 
receive 11,000 deportees, but actually received 94,799. Worse still are the 
NKVD reports on the arrival of the deportees, which leave no doubt that the 
regions were totally unprepared for them. 

In the prevailing environment of secrecy, local authorities were informed 
only at the last minute about the arrival of tens of thousands of deportees. No 
living quarters were ready, so the deportees were kept in stables, barracks, or 
outside, exposed to the elements, even though winter was coming on fast. 
Nonetheless, over the preceding ten years the authorities had acquired consid- 
erable experience in such matters, and the "economic implantation" of the new 
arrivals was carried out far more efficiently than the arrival of the kulaks back 
in the early 1930s, when they had often been abandoned in the forests. After a 
few months most of the deportees were living as "specially displaced,' 1 which 
is to say that they were living under extremely harsh conditions. They lived 
under the control of NKVD komandalury on collective farms, experimental 
farms, or industrial complexes, where food was poor and work was hard. 1 

The deportation of the Germans was followed by a second great wave of 
deportations, from November 1943 to June 1944, when six peoples — the 
Chechens, the Ingush, the Crimean Tatars, the Karachai, the Balkars, and the 
Kalmyks — were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kirgizstan 
on the pretext that they had "collaborated massively with the Nazi occupier. 1 ' 
This main wave of deportations was followed by other operations from July to 
December 1944, which were intended to cleanse the Crimea and the Caucasus 
of several other nationalities judged to be untrustworthy: the Greeks, the 
Bulgars, the Armenians from the Crimea, the Meskhetian Turks, the Kurds, 
and the Khemshins of the Caucasus. 2 

Recently available archival documents have shed no new light on the 


A State against Its People 

supposed collaboration of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus, the Kalmyks, 
or the Crimean Tatars with the Nazis. Some facts point to a small number of 
collaborators in the Crimea, in Kalmykia, in the Karachai lands, and in 
Kabardino-Balkaria, but no evidence exists of general policies of collaboration 
in these regions. It was after the loss by the Red Army at Rostov-on-Don in 
July 1942, and during the German occupation of the Caucasus from the sum- 
mer of 1942 to the spring of 1943, that the most controversial collaborationist 
episodes took place. In the power vacuum between the Soviet army's departure 
and the arrival of the Germans, local leaders set up "National Committees" in 
Mikoyan-Shakhar, in the autonomous region of Karachaevo-Cherkess; in Nal- 
chik, in the autonomous republic of Kabardino-Balkaria; and in Elista, in the 
autonomous republic of Kalmykia. The German army recognized the authority 
of these local committees, which for a few months enjoyed religious, economic, 
and political autonomy. Once this experiment in the Caucasus had reinforced 
the "Muslim Myth 11 (the notion that Islamic regions of the US.S.R. could be 
exploited) in Berlin, the Crimean Tatars were also permitted to set up their 
own "Central Muslim Committee," based in Simferopol. 

Nevertheless, because the Nazis feared that there might be a resurgence 
of the Pan-Turkic movement, which had been crushed by the Red Army in the 
mid-1920s, they never gave the Crimean Tatars the autonomy the Kalmyks, 
Karachai, and Balkars enjoyed for a few months. In exchange for the small 
measure of autonomy they were accorded, these local authorities contributed a 
few troops to break the resistance of the nearly negligible forces that had 
remained loyal to the Soviet regime. In all, these units amounted to no more 
than a few thousand men: six Tatar battalions in the Crimea, and one body of 
Kalmyk cavalry. 

The autonomous republic of Chechnya-Ingushetia was only partially oc- 
cupied by Nazi detachments for approximately ten weeks, from early Septem- 
ber to mid-November 1942. There was not the slightest evidence of 
collaboration. The Chechens, however, had always been a rebellious people. 
The Soviet authorities had launched several punitive expeditions in 1925 to 
confiscate some of the arms held by the population, and again in 1930-1932 to 
try to break the resistance of the Chechens and Ingush against collectivization. 
In March and April 1930, and again in April and May 1932, in a struggle 
against the "bandits," the special troops of the NKVD had called in artillery 
and air support. This provoked a strong groundswell of resistance to central- 
ized power and a desire for independence among people who had always 
struggled against the influence of Moscow. 

The five big deportation movements between November 1943 and May 
1944 were carried out in accordance with the usual methods, but unlike the 
earlier deportations of the kulaks, the operations were marked by "remarkable 

The Other Side of Victory 


organizational efficiency" (in Beria's words). The logistical preparation was 
carefully organized for several weeks and was overseen personally by Beria and 
his assistants Ivan Serov and Bogdan Kobulov, all of whom traveled in their 
special armored train. The operation involved a huge number of convoys: 46 
convoys of 60 trucks for the deportation of 93,139 Kalmyks on 27-30 Decem- 
ber 1943, and 194 convoys of 64 trucks for the deportation on 23-28 February 
1944 of 521,247 Chechens and Ingush. For these exceptional operations when 
the war was at its height, the NKVD used 119,000 troops. 

The operations, which were planned down to the last minute, began with 
the arrest of "potentially dangerous elements," between 1 and 2 percent of the 
population, most of whom were women, children, and old people. The vast 
majority of adult men were fighting under the Russian flag. If one is to believe 
the reports sent to Moscow, the operations were carried out extremely swiftly. 
The Crimean Tatars had been rounded up on 18—20 May 1944. On the evening 
of the first day, Kobulov and Serov, who were in charge of the operation, sent 
a telegram to Beria: "At 8:00 p.m. today, 90,000 people were moved to the 
station. Seventeen convoys have already taken 48,400 people to their destina- 
tion. Twenty-five convoys are being loaded up. The operation is running ex- 
tremely smoothly. It continues." On 19 May, Beria informed Stalin that on the 
second day 165,515 people had been assembled in the stations, and that 136,412 
of these had been loaded into convoys. On 20 May, Serov and Kobulov sent 
Beria a telegram announcing that the operation had finished at 4:30 that after- 
noon, with a total of 173,287 people in transit. The last four convoys carrying 
the 6,727 who remained were to leave that evening.* 

From the reports of the NKVD bureaucracy it would appear that these 
deportation operations, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, were a pure 
formality, each operation more "successful," "effective," or "economical" than 
the last. After the deportation of the Chechens, Ingush, and Balkars, Solomon 
Milstein, a civil servant in the NKVD, drew up a long report on the "savings 
of trucks, planks, buckets, and shovels during these last deportations in com- 
parison with earlier ones." 

Experience gained from transporting Karachai and Kalmyks has made it 
possible for us to take certain measures that have allowed us to pare back 
what is needed for convoys and hence ultimately to diminish the number 
of journeys that need to be made. We now put 45 people into each cattle 
truck as opposed to the previous 40. By placing the people together with 
their possessions, we also cut down on the number of trucks required, 
thus saving 37,548 meters of planks, 1 1,834 buckets, and 3,400 stoves. 4 

What dreadful reality lay beyond this bureaucratic dream of an NKVD 
operation carried out with terrifying efficiency? The experiences of some of 


A State against Its People 

the survivors were collected at the end of the 1970s. One recalled: 'The journey 
to the destination of Zerabulak, in the Samarkand region, took twenty-four 
days. From there we were taken to the Pravda kolkhoz, where our job was to 
repair horse carts ... We worked hard, and we were always hungry. Many of 
us could barely stand. They had deported thirty families from our village. 
There were one or two survivors from five families. Everyone else died of 
hunger or disease." Another survivor recounted that 

in the tightly shut wagons, people died like flies because of hunger and 
lack of oxygen, and no one gave us anything to eat or drink. In the 
villages through which we passed, the people had all been turned against 
us, and they had been told that we were all traitors, so there was a 
constant rain of stones against the sides and doors of the wagons. When 
they did open the doors in the middle of the steppes in Kazakhstan, we 
were given military rations to eat but nothing to drink, and we were told 
to throw all the dead out beside the railway line without burying them. 
We then set off again/ 

Once they had arrived at their destinations in Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, 
Uzbekistan, or Siberia, the deportees were assigned to holhhozy or to local 
industry. Problems with housing, work, and survival were their everyday lot, as 
is clear from the local NKVD reports that were sent to Moscow and kept in 
the extensive files of the ''special peoples" section of the Gulag, One report 
from Kirgizstan in September 1944 mentions that of the 31,000 families re- 
cently deported there, only 5,000 had been housed. And "housed" itself seems 
to have been quite a flexible term. The text reveals that in the district of 
Kameninsky the local authorities had housed 900 families in eighteen apart- 
ments in one sovkhoz (state farm); in other words, there were 50 families in 
each apartment. These families, many of whom had a large number of children, 
must have taken turns sleeping in the apartment, and the rest of the time were 
forced to sleep outside as the harsh winter approached. 

In a letter to Mikoyan in November 1944, more than a year after the 
deportation of the Kalmyks, Beria himself acknowledged that "they had been 
placed in exceptionally difficult living conditions with extremely poor sanita- 
tion. Many of them had no underwear, no shoes, and very few clothes." Two 
years later two NKVD leaders reported that a 30 percent of the Kalmyks who 
are fit to work are unable to work because they have no shoes. The fact that 
they are totally unadapted to the severe climate and to the unusual conditions, 
and that they have no knowledge of the local language, also implies another 
whole series of difficulties." 6 Uprooted from their homes, hungry, and working 
on collective farms so poorly managed that they could barely manage to ktd 
themselves, or in factories for which they had received no training, many 

The Other Side of Victory 


deportees were very poor workers. a The situation of the Kalmyks deported to 
Siberia is tragic," D. P. Pyurveev, the former president of the Autonomous 
Republic of Kalmykia, wrote to Stalin. 

They have lost all their cattle. They arrived in Siberia having nothing at 
all . . . They are very poorly adapted to the new living conditions in the 
region to which they have been sent . . . The Kalmyks working on the 
collective farms receive almost nothing at all, since even the original 
workers on the farms cannot feed themselves. Those who have been sent 
to factories instead are finding it extremely hard to adjust to this new 
existence, and also to the fact that they are unable to buy a normal food 
ration because they are not paid properly 7 

Condemned to spending their lives standing in front of machinery, the 
Kalmyks, who were a nomadic agricultural people, often saw all of their tiny 
salary taken away in fines. 

A few figures give an idea of the scale of death among the deportees. In 
January 1946 the Administration for Special Resettlements calculated that there 
were 70,360 Kalmyks remaining of the 92,000 who had been deported two 
years previously. On 1 July 1944, 35,750 Tatar families representing 151,424 
people had arrived in Uzbekistan; six months later there were 818 more families 
but 16,000 fewer people. Of the 608,749 people deported from the Caucasus, 
146,892, or nearly 1 in 4, had died by 1 October 1948, and a mere 28,120 had 
been born in the meantime. Of the 228,392 people deported from the Crimea, 
44,887 had died after four years, and there had been only 6,564 births. 8 The 
extremely high mortality rate becomes even more apparent when one also takes 
into account the fact that between 40 percent and 50 percent of the deportees 
were under sixteen years of age. "Death from natural causes" was thus only a 
tiny part of these statistics. The children who did survive had little future: of 
the 89,000 children deported to Kazakhstan, fewer than 12,000 had been given 
places in schools four years later. Moreover, official instructions insisted that 
all school lessons for children of "specially displaced peoples" were to be 
carried out exclusively in Russian. 

These were not the only official deportations carried out during the war. On 29 
May 1944, a few days after the end of the operation to deport the Tatars from 
the Crimea, Beria wrote to Stalin: "The NKVD also thinks it reasonable to 
expel from the Crimea all the Bulgars, Greeks, and Armenians." The Bulgars 
were accused of "having actively assisted the Germans in making bread and 
other foodstuffs for the German army" and of "having collaborated with the 
German military authorities in searching for soldiers from the Red Army and 
for partisans." The Greeks were accused of "having set up small industries 


A State against Its People 

after the arrival of the invading forces, the German authorities also helped the 
Greeks do business, organize transport etc." The Armenians, in their turn, 
were accused of having set up a collaborationist center in Simferopol called the 
Dromedar, presided over by E. Dro, the Armenian army general. Their pur- 
poses supposedly were "not only religious and political, but also to develop 
small industries and private businesses." In Beria's opinion, the organization 
u had collected funds both for the military needs of the Germans and with a 
view to setting up an Armenian legion." 9 

Four days later, on 2 June 1944, Stalin signed a decree from the State 
Committee for Defense ordering that "the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars 
should be accompanied by the expulsion of 37,000 Bulgars, Greeks, and Ar- 
menians, accomplices of the Germans," As had been the case for the other 
contingents of deportees, the decree arbitrarily fixed the quotas for each "wel- 
come region": 7,000 for the Gurev region, in Kazakhstan; 10,000 for Sverd- 
lovsk Province; 10,000 for Molotov Province, in the Urals; 6,000 for Kemerovo 
Province; and 4,000 for Bashkiria. As was always the claim, "the operation was 
successfully carried out" on 27 and 28 June 1944. Over those two days, 41,854 
people were deported, that is, "111 percent of the planned number," as the 
report emphasized. 

Once the Crimea had been purged of Germans, Tatars, Bulgars, Greeks, 
and Armenians, the NKVD decided to cleanse the Caucasus regions. Based on 
the same underlying preoccupation with the cleansing of national boundaries, 
these large-scale operations were in many ways the natural continuation of the 
antiespionage operations of 1937-38 in a more systematic form. On 21 July 
1944 a new decree from the State Committee for Defense signed by Stalin 
ordered the deportation of 86,000 Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, and Khemshins 
from the border regions of Georgia. Given the mountainous nature of the 
territory and the nomadic lifestyles of many of these peoples, who until recently 
had been part of the Ottoman Empire and had always passed freely between 
the Soviet and Turkish lands, the preparations for the deportations were par- 
ticularly long. The operation lasted from 15 to 25 November 1944 and was 
carried out by 14,000 special troops from the NKVD. Nine hundred Stude- 
baker trucks, provided by the Americans as part of the lend-lease arrangement 
that supplied large quantities of munitions for the Allies in the anti-German 
war effort, were diverted to help carry out the deportations. 10 

In a report to Stalin on 28 November, Beria claimed to have transferred 
91,095 people in ten days "under particularly difficult conditions." In Beria's 
opinion, all of these were Turkish spies, even though more than 49 percent 
were under sixteen. "The majority of the population of this region have family 
ties with the inhabitants of the border districts of Turkey. They are for the 
most part smugglers, show a strong inclination to emigrate, and provide many 

The Other Side of Victory 


recruits for the Turkish intelligence services and for the gangs of bandits that 
operate all along the border." According to the statistics from the "people 
movements" section of the Gulag, nearly 94,955 people were deported to 
Kazakhstan and Kirgizstan. Between November 1944 and July 1948, 19,540 
Meskhetians, Kurds, and Khemshins, approximately 21 percent of all the 
people moved, died as a result of deportation. This mortality rate of 20-25 
percent in four years was almost identical for all such peoples punished by the 
regime. 11 

The deportation of hundreds of thousands of people on ethnic criteria 
during the war increased the number of "specially displaced" from approxi- 
mately 1.2 million to more than 2.5 million. The victims of dekulakization 
operations before the war had made up the greater part of the "specially 
displaced," but their number fell from approximately 936,000 at the outbreak 
of war to 622,000 in May 1945. In fact tens of thousands of adult males 
formerly classed as kulaks, with the exception of heads of families, were con- 
scripted into the army during the war. Their wives and children then recovered 
their previous status as free citizens and were no longer classed as "specially 
displaced." But with conditions as they were during the war, the newly freed 
were in practice rarely able to leave their designated residences, particularly 
because all their goods and even their houses had been confiscated. 12 

Conditions for survival in the gulags were most difficult in the years 
1941-1944. Famine, epidemics, overcrowding, and inhuman exploitation were 
added to the continual suffering of the zeks, who were also subject to unusually 
harsh conditions at work and were constantly monitored by an army of inform- 
ers whose task was to expose the "counterrevolutionary organizations of pris- 
oners. 1 ' Summary executions occurred every day. 

The rapid German advance in the first months of the war forced the 
NKVD to evacuate several prisons, labor colonies, and camps that would 
otherwise have fallen into enemy hands. Between July and December 1941, 210 
colonies, 135 prisons, and 27 camps, containing nearly 750,000 prisoners, were 
transferred to the east. Summarizing "gulag activity in the Great Patriotic 
War," the Gulag chief, Ivan Nasedkin, claimed that "on the whole, the evacu- 
ation of the camps was quite well organized." He went on to add, however, that 
"because of the shortage of transport, most of the prisoners were evacuated on 
foot, over distances that sometimes exceeded 600 miles." 13 One can well imagine 
the condition in which the prisoners arrived at their destinations. When there 
was not enough time for a camp to be evacuated, as was often the case in the 
opening weeks of the war, the prisoners were simply executed. This was 
particularly the case in western Ukraine, where at the end of June 1941 the 
NKVD massacred 10,000 prisoners in Lviv, 1,200 in the prison at Lutsk, 1,500 
in Stanislwow, and 500 in Dubno. When the Germans arrived, they discovered 


A State against Its People 

dozens of mass graves in the regions of Lviv, Zhytomyr, and Vynnytsa. Using 
these "Judeo-Bolshevik atrocities" as a pretext, the Nazi Sander kommundm in 
their turn immediately massacred tens of thousands of Jews. 

All administration reports from the gulags for the years 1941-1944 em- 
phasize the horrendous deterioration of living conditions in the camps during 
the war. 14 In the overcrowded camps, the living space of each prisoner fell from 
1.5 square meters to 0.7; prisoners must have taken turns sleeping on boards, 
since beds were then a luxury reserved for workers with special status. Average 
daily caloric intake fell by 65 percent from prewar levels. Famine became 
widespread, and in 1942 typhus and cholera began to appear in the camps. 
According to official figures, nearly 19,000 prisoners died of these diseases each 
year. In 1941 there were nearly 101,000 deaths in the labor camps alone, not 
including the forced-labor colonies. Thus the annual death rate was approach- 
ing 8 percent. In 1942 the Gulag Administration registered 249,000 deaths (a 
death rate of 18 percent), and in 1943, 167,000 deaths (a death rate of 17 
percent). 15 If one also includes the executions of prisoners and deaths in the 
prisons and in the forced-labor colonies, one can roughly calculate that there 
were some 600,000 deaths in the gulags in 1941^0 alone. The survivors were 
also in a pitiful state. According to the administration's own figures, only 19 
percent of all prisoners by the end of 1942 were capable of heavy physical labor, 
17 percent were capable of medium physical labor, and 64 percent were able to 
perform "light work" — which meant that they were sick. 

Here are excerpts from a report, dated 2 November 1941, from the assis- 
tant chief of the Operational Department of the Gulag Administration on the 
situation in the Siblag camps. 

According to information received from the operational department of 
the Novosibirsk NKVD, there has been a sharp increase in mortality 
among the prisoners in the Akhlursk, Kuznetsk, and Novosibirsk de- 
partments of Siblag , . . 

The causes of this increase, as well as of the huge rise in the 
number of recorded instances of disease, is undoubtedly widespread 
undernourishment resulting from the constant lack of food and the 
harsh working conditions, which place great strain on the heart. 

The lack of medical attention given to prisoners, the difficulty of 
the work they carry out, the long working day, and the lack of sufficient 
nourishment all contribute to the sharp increase in the death rate . . . 

Numerous deaths from malnutrition, undernourishment, and 
widespread epidemics have also been recorded among the prisoners sent 
from different sorting centers to the camps. On 8 October 1941 more 
than 30 percent of the 539 prisoners sent from the Novosibirsk sorting 
center in the Marinskoe division were extremely underweight and cov- 

The Other Side of Victory 


ered with lice. Six corpses also arrived with the prisoners. 16 On the night 
of 8-9 October another five died. In another convoy that arrived from 
the same sorting center in the Marinskoe division on 20 September, all 
the prisoners were covered in lice, and a considerable portion of them 
had no underwear . , . 

Recently, in the Siblag camps, there were numerous acts of sabo- 
tage by the medical staff made up of prisoners. One assistant from the 
A/her camp, in the department of Taiginsk, sentenced under section 10 
of Article 58, ,7 organized a group of prisoners to sabotage production. 18 
Members of the group were caught sending sick workers to the hardest 
physical labor sites, rather than curing them, in the hope that this would 
slow down camp production and prevent the targets from being met. 

Assistant Chief of the Operational Department of the Gulag Ad- 
ministration, Captain of the Security Forces, Kogenman. 

These u severe health problems encountered by prisoners," to use the Gulag 
euphemism, did not prevent the authorities from exerting even greater pres- 
sure on the prisoners, often until they dropped. "From 1941 to 1944," the 
chief of the Gulag wrote in his report, "the average worth of a day's work rose 
from 9.5 to 21 rubles." Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were drafted into 
the armaments factories to replace the manpower that had been conscripted 
into the army. The Gulag's role in the war economy came to be extremely 
prominent. According to estimates by the penal administration, prisoner man- 
power was responsible for nearly a quarter of all production in certain key 
sectors of the armaments industry, notably in metallurgy and mining. 19 

Despite the "solid patriotic attitude" of the prisoners, 95 percent of whom 
"were strongly committed to the socialist cause," the oppression, notably 
against political prisoners, was as intense as ever. As a result of a decree issued 
by the Central Committee on 22 June 1941, not a single "58" (a prisoner 
sentenced as a result of Article 58 of the penal code) was to be released before 
the end of the war, even if he had served his time. Prisoners sentenced for 
political crimes (such as belonging to a counterrevolutionary party or to a 
right-wing or Trotskyite organization) or for espionage, treason, or terrorism 
were isolated in heavily guarded special camps in areas where the climate was 
most severe, such as the Kolyma region and the Arctic. In such camps the 
annual death rate regularly reached 30 percent. After a decree of 22 April 1943, 
specially reinforced punishment camps were opened up, which in effect became 
death camps, since the prisoners were exploited in a manner that made survival 
extremely unlikely. A twelve-hour working day under poisonous conditions in 
the gold, coal, lead, and radium mines, most of which were situated in the 
Kolyma and Vorkuta regions, was tantamount to a death sentence. 20 

From July 1941 to July 1944 special courts in the camps sentenced 148,000 


A State against Its People 

prisoners to new punishments and executed 10,858 of these: 208 were executed 
for espionage, 4,307 for subversive and terrorist activities, and 6,016 for having 
organized an uprising or riot in the camps. According to NKVD figures, 603 
"prisoner organizations' 1 in the gulags were eliminated during the war. 21 Al- 
though it is possible that these figures were meant to show the continued 
vigilance of the system despite considerable restructuring— many of the special 
troops who had guarded the camps had been assigned to other tasks, notably 
to deportation activities — there is no doubt that during the war the camps faced 
their first mass escapes and their first large-scale revolts. 

In fact the population of the camps changed considerably during the war. 
Following the decree of 12 July 1941 more than 577,000 prisoners who, as the 
authorities themselves acknowledged, had been sentenced for "insignificant 
crimes such as unjustified absenteeism at work or petty theft' 1 were set free and 
immediately integrated into the Red Army. During the war more than 
1,068,000 prisoners went directly from the gulags to the front, if one includes 
those who served out their sentences in full. 22 The weakest prisoners and those 
least adapted to the harsh conditions that prevailed in the camps were among 
the approximately 600,000 who died in the gulags in 1941-1943. While the 
camps and colonies were being emptied of so many who had been sentenced 
for minor offenses, the toughest and most recalcitrant stayed behind and sur- 
vived, whether they were political prisoners or common criminals. The share 
of those sentenced to long terms of imprisonment (eight years or more) as a 
result of Article 58 increased from 27 to 43 percent of all prisoners. This 
change in the complexion of the prison population was to become all the more 
marked in 1944 and 1945, when the gulags grew immensely, increasing their 
population by more than 45 percent between January 1944 and January 1945. 

The U.S.S.R. in 1945 is best remembered as a country devastated but trium- 
phant. As Francois Furet once wrote: "In 1945, as a great glorious state, the 
U.S.S.R. joined tremendous material might to a messianic new vision of man."" 
No one remembers, or at least no one seems willing to recall, the other — well 
hidden — side of the story. As the Gulag archives demonstrate, the year of 
victory was also the apogee of the Soviet concentration-camp system. When 
peace was made with the rest of the world, the struggles within continued 
unabated; there was no let-up in state control over a society bruised from four 
years of war. On the contrary, 1945 was a year when regions were reoccupied 
by the Soviet Union as the Red Army advanced west, and when millions of 
Soviet citizens who had managed to escape the system were also finally forced 
to submit. 

The territories annexed in 1939^K) — the Baltic states, western Belorussia, 

The Other Side of Victory 


Moldavia, and western Ukraine — which had been free of Soviet control during 
most of the war, were forced to undergo a second process of Sovietization. 
Nationalist opposition movements had sprung up in protest against the Soviet 
Union, beginning a cycle of armed struggle, persecution, and repression. Re- 
sistance to annexation was particularly fierce in western Ukraine and the Baltic 

The first occupation of western Ukraine, from September 1939 to June 
1941, had brought about the formation of a fairly powerful armed resistance 
movement, the OUN, or Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Members of 
this organization subsequently enlisted as special troops in SS units to fight 
Communists and Jews. In July 1944, when the Red Army arrived, the OUN 
set up a Supreme Council for the Liberation of Ukraine. Roman Shukhovich, 
the head of the OU N, became commander of the UPA, the Ukrainian insurgent 
army. According to Ukrainian sources, the UPA had more than 20,000 mem- 
bers by the autumn of 1944. On 31 March 1944, Beria signed an order stipu- 
lating that all family members of soldiers in the OUN and UPA were to be 
arrested and deported to the region of Krasnoyarsk. From February to October 
1944, 100,300 civilians (mainly women, children, and old people) were de- 
ported under Beria's order. As for the 37,000 soldiers who were taken prisoner 
during this time, all were sent to the gulags. In November 1944, after the death 
of Monsignor Andrei Shcheptytsky, metropolitan of the Uniate Church of 
Ukraine, the Soviet authorities forced that religious body to merge with the 
Orthodox Church. 

To root out all opposition to Sovietization, NKVD agents targeted the 
schools. After leafing through the schoolbooks of children who had attended 
school when western Ukraine had still been a part of "bourgeois" Poland, they 
drew up lists of people to be arrested as a preventive measure. At the top of 
these lists were the names of the most able pupils, whom they judged to be 
"potentially hostile to the Soviet system." According to a report by Kobulov, 
one of Beria's assistants, more than 100,000 "deserters" and "collaborators" 
were arrested between September 1944 and March 1945 in western Belorussia, 
another region considered "full of elements hostile to the Soviet regime." The 
few statistics available for Lithuania in the period 1 January-15 March 1945 
note 2,257 ethnic-cleansing operations. 

These operations were also notable for the death of more than 6,000 
"bandits" and for the arrest of more than 75,000 "bandits, deserters, and 
members of nationalist groups." In 1945 more than 38,000 "members of the 
families of socially alien elements, bandits, and nationalists" were deported 
from Lithuania. In 1944—1946 the proportion of people from these regions 
imprisoned in the gulags increased 140 percent for Ukrainians and 420 percent 


A State against Its People 

for people from the Baltic states. By the end of 1946, Ukrainians became 23 
percent and Baltic nationals 6 percent of the population in the camps, and thus 
were more highly represented than the rest of the Soviet population. 

The growth of the gulags in 1945 can also be explained by the transfer of 
thousands of prisoners from "control and filtration camps." These were camps 
that had been set up after 1941 in parallel to the Gulag labor camps. They were 
intended to contain Soviet prisoners of war who had been set free or had 
managed to escape from enemy prisoner-of-war camps; all were suspected of 
being potential spies or at least of having been contaminated by their stay 
outside the Soviet system. The camps imprisoned men of draft age from 
territories formerly occupied by the enemy, as well as the senior officials 
(starostt) and any others who had occupied a position of authority — no matter 
how minor — during the occupation. From January 1942 to October 1944 more 
than 421,000 people, according to official figures, passed through the control 
and filtration camps. 21 

After the advance of the Red Army in the west and the retaking of 
territories that had been under the control of the Germans for two to three 
years, the liberation of Soviet prisoners of war and those held in labor camps 
and the repatriation of both military and civilian Soviet citizens became an 
urgent matter. In October 1944 the Soviet government established a Repatria- 
tion Affairs Department, headed by General Filip Golikov. In an interview 
published in the press on 11 November 1944, the general stressed that "the 
Soviet regime is most concerned about the fate of its children who were 
dragged into Nazi slavery. They will be respectfully received back home like 
honest children of the fatherland. The Soviet government believes that even 
Soviet citizens who under the threat of Nazi terror committed acts that went 
against the interests of the U.S.S.R. will not be held responsible for those 
actions, provided that these people are prepared to carry out their normal duties 
as Soviet citizens upon their return. " This declaration, which was widely 
circulated, managed to deceive the Allies. How else can one explain the zeal 
with which they carried out the clauses of the Yalta agreement concerning the 
repatriation of all Soviet citizens "present outside the borders of the home 
country"? While the agreement stipulated quite clearly that only people who 
had worn German uniforms or actively collaborated with the enemy would be 
forcibly repatriated, any Soviet citizen found outside the national boundaries 
was, in practice, handed over to NKVD agents in charge of their return. 

Three days after the cessation of hostilities, on 11 May 1945, the Soviet 
government ordered the creation of 100 new control and filtration camps, each 
containing space for 10,000 people. Repatriated Soviet prisoners of war were 
under the jurisdiction of SMERSH (Death to Spies), the counterespionage 
organization, while civilians were filtered on an ad-hoc basis through the 

The Other Side of Victory 


NKVD. Between May 1945 and February 1946 more than 4.2 million Soviet 
citizens were repatriated, including 1,545,000 surviving prisoners of war out 
of the 5 million captured by the Germans and 2,655,000 civilians, work deport- 
ees, or people who had fled to the West when the fighting had broken out. After 
their obligatory stay in the filtration and control camps, 57.8 percent of those 
repatriated, mostly women and children, were allowed to return to their homes; 
19.1 percent were drafted back into the army, often into disciplinary battalions; 
14.5 percent were sent, generally for at least two years, into "reconstruction 
battalions"; and S.6 percent, or about 360,000 people, were either sentenced to 
between ten and twenty years in the gulags, most of them for "treason against 
the fatherland," or sent to an NKVD komandatura with the status of "specially 
displaced person." 24 

A singular fate was reserved for the Vlasovtsy, the Soviet soldiers who had 
fought under the Soviet general Andrei Vlasov. Vlasov was the commander of 
the Second Army who had been taken prisoner by the Germans in July 1942. 
On the basis of his anti-Stalinist convictions, General Vlasov agreed to collabo- 
rate with the Nazis to free his country from the tyranny of the Bolsheviks. With 
the support of the German authorities, Vlasov formed a Russian National 
Committee and trained two divisions of an "Army for the Liberation of Rus- 
sia." After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Allies handed over General Vlasov 
and his officers to the Soviet Union, and they were promptly executed. The 
soldiers trom Vlasov's army, following an amnesty decree of November 1945, 
were deported for six years to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the far north. In early 
1946, 148,079 I'lasovtsy, most of them noncommissioned officers, were accused 
of treason and sent to the gulags. 25 

The "special resettlements," the gulags, the forced-labor colonies, the 
control and filtration camps, and the Soviet prisons had never held as many 
prisoners as they did in the year of victory: a grand total of nearly 5.5 million 
people. This figure was eclipsed by the festivities of victory and the "Stalingrad 
effect." The end of World War II began a new period in Soviet history, destined 
to last nearly a decade, when the Soviet model was to elicit a fascination shared 
by tens of millions of citizens from countries the world over. The fact that the 
U.S.S.R. had paid the heaviest human toll for its victory over Nazism — a toll 
greatly magnified by Stalin's own mistakes and misjudgments — served to mask 
the character of the Stalinist dictatorship and cleared the regime of all suspi- 
cions formerly aroused in the era of the Moscow trials and the Nazi-Soviet 


Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 

I he last years of Stalinism were marked neither by a new Great 
Terror nor by more public show-trials. But the heavy and oppressive climate 
continued in postwar Russia, and the criminalization of different types of 
social behavior reached its height. The hope that the regime might relax its 
grip after the long and murderous war proved vain. u The people have suffered 
too much, and it is inconceivable that the past should repeat itself," wrote Uya 
Ehrenburg in his memoirs on 9 May 1945; but he immediately added: "Yet I 
am filled with perplexity and anguish." This foreboding was all too prophetic. 
u The population is torn between despair in the face of an extremely 
difficult material situation, and the hope that something is going to change," 
So read several inspection reports sent to Moscow in September and October 
1945 by instructors from the Soviet Central Committee who were touring 
different provinces. The reports claimed that many parts of the country were 
still in chaos. Production was delayed by an immense and spontaneous migra- 
tion of workers who had been sent east during the evacuations of 1941 and 
1942. A wave of strikes of unprecedented size were rocking the metallurgy 
industry in the Urals. Famine and terrible living conditions were becoming the 
norm. The country had 25 million people without homes, and bread rations 
were less than one pound per day for manual laborers. At the end of October 
1945 the situation was so bad in Novosibirsk that the heads of the regional 

Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 

Party committee went so far as to suggest that the workers not participate in 
the parade to mark the occasion of the October Revolution, because so many 
of the population lacked clothes and shoes. In the face of such misery, rumors 
spread quickly, particularly concerning the imminent abandonment of collec- 
tive farming practices, since it had been demonstrated yet again that the kolk- 
hozy were incapable of feeding the peasants and providing them with a few 
pudy of wheat in exchange for a whole season's work. 1 

It was on the agricultural front that the situation was most perilous. The 
countryside was devastated by war and a severe drought; and with both ma- 
chinery and manpower in critically short supply, the harvest of the autumn of 
1946 was catastrophic. Once again the government was forced to continue 
rationing, despite Stalin's promise in a speech on 9 February 1946 that ration- 
ing would end. Refusing to look into the reasons for this agricultural disaster, 
and blaming the failure on the greed of a few private farmers, the government 
decided to "eliminate all violations of the status of the kolkhozy" and to go after 
"hostile and foreign elements sabotaging the collection process, thieves, and 
anyone caught pilfering the harvest." On 19 September 1946 a Commission for 
Kolkhoz Affairs was established, chaired by Andrei Andreev; its task was to 
confiscate all the land that had been "illegally appropriated" by kolkhoz workers 
during the war. In two years the administration managed to recover nearly 10 
million hectares that peasants had whittled away, trying to gather more land in 
an attempt to survive. 

On 25 October 1946 a government decree titled "The Defense of State 
Cereals 11 ordered the Ministry of Justice to dispatch all cases of theft within 
ten days, and to apply once again the full force of the law of 7 August 1932, 
which by then had fallen into disuse. In November and December 1946 sen- 
tences were handed down against more than 53,300 people, most of them 
collective farm workers, who were sent to the camps for the theft of grain or 
bread. Thousands of kolkhoz chiefs were arrested for "sabotaging the country- 
side collection campaign." Initially collections typically met 33 percent of their 
targets, but in these two months the share rose to 77 percent. 2 This increase 
came at a price: Behind the euphemism "delay in the collection in the country- 
side" lurked the bitter realities of another famine. 

The famine of the autumn and winter of 1946-47 struck the regions most 
severely affected by the drought of the summer of 1946, that is, the provinces 
of Kursk, Tambov, Voronezh, Orel, and Rostov. There were at least 500,000 
victims. As in 1932, the famine of 1946-47 was passed over in total silence. The 
refusal to lower the obligatory collection targets when the harvest in some areas 
reached scarcely 250 kilos per hectare meant that shortage evolved into famine. 
The starving workers often had no choice but to steal a few reserves simply to 
survive. In one year, recorded thefts rose by 44 percent. 1 




A State against Its People 

On 5 June 1947 two decrees issued by the government the previous day 
were published, both of which were very close to the spirit and letter of the 
famous law of 7 August 1932. These stipulated that any "attack on state or 
kolkhoz property" was punishable by a camp sentence of between five and 
twenty-five years, depending on whether it was an individual or collective 
crime, and whether it was a first or repeat offense. Anyone who knew of 
preparations for a theft, or was a witness and failed to inform the police, 
received a sentence of one to three years. A confidential circular reminded 
courts that petty thefts in the workplace, which until then had carried a maxi- 
mum penalty of the loss of civil rights for one year, henceforth fell within the 
remit of these new laws of 4 June 1947. 

In the second half of that year more than 380,000 people, including 2 1 ,000 
under age sixteen, were sentenced as a result of this new, draconian law. For 
the theft of no more than a few kilos of rye, one could be sentenced to eight to 
ten years in the camps. An example is the following verdict of the People's 
Court in the Suzdal district, in Vladimir Province, dated 10 October 1947: 
''While on duty guarding the kolkhoz horses at night, N. A. and B. S., two 
minors of fifteen and sixteen, were caught in the act of stealing three cucumbers 
from the kolkhoz vegetable patch . . . N. A. and B. S. have thus been sentenced 
to eight years custody in an ordinary labor colony." 4 Over a period of six years, 
as a result of the decrees of 4 June, 1.3 million people were sentenced, 75 
percent to more than five years. In 1951 they accounted for 5^ percent of all 
common criminals in the gulags, and nearly 40 percent of all prisoners.' At the 
end of the 1940s, strict enforcement of the decrees of 4 June considerably 
increased the average length of sentences passed by ordinary courts; the share 
of sentences exceeding five years rose from 2 percent in 1940 to 29 percent in 
1949. At this high point of Stalinism, "ordinary" repressive punishments, of 
the sort meted out by people's courts, took the place of the extrajudicial NKYD 
terror that had been more the norm in the 1930s. 6 

Among people sentenced for theft were numerous women, war widows, 
and mothers with young children who had been reduced to begging and stealing 
to survive. At the end of 1948 the gulags contained more than 500,000 prisoners 
(twice as many as in 1945). Some 22,815 children under age four were kept in 
the "infant houses" located in the women's camps. By early 1953 this figure 
rose to more than 35,000. 7 To prevent the gulags from turning into vast nurs- 
eries, the government was forced to decree a partial amnesty in April 1949, so 
that nearly 84,200 mothers and children were set free. Even so, the permanent 
influx of hundreds of thousands of people charged with petty thefts meant that 
until 1953 there was still a relatively high number of women in the gulags, who 
generally accounted for 25-30 percent of all prisoners. 

In 1947 and 1948 the armory of repressive laws was augmented by several 

Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 


more decrees that were quite revealing of the climate at the time: a decree 
forbidding marriages between Soviet citizens and foreigners on 15 February 

1947 and another decree on "penalties for divulging state secrets or losing 
documents containing state secrets" on 9 June 1947. The best known is the 
decree of 21 February 1948, according to which "all spies, Trotskyites, sabo- 
teurs, right-wingers, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, anarchists, nation- 
alists, Whites, and other anti-Soviet groups, on completion of their camp 
sentences, will be exiled to the Kolyma regions, the provinces of Novosibirsk 
and Krasnoyarsk . . . and to certain distant regions of Kazakhstan." In reality, 
prison administrations preferred to keep these "anti-Soviet elements" (mostly 
the Article 58 political prisoners sentenced in 1937 and 1938) under close 
guard, and arbitrarily extended their sentences by another ten years. 

On the same day, 21 February 1948, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet 
adopted another decree ordering the deportation from the Ukrainian S.S.R. of 
"all individuals refusing to comply with the minimum number of work days in 
the kolkhozy and living like parasites." On 2 June the measure was extended to 
the rest of the country. The dilapidated collective farms were in no position to 
guarantee the slightest remuneration to workers, and so numerous workers 
regularly had failed to comply with the minimum number of work days im- 
posed by the administration. Millions were thus suddenly under threat from 
this new law. Understanding that the strict application of this new decree on 
"parasitism" would disrupt production even further, local authorities were 
generally lax in applying the law. Nonetheless, in 1948 alone more than 38,000 
"parasites" were deported and assigned a residence in an NKVD komandatura. 
These repressive measures totally eclipsed the symbolic (and short-lived) abo- 
lition of the death penalty on 26 May 1947. On 12 January 1950 capital 
punishment was reinstated to permit the execution of the accused in the 
"Leningrad Affair" of that year.* 

In the 1930s the "right to return" of deportees and the "specially dis- 
placed" had led to some contradictory and incoherent government policies. At 
the end of the 1940s the question was resolved in a fairly radical manner: it was 
decided that all people who had been deported in 1941-1945 had in fact been 
deported "in perpetuity." The problem posed by the fate of the children of 
deportees who had reached the age of majority thus disappeared immediately. 
They and their children, too, were always to remain "specially displaced." 

In the period 1948-1953 the number of "specially displaced" continued 
to grow, from 2,342,000 in early 1948 to 2,753,000 in January 1953. This 
increase was the result of several new waves of deportation. On 22 and 23 May 

1948 the NKVD launched a huge roundup named "Operation Spring" in 
Lithuania, a nation still resisting enforced collectivization. Within forty-eight 
hours 36,932 men, women, and children were arrested and deported in thirty- 


A State against Its People 

two convoys. All were categorized as "bandits, nationalists, and family members 
of these two categories.' 1 After a journey lasting between four and five weeks, 
they were divided up among the various komandatury in eastern Siberia and 
set to work in the harsh conditions of the different logging centers. One NKVD 
note observed that 

the Lithuanian families sent as a workforce to the Igara forestry center 
(in the Krasnoyarsk territory) are presently living in conditions that are 
quite inappropriate for the local climate: the roofs leak, there is no glass 
in the windows, no furniture, and no beds. The deportees sleep on the 
floor, on beds of moss or straw. This overcrowding, and the constant 
breaking of the sanitary regulations, have led to cases of typhus and 
dysentery, which are sometimes fatal, among the specially displaced. 

In 1948 alone nearly 50,000 Lithuanians were deported as "specially dis- 
placed," and 30,000 were sent to the gulags. In addition, according to figures 
from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 21,259 Lithuanians were killed in 
"pacification operations" in that republic. At the end of 1948, despite ever- 
more-vigorous pressure from the authorities, less than 4 percent of the land 
had undergone collectivization in the Baltic states. g 

Early in 1949 the Soviet government decided to accelerate the process of 
Sovietization in the Baltic countries and to "eradicate banditry and nationalism 
once and for all" in these newly annexed republics. On 12 January the Council 
of Ministers issued a decree "on the expulsion and deportation from the 
Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian S.S.R.s of all kulaks and their families, the 
families of bandits and nationalists whose present situation is illegal, the fami- 
lies of bandits killed in armed confrontations, any bandits arrested or freed who 
are still carrying out hostile operations, and the families of any bandit's accom- 
plices." From March to May 1949 nearly 95,000 people were deported from 
the Baltic republics to Siberia. According to the report addressed to Stalin by 
Sergei Kruglov on 1 8 May 1949, these "elements who are hostile and dangerous 
to the Soviet regime" included 27,084 under the age of sixteen, 1,785 young 
children who had no family left, 146 disabled people, and 2,850 infirm elderly. 10 
In September 1951 a new series of sweeps resulted in the deportation of 
another 17,000 so-called Baltic kulaks. For the years 1940-1953 the number of 
deportees from the Baltic is estimated at 200,000, including about 120,000 
Lithuanians, 50,000 Latvians, and just over 30,000 Estonians." To these figures 
one should add the number of people from the Baltic imprisoned in the 
gulags— a total of 75,000 in 1953, including 44,000 in special camps that were 
reserved for hard-line political prisoners. In the special camps, 20 percent of 
the inmates were of Baltic origin. In total, 10 percent of the entire adult Baltic 
population was either deported or in a camp. 

The Moldavians, another nationality occupied by the U.S.S.R., also 

Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 


strongly resisted Sovietization and collectivization. At the end of 1949 the 
authorities carried out a huge deportation sweep among "socially alien and 
hostile elements." The operation was overseen by the first secretary of the 
Communist Party in Moldavia, Leonid Ilych Brezhnev, later to become general 
secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. A report from Kruglov to 
Stalin dated 17 February 1950 revealed that 94,792 Moldavians had been 
deported "in perpetuity" as "specially displaced." If the same death rate during 
transport applied to the Moldavian operation as in other deportations, this 
would mean that approximately 120,000 people, nearly 7 percent of the popu- 
lation, were taken from Moldavia. In June 1949, 57,680 Greeks, Armenians, 
and Turks from the shores of the Black Sea were deported to Kazakhstan and 
Altai. 12 

Throughout the second half of the 1940s the OUN and UPA partisans 
captured in Ukraine accounted for a large share of the "specially displaced." 
From July 1944 to December 1949 the Soviet authorities made seven appeals 
to the insurgents to give up their weapons, promising amnesty, but with no 
tangible results. In 1945-1947 the countryside of western Ukraine was still 
largely in the hands of the rebels, who were supported by a peasantry hostile 
to any form of collectivization. The rebel forces operated on the borders of 
Poland and Czechoslovakia, fleeing over the border when pursued. One can 
gain some idea of the size of the rebel movement in the agreement that the 
Soviet government signed with Poland and Czechoslovakia to coordinate the 
struggle against the Ukrainian gangs. As a result of the agreement, the Polish 
government moved the whole of its Ukrainian population to the northwest of 
Poland to deprive the rebellion in Ukraine of its base. 11 

The famine of 1946—47 forced tens of thousands of peasants from eastern 
Ukraine to flee to the less affected west, and it also swelled the number of rebels. 
To judge from the last amnesty proposal, signed by the Ukrainian minister of 
interna] affairs on 30 December 1949, the rebel gangs were not made up solely 
of peasants. The text also mentions, among the various categories of bandits, 
"young people who have fled the factories, the Donetsk mines, and the indus- 
trial schools." Western Ukraine was finally "pacified" at the end of 1950, after 
forced collectivization of the land, the displacement of whole villages, and the 
arrest and deportation of more than 300,000 people. According to statistics 
from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nearly 172,000 members of the OUN 
and the UPA were deported as "specially displaced" to Kazakhstan and Siberia 
in 1944—1952, often together with their families. 14 

Deportation operations for what the Ministry of Internal Affairs de- 
scribed as "diverse contingents" continued right up until Stalin's death. In 1951 
and 1952, as a result of various small-scale operations, the following were 
deported: 11,685 Mingrelians and 4,707 Iranians from Georgia, 4,365 Jeho- 
vah's Witnesses, 4,431 "kulaks" from western Belorussia, 1,445 "kulaks" from 


A State against Its People 

western Ukraine, 1,415 "kulaks" from the Pskov region, 995 people from the 
sect that called itself u True Orthodox Christians," 2,795 basmachis from Tajik- 
istan, and 591 "vagabonds." These deportees received slightly lesser sentences 
of between ten and twenty years. 

As the recently opened Gulag archives demonstrate, the early 1950s were the 
most intense period of operation; never had so many people been detained in 
the camps, forced-labor colonies, and penal settlements. This was also a period 
of unprecedented crisis in the system. 

In the first months of 1953 the gulags contained 2,750,000 prisoners, who 
were grouped into three categories: 

• Those incarcerated in the approximately 500 labor colonies, found in all 
regions, containing between 1,000 and 3,000 prisoners on average, most 
of whom were common criminals serving sentences of less than (\c 

■ Those incarcerated in some 60 large penal complexes, or labor camps, 
which were mainly in the northern and eastern regions of the countrv, 
each holding tens of thousands of prisoners, common criminals, and po- 
litical prisoners all serving sentences of more than ten years 

• Those imprisoned in the approximately 15 special-regime camps, which 
had been established following secret instructions from the Ministry of 
Internal Affairs on 7 February 1948 to house only political prisoners 
considered particularly dangerous, totaling approximately 200,000 
people 15 

This huge concentration-camp universe thus contained 2,750,000 prisoners; 
another 2,750,000 "specially displaced people" were controlled by a different 
part of the Gulag Administration. These numbers made for serious problems 
in administration and control, as well as in economic profitability. In 1951 
General Kruglov, the minister of internal affairs, was worried about the con- 
stant decline in productivity among penal workers. He began a vast inspection 
campaign to assess the state of the gulags. When the commissions reported 
back, they revealed an extremely tense situation. 

First of all, in the special-regime camps where "political" prisoners 
(Ukrainian and Baltic "nationalists" from defeated guerrilla organizations, 
"foreign elements" from newly incorporated regions, real or supposed "col- 
laborators," and other "traitors to the fatherland") had been arriving since 
1945, the detainees were far more determined than the "enemies of the people" 
of the 1930s, who had been former Party cadres convinced that their impris- 
onment had been the result of a terrible misunderstanding. These new people, 
by contrast, condemned to twenty or twenty-five years with no hope of an early 
release, felt they had nothing left to lose. Moreover, their isolation in the 

Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 


special-regime camps had removed them from the influence of common crimi- 
nals. As Aleksandr Solzhcnitsyn pointed out, the one thing that prevented an 
atmosphere of solidarity from developing among prisoners was precisely the 
presence of common criminals. Once this obstacle had been removed, the 
special camps quickly became hotbeds of resistance and revolt against the 
Soviet regime. Ukrainian and Baltic prisoners were particularly active in re- 
volting against the system. Strikes, hunger strikes, mass escapes, and riots all 
became increasingly common. Research so far reveals sixteen large-scale riots 
and revolts in 1950-1952, each involving hundreds of prisoners. 16 

The Kruglov inspections of 1951 also revealed that the system was dete- 
riorating in ordinary camps, where "a general laxity in discipline" was to be 
discerned. In 1951 a million work days were lost to protests and strikes by 
prisoners. There was also a rising crime rate in the camps, an increasing number 
of violent confrontations between prisoners and guards, and a decline in the 
productivity of the penal workforce. According to the authorities, the situation 
was largely the result of conflicts between rival gangs of prisoners, with one 
group that refused to work and despised the other groups that did work, 
labeling them collaborators. In-fighting among factions and fights among pris- 
oners had a corrosive effect on discipline and generally created disorder. Deaths 
from stabbing were more common than deaths from hunger or disease. A 
conference of gulag commanders held in Moscow in January 1952 acknowl- 
edged that "the authorities, who until now have been able to gain a certain 
advantage from the hostilities between various groups of prisoners, [are] be- 
ginning to lose their grip on the situation ... In some places, certain factions 
are even beginning to run the camp along their own lines. 11 To break up groups 
and factions, it was decided that prisoners should be moved between camps 
more frequently, and that at the biggest penitentiaries, which often held be- 
tween 40,000 and 60,000 people, there should be a permanent reorganization 
into separate sections.' ' 

In addition to noting the considerable problems generated by the different 
factions, many inspection reports from 1951 and 1952 acknowledged a need 
both for a complete reorganization of the prisons and their systems of produc- 
tion, and for a considerable scaling down of the entire operation. 

In January 1952 Colonel Nikolai Zverev, the commander of the concen- 
tration camps in Norilsk, where 69,000 prisoners were kept, sent a report to 
General Ivan Dolgikh, the commander in chief of the gulags, with the following 

1. Isolate the factions. u But," Zverev noted, "given the great number of 
prisoners who belong to one or other of the rival factions, we would be 
lucky if we could even simply isolate the leaders." 

2. Abandon the huge production zones, where tens of thousands of pris- 


A State against Its People 

oners belonging to one faction or another are currently working without 

3. Establish smaller production units to ensure better surveillance of the 

4. Increase the number of guards. "But," Zverev added, "it is currently 
impossible to organize the guards in the desired fashion, since almost 
double the number of guards is required." 

5. Separate free workers from prisoners at all production sites. "But the 
technical links between the different companies that make up the 
Norilsk complex, and the requirement that production be continuous, 
coupled with the serious housing shortage, all mean that it is currently 
impossible to segregate the prisoners and the free workers in a satisfac- 
tory manner . . . Generally speaking, the problem of productivity and 
of uninterrupted production could be resolved only by the early release 
of 15,000 prisoners, who in any case would be forced to remain at the 
same site. 1 ' 18 

Zverev's last proposal was far from incongruous, given the climate of 
opinion at the time. In January 1951 Kruglov had asked Beria for the early 
release of 6,000 prisoners, who were then to be sent as free workers to an 
enormous construction site for the hydroelectric power station in Stalingrad, 
where 25,000 prisoners were then toiling away in what was perceived to be an 
extremely ineffectual manner. The practice of early release, particularly for 
prisoners who had some qualifications, was fairly frequent in the early 1950s. 
It also called into question the economic value of an outdated system of 
concentration camps. 

Faced with this huge increase in prisoners who were far less docile than 
those in the past, and with a whole series of logistical and surveillance problems 
(Gulag personnel now numbered approximately 208,000), the enormous ad- 
ministrative machine found it more and more difficult to produce its /«//«— the 
false accounts of its success. To resolve this enduring problem, the authorities 
had a choice of two solutions: either to exploit all manpower to the maximum, 
without regard for human losses, or to ensure the Gulag's survival by treating 
the manpower with greater consideration. Until 1948 the first solution was 
preferred; but at the end of the 1940s it dawned on Party leaders that with the 
country bled dry by the war and manpower scarce in every sector of the 
economy, it was far more logical to use the prisoner workforce in a more 
economical fashion. To try to stimulate production, bonuses and salaries were 
introduced, and food rations were increased for prisoners who met their quotas. 
As a result, the death rate fell immediately by 2-3 percent. But the reforms 
quickly came up against the harsh realities of life in the concentration camps. 

Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System 


By the beginning of the 1950s, the production infrastructure in general 
was more than twenty years old and had had no benefit of any recent invest- 
ment. The huge penitentiaries, which held tens of thousands of prisoners and 
which had been built to use the extensive workforce in the big projects of the 
time, were extremely difficult to reorganize, despite the numerous attempts 
from 1949 to 1952 to break them up into smaller production units. The tiny 
salaries given to prisoners, generally a few hundred rubles per year (fifteen to 
twenty times less than the pay of a free worker), were an inadequate stimulus 
to increased productivity. More and more prisoners were downing tools, refus- 
ing to work, and forming organized groups that required ever-closer surveil- 
lance. Regardless of whether they were better paid or guarded more closely, all 
prisoners, both those who cooperated with the authorities and those who pre- 
ferred to show solidarity with the other strikers, began to cost more and more 
in economic terms, 

All the information available from the inspection reports of 1951 and 1952 
points in the same direction: The gulags had become a much harder mechanism 
to control. All the large-scale Stalinist projects that were being built with largely 
penal manpower, including the hydroelectric power stations in Kuibyshev and 
Stalingrad, the Turkmenistan canal, and the Volga-Don canal, fell considerably 
behind schedule. To speed up work, the authorities were forced to bring in a 
large number of additional free workers, and to grant early release to a number 
of prisoners in an attempt to motivate the others. 19 

The Gulag crisis sheds new light on the amnesty of 1.2 million prisoners 
decreed by Beria scarcely three weeks after Stalin's death, on 27 March 1953. 
Certainly, political reasons alone could not have motivated Stalin's potential 
successors to unite in proclaiming a partial amnesty. All were aware of the 
immense difficulty of managing the overcrowded and unprofitable gulags. Yet 
at the very moment when all the penal authorities were asking for a reduction 
in the number of prisoners, Stalin, who was suffering increasingly from para- 
noia in his old age, was preparing a second Great Terror. Such contradictions 
abounded in the last, most troubled period of the Stalinist regime. 


The Last Conspiracy 

n 13 January 1953, Pravda announced the purported discovery 
of a plot by a "terrorist group of doctors" consisting of first nine and then 
fifteen famous physicians, more than half of whom were Jewish. They were 
accused of having abused their high positions in the Kremlin to shorten the 
lives of Andrei Zhdanov (a member of the Politburo who had died in 1948) and 
Aleksandr Shcherbakov (who had died in 1950) and of having attempted to 
assassinate several Soviet military officers at the behest of American intelli- 
gence services and a Jewish charitable organization, the American Joint Distri- 
bution Committee. While the woman who denounced the plot, Dr. Lydia 
Timashuk, was solemnly awarded the Order of Lenin, the accused were inter- 
rogated and forced to "confess." As in 1936-1938, thousands of meetings were 
held to call for the punishment of the guilty and to demand further inquiries 
and a return to old-fashioned Bolshevik vigilance. In the weeks following the 
announced discovery of the "Doctors' Plot," a huge press campaign reestab- 
lished the climate that had prevailed during the Great Terror, with demands 
that "criminal negligence within the Party ranks be definitively stamped out, 
and all saboteurs punished." The idea of a huge conspiracy among intellectu- 
als, Jews, soldiers, industrial managers, senior Party officials, and leading rep- 
resentatives from the non-Russian republics began to take hold, recalling the 
worst years of the Ezhovshchina. 

The Last Conspiracy 

Documents relating to this affair, which are now available for the first time, 
confirm that the Doctors' Plot was a decisive moment in the history of postwar 
Stalinism. 1 It marked both the peak of the "anticosmopolitan" (that is, an- 
tisemitic) campaign that had begun in 1949 (and whose first stirrings can be 
traced back to 1946-47) and the beginning of a new general purge, a new Great 
Terror that was halted only by Stalin's death, a few weeks after the story of the 
conspiracy broke. A third factor of some importance was the power struggle 
among factions in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State 
Security, which had been separated in 1946 and subjected to constant reorgani- 
zations ever since. 2 Splits within the secret police were a reflection of struggles 
at the very top of the hierarchy, where Stalin's potential heirs were constantly 
jockeying for position. One final troubling aspect of the affair was that eight 
years after public revelation of the horrors of the Nazi death camps, it allowed 
the deep-seated tsarist antisemitism, which the Bolsheviks had previously es- 
chewed, to resurface, thus demonstrating the confusion of the last years of 

The complexities of this affair, or rather of these several converging 
affairs, are not our concern here; it is enough to recall the major outlines of the 
plot. In 1942 the Soviet government, with a view to putting pressure on 
American Jews to force the US. government to open a second front against 
Germany as soon as possible, set up a Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, 
chaired by Solomon Mikhoels, the director of the famous Yiddish theater in 
Moscow. Hundreds of Jewish intellectuals were soon active in the movement, 
including the novelist llya Ehrenburg, the poets Samuel Marchak and Peretz 
Markish, the pianist Emil Guilds, the writer Vasily Grossman, and the physi- 
cist Pyotr Kapitza, the father of the Soviet nuclear bomb. The committee soon 
outgrew its original purpose as an official propaganda machine and became 
instead a genuine center for Jewish solidarity, and also a representative body for 
Soviet Jewry. In February 1944 the leaders of the committee— Mikhoels, Isaac 
Fefer, and Grigory Epstein— sent Stalin a letter proposing the creation of an 
autonomous Jewish republic in the Crimea to replace the largely unsuccessful 
national Jewish state of Birobidzhan established in the 1930s. During the 
previous decade fewer than 40,000 Jews had moved to this distant, forgotten 
region of deserts and marshes in extreme eastern Siberia, on the borders of 
China. 1 

The committee also dedicated itself to collecting statements about Nazi 
massacres of Jews and any "abnormal events concerning Jews," a euphemism 
for any antisemitic behavior noted in the population. There were a considerable 
number of such "events." Antisemitic traditions were still strong in Ukraine 
and in certain western regions of Russia, notably in the ancient "pale of 
settlements" of the Russian empire, where Jews had been authorized to live by 




A State against Its People 

the tsarist authorities. The first defeats of the Red Army revealed how wide- 
spread antisemitism actually was among the population. NKVD reports about 
attitudes of the population revealed that many people had responded positively 
to Nazi propaganda claiming that the Germans were fighting only Communists 
and Jews. In regions that had been occupied by the Germans, and particularly 
in Ukraine, the open massacre of Jews met with little resistance from the local 
population. The Germans recruited more than 80,000 troops in Ukraine, and 
some of these definitely participated in the massacre of Jews. To counter Nazi 
propaganda and to mobilize the whole of the country around the theme of the 
struggle for survival of the whole Soviet people, Bolshevik ideology was initially 
quite resistant to the specific nature of the Holocaust. It was against this 
backdrop that first anti-Zionism and then official antisemitism began to flour- 
ish. Antisemitism was particularly virulent in the Agitprop (Agitation and 
Propaganda) Department of the Central Committee. As early as August 1942 
that body sent out an internal memorandum regarding "the dominant role 
played by Jews in artistic, literary, and journalistic milieus." 

The activism of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was soon a cause of 
concern to the authorities. In early 1945 the Jewish poet Peretz Markish was 
forbidden to publish. The appearance of the Black Book about Nazi atrocities 
against Jews was canceled on the pretext that "the central argument of the 
whole book is the idea that the Germans made war on the US.S.R. only as an 
attempt to wipe out the Jews." On 12 October 1946, Viktor Abakumov, the 
minister of state security, sent a note to the Central Committee about "the 
nationalist tendencies of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee." 4 Because Stalin 
sought to follow a foreign policy favorable to the establishment of the state of 
Israel, he did not react immediately. Only after the US.S.R. had voted at the 
United Nations to partition Palestine, on 29 November 1947, was Abakumov 
given a free hand to liquidate the committee. 

On 19 December 1947 several of the committee's members were arrested. 
On 13 January 1948 Solomon Mikhoels was found murdered in Minsk; accord- 
ing to the official version of events, he had been in an auto accident. On 
21 November 1948 the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was broken up on the 
pretext that it had become a "center for anti-Soviet propaganda," and its 
various publications, including the notable Yiddish journal Einikait, were 
banned.'' In the following weeks the remaining members of the committee were 
arrested, and in February 1949 the vast "anticosmopolitan" campaign began in 
the press. Jewish theater critics were denounced for their inability to under- 
stand the Russian national character: "What vision can a [Abram] Gurvich 
or a Qosif] Yuzovsky possibly have of the national character of Russian So- 
viet men?" asked Pravda on 2 February 1949. Hundreds of Jewish intellectuals 

The Last Conspiracy 


were arrested, notably in Moscow and Leningrad, in the first few months of 

A revealing document from this period, a decree from the Judicial Colle- 
gium of the Leningrad Court, dated 7 July 1949 and recently published in Neva 
magazine, condemned Achille Grigorevich Leniton, Ilya Zeilkovich Serman, 
and Rulf Alexandrovna Zevina to ten years in the camps for several alleged 
crimes, most significantly for "having criticized in an anti-Soviet manner the 
resolution of the Central Committee regarding the magazines Zvezda and 
Leningrad . . . for interpreting Marx's opinions on international affairs in a 
counterrevolutionary manner, for praising cosmopolitan writers . . . and for 
spreading lies about Soviet government policy regarding the question of na- 
tionality." After an appeal the sentence was increased to twenty-five years by 
the Judicial Collegium of the Supreme Court, which justified its verdict as 
follows: "The sentence passed by the Leningrad Court failed to take account 
of the gravity of the offenses committed . . . The accused had been involved 
in counterrevolutionary activities, using nationalist prejudices to proclaim the 
superiority of one nation over the other nations of the Soviet Union "^ 

Thereafter Jews were systematically removed from all positions of author- 
ity in the arts and the media, in journalism and publishing, and in medicine 
and many other professions. Arrests became more and more common, striking 
all sorts of milieus, A group of "engineer saboteurs" in the metallurgy complex 
in Stalino, almost all of whom were Jewish, were sentenced to death and 
executed on 12 August 1952. Paulina Zhemchuzhina, Molotov's Jewish wife, 
who was a top manager in the textile industry, was arrested on 21 January 1949 
for "losing documents containing state secrets" and was sent to a camp for five 
years. The wife of Stalin's personal secretary Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, who was 
also Jewish, was accused of espionage and shot in July 1952. 7 Both Molotov 
and Poskrebyshev continued to serve Stalin as though nothing had happened. 
Despite this widespread antisemitism, preparations for the trial of the 
Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee dragged on for a long time. The trial did not 
begin, in camera, until May 1952, more than two and a half years after the arrest 
of the accused. The incomplete documentary evidence now available suggests 
two possible reasons for the exceptionally long period of preparation. One is 
that Stalin was then orchestrating in great secrecy the "Leningrad Affair," an 
important case that together with the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee matter 
was to form one of the cornerstones of the great final purge. The other is that 
Stalin was concurrently involved in completely reorganizing the security serv- 
ices. Abakumov's arrest in July 1951 proved to be the central episode in this 
reorganization. This action was directed against the powerful Lavrenti Beria, 
the longtime head of the secret police and a member of the Politburo. Thus 


A State against Its People 

the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee affair was at the heart of a power struggle, 
and was also to form a keystone in the series of arguments that were to result 
in the Doctors' Plot and lead to a second Great Terror. 

Of all these purported activities, the Leningrad Affair, which led to the secret 
executions of the main leaders of the Soviet Communist Party's second-most- 
important branch organization, is still by far the most mysterious. Stalin had 
always been suspicious of the city. On 15 February 1949 the Politburo adopted 
a resolution "on the anti-Party activities of [Nikolai] Kuznetsov, [M. [.] 
Rodionov, and [Pyotr] Popkov," three high-ranking Party officials. The three 
were immediately forced to resign, as were Ivan Voznesensky, the president of 
Gosplan, the state planning department, and most of the members of Lenin- 
grad's Party apparatus. In August-September 1949 all these officials were 
arrested and accused of having attempted to establish an "anti-Party" group 
with the help of American intelligence services. Abakumov then launched a 
witch-hunt for anyone who had once been a member of the Party in Leningrad 
but had since moved to another city or republic. Hundreds of Communists in 
Leningrad were arrested, and about 2,000 were hounded out of the Party and 
deprived of their jobs. The repression had some strange twists, striking the city 
itself as a historical entity. In August 1949 the authorities decided to close the 
Museum of the Defense of Leningrad, which was a reminder of the heroism 
of the city during the siege of the Great Patriotic War. A few months later 
Mikhail Suslov, a high-ranking CPSU official responsible for ideological af- 
fairs, was instructed by the Central Committee to form a commission for the 
liquidation of the museum. This commission functioned until the end of 
February 1953. 8 

The accused in the Leningrad Affair— Kuznetsov, Rodionov, Popkov, 
Voznesensky, Ya. F. Kapustin, and P. G. Lazutin— were judged in camera on 
30 September 1950 and executed the following day, one hour after the verdict 
was announced. The entire business was shrouded in secrecy; nobody was 
informed of it, not even the daughter of one of the principal suspects, who was 
the daughter-in-law of Anastas Mikoyan, the Soviet trade minister and a mem- 
ber of the CPSU Politburo. In October 1950 other travesties of justice con- 
demned to death dozens of Party leaders who had belonged to the Leningrad 
organization: K. Soloviev, first secretary of the Crimean regional committee; 
Aleksei Badaev, second secretary of the Leningrad regional committee; Verbit- 
sky, second secretary of the Murmansk regional committee; M. V. Basov, first 
deputy chairman of the Russian Council of Ministers; and many others. 4 

It is not yet clear whether this purge of the Leningrad Party organization 
was a simple settling of scores between factions of the Party apparatus or 
another link in a whole chain of affairs, stretching from the liquidation of the 

The Last Conspiracy 


Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to the Doctors 1 Plot, and including the arrest 
of Abakumov and the Mingrelian nationalist plot. This second hypothesis is 
perhaps the more probable. The Leningrad Affair was without doubt a sig- 
nificant stage in the preparation of a great purge, for which the public signal 
was given on 13 January 1953. In quite significant fashion, the crimes of which 
the fallen Leningrad leaders were accused were strongly reminiscent of the 
dark years of 1936-1938. At the first plenary meeting of Leningrad Party 
cadres in October 1949, Andrei Andrianov, the new first secretary, announced 
to the startled audience that the previous leaders had been found to have 
published Trotskyite and Zinovievite literature: "In documents published by 
these people, they were surreptitiously passing on the opinions of some of the 
worst enemies of the people, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, and others." Beyond 
the grotesqueness of the accusation, the message was clear for Party cadres. A 
new 1937 was indeed beginning. 10 

After the execution of the principal suspects in the Leningrad Affair in 
October 1950, there was much maneuvering and countermaneuvcring within 
the security services and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Having become 
suspicious of Beria himself, Stalin invented a fictitious Mingrelian nationalist 
plot whose aim was supposedly to join Mingrelia, the region in Georgia where 
Beria got his start, to Turkey. Beria was thus forced to lead a purge within the 
Georgian Communist Party 11 In October 1951 Stalin dealt Beria another blow 
by having a group of elderly Jewish cadres in the security forces and the 
judiciary arrested, including Lt. Colonel Naum Eitingon, who under Beria's 
orders had organized Trotsky's assassination; General Leonid Raikhman, who 
had taken part in setting up the Moscow trials; Colonel Lev Shvartzman, the 
torturer of Babel and Meyerhold; and Lev Sheinin, the examining magistrate 
who had been Vyshinskys righthand man during the Moscow show-trials of 
1936-1938. All were accused of organizing a huge Jewish nationalist plot, led 
by Abakumov, the minister of state security and Beria's principal assistant. 

Abakumov had been secretly arrested a few months earlier, on 12 July 
1951. He was first accused of having deliberately killed Jacob Etinger, a well- 
known Jewish doctor who had been arrested in November 1950 and had died 
in custody shortly afterward. It was claimed that by "eliminating" Etinger, who 
in his long career had looked after Sergei Kirov, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Marshal 
Tukhachevsky, Palmiro Togliatti, Tito, and Georgi Dimitrov, Abakumov had 
ensured that "a criminal group of nationalist Jews who had infiltrated the 
highest levels of the Ministry of State Security would not be unmasked." A 
few months later it was claimed that Abakumov himself was the brains behind 
the whole nationalist Jewish plot. Abakumov's arrest in July 1951 thus consti- 
tuted a vital link in the formulation of a vast "Judeo-Zionist plot," and provided 
the transition between the still-secret liquidation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist 


A State against Its People 

Committee and the Doctors' Plot, which was to be the public signal for the 
beginning of a new purge. One can therefore conclude that it was during the 
summer of 1951, and not at the end of 1952, that the scenario began to take 
shape. 12 

The secret trial of the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee 
lasted from 1 1 to 15 July 1952. Thirteen of the accused were sentenced to death 
and executed on 12 August 1952 along with ten other Engineer saboteurs," all 
Jewish, from the Stalin automobile factory. In all, the Jewish Anti-Fascist 
Committee affair led to 125 sentences, including 25 death sentences, which 
were carried out immediately, and 100 camp sentences of between ten and 
twenty-five years. 11 

By September 1952 the scenario for the Judeo-Zionist conspiracy was 
ready, but it was not put into action until after the Nineteenth Party Congress, 
in October (thirteen and a half years after the Eighteenth Congress). As soon 
as the Congress adjourned, most of the Jewish doctors who were to be accused 
in the Doctors' Plot were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. These arrests, 
which were kept secret for some time, coincided with the trial of Rudolf 
Slansky, the former general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, 
and of thirteen other Czechoslovak Communist leaders, which began in Prague 
on 22 November 1952. Eleven of them were condemned to death and hanged. 
One of the peculiarities of that travesty, which was organized in its entirety by- 
Soviet advisers from the secret police, was its openly antisemitic character 
Eleven of the fourteen accused were Jewish, and the charge was that they had 
set up a "Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist terrorist group." Preparations for the trials 
included a witch-hunt for Jews in all the Eastern European Communist parties. 

The day after the execution of eleven of the accused in the Slansky trial, 
Stalin forced the Presidium of the CPSU Centra] Committee to vote for a 
resolution titled "On the Present Situation at the Ministry of State Security," 
which ordered a "tightening of discipline within the state security organs." The 
ministry itself was brought under the spotlight: supposedly it had been too lax, 
shown a lack of vigilance, and allowed "saboteur doctors" to operate with 
impunity. A further step had thus been taken. Stalin's intention, clearly, was to 
use the Doctors' Plot against both the Security Ministry and Beria himself 
And Beria, who was himself a specialist in such affairs, must have been well 
aware of the implications of what he could see. 

What exactly happened in the weeks leading up to Stalin's death is still 
largely unknown. Preparations for the interrogation and trial of the doctors 
who had been arrested continued behind the scenes as an official campaign 
gathered momentum for a "reinforcement of Bolshevik vigilance," a "struggle 
against all forms of complacency," and exemplary punishments for the "cos- 

The Last Conspiracy 


mopolitan assassins." Each day more arrests widened the scope of the "con- 

On 19 February 1953 Ivan Maisky, a deputy minister of foreign affairs 
and one of Molotov's chief aides, who had previously been Soviet ambassador 
in London, was arrested. After relentless interrogation he "confessed" that he 
had been recruited as a British spy by Winston Churchill, together with Alek- 
sandra Kollontai, a grand figure in the history of Bolshevism, who had been 
one of the leaders of the Workers' Opposition in 1921 and who until the end 
of World War II had been the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm. 14 

Despite the sensational progress that was made in "uncovering" the con- 
spiracy from its beginning on 13 January to Stalin's death on 5 March, it is 
noteworthy that unlike during the years 1936-1938, none of the other leaders 
of the regime came forward in public and openly endorsed the investigation of 
the affair. According to testimony from Nikolai Bulganin in 1970, Stalin was 
the main inspiration and orchestrator of the Doctors' Plot, and only four of 
the other top leaders actually knew what was going on: Georgy Malenkov, 
Mikhail Suslov, Martemyam Ryumin, and Sergei Ignatiev. Accordingly, every- 
one else must have felt under threat. Bulganin also claimed that the trial of the 
Jewish doctors was to have opened in mid-March, and was to have been 
concluded with the massive deportation of Soviet Jews to Birobidzhan. 15 Given 
the current state of knowledge and the continued lack of access to the Russian 
Presidential Archive, where the most secret and sensitive files are kept, it is 
impossible to know with certainty whether plans were really afoot for a large- 
scale deportation of Jews in early 1953. One thing alone is certain: Stalin's 
death finally put an end to the list of the millions of victims who suffered under 
his dictatorship. 


The Exit from Stalinism 

Otalin's death, coming in the middle of the Soviet Union's seven 
decades of existence, marked a decisive stage. Although it was not the end of 
the system, it was at least the end of an era. As Francois Furet wrote, the death 
of the Supreme Leader revealed "the paradox of a system that was supposedly 
part of the laws of social development, but in which everything actuallv de- 
pended on one man, so much so that when he died, it seemed that the system 
had lost something essential to its continued existence." One of the major 
components of this "something essential" was the high level of inhuman re- 
pression by the state against the people in a number of different forms. 

For Stalin's main collaborators, including Malenkov, Molotov, Voroshilov, 
Mikoyan, Kaganovich, Khrushchev, Bulganin, and Beria, the political problem 
posed by Stalin's death was extremely complex. They had at once to assure the 
continuity of the system, divide up responsibilities, and find some sort of 
equilibrium between individual dominance — however attenuated — by any one 
of their number and collective rule, which would take account of all their 
ambitions and skills. They also promptly had to introduce a number of major 
changes, about which there was considerable agreement. 

The difficulty of combining these diverse objectives accounts for the 
extremely slow and tortuous process that started with Stalin's death and cul- 

The Exit from Stalinism 

minated in the elimination of the threat posed by Beria, who was arrested on 
26 June 1953. 

The shorthand reports that are now available of the plenary sessions of 
the Central Committee on 5 March 1953 (the day of Stalin's death) and again 
from 2 to 7 July 1953 (after the elimination of Beria) help explain why the 
Soviet leaders began this "exit from Stalinism" that Nikita Khrushchev was to 
transform into "de-Stalinization." 1 The process would have its high points at 
the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956 and 
the Twenty-second Congress in October 1961. 

One impetus for the move away from Stalinism was quite simply a defense 
mechanism, an instinct for survival. During the last few months of Stalin's 
reign, almost all the top leaders had become aware of how vulnerable they 
actually were. No one had been safe — not Voroshilov, who had been accused of 
being an agent for foreign intelligence services; nor Molotov and Mikoyan, who 
had been removed from the Presidium of the Central Committee, nor Beria, 
who had been under threat from intrigues at the heart of the security services 
orchestrated by Stalin himself. Further down the hierarchy, the bureaucratic 
elites that had been regrouping since the war also feared and ultimately rejected 
the Terrorist aspects of the regime. The omnipotence of the secret police was 
the last obstacle to their enjoying a stable career. What had to be dismantled, 
as Martin Malia has phrased it, was "the mechanism set up by Stalin for his 
own private use" to ensure that no single figure would be able to advance further 
than his colleagues and political rivals. Rather than differences of opinion about 
the reforms that had to be undertaken, what really mobilized Stalin's heirs to 
turn against Beria was the fear of seeing another dictator come to power. Beria 
appeared to be the most powerful figure because he had the whole state security 
apparatus and the Ministry of Internal Affairs at his disposal. The lesson was 
quite obvious to all concerned: the apparatus of repression should never again 
"escape the control of the Party" and be allowed to become the weapon of a 
single individual and thus threaten the political oligarchy. 

The second and more profound reason for the change was the realization 
shared by all the main leaders, from Khrushchev to Malenkov, that economic 
and social reform was now of prime necessity. The exclusively repressive 
management of the economy, based on the authoritarian control of almost all 
agricultural production, the criminalization of various forms of behavior, and 
the atrophying Gulag system, had resulted in a serious economic crisis and 
social stagnation that rendered impossible any increase in labor productivity. 
The economic model put into place in the 1930s against the will of the vast 
majority of the people had brought the results described above and was now 
perceived to be outdated. 




A State against Its People 

The third reason for change was the struggle for power itself, which led 
to a constant raising of the stakes among the politicians. It was Nikita Khrush- 
chev, who for reasons that will not be detailed here (suffice it to say that he was 
able to confront his own Stalinist past, seemed to feel genuine remorse, was a 
skillful politician and a great populist with a real belief in a better future, and 
had the will to return to what he considered to be a legitimately socialist 
position), went further than his colleagues in aiming for a slow and gradual 
process of de-Stalinization, not only in the political arena but also in the 
day-to-day lives of the people. 

What were the principal steps of this movement in dismantling the re- 
pressive machinery? In the space of a few years the Soviet Union changed from 
a country with an extremely high level of legal and extralegal repression into 
an authoritarian police state, where for more than a generation the memory of 
the terror was one of the most effective guarantees of post-Stalinist order. 

Less than two weeks after Stalin's death, the gulag system was completely 
reorganized and brought under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. Its 
economic infrastructure was immediately transferred to the relevant industrial 
ministries. Even more spectacular than these administrative changes, which 
demonstrated clearly that the Ministry of Internal Affairs was losing its place 
as the most powerful ministry, was the announcement, in Pravda on 28 March 
1953, of a large amnesty. By virtue of a decree promulgated by the Presidium 
of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. the previous day and signed by its 
president, Voroshilov, the following were granted amnesty: 

Anyone sentenced to less than five years 

Anyone sentenced for lying, economic crimes, and abuses of power 
Pregnant women and mothers with children under age ten, minors, men 
over fifty-five, and women over fifty 

In addition, the amnesty provided for the halving of all other sentences except 
those handed out for counterrevolutionary activities, grand theft, banditry, and 
premeditated murder. 

In a few weeks about 1.2 million prisoners — nearly half the population of 
the camps and penal colonies — were released from the gulags. Many of them 
were small-time criminals sentenced for petty theft; still more were simple 
citizens who had been convicted under one of the innumerable repressive laws 
that governed every sphere of activity, from "leaving the workplace" to "break- 
ing the law regarding internal passports." This partial amnesty, which notably 
excluded political prisoners and special deportees, reflected in its very ambigu- 
ity the still ill-defined changes that were afoot. The spring of 1953, a time of 
tortuous reasoning, was also a time of intense power struggles when even 

The Exit from Stalinism 


Lavrenti Beria, the first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers and 
minister of internal affairs, seemed to be turning into a great reformer. 

What considerations dictated such a large amnesty? According to Amy 
Knight, the biographer of Beria, the amnesty of 27 March 1953, which was 
adopted at the behest of the minister of internal affairs himself, was part of a 
series of political measures indicating a new, liberal direction in the thinking 
of Beria, who, like the others, was involved in the power struggle after Stalin's 
death and was thus also caught up in the spiral of rising political stakes. To 
justify the amnesty, Beria had sent a note to the Presidium of the Central 
Committee on 24 March in which he explained that of the 2,526,402 prisoners 
in the gulags, only 221,435 were "particularly dangerous criminals," and that 
most of those were kept in special camps. In an astonishing admission, he noted 
that an overwhelming share of prisoners posed no threat to the state. A large 
amnesty was therefore desirable to free up a penal system that was both over- 
crowded and intrinsically unwieldy. 2 

The issue of the increasing difficulty of managing the gulags was regularly 
raised in the early 1950s. The crisis in the camps, which was widely acknowl- 
edged before Stalin's death, puts the amnesty of 27 March in a new light. 
Economic as well as political reasons induced the potential successors of Stalin 
to proclaim a large but partial amnesty. They were aware that the gulags were 
overcrowded and totally inefficient. 

Here, as elsewhere, no radical measures could be taken so long as Stalin 
was still alive. As the historian Moshe Lewin once noted so aptly, everything 
was "mummified" in the last years of the dictatorship. 

Even after Stalin's death, of course, not everything was possible. The 
principal victims of the system's arbitrary nature — the political prisoners con- 
demned for counterrevolutionary activities — failed to benefit from the amnesty. 
The exclusion of political prisoners from the amnesty sparked a number of 
riots and revolts among prisoners in the special gulag camps and in the Rechlag 
and Steplag. 1 

On 4 April it was announced in Pravda that the conspirators of the 
Doctors' Plot had themselves been the victims of a miscarriage of justice, and 
that their confessions had been extracted "by illegitimate means of interroga- 
tion," which everyone understood to mean torture. The importance of this 
acknowledgment was amplified further by a resolution adopted by the Central 
Committee a few days later u on legal violations by the state security forces." It 
emerged clearly that the Doctors' Plot had not been an isolated incident, and 
that for some years the security forces had been abusing their powers and had 
been involved in illegal activities. The Party claimed that it was now rejecting 
these methods and clamping down on the excessive powers of the police. The 
hope engendered by these statements immediately elicited an enormous re- 


A State against Its People 

sponse, and the courts were swamped by hundreds of thousands of demands 
for rehabilitation. Prisoners, particularly those in the special camps, were ex- 
asperated by the limited and selective nature of the amnesty of 27 March. They 
were well aware of the turmoil among the guards and the systemwide crisis, 
and they simply turned on the guards and commanders, refusing to work or to 
obey orders. On 14 May 1953 more than 14,000 prisoners from different 
sections of the Norilsk penitentiary organized a strike and formed committees 
composed of delegates elected from various national groups, in which Ukraini- 
ans and people from the Baltic states played key roles. The main demands of 
the prisoners were a reduction of the working day to nine hours, the elimination 
of labels on their clothes, an end to restrictions on communication with their 
families, the removal of all informers, and an extension of the amnesty to 
include political prisoners. 

The official announcement on 10 July 1953 of the arrest of Beria, who 
was accused of being an English spy and an avowed enemy of the people, 
confirmed the prisoners' impression that something had indeed changed in 
Moscow and made them even more forceful in their demands. The strike 
became increasingly widespread; on 14 July more than 12,000 prisoners from 
the Vorkuta prison complex also went on strike. One sure sign that things had 
changed was that the authorities began to negotiate with the prisoners, repeat- 
edly postponing an attack. 

Unrest was endemic in the special camps from the summer of 1953 until 
the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956. The largest and most sus- 
tained revolt broke out in May 1954, in the third section of the Steplag prison 
complex in Kengir, near Karaganda in Kazakhstan. It went on for forty days 
and was put down only after special troops from the Internal Affairs Ministry 
had surrounded the camp with tanks. About 400 prisoners were arrested and 
resentenced, and the six surviving members of the commission that had led the 
resistance were executed. 

Another sign that things had genuinely changed with the death of Stalin 
was the fact that some of the demands made by the striking prisoners in 1953 
and 1954 were actually met; the working day was indeed reduced to nine hours, 
and other significant improvements in the quality of life for prisoners were 

In 1954-55 the government took a series of measures that significant!) 
altered the enormous power of the state security forces, which had been totally 
reorganized in the aftermath of Beria's arrest. The troiki — the special courts 
that judged all cases handled by the secret police — were abolished altogether. 
The secret police were reorganized into an autonomous entity, renamed the 
Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security, or 
KGB), purged of one-fifth of all personnel who had worked there before 

The Exit from Stalinism 


Stalin's death, and placed under the authority of General Ivan Serov, whose 
achievements included oversight of the deportation of various ethnic groups 
during the war. An associate of Nikita Khrushchev, Serov embodied many of 
the ambiguities of a transitional period in which previous leaders were still in 
positions of authority. The government decreed more partial amnesties, the 
most important of which, in September 1955, freed everyone who had been 
sentenced in 1945 for "collaborating with the enemy," as well as the remaining 
German prisoners of war. Finally, several measures benefited the "specially 
displaced," who were henceforth allowed to move around more freely, and no 
longer required to register quite so regularly at the local komandatury. Follow- 
ing high-level German-Soviet negotiations, German deportees, who repre- 
sented 40 percent of those held in special colonies (more than 1,000,000 out of 
approximately 2,750,000), were the first to benefit in September 1955 from the 
easing of restrictions. However, the wording of the new laws made it clear that 
the lifting of judicial restrictions and the changes in professional status and 
residency requirements would not lead to "the return of confiscated goods or 
a right to return to the place from which the 'specially displaced' had origi- 

These restrictions were a significant part of the partial and gradual process 
that came to be known as de-Stalinization. Carried out under the direction of 
a Stalinist, Nikita Khrushchev (who, like all the other leaders of his generation, 
had played a major role in the worst acts of repression, such as dekulakization, 
purges, deportations, and executions), de-Stalinization could afford to con- 
demn only certain excesses of the "cult of personality." In his "Secret Speech" 
to the Soviet delegates at the Twentieth Party Congress on 24 February 1956, 
Khrushchev was extremely selective in his condemnation of Stalinism and did 
not call into question any of the major decisions taken by the Party since 1917. 
This selectivity was also apparent in the chronology of the Stalinist "devia- 
tion " Because this deviation supposedly began in 1934, it excluded the crimes 
of collectivization and the famine of 1932-33. The selectivity was also apparent 
in the choice of victims, who were all Communists and had generally followed 
the Stalinist line; they were never ordinary citizens. By restricting the list of 
victims of oppression to Communists who had suffered at Stalin's hand, and 
by focusing solely on historical episodes that happened after the assassination 
of Kirov, the Secret Speech evaded the central question of the collective 
responsibility of the Party toward society since 1917. 

The Secret Speech was followed by a series of concrete measures to 
complete the limited steps that had already been taken. In March and April 
1956 decrees were issued in regard to "specially displaced" persons from ethnic 
groups that had been punished for supposedly collaborating with Nazi Ger- 
many and deported in 1943-1945. These people, according to the decrees, were 

256 A State against Its People 

"no longer to be subject to administrative surveillance by the Internal Affairs 
Ministry." There was, however, no restoration of their confiscated goods, nor 
were they allowed to return home. These half-measures were met with consid^ 
erable anger; many deportees refused to sign statements requiring them to 
abandon all claims for compensation, the restoration of their goods, and the 
right to return home. Faced with a remarkable shift in the political climate and 
the popular mood, the Soviet government made new concessions. On 9 January 
1957 the government once again recognized the republics and autonomous 
regions of the deported peoples, which had been abolished in the immediate 
aftermath of the war. Only the autonomous republic of the Tatars in the 
Crimea was not reinstated. 

For more than three decades the Crimean Tatars struggled for their right 
to return home. From 1957 on, the Karachai, Kalmyks, Balkars, Chechens, and 
Ingush slowly began to return by the tens of thousands. Nothing was made 
easy for them by the authorities. Numerous disputes broke out between deport- 
ees trying to move back into their former homes and the Russian colonists who 
had been brought there from neighboring regions in 1945. Having no proptski- - 
licenses from the local police granting the right to live in a given place — the 
returning deportees were again forced to live in shantytowns, encampments, 
and other temporary housing, under the permanent threat of arrest for failing 
to comply with passport laws (an offense that brought two years' imprison- 
ment). In July 1958 the Chechen capital, Grozny, was the scene of bloody 
confrontations between Russians and Chechens. An uneasy peace was estab- 
lished only after the authorities freed up funds to build accommodations for 
the former deportees. 5 

Officially, the category of "specially displaced' 1 existed until January I960. 
The last deportees to be freed from this pariah status were Ukrainians and 
people from the Baltic states. Faced with the prospect of more administrative 
obstacles to their return, more than half of the Ukrainians and Baltic peoples 
settled in the places to which they had been deported. 

In 1954—55 90,000 "counterrevolutionaries" were released from the gu- 
lags; in 1956-57, after the Twentieth Congress, nearly 310,000 were freed. On 
1 January 1959 only 11,000 political prisoners remained in the camps.'' To 
expedite the release of prisoners, more than 200 special review commissions 
were sent into the camps, and several amnesties were decreed. Liberation, 
however, was not synonymous with rehabilitation. In 1956 and 1957 fewer than 
60,000 people received any sort of pardon. The vast majority had to wait for 
years, and sometimes decades, before obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation. 
Nevertheless, the year 1956 remained engraved in popular memory as the year 
of the return, admirably described by Vasily Grossman in his novel All Things 
Pass. This great return, which took place in almost total silence as far as official 

The Exit from Stalinism 


pronouncements were concerned, together with the realization that for millions 
no return would ever be possible, threw many people into deep confusion and 
began a vast social and moral trauma, a tragic confrontation in a divided society. 
As Lidia Chukovskaya wrote, "two Russias looked each other in the eye: the 
one who had imprisoned, and the one who had been imprisoned." Faced with 
such a situation, the initial response of the authorities was not to accede to the 
demands of any individual or group regarding the prosecution of officials who 
had broken socialist law or used any illegal methods of investigation during the 
"cult of personality. 11 The only means of appeal were the Party control com- 
missions. The political authorities sent instructions to the courts regarding 
pardons, making it clear that the first priorities were Party members and 
soldiers. There were no purges. 

After the release of political prisoners, the post-Stalin gulags saw the 
number of inmates dwindle, before stabilizing in the late 1950s and early 1960s 
at around 900,000 prisoners: a core of 300,000 common criminals and repeat 
offenders serving long sentences and 600,000 petty criminals who had been 
sentenced in accordance with laws requiring prison terms quite out of propor- 
tion to the offense committed. The pioneering role played by the gulags in 
colonization and in exploitation of the natural and mineral wealth of the far 
north and east began to fade, and the huge Stalinist prisons were slowly broken 
up into smaller units. The geography of the gulags changed, too. Most camps 
were again established in the European part of the U.S.S.R. Confinement in 
the post-Stalin era took on the more conventional purpose that it has in other 
societies, although it retained features that distinguished it from the normal 
legal system. Various groups were sporadically added to the common criminals 
in accordance with whatever crackdown was in force at the time — on alcohol- 
ism, vandalism, "parasitism" — and a few (several hundred each year) were 
sentenced under Articles 70 and 190 of the new penal code, adopted in 1960. 

These commutations and amnesties were completed by some major 
changes in penal legislation. Among the first reforms was the law of 25 April 
1956, which abolished the 1940 law forbidding workers to leave the workplace. 
This first step in the decriminalization of the labor laws was followed by several 
other partial measures, which were systematized with the adoption of new 
"Foundations of Penal Law 11 on 25 December 1958. The new laws did away 
with several key terms from earlier penal codes, including "enemy of the 
people" and "counterrevolutionary crimes." The age of legal responsibility was 
raised from fourteen to sixteen; the use of violence and torture to extract 
confessions was outlawed; people accused of crimes were to be present at all 
stages of the inquiry and were entitled to a lawyer who was aware of the details 
of the case; and, with few exceptions, all trials were to be public. The penal 
code of 1960 did, however, retain several articles allowing for the punishment 


A State against Its People 

of any form of political or ideological deviancy. Under Article 70, anyone 
a caught spreading anti-Soviet propaganda ... in the form of mendacious 
assertions denigrating the state" could be given a sentence of six months to 
seven years in the camps, followed by exile for two to five years. Article 190 
required a sentence of three years in the camps or in community-service work 
for any failure to denounce anti-Soviet behavior. During the 1960s and 1970s 
these two articles were widely used to punish political or ideological "deviancy." 
Ninety percent of the several hundred people sentenced each year for u anti- 
Sovietism" were found guilty under these two articles. 

During the political thaw, when the quality of life was clearly rising 
although memories of the oppression remained strong, active forms of debate 
or dissent remained rare. KGB reports noted 1 ,300 "opponents" in 1961 , 2,500 
in 1962, 4,500 in 1964, and 1,300 in 1965. 7 In the 1960s and 1970s three 
categories of citizens were the object of particularly close surveillance by the 
KGB: religious minorities (such as Catholics, Baptists, members of the Pente- 
costal Church, and Seventh-Day Adventists); national minorities who had been 
hardest hit by the Stalinist repressions (notably people from the Baltic states, 
Tatars from the Crimea, ethnic Germans, and Ukrainians from western 
Ukraine, where anti-Soviet resistance had been particularly strong); and the 
creative intelligentsia belonging to the dissident movement that grew up in the 

After a last anticlerical campaign, launched in 1957, which limited itself 
to closing several churches that had reopened since the war, the confrontation 
between the Orthodox Church and the state subsided into uneasy cohabitation. 
The attention of the KGB's special services was directed more toward religious 
minorities, who were often suspected of receiving assistance and support from 
abroad. A few numbers demonstrate that this was indeed a marginal concern: 
from 1973 to 1975, 1 16 Baptists were arrested; in 1984, 200 Baptists were either 
in prison or serving a sentence in a camp, and the average sentence was only 
one year. 

In western Ukraine, one of the regions most resistant to Sovieti/ation, a 
dozen or so nationalist groups in the OUN tradition were broken up in Tcr- 
nopil, Zaporizhzhia, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Lviv between 1961 and 1973. Sen- 
tences passed on the members of these groups generally amounted to five to 
ten years in prison. In Lithuania, another region that had been brutally brought 
to heel in the 1940s, local sources reveal that there were comparatively few 
arrests in the 1960s and 1970s. The murder of three Catholic priests under 
suspicious circumstances in 1981, in which it was almost certain that the KGB 
was involved, was, however, felt to be an act of intolerable provocation. 

Until the breakup of the U.S.S.R., the Crimean Tatars, who had been 
deported in 1944 and whose autonomous republic was never reinstated, re- 

The Exit from Stalinism 


mained a burdensome legacy of the Stalinist era. At the end of the 1950s the 
Crimean Tatars, most of whom had been settled in Central Asia, began a 
campaign (yet another sign that times really had changed) petitioning for their 
collective rehabilitation and for authorization to return to their homeland. In 
1966 a petition of 130,000 signatures was delivered by a Tatar delegation to the 
Twenty-third Party Congress. In September 1967 a decree from the Presidium 
of the Supreme Soviet annulled the charge of "collective treason." Three 
months later a new decree authorized the Tatars to settle in a location of their 
choice, provided they respected the passport laws, which required a legal 
document to work in any given place. Between 1967 and 1978 fewer than 15,000 
people — about 2 percent of the Tatar population — managed to comply with 
the passport law and return home. The Crimean Tatar movement was assisted 
by General Petro Grigorenko, who was arrested in May 1967 and sent to a 
psychiatric hospital, a form of imprisonment used for several dozen people 
each year in the 1970s. 

Most historians date the beginning of the dissident movement from the 
first big public trial of political prisoners in the post-Stalin era. In February 
1966 two writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuri Daniel, were given sentences of 
seven and hc years respectively in a prison camp. On 5 December 1965, shortly 
after the arrest of the writers, a demonstration of about fifty people supporting 
them took place in Pushkin Square in Moscow. The dissidents, who in the 
1960s numbered a few hundred intellectuals, and who at the height of the 
movement a decade later numbered between 1,000 and 2,000, began a radically- 
different means of protest. Instead of arguing against the legality of the regime, 
they demanded a strict respect for Soviet laws, for the constitution, and for 
international agreements signed by the U.S.S.R. Dissident action followed the 
same line. They refused to be treated as an underground group, they were quite 
open about their structure and movements, and they made great use of pub- 
licity to advertise their actions by cooperating as often as possible with the 
international media. 

In the disproportionate struggle between a few hundred dissidents and 
the might of the Soviet state, the weight of international opinion was extremely 
important, particularly following the publication in the West in 1973 of Alek- 
sandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago (which was quickly followed by his 
expulsion from the Soviet Union). In the space of a few years, because of the 
actions of a tiny minority, the issue of human rights in the U.S.S.R. became a 
major international concern and the central subject of the Conference on 
Security and Cooperation in Europe, which culminated in the Helsinki Accords 
of 1975. The final document produced by the conference, which was signed by 
the U.S.S.R., strengthened the position of the dissidents. They organized 
committees to ensure that the Helsinki agreement was upheld in the cities in 


A State against Its People 

which they lived (Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, Vilnius, and so on) and to forward 
any information about human-rights violations. This information-gathering 
had already started under more difficult conditions in 1968, with the appear- 
ance every few months of an underground bulletin called the Chronicle of 
Current Events, which listed any violations of liberty or human rights. In this 
new context, human-rights violations in the U.S.S.R. swiftly came under inter- 
national scrutiny, and the secret police in particular were held in check. As 
opponents of the regime became recognized figures, their arrest could no longer 
pass unnoticed, and information about their fate could spread rapidly abroad. 
Significantly, patterns of police behavior were soon linked to the state of 
detente; arrests were more numerous in 1968-1972 and in 1979-1982 than in 
1973-1976. It is still impossible to calculate the number of people arrested for 
political reasons in the years 1960-1985. Dissident sources listed hundreds of 
arrests in the worst years; in 1970 the Chronicle of Current Events reported 106 
sentences, including 21 forcible incarcerations in psychiatric hospitals u as a 
security measure." In 1971 the figures in the Chronicle were 85 and 24, respec- 
tively. In 1979-1981, years of international confrontation, almost 500 people 
were arrested on similar charges. 

The phenomenon of dissidence was an expression of radical opposition 
reflecting a totally different conception of politics, one that counterposed indi- 
viduality to collectivity. But in a country in which the government had always 
been opposed to freedom of speech, and particularly to the free expression of 
opinions contrary to its own, such a phenomenon w r as unlikely to have a huge 
effect on society in general. The real change was elsewhere, in the many 
different spheres of cultural and social autonomy that developed in the 1960s 
and 1970s, and even more so in the 1980s, with the gradual realization by one 
part of the political elite that changes as radical as those of the 1950s were once 
again of prime importance. 



he preceding chapters do not pretend to offer any new revelations 
about the use of state violence in the U.S.S.R., or about the forms of oppres- 
sion exercised by the government during the first half of the Soviet regime's 
existence. Such things have been explored for some time now by historians who 
did not have to wait for the opening of the archives to see the development or 
scale of the terror. On the other hand, the opening of the archives does allow 
an account of the terror's chronological development and of its scale and 
various forms. Accordingly, the outline presented in the preceding pages con- 
stitutes a first step in compiling an inventory of questions that must be asked 
about the use of violence, its constant recurrence, and its meaning in different 

As such, this research is part of a larger movement that has been under 
way for a decade now both in the West and in Russia. Since the first partial 
opening of the archives, historians have been trying to reconcile one brand of 
historiography, born in unusual circumstances, with the newly available data. 
For several years now, a number of historians, particularly in Russia, have been 
publishing material that has formed the basis of many other studies and uni- 
versity courses. Some fields of investigation have been better covered than 
others, particularly the concentration camps, the confrontation between the 



A State against Its People 

government and the peasantry, and decision making at high levels of govern- 
ment. Historians such as V. N. Zemskov and N. Bugai have tried to calculate 
the number of deportations that took place in the Stalinist era. V. P. Danilov 
in Russia and A. Graziosi in Italy have highlighted the continuity in the clashes 
between the peasantry and the new regime. Looking at the archives of the 
Central Committee, O. Khlcvnyuk has shed important light on the functioning 
of the Kremlin "First Circle. 11 

Using such research as a basis for my own, I have attempted to demonstrate 
how, in the years following 1917, cycles of violence became the norm in the 
U.S.S.R. These cycles of violence lie at the heart of the social history of the 
Soviet Union, a history that is still waiting to be written. Building upon earlier 
efforts to explore the most tragic aspects of this history, I have drawn upon 
sources that most clearly expose the different forms of violence and repression, 
the practices involved, and the groups victimized. These sources also reveal the 
contradictions and inconsistencies, such as the extreme violence of the Lenin- 
ist discourse regarding Menshevik opponents, who were "all to be shot 11 but 
who were usually imprisoned instead; the extraordinary violence of the requi- 
sitioning detachments, which at the end of 1922 were still terrorizing the 
countryside at a time when the NEP had technically already been in place for 
more than a year; and the contradictory alternation in the 1930s between 
spectacular waves of mass arrests and huge amnesties to "empty the prisons. 11 
The multiplicity of cases yields an inventory of the forms of violence and 
oppression used, broadening the scope of the investigation into the practices, 
the scale, and the meaning of mass terror. 

The persistence of such practices until Stalin's death and their determin- 
ing influence in the social history of the U.S.S.R. seem to justify the relegation 
of political history to second place, at least in the early stages of such an 
investigation. In this reconstruction I have tried to synthesize long-acknowl- 
edged facts with recently released documentary evidence, which constantly 
raises new questions. Many of these documents are reports from the grass-roots 
level, such as the correspondence of civil servants relating to the famine, local 
Cheka reports on the strikes at Tula, and administrative reports on the state of 
prisoners in the concentration camps — all of which reveal the concrete reality 
of that extremely violent world. 

Before addressing the major questions at the heart of this study, it is 
necessary to recall the different cycles of violence and repression. 

The first cycle, from the end of 1917 to the end of 1922, began with 
Lenin's seizure of power, which he saw as a necessary part of civil war. After 
a brief phase in which spontaneous social violence was channeled into more 



official structures, which then acted as catalysts in breaking up the old order, a 
deliberate offensive against the peasantry took shape in the spring of 1918. This 
offensive, even more than the military confrontations between the Reds and the 
Whites, was to provide the model for several decades of terror. It destroyed 
people's faith in the machinery of politics. What is striking is the constant 
refusal to negotiate despite the high stakes involved, the regime's tenuous hold 
on power, and its frequent deviations from proclaimed goals, particularly evi- 
dent in the repressive measures taken against the working classes — the group 
one would have imagined to be the natural ally of the Bolsheviks. In this respect 
the Kronstadt revolt was a clear sign of things to come. The first cycle did not 
end with the defeat of the Whites or with the NEP, but was prolonged by the 
very people it created. It came to an end only with the famine of 1922, which 
broke the last peasant resistance. 

What can one make of the short pause, from 1923 to 1927, between the 
two cycles of violence? There were some indications that once the civil war was 
over and the manpower of the secret police was scaled back, a truce of sorts 
would be established with the peasantry, and a reform of the legal system could 
be carried out. Despite these palliatives, the secret police not only remained in 
existence but also preserved their main functions and continued their control, 
eavesdropping, and surveillance operations. The pause was notable for its 

Whereas the first cycle of repressions was marked by direct and gen- 
eralized confrontation, the second began with an offensive by the Stalinist 
group against the peasantry in the context of political in-fighting at the top. 
The second cycle of violence was perceived as a new beginning by all par- 
ties concerned. Politicians again used methods that had been tried and tested 
over previous years. Violence had become such an everyday occurrence, so 
much a way of life, that the new terror went on for another quarter of a 
century. The second war against the peasantry was decisive in institutionaliz- 
ing terror as a means of government. This was manifested in several differ- 
ent ways. Collectivization made use of preexisting social tensions, reawak- 
ening the archaic violence that was lurking beneath the surface in society; 
it began the system of mass deportations; and it became the proving 
ground for up-and-coming politicians. Furthermore, by setting up a predatory 
system that disrupted the cycle of production — in Bukharin's words, "the 
military and feudal exploitation of the peasantry" — a new form of slavery- 
was invented. This opened the way for the most extreme experiments 
of Stalinism and the famine of 1933, which in the grand total of deaths 
under Stalin accounts for the highest number. After that limit had been 
reached — when there were no peasants left to sow the next harvest, and the 


A State against Its People 

prisons were full — another brief, two-year truce was established, and for 
the first time there was an amnesty. But such rare moments of relaxation did 
little more than generate new tensions. For example, the children of deported 
kulaks had their civil rights restored, but they were not permitted to return 

After the war against the peasants, the terror began to manifest differ- 
ently during the 1930s and 1940s, changing in intensity and form. The time of 
the Great Terror, from late 1936 to 1938, brought more than 85 percent of all 
the death sentences handed down during the entire Stalinist period. During 
these years the social origins of the victims were often extremely mixed. Al- 
though many cadres were arrested and executed, the terror claimed victims 
from all social backgrounds, many of whom were chosen arbitrarily when 
quotas had to be filled. This blind and barbarous repression, when the terror 
was at its height, seems to indicate that some obstacles were simply insur- 
mountable, and that liquidation was the only course the state could find to 
impose its will. 

Another way of investigating the sequence of repressions is to look at the 
social groups that were affected. Insofar as different areas of social interaction 
became increasingly subject to legislation throughout the decades, several dis- 
crete offensives can be discerned. The last one in particular was aimed at the 
ordinary people of the country, with the increase in legislation in 1938 focused 
almost exclusively on the working classes. 

After 1940, in the context of the Sovietization of the new territories 
that had been annexed and the u Great Patriotic War," a series of repres- 
sions resumed. This time there were new groups of victims — the "national- 
ists" and u enemy peoples" who subsequently underwent systematic- 
deportation. The early stages of this new r wave were already visible in 1936 and 
1937, notably in the deportation of Koreans, when the frontiers were being 

The annexation of eastern Poland and then of the Baltic states in 1939- 
1941 led to the elimination of the "nationalist bourgeoisie" and to the depor- 
tation of specific minority groups, for example the Poles from eastern Galicia. 
This last practice intensified during the war despite the more pressing need to 
defend a country facing possible annihilation. The successive deportation of 
whole groups — such as Germans, Chechens, Tatars, Kalmyks — also revealed 
the expertise that had been developed in these operations in the 1930s. The 
practices, however, were not confined to the war years. They continued in other 
forms throughout the 1940s as part of the long process of pacification and 
Sovietization in the newly annexed regions of the Soviet empire. At the same 
time the influx of huge nationalist contingents into the Soviet gulags had an 



important influence on the structure and composition of the concentration 
camp world. Representatives of the "punished peoples" and nationalist resis- 
tance fighters soon outnumbered the Soviet prisoners. 

In parallel to that growth, the years immediately following the war saw yet 
another hardening of government policy toward various forms of civil behavior, 
resulting in a steady increase in the gulag population. The same period marked 
the numerical apogee of that population and the beginning of the crisis of the 
gulags, which were outdated, paralyzed by multiple internal tensions, and beset 
by ever-greater problems of economic inefficiency. 

The last years of the Stalinist period, still largely shrouded in uncertainty, 
show a series of relapses: a resurgence of latent antisemitism; a return of the 
idea of the conspiracy, rivalry, and in-fighting among ill-defined factions; and 
the elitist and clique-ridden nature of the secret police and the regional Party 
organizations. Historians are led to wonder whether plans were being laid for 
a last campaign, a new Great Terror, whose principal victims might have been 
the Soviet Jews. 

This brief overview of the first thirty-five years of Soviet history under- 
scores the continuity of extreme violence as a means of political control of the 

The classic question, often raised in this context, concerns the continuity 
between the first Leninist cycle and the second Stalinist cycle: to what extent 
did the former prefigure the latter? The historical configuration in both cases 
is really quite incomparable. The "Red Terror" grew out of the widespread 
confrontations of the autumn of 1918. The extreme nature of the repressions 
was in part a reaction to the radical character of the times. But the restarting 
of the war against the peasantry, which was at the root of the second wave of 
terror, occurred during what was basically a time of peace, and was part of a 
long-lasting offensive against the majority of society. Besides these important 
differences in context, the use of terror as a key instrument in the Leninist 
political project had been foreseen before the outbreak of the civil war, and was 
intended to be of limited duration. From that point of view, the short truce 
ushered in by the NEP and the complex debates among Bolshevik leaders about 
possible ways forward seem to indicate the possibility of normalized relations 
between the Bolsheviks and society and the abandonment of terror as a means 
of government. In practice, however, during this period the rural world lived 
in retreat, and the relationship between the government and society was char- 
acterized largely by mutual ignorance. 

The war against the peasants is the nexus linking these two cycles of 
violence. The practices that emerged in 1918-1922 continued. In both periods, 
requisitioning campaigns were used, social tensions within the peasantry were 

266 A State against Its People 

encouraged, and archaic forms of brutality became commonplace. Both execu- 
tioners and victims had the conviction that they were reliving a previous 

Even if the Stalinist era represents a specific social context in the use 
of terror as a means of government and social management, questions re- 
main about links with other periods in Soviet history. In that respect the 
policy of deportation, for example, might have an important antecedent in 
the de-Cossackization operations of 1919-20. At the moment when Cossack 
territories were being seized, the government began a deportation operation 
that affected the entire indigenous population. That operation followed 
one that had targeted the better-off Cossacks, ending in "large-scale physical 
extermination" thanks to the overzealousness of local agents. These events 
could be said to foreshadow the practices of a decade later, albeit on a totally 
different scale. Both involved the stigmatization of an entire social group, an 
overreaction at the local level, and an attempt at eradication through deporta- 
tion. In all of these aspects there are troubling similarities to the practices of 

If one examines in a wider sense the phenomenon of exclusion and 
isolation of enemy groups, and the consequent creation of a camp system 
during the civil war, one is forced to acknowledge that there are indeed impor- 
tant differences between the two cycles of repression. The camps that were 
developed and used during the civil war in the 1920s bore little resemblance to 
those of the 1930s. The great reforms of 1929 not only led to the abandonment 
of normal systems of detention, but also laid the foundation for a new system 
characterized above all by the idea of forced labor. The appearance and devel- 
opment of the gulag system point to the existence of a grand plan for the 
exclusion of a certain segment of the population, and the use of that segment 
in a project to transform the economy and society as a whole. Several elements 
point clearly to the existence of such a grand design, and have been the object 
of important studies. First, there is the extent to which the terror was a 
well-planned and well-orchestrated phenomenon. The use of quotas stretched 
from dekulakization to the Great Terror, a fact that can be interpreted as being 
part of such a plan. The archives confirm an obsession with numbers and 
statistics that permeated administrative organs from top to bottom. Regular, 
perfectly balanced statistics evince an obsessive preoccupation with the 
mathematical dimensions of the repression process. While such figures can 
never be entirely trusted, they do allow historians to reconstruct periods of 
intensity in the phenomenon. The chronology of the various waves of oppres- 
sion is better understood today, and supports the theory of an ordered scries 
of operations. 



To a significant degree, however, reconstruction of the entire series of 
repressive procedures, of the chain of command, and of the methods of im- 
plementation counteracts the theory of a well-conceived, long-term plan. 
Looking at the planning of repressions, one can see that chance played a huge 
role and that cracks appeared at all stages of the operations. The deportation 
of the kulaks is a case in point. They were often deported with no destination 
in mind, and their "abandonment in deportation 1 ' is a clear indicator of the 
prevailing chaos. Likewise, the "campaigns of emptying" the camps suggest a 
lack of planning. In the transmission and execution of orders, troops often went 
too far too soon and were guilty of "excessive zeal" or "deviation from the path" 
at a grass-roots level. 

The role of the gulags is also extremely complex and seems to become 
more so as research progresses. In contrast to the vision of a Stalinist order in 
which gulags were the hidden but entirely representative face of the regime, 
documents now available suggest contradictory interpretations. The successive 
arrival of repressed groups often promoted disorganization rather than 
efficiency in the system. Despite an extremely elaborate system of classification 
of the detainees, boundaries between different categories were fragile and often 
illusory. Moreover, the question of the system's economic profitability remains 

To contend with these contradictions, improvisations, and illogicalities, 
several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the frequent recourse to 
mass repression and the way in which violence and terror seemed to create their 
own logic. 

Historians have stressed the role played by improvisation and the gen- 
eral lack of focus in directing "the Great Moment" of modernization and 
the unleashing of the Stalinist cycles of repression. Often the authorities 
would step up the intensity of terror so that they could persuade them- 
selve that they were in control of volatile situations. They were quickly 
caught up in an extreme spiral of violence that almost immediately became 
self-perpetuating. The scale of this phenomenon escaped contemporary histo- 
rians and is only now beginning to be understood. The process of repression 
itself, seemingly the only possible response to the conflicts and obstacles con- 
fronted by the authorities, generated uncontrollable movements that fueled the 

The central place of terror in the political and social history of the 
U.S.S.R. poses increasingly complex questions today. Current research 
seems to negate many of the conclusions previously drawn by Sovietolo- 
gists. While historians still seek a general and definitive explanation of the 
whole phenomenon, it is extremely resistant to understanding. More progress 


A State against Its People 

is being made in understanding the mechanisms and dynamics of the violence 

Many gray areas remain, particularly regarding the everyday behavior of 
people reacting to the violence. If one wishes to find out who the executioners 
actually were, then it is the whole of society that must be questioned — all those 
who took part in the events, not just the victims. 

World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Stephane Courtois, Jean-Louis Panne, and Remi Kauffer 


The Comintern in Action 

Stephane Courtois and Jean-Louis Pann6 

from early on, Lenin was determined to foment socialist revolution 
throughout Europe and the rest of the world. This goal was partly the logical 
fulfillment of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, with its famous slogan "Work- 
ers of the world, unite!" In 1917 the spread of Bolshevism initially seemed to 
be an urgent matter, since the revolution in Russia, it was thought, would be 
endangered without revolutions in more advanced countries. In this respect 
Lenin looked above all to Germany, with its enormous, well-organized prole- 
tariat and its formidable industrial capacity. What had first been simply a need 
of the moment was transformed into a full-fledged political project: world 
socialist revolution. 

At first the progress of events seemed to prove the Soviet leader right. 
The breakup of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires following their 
defeat in World War I brought about a series of political upheavals in Europe, 
many of which had a strongly revolutionary character. Even though the Bol- 
sheviks could not take any immediate action themselves, and had to rely solely 
on their propaganda to give them influence abroad, revolution seemed to be 
breaking out spontaneously in the wake of the German and Austro-Hungarian 



World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

The Revolution in Europe 

Germany was the first country to feel the effects of revolutionary upheaval. 
Even before its surrender, it faced a general mutiny of its naval tleet. The 
defeat of the Reich and the emergence of a republic led by Social Democrats 
resulted in some fairly violent reactions in the army and the police force, as well 
as among ultranationalist and revolutionary groups that admired the actions of 
the Bolsheviks in Russia. 

In Berlin in December 1918 Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht pub- 
lished the program of the Spartakus group, breaking away from the Inde- 
pendent Social Democratic party a few days later to set up the German 
Communist Party (KPD) through a merger with a few other groups. In early 
January 1919 the Spartakists, led by Liebknecht — who was more of a radical 
revolutionary than Luxemburg and, like Lenin, opposed the idea of a Constitu- 
ent Assembly — tried to start an insurrection in Berlin. 1 The revolt was quickly 
crushed by the military on orders of the Social Democratic government. The 
two leaders of the revolt were arrested and shot on IS January. This pattern 
recurred in Bavaria, where on 13 April 1919 Eugcn Levine, a KPD leader, 
assumed leadership of a Republican Council, which nationalized the banks and 
started to form a Red Army. The Munich Commune was crushed by the 
military on 30 April, and Levine was arrested on 13 May, court-martialed, 
condemned to death, and shot on 5 June. 

The most famous example of these revolutionary movements was in Hun- 
gary. In defeat, Hungary had found the forced loss of Transylvania, decreed 
by the victors of the w r ar, a hard pill to swallow. 2 It became the first genuine 
instance of the Bolsheviks' exporting their revolution. Beginning in early 1918 
the Bolshevik Party collected all non-Russian Communist sympathizers into a 
group called the Federation of Foreign Communist Groups. As a result, there 
existed a Hungarian group in Moscow made up, for the most part, of former 
prisoners of war. In October 1918 this group sent some 20 members back to 
Hungary. On 4 November the Hungarian Workers' (Communist) Party (HCP) 
was established in Budapest under the leadership of Bela Kun. Kun had been 
a prisoner of war and had quickly rallied to the Bolshevik revolution, becoming 
president of the Federation of Foreign Communist Groups in April 1918. He 
arrived in Hungary in November, accompanied by 80 activists, and was imme- 
diately elected Party leader. It has been estimated that in late 1918 and early 
1919 another 250 to 300 "agitators" and revolutionaries arrived in Hungary. 
With financial support provided by the Bolsheviks, the Hungarian Communists 
set about spreading propaganda, and their influence soon began to grow. 

The official newspaper of the Social Democrats, the Nepszava (The voice 
of the people), which was firmly opposed to the Bolsheviks, was attacked on 

The Comintern in Action 


18 February 1919 by a group of soldiers and unemployed workers who had 
been mobilized by the Communists. Their aim was either to take control of the 
printing press or to destroy it. The police intervened, and in the ensuing 
conflict 8 people died and 100 were injured. The same night, Bela Kun and his 
collaborators were arrested. At the police headquarters many of the prisoners 
were beaten by the police in revenge for their colleagues who had died in the 
attempt to break up the attack on the Nepszava. Hungary's president, Mihaly 
Karolyi, sent his secretary to inquire after the health of the Communist leader, 
who was subsequently granted extremely liberal custodial restrictions and al- 
lowed to pursue his activities, and was soon able to reverse the setback despite 
his detention. On 21 March, while still in prison, he achieved a major success 
by bringing about the merger of the HCP and the Social Democratic Party. At 
the same time, President Karolyi's resignation opened the way for the estab- 
lishment of a ''republic of Soviets," the freeing of all imprisoned Communists, 
and the organization on the Bolshevik model of a Revolutionary Council of 
State modeled on the Soviet People's Commissars. This republic lasted 133 
days, from 21 March until 1 August 1919. 

At their first meeting the commissars decided to establish revolutionary 
courts with judges chosen from among the people. Lenin, whom Bela Kun had 
hailed as the leader of the world proletariat, was in regular contact by telegram 
with Budapest after 22 March (218 messages were exchanged), and he advised 
shooting the Social Democrats and "petits-bourgeois." In his message to the 
Hungarian workers on 27 May 1919, he justified this recourse to terror: a The 
dictatorship of the proletariat requires the use of swift, implacable, and resolute 
violence to crush the resistance of exploiters, capitalists, great landowners, and 
their minions. Anyone who does not understand this is not a revolutionary." 
Soon the commissars of commerce, Matyas Rakosi, and of economic affairs, 
Eugen Varga, and the head of the new courts had alienated all businessmen, 
industrial employees, and lawyers. One proclamation posted on the walls 
summed up the mood of the moment: "In the proletarian state, only the 
workers are allowed to live!" Work became obligatory, and all businesses em- 
ploying more than twenty workers were immediately nationalized, followed by 
businesses employing more than ten, and soon the rest as well. 

The army and the police force were dissolved, and a new army was 
created, composed exclusively of revolutionary volunteers. Soon a Terror 
Group of the Revolutionary Council of the Government was formed and 
quickly became known as "Lenin's Boys." The Terror Group murdered about 
ten people, including a young naval ensign, Ladislas Dobsa; a former first 
secretary of state and his son, who was the chief of the railways; and three 
police officers. "Lenin's Boys" answered to a retired sailor named Jozsef 
Czerny, who recruited them from among the most radical Communists, par- 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

ticularly former prisoners of war who had taken part in the Russian Revolution. 
Czerny was politically closer to Tibor Szamuely, the most radical of the Com- 
munist leaders, than he was to Bela Kun, who at one point proposed dissolving 
"Lenin's Boys." In response Szamuely gathered together his troops and 
marched on the House of Soviets. Kun received the support of the Social 
Democrat Jozsef Haubrich, joint people's commissar of war. Finally negotia- 
tions began, and Czerny's men agreed to join forces with the People's Com- 
missariat of the Interior or to enlist in the army, which in fact most of them 

With some twenty of "Lenin's Boys, 11 Szamuely then went to S/olnok, 
the first city to be taken by the Hungarian Red Army, where he executed several 
locals accused of collaborating with the Romanians, who were considered na- 
tional enemies because of their takeover of Transylvania and political enemies 
because of their regime's opposition to the Bolsheviks. One Jewish schoolboy 
who tried to plead for his father's life was killed for calling Szamuely a "wild 
beast." The chief of the Red Army tried in vain to put a brake on Szamuely's 
appetite for terror. Szamuely had requisitioned a train, and was traveling 
around the country hanging any peasants opposed to collectivization measures. 
Accused of having killed more than 150 people, his assistant Jozsef Kerekes 
admitted to having shot 5 and having hanged 13 others with his own hands. 
Although the exact number of people killed has never been established, Arthur 
Koestler claimed that there were perhaps slightly fewer than 500, but went on 
to note: "I have no doubt that Communism in Hungary would have followed 
the same path as its Russian model, and soon degenerated into a totalitarian 
police state. But that certitude, which came only much later, does nothing to 
dim the glorious days of hope of the early days of the revolution." 1 Historians 
attribute some 80 of the 129 recorded deaths to "Lenin's Boys," but it is likely 
that the real number was at least several hundred, 

Faced with mounting opposition and a worsening of the threat posed by 
the Romanian troops, the revolutionary government drew upon popular an- 
tisemitism. One poster denounced Jews who refused to fight at the front: 
"Exterminate them, if they won't give their lives to the sacred cause of the 
dictatorship of the proletariat!" Bela Kun ordered the arrest of 5,000 Polish 
Jews who had come looking for food; he then confiscated their goods and had 
them expelled. The HCP radicals demanded that Szamuely take charge of the 
situation, and called for a "Red St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," thinking for 
whatever reason that this was the only means of halting the decline of the 
Republic of Councils. Czerny tried to reorganize "Lenin's Boys," and in mid- 
July an appeal appeared in Nepszava: "All previous members of the Terror 
Group, who were demobilized when the group was broken up, are requested 
to turn up at Jozsef Czerny's office to reenlist." The following day an official 

The Comintern in Action 


denial was published: "Notice is hereby given that no reestablishment of the 
'Lenin's Boys' group can possibly be envisaged. Such great atrocities against 
the honor of the proletariat were committed by the group as to preclude any 
future role played by them in the service of the Republic of Councils." 

The last weeks of the Budapest Commune were chaotic. Bela Kun faced 
an attempted coup against his leadership, possibly led by Szamuely. On 
1 August 1919 he left Budapest under the protection of the Italian military. In 
the summer of 1920 he took refuge in the U.S.S.R. and was immediately named 
a political commissar of the Red Army on the southern front. There he distin- 
guished himself by executing officers from Wrangel's army who had agreed to 
surrender if their lives would be spared. Szamuely attempted to flee to Austria 
but was arrested on 2 August and committed suicide soon afterward. 4 

The Comintern and Civil War 

At the very moment when Bela Kun and his companions were attempting to 
set up a second Soviet state, Lenin decided to establish an international organi- 
zation whose aim was to spread the revolution throughout the world. The 
Communist International- -also known as Comintern or the Third Interna- 
tional — was created in Moscow in March 1919 and immediately began to 
compete fiercely with the International of Socialist Workers (the Second Inter- 
national, which had been established in 1889), The Comintern Congress of 
1919 had no real organizational capacity, and in practice did little more than 
answer the urgent need for Communist propaganda to capture the attention of 
the spontaneous revolutionary movements that were then shaking Europe. The 
real foundation of the Comintern should instead be dated from its Second 
Congress, in the summer of 1920, when twenty-one conditions of admission 
were laid down that had to be met by all socialists who wished to be associated 
with the organization. Thereafter, as the "headquarters of world revolution," 
the organization was extremely centralized and totally controlled by the Bol- 
shevik Party, which lent it prestige, experience, and real political power in 
financial, military, and diplomatic terms. 

From the outset Lenin regarded the Comintern as one of several instru- 
ments for international subversion — others included the Red Army, diplomacy, 
and espionage — and its political agenda closely followed the Bolsheviks' key 
idea that the time had come to stop talking and to take up armed struggle. The 
manifesto adopted at the Second Congress proudly announced: "The Commu- 
nist International is the international party for insurrection and proletarian 
dictatorship." Consequently, the third of the twenty-one conditions stipulated 
that "in almost all the countries of Europe and America, the class struggle is 
moving into the period of civil war. Under such conditions Communists can 

276 i 

World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

no longer trust bourgeois law. It is the duty to set up everywhere, in parallel to 
the legal organization, an underground movement capable of decisive action in 
the service of the revolution at the moment of truth.' 1 These euphemisms were 
transparent: The "moment of truth" was the moment of revolutionary insur- 
rection, and "decisive action" was participation in civil war. The policy was 
applied to all countries regardless of political regime, including democracies, 
republics, and constitutional monarchies. 

The twelfth condition outlined the organizational necessities occasioned 
by the preparations for civil war: "At the present moment of hard-fought civil 
war, the Communist Party will be able to fulfill its role only if it is organized 
in a totally centralized fashion, if its iron discipline is as rigorous as that of any 
army, and if its central organization has sweeping powers, is allowed to exert 
uncontested authority, and enjoys the unanimous confidence of its members." 
The thirteenth condition also prescribed the action to be taken in the event of 
dissent among the militants: "Communist parties . . . must proceed with peri- 
odic purges of their organizations to eliminate all members who are petits- 
bourgeois or have ulterior motives." 

At the Third Congress, which took place in Moscow in June 1921 with 
the participation of many recently established Communist parties, the direc- 
tions were made even clearer. The "Thesis on Tactics" indicated that "the 
Communist Party must educate large sections of the proletariat, with both 
words and deeds, and inculcate the idea that any economic or political struggle, 
when the circumstances are favorable, can be transformed into civil war, in the 
course of which it is the duty of the proletariat to seize power." In addition, 
the "Theses on the Structure, Methods, and Action of Communist Parties" 
elaborated at length on "openly revolutionary uprisings" and "the organization 
of combat" that it was the duty of each Communist Party to foment. The theses 
made it clear that preparatory work was indispensable as long as "it is momen- 
tarily impossible to form a regular Red Army." 

The step from theory to practice was taken in March 1921 in Germany, 
where the Comintern envisaged large-scale revolutionary action under the 
leadership of Bela Kun, who in the meantime had been elected a member of 
the Comintern Presidium. Launched at the moment when the Bolsheviks were 
putting down the Kronstadt rebellion, the "March Action" in Saxony was a 
genuine attempt at insurrection that met with failure despite the violent means 
involved, including an attempt to dynamite the express train from Halle to 
Leipzig. This failure immediately resulted in the first purge of the Comintern's 
internal ranks. Paul Levi, one of the founders and the president of the KPD, 
was sidelined because of his criticism of what he termed "adventurism." Al- 
ready under the influence of the Bolshevik model, the Communist parties, 
which from an institutional point of view were merely the national sections of 

The Comintern in Action 


the International, rapidly became more and more subordinate, before surren- 
dering completely to the Comintern. This subordination was both political and 
organizational, as the Comintern came to make all major decisions for these 
parties and ultimately decided all questions of policy. The "insurrectionist 
tendency" owed much to Grigory Zinoviev but was criticized by Lenin himself. 
Although Lenin was fundamentally in agreement with Paul Levi, he handed 
control of the KPD over to Levi's opponents in order to strengthen his own 
control over the Comintern. 

In January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr to exact 
the reparations from Germany that had been mandated by the Treaty of 
Versailles. This move brought about a rapprochement between nationalists and 
Communists over their common opposition to "French imperialism." In con- 
crete terms the military occupation prompted a movement of passive resistance 
by the population, a movement that was backed by the government. The 
already unstable economic situation deteriorated rapidly, the value of the cur- 
rency plunged, and by August one dollar was worth 13 million marks. Strikes, 
demonstrations, and riots were widespread, and on 13 August, with revolution 
in the air, the government of Wilhclm Cuno fell. 

In Moscow the Comintern leaders thought that a new October Revolution 
was still possible. Once the differences among Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Stalin 
over who would take the lead in a new revolution were settled, the Comintern 
set about the serious business of armed insurrection. Emissaries (August Gu- 
ralsky and Matyas Rakosi) were sent to Germany, accompanied by civil war 
specialists such as General Aleksander Sklobewski, alias Gorev. The plan was 
to rely on a government of workers made up of left-wing Social Democrats 
and Communists and to use it to procure arms for the masses. In Saxony, Rakosi 
planned to blow up a railway bridge that linked the province to Czechoslovakia 
in order to provoke Czechoslovak involvement and thus sow further confusion. 

The actions were to start on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. 
Excitement mounted in Moscow, where it was believed that victory was certain. 
The Red Army was mobilized on the western frontier, ready to come to the aid 
of the insurrection. In mid-October, Communist leaders joined the govern- 
ments of Saxony and Thuringia with orders to reinforce the several hundred 
proletarian militias, made up of 25 percent Social Democratic workers and 50 
percent Communists. But on 13 October the government of Gustav Strese- 
mann declared a state of emergency in Saxony, taking direct control of the 
province, with the Reichswehr ready to intervene. Despite this turn of events, 
Moscow called the workers to arms, and Heinrich Brandler, having just re- 
turned from Moscow, called for a general strike at a workers' conference in 
Chemnitz on 21 October. This move failed when the Social Democrats refused 
to follow the Communist lead. The Communists then canceled the strike, but 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

because of faulty communications this message never arrived in Hamburg, 
where on the morning of 23 October Communist Combat Groups of 200-300 
attacked the various police stations. Despite the element of surprise, they failed 
to attain their objectives. The police counterattacked together with the Reichs- 
wehr, and after thirty-one hours of righting, the Hamburg Communists were 
totally isolated and forced to surrender. The hoped-for "second October" failed 
to materialize. Nevertheless, the "M-Apparat" (Military Apparatus) remained 
an important part of the KPD until the 1930s, and has been described in detail 
by one of its leaders, Jan Valtin, whose real name was Richard Krebs. 5 

The next scene for an attempted insurrection was the Republic of Estonia. 
This was the second attack by Communists against the small country. On 27 
October 1917 a Council of Soviets had seized power in Tallinn, dissolved the 
assembly, and annulled election results that had been unfavorable to the Com- 
munists. However, the Communists retreated en masse before the German 
Expeditionary Force. On 24 February 1918, just before the arrival of the 
Germans, the Estonians proclaimed independence. The German occupation 
lasted until November 1918. Following the defeat of the kaiser the German 
troops were forced to retreat, and the Communists again took the initiative, On 
18 November a Communist government for Estonia was set up in Petrograd, 
and two divisions of the Red Army invaded. The aim of this offensive was 
clearly explained in the newspaper Severnaya Kommuna (The Northern 
Commune): "It is our duty to build a bridge connecting the Russian Soviets to 
the proletariat of Germany and Austria . . . Our victory will link the revolu- 
tionary forces of Western Europe to those of Russia. It will lend irresistible 
force to the universal social revolution." 6 In January 1919 the Soviet troops 
were stopped by an Estonian counterattack within twenty miles of the capital. 
Thus this second offensive also failed. On 2 February 1920 the Russian Com- 
munists recognized Estonian independence with the Tartu peace accord. By 
this time the Bolsheviks had already carried out a number of massacres in the 
areas they had taken over. On 14 January 1920, the day before their retreat, 
they killed 250 people in Tartu and more than 1,000 in the Rakvere district. 
When Wesenburg was liberated on 17 January, three mass graves were discov- 
ered, containing 86 bodies. In Tartu hostages were shot on 26 December 1919 
after their arms and legs had been broken and in some cases their eyes cut out. 
On 14 January the Bolsheviks had time to kill only 20 people, including Arch- 
bishop Plato, of the 200 they were holding prisoner in Tartu. Because the 
victims had been clubbed to death with axes and rifle butts — one officer was 
found with his insignia nailed to his body— they were extremely difficult to 

Despite this defeat, the Soviet Union had not given up hope of estab- 

The Comintern in Action 


lishing a satellite state on its borders. In April 1924, during secret negotiations 
in Moscow with Zinoviev, the Estonian Communists prepared for an armed 
uprising. They created combat teams structured in companies, and by the 
autumn had organized more than 1,000 men. They then set about demoralizing 
the army. The initial plan was to start the uprising and then to reinforce it with 
a general strike. The Estonian Communist Party, which had nearly 3,000 mem- 
bers and had suffered severe repression, tried to seize power in Tallinn on 
1 December 1924, seeking to proclaim a Soviet Republic that would immedi- 
ately demand affiliation with the Russian Soviet Republic, thus justifying the 
arrival of the Red Army. The coup failed within a single day. "The working 
masses ... did not actively assist the insurgents in the struggle against the 
counterrevolutionaries. Most of the working classes of Revel [Tallinn] re- 
mained disinterested spectators. 1 ' Jan Anvelt, who had directed operations, fled 
to the U.S.S.R., where he worked as a functionary in the Comintern for many 
years before dying in one of the purges. 7 

After Estonia the action moved to Bulgaria. In 1923 the country faced grave 
difficulties. Aleksandr Stamboliski, the leader of the coalition formed by the 
Communists and his own Agrarian Party, was assassinated in June and replaced 
as head of the government by Aleksandr Tsankov, who had the support of both 
the police and the army. In September the Communists launched an insurrec- 
tion that lasted a week before being harshly repressed. After April 1924 they 
changed tactics, using assassinations and direct action. On 8 February 1925 an 
attack on the Godech police station led to four deaths. On 1 1 February in Sofia 
the parliamentary deputy Nikolas Milev, who was the head of the journal 
Slovet and president of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, was assassinated. 
On 24 March a manifesto of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP) prema- 
turely announced the inevitable fall of Tsankov, revealing the link between the 
terrorist actions and the Communists' political objectives. In early April an 
attack on King Alexander I very nearly succeeded, and on 15 April General 
Kosta Georgiev, one of his advisers, was killed. 

What followed was one of the most devastating episodes of these years of 
political violence in Bulgaria. On 17 April, at Georgtev's funeral in the Cathe- 
dral of the Seven Saints in Sofia, a terrible explosion caused the dome to fall 
in. Among the 140 dead were 14 generals, 16 commanding officers, and 3 
parliamentary deputies. According to Viktor Serge, the attack was organized 
by the military section of the Communist Party. The presumed perpetrators of 
the attack, Kosta Yankov and Ivan Minkov, two of the leaders of the organiza- 
tion, were later shot in a gunfight while resisting arrest. 

This terrorist act was exploited to justify fierce reprisals, with 3,000 
Communists arrested and 3 hanged publicly. Some members of the Comintern 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

later claimed that the head of the Bulgarian Communists, Georgi Dimitrov, 
who led the Party in secret from Vienna, was responsible for this action. In 
December 1948, at the Fifth Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party, 
Dimitrov accepted responsibility on behalf of both himself and the military 
organization. According to other sources, the man behind the dynamiting of 
the cathedral was Meir Trilisser, head of the Foreign Section of the Cheka and 
later deputy head of the GPU, who was decorated in 1927 with the Order of 
the Red Flag for services rendered. 8 In the 1930s Trilisser was one of the ten 
secretaries of the Comintern assured permanent control of the organization by 
the NKVD. 

After this series of failures in Europe the Comintern, at Stalin's instigation, 
turned its attention to China. In a state of anarchy, torn apart by internal wars 
and social conflicts, but at the same time experiencing a huge wave of national- 
ism, China seemed ripe for an "anti-imperialist revolution." One sign of the 
times was that in the autumn of 1925 the Chinese students at the Communist 
University of the Workers of the East (KUTV), which had been established in 
April 1921, were reorganized into the new Sun Yat-sen University. 

Duly influenced by leaders from the Comintern and the Soviet govern- 
ment, the Chinese Communist Party, which was not yet under the leadership 
of Mao Zedong, was pushed in 1925-26 into a close alliance with the Nation- 
alist Party, the Kuomintang, led by the young Chiang Kai-shek. The tactic 
chosen by the Communist Party was to place all hope in the Kuomintang, using 
it as a sort of Trojan horse to smuggle in the revolution. The Comintern 
emissary, Mikhail Borodin, arrived as an adviser to the Kuomintang. In 1925 
the left wing of the Nationalist Party, which favored collaboration with the 
Soviet Union, took control of the party. The Communists then stepped up their 
propaganda, encouraging social unrest and increasing their influence until they 
gained control over the Kuomintang's Second Congress. But an obstacle soon 
appeared in the person of Chiang Kai-shek, who was worried by the continuing 
expansion of Communist influence. He feared, quite correctly, that the Com- 
munists were attempting to sideline him. Seizing the initiative, he proclaimed 
martial law on 12 March 1926, arresting all Communists in the Kuomintang 
and the Soviet military advisers (although they were released a few days later), 
silencing the leader of the party's left wing, and imposing an eight-point plan 
whose purpose was to limit the prerogatives and activities of Communists in 
the party. Chiang thus became the undisputed leader of the Nationalist army. 
Borodin accepted the new situation. 

On 7 July 1926 Chiang Kai-shek, with considerable military backup from 
the Soviets, launched a Nationalist attack on the north of the country, which 
was still under the control of the warlords. On 29 July he proclaimed martial 

The Comintern in Action 


law in Canton. The countryside in Hunan and Hubei was undergoing an 
agrarian revolution whose dynamics called into question the alliance between 
the Communists and the Nationalists. In the great industrial metropolis of 
Shanghai, the unions began a general strike as the army approached. The 
Communists, who included Zhou Enlai, called for an insurrection, counting on 
the immediate entry of the army into the town. But no such event took place. 
The uprising of 22-24 February 1927 failed, and the strikers were ferociously 
punished by General Li Baozhang. 

On 21 March a new, larger general strike took place, and the uprising 
swept away the authorities in power. One division of the Nationalist army, 
whose general had been convinced to take part, entered Shanghai and was soon 
joined by Chiang Kai-shek, who was determined to take control of the situ- 
ation. His success was made easier by the fact that Stalin, deceived by the 
"anti-imperialist" dimension of the policies of Chiang and his armies, gave the 
order to make peace with the Kuomintang and to stand beside them. On 12 
April 1927 Chiang repeated in Canton the operation that he had carried out in 
Shanghai, ordering the Communists to be hunted down and beaten up. 

But Stalin changed course at the worst possible moment. In August, to 
avoid losing face with his critics in the opposition, he sent two personal emis- 
saries, Vissarion Lominadze and Heinz Neumann, to relaunch the insurrec- 
tional movement after breaking the alliance with the Kuomintang/ 7 Despite the 
failure of the u autumn harvest revolt" orchestrated by his two envoys, they 
continued trying to foment revolution in Canton "to be able to bring news of 
victory to their chief (as Boris Suvarin put it) at the Fifteenth Bolshevik Party- 
Congress. This maneuver indicated the extent of the Bolsheviks' disdain for 
human life, including now even the lives of their supporters. The senselessness 
of the Canton Commune attests to that disregard for loss of life as much as the 
terrorist actions in Bulgaria had a few years earlier. 

In Canton several thousand insurgents were caught in a confrontation for 
forty-eight hours with troops that outnumbered them by five or six to one. The 
commune had been badly prepared; insufficiently armed, it also pursued poli- 
cies not favored by the Cantonese workers. On the night of 10 December 1927 
loyal Communist troops took up positions in the assembly areas that were 
usually used by the Red Guards. As in Hamburg, the rebels initially benefited 
from the element of surprise, but the advantage was soon lost. The proclama- 
tion of a "soviet republic," on the morning of 12 December evoked no response 
from the local population. The Nationalist forces counterattacked in the after- 
noon, and the following day the red flag that had flown over the police head- 
quarters was removed by the victorious troops. The reprisals were savage, and 
thousands died. 

The Comintern should have drawn lessons from this experience, but it 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

was not in a position to study the major underlying questions. Once again the 
use of violence was justified against all targets, in terms that demonstrated 
clearly how much the culture of civil war had taken root among the Communist 
cadres. The Armed Uprising, published by the Comintern in 1931 and soon 
translated into several languages, offers the following terrifying bit of self- 
criticism, with its transparent conclusions; "We should have got rid of the 
counterrevolutionaries more carefully. In all the time that Canton was in the 
hands of the revolutionaries, we killed only 100 people. The prisoners were killed 
only after a normal trial before the commission for the fight against the reac- 
tionaries. In combat, in the middle of a revolution, this procedure was too 
lenient"™ This lesson would be remembered. 

Following this disaster the Communists withdrew from the towns and 
regrouped in the distant countryside. After 1931 they established free zones 
protected by the Red Army in Hunan and Kiangsi. It was thus very early on 
that the idea took root among the Communists in China that the revolution was 
above all a military affair. This belief institutionalized the political function of 
the military, which naturally resulted in ideas like Mao's famous formula, 
"Power comes out of the barrel of a gun." What followed demonstrated all too 
clearly that this was indeed the essence of the Communist vision of how power 
was to be seized and kept. 

Despite the Chinese disaster and the European failures of the early 1920s, the 
Comintern was convinced that it was on the right track. All Communist par- 
ties, including the legally constituted ones in democratic republics, possessed a 
secret military wing that made occasional public appearances. The model most 
often followed was that of the KPD in Germany, which was controlled bv 
Soviet military cadres and which possessed a large M-Apparat, whose task was 
to liquidate opponents (particularly those who belonged to the right wing) and 
informers who might have infiltrated the Party, but which also played a larger 
paramilitary role thanks to the famous Rote Front (Red Front), which had 
several thousand members. There was nothing unusual about political violence 
in the Weimar Republic, but the Communists did not concentrate their atten- 
tion only on extreme right-wing movements such as the newly formed Nazi 
Party. They also broke up socialist meetings held by people they termed u so- 
ciotraitors" or u sociofascists." M Nor did they hesitate to attack the police, 
whom they saw as the representatives of a reactionary or even fascist state. The 
events of 1933 and what followed of course demonstrated that the real fascist 
enemy was the National Socialist Party, and that it would have been more 
sensible to form an alliance against the Nazis with the other socialist parties 
who sought to defend "bourgeois democracy." But the Communists altogether 
rejected the idea of democracy. 

The Comintern in Action 


In France, where the political climate was much calmer, the French Com- 
munist Party (PCF) also had its own armed section. It was led by Albert Treint, 
one of the Party secretaries, who had served as a captain during the war and 
thus had military experience. Their first public appearance was on 11 January 
1924, at a Communist meeting where a group of anarchists were objecting 
vociferously: Treint gave the order, and ten men armed with revolvers rose up 
and opened fire on the anarchists from point-blank range, killing two of them 
outright and wounding several others. Because of lack of proof, none of the 
assassins was ever prosecuted. A year later, on 25 April 1925, a few weeks before 
the municipal elections, the PCF security services were involved in another 
violent incident at an electoral meeting of a right-wing organization called the 
Patriotic Youth Group, in the rue Damremont in Paris. Some of the militants 
were armed and did not hesitate to make use of their weapons. Three of the 
Patriotic Youth Group were killed instantly; another died a few days later. Jean 
Taittinger, the leader of the Patriotic Youth Group, was arrested, and the police 
made several raids on the houses of the Communist militants. 

Nevertheless, the Party continued to act in the same vein. In 1926 Jacques 
Duclos, who as a newly elected parliamentary deputy enjoyed full parliamen- 
tary immunity, was placed in charge of the Anti-Fascist Defense Groups, 
consisting of former servicemen from World War I, and the Young Anti-Fascist 
Guards, recruited from among the Communist Youth groups. These paramili- 
tary groups, closely modeled on the German Rote Front, paraded in uniform 
on 1 1 November 1926. At the same time Duclos was in charge of antimilitarist 
propaganda, publishing a review called Le combattanl rouge, which taught the 
art of civil war, describing and analyzing historic street combats and the like. 

The Armed Uprising, which described various insurrections since 1920, 
was republished in France in early 1934. 12 The political misfortunes of the 
French Popular Front in the summer and autumn of 1934 caused the book to 
wane in popularity, but that decline had little effect on the fundamental role of 
violence in Communist practice. The justification of violence, the day-to-day 
practice of class hatred, and the theory of civil war and terror were used again 
in 1936 in Spain, where the Comintern sent a number of its cadres who 
distinguished themselves in the Communist repressions. 

The selection and training of cadres to join future armed uprisings oc- 
curred in close liaison with the Soviet secret services, and with one service in 
particular, the GRU (Glavnoe razvedyvateFnoe upravlenie, or Main Intelli- 
gence Directorate). Created by Trotsky as the Fourth Bureau of the Red Army, 
the GRU never abandoned this educational role even when circumstances 
changed and it was scaled down considerably. Even in the early 1970s some of 
the young cadres in the French Communist Party underwent training in the 
U.S.S.R. (learning how to shoot, strip, and assemble various firearms, make 

284 I 

World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

bombs and radio transmitters, and use sabotage techniques) with the Spetsnaz, 
the special Soviet troops who were used to train the security forces. The GRU 
also had a number of military advisers who could be sent to friendly parties 
whenever necessary, Manfred Stern for instance, the Austro-Hungarian who 
was lent to the KPD M-Apparat for the Hamburg uprising in 1923, was 
subsequently also sent to China and Manchuria before becoming better known 
as "General Kleber" in the International Brigades in Spain. 

Many of these underground military organizations were run by unsavory 
characters. The members were often simply the local bandits, who occasionally 
formed gangs in their own right. The "Red Guards" or "Red squadrons" of 
the Chinese Communist Party in the second half of the 1920s provide one of 
the most striking examples. Their sphere of activity was Shanghai, which was 
then the epicenter of Party operations. Led by Gu Shunzhang, a former gang- 
ster affiliated with the secret Green Band society, the more powerful of the two 
Shanghai mafia families, they were in daily conflict with their Nationalist 
opponents, particularly with the Blue Shirts, who modeled themselves on the 
Fascists. These two adversaries engaged in a series of conflicts in which terror 
was traded for terror, ambushes were a daily occurrence, and revenge killings 
w ; ere commonplace. All these activities had the full support of the Soviet consul 
in Shanghai, who had his own military specialists such as V. Gorbatyuk, as well 
as manpower at his disposal. 

In 1928 Gu Shunzhang's men liquidated two suspects who had been freed 
by the police: He Jiaxing and He Jihua were riddled with bullets while they 
slept. Outside, other conspirators set off some fireworks to cover the sound of 
the gunfire. Similarly efficacious methods were adopted to settle differences of 
opinion within the Party itself. Sometimes a simple accusation was considered 
sufficient evidence. On 17 January 1931 , furious at having been outmaneuvered 
by Pavel Mif, the Comintern delegate, and by the other leaders acting under 
orders from Moscow, He Mengxiong and some twenty comrades from the 
workers' faction met at the Oriental Hotel in Shanghai. As soon as they began 
their discussion, armed policemen and agents of the Diaocha Tongzhi (the 
centra] investigative bureau of the Kuomintang) burst into the room and ar- 
rested everyone. The Nationalists had received an anonymous tip-off about the 

After the defection of Gu Shunzhang in April 1931, his immediate return 
to the fold of the Green Band (he had earlier switched sides to the Blue Shirts), 
and his submission to the Kuomintang, a special committee of five Communist 
cadres — Kang Sheng, Guang Huian, Pan Hannian, Chen Yun, and Ke Qing- 
shi — took charge of operations in Shanghai. In 1934, the year when the urban 
apparatus of the CCP almost fell apart for good, Ding Mocun and Li Shiqun, 
the last two leaders of armed groups of Communists in the city, fell into the 

The Comintern in Action 


hands of the Kuomintang. They went on to work for the Japanese before 
coming to a sorry end: Ding Mocun was shot by the Nationalists for treason 
in 1947, and Li Shiqun was poisoned by a Japanese officer. Kang Sheng became 
the head of Mao's secret police from 1949 until his death in 1975, and was thus 
one of the main butchers of the people of China under the Communist re- 
gime. 13 

Sometimes members of foreign Communist groups were used in covert 
police operations inside the U.S.S.R. This seems to have been the case in the 
Kutepov affair. In 1924 General Aleksandr Kutepov was called to Paris by 
Grand Duke Nicholas to become the head of the General Military Union 
(ROVS). In 1928 the GPU decided to break up this organization. The general 
disappeared on 26 January, and rumors began to fly, some of them undoubtedly 
started by the Soviet Union itself After two independent inquiries it became 
clear who was responsible for the kidnapping. The first inquiry was conducted 
by Vladimir Burtsev, who was famous for having unmasked Evno Azev, the 
Okhrana (tsarist secret police) agent who had infiltrated the Socialist Revolu- 
tionary organization; the other was led by Jean Delage, a journalist at the Echo 
de Pans. Delage proved that the general had been taken to Houlgate and put 
on a Soviet ship, the Spartak, which left Le Havre on 19 February. The general 
was never seen alive again. On 22 September 1965 Soviet general N. Shimanov 
claimed responsibility for the operation in the Soviet army's main newspaper, 
Red Star, and revealed the name of the perpetrator of the incident: "Sergei 
Puzitsky . . . not only took part in the capture of the bandit Savinkov . . . but 
also led the operation to arrest General Kutepov and other White Guard chiefs 
in exemplary fashion." 14 Today the circumstances of the kidnapping are better 
known. The general's emigre organization had been infiltrated by the GPU. In 
1929 a former minister from the White government of Admiral Kolchak, Sergei 
Nikolaevich Tretyakov, had secretly switched to the Soviet side and was hand- 
ing on information under the code name Ivanov No. UJ1. Thanks to the 
detailed information he passed to his contact Vechinkin, Moscow knew almost 
all there was to know about the general's movements. A commando group 
posing as policemen seized Kutepov's car on the street, while a Frenchman, 
Charles Honel, who was a mechanic in a garage in the suburbs of Paris, asked 
Kutepov to follow him. Honel's brother Maurice, who was also involved in the 
operation because of his contacts with the Soviet secret services, would be 
elected a Communist member of Parlement in 1936. Kutepov refused to coop- 
erate, and he was stabbed to death and his body buried in the basement of 
HonePs garage. 15 

Kutepov's successor, General E. K. Miller, had as his second in command 
Nikolai Skoblin, who was in fact a Soviet agent. With his wife, the singer Nadya 
Plevitskaya, Skoblin organized the abduction of General Miller. On 22 Sep- 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

tember 1937 Miller disappeared, and on 23 September the Soviet ship Maria 
Ulyanovna left Le Havre. Subsequently General Skoblin also disappeared, and 
suspicions focused increasingly on the ship. General Miller was of course on 
board, but the French government decided not to detain the ship. Once in 
Moscow Miller was interrogated and tortured." 1 

Dictatorship, Criminalization of Opponents, and Repression within the 

At Moscow's instigation, the Comintern installed an armed group within each 
Communist Party to prepare for revolution and civil war against the reigning 
powers. It also introduced its brethren to the same police tactics and terror that 
were used in the U.S.S.R. At the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, which 
took place from 8 to 16 March 1921, the same time as the Kronstadt rebellion, 
the bases for a dictatorial regime for the Party itself were laid down. During 
preparations for the congress no fewer than eighteen different platforms were 
proposed and discussed. These debates were the last vestiges of the democracy 
that had struggled to establish itself in Russia. It was only within the Party that 
this supposed freedom of speech prevailed, and even there it was short-lived. 
Lenin set the rone on the second day: "We do not need opposition, comrades; 
this is not the moment for that. Be here, or in Kronstadt with a rifle: but do not 
join the opposition. Do not hold it against me, this is just the way it is. It is time 
to end opposition. In my opinion, the Congress should vote for an end to all 
opposition, and pull a veil over it; we have had enough of it already." 17 His 
targets were the people who, without constituting a group in the normal sense 
of the word, and without publishing anything, nonetheless united around two 
opposition platforms. The first was known as the Workers' Opposition and 
included Aleksandr Shlyapnikov, Aleksandra Kollontai, and Yuri Lutovinov. 
Members of the second group were known as Democratic Centralists and 
included Timofei Sapronov and Gavriil Myasnikov. 

The congress was nearly over when Lenin presented two resolutions, the 
first concerning Party unity and the second "unionist and anarchist deviation 
within the Party," which was in effect an attack on the Workers' Opposition. 
The first text demanded the immediate dissolution of all groups centered upon 
a particular platform and their expulsion from the Party. One unpublished 
article of this resolution, which remained secret until October 1923, gave the 
Central Committee the power of enforcement. Feliks Dzer/hinsky's police thus 
had a new field of operations: any opposition group within the Part)' itself 
became subject to surveillance, and if necessary was punished by expulsion 
from the Party, which for true militants was a form of political death. 

Even though their call for the end of freedom of speech contradicted Party 

The Comintern in Action 


statutes, both motions were carried. Radek gave an almost prescient justifica- 
tion for the first one: "I am sure that it could be used against us, and yet I am 
voting for it ... In times of danger, the Central Committee must take severe 
measures that it considers necessary against even the best comrades . . . Even 
the Central Committee itself might make mistakes, but that is preferable to the 
general chaos we are witnessing at the moment." This choice, which was the 
result of a particular set of circumstances but was entirely in keeping with the 
Bolsheviks' most profound instincts, was an extremely important one for the 
future of the Soviet Party, and accordingly for the Comintern as well. 

The Tenth Party Congress also reorganized the Party Control Committee, 
whose role it defined as "the consolidation of unity and authority within the 
Party." From that time on, the commission assembled personal dossiers on all 
Party activists. These dossiers could be used if necessary as the basis for 
accusations, giving details of attitudes toward the political police, participation 
in opposition groups, and so on. As soon as the congress ended, harassment 
and intimidation of members of the Workers' Opposition began. Later Shlyap- 
nikov explained that "the struggle was not carried out on ideological grounds, 
but was more a simple question of removing the people in question from their 
posts, moving them from one district to another, or even excluding them from 
the Party." 

A new series of checks began in August and went on for several months. 
Nearly one-fourth of all Party activists were thrown out. Periodic recourse to 
the chislka (purge) became an integral component of Party life. Aino Kuusinen 
described this cyclical practice: 

Chistka meetings took the following form: the name of the accused was 
read out, and he was ordered to take the stand. Then members of the 
Purification Committee would ask questions. Some managed to explain 
themselves with relative ease; others had to undergo this severe test for 
some time. If anyone had personal enemies, that could give a decisive 
turn to events: in any case, expulsion from the Party could be pro- 
nounced only by the Control Commission. If the accused was not found 
guilty of anything that would have led to expulsion from the Party, the 
procedure was closed without a vote's being cast. But if the opposite was 
the case, no one ever intervened in favor of the accused. The President 
simply asked, "Kto protiv?" [Who is opposed?] and because no one 
dared to object, the case was deemed to have been decided unani- 
mously. 18 

The effects of the Tenth Congress were felt quickly: in February 1922 
Gavriil Myasnikov was suspended for one year for having defended freedom 
of the press against Lenin's orders. Finding no support within the Party, the 
Workers' Opposition appealed to the Comintern ("Declaration of the 22"). 

288 I 

World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, and Zinoviev then called for the expulsion of Aleksandr 
Shlyapnikov, Ateksandra Kollontai, and G. Medvedev, but this expulsion was 
rejected by the Eleventh Congress. Ever more in thrall to Soviet power, the 
Comintern was soon forced to adopt the same internal regime as the Bolshevik 
Party. This was the logical consequence of the preceding events and in itself 
quite unsurprising. 

In 1923 Dzerzhinsky demanded an official resolution from the Politburo 
that would oblige all Party members to denounce to the GPU any opposition 
activity they encountered. Dzerzhinsky's proposal led to a new crisis within the 
Bolshevik Party. On 8 October Trotsky sent a letter to the Central Committee, 
followed on 15 October by the "Declaration of the 46." The ensuing debate 
centered on the "new direction 11 of the Russian Party and was hotly contested 
in all sections of the Comintern. ltJ 

Simultaneously, at the end of 1923, it was decreed that all Comintern 
sections should undergo a process of "Bolshevization," reorganizing their 
structures more tightly and reinforcing their allegiance to Moscow. Resistance 
to these measures led to a considerable increase in the power of the Interna- 
tional's "holy missionaries," against a background of debates concerning the 
evolution of power in Soviet Russia. 

Boris Suvarin (sometimes spelled Souvarine), one of the leaders of the 
French Communist Party, took a stand against the new line, denouncing the 
low tactics being used by Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Stalin against their opponent 
Trotsky. On 12 June 1924 Suvarin was summoned to the Thirteenth Congress 
of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and asked to explain himself The 
meeting became acrimonious, in the manner of meetings where full confessions 
were expected. A commission was hastily put together to examine the "Suvarin 
case," and he was suspended from the Party. The reaction of the other French 
Party leaders was a clear indication of the prevailing mood. On 19 July an 
anonymous author wrote in L'humanite: "In our Party [the PCF], which the 
revolutionary battle has not yet completely purified of its social-democratic 
remnants, individual personalities still play too big a role . . . Only after petit- 
bourgeois individualism has been destroyed once and for all will the anonymous 
iron cohorts of the French Bolsheviks take shape. If we wish to be worthy of 
the Communist International to which we belong and to follow in the steps of 
the glorious Russian Party, we must mercilessly punish all those in our ranks 
who fail to comply with our rules!" This line was to govern the PCF for many 
decades. The unionist Pierre Monatte summed up the change in a single word: 
the "corporali/ation" (turning everyone into little corporals) of the Communist 

During the K i f t h Congress of the Comintern in the summer of 1924, 
Zinoviev threatened to "break the bones" of his opponents, demonstrating 

The Comintern in Action 


clearly the sort of behavior that was becoming the norm in Communist circles. 
Unfortunately, it was to rebound on him: it was his bones that were broken by 
Stalin when he was removed from the post of Comintern President in 1925. 
Zinoviev was replaced by Bukharin, who soon suffered the same fate. On 11 
July 1928, just before the Sixth Congress of the Comintern (17 July— 1 Sep- 
tember), Kamenev had a secret meeting with Bukharin at which he took notes. 
Bukharin explained that he was a victim of the police regime, that his phone 
was being tapped, and that he was being followed by the GPU His fear was 
quite real as he said, "He'll strangle us ... we can't bring division into the 
Party, because he'd strangle us." The "he" in question was Stalin. 

The first person whom Stalin tried to "strangle" was Leon Trotsky. The 
onslaught against Trotskyism, launched in 1927, was an extension of the ear- 
lier campaign against Trotsky himself. Hints of this had come during a Bolshe- 
vik Party conference in October 1926, when Yuri Larin, writing in Pravda, had 
demanded that "either the Opposition must be expelled and legally destroyed, 
or we must solve the problem with guns in the streets, as we did with the left 
Socialist Revolutionaries in July 1918 in Moscow." The Left Opposition, as it 
was officially called, was isolated and getting weaker all the time. The GPU 
initiated a campaign of intimidation against it, claiming that the group had a 
secret press, directed by a former officer from Wrangel's army (who in fact was 
a GPU agent), where Opposition documents were being printed. On the tenth 
anniversary of October 1917, the Opposition decided to disseminate its own 
agenda. Brutal police tactics prevented this from happening, and on 14 No- 
vember 1927 both Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Bolshevik 
Party. The next step was to exile the best-known opposition activists to far- 
flung regions of the Soviet Union. Christian Rakovsky, the former Soviet 
ambassador to France, was exiled to Astrakhan, on the Volga, then to Barnaul, 
in Siberia. Viktor Serge was sent to Oranienburg in the Urals, in 1933. Others 
were expelled from the Soviet Union altogether. Trotsky was first taken by 
force to Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan; a year later he was expelled to Turkey and 
thus avoided the prison sentence that awaited most of his followers. These 
followers were becoming more and more numerous, and like the activists of 
what had been the Workers' Opposition and the Democratic Centralist Group 
they were being arrested and sent to special prisons known as "political deten- 
tion centers." 

From this time on, foreign Communists who either were members of the 
Comintern abroad or were living in Russia were arrested and interned in the 
same fashion as activists in the Russian Party. It was claimed that they should 
be treated as Russians since any foreign Communist who stayed in Russia for 
any length of time was required to join the Bolshevik Party and thus was subject 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

to its discipline. One well-known case was that of the Yugoslav Communist 
Ante Ciliga, a member of the Yugoslav Politburo who was sent to Moscow in 
1926 as a Yugoslav Communist Party (YCP) member of the Comintern. He 
made contact with Trotsky's opposition group and increasingly distanced him- 
self from the Comintern, where there was never any real debate about ideas, 
and whose leaders never hesitated to use intimidatory methods to counter 
opposition of any kind. Ciliga termed this the "servility system" of the inter- 
national Communist movement. In February 1929, at a General Assembly of 
Yugoslav Communists in Moscow, a resolution was adopted condemning the 
policies of the YCP. This resolution was tantamount to a condemnation from 
the Comintern itself. An illegal group — according to the rules that were then 
in place — was then organized by those who opposed the Soviets' official line. 
A commission began an inquiry into Ciliga, who was suspended for one year. 
Ciliga refused to abandon his "illegal" activities and settled in Leningrad. On 
1 May 1930 he returned to Moscow to meet with other members of his 
Russo- Yugoslav group, which had become extremely critical of the way indus- 
trialization was being carried out and sought to form a new party. On 21 May 
he and his companions were arrested and sent to the "political detention center" 
in Verkhne-Uralsk on the basis of Article 59 of the penal code. For more than 
three years he demanded the right to leave Russia, constantly writing letters of 
protest and conducting a series of hunger strikes while being moved from 
prison to prison. During one moment of freedom he attempted suicide. The 
GPU attempted to persuade him to give up his Italian citizenship. After a 
further exile in Siberia, he was finally expelled on 3 December 1935, and that 
in itself was an exceptional event. 20 

Thanks to Ciliga, we have a good idea of what life was like in the political 
detention centers. "Comrades would send us newspapers that appeared in the 
prisons. What a range of opinion, what freedom of thought there was in those 
articles! What passion and openness in the discussion of questions that were 
not simply abstract and theoretical, but were also the burning issues of the day! 
And our freedom did not stop there either. During our daily walk, we would 
pass through a series of rooms, and the inmates would gather in the corners 
and conduct proper meetings, with a president, a secretary, and speakers who 
took the floor in turns." He also described the physical conditions: 

Our diet was that of the traditional muzhik [peasant]: bread and soup 
day and night, all year long . . . For lunch there was a soup made from 
bad fish or rotten meat. For dinner we had the same soup without the 
fish or meat . . - The daily bread ration was 700 grams, the monthly 
sugar ration was one kilo, and we also had a tobacco ration, some ciga- 
rettes, tea, and soap. The diet was monotonous, and there was never 

The Comintern in Action 


enough food. We constantly had to fight against reductions in our ra- 
tions: 1 could not begin to describe how we fought for our right to the 
tiniest little scraps. But if we compare how we lived to the regimes in 
force in the normal prisons, where hundreds of thousands of detainees 
were all crammed in together, and certainly to the gulags, where millions 
of people were crushed, our regime was privileged by comparison. 21 

Such privileges of course were all relative. In Verkhne-Uralsk the prison- 
ers went on hunger strike three times, in April and then again in the summer 
of 1931, and again in December 1933, to fight for their rights and above all to 
protest the lengthening of their sentences. After 1934 the special treatment of 
such political prisoners was largely ended, although it remained in place in 
Verkhne-Uralsk until 1937, and conditions rapidly worsened. Some detainees 
died after being beaten, others were shot, and others simply disappeared alto- 
gether, as Vladimir Smirnov did in Suzdal in 1933, 

The criminalization of real or imaginary opponents within the various Com- 
munist Parties was soon extended to high-ranking members. Jose Bullejos, the 
leader of the Spanish Communist Party, and several of his colleagues were 
called to Moscow in the autumn of 1932 and their policies severely criticized. 
When they refused to submit to the dictates of the Comintern, they were 
expelled from the Party en masse on 1 November and found themselves under 
house arrest in the Hotel Lux, where the members of the Comintern were 
based. The Frenchman Jacques Duclos, the former Comintern delegate in 
Spain, brought them the news of their expulsion and explained to them that 
any attempt to resist would be met with "the full force of Soviet law." 22 Bullejos 
and his companions had an extremely difficult time trying to leave the 
U.S.S.R.; it took two months of tense negotiations before their passports were 
returned to them. 

The same year saw *he epilogue to an extraordinary series of events 
concerning the French Communist Party. Early in 1931 the Comintern had 
sent a representative and several instructors to the PCF with orders to bring 
the situation there under control. In July the head of the Comintern, Dmitry 
Manuilsky, came secretly to Paris and revealed to an amazed local Politburo 
that a group in their midst was attempting to sow disorder in the Party ranks. 
In fact the mission itself was an attempt to sow discord in the Party and hence 
to weaken the grip of French Party leaders and increase their dependence on 
Moscow. Among the heads of this mythical group was Pierre Celor, one of the 
main leaders of the Party since 1928, who was called to Moscow on the pretext 
that he was to be elected to the post of PCF representative at the Comintern. 
As soon as he arrived he was treated as an agent provocateur and a social outcast. 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Having no money, Celor managed to get through the winter thanks to the ration 
card of his wife, who had accompanied him to Moscow and who still had a post 
in the Comintern. On 8 March 1932 he was called to a meeting with several 
secret-police investigators, who during a twelve-hour interrogation tried to 
make him admit that he was a "police agent who had infiltrated the Party." 
Celor refused to admit any such thing, and after several more months of 
harassment he returned to France on 8 October 1932, only to be publicly 
denounced as a police spy. 

In 1931 French Communist Louis Aragon wrote the following poem, 
titled "Prelude to the Cherry Season": 

I sing the GPU which is taking shape 

In the France of today 

I sing the GPU we need in France 

I sing the GPUs of nowhere and everywhere 

I call for the GPU to prepare the end of the world 

Call for the GPU to prepare the end of the world 

To defend the betrayed 

To defend those always betrayed 

Ask for a GPU, you whom they bend and whom they kill 

Ask for a GPU 

You need the GPU 

Long live the GPU the dialectical figure of heroism 

Real heroes not imbecile idiot pilots 

Who people think are heroes just because they 

Fly in the face of the earth 

Long live the GPU, true image of materialist splendor 

Long live the GPU; down with Chiappe and the Marseillaise 

Long live the GPU; down with the pope and the bugs 

Long live the GPU; down with money and banks 

Long live the GPU; down with the cheating East 

Long live the GPU; down with the family 

Long live the GPU; down with infernal laws 

Long live the GPU; down with socialist assassins like 

Caballero Boncour MacDonald Zoergibel 

Long live the GPU; down with the enemies of the proletariat 


In 1932 cadre sections on the model of the Bolshevik Party were estab- 
lished in many Communist Parties. These sections were dependent on the 
Central Section of the Comintern cadres. Their task was to keep complete 
records on all Party activists and to gather biographical and autobiographical 
questionnaires on all the leaders. More than 5,000 such dossiers from the 
French Party alone were sent to Moscow before the war. The biographical 

The Comintern in Action 


questionnaire contained more than seventy questions and was divided into five 
broad sections: origins and current social situation, role in the Party, education 
and intellectual activities, participation in social life, and any legal records that 
might be relevant. This material was catalogued in Moscow, where the records 
were kept by Anton Krajewski, Moisei Chernomordik, and Gevork Alikhanov, 
the successive heads of the Comintern cadre section, which was also linked to 
the foreign section of the NKVD. In 1935 Meir Trilisser, one of the NKVD's 
highest-ranking agents, was appointed secretary of the Central Executive Com- 
mittee of the Comintern and placed in charge of the cadre section. Under the 
pseudonym Mikhail Moskvin he collected information and denunciations and 
decided who was to be disgraced, which was the first step on the way to 
liquidation. 24 It was the job of all cadre sections to draw up blacklists of enemies 
of the U.S.S.R. and of Communism. 

In rapid order, various sections of the Comintern began to recruit intel- 
ligence agents for the U.S.S.R. In some cases the people who agreed to under- 
take this illegal and clandestine work were genuinely unaware that they were 
working for the Soviet secret services, including the GRU, the Foreign Section 
(Inostrannyi otdeP; INO) of the Cheka-GPU, and the NKVD. Relations among 
these organizations were formidably complicated. Moreover, they fought 
among themselves to recruit new agents, often attempting to entice agents from 
rival services. Elizaveta Poretskaya gives many examples of such practices in 
her memoirs. 2 * 

In 1932, when the cadres began to be controlled by emissaries from the Comin- 
tern, the PCF itself started keeping records on all people it considered suspect 
or dangerous. The official function of the cadre sections was to recruit the best 
activists; another function was to compile lists of people who had been found 
wanting in some way. From 1932 to June 1939 the PCF drew up twelve 
documents with titles such as "Blacklist of provocateurs, traitors, and police 
informers thrown out of French revolutionary organizations" and "Blacklist of 
provocateurs, thieves, crooks, Trotskyites, and traitors thrown out of workers' 
organizations in France." To justify such lists, which by the start of World War 
II contained more than 1,000 names, the PCF used a simple political argument: 
"The struggle of the bourgeoisie against the working classes and revolutionary 
organizations in our country is becoming ever more intense." 

Activists were required to submit information about the appearance of 
suspects (List no. 10, from August 1938, specified "size and build, hair, eye- 
brows, forehead, nose, mouth, chin, shape of face, complexion, distinguishing 
marks") and "any information that might help locate" them, such as their 
address and place of work. Alt activists were thus required to some extent to 
behave like Cheka members. 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Some suspects undoubtedly were genuine crooks; others were simply 
opposed to the Party line, irrespective of whether they belonged to the Party. 
The first targets in the 1930s were the Trotskyites and the followers of Jacques 
Doriot in Saint-Denis. The French Communists simply repeated the argu- 
ments of their Soviet counterparts: the Trotskyites had become "a gang of 
criminals and unscrupulous saboteurs, subversive agents, and assassins follow- 
ing the orders of foreign espionage services." 25 

The war, the banning of the PCF because of its support for the German- 
Soviet pact, and the German occupation induced the Party to intensify its 
secret-police activities. All PCF members who refused to accept the German- 
Soviet pact were denounced, including those who joined the resistance. Among 
these were Adrien Langumier, an editor at Jean Luchaire's Temps rwuveaux; 
and Rene Nicod, a former Communist deputy from Oyonnax, whose ties with 
his former comrades remained close. Jules Fourier was another Communist 
whom the Party police tried unsuccessfully to liquidate: Fourier, after voting 
in favor of full powers for Petain, set up a resistance network in 1941 and was 
subsequently deported to Buchenwald and Mauthausen. 

Other targets included those who in 1941 participated in the French 
Workers' and Peasants' Party (POPF); one of its leaders, Marcel Gitton, a 
former PCF Party secretary, was shot in September by militant Communists. 
The PCF declared this group "traitors to the Party and to France." Sometimes 
their accusatory statements were followed by the note "punished accordingly." 
There were also cases of militants such as Georges Dezire, who were suspected 
of treason and assassinated, only to be rehabilitated after the war. 

In the midst of the persecution of Jews, the Communist Party used 
strange methods to denounce its enemies: "C . . . Renee, also known as Tania, 
or Therese, of the 14th arrondtssement, Bessarabian Jew"; u De B . . . Foreign 
Jew, a rebel who insults the CP and the U.S.S.R." Immigrant Manpower (the 
MOI), an organization that grouped all foreign militant Communists, had used 
similar language: U R. Jew (not his real name). Works with a group of enemy 
Jews." The hatred for Trotskyites also remained strong: "D . . . Yvonne. 
1, Place du General Beuret, Paris 8 ... A Trotskyite, has had liaisons with the 
POUM. Insults the U.S.S.R." It is quite probable that in the course of arrests 
such lists fell into the hands of the Vichy police or the Gestapo. What then 
happened to the people on the lists? 

In 1945 the PCF released another series of blacklists of political enemies, 
some of whom had already survived several assassination attempts. The insti- 
tutionalization of the blacklist quite obviously echoes the lists of potential 
criminals drawn up by Soviet security services such as the Cheka, the GPU, 
and the NKVD. It was a universal practice among Communists, which began 

The Comintern in Action 


in the early days of the civil war in Russia. In Poland, at the moment the war 
ended, such lists contained forty-eight categories of people to be watched. 

In-fighting among the various services was ended by a simple change that 
united the Comintern and the secret services under the control of the head of 
the CPSU, making them directly accountable to Stalin himself for their ac- 
tions. In 1932 Mikhail Ryutin, who had been zealous and relentless in carrying 
out repression against his own friends, suddenly found himself in opposition to 
Stalin. He drew up a statement saying that "Stalin today has the infallible 
status of a pope at the Comintern. He controls, by direct and indirect means, 
all the leading cadres of the Comintern, not simply in Moscow but everywhere, 
and this is the decisive argument that confirms his invincibility in political 
questions." 27 By the end of the 1920s the Comintern, which was also financially 
dependent on the Soviet state, had lost all semblance of independence. It was 
not long before this material dependence, which went hand in hand with 
political dependence, accompanied an even more sinister dependence on the 
secret police. 

The inevitable result of the ever-increasing police pressure on Comintern 
members was fear and mistrust. As soon as the threat of denunciation became 
widespread, a general lack of confidence became apparent in all quarters. 
Denunciation came in two forms: either a voluntary declaration, or a statement 
taken from people as a result of mental or physical torture. Sometimes fear was 
enough. And there were other militants who were proud to denounce their 
colleagues. The case of the French Communist Andre Marty is characteristic 
of the paranoia that was so widespread at the time, and the senseless rush to 
appear to be the most vigilant Communist of them all. In a letter marked 
"strictly confidential" addressed to the General Secretary of the Comintern, 
Georgi Dimitrov, and dated 23 June 1927, he wrote a lengthy denunciation of 
Eugen Fried, the representative of the International in France, pretending to 
be amazed that Fried had not yet been arrested by the French police, and 
expressing extreme suspicion of this fact. 2 * 

The phenomena of terror and the public trials inevitably met with differ- 
ent responses abroad. In Paris Boris Suvarin made the following remarks in Le 
Figaro litteraire on 1 July 1937: 

It is a great exaggeration to claim that the Moscow trials are an exclu- 
sively Russian phenomenon. While there are of course national charac- 
teristics involved, one can also discern many other more general truths. 
First, one should abandon the idea that what can be understood by 
Russians cannot possibly be understood by the French. In fact the ad- 
missions that have been made arc as puzzling to the people of Russia as 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

they are to the people of France. Those who, out of some fanatical sense 
of devotion to the Bolshevik cause, find it all quite natural are probably 
more numerous abroad than they are in Russia . . . 

In the early years of the Russian Revolution, it was easy to put 
everything down to the idea of the "Slavic soul"; yet the events that 
were reputed to be exclusively Slavic phenomena have subsequently 
been witnessed in Italy and Germany. When the beast in man is un- 
leashed, the same consequences are visible everywhere, irrespective of 
whether the man in question is Latin, German, or Slav, however differ- 
ent he may appear on the surface. 

And in any case, in France and everywhere else there are millions 
of people who are in Stalin's pocket. The editors of L'humanile are 
identical with the men at Pravda when it comes to flattery and syco- 
phancy, and they don't have the excuse that a totalitarian dictator is 
breathing down their necks. When an academician like [Vladimir] 
Komarov demeans himself in Red Square yet again by asking for more 
blood, one must bear in mind that if he had not done so, he would have 
been effectively committing suicide. And with that in mind, what are we 
to make of men like Romain Rolland, [Paul] Langevin, and [Andre] 
Malraux, who admire and actively support the so-called Soviet regime 
with its "culture" and "justice," and who aren't forced to do so by 
hunger or torture? 

In the same vein as the Marty letter is one sent to "Comrade L. P. Beria" (the 
people's commissar of internal affairs in the U.S.S.R.) by the Bulgarian Stella 
Blagoeva, an obscure employee in the cadre section of the Executive Commit- 
tee of the Comintern: 

The Executive Committee of the Communist International possesses 
information drawn up by a series of comrades, all militants in friendly 
parties, that we feel should be addressed to you so that you may check 
the information and accordingly take any steps necessary . . . One of the 
secretaries of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist 
Party, [Frigyes] Karikas, has taken part in conversations that seem to 
indicate insufficient devotion to the Party of Lenin and Stalin . . . Com- 
rades have also been asking a very serious question: How is it that in 
1932 the Hungarian court condemned him to only three years in prison, 
whereas during the dictatorship of the proletariat in Hungary Karikas 
carried out death sentences pronounced by the revolutionary tribunal 
. . . There are many indications from comrades from Germany, Austria, 
Lithuania, Poland, and elsewhere that political emigration is becoming a 
dirty business . . . This problem must be addressed in a determined 
fashion. 29 

The Comintern in Action 


Arkady Vaksberg notes that the Comintern archives also contain dozens 
(perhaps even hundreds) of denunciations, a phenomenon that attests to the 
moral decay that took hold within the Comintern and among officials of the 
Soviet Communist Party. This decay was quite apparent during the great trials 
of members of the Bolshevik "old guard," who had lent their support to the 
establishment of power on the basis of "the absolute lie." 

The Great Terror Strikes the Comintern 

The assassination of Sergei Kirov on 1 December 1934 provided Stalin with an 
excellent pretext for moving from severe repression to real terror both in the 
Russian Communist Party and in the Comintern. 10 Until then, terror had been 
used as a weapon only against the general population. After Kirov's murder, it 
was used mercilessly against the very people who wielded power in the Party 

The first victims were the members of the Russian Opposition who were 
already in prison. From the end of 1935 on, anyone whose sentence had expired 
was automatically reimprisoned. Several thousand militant Trotskyites were 
grouped together in the Vorkuta region. There were some 500 in the mine, 
1,000 in the Ukhto-Pechora camp, and several thousand in the Pechora region. 
On 27 October 1936, 1,000 prisoners (including women and children) began a 
hunger strike that lasted thirty-two days. They demanded separation from the 
common criminals and the right to live with their families. The first death 
among the prisoners came after four weeks. Several others met the same fate 
before the authorities agreed to their demands. The following autumn, 1,200 
prisoners (about half of whom were Trotskyites) were grouped together near 
an old brickworks. At the end of March the camp administration posted a list 
of 25 prisoners, who received a kilo of bread and orders to prepare to leave. A 
few minutes later, shots were heard. The worst possible scenario soon proved 
to be true when the other prisoners saw the convoy escort return to the camp. 
Two days later there was a new list and a similar fusillade, and so it continued 
until the end of May. The guards generally disposed of the bodies by pouring 
gasoline over them and setting them on fire. The NKVD announced on the 
radio the names of those shot, claiming that they had been killed u for counter- 
revolutionary agitation, sabotage, banditry, refusing to work, and attempting to 
escape." Even women were not spared. The wife of any activist who was 
executed was also condemned to capital punishment, as were any children over 
age twelve." 31 

Approximately 200 Trotskyites in Magadan, the capital of Kolyma, also 
went on hunger strike in the hope of being granted the status of political 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

prisoners. Their declaration denounced the "gangster executioners" and 
"Stalin's fascism, even worse than Hitler's." On 11 October 1937 they were 
condemned to death, and 74 of them were executed on 26-27 October and 
4 November. Such executions continued throughout 1937 and 193K.- 12 

Wherever orthodox Communists were to be found, they were given orders 
to combat the Trotskyite minority in their midst. After the war in Spain the 
operation took a new turn, with the completely spurious revelation of links 
between Trotskyism and Nazism, made even as Stalin was preparing to sign a 
pact with Hitler. 

Soon the Great Terror launched by Stalin reached the Central Committee 
of the Comintern, A 1965 survey of the liquidation of Comintern workers was 
Branko Lazich's evocatively titled "Martyrology of the Comintern." 1 -' Boris 
Suvarin ended his "Commentaries on the Martyrology,' 1 which followed Laz- 
itch's article, with a remark concerning the humble collaborators at the Comin- 
tern, the anonymous victims of the Great Purge. It is a useful comment to bear 
in mind when looking at this particular chapter of the history of Soviet Com- 
munism: "Those who died in the massacres at the Comintern were no more than 
the tiniest fraction of an enormous massacre, that of millions of workers and peasants 
who were sacrificed without rhyme or reason by a monstrous tyranny hidden 
by a proletarian label." 

Officials in both the central and the national offices were affected by the 
mechanisms of repression in the same way that ordinary citizens were. The 
Great Purge of 1936-37 claimed not only opponents of the regime but also 
officials in the Comintern apparatus and similar organizations: the Communist 
Youth International (KIM), the Red Trade Union International (Profintern), 
Red Aid (MOPR), the International Leninist School, the Communist Univer- 
sity of Western National Minorities (KUMNZ), and other organizations. 
Wanda Pampuch-Bronska, the daughter of one of Lenin's old companions, 
reported under a pseudonym that in 1936 the KUMNZ was broken up, and its 
entire staff and almost all its students arrested. 34 

The historian Mikhail Panteleev, reviewing the records of the various 
Comintern sections, has so far found 133 victims out of a total staff of 492 
(that is, 27 percent). 15 Between 1 January and 17 September 1937, 256 people 
were fired by the Secretariat Commission of the Executive Committee, made 
up of Mikhail Moskvin (Meir Trilisser), Wilhelm Florin, and Jan Anvelt; and 
by the Special Control Commission, created in May 1937 and consisting of 
Georgi Dimitrov, Moskvin, and Dmitry Manuilsky. In general, arrest soon 
followed dismissal: Elena Walter, who was fired from Dimitrov 's secretariat on 
16 October 1938, was arrested two days later, although Jan Borowski (Ludwig 
Komorovsky) was fired from the Central Executive Committee of the Comin- 
tern on 17 July and not arrested until 7 October. In 1937, 88 Comintern 

The Comintern in Action 


employees were arrested, and another 19 the following year. Others were ar- 
rested at their desks, including Anton Krajewski (Wladyslaw Stein), who was 
then the press attache in charge of propaganda and was imprisoned on 27 May 
1937. Many were arrested immediately following missions abroad. 

All sections of the Comintern, from the Secretariat itself to its various 
representatives in the Communist Parties, were affected in some manner. In 
1937 and 1938 forty-one people were arrested at the Secretariat of the Execu- 
tive Committee. In the Department for Internationa] Relations (the OMS), 
thirty-four were arrested. Moskvin himself fell victim on 23 November 1938 
and was condemned to death on 1 February 1940. Jan Anvelt died while being 
tortured, and A. Munch-Peterson, a Dane, died in a prison hospital as a result 
of chronic tuberculosis. Fifty officials, including nine women, were shot. A 
Swiss national, Lydia Diibi, who was in charge of the underground Comintern 
network in Paris, was called to Moscow in early August 1937. No sooner had 
she arrived than she was arrested, together with her colleagues Karl Brichman 
and Erwin Wolf, and accused of having belonged to an "anti-Soviet Trotskyite 
organization 11 and of having spied for Germany, France, Japan, and Switzer- 
land. She was condemned to death by the Military Collegium of the Supreme 
Court of the U.S.S.R. on 3 November and was shot a few days later. Her Swiss 
nationality afforded her no protection, and her family was brutally informed 
of the outcome with no explanation. The principle of familial responsibility, 
which was used against the general population, was also brought to bear on 
members of the Comintern. L. Jankowska, a Pole, was condemned to eight 
years in prison for being a "member of the family of a traitor to the fatherland," 
a status she acquired when her husband, Stanislaw Skulski (Mertens), was 
arrested in August 1937 and shot on 21 September. 

Osip Pyatnitsky (Tarchis) had been second in command to Manuilsky at 
the Comintern and had been in charge of the finances of foreign Communist 
Parties and secret liaisons with the Comintern worldwide. In 1934 he was 
appointed head of the political and administrative section of the Central Com- 
mittee of the CPSU. On 24 June 1937 he intervened in a plenary session of the 
Central Committee to protest the intensification of repressions and the grant- 
ing of special powers to the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Ezhov. Stalin was 
furious; he broke up the session and exerted great pressure to bring Pyatnitsky 
into line. All in vain: when the session opened the next day, Ezhov accused 
Pyatnitsky of being a former agent of the tsarist police, and had him arrested 
on 7 July. Ezhov then forced Boris Muller (Melnikov) to testify against Pyat- 
nitsky, and after Muller himself was executed on 29 July 1938, the Military 
Collegium of the Supreme Court passed sentence on Pyatnitsky, who refused 
to plead guilty to the fabricated charge that he was a spy for Japan. He was 
condemned to death and shot on the night of 29-30 July. 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Many of the staff at the Comintern who were executed were accused of 
belonging to "the anti-Comintern organization led by Pyatnitsky, |Wilhelm 
Hugo] Knorin, and Bela Kun." Others were simply labeled Trotskyites or 
counterrevolutionaries. Bela Kun, the former head of the Hungarian Com- 
mune, who had taken a stand against Manuilsky, was in turn accused by 
Manuilsky (probably on Stalin's orders), who twisted his words until they 
amounted to a direct attack on Stalin. Kun protested his innocence and reiter- 
ated his attack against Manuilsky and Moskvin, who he claimed were respon- 
sible for the poor reputation of the CPSU abroad and the general inefficiency 
of the Comintern. No one among those present, including Palmiro Togliatti, 
Otto Kuusinen, Wilhelm Pieck, Klement Gottwald, and Arvo Tuominen, came 
to his defense. When the meeting ended, Georgi Dimitrov tabled a motion 
requesting that the "Kun affair" be examined by a special commission. Kun 
was arrested as soon as he left the room and was executed in the basement of 
the Lubyanka building at an unknown date.^ 

According to Mikhail Panteleev; the ultimate aim of these purges was the 
eradication of all resistance to Stalinism.- 17 The main targets of the repression 
were those who had been Opposition sympathizers or who had had any rela- 
tionship with known Trotskyites. Other victims included German militants 
belonging to the faction led by Heinz Neumann, who was himself liquidated 
in 1937, and other former militants from the Democratic Centralist Group. At 
the time, according to Yakov Matusov, joint chief of the First Department of 
the secret Political Section of the Main Directorate for State Security (Glavnoe 
upravlenic gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti; GUGB), then part of the NKVD, 
all high-ranking leaders in the state apparatus, unbeknownst to them, had 
dossiers containing evidence that could be used against them at any moment. 
Kliment Voroshilov, Andrei Vyshinsky, Lazar Kaganovich, Mikhail Kalinin, 
and Nikita Khrushchev all had such files. It is thus more than probable that 
similar files were kept on the activities of Comintern leaders. 

The highest-ranking non-Russian Comintern leaders also actively partici- 
pated in the repression. One symptomatic case was that of Palmiro Togliatti, 
one of the secretaries of the Comintern, who, after Stalin's death, was hailed 
as one of the people who had been openly opposed to terrorist methods. 
Togliatti himself accused Hermann Schubert, an official in the Red Aid, and 
prevented him from giving an account of his actions. Schubert was arrested 
shortly afterward and shot. The Petermanns, a German couple who were 
Communists and had arrived in the U.S.S.R. after 1933, were accused by 
Togliatti at a meeting of being Nazi agents, on the grounds that they had kept 
in touch with their family in German). They were arrested a few weeks later. 
Togliatti was present when everyone turned on Bela Kun, and he signed the 
order that sent him to his death. He was also present at the liquidation of a 

The Comintern in Action 


Polish Communist in 1938. On that occasion he endorsed the Moscow trials, 
and saying: "Death to the cowards, spies, and fascist agents! Long live the Party 
of Lenin and Stalin, the vigilant guardian of the victories of the October 
Revolution, and the sure guarantor of the triumph of the revolution throughout 
the world! Long live the heir of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Nikolai Ezhov!" 1H 

Terror within the Communist Parties 

Once the Central Bureau of the Comintern had been purged, Stalin set about 
attacking the other sections. The German section was the first to suffer. In 
addition to the descendants of the Volga Germans, the German community in 
Soviet Russia included militants from the German Communist Party (KPD) 
and antifascist refugees and workers who had left the Weimar Republic to help 
build socialism in the Soviet Union. But none of these people were exempt 
when the arrests began in 1933. In all, two-thirds of the antifascists in exile in 
the U.S.S.R. were affected by the repression, 

The fate of militant German Communists is well documented thanks to 
the existence of lists of cadres, Kuderlisten, which were drawn up under the 
KPD leaders Wilhelm Pieck, Wilhelm Florin, and Herbert Wehner and used 
to punish or expel Communists and victims of repression. The earliest list dates 
from 3 September 1936, the last from 21 June 1938. A document from the late 
1950s, drawn up by the control commission of the SKD (the Socialist Unity 
Party, the name taken by the German Communist Party when it regrouped 
after World War II), lists some 1,136 people. Arrests reached their peak in 1937, 
when 619 people were arrested, and continued until 1941, when 21 were 
arrested. The fate of 666 of these people is unknown, although it is almost 
certain that they died in prison. At least 82 were executed, 197 died in prison 
camps, and 132 were handed over to the Nazis. Approximately 150 survived 
their long sentences and eventually managed to leave the U.S.S.R. One of the 
ideological reasons invoked to justify the arrest of these militants was that they 
had failed to stop Adolf Hitler's rise to power, as though Moscow itself had 
played no role in the Nazi seizure of power. >J 

The most tragic episode of all, the occasion on which Stalin displayed the 
full extent of his cynicism, was the handing over to Hitler of the German 
antifascists. This took place in 1937, when the Soviet authorities began expel- 
ling Germans from the U.S.S.R. On 16 February ten were condemned and then 
handed over by the Soviet special services. The names of some of them are 
well known: Emil Larisch, a technician who had been living in the U.S.S.R. 
since 1921; Arthur Thilo, an engineer who had arrived in 1931; Wilhelm 
Pfeiffer, a Communist from Hamburg; and Kurt Nixdorf, a university em- 
ployee at the Marx-Engels Institute. All had been arrested in 1936 on charges 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

of spying or "fascist activities/ 1 and the German ambassador, Werner von der 
Schulenberg, tried to intervene on their behalf with Maksim Litvinov, the 
Soviet minister of foreign affairs. Arthur Thilo managed to get to the British 
consulate in Warsaw, but many were not so lucky. Pfeiffer tried to get himself 
expelled to England, knowing that if he returned to Germany he would be 
arrested immediately. Eighteen months later, on 18 August 1938, he was taken 
to the Polish border and was never heard from again. Otto Walther, a lithogra- 
pher from Leningrad who had lived in Russia since 1908, arrived in Berlin on 
4 March 1937 and subsequently killed himself by throwing himself out a 
window of the house in which he was living. 

At the end of May 1937, von der Schulenberg sent two new lists of 
Germans who had been arrested, and whose expulsion he considered desirable. 
Among the 67 names were several antifascists, including Kurt Nixdorf In the 
autumn of 1937 negotiations took a new turn, and the Soviet Union agreed to 
speed up expulsions in response to German demands, since only 30 had actually 
been expelled so far. In November and December 1937 another 148 Germans 
were expelled, and in 1938 the number rose to 445. Generally the people to be 
expelled (including several members of the Schut/bund, the paramilitary arm 
of the Austrian Social Democratic Party) were escorted to the frontier with 
Poland, Lithuania, or Finland, where they were immediately registered and 
classified by the German authorities. In some cases, including that of the 
Austrian Communist Paul Meisel, victims were taken in May 1938 to the 
Austrian frontier via Poland and were then handed over to the Gestapo. Meisel, 
who was Jewish, subsequently died in Auschwitz. 

This understanding between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia prefigured 
the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, when, according to Jorge Semprum, "the truly 
convergent nature of all totalitarian systems was revealed." After the pact was 
signed, the expulsions increased dramatically. Once Poland was crushed by 
Hitler and Stalin, the two powers had a common border, so the victims could 
pass directly from a Soviet prison to a German one. From 1939 to 1941, as a 
result of an agreement signed on 27 November 1939, between 200 and 300 
German Communists were handed over to the Gestapo as a measure of the 
goodwill of the Soviet authorities toward their new allies. Approximately 350 
people were expelled between November 1939 and May 1941, including 85 
Austrians. One of these was Franz Koritschoner, a founding member of the 
Austrian Communist Part}', who had become an official in the Red Trade Union 
International. After being deported to the far north, he was handed over to the 
Gestapo in Lublin, transferred to Vienna, tortured, and executed in Auschwitz 
on 7 June 1941. 

The Soviet authorities refused to take Jewish origins into account in their 
decisions to expel people. Hans Walter David, for example, a KPD member 
who was a composer and a conductor, as well as being Jewish, was handed over 

The Comintern in Action 


to the Gestapo and gassed in 1942 in the Majdanek camp. There were many 
other cases, some recounted in the memoirs of Alexander Weissberg, a physicist 
who survived to tell his story. Margaret Buber-Neumann, the companion of 
Hans Neumann, who had been pushed out of the KPD leadership and had 
emigrated to the U.S.S.R., also wrote of the extraordinary complicity that 
existed between the Nazis and the Soviet Union. After being arrested in 1937 
and deported to Karaganda, in Siberia, she was handed over to the Gestapo 
along with many other unfortunates and interned in Ravensbriick. 40 
Weissberg recalled his transfer to the Germans: 

On 31 December 1939, we were awakened at six in the morning . . . 
After we had dressed and shaved we had to spend a few hours in a 
waiting room. One Jewish Communist from Hungary called Bloch had 
fled to Germany after the fall of the Commune in 1919. He had lived 
there with false papers and managed to continue working secretly as a 
Party activist. Later he emigrated with the same false papers. He had 
been arrested, and despite his protests was to be handed over to the 
German Gestapo . . . Just before midnight some buses arrived, and we 
were taken to the station . . . During the night of 31 December 1939-1 
January 1940, the train started moving. It was carrying seventy beaten 
men back home . . . The train continued on through the devastated 
Polish countryside toward Brest Litovsk. On the Bug River bridge the 
other European totalitarian regime was waiting, in the form of the Ger- 
man Gestapo. 41 

Weissberg managed to escape the Nazi prisons, joined the Polish rebels, and 
fought alongside them. At the end of the war he crossed into Sweden and then 
went to England. 

Margaret Buber-Neumann described the later stages of the same transfer: 

Three people refused to cross the bridge: a Hungarian Jew named 
Bloch, a Communist worker who had already been sentenced by the 
Nazis, and a German teacher whose name I cannot remember. They 
were dragged across the bridge by force. The SS disposed of the Jew 
immediately. We were then put on a train and taken to Lublin ... In 
Lublin we were handed over to the Gestapo. There it became apparent 
that not only were we being handed over to the Gestapo, but that the 
NKVD had also sent all our records and documents to the SS. In my 
dossier, for instance, it was noted that I was the wife of Neumann and 
that he was one of the Germans most hated in Nazi Germany. 42 

Buber-Neumann remained in Ravensbriick until its liberation in April 1945. 

At the same time that the German Communists were suffering, the cadres in 
the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP), many of whom had emigrated from 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Poland, were also caught up in the terror. Joseph Berger, secretary of the 
PCP from 1929 to 3931, was arrested on 27 February 1935 and was liberated 
only after the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress in 1956. His survival was 
exceptional. Other militants were executed, and many more died in camps, 
Wolf Averbuch, the director of a tractor factory in Rostov-on-Don, was ar- 
rested in 1936 and executed in 1941 . The systematic liquidation of members of 
the PCP and of socialist Zionist groups who had come to the U.S.S.R. is 
related to the more general Soviet policy toward the Jewish minority after the 
establishment of Birobidzhan as a Jewish autonomous region, all of whose 
leaders were arrested. Professor Iosif Liberberg, the president of the Executive 
Committee of Birobidzhan, w r as denounced as an "enemy of the people, 1 ' and 
all the other cadres of state institutions in the autonomous region were also 
purged. Samuel Augursky was accused of belonging to a fictitious Judeo- 
Fascist Center. The entire Jewish section of the Russian Party (the Rvreiskaya 
sektsiya) was taken apart. The goal of destroying all Jewish institutions was 
implemented even as the Soviet state was seeking support from Jewish notables 
abroad. 11 

The Polish Communists figure second only to Russians themselves in terms of 
the number who suffered in the purges. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere, the 
Polish Communist Party (KPP) had been dissolved following a vote by the 
Central Executive Committee of the Comintern on 16 August 1938. Stalin had 
always been suspicious of the KPP, which he felt was filled with deviationists. 
Many Polish Communists had been part of Lenin's entourage before 1917 and 
had enjoyed special protection in the US.S.R. as a result. In 1923 the KPP had 
taken a stand in support of Trotsky, and after Lenin's death it had voted in 
favor of the pro-Trotsky Opposition. The influence of Rosa Luxemburg on the 
KPP was also criticized. At the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in June-July 
1924, Stalin sidelined the people who had been the Party leaders — Adolf 
Warsky, Henryk Walecki, and Wera Kostrzewa — in what was clearly the first 
step toward total control of the KPP by the Comintern. The KPP was then 
denounced as a hotbed of Trotskyism. But even this declaration does little to 
explain the radical purge that then struck the Party, many members of which 
were Jewish. There also followed the Polish Military Organization (POW) 
affair in 1933 (discussed in Chapter 19). Other factors should also be borne in 
mind, such as the fact that the Comintern had a policy of systematically 
weakening the Polish state to increase its dependence on both the US.S.R. and 
Germany. The theory that the most important element behind the liquidation 
of the KPP was the need to prepare for the signing of the German-Soviet 
agreements deserves to be taken seriously. How Stalin went about it is also 
quite revealing. He made sure (with the assistance of the Comintern) that each 

The Comintern in Action 


of the victims was brought back to Moscow, and that as few as possible es- 
caped. The only ones who survived were those who were imprisoned in Po- 
land, such as Wladyslaw Gomulka. 

In February 1938 the official Comintern bulletin that came out twice a 
week, La correspondance Internationale, launched an attack, signed by 
J. Swiecicki, on the KPP During the purge that began in June 1937, when 
General Secretary Julian Lenski was called to Moscow and immediately disap- 
peared, twelve members of the Central Committee, many leaders slightly lower 
in the hierarchy, and several hundred militants, including Poles who had en- 
listed in the International Brigades, were liquidated. The political leaders of 
the Dombrowski Brigade, Kazimierz Cichowski and Gustav Reicher, were 
arrested upon their return to Moscow. Stalin did not permit a new Polish 
Communist Party to be formed until 1942, under the name Polish Workers' 
Party (PPR), so that a new government could be formed to rival the official 
government-in-exile that had been set up in London. 

The Yugoslav Communists also suffered badly under the Stalinist terror. After 
being banned in 1921, the Yugoslav Communist Party had been forced to 
regroup abroad, in Vienna from 1921 to 1936, and in Paris from 1936 to 1939; 
but after 1925 its main center was Moscow. A small core of Yugoslav emigres 
first formed among the students at the Communist University of Western 
National Minorities (KUMNZ), the Sverdlov Communist University, and the 
International Leninist School. This group was considerably strengthened by a 
second wave of emigres after King Alexander took power as dictator in 1929. 
In the 1930s the 200 to 300 Yugoslav Communists residing in the US.S.R. had 
a fairly high profile in the international organizations, particularly in the 
Comintern and the International Youth Organization. They were thus usually 
members of the CPSU 

They began to acquire a bad reputation because of the numerous factional 
struggles to take control of the YCP Intervention by the Comintern became 
more and more frequent and constraining. In mid- 1925 the first chistka (purge) 
took place at the KUMNZ, where the Yugoslav students were favoring the 
Opposition and opposing the rector, Maria J. Frukina. A few students were 
disgraced and expelled, and four of them (Ante Ciliga, V. Dedic, A. Dragic, 
and G. Eberling) were arrested and banished to Siberia. Another sixteen mili- 
tants were expelled in another purge in 1932. 

In the aftermath of the Kirov assassination, control over political emigres 
was reinforced, and in the autumn of 1936 all YCP militants were investigated 
before the terror began. Although little is known about the fate of the anony- 
mous workers, we do know that eight secretaries of the YCP's Central Com- 
mittee, fifteen other members of the Central Committee, and twenty-one 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

secretaries from regional or local bodies were arrested and disappeared. Sima 
Markevic, one of the secretaries, who had been forced to flee to the US.S.R. 
and had worked at the Academy of Sciences, was arrested in July 1939, sen- 
tenced to ten years of hard labor, and forbidden any contact with the outside 
world. He died in prison. Others were executed immediately, including the 
Vujovic brothers, Radomir (a member of the YCP Central Committee) and 
Gregor (a member of the Central Youth Committee). Another brother, Voja, 
who had been the head of the Communist Youth International and a Trotsky 
sympathizer, also disappeared. Milan Gorkic, a secretary of the Central Com- 
mittee of the Yugoslav Communist Party from 1932 to 1937, was accused of 
having established "an anti-Soviet organization within the International, and 
of having directed a terrorist group within the Comintern, which was led by 
Knorin and Pyatnitsky." 

In the mid-1960s the YCP rehabilitated about 100 victims of the repres- 
sion, but no systematic investigation was ever undertaken. Such an inquiry 
would of course also have raised the question of the number of victims of the 
repression of supporters of the US.S.R. in Yugoslavia after the 1948 schism. 
And it would have demonstrated quite convincingly that the ascension of Tito 
(Josip Broz) to the leadership of the Party in 1938 took place as a result of a 
particularly bloody purge. The fact that Tito rose up against Stalin in 1948 
takes nothing away from his responsibility for the purges of the 1930s. 

The Hunt for Trotskyites 

Having thinned the ranks of foreign Communists living in the US.S.R., Stalin 
turned his attention to dissidents living abroad. Thus the NKVD gained an 
opportunity to demonstrate its power worldwide. 

One of the most spectacular cases was that of Ignaz Reiss, whose real name 
was Nathan Poretsky. As a young Jewish revolutionary in Central Europe who 
had emerged from the Great War, Reiss was among many who were eagerly 
recruited by the Comintern. 44 A professional agitator, he worked in the inter- 
national underground network and carried out his work with such efficiency 
that he was decorated with the Order of the Red Flag in 1928. After 1935 he 
was ''retrieved" by the NKVD, which took control of all foreign networks and 
pur him in charge of espionage in Germany. The first of the great Moscow 
trials came as a terrible shock to Reiss, who then decided to break with Stalin. 
All too familiar with the house rules, he prepared his defection with extreme 
care. On 17 July 1937 he sent an open letter to the CPSU Central Committee 
in which he explained his position and attacked Stalin and Stalinism by name, 
calling it "that admixture of the worst types of opportunism, unprincipled, 
bloody, and deceptive, which is threatening to poison the whole world and to 

The Comintern in Action 


kill off what remains of the Workers' Movement. 1 ' Reiss also explained his 
move into the Trotskyite camp, and in doing so unknowingly signed his own 
death warrant. The NKVD immediately contacted its network in France and 
found Reiss in Switzerland, where an ambush was laid for him. In Lausanne 
on the night of 4 September he was riddled with bullets by two French 
Communists while a female NKVD agent attempted to kill his wife and child 
with a box of poisoned chocolates. Despite a long police search in both France 
and Switzerland, the killers and their accomplices were never found. Trotsky 
immediately suspected Jacques Duclos, one of the PCF secretaries, and he told 
his own secretary, Jan Van Heijenoort, to send the following telegram to the 
head of the French government: "Chautemps Head of Government France / 
regarding Ignaz Reiss assassination affair / my files stolen among other crimes 
/ suggest at least interrogating Jacques Duclos Vice President Chamber of 
Deputies ex-GPU agent." 45 

Duclos had been vice president of the Chamber of Deputies since 1936. 
Nothing was done to follow up on this telegram. 

The assassination of Reiss was quite spectacular, but it was part of a much 
wider movement to liquidate Trotskyites wherever possible. It is hardly sur- 
prising that Trotskyites were massacred in the US.S.R. along with all the others 
who died in the purges. What is more surprising is the lengths to which the 
secret services went to destroy their opponents abroad, as well as the different 
Trotskyite groups that had sprung up in so many countries. The main method 
used was the patient covert infiltration of all such groups. 

In July 1937 Rudolf Klement, the leader of the International Secretariat 
of the Trotskyite Opposition, disappeared. On 26 August a headless, legless 
body was fished our of the Seine and was soon identified as the body of 
Klement. Trotsky's own son, Lev Sedov, died in Paris shortly after a medical 
operation, but the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death led his 
family to believe it was an assassination organized by the Soviet secret services, 
although this is denied in the memoirs of Pavel Sudoplatov. 4 * But undoubtedly 
Lev Sedov was being closely watched by the NKVD. In fact one of his close 
friends, Mark Zborowski, was an agent who had infiltrated the Trotskyite 

Sudoplatov did admit, however, that in March 1939 he had been person- 
ally ordered by Beria and Stalin to assassinate Trotsky. Stalin told him: u We 
must do away with Trotsky this year, before the outbreak of the war that is 
inevitably coming." He added, "You will be answerable to no one but Beria for 
this, and you are to take full charge of the mission. ' M7 The manhunt was 
launched, and after Paris, Brussels, and the United States the leader of the 
Fourth International was found in Mexico. With the help of the Mexican 
Communist Party, Sudoplatov's men prepared a first attempt on Trotsky's life 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

on 24 May, which he miraculously escaped. The infiltration by Ramon Mer- 
cader under an assumed name finally provided Sudoplatov with the means to 
eliminate Trotsky. Mercader gained the confidence of one of the female mem- 
bers of Trotsky's group and managed to get into contact with him. Rather 
warily, Trotsky agreed to meet him to go over an article Mercader had suppos- 
edly written in Trotsky's defense. Mercader then stabbed Trotsky in the head 
with an ice pick. Mortally wounded, Trotsky cried out for help, and his wife 
and bodyguards threw themselves on Mercader. Trotsky died the next day. 

The connections among the various Communist parties, the Comintern sec- 
tions, and the NKVD had been denounced by Trotsky, who knew very well 
that the Comintern was dominated by the GPU and the NKVD. In a letter of 
27 May 1940 to the procurator general of Mexico, three days after the first 
attempt on his life, he wrote that u the traditions and methods of GPU organi- 
zation are by now well established outside the Soviet Union. The GPU needs a 
legal or semilegal cover for its activities, and an environment favorable for the 
recruiting of new agents, and it finds the necessary environment and condi- 
tions in the so-called Communist parties." 48 In his last text, regarding the 
assassination attempt of 24 May, he visited in detail the incident that had 
nearly taken his life. For him, the GPU (Trotsky always used that 1922 abbre- 
viation from the days when he had been associated with it) was "Stalin's main 
weapon for wielding power" and was "the instrument of totalitarianism in the 
US.S.R.," from which "a spirit of servitude and cynicism has spread through- 
out the Comintern and poisoned the workers' movement to the core." He 
described at some length how this had influenced matters: u As organizations, 
the GPU and the Comintern are not identical, but they are indissolubly linked. 
The one is subordinate to the other, and it is not the Comintern that gives 
orders to the GPU but quite the contrary: the GPU completely dominates the 
Comintern." 49 

This analysis, backed up a wealth of examples, was the result of Trotsky's 
twofold experience as one of the leaders of the nascent Soviet state, and also 
as a man on the run from the NKVD killers who trailed him around the world, 
and whose names today are in no doubt. They were the successive directors of 
the Special Tasks Department established in December 1936 by Nikolai Ezhov: 
Sergei Spiegelglass (who failed), Pavel Sudoplatov (who died in 1996), and 
Naum Eitingon (who died in 1981), who finally succeeded thanks to many 
accomplices. 50 

Most of the details about Trotsky's assassination in Mexico on 20 August 
1940 are known thanks to successive inquiries carried out on the spot and again 
later by Julian Gorkin. 51 In any case the man who ordered the killing was never 

The Comintern in Action 


in any doubt, and the people directly responsible were also known. All of this 
was later confirmed by Pavel Sudoplatov. Jaime Ramon Mercader del Rio was 
the son of Caridad Mercader, a Communist who had been working for the 
services for a long time and who became the mistress of Naum Eitingon. 
Mercader had approached Trotsky using the name Jacques Mornard, who did 
in fact exist, and who died in Belgium in 1967. Mornard had fought in Spain, 
and it was probably there that his passport was borrowed by the Soviet services. 
Mercader also used the name Jacson, with another false passport, which had 
belonged to a Canadian who had fought in the International Brigades and had 
died at the front. Ramon Mercader died in 1978 in Havana, where Fidel Castro 
had invited him to work as an adviser to the Ministry of the Interior. He had 
been decorated with the Order of Lenin for his crime, and he was buried quietly 
in Moscow. 

Although Stalin was now rid of his most important adversary, the hunt for 
Trotskyitcs continued. The French example is revealing of militant Commu- 
nists 1 reflexive response to small Trotskyite organizations. During the occupa- 
tion of France, some Trotskyitcs may well have been denounced by 
Communists to the French and German police. 

In the prisons and camps of Vichy, Trotskyites were systematically sepa- 
rated from the rest. In Nontron, in the Dordogne, Gerard Bloch was ostracized 
by the Communist collective led by Michel Bloch, the son of the writer Jean- 
Richard Bloch. Later incarcerated in the Elysee prison, Gerard Bloch was 
warned by a Catholic teacher that the Communist collective of the prison had 
decided to execute him by strangling him in the night. 52 

In this context of blind hatred, the disappearance of four Trotskyites, 
including Pietro Tresso, the founder of the Italian Communist party, from the 
FTP (Francs-Tircurs et Partisans) u Wodli" maquis in Haute-Loire is of greater 
significance. The FTP was a Stalinist organization through which the Com- 
munist-dominated National Front operated. Having escaped from the prison 
in Puy-en-Velay with their Communist colleagues on 1 October 1943, five 
Trotskyite militants were "captured" by the Communist maquis. One of them, 
Albert Demazicre, somehow managed to break away from his companions, and 
he was the only one to survive: Tresso, Pierre Salini, Jean Reboul, and Abraham 
Sadek were executed at the end of October, after a farcical trial. 3j Witnesses 
and the people involved (who are still alive) reported that the militants had been 
plotting to poison the water supply in the camp, an almost atavistic explanation 
that smacks of antisemitism against Trotsky (similar accusations were made 
against his own son Sergei in the US.S.R.) and against at least one of the 
prisoners, Abraham Sadek. The Communist movement showed that it, too, was 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

capable of the crudest antisemitism. Before the four Trotskyites were killed, 
they were photographed, probably so that they could be identified back at PCF 
headquarters, and forced to write a summary of their lives. 

Even inside the concentration camps, the Communists attempted to an- 
nihilate their closest rivals by taking advantage of the hierarchies that existed 
there. Marcel Beaufrere, leader of the Breton regional section of the Interna- 
tionalist Workers 1 Party, was arrested in October 1943 and deported to Buchen- 
wald in January 1944. The interblock chief (who was himself a Communist) 
suspected him of being a Trotskyite. Ten days after Beaufrere's arrival, a friend 
informed him that the Communist cell in Block 39 — his block — had con- 
demned him to death and was sending him as a guinea pig to be injected with 
typhus. Beaufrere was saved at the last minute through the intervention of 
German militants.' 4 The Communists often used the concentration-camp sys- 
tem to get rid of their political enemies, deliberately sending them to the 
hardest sections, even though they themselves were victims of the same Ge- 
stapo officers and the same SS divisions. Marcel Hie and Roland Filiatre, who 
were deported to Buchenwald, were sent to the terrible camp Dora "with the 
assent of KPD cadres who had high administrative functions in the camp," 
according to Rodolphe Prager. 55 Hie died there; Filiatre survived another at- 
tempt on his life in 1948. 

Other liquidations of militant Trotskyites took place during the liberation. 
Mathieu Buchholz, a young Paris worker from the "Class War 11 group, disap- 
peared on 11 September 1944. In May 1947 his group claimed that this had 
been the work of Stalinists. 

The Trotskyite movement had a sizable impact in Greece. A secretary from the 
Greek Communist party (the KKE), Pandelis Poliopolos, who was shot by the 
Italians, had joined the movement before the war. During the war the Trotsky- 
ites rallied to the cause of the National Liberation Front (EAM), founded in 
June 1941 by the Communists. Ares Velouchiotes, the leader of the People's 
Army for National Liberation (ELAS), ordered some twenty Trotskyite lead- 
ers to be killed. After the liberation the persecution of Trotskyites continued, 
and many were tortured to reveal the names of their colleagues. In 1946, in a 
report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Vasilis Bartziotas 
noted that 600 Trotskyites had been executed by OPLA (Organization for the 
Protection of the Popular Struggle), a figure that probably also includes anar- 
chists and other dissident socialists. 5fi The Archeo-Marxists, militants who had 
broken with the KKE in 1924, were also persecuted and assassinated. 57 

It was no different for Albanian Communists. After unification in 1941, 
differences emerged among the left-wing groups that rallied around Anastaste 

The Comintern in Action 


Lula, primarily between the Trotskyites and leaders of the orthodox parties 
(Enver Hoxha, Mehmet Shehu) who were being advised by the Yugoslavs. Lula 
was summarily executed in 1943. After several attempts on his life, Sadik 
Premtaj, another popular Trotskyite leader, managed to reach France, but in 
May 1951 he fell victim to another assassination attempt by Djemal Chami, a 
former member of the International Brigades and an Albanian agent in Paris. 
In China an embryonic movement had taken shape in 1928 under the 
leadership of Chen Duxiu, one of the founders and earliest leaders of the 
Chinese Communist Party. In 1935 it still had only a few hundred members. 
In the war against Japan some of them managed to infiltrate the Eighth Army 
of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the armed force of the Communist 
Party. Mao Zedong had them executed and liquidated their battalions. At the 
end of the civil war they were systematically hunted down and killed. The fate 
of many of them is still unknown. 

For a while the situation in Indochina was quite different. Trotskyites 
from the Tranh Dau (The Struggle) and Communists put up a common front 
from 1933 onward. The influence of Trotskyites was strongest in the south of 
the peninsula. In 1937 a directive from Jacques Duclos forbade the Indochinese 
Communist Party to cooperate with the Tranh Dau militants. In the months 
following the conflict with the Japanese, another Trotskyite branch — the Inter- 
national Communist League gained an ascendancy that troubled the Com- 
munist leaders. In September 1945, when the British troops arrived, the 
International Communist League shattered the peaceful welcome that the Viet 
Minh (the Democratic Fronr for Independence) had reserved for them. On 14 
September the Viet Minh launched a huge operation against the Trotskyite 
cadres. Most of them were executed shortly after their capture. Having fought 
against the Anglo-French troops in the paddy fields, they were crushed by the 
Viet Minh troops. In the second part of the operation the Viet Minh turned 
against the Tranh Dau. Imprisoned in Ben Sue, they too were executed as the 
French troops approached. Ta Tu Thau, the leader of the movement, was 
executed in February 1946. Ho Chi Minh himself wrote that all Trotskyites 
were "traitors and spies of the lowest sort."'* 

In Czechoslovakia, the fate of Zavis Kalandra is typical of the fate of all 
his companions. In 1936 Kalandra had been thrown out of the Czechoslovak 
Communist Party for writing a leaflet denouncing the Moscow trials. He later 
fought in the resistance, and was deported by the Germans to Oranienburg. 
Arrested in November 1949, he was accused of plotting against the republic 
and tortured. His trial began in June 1950; he made a "full confession" and was 
sentenced to death on 8 June. In Combat on 14 June, Andre Breton asked Paul 
Eluard to intervene in his favor; both had known him since before the war. 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Eluard replied: "I am too busy worrying about innocent people who are pro- 
testing their innocence to worry about guilty people who have admitted their 
guilt." 59 Kalandra was executed on 27 June with three of his companions. 

Foreign Antifascist and Revolutionary Victims of the Terror in the U.S.S.R. 

The Communist terror targeted more than the Comintern, Trotskyites, and 
other dissidents. In the 1930s there were still many foreigners living in the 
U.S.S.R. who were not Communists but who had been attracted by the Soviet 
dream. Many of them paid the highest price for the passion they had felt for 
Soviet Russia. 

In the early 1930s the Soviet Union launched a propaganda campaign in 
the Karelia region, making much of the possibilities offered by the frontier 
regions between Russia and Finland and of the golden opportunity presented 
there to "build socialism." Some 12,000 people left Finland to live in Karelia 
and were joined there by another 5,000 Finns from the United States. Most of 
the latter were members of the American Association of Finnish Workers and 
were experiencing tremendous hardship because of the stock-market crash of 
1929. Amtorg agents (Amtorg was the Soviet advertising agency) promised 
them work, good salaries, housing, and a free trip from New York to Leningrad. 
They were told to bring all their possessions with them. 

What Aino Kuusinen termed "the rush for Utopia" soon turned into a 
nightmare. As soon as the Finns arrived, their machinery, tools, and savings 
were confiscated. They were forced to hand over their passports and effective! v 
found themselves prisoners in an underdeveloped region where there was 
nothing but forest and conditions were extremely harsh. M> According to Arvo 
Tuominen, who led the Finnish Communist Party and held a key position in 
the Presidium of the Comintern Executive Committee until 1939 before being 
condemned to death and then having his sentence commuted to ten years* 
imprisonment, at least 20,000 Finns were detained in concentration camps. 61 

Forced to live in Kirovakan after World War II, Aino Kuusinen also 
witnessed the arrival of the Armenians, another set of victims of clever propa- 
ganda who came to live in the Soviet Republic of Armenia. In response to 
Stalin's appeal to all Russians living abroad to return home to rebuild the 
country, many Armenians, most of whom had been living in exile in Turkey, 
mobilized to promote the Armenian Republic, which they envisaged as the land 
of their forefathers. In September 1947 several thousand of them gathered in 
Marseille, and 3,500 boarded the ship Rossiya, which carried them to the 
U.S.S.R. As soon as the ship had entered Soviet territorial waters in the Black 
Sea, the attitude of the authorities changed markedly. Many understood im- 
mediately that they had walked into a terrible trap. In 1948 another 200 Arme- 

The Comintern in Action 


nians arrived from the United States. Deceived by the festivities, they met the 
same fate: their passports were confiscated as soon as they arrived. In May 1956 
several hundred Armenians in France demonstrated when Christian Pineau, 
the minister of foreign affairs, was to visit Erevan. Only 60 families managed 
to leave the U.S.S.R. during these repressions. (a Almost all left as soon as they 

The terror affected not only those who had returned to the U.S.S.R. by 
choice, but also those who had already suffered under other dictatorial regimes. 
According to Article 29 of the 1936 Soviet constitution, "The U.S.S.R. grants 
asylum to all foreign citizens persecuted for defending the interests or rights 
of workers, for their scholarly work, or for their struggle to achieve national 
liberation." In his novel Life and Fate, Vastly Grossman describes a confronta- 
tion between an SS soldier and an ex-militant Bolshevik. In a Jong monologue 
the SS soldier sums up the fate of thousands of men, women, and children 
who came to seek refuge in the U.S.S.R.: "Who is in the camps in peacetime, 
when there are no more prisoners of war? The enemies of the party, and the 
enemies of the people. They are people whom you know very well, because 
they're in your camps too. And if your prisoners came into our SS camps in 
peacetime, we wouldn't let them out again because your prisoners are our 
prisoners too."' 1,1 

Whether they came from abroad solely because of Soviet propaganda, 
because they sought refuge or security that they could not expect in their 
countries of origin, or because of their political beliefs, all immigrants were 
treated as potential spies. At least such was the excuse for condemning the 
majority of them. 

One of the first waves of immigration was that of Italian anti-Fascists in the 
mid-1 920s. A number of them, believing that they had at last found the true 
home of socialism and the country of their dreams, were cruelly deceived and 
suffered egregiously under the terror. Italian Communists and sympathizers 
numbered around 600 in the U.S.S.R. in the mid- 1930s— -about 250 emigre 
political cadres and another 350 undergoing training in the political schools. 
Because many of the students left the U.S.S.R. after their schooling, and 
another 100 activists left to fight in Spain in 1936-37, the Great Terror affected 
only those who remained. Around 200 Italians were arrested, mostly for espio- 
nage, and about 40 were shot, 25 of whom have been identified. The remainder 
were sent to the gulags, to the Kolyma gold mines or to Kazakhstan. Romolo 
Caccavale has published a moving study tracing the movements and tragic 
destiny of several dozen of these activists. w 

A typical case is that of Nazareno Scarioli, an anti-Fascist who had fled 
Italy in 1925. From there he reached Berlin and finally Moscow. Welcomed by 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

the Italian section of the Red Cross, he worked in an agricultural colony near 
Moscow for one year before being transferred to a second colony in Yalta, where 
some twenty other Italian anarchists were working under the direction of Tito 
Scarselli. In 1933 the colony was dissolved, and Scarioli returned to Moscow, 
where he found a job in a biscuit factory. He played an active role in the Italian 
community there. 

Then came the years of the Great Purge. Fear and terror divided the 
Italian community, and everyone began to suspect his own comrades. The 
Italian Communist leader Paolo Robotti announced to the Italian club the arrest 
of thirty-six "enemies of the people 11 who worked in a ball-bearing factory. 
Robotti forced each person present to approve the arrest of the workers whom 
he knew personally. When the time came to vote, Scarioli refused to raise his 
hand, and he was arrested the following night. After being tortured at the 
Lubyanka building, he signed a confession. He was then deported to the 
Kolyma region and forced to work in a gold mine. Many other Italians shared 
the same fate, and many died, including the sculptor Arnaldo Silva; an engineer 
called L. Cerquetti; the Communist leader Aldo Gorelli, whose sister had 
married Egidio Sulotto, the future Communist politician; Vicenzo Baccala, the 
former secretary of the Rome committee of the Italian Communist Party; a 
Tuscan, Otello Gaggi, who worked as a porter in Moscow; Luigi Calligaris, a 
laborer in Moscow; Carlo Costa, a Venetian unionist working in Odessa; and 
Edmundo Peluso, who had been a friend of Lenin's in Zurich. In 1950 Scarioli, 
who then weighed 36 kilos, left Kolyma but was forced to continue working in 
Siberia. In 1954 he was granted amnesty and subsequently received a full 
pardon. He then waited another six years for a visa to return to Italy. 

The refugees were not limited to members of the Italian Communist Party 
or to Communist sympathizers. Some were anarchists who had been persecuted 
at home and decided to move to the Soviet Union. The most famous of such 
cases is that of Francesco Ghezzi, a militant unionist and freedom fighter, who 
arrived in Russia in June 1921 to represent the Italian Trade Union at the Red 
Trade Union International. In 1922 he traveled to Germany, where he was 
arrested; the Italian government had charged him with terrorism and de- 
manded his extradition. A vigorous campaign by his supporters in Italy saved 
him from the Italian prisons, but he was forced to return to the U.S.S.R, In the 
autumn of 1924 Ghezzi, who was linked closely to Pierre Pascal and Nikolai 
Lazarevich, had his first run-in with the GPU. In 1929 he was arrested again, 
sentenced to three years in prison, and interned in Suzdal under what were 
criminal conditions, considering that he was suffering from tuberculosis. His 
friends organized a support campaign in France and Switzerland, and Romain 
Rolland, among others, signed a petition in his favor. The Soviet authorities 
then spread the rumor that Ghezzi was a secret Fascist agent. When he was 
freed in 1931 he returned to work in a factory. He was arrested again in 1937, 

The Comintern in Action 


but this time his friends abroad could find out nothing about his whereabouts. 
He was reported dead in Vorkuta in late August 1941. 65 

In Linz on 1 1 February 1934, when the leaders of the Austrian Schutzbund 
decided to resist all attacks from the Heimwehren (the Patriotic Guard), who 
were trying to ban the Socialist Party, they could hardly have imagined the fate 
that awaited them. 

The Heimwehren attack in Linz forced the Social Democrats to begin a 
genera] strike in Vienna, which was followed by an uprising. But Engelbert 
Dollfuss was victorious after four days of hard fighting, and the militant social- 
ists who escaped prison sentences or internment either went into hiding or fled 
to Czechoslovakia, while others went on to fight later in Spain. Some of them, 
attracted by intensive propaganda against the Social Democratic leadership, 
fled to the Soviet Union. On 23 April 1934, 300 people arrived in Moscow, and 
smaller convoys continued arriving right up until December. The German 
embassy calculated that there were 807 Schutzbund immigrants in the 
U.S.S.R/' 6 If one includes their families, about 1,400 people had sought refuge 
in the U.S.S.R. 

The first convoy to arrive in Moscow was greeted by the leaders of the 
Austrian Communist Party (KPO), and the combatants paraded through the 
streets. They were taken in hand by the Central Council of Trade Unions. One 
hundred twenty children whose fathers had fallen on the barricades or been 
condemned to death were gathered together and sent off to the Crimea for a 
while, before all being housed in Children's Home No. 6 in Moscow, which was 
specially built for them.'' 7 

After a few weeks 1 rest, the Austrian workers were sent out to factories in 
Moscow, Kharkiv, Leningrad, Gorky, and Rostov. They quickly became disen- 
chanted by the terrible working conditions. Austrian Communist leaders were 
forced to intervene. The Soviet authorities tried to pressure them into taking 
Soviet citizenship, and by 1938, 300 of them had done so. But significant 
numbers also contacted the Austrian embassy in the hope of being repatriated. 
Seventy-three succeeded in returning to Austria in 1936. According to the 
Austrian embassy, 400 had made the return journey before the spring of 1938 
(after the Anschluss of March 1938, all Austrians became German subjects). 
Another 160 traveled to Spain to fight in the war there. 

But many did not have a chance to leave the U.S.S.R.; 278 Austrians were 
arrested between late 1934 and 1938.^ In 1939 Karlo Stajner met a Viennese 
named Fritz Koppensteiner in Norilsk but lost touch with him. w Some were 
executed, notably Gustl Deutch, a former leader from the Floridsdorf quarter 
and a former commander of the "Karl Marx 11 Regiment, whose brochure, 
February Combat in Floridsdorf, the Soviet Union had published in 1934. 

Even Children's Home No. 6 was not spared. In the autumn of 1936 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

arrests began among the parents of those housed there, and the children were 
then taken into NKVD custody and sent away to orphanages. The mother of 
Wolfgang Leonhard disappeared after her arrest in October 1936. In the sum- 
mer of 1937 he received a postcard from the Komi republic, informing him 
that she had been sentenced to five years in a forced-labor camp for "Trotskyite 
counterrevolutionary activities." 70 

On 10 February 1963 the socialist journal Arbeitcr Zeitung told the story 
of the Sladek family. In mid-September 1934 Frau Sladek and her two sons 
went to Kharkiv to join her husband, Josef Sladek, a Schutzbunder who had 
worked on the railways in Semmering and then fled to the U.S.S.R. In 1937 
the NKVD began its arrests among the Austrian community in Kharkiv, later 
than it had in Moscow and Leningrad. Josef Sladek's turn came on 1 5 February 
1938. In 1941, before the German attack, Frau Sladek asked permission to leave 
the country and went to the German embassy. On 26 July the NKVD also 
arrested her son Alfred, age sixteen, and Victor, age eight, who was sent to an 
NKVD orphanage. NKVD functionaries, seeking to extract a confession from 
Alfred at all costs, beat him and told his mother that he had been shot. Evacu- 
ated because of the German advance, the mother and son then met by chance 
in the Ivdel camp, in the Urals. Frau Sladek had been sentenced to five years 
for espionage; Alfred had been sentenced to ten years for espionage and anti- 
Soviet agitation. Transferred to the Sarma camp, they found Josef Sladek, who 
had been sentenced in Kharkiv to five years of prison. They were then sepa- 
rated again. Set free in 1946, Frau Sladek was assigned residency in Solikamsk, 
in the Urals, where she was joined by her husband one year later. By now Josef 
was suffering from tuberculosis and a weak heart and was unable to work. He 
died a beggar on 31 May 1948. In 1951 Alfred was freed and rejoined his 
mother. In 1954, after many more hardships, they managed to reach Austria 
and returned to Semmering. The last time they had seen Victor was seven years 
earlier. They never heard from him again. 

In 1917 there were 2,600 Yugoslavs living in Russia, and by 1924 the number 
had risen to 3,750. Their numbers were swelled by industrial workers and 
specialists from America and Canada who had come with all their belongings to 
try to "build socialism." They lived in colonies all over the country, from 
Leninsk to Magnitogorsk and Saratov. Between 50 and 100 of them helped 
build the Moscow subway. As with the other nationalities, Yugoslav emigration 
was limited. Bozidar Maslaric claimed in 1952 that their fate was one of the 
worst, adding that "the vast majority were arrested in 1937 and 1938, and 
their fate remains unknown." 71 Mis view is supported by the fact that several 
hundred emigres disappeared without a trace. Even now no definite informa- 
tion is available about the fate of the Yugoslavs who worked in the U.S.S.R., in 

The Comintern in Action 


particular concerning those who worked on the subway, protested against 
their working conditions, and were subsequently taken away, never to be seen 

In mid-September 1939 the division of Poland between Nazi Germany and the 
Soviet Union, which had been secretly decided on 23 August 1939, came into 
force. The two invaders coordinated their action to control the population, and 
the Gestapo and the NKVD worked together. Out of a Jewish community of 
3.3 million, 2 million fell into the German zone of occupation. After the 
persecutions, massacres, and burning of synagogues came the establishment of 
the ghettoes, first in Lodz on 30 April 1940, and then in Warsaw in October, 
before it was closed on 15 November. 

Many Polish Jews had fled east before the advancing German army. In the 
winter of 1939-40 the Germans were not overly worried about people fleeing 
over the border, but many of those who did try their luck met an unexpected 
obstacle: "The Soviet Guards in the 'classless society' in their long fur coats, 
with their bayonets at the ready, often greeted with police dogs and bursts of 
automatic gunfire the nomads who had set out for the promised land." 72 From 
December 1939 to March 1940 the Jews found themselves trapped in a no- 
man's-land about a mile wide, on the west bank of the Bug, and were forced to 
camp out under the stars. Most of them then turned around and returned to 
the German zone. 

L. C., "I.D. no. 15015," a former soldier in the Polish army of General 
Ladislav Anders, later summed up the situation as follows: 

The territory was a sector of about 600-700 meters, where about 800 
people had been stranded for several weeks. Ninety percent of them 
were Jews who had escaped from the Germans. We were ill and con- 
stantly damp from the incessant autumn rain, and we huddled together 
for warmth. The ''humanitarian" Soviet border guards wouldn't give us 
even a mouthful of bread or hot water. They didn't even let through the 
peasants from the surrounding countryside, who were willing to help us 
stay alive. Many of us died there as a result ... I can confirm that the 
people who went back home to the German side were right to do so, 
because the NKVD was no better than the Gestapo from any point of 
view. The only difference was that the Gestapo killed you more quickly, 
while the NKVD killed and tortured in a horribly long and slow way, so 
that anyone who survived all of this came out a broken man and was an 
invalid for the rest of his life. 71 

Symbolically, Israel Joshua Singer had his hero die in this no-man's-land, after 
he had become an "enemy of the people" and had been forced to flee from the 
U.S.S.R. 74 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

In March 1940 several hundred thousand refugees — some historians put 
the figure at around 600,000 — were forcibly given Soviet passports. The So- 
viet-German pact included the exchange of refugees. With their families bro- 
ken apart and with poverty and NKVD oppression becoming ever more 
unbearable, some decided to try to return to the German part of prewar Poland. 
Jules Margoline, who had wound up in Uviv, in western Ukraine, reported that 
in the spring of 1940 "the Jews preferred the German ghetto to Soviet equal- 
ity.'' 75 It seemed to them a much better idea to try to flee the /one of occupation 
to reach a neutral country than to attempt flight through the Soviet Union itself. 

Early in 1940 deportations affecting Polish citizens began (see Chapter 19 
for details), continuing into June. Poles of all denominations were taken by train 
to the far north and to Kazakhstan. Margoline's own convoy took ten days to 
reach Murmansk. One of the great observers of life in the concentration camps, 
he wrote: 

The main difference between the Soviet camps and detention camps in 
the rest of the world is not their huge, unimaginable size or the murder- 
ous conditions found there, but something else altogether. It's the need 
to tell an endless series of lies to save your own life, to lie every day, to 
wear a mask for years and never say what you really think. In Soviet 
Russia, free citizens have to do the same thing. Dissembling and lies 
become the only means of defense. Public meetings, business meetings, 
encounters on the street, conversations, even posters on the wall all get 
wrapped up in an official language that doesn't contain a single word of 
truth. People in the West can't possibly understand what it is really like 
to lose the right to say what you think for years on end, and the way you 
have to repress the tiniest "illegal" thought you might have and stay 
silent as the tomb. That sort of pressure breaks something inside peo- 
ple. 76 

A 1992 article revealed the fate of two Polish socialists. 77 Viktor Alter (born in 
1890), a municipal magistrate in Warsaw, was a member of the Socialist Work- 
ers 1 International and had also been the president of the Federation of Jewish 
Unions. Henryk Erlich was a member of the Communal Council of Warsaw 
and the editor of a Jewish daily called Folkstaytung. Both were also members of 
the Bund, the Jewish Socialist Workers' Party. In 1939 they took refuge in the 
Soviet zone. Alter was arrested on 26 September in Kow el, Erlich on 4 October 
in Brest Litovsk. Transferred to Lubyanka, Alter was sentenced to death on 20 
July 1940 for anti-Soviet activities (it was claimed that he had been in league 
with the Polish police and been in charge of illegal Bund action). The sentence 
imposed by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R. was 
commuted to ten years in camp. On 2 August 1940 Erlich was sentenced to 
death bv a court-martial of the NKVD forces in Saratov, but his sentence, too. 

The Comintern in Action 


was reduced to ten years in camp. Freed in September 1941 after the Sikorsky- 
Maisky agreement, Alter and Erlich were summoned to meet Beria, who pro- 
posed that they establish a Jewish anti-Nazi committee, which they agreed to 
do. They were sent to Kuibyshev and were arrested again on 4 December, 
accused of having collaborated with the Nazis. Beria ordered that they be given 
solitary confinement, and thereafter they were known as prisoners 41 (Alter) 
and 42 (Erlich), their identity not to be revealed to anyone. On 23 December 
1941, now considered to be Soviet citizens, they were again condemned to 
death under section 1 of Article 58, which punished treason. Over the follow- 
ing weeks they sent a series of requests to the authorities, probably unaware 
that they had again been sentenced to death. Henryk Erlich hanged himself 
from the bars of his cell on 15 May 1942. Until the archives were opened, it 
was believed that he had been executed. 

Viktor Alter had also threatened to commit suicide. Beria ordered a closer 
watch to be kept on him, and he was executed on 17 February 1943. The 
sentence, passed on 23 December 1941, had been personally approved by 
Stalin. Significantly, the execution took place shortly after the victory in Stal- 
ingrad. The Soviet authorities added a further calumny to the execution, 
claiming that Alter and Erlich had been spreading propaganda in favor of the 
signing of a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. 

In the winter of 1 945-46 the physician Jacques Pat, secretary of the Jewish 
Workers' Committee of the United States, went to Poland to begin an inquiry 
into Nazi crimes. On his return he published two articles in the Jewish Daily 
Forward on the fate of Jews who had fled to the U.S.S.R. By his calculations, 
and on the basis of hundreds of interviews, 400,000 Polish Jews had died in 
deportation, in the camps, and in forced-labor colonies. At the end of the war 
150,000 chose to take back Polish citizenship so that they could leave the 
U.S.S.R. a The 150,000 Jews who are today crossing the Soviet-Polish border 
are no longer interested in talking about the Soviet Union, the Socialist father- 
land, dictatorship, or democracy. For them such discussions are over, and their 
last word is this gesture of flight." 78 

The Forced Return of Soviet Prisoners 

If having any contact with people from abroad, or simply being a foreigner, 
made one suspect in the eyes of the regime, then having been kept prisoner for 
four years during the war outside one's national territory was also enough to 
make a Russian soldier a traitor as far as the Soviet authorities were concerned. 
Under Decree No. 270 in 1942, which modified Article 193 of the penal code, 
any soldier captured by the enemy ipso facto became a traitor. The circum- 
stances under which the capture had taken place and the subsequent conditions 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

of captivity were of little importance. In the case of the Russians, the condi- 
tions had often been atrocious, as Hitler considered that all Slavs were subhu- 
man and hence were to be disposed of en masse. Of the 5.7 million Russian 
prisoners of war, 3.3 million died of hunger and the poor conditions. 

It was thus very early on that Stalin, in response to the Allies' preoccupa- 
tion with the idea that there were Russian soldiers in the Wehrmacht, decided 
to obtain permission to repatriate all Russians who found themselves in the 
Western zone. This permission was quickly granted. From the end of 1944 to 
January 1945 more than 332,000 Russian prisoners (including 1,179 from San 
Francisco) were transferred the Soviet Union, often against their will. This 
transaction seemed to pose no crisis of conscience among British and American 
diplomats, who were fairly cynical about the whole affair, since, like Anthony 
Eden, they were aware that this was a question that had to be settled by the use 
of force. 

At the Yalta conference (5-12 February 1945) the three Allied powers — 
Soviet, British, and American — drew up secret agreements that covered sol- 
diers as well as displaced civilians. Churchill and Eden accepted the idea that 
it was up to Stalin to decide the fate of prisoners who had fought in the Russian 
Liberation Army commanded by General Andrei Vlasov, as though he had 
offered some sort of guarantee that they would be well treated. 

Stalin knew very well that some of the Soviet soldiers had been taken 
prisoner principally because of the disorganization of the Red Army, for which 
he had been mainly to blame, and thanks to the widespread military incompe- 
tence of the generals, of which he himself was one. We can also be sure that 
many of the soldiers simply had no desire to fight for a regime that they hated, 
and, in Lenin's expression, they had probably "voted with their feet." 

Once the Yalta accords had been signed, convoys left Britain weekly for 
the US.S.R. From May to July 1945 more than 1.3 million people who had 
been living in the Western occupied zones, and who were considered Russian 
by the British, including people from the Baltics, which had been annexed in 
1940, and Ukrainians, were repatriated. By the end of August more than 2 
million of these "Russians" had been handed over. Sometimes they were kept 
in terrible conditions. Individual and collective suicides involving whole fami- 
lies were frequent, as was mutilation. Often, when the prisoners were handed 
over to the Soviet authorities, they tried to put up passive resistance, but the 
Anglo-Americans did not hesitate to use force to satisfy Moscow's require- 
ments. When the prisoners arrived in the US.S.R. , they were placed under 
police control. The day the ship Almanzora arrived in Odessa, on 18 April, 
summary executions took place. This was also the case when the Empire Pride 
arrived in port in the Black Sea. 

The West feared that the Soviet Union might hold French, British, or 

The Comintern in Action 


American prisoners as hostages and use them as a sort of currency in ex- 
change — an attitude very indicative of their view of the Soviet diktats demand- 
ing the repatriation of all Russians, even those who had fled the revolution after 
1917. This conscious policy of the Western allies did not in fact facilitate the 
return of their own citizens, but it did allow the Soviet Union to send out a 
veritable army of officials to hunt down people attempting to resist these laws. 
The officials themselves often acted with supreme disregard for local laws. 

In the French zone of occupation, the Bulletin of the military administra- 
tion in Germany affirmed that on 1 October 1945, 101,000 "displaced persons" 
had been sent back to the Soviet Union, Even in France itself, the authorities 
accepted the creation of seventy transit camps that were somehow exempt from 
French law. One of these, Beauregard, was in the Paris suburbs. France had no 
control over what happened in such camps, which were operated by the NKVD 
with impunity on French soil. These operations, which started as early as 
September 1944 with the help of Communist propaganda, had been carefully 
planned by the Soviet Union. The Beauregard camp was not closed until 
November 1947 by the French security forces, after a scandal concerning the 
abduction of children of divorced parents who were feuding. The closure came 
at the behest of Roger Wybot, who noted that "this camp, according to the 
information I have in my possession, was less a transit camp than a sort of 
sequestration center."™ Protests against such policies were few, and took place 
too late to be of any use. One did appear in the summer of 1947, in the Socialist 
review Masses: 

One can easily imagine Genghis Khan, at the height of his powers, 
closing his frontiers to prevent his slaves from running away. But it is 
hard to imagine that he would be granted the right to extradite them 
from abroad . . . This is a true sign of our postwar moral decay . . . What 
moral or political code can possibly be used to oblige people to go and 
live in a country where they will live and work as slaves? What gratitude 
does the world expect from Stalin for turning a deaf ear to the cries of 
all the Russian citizens who have taken their own lives rather than return 

The editors of Masses went on to denounce the recent expulsions: 

Spurred on by the criminal indifference of the masses regarding viola- 
tions of the right to asylum, the British military authorities in Italy have 
just been accessories to a heinous crime: on 8 May, 175 Russians were 
taken from Camp 7 in Ruccione, and another 10 people from Camp 6 
(where whole families are being kept), allegedly to be sent to Scotland. 
When these 185 people were somewhat distant from the camp, all ob- 
jects that could possibly have been of assistance to them, had they 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

wanted to take their own lives, were removed from their possession, and 
they were informed that their real destination was not in fact Scotland, 
but Russia. Despite the precautions, some of them still managed to kill 
themselves. That same day another 80 people, all of Caucasian origin, 
were taken from the camp in Pisa. All were taken to the Russian zone in 
Austria, in railway carriages guarded by British troops. Some of them 
tried to escape and were shot by the guards/ 

The repatriated prisoners were interned in special camps called ''filtration 
and control camps" (established in late 1941), which were scarcely different 
from the forced-labor camps, and which became officially a part of the Gulag 
Administration in January 1946. In 1945, 214,000 prisoners passed through 
them. 81 These prisoners, sent into the Gulag at its height, generally received 
six-year sentences, in accordance with section 1(b) of Article 58. Among them 
were the former members of the Russian Liberation Armv; who had partici- 
pated in the liberation of Prague, where they had fought against the SS. 

Enemy Prisoners 

The Soviet Union had not ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention on prisoners 
of war. Theoretically, all prisoners were protected by the convention even if 
their country was not a signatory, but the Soviet government took little account 
of this. In victory, it still kept between 3 million and 4 million German prison- 
ers. Among them were soldiers freed by the Western forces who had come back 
to the Soviet zone and been deported farther east to the US.S.R. 

In March 1947 Vyacheslav Molotov declared that a million Germans had 
been repatriated (1,003,974 was the exact number) and that there were still 
890,532 interned in various camps. The figures provoked some controversy. In 
March 1950 the Soviet Union declared that the repatriation process was com- 
plete, but humanitarian organizations claimed that at least 300,000 prisoners 
of war and 100,000 expatriate civilians remained in the U.S.S.R. On 8 May 
1950 Luxembourg protested the ending of repatriation operations, in part 
because at least 2,000 Luxembourg nationals were still trapped in the Soviet 
Union. Was the holding back of information the cover for a more sinister fate? 
This seems quite likely, given the atrocious conditions in the camps. 

One estimate made by a special commission (the Maschke commission) 
claimed that nearly 1 million German prisoners of war died in Soviet camps. 
A typical case involved the 100,000 German prisoners taken by the Red Army 
at Stalingrad, of whom only 6,000 survived. In addition to the Germans, there 
were still around 60,000 Italian survivors in February 1947 (the figure of 80,000 
has also often been put forward in this context). The Italian government 
claimed that only 12,513 of those soldiers had returned to Italy at that date. 
Romanian and Hungarian soldiers found themselves in the same position after 

The Comintern in Action 


the war. In March 1954, 100 volunteers from the Spanish "Azul" division were 
finally liberated. This survey would not be complete without mention of the 
900,000 Japanese soldiers taken prisoner in Manchuria. 

The Unwilling 

There was a saying in the camps that summed up the diverse national origins 
of their inhabitants: "If a country isn't represented in the gulags, it doesn't 
really exist." France also had prisoners in the gulags, and French diplomacy 
was remarkably slow in coming to their aid. 

The French departments of Moselle, Bas-Rhin, and Haut-Rhin were 
treated in a special way when they came under Nazi occupation: Alsace-Lor- 
raine was annexed, Germanized, and even Nazified. In 1942 the Germans 
decided forcibly to conscript those born in 1920-1924. Many young people 
from Alsace and Moselle did their utmost to avoid service. By the end of the 
war, twenty-one age groups had been mobilized in Alsace, and another fourteen 
in Moselle, or 130,000 people in all. Many of these soldiers, who were known 
in France as the Malgre-nous, or "In Spite of Ourselves," were sent to the 
eastern front, where 22,000 of them died. When the Soviet authorities found 
out about this unusual situation from the Free French, they began to appeal to 
French soldiers to desert, promising them that they would be reenlisted in a 
regular French army. Whatever the circumstances were, 23,000 people from 
Alsace-Lorraine were taken prisoner; at least this was the number of files 
handed over to the French government in 1995. Many of these were kept in 
Camp 188, in Tambov, guarded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Minister- 
stvo vnutrennikh del, or MVD — formerly the NKVD) in terrible conditions: 
they were undernourished (receiving only 600 grams of black bread a day), 
forced to work in the forests, and lived in primitive, half-buried huts, with no 
medical care. People who escaped from this death camp estimated that at least 
10,000 of their companions died there in 1944 and 1945. Pierre Rigoulot gives 
the figure of 10,000 deaths in different camps, including those who died in 
transit. 82 After lengthy negotiations, 1,500 prisoners were freed in the summer 
of 1944 and were repatriated to Algiers. Although Tambov was the camp where 
the greatest number of people from Alsace-Lorraine were interned, there were 
certainly others that housed French prisoners, a sort of specialized subar- 

Civil War and War of National Liberation 

Although the signing of the German-Soviet pact in September 1939 had 
brought about the collapse of a considerable number of Communist parties, 
whose members were unable to accept Stalin's abandonment of an antifascist 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

policy, the German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 immediately 
reactivated the antifascist response. The very next day the Comintern sent out 
a message by radio and telegram that the time had come for a temporary halt to 
the socialist revolution, and that all energy should be channeled into the strug- 
gle against fascism and the war for national liberation. The message also de- 
manded that all Communist parties in occupied countries rise up immediately. 
The war was thus an opportunity to try out a new form of action: the armed 
struggle and the sabotage of Hitler's war machine, which promised valuable 
practice in guerrilla tactics. Paramilitary organizations were thus strengthened 
to form the core of armed Communist groups. Where geography and circum- 
stances were favorable, they formed guerrilla forces of considerable efficacy, 
particularly in Greece and Yugoslavia after 1942, and in Albania and northern 
Italy after 1943. In the most successful situations, this guerrilla action gave 
Communists the opportunity to seize power, with recourse to civil war if 

Yugoslavia furnished the clearest example of this new direction. In the 
spring of 1941 Hitler was forced to come to the aid of his Italian ally, Benito 
Mussolini, whose forces were being held in check in Greece by a small but 
determined army. In April Germany also had to intervene in Yugoslavia, where 
the government that supported the Nazis had been overthrown in a pro-British 
coup. In both of these countries, small but experienced Communist parties had 
existed in secret for many years, since being banned by the dictatorial regimes 
of Milan Stojadinovic and Joannes Metaxas. 

After the armistice, Yugoslavia was divided up among the Italians, Bul- 
garians, and Germans. The right-wing extremist Ustasha group in Croatia, led 
by Ante Pavelic, tried to establish an independent state, but it amounted to little 
more than an apartheid regime that subordinated the Serbs and carried out 
massacres of Jews and Gypsies. The Ustasha sought to eliminate all its oppo- 
sition, driving numerous Croats to join the resistance. 

After the surrender of the Yugoslav army on 18 April 1941, the first to 
form a resistance movement were the royalist officers around Colonel Draza 
Mihailovic, who was soon appointed commander in chief of the Yugoslav 
resistance, and then minister of war for the royal government~in-exile in Lon- 
don. Mihailovic created a largely Serb army in Serbia, the Chetniks. Only after 
the German invasion of the U.S.S.R., on 22 June 1941, did the Yugoslav- 
Communists rally to the idea of national liberation to "free the country from 
the yoke of fascism and start the socialist revolution."** But whereas Moscow- 
wanted to support the royalist government for as long as possible so as not to 
alienate the U.S.S.R.'s British allies, Tito felt confident enough to follow his 
own line, and he refused to pledge allegiance to the royalist government-in- 
exile. Recruiting soldiers regardless of their ethnic background — Tito himself 

The Comintern in Action 


was a Croat — the Communist partisan leader began to establish guerrilla bases 
in Bosnia in 1942. The two movements were soon opposed on key issues. Faced 
with a Communist threat, Mihailovic chose to appease the Germans and even 
to form an alliance with the Italians. The situation became a veritable imbroglio, 
mixing war for national liberation and civil war, political and ethnic rivalries, 
all within the larger context of occupation by foreign troops. Both sides com- 
mitted numerous massacres and atrocities as each tried to exterminate its rivals 
and to impose its own power on the population. 

Historians estimate that there were slightly more than 1 million deaths, 
out of a total population of just 16 million. Executions, the shooting of pris- 
oners and the wounded, and vicious cycles of revenge dragged on endlessly in 
a culture that had a long tradition of violent opposition between clans. There 
was, however, a difference between the massacres carried out by the Chetniks 
and those carried out by the Communists. The Chetniks, who hated any form 
of centralized authority — many groups were actually outside the control of 
Mihailovic — carried out their massacres far more often on an ethnic rather than 
a political basis. The objectives of the Communists were much more clearly 
military and political. Milovan Djilas, one of Tito's assistants, said many years 

We were quite put out by the excuses the peasants gave for rallying to 
the Chetniks: they claimed to be afraid that their houses would be 
burned and that they would suffer other reprisals. This question came 
up in a meeting with Tito, and he offered the following argument: If we 
can make the peasants understand that if they join with the invader 
[note the interesting slippage here from Chetnik (royalist Yugoslav resis- 
tance fighter) to "invader"], we will burn down their houses, too, they 
might change their minds . . . After some hesitation, Tito made up his 
mind, and said: "All right, we can burn down the odd house or village 
now and then." Tito later issued orders to this effect, which looked all 
the more resolute simply because he was taking a firm stand. M 

Following Italy's surrender in September 1943, Churchill's decision to 
help Tito rather than Mihailovic, and Tito's formation of the Yugoslav Na- 
tional Anti-Fascist Council for Liberation (AVNOJ) in December 1943, the 
Communists had a clear political advantage over their rivals. By the end of 1944 
and early 1945 the Communist partisans had taken over nearly the whole of 
Yugoslavia. As the German surrender approached, Pavelic and his army, his 
aides, and their families — in all, tens of thousands of people — set off for the 
Austrian frontier. Slovenian White Guards and Chetniks from Montenegro 
joined them in Bleiburg, where they all surrendered to British troops, who 
handed them over to Tito. 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Soldiers and policemen of all types found themselves forced to walk to 
their deaths, hundreds of miles across the country. The Slovenian prisoners 
were taken back to Slovenia near Kocevje, where as many as 30,000 were 
killed. 85 In defeat, the Chetniks were unable to avoid the vengeance of the 
partisans, who never took prisoners. Milovan Djilas described the end of many 
of the Serb soldiers without going into any of the macabre details of the last 
period of the campaign: "Draza Mihailovic's troops were completely annihi- 
lated at about the same time as the Slovenians. The small groups of Chetniks 
who managed to get back to Montenegro after they had been defeated brought 
the full story of the horror they had seen. No one has ever spoken of that again, 
not even people who make much of their revolutionary spirit, as though it was 
all a terrible nightmare." 86 Once captured, Draza Mihailovic was tried, sen- 
tenced to death, and shot on 17 July 1946. At his "trial," all offers to bear 
witness for him by various officers from the Allied missions who had been sent 
to his aid and who had fought the Germans by his side were turned down. 87 
After the war, Stalin once shared his philosophy with Milovan Djilas: "Anyone 
who occupies a territory always imposes his own social system on it." 

When the war ended, the Greek Communists were in a situation roughly 
similar to that of the Yugoslavs. On 2 November 1940, a few days after the 
Italian invasion of Greece, Nikos Zachariadis, the secretary of the Greek Com- 
munist Party (KKE), who had been in prison since 1936, sent out a call to 
arms: "The Greek nation is now engaged in a war for its national liberation 
from the fascism of Mussolini . . . Everyone must take his place, and everyone 
must fight." 88 But on 7 December a manifesto from the underground Central 
Committee called into question this decision, and the KKE returned to the 
official line recommended by the Comintern, that of revolutionary defeatism. 
On 22 June 1941 came the spectacular U-turn: the KKE ordered its militants 
to organize "the struggle to defend the Soviet Union and the overthrow of the 
foreign fascist yoke." 

The experience with clandestine activity had been crucial for the Com- 
munists. On 16 July 1941, like their counterparts in other countries, the Greek 
Communists formed a National Workers' Front for Liberation (Ergatiko Eth- 
niko Apelevtheriko Metopo, EEAM), an umbrella organization for three un- 
ions. On 27 September they established the EAM (Ethniko Apelevtheriko 
Metopo), the Party's political arm. On 10 February 1942 they announced the 
creation of the People's Army for National Liberation (Ellinikos Laikos Ape- 
levtherotikos), or ELAS. By May 1942 the first ELAS partisans were operating 
under the leadership of Ares Velouchiotes (Thanassis Klaras), an experienced 
militant who had signed a recantation in exchange for his freedom. From this 
point on, ELAS numbers continued to grow. 

The Comintern in Action 


The ELAS was not the only military resistance movement. The National 
Greek Democratic Union, (Ethnikos Demokratikos Ellinikos Syndesmos), or 
EDES, had been created by soldiers and republican civilians in September 
1941. Another group of resistance fighters was formed by a retired colonel, 
Napoleon Zervas. A third organization, the National Social Liberation Move- 
ment (Ethniki Kai Koiniki Apelevtherosis), or EKKA, came into being in 
October 1942 under Colonel Dimitri Psarros. All these organizations were 
constantly trying to recruit from one another. 

But the success and strength of the ELAS made the Communists hopeful 
of imposing their leadership on all the armed resistance groups. They attacked 
the EDES partisans several times, as well as the EKKA, who were forced to 
suspend operations to regroup. In late 1942 Major G. Kostopoulos (a renegade 
from the EAM) and Colonel Stefanos Sarafis formed a resistance unit in the 
heart of a zone that had been captured by the EAM in western Thessaly, at the 
foot of the Pindus Mountains. The ELAS surrounded them and massacred all 
those who did not escape or who refused to enroll in their ranks. Taken 
prisoner, Sarafis finally agreed to assume leadership of the ELAS units. 

The presence of British officers who had come to help the Greek resis- 
tance was a cause of concern to the ELAS chiefs, who feared that the British 
would attempt to reinstate the monarchy. But there was a difference in view- 
point between the military branch, directed by Ares Velouchiotes, and the KKE 
itself The latter, led by Giorgis Siantos, wished to follow the official line as laid 
down by Moscow, advocating a general antifascist coalition. The actions of the 
British were momentarily beneficial because in July 1943 their military mission 
convinced the three main protagonists to sign a pact. At that time the ELAS 
had some 18,000 men, the EDES 5,000, and the EKKA about 1,000. 

The Italian surrender on 8 September 1943 immediately modified the 
situation. A fratricidal war began when the Germans launched a violent offen- 
sive against the EDES. The guerrillas, forced to retreat, confronted several 
large ELAS battalions, which threatened to annihilate the EDES. The KKE 
leadership decided to abandon the EDES, hoping thus to check British policy. 
After four days of fighting, the partisans led by Zervas escaped encirclement. 

This civil war within the main war was of great advantage to the Germans 
as they swept down upon the resistance units one by one. w The Allies thus took 
the initiative to end the civil war. Fighting between the ELAS and the EDES 
stopped in February 1944, and an agreement was signed in Plaka. The agree- 
ment was short-lived; a few weeks later the ELAS attacked Colonel Psarros' 
EKKA troops. He was defeated after five days and taken prisoner. Mis officers 
were massacred; Psarros himself was beheaded. 

The Communists' actions demoralized the resistance and discredited the 
EAM. In several regions, hatred for the EAM was so strong that a number of 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

resistance fighters joined the security battalions set up by the Germans. The 
civil war did not end until the ELAS agreed to collaborate with the Greek 
government-in-exile in Cairo. In September 1944 six members of the EAM- 
ELAS became members of the government of national unity presided over by 
Georges Papandreou. On 2 September, as the Germans began to evacuate 
Greece, the ELAS sent its troops to conquer the Peloponnese, which had always 
eluded its control thanks to the security battalions. All captured towns and 
villages were "punished." In Meligala, 1,400 men, women, and children were 
massacred along with some 50 officers and noncommissioned officers from the 
security battalions. 

Nothing now seemed to stand in the way of EAM-ELAS hegemony. But 
when Athens was liberated on 12 October it escaped the guerrillas 1 control 
because of the presence of British troops in Piraeus. The KKE leadership 
hesitated to undertake a trial of strength, unsure of whether it wanted a place 
in a coalition government. When the ELAS refused a government demand to 
demobilize, Iannis Zegvos, the Communist agriculture minister, demanded that 
all government units be disbanded too. On 4 December, ELAS patrols entered 
Athens, where they clashed with government forces. By the following day, 
almost the entire capital had fallen under the control of the 20,000-strong 
ELAS forces; but the British stood firm, awaiting reinforcements. On 18 De- 
cember the ELAS again attacked the EDES in Epirus and at the same time 
launched a bloody antiroyalist operation. 

The offensive was contained, and in talks held in Varkiza the Communists 
resigned themselves to a peace accord under which they agreed to disarm. The 
accord was something of a sham, however, since large numbers of weapons and 
munitions remained carefully hidden. Ares Velouchiotes, one of the principal 
warlords, rejected the Varkiza conditions, rejoined the partisans with about one 
hundred men, and then crossed into Albania in the hope of continuing the 
armed struggle from there. Later, asked about the reasons for the defeat of the 
EAM-ELAS, Velouchiotes replied frankly: "We didn't kill enough people. The 
English were taking a major interest in that crossroads called Greece. If we had 
killed all their friends, they wouldn't have been able to land. Everyone described 
me as a killer — that's the way we were. Revolutions succeed only when rivers 
run red with blood, and blood has to be spilled if what you are aiming for is 
the perfectability of the human race." 90 Velouchiotes died in combat in June 
1945 in Thessaly, a few days after he was thrown out of the KKE. The defeat 
of the EAM-ELAS unleashed a wave of hatred against the Communists and 
their allies. Groups of militants were assassinated by paramilitary groups, and 
many others were imprisoned. Most of the leaders were deported to the islands. 

Nikos Zachariadis, the secretary general of the KKE, had returned in May 
1945 from Germany, where he had been deported to Dachau. His first decla- 

The Comintern in Action 


rations clearly announced KKE policy: "Either the EAM struggle for national 
liberation is finally rewarded with the establishment of a people's democracy 
in Greece, or we return to a similar but even more severe regime than the last 
fascist monarchist dictatorship." Greece, exhausted by the war, seemed to have 
little chance of enjoying peace at last. In October the Seventh Party Congress 
ratified Zachariadis' proposal. The first stage was to obtain the departure of 
the British troops. In January 1946 the US.S.R. demonstrated its interest in 
Greece by claiming at a United Nations Security Council meeting that the 
British presence constituted a danger to the country. On 12 February 1946, 

when defeat for the Communists in the coming elections seemed inevitable 

they were calling on their voters to abstain—the KKE organized an uprising, 
with the help of the Yugoslav Communists. 

In December 1945 the members of the KKE Central Committee had met 
with various Bulgarian and Yugoslav officers. The Greek Communists were 
assured that they could use Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia as bases. For 
more than three years their troops did so, retreating with their wounded into 
these countries and using them to regroup and build up supplies and munitions. 
T hese preparations took place a few months after the creation of the Commu- 
nist Information Bureau (Cominform), the Moscow-dominated grouping of 
world Communist parties. It seems that the Greek Communist uprising was 
perfectly coordinated with the Soviet Union's new policies. On 30 March 1946 
the KKE declared that a third civil war was under way. The first attacks by the 
Democratic Army (AD), which had been established on 28 October 1946 and 
was led by General Markos Vafiadis, followed the usual pattern: police stations 
were attacked, their occupants killed, and leading local figures executed. The 
KKE openly continued such actions throughout 1946. 

In the first months of 1947 General Vafiadis intensified his campaign, 
attacking dozens of villages and executing hundreds of peasants. The ranks of 
the AD were swollen by enforced recruitment/' 1 Villages that refused to coop- 
erate suffered severe reprisals. One village in Macedonia was hit particularly 
hard: forty-eight houses were burned down, and twelve men, six women, and 
two babies were killed. After March 1947 municipal leaders were systematically 
eliminated, as were priests. By March the number of refugees reached 400,000. 
The policy of terror was met with counterterror, and militant left-wing Com- 
munists were killed in turn by right-wing extremists. 

In June 1947, after a tour of Belgrade, Prague, and Moscow, Zachariadis 
announced the imminent formation of a "free" government. The Greek Com- 
munists seemed to believe that they could follow the same path taken by Tito 
a few years earlier. The government was officially created in December. The 
Yugoslavs provided nearly 10,000 volunteers recruited from their own army. 92 
Numerous reports from the UN Special Commission on the Balkans have 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

established the great importance of this assistance to the Democratic Arm)'. 
The break between Tito and Stalin in 1948 had direct consequences for the 
Greek Communists. Although Tito continued his aid until the autumn, he also 
began a retreat that ended with closure of the border. In the summer of 1948, 
while the Greek government forces were engaged in a massive offensive, the 
Albanian leader Enver Hoxha also closed his country's border. The Greek 
Communists became increasingly isolated, and dissent within the Party grew. 
The fighting continued until August 1949. Many of the combatants fled to 
Bulgaria and thence to other parts of Eastern Europe, settling particularly in 
Romania and the US.S.R. Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, received thou- 
sands of refugees, including 7,500 Communists. After this defeat, the KKE in 
exile suffered a number of purges, and as late as 1955 the conflicts between the 
pro- and anti-Zachariadis factions was still extremely fierce, so much so that at 
one point the Soviet army was forced to intervene, resulting in hundreds of 

During the civil war of 1946-1948, Greek Communists kept records on 
all the children aged three to fourteen in all the areas they controlled. In March 
1948 these children were gathered together in the border regions, and several 
thousand were taken into Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The villagers tried 
to protect their children by hiding them in the woods. The Red Cross, despite 
the enormous obstacles placed in their path, managed to count 28,296. In the 
summer of 1948, when the Tito-Cominform rupture became apparent, 1 1,600 
of the children in Yugoslavia were moved to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Roma- 
nia, and Poland, despite many protests from the Greek government. On 17 
November 1948, the Third UN General Assembly passed a resolution roundly 
condemning the removal of the Greek children. In November 1949 the General 
Assembly again demanded their return. These and all subsequent UN resolu- 
tions remained unanswered. The neighboring Communist regimes claimed that 
the children were being kept under conditions superior to those they would be 
experiencing at home, and that the deportation had been a humanitarian act. 44 
In reality the enforced deportation of the children was carried out in 
appalling conditions. Starvation and epidemics were extremely common, and 
many of the children simply died. Kept together in "children's villages," they 
were subjected to courses in politics in addition to their normal education. At 
age thirteen they were forced into manual labor, carrying out arduous tasks such 
as land reclamation in the marshy Hartchag region of Hungary. The intention 
of the Communist leaders was to form a new generation of devoted militants, 
but their efforts ended in failure. One Greek called Constantinides died on the 
Hungarian side fighting the Soviet Union in 1956. Others managed to flee to 
West Germany. 

From 1950 to 1952 only 684 children were permitted to return to Greece. 

The Comintern in Action 


By 1963, around 4,000 children (some of them born in Communist countries) 
had been repatriated. In Poland, the Greek community numbered several thou- 
sand in the early 1980s. Some of them were members of Solidarity, and were 
imprisoned after the introduction of martial law in December 1981. In 1989, 
when democratization was well under way, several thousand Greeks still living 
in Poland began to return home. 

The warm welcome extended to the defeated Greek Communists in the 
U.S.S.R. contrasted strangely with Stalin's annihilation of the Greek commu- 
nity that had lived in Russia for centuries. In 1917 the number of Greeks in the 
Soviet state was between 500,000 and 700,000, concentrated for the most part 
around the Caucasus and the Black Sea. By 1939 the number had fallen to 
410,000, mainly because of "unnatural 11 deaths, not emigration; and there were 
a mere 177,000 remaining by 1960. After December 1937 the 285,000 Greeks 
living in the major towns were deported to the regions of Arkhangelsk, the 
Komi republic, and northeastern Siberia. Others were allowed to return to 
Greece. During this period A. Haitas, a former secretary of the KKE, and the 
educator J. Jordinis died in purges. In 1944, 10,000 Greeks from the Crimea, 
the remnants of what had been a flourishing Greek community there, were 
deported to Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, on the pretext that they had adopted a 
pro-German stance during the war. On 30 June 1949, in a single night, 30,000 
Greeks from Georgia were deported to Kazakhstan. In April 1950 the entire 
Greek population of Batumi suffered a similar fate. 

In other countries in Western Europe, Communist attempts to seize power 
after liberation from Nazi rule were rapidly snuffed out by the presence of 
Anglo-American forces and by Stalin's directive at the end of 1944 urging 
Communists to cache their arms and wait for a better time to seize power. This 
line was confirmed by a report of a meeting in the Kremlin on 19 November 
1944 between Stalin and Maurice Thorez, the secretary general of the French 
Communist Party, before he returned to France after spending the war in the 
US.S.R. 95 

After the war, and at least until Stalin's death in 1953, the violent methods 
and terror that had become the norm inside the Comintern continued in the 
international Communist movement. In Eastern Europe the repression of real 
or supposed dissidents by means of rigged show-trials was especially intense 
(see Chapter 20 for details). The pretext for this terror was the confrontation 
between Tito and Stalin in 1948. Having challenged Stalin's omnipotence, Tito 
was transformed into a new Trotsky. Stalin tried to have him assassinated, but 
Tito was extremely wary and had his own highly effective state security appa- 
ratus. Unable to eliminate Tito himself, Communist parties around the world 
launched a series of symbolic political murders and excluded all "Titoists" from 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

their ranks, treating them as scapegoats at every opportunity. One of the first 
expiatory victims was the secretary general of the Norwegian Communist Party, 
Peder Furubotn, a former Comintern official who had worked in Moscow, and 
who had already eluded one such purge by escaping to Norway in 1938. At a 
Party meeting on 20 October 1949, a Soviet agent named Strand Johansen 
accused Furubotn of Titoism. Confident that he would be given a fair hearing 
within the Party, Furubotn called a meeting of the Central Committee on 25 
October, where he announced his immediate resignation and that of his team, 
provided that a new election for the Central Committee took place immediately 
and that the accusations against him were examined by an international panel 
of experts. Furubotn had thus temporarily outmaneuvered his opponents. But 
to general amazement, Johansen and several armed men burst into the Central 
Committee the following day and expelled Furubotn's supporters at gunpoint. 
They then organized a meeting where Furubotn's expulsion from the Party 
was agreed. Furubotn himself had anticipated these Soviet-style tactics and 
had barricaded himself in his house with a few armed colleagues. Most of the 
military forces of the Norwegian Communist Party died in the ensuing 
gunfight. Johansen himself was manipulated by the Soviet Union to such an 
extent over the next several years that he eventually went mad. % 

The last act in this period of terror inside the international Communist 
movement took place in 1957. Imre Nagy, the Hungarian Communist who for 
a while had led the 1956 revolt in Budapest (see Chapter 20), had taken refuge 
in the Yugoslav embassy, fearing for his life. After some tortuous maneuvering, 
Soviet KGB officers took him into custody and then transferred him for trial 
to the new Hungarian government of Janos Kadar. Unwilling to take sole 
responsibility for what was clearly going to be a legalized murder, the Hungar- 
ian Workers' Party used the first World Conference of Communist Parties, held 
in Moscow in November 1957, to have all the Communist leaders present vote 
for Nagy's death. Included among them were the Frenchman Maurice Thorez 
and the Italian Palmiro Togliatti. Only the Polish leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka, 
refused to endorse the move. Nagy was condemned to death and hanged on 16 
June 1958. 97 


The Shadow of the NKVD in Spain 

Stephane Courtois and Jean-Louis Panne 

n 17 July 1936 the Spanish military in Morocco, under the lead- 
ership of General Francisco Franco, rose up against the Republican govern- 
ment. The next day the mutiny spread throughout the peninsula. On 19 July it 
was checked in many cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, 
thanks to a general strike and the mass mobilization of the working classes. 
Months earlier, on 16 February 1936, the Popular Front's margin of victory in 
the Spanish elections had been extremely narrow, 4,700,000 votes (267 depu- 
ties), compared to 3,997,000 (132 deputies) for the right and 449,000 for the 
center. The Socialists had won 89 seats, the Republican left 84, the Republican 
Union 37, and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) 16. The Marxist Workers' 
Unification Party (POUM), born in 1935 from the fusion of Joaquin Maurin's 
workers 1 and peasants' bloc and the Communist left of Andreu Nin, won a 
single seat. One of the main forces in Spain was not represented at all. The 
anarchists of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) and the Federation 
of Iberian Anarchists (FAI) — which had 1,577,547 members, compared to the 
1,444,474 members of the Socialist Party and the General Workers' Union — 
had, in accordance with their principles, not put forward any candidates for the 
election. 1 The Popular Front would have been unable to win without the votes 
of the anarchists' supporters. Support for the Communist Party was actually 
much less than the figure of 16 elected members suggests. They claimed to 



World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

have 40,000 members, but in reality fewer than 10,000 sympathizers were 
present in the many fragmented organizations that did not depend directly on 
the Communist Party. 

The left was thus extremely divided, and the right was powerful and 
concentrated in the Falange faction. The cities were seething with political 
demonstrations and strikes, and unrest spread to the countryside, where peas- 
ants began to take over land. The army was strong, the government was 
divided, there was a multitude of plots afoot, and political violence was con- 
stantly escalating. All these factors indicated that a civil war was brewing, and 
this was indeed the outcome desired by many. 

The Communist Line 

To increase their political clout, the Communists had proposed joining with 
the Socialists. This tactic at first succeeded only with the two parties' youth 
organizations. On 1 April 1936 the Unified Socialist Youth group was formed. 
This event, however, was followed on 26 June by one of much greater impor- 
tance — the creation of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia. 

The Comintern had not been particularly interested in Spain, and began 
to pay attention to the country only after the fall of the monarchy in 1931 and 
the workers' uprising in Asturias in 1934. The Soviet Union had been equally 
uninterested, and the two countries did not sign a pact of mutual recognition 
until August 1936, after the civil war had broken out. A month earlier the Soviet 
government had signed a noninterventionist pact adopted by France and Eng- 
land in July, in the hope of preventing the war from escalating internationally. 2 
The Soviet ambassador, Marsel Israelovich Rosenberg, took up office on 27 

In the government of Francisco Largo Caballero, formed in September 
1936, the Communist Party had only two ministers: Jesus Hernandez at the 
Education Ministry, and Vincente Uribe at the Ministry of Agriculture. But 
the Soviet Union very quickly acquired much greater influence in the govern- 
ment. Thanks to the sympathy of several other members of the government 
(including Juan Alvarez del Vayo and Juan Negrin), Marsel Rosenberg became 
a sort of deputy prime minister and even took part in meetings of the Council 
of Ministers. He had several considerable advantages, since the U.S.S.R. was 
eager to arm the Republicans. 

Soviet intervention in an area so far outside the US.S.R.'s normal sphere 
of influence became a matter of special importance. It came at a key moment, 
when Spain was weakened by a powerful social movement and a civil war. In 
1936-1939 the country became a sort of laboratory where the Soviet authorities 
not only applied new political strategies and tactics but also tried out techniques 

The Shadow of the NKVD in Spain 


that would be used during and after World War II, Their aims were manifold, 
but their primary goal was to ensure that the Spanish Communist Party (by 
now run entirely by the Comintern and the NKVD) seized power and estab- 
lished a state that would become another Soviet satellite. To achieve their goal, 
they used traditional Soviet methods, such as establishing an omnipresent 
police force and liquidating all non-Communist forces. 

In 1936 the Italian Communist Palmiro Togliatti (known then as Mario 
Ercoli), who was a member of the Comintern directorate, defined the specific 
features of the Spanish civil war, which he characterized as u a war of national 
revolution." In his view, the nationalist, popular, and antifascist nature of the 
Spanish revolution presented the Communists with a new agenda: "The people 
of Spain are solving the problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution in a 
new fashion." He quickly identified the Republican and Socialist leaders as 
enemies of this new conception of revolution, calling them "elements who hide 
behind anarchist principles and weaken the unity and cohesiveness of the 
Popular Front with premature projects for forced 'collectivization.' " He estab- 
lished Communist hegemony as a clear objective, to be realized by "a common 
front of Socialist and Communist parties, the creation of a single Communist 
Youth Organization, the creation of a single Proletarian Party in Catalonia [the 
PSUC], and the transformation of the Communist Party itself into a large-scale 
party of the masses." 1 In June 1937 Dolores Ibarruri — a Spanish Communist 
better known by the name "La Pasionaria," who became famous because of her 
calls for resistance — proposed a new objective: "a democratic parliamentary 
republic of a new sort" 4 

Immediately after the Franquista pronunctamento, Stalin again demon- 
strated his relative indifference to the whole Spanish situation. Jef Last, who 
accompanied Andre Gide to Moscow in the summer of 1936, recalled: "We 
were quite indignant at finding such a total lack of interest in the events there. 
At no meeting did this subject ever arise, and whenever we attempted to engage 
officials privately in conversation on the topic, they scrupulously avoided airing 
their own opinion." 5 Two months later, given the turn of events, Stalin realized 
that he could take advantage of the situation for both diplomatic and propa- 
ganda purposes. By cooperating with the noninterventionist pact, the Soviet 
Union might gain greater international recognition and might even be able to 
break up the Franco-British bloc. At the same time, of course, the Soviet Union 
was secretly supplying the Republicans with guns and lending military aid, 
hoping to exploit the Popular Front government in France, which seemed ready 
to collaborate with the Soviet secret services in organizing further help for the 
Republican forces in Spain. Acting on Leon Blum's instructions, Gaston Cusin, 
the deputy head of the Cabinet at the Finance Ministry, met with Soviet 
officials and emissaries who had established their headquarters in Paris to 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

organize the shipment of arms and the recruiting of volunteers for Spain. 
Although the Soviet Union initially intended to avoid an overt role, the Comin- 
tern mobilized all its sections for the cause of Republican Spain, using the 
conflict as a tremendous vehicle for antifascist propaganda, with particularly 
good results for the Communist movement. 

In Spain itself, the main Communist tactic was to occupy more and more 
positions in the Republican government so as to direct policy in accordance 
with the interests of the Soviet Union. Julian Gorkin, one of the POUM 
leaders, was probably among the first to suggest that there was a link between 
Soviet policies in Republican Spain and the ideals of a people's democracy, in 
an essay titled Espana, primer ensayo de democracia popular}' By contrast, the 
Spanish historian Antonio Elorza believes that Communist policies in Spain 
came mostly from "a monolithic rather than a pluralist conception of political 
relations in the Popular Front and from the role of the Party, which naturally 
tried to turn the alliance into a platform for its own hegemony. 11 Elorza empha- 
sizes the invariant pattern of Soviet policy, which encouraged the Spanish 
Communist Party to exert itself against all antifascists, "not simply enemy 
fascist groups, but also any internal opposition." He adds: u As such, the project 
was a direct precursor of the strategy for taking power in all so-called people's 
democracies." 7 

Moscow predicted success in the elections of September 1937, when the 
option of voting a straight ticket would allow the Spanish Communist Party to 
profit from the national plebiscite. The goal, inspired and closely followed by 
Stalin himself, was the establishment of "a democratic republic of a new type," 
to be accompanied by the elimination of all ministers hostile to Communist 
policies. But the Communists failed, mostly because of opposition from their 
allies, and because of the worrying turn of events with the failure of the 
offensive in Teruel on 15 December 1937. 

"Advisers" and Agents 

As soon as StaJin had decided that Spain presented important opportunities for 
the Soviet Union and that intervention was therefore necessary, Moscow sent a 
large contingent of advisers and other personnel to that country. First and 
foremost among these were the 2,044 military advisers (according to one Soviet 
source), including the future marshals Ivan Konev and Georgy Zhukov, as well 
as General Vladimir Gorev, the military attache in Madrid. Between 700 and 
800 would stay permanently. Moscow also mobilized its Comintern workers 
and other emissaries of various sorts, in both official and unofficial capacities. 
Those who stayed included the Argentinian Vittorio Codovilla, who played a 
considerable role in the Spanish Communist Party from the early 1930s on, 

The Shadow of the NKVD in Spain 


eventually becoming its leader; the Hungarian Erno Gero (known as "Pedro"), 
who was to become a high-ranking Communist in Hungary after the war; the 
Italian Vittorio Vidali (suspected of taking part in the assassination of the 
Cuban Communist student leader Julio Antonio Mella in 1929), who went on 
to become the chief political commissar of the Communist 5th Regiment; the 
Bulgarian Stepan Minev (Stepanov), who had worked in Stalin's Secretariat 
from 1927 to 1929; and the Italian Palmiro Togliatti, who arrived in 1937 as a 
Comintern representative. Others came on inspection tours, including the 
French Communist Jacques Duclos. 

At the same time the Soviet Union sent a large number of officers from 
its special services: Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (who had taken part in the 
assault on the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1917), who arrived in Barcelona 
on 1 October 1936; H Aleksandr Orlov (whose real name was L. Feldbin), an 
NKVD leader in Spain; the Pole Artur Staszewski, a former Red Army officer 
who at the time was a commercial attache; General Ian Ber/in, chief of the 
intelligence services of the Red Army; and Mikhail Koltsov, the editor of 
Pravda and a secret spokesman for Stalin, who established himself in the 
Ministry of War. From 1936 on, Leonid Eitingon, the deputy head of the 
NKVD station in Spain, was in charge of terrorist operations in Barcelona. His 
colleague Pavel Sudoplatov arrived in Barcelona in 1938.'' 

In short, as soon as Stalin decided to intervene in Spain, he sent in a 
genuine army that could act decisively in several different domains. A formal 
decision was probably made on the night of 14 September 1936 in Moscow at 
a special meeting at the Lubyanka convened by Genrikh Yagoda, the head of 
the NKVD. There, plans for action in Spain were coordinated to achieve two 
main objectives: to combat the Franquistas and the German and Italian agents 
and, at the same time, to remove the threat posed by enemies of the U.S.S.R. 
and Communism in the Republican camp. Intervention was to be as covert as 
possible so that the position of the Soviet government would not be compro- 
mised. If General Walter Krivitsky, the chief of the NKVD's external forces 
in Western Europe, is to be believed, only 40 of the approximately 3,000 Soviet 
agents in Spain saw active service; the rest were advisers, politicians, or gath- 
erers of intelligence. 

The first concentrated Soviet effort was in Catalonia. In September 1936 
the General Commissariat for Public Order in Catalonia, which had already 
been infiltrated by Communists, created the Grupo de Informacion (Informa- 
tion Group) inside the Catalan Secret Services (SSI), led by Mariano Gomez 
Emperador. This official service, which soon employed some fifty people, was 
in fact a camouflaged NKVD cell. At the same time the Unified Socialist Party 
of Catalonia — a name chosen by the Communists — formed a Servicio Extran- 
jero (Foreign Service) in room 340 of the Hotel Colon in the Plaza de 


World Revolution, Civil War, and Terror 

Catalunya. The latter's task was to control all foreign Communists arriving in 
Barcelona to fight in Spain. The Servicio Extranjero was tightly controlled by 
the NKVD and a front for its covert operations. 

Both services were under the local control of Alfredo Hertz, an NKVD 
commander who worked under the direct authority of Orlov and Gero. Hertz 
was a German Communist whose true identity has never been established. He 
had started out in the Cuerpo de Investigation y Vigilancia (Corps of Investi- 
gation and Vigilance), where he had been in charge of passport control, includ- 
ing all entry and exit visas to and from Spain. He was also extremely skilled in 
his use of the Assault Troops, the elite police division. With his information 
network in place inside the General Commissariat of Public Order, Hertz 
filtered information from all other Communist parties — blacklists of other 
antifascist groups, denunciations of Communists who had criticized the Party, 
biographical information supplied by the cadre sections of the different 
branches of the Party — and sent it on to the State Department, which was 
controlled by the Communist Victorio Sala. Hertz set up his own service, the 
Servicio Alfredo Hertz, which had a legal front but was in fact a private political 
police force made up of foreign Communists and Spanish nationals. Under his 
leadership, a list was drawn up of all foreign residents in Catalonia (later this 
was done for the rest of Spain), with a separate list of wayward people to be 
eliminated. From September to December 1936 the persecution of opponents 
was not systematic, but gradually the NKVD drew up real plans to purge all 
political opponents among the Republicans. The first targets were the Social 
Democrats, followed by the anarchosyndicalists, the Trotskyites, and then the 
more rebellious of the Communists. Many of these so-called enemies had called 
into question the value of the pro-US.S.R. alignment. As was always the case 
on such occasions, there were personal vendettas and feuds to be settled too. 10 

The most banal as well as the most sophisticated police methods imagin- 
able were employed by these double or even triple agents. The first police task 
was the "colonization" of the Republican administration, the army, and the 
police. The gradual takeover of key posts and the formation of Communist 
cells were made possible by the fact that the Soviet Union was one of the few 
countries supplying weapons to the Republican forces, and could demand 
political favors in return. In contrast to Hitler's and Mussolini's extension of 
aid to Franco's nationalist forces, the Soviet Union refused to grant the Repub- 
licans any credit; it demanded that all arms be paid for in advance in gold from 
the Bank of Spain. The gold was taken back to the U.S.S.R. by Communist 
agents. Each delivery of arms thus presented one more opportunity to black- 
mail the government. 

Julian Gorkin, the POUM militant, provides a striking example of this 
mixture of war and politics. Early in 1937, Largo Caballero, the head of the 

The Shadow of the NKVD in Spain 


Spanish government, with the support of President Manuel Azafia, had autho- 
rized Luis Araquistain, the Spanish ambassador in Paris, to begin secret nego- 
tiations with Dino Grandi, the Italian ambassador in London, and Hjalmar 
Schacht, Hitler's financier, under the authority of Leon Blum and Anthony 
Eden. The aim was to bring an end to the war. To thwart these plans, Juan 
Alvarez del Vayo, the minister of foreign affairs, who was favorably disposed 
toward the Spanish Communists, informed Communist leaders about the ne- 
gotiations. The Communists, together with the Soviet secret service, decided 
to push Largo Caballero out of office, thus eliminating the possibility of a 
negotiated settlement of the conflict, which would have compelled all the Italian 
and German forc