Monthly Archives: April 2016

The “Real Stalin” Series. Part Sixteen: GULAG.

Gulag graph


The Soviet prison system, as applied to ordinary criminals, embodies a number of progressive penological ideas. Educational and manual training instruction courses exist in the more advanced prisons; prisoners are not required to wear uniforms; and the well-behaved prisoner receives a vacation of two weeks every year, which is certainly a unique Russian institution.
Chamberlin, William Henry. Soviet Russia. Boston: Little, Brown, 1930, p. 124

In the 1930s, as we have seen, the spread of industrialization and collectivization brought about a socialist state with a broad spectrum of social and political rights. As we would expect from such a state, the legal and prison systems that it established were essentially just and nonpunitive. In fact, they were praised and admired by liberal attorneys and penologists throughout the world. People’s courts, in which ordinary citizens sat with a professional judge on the bench, tried 80 percent of all cases, and legal services could be obtained free of charge. As a desirable alternative to prisons, “agricultural and industrial labor colonies” were established where some prisoners brought their families and where they were allowed to marry. The basic objective of the system was rehabilitation, not just in words, as in capitalist states, but in reality, as was dramatically shown, for instance, in the film Road to Life, depicting the regeneration of teenage criminals. One of the most extensive industrial camp projects was the building of the Baltic-White Sea Canal by prisoners, a vast enterprise whose three chief engineers were former “wreckers.” At the completion of the project, 300 prisoners received scholarships, 12,000 were freed, and 59,000 had their sentences reduced. Such was the normal course of working class justice in the USSR. Therefore, if changes were made in some aspects of the system, there must have been reasons for it.
Cameron, Kenneth Neill. Stalin, Man of Contradiction. Toronto: NC Press, c1987, p. 128

We built the Moscow-Volga Canal for the most part with convict labor. Back then, convicts were real criminals and were treated accordingly. Actually, I’d say that on the whole our convicts received fairly humane treatment. They were considered to be the products of capitalist society. Therefore, it was felt that our socialist society should re-educate them rather than punish them.
Talbott, Strobe, Trans. and Ed. Khrushchev Remembers. Boston: Little Brown, c1970, p. 99

Ordinary criminals, such as murderers and thieves, are mixed up indiscriminately in forced labor camps with members of the various disfavored groups such as the kulaks, nomads, ex-priests, and the like. In fact, the authorities seem to have a more friendly feeling for ordinary criminals than for social groups which have opposed their various reforms. They treat a brutal murderer, as a rule, with more consideration than a small farmer who didn’t want to turn his domestic animals and house and garden into a common pool with his neighbors to make a collective farm.
In the winter of 1936, when my wife and I were making a trip by automobile into Yakutsk, the great northeastern province of Russia, our car ran into a ditch soon after crossing the trans-Siberian railway. We had observed large groups of men under guard working on the double-tracking of the Railway, and decided to go back to ask some of them to help us put our automobile back on the road. We had run across many such groups in our travels through the Far East; great gangs of these laborers have been working on the railways being built out there for many years.
When we got back to the railway, there was no guard in sight anywhere; in this isolated country, prisoners could hardly get far off if they wanted to. These men were dressed in ordinary Soviet working clothes, and there was nothing to show they were prisoners, except that they were perhaps a little more ragged than the average worker. We asked them if they would help us out, and they readily agreed.
What struck as most about these people, and those like them whom we had seen elsewhere, was that they did not appear to be what we would call criminal types. It is probable that most of them were not criminals, in our sense of that word; they were rather members of social groups who had failed to co-operate with the authorities in their various schemes for reform.
I was told that political prisoners, including members of other revolutionary groups and disgruntled or disgraced Communists, are seldom if ever put into such prison camps or gangs. If they are considered dangerous, they are confined in concentration camps or isolated prisons. If they are considered merely a nuisance, they are given what is called free exile.
The “free exile” system is uniquely Russian; it is practiced today in very much the same forms as before the Revolution. I encountered free exiles almost everywhere I worked in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Far East. I have heard it said that one can meet more former aristocrats and well-to-do people in the Central Asian cities than in Leningrad, the former capital of the Tsars.
Free exile is a comparatively mild punishment. These people can hardly be distinguished from other residents; they move about as they please within certain limits, and usually have regular work. They have been given a “minus,” to use the Russian description. Say, for example, that some petty political offender is given a “minus six.” This is a very common penalty; the political police seem to give it out to anyone even faintly suspected of disloyalty to the regime. The man or woman with a “minus six” cannot live in or visit the six principal cities of European Russia for a number of years.
I came across some fairly distinguished exiles working in remote mining towns in Asiatic Russia. Usually they were doing routine work, such as bookkeeping; it is not easy for them to get responsible work, and most of them would not take it even if it were offered to them, since they would be held to account if anything went wrong. The Soviet police, like police in other countries, round up the most obvious suspects whenever anything goes wrong, and exiles are pretty obvious. Those I knew were very quiet and inoffensive; they usually had a melancholy air, being separated usually from the people and kind of life they had known before.
BUT IN GENERAL I BELIEVE THE HORRORS OF THE EXILE SYSTEM HAVE BEEN EXAGGERATED. BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, ACCORDING TO ALL ACCOUNTS, IT WAS PRETTY TERRIBLE. FORCED LABORERS IN THOSE DAYS, INCLUDING EXILES, WERE KEPT IN LEG -IRONS, WHICH IS NEVER THE CASE TODAY. THE PRESENT AUTHORITIES DO NOT USE LEG-IRONS, HANDCUFFS, OR UNIFORMS FOR PRISONERS IN ANY CASE WHICH IS KNOWN TO ME. But even before the Revolution, according to the books which I have read on the subject, most political exiles were allowed a considerable degree of freedom, similar to that of the free exiles today. If they proved tractable, even in Tsarist days they were allowed to take jobs to eke out their pittance from the Government, and they boarded with small farmers in the cities, towns, or villages of Siberia, and visited among themselves. Some of them even were friendly with Tsarist officials and paid visits back and forth, according to the accounts of those days which seem to be reliable. I have never seen evidence of any friendliness between Soviet officials and exiles.
However, when one reads books written by exiles either before or since the Revolution it becomes apparent that exile is a terrible ordeal to the persons concerned. Why is this? Well, in the first place, no human being enjoys being sent off in disgrace, separated from his family, friends, and old associations, compelled to live for years in some distant part of the country during routine work for a bare pittance. And that is a fair description of the life of an average free exile in Russia today.
There is another reason, too, it seems to me. Exiles for the most part are city people; the dispossessed small farmers were not exiled but put to forced labor. These city dwellers, not being accustomed to existence in undeveloped, isolated country, are naturally unhappy. When I read Leon Trotsky’s description of his periods of exile, for example, I didn’t feel any sympathy for him, although it was clear that he felt very much abused because he missed the cities bright lights and political maneuvers. For myself, I would rather live in the places he was living in than modern cities, and for that reason I couldn’t feel sorry for him.
The word “exile,” and all its implications, arouse a sense of horror in the minds of Americans which I am convinced is seldom felt so keenly by Soviet citizens. The latter are so accustomed to being knocked about by their own authorities, under this as well as previous regimes, that they accept as a matter of course treatment which Americans would heartily resent. A friend of mind had an experience with a Russian family which throws light on this state of mind. The family had a daughter about 19 years old, who sometimes spoke out rather critically about the Government. An old lady who posed as a friend of the family one-day heard her talking, and reported her to the police. The police visited the family’s apartment in the middle of the night, as they usually do in such cases, and took away the girl and a diary she had kept from the age of 15.
The girl was kept for two months in the Moscow prison for political suspects, during which time her family was not permitted to communicate with her. At the end of that period, the mother was called in and told she could talk with her daughter for 20 minutes. The girl told her the police had decided she had “counter-revolutionary moods,” and would therefore be exiled for two years. My friend, talking to the mother, asked: “And what do you think of such treatment?” The mother replied earnestly: “Oh, we are very much pleased because our daughter received only two years of free exile; she might have been sent to a concentration camp.”
As a matter of fact, there is not a great deal of difference, so far as I could observe, between the treatment accorded to those in free exile and those who are presumably entirely free. FROM THE AMERICAN VIEWPOINT, ALL SOVIET CITIZENS ARE TREATED VERY MUCH LIKE PRISONERS ON PAROLE, ESPECIALLY SINCE THE OLD TSARIST PASSPORT SYSTEM WAS REVIVED IN 1932. Every citizen must have a passport and register it with the police at regular intervals; the must show his “documents” whenever he turns around. He has to get special permission to travel from one part of the country to another, and register with the police wherever he goes. He must have a very special standing with the authorities to get permission to leave his country; only a few hundred get such permission every year.
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 135-139

Practically speaking, there’s not much difference between the Soviet citizen sentenced to free exile and the citizen who is refused a residence permit in the larger cities of European Russia. The former knows that he cannot visit or live in certain cities, and this may be a very severe hardship upon him if his family lives in one of these cities. Husbands and wives, parents and children, are often separated for years as a result of this system. But the same is true, to a lesser degree, by the working at the passport system, which enables the authorities to refuse permission to any citizen to live in overcrowded cities. I have known them to refuse permission to a husband or wife to join the rest of the family in a city on the grounds that there was no more room.
In any case, if family ties are strong enough, a husband or wife will follow the other into exile or will rejoin each other in the provinces if it is impossible for both to get permission to live in some desirable city. The authorities never refuse permission to leave cities, although an official might lose standing in the bureaucracy if he left responsible work where he could not easily be replaced merely for the sake of having his family with him.
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 141

The officials have become callous in this respect, at least from our viewpoint. A friend of mine told me about a former aristocrat who was arrested during a general roundup of suspects at Leningrad in 1934. He was held in prison for a couple of months, and then the police said they could find nothing against him, and let him go. He returned to his apartment, looking for his wife, from whom he had heard nothing all this time.
The apartment was empty, and his wife was nowhere to be found. Someone had broken into his apartment while he was in prison and taken off most of his personal possessions. That didn’t bother him so much, but he was very fond of his wife and gave up his whole time to the search for her. He could get no clue in Leningrad, and finally came to Moscow, where he learned that she had been exiled to Central Asia. He immediately telegraphed to her that he was joining her as soon as possible, and started making preparations for the trip.
A Soviet official heard somehow what this man was planning to do, and called him into his office. “Apparently you have misunderstood the situation,” said the official. “The police have cleared you, and you’ll have no further trouble. You have a good job waiting for you either at Leningrad or here in Moscow. You have done good work for us in the past, and we will see that you get ahead. Under the circumstances there is no need for you to go to Central Asia.”
“But my wife is there,” replied the Leningrad resident. “She was exiled, and cannot get permission to return to European Russia for several years. She is not in good health, and I am concerned about her. She needs someone to look after her, and I will have to go to her.”
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 142

The Soviet official shook his head. “In my opinion, you are very foolish, my friend,” he said. “Your wife has been branded with the mark of an exile, while you have been entirely cleared. You will lose your own favorable position with the authorities if you rejoin her now, and will never get ahead so long as you stick to her. It is better for you to break with the past once and for all.”
The Leningrad man replied quietly: “My wife means more to me than my career, or a favorable status with the authorities.”
The official shrugged his shoulders. “In that case, you are not the man we had believed,” he said. “Go to central Asia, by all means.”
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 143

Persecution of prisoners already in the gulag took place under Yezhov; such reports cease after Beria took charge of the NKVD in late 1938.
Different kinds of camps and exile with widely varying features and regimens existed, indicating that gulag practice was not simply to hold or destroy innocent people. Prisoners were treated according to the nature and degree of the crimes for which they had been convicted. The NKVD colonel Almazov reported that inmates sentenced to administrative exile were often hired by the camps as free workers. The gulag administration did not need to house, guard, or feed such people, whose productivity was higher than that of the regular prisoners. And Avar man arrested in 1937 went to a state farm in Kazakhstan, part of a colony of such NKVD facilities. “We all worked very hard in the hope of eventual freedom.” He recalled. Nor did he report any starvation at his site. A young Russian man arrested in the same year was sent to a factory in Archangel. Not kept under guard, he was taught how to use a powersaw for wood. “I learned and worked hard on this machine,” he said later. This man was not a political prisoner; people in that category worked in the forests under guard and had a high mortality rate. Instead of being used for economic gain, politicals were typically given the worst work or were dumped into the less productive parts of the gulag.
The difference in treatment for the two categories of prisoners is also illustrated in the memoirs of Victor Herman. He contrasted the camps Burepolom and Nuksha 2, both near Viatka, in the north of Russia. In Burepolom there were about 3000 prisoners, all nonpolitical, in the central compound. They could walk around at will, were lightly guarded, had unlocked barracks with mattresses and pillows, and watched western movies. But Nuksha 2, which housed serious criminals and politicals, featured guard towers with machine guns and locked barracks and allowed no correspondence….
Earlier in the decade [the 1930s], prisoners and exiles more often worked at their specialties, as did a Russian man who lived near the Usbirlag after his arrest in 1933. At that time prisoners could shorten their sentences by overfulfilling the work norms. The newspaper Perekovka of the White Sea-Baltic Combine, marked “not for distribution beyond the boundaries of the camp,” lists 10 prisoners released early in 1936 for good performance. Here were powerful incentives to work hard.
Other productive options were open to inmates at this point. In early 1935, the same paper mentioned a course in livestock raising held for prisoners at a nearby state farm; those who took it had their workday reduced to four hours. During that year the professional theater group in the camp complex gave 230 performances of plays and concerts to over 115,000 spectators.
Up to 1937 free men and inmates, though never politicals, were used as armed guards. Camp newspapers and bond drives existed until then; although it is ironic and cruel to collect money for the state from prisoners, it is at least an indication that they were still regarded as participants in society to some degree.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 102-104

It [the Baltic-White Sea Canal] was finished, as far as it ever was to be, in May 1933. In July Stalin himself, with Kirov, Yagoda, Voroshilov and others, visited the canal and went on a short boat trip. This was the occasion for a vast public build-up of the project as not merely an industrial but also a moral triumph, in that the Soviet penal system was born humane and rehabilitatory. Many prisoners were quoted as expressing their joy at having been saved and turned into decent citizens. A group of writers, including Gorky, was sent to the canal, and a ludicrous book emerged. Gorky seems to have been genuinely taken in. [Conquest has the ludicrous book]
Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York, New York: Viking, 1991, p. 186

In May 1934 civil rights were restored to labor deportees, and from January 1935 the right to vote.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism as a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 97

But the prison administration was held strictly responsible for the actual life of every prisoner. This was taken to such paradoxical lengths that “in the same cell you would find prisoners suffering severely from the effects of interrogation about which nobody bothered, while every conceivable medicine for the prevention and cure of colds, coughs, and headaches were regularly distributed.” And great precautions were taken against suicide.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 265

In the village of Palatka [north of Magadan on the Pacific Coast] I spoke to Boris Sulim, who had worked in one of the camps when he was a teenager and was now serving on the local raikom, the Party committee….
Under Stalin, Sulim worked in the Omsuchkan camp, about 400 miles from Magadan. “I was 18 years old and Magadan seemed a very romantic place to me. I got 880 rubles a month and a 3000 ruble installation grant, which was a hell of a lot of money for a kid like me. I was able to give my mother some of it. They even gave me membership in the Komsomol. There was a mining and ore-processing plant which sent out parties to dig for tin. I worked at the radio station which kept contact with the parties.
“If the inmates were good and disciplined they had almost the same rights as the free workers. They were trusted and they even went to the movies. As for the reason they were in the camps, well, I never poked my nose into details. We all thought the people were there because they were guilty.
Remnick, David. Lenin’s Tomb. New York: Random House, c1993, p. 425

From 1947 to the mid-1950s numerous individuals were denied the right to leave the U.S. on the grounds of their leftist political associations or beliefs, while blanket prohibitions were applied to travel to certain socialist countries. The U.S. State Department’s policy of denying exit from the country to those whose overseas activities might not be in the ‘best interests of the United States’ was incorporated into the 1950 McCarran act, which forbade the issue of passports to members of the Communist Party, and the 1954 Internal Security Act, which gave the Secretary of State discretionary powers to refuse to issue an individual a passport. At this time, individuals who left the U.S. without a valid passport (even to go to Mexico or Canada) were subject to criminal penalties on their return. As the Cold War diminished in the late 1950s the Secretary of State’s discretionary powers withered away. However, restrictions remained on travel to some countries, for political reasons (for example, Cuba, China, Vietnam, Albania) throughout the mid-1970s, and Iran in 1980, and were reinforced by the threat of criminal action. In 1981, the Reagan Administration once again restricted travel to certain countries–for example, to Cuba and Vietnam.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 21

…virtually all states, almost throughout history, have put serious difficulties in the way of those members of their populations who wished to leave their territory.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 23

According to Wheatcroft:
“The category of forced labor without confinement had existed from the 1920s. By the mid-1930s about half of all those sentenced to forced labor served this sentence without confinement, generally at their normal place of work. The sentences were normally for periods of up to six months or in some cases a year. Up to 25 percent of the normal pay was deducted from wages.”
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 246

Russia’s pre-revolutionary prison system was probably the most backward in Europe. Today Russia has the most advanced penal code in the world….
On must understand the underlying ideology of Marxism if one would comprehend the prison system of the USSR. With the Revolution the old penological theories were junked along with all the rest of the prevailing cultural bases. According to Marx, Engels, and their modern interpreter, Lenin, crime is the product of the capitalistic economic system. Change the economic order and the fountainhead of all crime dries up. Since, however, the revolution cannot accomplish the change from a capitalist to a communist society at once, there are forms of anti-social activity due to the transitional stage through which Russia is now passing.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 219

Russia’s penal code is based upon no sentimental humanitarianism. Like her other laws it is the outcome of cold logic working from certain premises looked upon as self-evident with the same assurance as that of the mathematician who accepts the axioms of geometry. These axioms are the fundamental Marxian and Leninist principles. From these grow the fundamental penological principles. These principles may be summarized as follows:
1. “Wrongs” are the results of long centuries of acculturation in a capitalistic society.
2. Some individuals are unable to adapt their habits to a new social order.
3. Others can more easily form a new habit pattern and thus can adapt themselves to a new order of things.
4. The purpose of “punishment” is to protect society.
5. Society should attempt to change the attitude of “wrong-doers” by every method known to modern pedagogical and medical science.
6. Those who cannot be “reformed” should be eliminated from society for its protection.
No sentimentality here; just cold logic. No tears over the possible mistakes made in selecting those to be eliminated; some risk must be taken for social protection. However, every effort must first be made to correct the wrong-doer….
The Soviet leaders recognize that a capitalistic society cannot at once be transformed culturally into a communistic one. Socialism is the intermediate stage….
During this period of restraint society has a chance to order the life of these persons most closely and if possible convert them into good members of society. The first task is to train them in industry. So the prisons are great trade schools. Recognizing that in the transition period of socialism the economic motive must be kept alive for the individual, the Soviet authorities provide that the prisoner must be paid practically the same wage as the free man, consideration being given to the cost of his maintenance….
More interesting still, instead of conducting their prisons on the theory that prison labor and free labor are in inevitable conflict, Russia arranges the closest connection between prison labor and free labor. The prisoner must be brought to realize the solidarity of all labor. He is not an outcast, but a part of the labor-force of the nation. If he is a member of a trade union upon being sent to prison he does not lose that connection. In fact the prisoner who shows by his industry and conduct that he is one with the great body of free workers may be sent from the prison during the later stages of his sentence to work in a factory….
In accordance with their theory of the purpose of confinement the Soviet authorities have done away with life sentences; the longest sentence is 10 years. If a man cannot be changed in that time he cannot be changed at all….
As indicated above, capital punishment is reserved for incorrigible criminals….
It is clear that the system is devised to correct the offender and return him to society. The means employed are associated labor, social pressure, education for a trade, education in Sovietism and in certain stubborn cases disciplinary treatment. In all these institutions the Code provides that there shall be no brutality, no use of chains, no deprivation of food, no use of solitary confinement, and no such degrading devices as interviewing visitors through screens. Prisoners are transferred from one institution to another as the authorities see improvement in attitude and conduct. Work for all is compulsory. Two days of labor counts as three days of the sentence for those who make good progress. Labor conditions in the prisons are controlled by the same labor code as governs free laborers. Those condemned to labor in these institutions are entitled to two weeks’ furlough each year after the first 5 1/2 months. If they belong to the working class, this furlough is deducted from the sentence. The wages paid the prisoners are about the same as those paid free labor less the cost of maintenance. Those condemned to forced labor receive about 25% less. The prisoner may spend a greater proportion of his wages as he advances in grade. The institutions must be self-supporting, so careful management is required….
The educational work in the prisons is a unique feature. There is regular class work, recreation with an educational aim, wall-and printed newspapers, clubs, theatrical performances, sports, musical activities, and self-government in the most advanced grades. Every sort of stimulus and pressure is brought to bear to socialize (” sovietize”) the inmates. In the institutions I visited, including old Czarist buildings and modern farm industrial colonies, I saw these activities carried on with great enthusiasm and earnestness. Perhaps the most interesting of all I saw was the GPU industrial colony outside a Moscow, called Bolshevo. Founded by the GPU for homeless children, it has become one of the most progressive correctional institutions for young offenders, both male and female, I have ever seen. With 2000 inmates, without walls and with very few guards, it appears to be a great industrial village….
The disciplinary measures are limited to reduction in grade with loss of privileges, limitation of the use of personal funds, isolation of the individual up to 14 days and in removal to an isolator where harsher treatment prevails. However, solitary confinement in Russia does not exist in our sense of the word. It is prohibited by Paragraph 49 of the Code. It consists of a stricter separation from the outer world, disbarment from outdoor work and from furlough.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 221-229

However, as the writer visited prisons, especially the farm and industrial colonies, he was shown the pictures of many graduating classes and was told of many who had become agronomists and technicians on Russian state farms and collectives and in Russian industrial establishments….
The following appraisal is a summary of the writer’s judgment of the Russian experiment in dealing with offenders. Space does not permit justification of his opinion. He can say only that these judgments are based upon what he was able to learn from those in Russia in a position to know what are the results of the system and upon his long and rather extensive observations in the prisons of a large part of the world….
For those who show by their conduct that they are amenable to correction every effort is made to prevent the development of a sense of social isolation; solidarity with the dominant group is cultivated in every possible way….
For those who show that they are incorrigible there is only one end — elimination. Before that end is reached every effort is made to correct them. From the Soviet point of view that is the purpose of the colonies of kulaks and other “enemies of the public” at Archangel and in Siberia….
The emphasis upon the role of economic opportunity and industrial and social training in correction is found nowhere else. Even negative disciplinary measures are conceived as reformative in purpose. There is no punishment for retribution.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 236

The introduction of a kind of self-government into the Russian institutions is the most thorough-going attempt to apply this principle [the principle of involving prisoners in prison governance] ever attempted. It seems rather complicated, but those with whom the writer talked about it said that it works remarkably well. It attempts to do away with some of the abuses found in the American experiments and yet brings to the prisoner a sense of participating responsibility.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 238

The farms and industrial colonies without walls and with a minimum of guards is an experiment worth watching. So far as the writer could learn, it works well, if proper personnel is in charge and if careful attention is given to the selection of the inmates….
The method used to keep intact the economic and social ties are unique and effective. The periodical furloughs with the family is a step forward. The prison wage is wholly commendable. The effort to keep in close touch the prisoner and free laborers and employers is most commendable.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 239

We were taken aback by the liberty that prevailed among the prisoners. In our previous prisons we had seen nothing like it. But greater surprises lay in store for us.
The following day comrades showed us papers published in the prison. What a diversity of opinion there was, what freedom in every article! What passion and what candor, not only in the approach to theoretical and abstract questions, but even in matters of the greatest actuality. Was it still possible to reform the system by peaceful means, or was an armed rising, a new revolution required? Was Stalin a conscious or merely an unconscious traitor? Did his policy amount to reaction or to counter-revolution? Could he be eliminated by merely removing the directing personnel, or was a proper revolution necessary? All the news-sheets were written with the greatest freedom, without any reticence, dotting i’s and crossing t’s and–supreme horror–every article signed with the writer’s full name.
Our liberty was not limited to that. During the walk which brought several wards together, the prisoners were in the habit of holding regular meetings in a corner of the yard, with chairman, secretary and orators speaking in proper order. When the order of the day could not cope with all the business, debates were postponed until the next recreation-time. At these meetings the most dangerous and forbidden subjects were discussed without the least restraint and without any fear whatsoever. The invigilating inspector would sit down somewhere or walk to and fro. He no doubt made his reports in the proper quarters, but nobody seemed to be in the least concerned with that. At these meetings Stalin came off very badly, being called all sorts of names. I have seen many things in the USSR but none so bewildering as this isle of liberty, lost in an ocean of slavery–or was it merely a madhouse? So great was the contrast between the humiliated, terrified country and the freedom of mind that reigned in this prison that one was first inclined toward the madhouse theory. How was one to admit that in the immensity of silence-stricken Russia the two or three small islands of liberty where men still had the right to think and speak freely were… the prisons?
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 199

The Amnesty Commissions periodically visited the prisons and the prison administrations prepared list of those recommended for amnesty. Candidates for amnesty came firstly from among the “activists,” the so-called “enthusiasts for socialism” re-educated in prison; secondly from those obviously sentenced in error; thirdly from the gravely ill whose upkeep cost far more than could be covered by any possible unpaid labor they might be able to do.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 365


Many former prisoners from the Baltic-White Sea Canal, after receiving freedom together with special prizes and high honors for their good work, went of free choice to help build the Moscow-Volga Canal, another convict-labor job. Here they were especially valued because through their own experience they understood the process through which new prisoners had to go and were especially skilled in helping them make themselves over….
So well known and effective is the Soviet method of remaking human beings that criminals occasionally now apply to be admitted. I met one such man in Gulin village. Notorious locally as a thief and drunkard, he had a dozen convictions to his discredit, till at last he went to the authorities saying: “I’m a man destroyed, but I want to be made over.” They sent him to a labor camp whence he returned a qualified worker. Bolshevo Commune, the most famous “cure” for criminals, can be entered only by application approved by the general meeting of members. It’s waiting list is so long that it accepts only the most hardened cases, priding itself on being able to make over persons who cannot become cured in any other institution. Its strength lies in its large membership of intelligent former criminals, who apply to new entrants their intimate knowledge of the criminal mind.
Crime today is rapidly diminishing in the Soviet Union. From 1929 to 1934 sentences for murder decreased by 1/2 while sex crimes fell off to 1/4. The cause is found in the growing strength of the Soviet environment to remake human beings; the penal policy is only a supplementary force. A striking example of the play of both causes may be found in the figures of prostitution. Pre-war Moscow had 25,000 to 30,000 prostitutes; these sank by 1928 to about 3000, a diminution clearly due to economic causes.
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 261

Kulaks committed arson, cattle-killing, murder, and were exiled in large numbers; anti-Soviet engineers and officials sabotaged and were sent to labor camps. Today the kulaks have been amnestied, not only because many of them have recovered their civil status by honest labor, but also because the collective farms in the villages are strong enough to withstand their attack and absorb them. The labor camps which supplanted prisons are themselves diminishing, partly because they have “cured” their inmates, and still more because the normal free life of Soviet society is becoming strong and prosperous enough to have a direct regenerative influence on those social misfits that remain.
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 264

I had received my background on the Polish question from members of the Polish government-in-exile when I was in London in 1943. I was entertained at dinner by the Minister of Information of the London group. Present at the dinner were some Poles who had been imprisoned in Russia. They told me what they considered worst in their prison experiences. It so happened that I had for a time been Director of prisoner of war work in Canada for the World Committee of the YMCA and their description of conditions did not show the Russian camps to contrast unfavorably with those of Canada. They had been put to work, but that was a policy I had continually urged upon the Canadian government.
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 99

Sentences to prison are limited to 10 years, even for the most serious offenses, including murder. Up to 1921 the maximum was only five years. In practice, time off for good conduct cuts the ten-year sentence to five or six. The theory of this limited prison sentence is that Soviet prisons are intended to reform, not punish, and that if a man can’t be reformed in 10 years, he can’t be reformed at all. The death penalty, applied to a long list of crimes and rather commonly resorted to up to 1927, was abolished on the 10th anniversary of the Revolution for all cases except political crimes and armed robbery.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 65

The maximum prison sentence in Russia for any offense, criminal or political, is 10 years. The theory as applied to criminals is that if they cannot be reformed in that period they cannot be reformed at all, and so a longer time is useless. In political cases 10 years is evidently regarded as long enough for any offense not punished by death. The 10 years is, in practice, often reduced to six or seven by good behavior.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 203

[Jan. 27, 1925 NKVD circular on measures for developing work in areas of labor camps]
The Corrective Labor Code defines our basic mission as assigning inmates to productive employment for the purpose of imparting the benefits of corrective labor to them.
In order to develop inmates employment, inmates should be organized as self-supporting work units exempt from all national and local taxes and levies….
According to our information, it is obvious that work programs for inmates have not been organized at any large number of places of incarceration, thus depriving the inmates of the benefits of corrective labor, i.e., the places of incarceration are failing to accomplish their primary mission as defined by the Corrective Labor Code.
Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 141

… This book [a volume on the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal], with contributions by Gorky… and other notable writers, extolled the rehabilitative benefits of the prison labor project; many of those who worked on the canal were rewarded subsequently with pardons.
Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 153

The Governor came to see me in prison at 10:00….
“You see, Kleist, the essential difference between investigation and punishment in the USSR and in your capitalist countries is that with us the investigatory period is one of rigid discipline and inquiry, and the so-called ‘punishment’ period is a reformatory one in which we make it as easy as possible for the prisoner to adjust himself to normal society. With you, the investigatory period is one of leniency and the punishment period is one of savage reprisal of society against one whom in practice it henceforward rejects.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 192

In August 1935 Pravda added a weighty editorial voice to this campaign when it announced that “to punish for mistakes–this is the last resort. It is necessary to teach how to avoid mistakes…. It’s necessary to remember a basic rule: persuade, teach, help.” Repression was to be used only in “extreme cases,” but even then it should also educate.
Thus, during 1935 Party organs and the central authorities of the judicial system issued a series of strong warnings to lower courts and prosecutors alike that petty problems and infractions were not to be considered crimes, that cases of counter-revolution were not to be pressed unless serious, and that careful attention to evidence was the order of the day. Krylenko’s and Vyshinsky’s protests against NKVD behavior and the wide application of Article 58 had a similar thrust.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 14

All inmates of the institution have a classification. The citizens who have “gone wrong” and are sent to prison are at the beginning placed in the first category. They are left there until the observation committee approves of them being promoted to the second category. While they are under this first classification each is allowed three days’ vacation a year–to go home or anywhere they please, but must report back to the prison on the assigned day. Those deserving a promotion are raised to the second category which gives them seven days a year vacation in addition to other privileges. When promoted to the third category they receive one month. These vacations are counted in each case as a part of their sentence.
If a prisoner is released on good behavior he is given a job. But if convicted of a crime again, the new sentence, plus the remaining part of the old sentence, is added to the time he must serve. Every prisoner is allowed to go anywhere in the prison he pleases and the trusted ones are given the right to be guards. If on account of bad behavior, a prisoner is punished by isolation in a cell and only allowed to walk around where there are no other inmates, this punishment the prison warden said is to remind him of his misbehavior and has produced good results.
The institution contained a factory where every prisoner had to work if able. The inmate who did not already know a trade is taught one, both by theory and practice, so when released he is much abler to find employment. Each is paid a wage for his work and allowed to spend a certain amount for incidentals at the prison store, the remaining part is put in a bank account; and when released, each one has his savings account money returned so that he can care for himself and therefore would not be so apt to commit another crime. The wage ranges from 50 to 60 rubles a month. This is thought to be low enough so as not to compete with other labor, for if wages were equal or better the workers might have a tendency to commit crime to take advantage of it as the wage is a clear one, the prisoners being free of the expenses of food, clothes, and shelter.
All prisons are considered open prisons, the only isolated ones being in north Siberia and they are isolated only in the sense that prisoners are kept in a prison community. Only exceptionally bad prisoners are sent there and the repeaters who have a long list of crimes. These, however, are those classed as “incurables.”
This prison contained no confinement cells–I had the privilege of going anywhere I wished here and found nothing of this sort. The number of inmates in each cell were three. The condition of the cells would be classified as average, each having a good sized window which let in sufficient light. As for the food and clothes, these items, too, may be said to be average.
The Soviet idea of treating a criminal is not to beat and punish him by physical force, but to consider him as a citizen “gone to wrong” and help train him to be a law-abiding citizen. If a person has a prison record it does not in any way hinder him from getting employment. Quite different from our prison system!
There are only two things which every prisoner is forced to do and that is, learn to read and write while in confinement.
Sometime later I saw a group of prisoners doing harvest work with machinery on one of the government farms. There were only a few guards on hand and no evidence whatever of exploitation.
Wright, Russell. One-Sixth of the World’s Surface. Hammond, Ind., The Author, c1932, p. 33-34

The state proclaimed a policy of “reformation through forced labor.” Those who actively showed their worth in “the building of socialism” had a good chance of being pardoned, rewarded, even allowed to continue their careers. In the 1930s a highly popular film “Prisoners” depicted the rapid reeducation at the Baltic-White Sea Canal Construction Camp of both criminals and political prisoners, transformed into active participants in building socialism.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 89

Forced labor, in the strict sense, was imposed on peasants who had resorted to violence in resisting collectivization. They were treated like criminals and were subject to imprisonment. Here history played one of its malignant and gloomy jokes. Soviet penitentiary reforms of earlier years, inspired by humanitarian motives, viewed the imprisonment of criminals as a means to their re-education, not punishment. They provided for the employment of criminals in useful work. The criminals were to be under the protection of trade unions; and their work was to be paid at trade-union rates. As the number of rebellious peasants grew, they were organized in mammoth labor camps and employed in the building of canals and railways, in timber felling, and so on.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 336

QUESTION: Is the 0GPU under another name employing two or 3 million political prisoners in carrying out a program of forced labor?

ANSWER: The picture that these words aroused for the average American–of idealistic intellectuals condemned to heavy, unpaid, chain-gang work–does not exist in the USSR.
There are, however, “labor camps” in many parts of the country, as part of the Soviet method of reclaiming anti-social elements by useful, collective work. They replace prisons, which have been steadily closing; I have found old prison buildings remodeled as schools. Men in the labor camps draw wages, have vacations in which they leave the camp, and rise in their profession like free workers. They work at their specialty; engineers do large-scale engineering, intellectuals do cultural work, teaching and clerical work; actors put on plays, unskilled workers are trained in trades and illiterate men get schooling. Their wives and families are often allowed to visit them for extended periods.
These camps usually work on some nationally famous project which is intended to stir instincts of creative energy and collective pride. Men who respond to these motives may rise to the highest honors. The Baltic-White Sea Canal, for instance, was celebrated not only as an achievement in construction, but as a place where criminals “made themselves over.” Many former thieves, saboteurs, murderers, received the Order of Lenin, the highest honor in the country.
Strong, Anna Louise. “Searching Out the Soviets.” New Republic: August 7, 1935, p. 358\

Likewise, throughout [until] 1936, except in extraordinary conditions (such as the Civil War of 1918-1920, and the rural conflict of 1930-31) very few opponents were executed. The standard remedy for active opponents of the regime (as it was for common criminals) was socialist re-education, in good part through productive labor. This represented a humane and largely effective strategy…. Until 1937 the conditions applying to those actually confined for active opposition to the regime were considerably better than those for ordinary criminals; until 1937 torture was officially prohibited in the USSR (and, in fact, was rare). It was standard practice for those sentenced to a term in labor re-education camps in the remote region of the country to return to their old positions (as engineers, party leaders, etc.) after a relatively short time;…
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 228


There were almost no acquittals in Magnitogorsk in 1937, nor were there more than half a dozen death sentences. After the trial, the operative department of the NKVD turned the convicts over to the ULAG (criminal camp administration), whose job it was to get certain construction work done, using the labor of the convicts, and also to carry on re-educational work. The ULAG was a completely separate and independent part of the NKVD organization. They received a prisoner accompanied by a frayed document stating that he had been convicted on such-and-such an article. Beyond this they knew nothing. Their job was to build dams and railroads, and in the interest of high productivity, if for no other reason, they treated the prisoners as well as possible.
Arrived at the construction job, the prisoners received better food than they had had since their arrests and warm, sturdy clothes, and were told that from then on the thing that counted was their work. Until 1938, twenty, forty, or sixty percent of their sentences were frequently commuted for good work….
Alexei Pushkov, the chief of the Magnitogorsk NKVD during 1937, was himself purged in 1939 for his excessive ardor in purging the people of Magnitogorsk.
Scott, John. Behind the Urals, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, p. 193

At the time of their arrest, “saboteur”-Communists apparently expected that they would suffer a relatively light punishment, much like the nonparty specialists at the beginning of the 1930s, who were given decent living and working conditions after their trial. John Scott tells how in 1932, the GPU sent to Magnitogorsk 20 to 30 engineers who had been convicted in the case of the “Industrial Party.” Upon arriving in Magnitogorsk with their families, they were given four-room cottages and automobiles. They worked under contracts according to which they were paid 3000 rubles per month (10 times more than the wage of an average worker). Although they were watched by the 0GPU, they were allowed to go hunting on holidays in the forests of the Urals located tens of kilometers from the city. “They were also given highly responsible positions and instructed to work hard in order to prove that they really intended to become good Soviet citizens.” One of the former “wreckers” worked as the chief electrician at the combinat, another as the main engineer at a chemical plant. Several of them were decorated with medals for labor achievements.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 269


All the British subjects at the Metro Vickers trial, however, subsequently revealed that they had been treated with great politeness and consideration by the Soviet authorities. None of them had been subjected to any form of coercion, 3d agree methods or force.
Alan Monkhouse declared of his OGPU examiners in a statement in the London Dispatch on March 15th: “they were extraordinarily nice to me and exceedingly reasonable in their questioning. My examiners seemed first-rate men who knew their job. The OGPU prison is the last word in efficiency, entirely clean, orderly and well-organized. This is the first time that I have ever been arrested, but I have visited English prisons and can attest that the OGPU quarters are much superior. OGPU officials showed every concern for my comfort.
Sayers and Kahn. The Great Conspiracy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946, p. 175

But it is said by those who have dealt constantly with the GPU in behalf of prisoners, that the heads, when they can be reached, are solicitous to correct the injustices or abuses of their subordinates. Even Dzerzhinsky, head of the old Cheka, was scrupulous in such cases, though severe–and he was fairly accessible.
While the GPU is the strong arm of the Soviet state for the protection of the Revolution and to keep the way clear of obstructions to the State’s program, it is essentially an organ of the Communist Party under the control of the Central Committee, as its creator, Dzerzhinsky, insisted it should be. It does not get out of hand, as do the secret services in some other countries–as, for instance, in the United States under the Daugherty-Burns regime.
To the minds of opponents of the Soviet regime the GPU bulks big. It is to them the Red Terror, supreme, lawless, all-powerful, ruthless, shooting at will on suspicion. But to any sober student of the political phenomena of Soviet Russia the GPU must appear as an exceedingly well-organized and efficient military police, with the function of combating all opposition, but working within definite bounds under the central political authority–to all appearances quietly, almost invisibly.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 194

Concentration camps and temporary prisons for political prisoners or hostages were established in Soviet Russia during the civil war that followed the revolution. But it was not until the early 20s that a more or less regular penitentiary system began to be introduced and laws elaborated to apply to it. The regimen for political prisoners in the ’20s was relatively lenient. They received extra food, were exempt from forced labor, and were not subjected to humiliating inspections. In political jails self-government was allowed; the politicals elected “elders,” who dealt with the prison administration. They kept their clothes, books, writing materials, pocket knives; they could subscribe to newspapers and magazines. Their imprisonment was regarded as temporary isolation during a national emergency.
For example, on December 30, 1920, when the civil war had barely ended, the Cheka issued a special order;
“Information received by the Cheka establishes that members of various anti-Soviet parties arrested in political cases are being kept in very bad conditions…. The Cheka points out that the above-listed categories of people must not be regarded as undergoing punishment, but as temporarily isolated from society in the interests of the revolution. The conditions of their detention must not have a punitive character.”
One incident highlights the prison customs of the time. When Kropotkin, the Anarchist patriarch, died in his home near Moscow, hundreds of Anarchists who had been put in Butyrskaya prison for anti-Soviet activity demanded permission to attend the funeral of their teacher. Dzerzhinsky ordered that the Anarchists be let out on their honor. After the military funeral they all returned, to a man…?
Of course, in the early 20s there were quite a few instances that could be classified as insulting treatment of prisoners by the GPU. Still, this was the exception, not the rule. The Corrective Labor Code of 1924, which regulated conditions for all prisoners, including criminals and “counter-revolutionaries,” stated:
“The regimen should be devoid of any trace of cruel or abusive treatment, the following by no means being permitted: handcuffs, punishment cells, solitary confinement, denial of food, keeping prisoners behind bars during conversations with visitors.”
In most cases this code was observed at the time.
In the early 20s Commissar of Health Semashko pointed with pride to the establishment of a humane prison regime, which could not exist in capitalist countries. To be sure, some deterioration can be noted even in the ’20s. At the end of 1923, for example, the exercise period was cut down, which provoked a much publicized crash between Social Revolutionaries and guards at Solovketskaia prison. There were other “excesses,” but at the time they were exceptions rather than the rule.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 501-502

The difficulty of correctly appreciating the treatment of political prisoners in the Soviet Union, due primarily to the lack of factual evidence, is increased by those who, wishing to make obscurance doubly sure, have created OGPU legends which one could describe as entirely fictitious were they not sometimes based on the fiction of others. It is unnecessary to recapitulate them: they are widely held as the truth about the GPU.
The narrative which follows, written from the notes of Peter Kleist, a German engineer accused of espionage and held in prison by the GPU for examination, should destroy at least the more fantastic of these inventions and illuminate the obscurities of the remand period before the “Moscow Trials.” Kleist, whom I know intimately, is a person whose profoundest interests are his work and scientific truth. In the Lubyanka and Butirki prisons he observed the system and experienced the methods of the GPU; and without the passion either of resentment (he is disposed to objective thinking) or of partisanship (he is by no means a Communist) he has noted his experiences and observations. Apart from the changing of some names, necessary in order not to compromise certain individuals, the narrative faithfully adheres to Kleist’s notes. If it is unsensational, it is because the truth of his imprisonment is unsensational. For that reason, I consider Kleist’s narrative an important testimony in judging the GPU even for those who without wishing to surrender their prejudices, may yet wish to correct their misconceptions.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 7

The warders at the Lubyanka alternated constantly and it was never possible to enter into their intimacy. The precise routine regulations prevented any great variation in the way in which they treated the prisoners. For the most part the behavior of the guards was unobjectionable. Prison regulations required that they should treat the prisoners courteously although they were not allowed to enter into general conversation with them.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 105

[As Kleist crossed the Soviet border into Poland he was met with] I’m a detective of the Polish police. We like to know something of the intentions of our visitors from the USSR. Well, Kleist–and how do you feel?”
“I’m quite well.”
“I understand that you didn’t confess.”
“No. I had nothing to confess.”
“Tell that to your grandmother. Did they torture you?”
“No,” I snapped at him. “It was a Russian prison not a Polish one.”
He was unruffled. “Our prisons are quite humane,” he said. “Were you brutally treated?”
“No. I was treated as considerately as prison existence permits.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 199

[When I got off the train in Poland] One of the young men dashed up with a camera and said, “Look this way!” There was a flash and immediately the photographer dashed away with his camera.
“Polska Gazeta!” the other young man introduced himself briefly, speaking German. “Largest circulation in Warsaw. Offer you 500 zloty for your story.”
“What do you want to know?” I asked, looking over his head for my mother.
“Well, for a start– what tortures did they give you?”
“Oh, come on, what tortures did they give you–did they keep you on bread and water, did they have a tom-tom beating day and night outside your cell, was your cell so small that you couldn’t stretch your legs out, did they shoot Trotskyists in front of your eyes? That’s the sort of stuff we want. Let it rip!”
He waited with his pencil poised.
“There’s nothing haggard I can tell you,” I answered, “that will interest you in that way. I was examined under as good circumstances as the situation allowed. I admitted anything that I had done and denied what I hadn’t done.”
He looked disappointed.
“H’m! What about your talking drug? Were you drugged at all?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Well, you’d know if you were drugged.”
“Well, I’m afraid your story’s not much use. Have to do something about it. Let’s see.” He started writing rapidly in shorthand, muttering as he wrote: “Kleist looked haggard and worn after his three months’ imprisonment in the Lubyanka…refused to speak. His senses seemed to have been numbed by his experiences. He could not remember his sufferings and seemed unable to think coherently. He refused to speak of the tortures of the GPU and cast hunted looks about the platform. Apparently he had friends still in the Lubyanka held as hostages for his silence. How’s that?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“You’re a lickspittle, my dear fellow. Your bosses ask you for this. You’ve got to give it. Don’t expect any from me.”
Unabashed he folded his pocket-book, raised his fawn hat, and rushed away.
(Kleist on the Moscow Trials)
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 203

The NKVD hit lists [in the Baltic states] were very similar to those of the SS and the Gestapo: all members of parliament and senators, local mayors and heads of district administrations, landowners and businessmen, lawyers, priests, policemen, non-Marxist intellectuals and so on. In short, anyone who might possibly cause trouble was arrested and shipped out to the wastes of Kazakhstan or Siberia. Unlike the Nazis, however, the Soviet authorities could claim quite truthfully that their victims were not being treated any differently from their fellow citizens of the Soviet Union.
Read, Anthony and David Fisher. The Deadly Embrace. New York: Norton, 1988, p. 360

Surprisingly, I was never actually beaten….
Kuusinen, Aino. The Rings of Destiny. New York: Morrow, 1974, p. 147

I should also record that, long and exhausting as the interrogations were, I myself was never treated with physical cruelty, though I had to listen to plenty of threats and insults during both periods of questioning, month after month.
Kuusinen, Aino. The Rings of Destiny. New York: Morrow, 1974, p. 197

My experience was not really one of a “police state.” The GPU was as much respected and trusted as feared, in my time. The ordinary urban police was neither respected nor feared, but rather pitied. Twice I witnessed the same scene: a civilian knocked down a policeman; bystanders came to his aid and held the attacker until a second policeman showed up; the two law officers then took the culprit to the station, without twisting his arms. Another time when a policeman admonished two young drunks, one of them, imitating the gestures of regulating traffic, shouted, “You, comrade regulator, just regulate traffic, and don’t hassle us!” The cop just replied, amid general laughter, “All right, boys, go home and sleep it off.”
…Subsequently, however, I was shocked on occasion to see large groups of men and women being roughly herded through the streets by soldiers. I found it hard to believe that they were all criminals. But I could not then, and for many years thereafter, believe that people were physically mistreated, beaten, or tortured in the Soviet Union. It was contrary to the profound and general condemnation of physical violence which I had found prevalent everywhere. Verbal quarrels were often harsh enough, but they never came to blows; this was considered “uncultured.” In Makeyevka, where it cannot have been easy to maintain school discipline among tough kids, it was a great public scandal when a teacher ordered a boy To kneel in a corner of the classroom. When I lived and worked in the “East” I perceived a human face behind the mask.
Blumenfeld, Hans. Life Begins at 65. Montreal, Canada: Harvest House, c1987, p. 167


Some of the bitterest stories of prison experiences under the Soviets have been written about these preliminary detention prisons. While these stories constitute a fair indictment of certain methods of the GPU, they are not a fair basis for judging the Russian political prison system. All such temporary jails the world over tend to be far below the average prison standard.
Even the larger detention prisons in Moscow and Leningrad, the Butirki and the Spalerna, are much better. Indeed, the Spalerna, built as a political prison by the czar, compares favorably with the “world’s best jails,” though it is often badly overcrowded. I do not recollect seeing a better jail, from a physical standpoint, anywhere in the United States.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 241

I went into about a dozen prisons of all types, from Georgia to Leningrad, and had no difficulty getting in–and out–except for the political isolators and the detention prisons in Moscow, all of which were closed to foreign visitors because of the excitement at the time over the break with England. They differed greatly in cleanliness and arrangement, just as they do in the United States. I saw none worse than some I have seen in the United States, and two were as clean and well ordered as America’s best. The average, however, is lower; but so is the whole Russian standard of living.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 244

…The whole system is operated on elastic lines in order to move prisoners about easily from one type of institution to another according to the authorities’ judgment of their ability to stand more or less liberty. A prisoner may progress from an isolator–the severest type, where the regime is like that of prisons anywhere–to a house of correction, where he is freer. That freer regime is marked by one of the most amazing privileges of Soviet prisons, a two-weeks’ vacation each year with pay for every well-behaved prisoner, and for those whose conduct is not first-class, proportionately less time off. Prisoners may take their two weeks all at one time, or divide it into short periods, or even into “weekends in town.”
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 245

Peasant prisoners get three months’ vacation in the summer–without prison pay–to help with the crops if their village Soviet does not object to their return home. The approval of the home-town soviet is now required in order to avoid trouble with the neighbors, following early incidents in which some prisoners were beaten, even killed, by indignant villagers. The officials say that very few prisoners fail to return from vacation. Those who do not return and who are caught suffer no additions to their sentences, but they get no more vacations and may be sent back to prisons of more restricted liberty.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 246

In “intermediate” houses of correction located usually in cities, prisoners have still more liberty, as they are free to go to work outside, only coming back to sleep in them. Some work in the shops inside; but even they are allowed to go out. I heard envious comment in Leningrad from unemployed workers who thought these prisoners better off than they–with secure jobs and a comfortable home! Farm colonies, in which liberty is least restricted, are connected with most of the large prisons. One I visited near Leningrad was an old estate, surrounded by barbed wire in order to check up at the entrances on the comings and goings of prisoners to the fields and forests–and even to the railroad station a mile away, where they were allowed to see off their visitors. The whole atmosphere was natural and unrestrained. The warden and guards played games with the men, and worked and slept out with them in field and forest. Those who prove unfit for this increased liberty of farm colonies are sent back to the more restricted prisons.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 246

Within the prisons the relations between the keepers and inmates are unusually democratic, as prisons go. The prisoners share actively in running prison life, though thorough-going self government experiments are still in their infancy. The prisoners share in self government is so far confined to organizing education and recreation and conducting the prison cooperative stores.
…Most of the wardens struck me as more alert, less officious, and with a closer man-to-man relation to the prisoners, than any wardens I have had the privilege of meeting elsewhere–and I have met a good many, in one capacity or another.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 247

One of the great improvements in Russian prisons is that work is available to almost all prisoners. There is no forced labor, no contract labor, as in the United States. All prisoners are free not to work if they choose. But great inducements to work lie in the payment of wages and in the deduction of one-third time off the sentences of working prisoners. The wages are usually low, but enough to help support the prisoners’ families, to take care of their needs for tobacco, sweets, stationery, and toilet articles at prison stores, and to give them some money on release. In all but a few prisons there is plenty of work in the shops, making textiles, harnesses, shoes, furniture, wagons–and in printing. The goods not purchased by a government department are sold on the market, and the profits go to prison maintenance.
In several prisons where the men–common offenders–crowded around me with curiosity as to my mission, I asked for those who had served time also in Czarist prisons. Each time a few spoke up. In response to inquiry as to what improvements they noted, if any, under the Soviets, they usually laughed at the idea of asking such a question. “Of course this regime is better,” said one, “we can smoke, we don’t have to go to church, we can see the warden any time we ask, and we get pay and vacations.”
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 248

…There is, however, no solitary confinement in Russia, except temporarily for offenses committed in prison.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 249

The Soviet regime, while pursuing its policy of severity toward political or economic opposition, has made marked advances over the Czarist system in abolishing solitary confinement in single cells, the dungeons of military fortresses, and the brutalities of flogging and forced labor…. While the exile system remains quite as bad, possibly even worse, than under the Czar, the lot of political prisoners, bad as it is, has undoubtedly improved. In comparison with other countries, it is in many respects better–better, for instance, in relation to the lot of ordinary criminals than in the United States, which makes no distinction between political and other offenders, though physically American prisons average higher. But in relation to the standard of living of the people, Russian prisons are on quite as high a level as ours. I have seen far worse political prisons in other parts of Europe where political prisoners are presumed to enjoy a privileged status.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 252

[March 3, 1937 resolution of the February-March 1937 Central Committee Plenum on “Lessons of the wrecking, diversionary, and espionage activities of the Japanese-German-Trotskyist agents”]
Even more intolerable are the prison procedures established by the NKVD of the USSR as it pertains to Trotskyists, Zinovievists, rightists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and other thoroughly vicious enemies of Soviet power who have been convicted.
All of these enemies of the people were as a rule assigned to so-called political isolation prisons, which were placed under the command of the NKVD of the USSR. Conditions in these political isolation prisons were particularly favorable. The prisons resembled forced vacation homes more than prisons.
In these political isolation prisons, inmates were afforded the opportunity of associating closely with each other, of discussing all political matters taking place in the country, of working out plans for anti-Soviet operations to be carried out by their organizations, and of maintaining relationships with people on the outside. The convicts were granted the right to unrestricted use of literature, paper, and writing instruments, the right to receive an unlimited number of letters and telegrams, to acquire their own personal effects and keep them in their cells, and to receive, along with their official rations, packages from the outside in any number and containing any type of goods.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 423

[Extract from protocol #3 of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of June 10, 1939 regarding NKVD camps]
2. The main incentives for increasing productivity in the camps shall be an improvement in provisions and nutrition for good production workers who demonstrate high productivity, financial bonuses for this category of prisoners, and a lightened camp regime, with general improvement in their living conditions.
Probationary release may be granted by the Collegium of the NKVD or the Special Board of the NKVD at the special petition of the camp supervisor and the supervisor of the political department of the camp to certain prisoners who have proven themselves to be exemplary workers and who have shown, over a long period of time, a high level of work….
4. The work force at camp should be equipped with foodstuffs and work clothes calculated in such a way that the physical strength of the camp work force may be utilized to the maximum at any productive task.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 549

Harsh as nature was in the Kolyma region, few people died in the Dalstroi camps in the years 1932-1937. There existed a system of examinations which allowed 10-year sentences to be reduced to two or three years, excellent food and clothing, a workday of four to six hours in winter and 10 in summer, and good pay, which enabled prisoners to help their families and to return home with funds. These facts may be found not only in the book by Vyaktin, a former head of one of the Kolyma camps, but also in Shalamov’s Tales of the Kolyma Camps.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 508

I do not exaggerate if I say that my cell in the Lubyanka was one of the cleanest and freshest rooms that I lived in during my whole stay in the USSR.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 73

We rarely complained of the treatment re-received. The food was monotonous–a rotation of peas and cabbage, or potatoes, meatloaf or fishloaf–but there was always enough to satisfy one’s hunger. The tea was sometimes not hot but this was remedied on our objecting. The cell was adequately warm and in addition we were supplied with four thinnish blankets.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 106

Medical inspection in the Butirki was as systematic as in the Lubyanka. Each day at about 9:30, the doctor went the rounds of the cells with two orderlies, prisoners from the penal section of the prison who were training as male nurses. The doctor’s stock question was, “Any patients?” There would be an immediate rush from all sides of the cell. Some prisoners complained of headaches, others of constipation; some of diarrhea and a dozen valetudinarian afflictions. The doctor, who wore civilian clothes, took it all good-humouredly, never charged anybody with malingering, although would-be malingerers were habitual, and rapidly and accurately dispensed diagnosis and advice. He was never deceived by malingerers nor did he ever reject a complaint of anybody genuinely ill.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 163

…It is curious that despite the relative amount of freedom allowed within the prison, attempts to escape were negligible. A more effective deterrent than bars is the certainty of apprehension. There is also in Soviet prisons a sense of being on parole. This discourages that resentment which drives prisoners elsewhere to escape at any cost.
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 165

The company [in prison], apart from a plague of stool pigeons, was usually good, especially in Moscow, and innumerable cases are given of kindness and self-sacrifice–as when (a Hungarian Communist reports) a prisoner, back from even worse conditions, was allowed a bed to himself for a whole day by the 275 men crammed into a 25-man cell, and was given extra sugar from their rations….
All prisoners report cases of Party officials who remained loyal, and held either that Stalin and the Politburo knew nothing of what was happening or, alternatively, that they themselves were not qualified to judge these decisions, and simply had the duty of obeying Party rules, including confession….
Smoking was permitted. All games were forbidden….
Books are reported as available in two Moscow prisons, the Lubyanka & the Butyrka (though at the height of Yezhov’s power, they seem to have been prohibited). These libraries were good, containing the classics, translations, histories, and scientific works–sounding much better than those of British prisons or, indeed, hospitals or cruise liners. The Butyrka was particularly fine. The reason was that it had been used for political prisoners in Tsarist times, and the big liberal publishing houses had always given free copies of their books to these jails. That of the Lubyanka was largely of books confiscated from prisoners.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 266

A special category of prison consisted of the half-dozen “political isolators,” notably those at Suzdal, Verkhne-Uralsk, Yaroslavl, and Alexandrovsk. These dated from earlier days of the regime, when they had been thought of as a comparatively humane method of removing fractious Communists and other left-wing “politicals” from public life. Even in the early 1930s, treatment in these prisons was comparatively humane.
The Lubyanka was free of bugs, and the same is reported of some of the Kiev prisons, though bugs usually abounded….
The corridors of the Lubyanka were clean, smelling of carbolic and disinfectant.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 268

And, indeed, there had long been an alternative Soviet story. There were, it is true, corrective labor establishments of a highly beneficent type. Their operation could be seen in such works as Pogodin’s play The Aristocrats, which showed how prisoners were reclaimed at labor on the White Sea Canal and elsewhere. Pogodin represents bandits, thieves, and even “wrecker” engineers being reformed by labor. A re-generated engineer, now working enthusiastically at a project, has his old mother visit him. The kindly camp chief puts his car at her disposal, and she is delighted at her son’s healthy physical appearance. “How beautifully you have re-educated me,” a thief remarks, while another sings, “I am reborn, I want to live and sing.”
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 308

In the penal camps proper, however, there was considerable freedom of speech:
[A prisoner in Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich says, “…The great thing about a penal camp was you had a hell of a lot of freedom. Back in Ust-Izhma if you said they couldn’t get matches “outside” they put you in the can and slapped on another 10 years. But here you could yell your head off about anything you liked and the squealers didn’t even bother to tell on you. The security fellows couldn’t care less.
The only trouble was you didn’t have much time to talk about anything.”
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 318

A meeting [during glasnost] took place between members of the local branch of Memorial [a group collecting signatures to establish a monument to honor the victims of Stalinism] and veteran members of the organs of the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), who had done guard duty in the camps in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the latter shouted that writers of defamatory articles on the camps should be shot, and there was some applause. Others claimed that the inmates of the camps had been criminals and not political victims. No one remembered cases of inhumane treatment, food had been plentiful, medical care excellent. If one believed these witnesses, conditions had been similar to those of a holiday resort. True, some people had died, but then, others had died outside the camps.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 269

[On May 6, 1936 Zinoviev said in prison] I am treated humanely in prison here. I get medical attention etc. But I am old and badly shaken.
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 339

Thus, those who, in the late 1930s, actually died in the camps of various causes were very few, probably a matter of not more than 10,000. According to the great anti-Soviet mythology especially after the war, the Soviet labor camps were almost exactly the same as Hitler’s extermination camps: in the Soviet camps people “died like flies.” In reality they were like the camp described by Solzhenitsyn in Ivan Denisovich. This, in recent years (when one could, at last, at least privately talk to those who had been in camps), was confirmed to me by a very large number of Russians…. In addition, most, though not all of the people I interviewed confirmed that until the war prisoners could–and did–receive letters and food-parcels from home.
Werth, Alexander. Russia; The Post-War Years. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co.,1971, p. 30

The prisoners went for their walks twice daily and these lasted one hour in winter, an hour and a half in summer. Four to five wards, that is to say from 25 to 35 prisoners, went at a time, and were allowed to do what they liked: walk, hold meetings, take exercise (football, tennis or gorodki, a Russian game of ninepins). In summer they were allowed to grow flowers or vegetables. Twice a month the prisoners went to the baths, and on those occasions sheets would be changed and body linen taken to the laundry.
The prison possessed a considerable library, the nucleus of which consisted of the books inherited from the Czarist prison (works from Russian, German, French and English literature). Many volumes, especially works on sociology, politics and history, were gifts made by prisoners at the time of their release; moreover, the administration would occasionally buy books. Thus I was able to read some very new books: Andre Gide’s Voyage au Congo and Traven’s Coton. On the whole the library was not at all bad. Apart from that, some of the prisoners brought with them an excellent choice of personal books, often as many as a hundred or even two or 300 volumes. A certain number of prisoners had new publications sent them by relatives. The use of these particular volumes was not limited to their owners, but all the owners ward-mates and the occupants of neighboring wards shared them alike. The prisoners, moreover, had the right to subscribe to any of the periodicals appearing in the USSR. As to the foreign papers, we were allowed only the central organs of the Communist Party, the Rote Fahne, l’ Humanite and the Daily Worker, and then only one copy per floor of the prison….
Under such conditions, having enough reading material was not much physical occupation, the prisoners, who were mainly educated people, spent all their energy on the political life of the prison: the editing and publishing of news sheets, articles, the holding of meetings and debates. It is no exaggeration to say that the political isolator of Verkhne-Uralsk, with its 250 political prisoners, constituted a veritable university of social and political sciences–the only independent university in the USSR.
An important question was that of the communications between the prisoners. These communications, though prohibited, were actually tolerated to a certain extent by the prison authorities. There was a constant struggle concerning the “internal postal service,” but both parties played this game according to certain accepted rules. Communications between the four or five wards of each floor were naturally easy. Less easy were “vertical” relations between wards on different floors. But they took place all the same: at a given signal a bag would be lowered from the higher floor in which the “mail” was placed. The warders had long polls with which they tried to intercept the bags. They succeeded on very rare occasions only, for it was impossible constantly to watch all windows, especially as there were prisoners brave enough to fend off the warders’ poles with sticks. The rules of the game demanded that a victory was won as soon as the bag had been taken or raised again. The bars, with which the windows were provided, were far enough apart to allow all of these manifestations.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 202-203

A peculiarity of our barrack-prison was the fact that one could sit for hours at a time with a considerable number of the inmates of the various blocks, talking as though one were at liberty–no, even more frankly than one would have done if free, since in the USSR free men are more afraid of frankness. Our talks took place in the two gardens and the 3 yards. One could also drop into a neighboring cell, visit the hospital, the rooms housing the cultural institutions, and stroll through the various coridors.
Looking into the prison library one was sure to encounter from five to ten readers and two or three assistants, all “our” people, that is, prisoners. There one could stay and browse….
Library regulations allowed two books a week to each cell. During the week books could be exchanged between cells. Those who were at liberty to circulate within the prison could go to the library and take out books….
Several courses were organized in the library. The illiterate were taught to read and write, and for the literate there were courses in arithmetic, geography, the natural sciences. Textbooks especially published for this purpose were used. I had a look at them. Some were graphically and interestingly written. Both pupils and teachers were prisoners. Arithmetic was taught by a little old man, a former merchant from the Ukraine who after the Revolution had worked as a book-keeper in Soviet enterprises….
We had also a drama circle, an orchestra, and a weekly cinema show. For all these “cultural activities,” as one calls them in the Soviet Union, a whole block was allocated, taking up the space of six to eight large cells. Half of them were occupied by the “cultural workers” and the musicians. They were the best cells in the prison.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 353

My many meetings and long talks in Irkutsk prison were for me a return to the realities of Soviet life…. I felt much more free, here in prison, than I was later to feel at liberty, in deportation. This sensation arose not only from my freedom of movement within the prison, but also from my free contact with the outside world through the continual flow of thousands of prisoners bringing with them the living spirit of the country.
Even direct contact with the outside world was not lacking. There were among us not a few who worked individually in some outside institution or who were permitted visits from relatives. Since they were subjected to hardly any searching when they returned to prison, it was possible to receive and send letters. There was also an authorized correspondence. There was even a post office within the prison, next to the administration office, and it was open to all of us for normal postal transactions. Censorship was more a matter of form than of reality. This was not a GPU prison, that is, a political prison with its draconic severity, but a common “criminal” prison belonging to the People’s Commissariat of Justice, with almost the atmosphere of 1917….
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 357

But during my time in this “blessed” criminal prison one could write openly to friends abroad, just as one could from any part of Russia. I then and there wrote several letters to my friends in Russia and to relatives abroad. This for the first time in three years, since throughout that time the GPU had forbidden me to correspond with anyone.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 358

In spite of hunger and overcrowding, the prison was a beehive of activity: courses, lectures and propaganda. The illiterate were taught the alphabet; courses in mathematics, geography, physics and so on were organized for those who had a modicum of instruction. There were orchestras and a theater, the musicians and actors being recruited from among the prisoners. Films were shown. The prison library provided books and newspapers for every cell. I was asked to give a course of Latin classes to the infirmary staff. The young people followed all these classes with avidity and showed no despair at all.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 312

“For the moment you will go into the political section, corridor nine; you’ll find a couple of your comrades there. Your cell will be open all day. You will be able to walk around freely and do some sunbathing. You’ll receive “political’ rations; you’ve got nothing to complain about. Better than in Italy,” concluded the clerk, with a slightly mocking smile.
I did indeed find two political prisoners there…. They took me for a walk in the garden and acquainted me with the general lay-out of the prison. We politicals were given free run of the yards and some of the buildings. The same privilege was also permitted those who “worked” and in general to all who were well-dressed and looked like “intelligentsia.”
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 338

The organization of the Trotskyist prisoners called itself the “Collective of the Verkhne-Uralsk Leninist Bolsheviks.” It was divided into Left-wing, Center, and Right-wing. This division into three sections persisted during the three years of my stay, although the composition of the sections and even their ideologies were subject to certain fluctuations.
Upon my arrival at Verkhne-Uralsk I found three programs and two Trotskyist newspapers….
Right-wing and Center, between them, published Pravda in Prison (Truth in Prison), the Left-wing The Militant Bolshevik. These newspapers appeared either once a month or every two months. Each copy contained 10 to 20 articles in the form of separate writing books. The “copy”, ’.e. the packet of 10 to 20 writing books, circulated from ward to ward and the prisoners read the notebooks in turn. The papers appeared in three copies, one copy for each prison-wing.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 211

All these preoccupations of the Trotskyist majority left me indifferent. Their outlook was not very different from that of the Stalinist bureaucracy; they were slightly more polite and human, that was all.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 263

It should also be mentioned that all of Trotsky’s works, and those of socialists and anarchists that had lawfully been published in the USSR before the groups that produced them had been forbidden, were in no way subjected to a GPU ban and were therefore not confiscated when in the possession of prisoners. We could lawfully read the works of Trotsky, Plekhanov, Martov, Kropotkin and Bakunin. But from 1934 onwards all these books, though lawfully published, were beginning to be confiscated.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 231

The great mass of the prison population, the plebians as it were of that world, was made up of the most varied categories. In the first place there was a group of 200 employed on all sorts of work inside the prison; attending to and supervising the other prisoners, looking after the bath-house, working in the hospital, running the ambulance service, working in the kitchen, the store-rooms, the barbershop, in the prison office and the various “cultural” departments, cleaning the cells and doing internal guard duties. There were only a very few paid workers from the outside–in fact, only the Governor, the heads of the various departments, and the doctors.
Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma. London: Ink Links, 1979, p. 347

One of the big differences between the Hitler and the Stalin systems was the treatment of the weak and sick. A man who fell sick in Auschwitz was at once gassed or shot. But in Stalin’s camps, for all their cruelty, the attitude to the sick prescribed from above was, if such a word can be used in this context, almost humane… The deaths were not planned. Those who were meant to die were killed outright, but a great number of others died through disorganization and neglect. As I mentioned earlier, daily reports had to go to the central administration of the camps and if the mortality rate surpassed a given level, something was done. Eighty per cent was too much. The camp commandant, Razin, and his whole staff were dismissed; the commandant was tried and condemned either to death or to a long term of imprisonment. The camp system was able to provide workers for remote regions and at the same time isolate those considered dangerous to the State, but it was not intended to kill them off. The corrective was the medical department. The doctors recruited from among the prisoners were good and devoted men who at great sacrifice saved many people from death. True, there were some monsters among them as well, but on the whole the hospitals were islands of humanity.
Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 197


Why did large numbers of regime supporters continue to believe in Stalin, the Bolshevik Party, and the necessity for repression even after they themselves had spent years in labor camps as victims of that very system?
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 9

In the face of Hitler’s all too real conspiracy, the bogus conspiracies of previous years were as if forgotten. Survivors of the crushed oppositions, who could be useful in the war effort, were brought out of concentration camps and assigned to important national work. Tukhachevsky’s disciples, who had been cashiered and deported, were rushed back to military headquarters. Among them, according to one reliable report, was Rokossovsky, the victor of Stalingrad, a former Polish Communist, who had served as liaison officer between Tukhachevsky’s staff and the Comintern. Professor Ramzin, the head of the ‘Industrial Party’, who, in the early 30s had been charged with conspiracy and compact with a foreign power, was released, acclaimed for his services, and awarded the highest prizes and metals. Professor Ustrialov, who had in fact advocated the transformation of the Soviets into a nationalist-bourgeois republic, reappeared as a contributor to leading Moscow newspapers.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 486

Galina Serebryakova, who spent nearly 20 years in Siberia from this time, had been married to two leading victims, Serebryakov and Sokolnikov. Through all this, she retained her Party-mindedness, and after her rehabilitation spoke up warmly at writers meetings in 1962 and 1963 against the liberalizing trends.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 165

Most of the close relations of those accused had been arrested, but more of the descendants of the second and third trial survived than had been assumed. The most prominent of the survivors was Galina Serebryakova, who was best known as an author of children’s books and who had been married first to Serebryakov later to Sokolnikov; she had returned to Moscow under Khrushchev. Like some other prominent figures, such as Mrs. Karp-Molotov, her faith in the party was unbroken; she remained a conservative figure opposed to the anti-Stalinist thaw.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 81

No wonder so many people were delighted at the harsh sentences passed on most of the Old Bolsheviks. One sometimes heard a prisoner say that he would now willingly accept whatever fate was in store for him-it was enough for him to have lived to see this day.
Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 157

One day a very young, disheveled man was dragged in, resisting violently; he started hammering on the cell door as soon as it closed. and walked straight up to Dubinsky and Ivanov… He sat down on Ivanov’s bed, and began to curse as I had rarely heard anyone curse before.
The terrifying thing was that he cursed the Government, the leaders and even Stalin himself by name. It was dangerous for all who listened. Ivanov reminded him that he might be overheard by spies.
‘Let them listen,’ said the boy. ‘What have I got to lose?’ He told us that he too had belonged to the Opposition-‘and don’t we see just how right we were!’…
We listened, too astonished to say anything. Then the door opened, the boy was removed and we never heard of him again.
The reaction of the prisoners was characteristic. Some remained silent. Others whispered: ‘Poor chap! What he must have been through!’ But nearly all said loudly: ‘There’s a really dangerous counter-revolutionary for you.’ A former lawyer even made a speech, justifying the Government’s repressive measures by its need to ‘defend itself against such desperate criminals.’ Had the unfortunate stranger been tried, not by a special court but by the inmates of this cell, all of them accused of counter-revolutionary activity, they would undoubtedly have condemned him to be shot. In other words, they might well have judged him more severely than the court.
Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 158


[December 23rd 1935 NKVD/Procuracy circular on employment of exiles]
1. Persons exiled or deported administratively on the basis of a decision by the Special Board of the NKVD of the USSR as, for instance, engineers, technicians, physicians, agronomists, bookkeepers, and skilled laborers, may be employed in their specialties in institutions and enterprises in those localities where they have been permitted to reside, with the exception of those persons who have been deprived, by the decision of the special board, of the right to engage in their occupation in their places of exile or deportation.
NOTE: Persons mentioned in the Item #1 above may not be employed in work of a secret character or in institutions and enterprises pertaining to defense. Exceptions to this rule may be made in individual cases with the permission of the NKVD of the USSR.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 185

4. The children of persons mentioned in item #1 above, deported or exiled as dependents of their parents, are permitted to transfer to educational institutions in their places of exile or deportation.
5. In delivering the NKVD special board’s decision to exiles or deportees, the organs of the NKVD are obligated to explain to them their right to work in their professional specialty in places of exile or deportation and to issue them the appropriate certificates.
Signed: NKVD Commissar, Yagoda and Procurator of the USSR, Vyshinsky
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 186

[Supplement to protocol #36]
1. Restrictions based on the social origin of the applicant or on the disfranchisement of the applicant’s parents as they pertain to admission to institutions of higher education and technical colleges are to be abolished….
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 186


In February 1936 USSR Procurator Vyshinsky had complained to Stalin that NKVD officials were refusing to release prisoners whom procurators had ordered freed for lack of evidence. NKVD chief Yagoda had replied that procurators and courts were incompetent; procurators could “suggest” release of prisoners, but the decision should remain in the hands of the NKVD. On February 16th, Stalin wrote to Molotov, “Comrade Molotov: it seems to me that Vyshinsky is right.”
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 219

Between 1932 in 1936, Vyshinsky stood for the opposite on each of these points, advocating instead due process, careful judgments on the basis of evidence, a strong role for defense lawyers in all cases, firm legal codes that applied equally to the entire population, and a strengthening of law.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 6

In February 1936 Vyshinsky wrote to Molotov, Stalin’s right-hand man in the Politburo and chairman of the Sovnarkom (Council of Ministers), to call for a reduction of the NKVD’s administrative powers. The commissariat’s Special Session, its internal tribunal, deliberated without calling witnesses or the accused, especially in cases of counter-revolutionary agitation and “expression of terrorist intentions.” In the process, serious mistakes could occur. Vyshinsky wanted the “maximum limitation” placed on the Special Session’s right to hear cases; he believed they should go instead through the regular courts, following normal judicial procedure. For cases that continued in the Special Session, the Procuracy should be allowed to make a “most careful check of investigative materials” and to obtain the release of prisoners if it found no basis for further action.
… Instead he believed that attention should be paid to objective evidence. He publicly attacked the NKVD’s secret procedures, because, unlike open show trials, they “served no educative or legitimating functions.” In an article published shortly thereafter, one of many similar pieces, he warned against violations of law and poor investigative procedures. He gave several examples of how not to operate,…
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 7

In discussing Yezhov’s report, only two contributions struck a highly discordant note. One of them, no matter how strange this might seem at first glance, belonged to Vyshinsky, who spoke about actual shortcomings in the activity of the NKVD. First of all, he read several transcripts of interrogations which were filled with vulgar abuse from the investigators and which testified to their unconcealed application of pressure on the people under arrest. After citing the words of one peripheral investigator which were directed at a person under arrest: “Do not remain silent and do not play games…. Prove that this is not so,” Vyshinsky explained to the plenum’s participants that the accused should not have to prove his innocence, but, on the contrary, the investigator has to prove the guilt of the accused.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 278

In July 1934, Vyshinsky, as Deputy State Prosecutor, even issued an order to local prosecutors to cease making engineers and directors scapegoats for administrative failures. He strongly deprecated indiscriminate prosecutions. He stated that he had lately had to quash a large number of sentences wrongly pronounced by Siberian courts. He definitely forbade any further arrests of this kind.
Webb, S. Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation. London, NY: Longmans, Green, 1947, p. 363


Until the Soviet government releases figures–if it has them–the controversy on numbers will continue. All that we can say on the present evidence is that an unusually large number of men–very few women seem to have been involved–appear to have been in labor camps at the time for one reason or another, and that an unknown number of those arrested were executed.
In addition to those executed, a large number were said to have died in the labor camps from malnutrition and ill-treatment. Conquest argues that 90 percent of those imprisoned in the labor camps perished. But this does not make any sense, for the camps were, after all, labor camps–lumbering, road building, Canal construction, mining, farming, and so on–and there would be no point in having 90 percent of the workers perish if the state wanted to get the work done. No doubt some people died in the camps, as in any prison camp, but again, the numbers will remain speculative unless statistics become available.
But the question of numbers, however, of imprisonments or debts, is not the essential question. The basic issues are those of motivation and guilt. Why were these people arrested? What had they done? Why was the penal code amended to secure swift arrest and imprisonment? The underlying, indeed sometimes outspoken thesis of Khrushchev, Medvedev, Conquest, and others is that of a sadistic persecution of innocent people by an insane dictator. But this view smacks more of sensationalist journalism than of social analysis. Moreover, Stalin alone could not have initiated the prosecutions. Even if the whole Party leadership was not involved, the central leadership certainly was. At the time, this inner core of leaders included Molotov, Kaganovich, Zhdanov, Voroshilov, and Manuilsky. Thus, if the professional anti-Stalinists are to be believed, we are confronted with not one insane dictator but a group of insane dictators. When we consider the records of these men, their years of heroic revolutionary work, and their determined struggle for socialist industrialization, it is clear that, mistaken or not, they must have believed they were acting in the face of a threat to socialism. They were all responsible and serious men, not men who would persecute for the sake of persecution or who would lightly endorse executions.
Cameron, Kenneth Neill. Stalin, Man of Contradiction. Toronto: NC Press, c1987, p. 128

(Sheila Fitzpatrick)
From the recent researches of Zemskov and Dugin in the NKVD archives, it appears that the highest Western estimates on the size and mortality rate of the GULAG’S convict population were substantially exaggerated.
[Footnote: Conquest’s estimate of 8 million political prisoners (not including common criminals) in labor camps at the end of 1938 is almost 20 times greater than the figure of under half a million “politicals” in the GULAG cited by Dugin from the NKVD archives, and four times as great as the total GULAG and prison population cited by Zemskov from the same source. According to Zemskov’s figures, the entire convict population (including both “politicals” and “criminals”) of the GULAG’S labor camps and labor colonies on January 1, 1939, numbered 1,672,438, with an additional 350,538 prisoners held in jails in mid-January of the same year–a total of a little over 2 million.]
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 248

(Alec Nove)
Figures purporting to represent the number of victims of “Stalinist repression” are also subject to definitional ambiguity. This particularly affects exiles. These range from those who were given a minus (i.e., could live anywhere “minus” a list of forbidden cities) through to those exiled to remote areas often under harsh conditions, but not kept behind wire.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 262

In 1937, the average number detained in the GULAG was given by the Soviet historian Zemskov as 994,000, the total rising to a maximum of 1,360,019 in 1939. It follows that the larger part of the detainees were not “technically” in the Gulag, but rather in prison, “colonies,” and [special settlements]. The same conclusion is suggested by the evidence for 1939 (unless we suppose all the evidence to be faked in the archives).
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 269

Dugin has studied tables showing numbers “in” and “out” of detention for the period 1930-53, and comes to the conclusion that the probable total number passing through camps, colonies, and prisons in the whole period came to 11.8 million or 8,803,000 for the period 1937-50. He also reproduces a table showing numbers in [camps and colonies] on Jan. 1, 1946, to be 1,371,986 of which 516,592 were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities (203,607 for “treason to the Motherland,” 15,499 for “spying,” etc.). These figures naturally exclude exiles and possibly also the prison population. He criticizes those (including Roy Medvedev & Solzhenitsyn, as well as Conquest) who persist in citing much higher figures that cannot be supported by evidence….
Another source gives the following figures: Emelin, a military historian, states that in June 1941 there were 2.3 million [detainees], which may be the total for the Gulag, colonies, and prisons, excluding [special settlements]. By the end of 1941, 420,000 of these detainees were serving in the Red Army. In 1941-43 a million “previously sentenced” persons were serving.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 271

The new material on labor camps and other repressed groups has tended to confirm my arguments that the level of population in the Gulag system in the late 1930s was below 4 to 5 million. Zemskov’s figures indicate that the Gulag population (excluding colonies) reached an early peak of 1.5 million in January 1941, and this can be reconciled with Nekrasov’s figures of 2.3 million at the beginning of the war, if we include prisoners in labor colonies and jail. There were also at this time a large number of [special settlements]: By 1939, according to both Ivnitsky & Zemskov, there were only 0.9 million of the original five or so million former kulaks in their place of exile. Even if we allow another 1.5 million for Baltic and other mass groups in [special re-settlements], there would still be in the order of about 4 million. Although this represents to my mind a sufficiently large and disgraceful scale of inhumanity, these are very much smaller figures than have been proposed by Conquest and Rosefielde in the West and by Medvedev & Ovseenko in the USSR.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 290

The question of how many [deaths of prisoners] will not be settled by this or any other discussion. In the former USSR claims continue to appear that high totals are correct, though they are not supported by substantial documentation. Those who see more deaths of prisoners than are indicated by existing data are abandoning the best kinds of evidence used in any other field in favor of speculation.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 140

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s numerous people were arrested and sent to the labor re-education camps which, after their transformation in 1937, became penal colonies, functioning to aid the construction of the virgin regions. The number of people so confined has been subject to wild speculation in the extensive anti-Soviet literature that developed with the onset of the cold war. Estimates in these sources for those interned in 1938 range from 2 to 12 million; many such estimates are based on the self-interested speculation and rumors of those once assigned to the camps. Others are based on such factors as alleged discrepancies in Soviet census data, where it is assumed that apparent discrepancies between different grand totals are equal to the number of people in (or on the pay-roll of) the labor camps, discrepancies between projections of populations assuming a particular ‘normal’ birth and death rate and the number of people actually reported in a census; the number of newspaper subscriptions (multiplied by the alleged number of people who read a paper) etc.. These highly speculative estimates have been subject to a careful review and criticism by British Soviet expert, Wheatcroft (1981). After examining the statistical discrepancies, population projections, etc. on which estimates in the Western literature are based, Wheatcroft argues as follows about the logical maximum of the number that could have been in the labor camps in 1939:
[In 1938 one of the 38 labor camp clusters, Vorkuta, was known to have 15,000 people under detention. To quote Wheatcroft], ” Vorkuta was certainly one of the better-known camps, and there is no indication that it was smaller than average. Assuming the Vorkuta population to be typical gives an estimate of less than 600,000 for the total of those confined in 1938.”
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 245

… The coincidence of the figures based on known information about the Vorkuta administration and the number of camp administrations, together with a reasonable ratio applied to the disenfranchisement data gives great credibility to an estimate of roughly one million people working in the labor camps in the 1937-38 period, or about .5% of the Soviet population.
For a sense of the significance of this figure it can be pointed out that in 1978, out of a total U.S. black population of 23 million, about 200,000 (roughly 1%) were incarcerated.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 246

To look a little further ahead, “forced labor” in the Soviet Union was to be used, especially after 1947, as the most potent weapon of anti-Soviet propaganda. The most fraudulent figures, bearing no relation whatsoever to the real facts, were produced by “Russian experts,” the biggest fraud of all being the seemingly academic and scholarly work by two old Mensheviks, David Dallin and Boris Nicolaevsky. Anyone who dared challenge their assertion in their Forced Labor in Russia that the camp population was around 10 or 12 million people was treated ipso facto as a communist or Soviet agent, though even the most elementary study of the problem would have shown up the utter absurdity of the Dallin-Nicolaevsky figures.”
Werth, Alexander. Russia; The Post-War Years. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co.,1971, p. 34

It must be acknowledged that none of the data that we yet possess will allow us to arrive at an entirely reliable estimate of the number of arrests in those years.
The more so, since data that became available on the population in Soviet concentration camps are far from confirming traditional assessments.
… the fact that apparently 3,378,234 people had been sentenced “for counter-revolutionary and state crimes”… by courts and extra-judicial bodies during the whole period between 1930 and 1953, does not seem to signal anything near the order of magnitude of the estimates authors usually advance for the number of arrests in 1936-38…. Nevertheless, all the indications are that the figures quoted by the traditional literature are incompatible with the available evidence….
It seems very likely that a less tendentious selection in a more systematic reading of the source material than those made by the authors of the traditional version would alter our view of this crucial period in Soviet history. Seeing how inadequate the literature is which provides our knowledge, it is unlikely that any researcher who devotes himself to the considerable task of sifting through such a vast and unexplored wealth of source material would be motivated merely by perversity. But of course it all depends on the sources which he analyzes and the problems with which he tries to come to grips.
Thus even if there is no reason to question the sincerity of most of the authors of those memoirs, on which most of the “classical” literature is based, the frequent occurrence in their accounts of themes like the role of Kirov as an opponent of Stalin as shown at the 17th Congress, or the systematic extermination of the old guard of the Party, is such as to throw a degree of doubt on the accuracy of the information that they give, and the relevance of their explanations of the whys and wherefores of historical events across the country at large.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 13-15

In 1993, for the first time, several historians gained access to previously secret Soviet police archives and were able to establish well-documented estimates of prison and labor camp populations. They found that the total population of the entire gulags as of January 1939, near the end of the Great Purges, was 2,022,976. At about that time, there began a purge of the purgers, including many intelligence and secret police (NKVD) officials and members of the judiciary and other investigative committees, who were suddenly held responsible for the excesses of the terror despite their protestations of fidelity to the regime.
…Despite harsh conditions, the great majority of gulag inmates survived and eventually returned to society when granted amnesty or when their terms were finished. In any given year, 20 to 40% of the inmates were released, according to archive records .
Almost a million Gulag prisoners were released during World War II to serve in the military. The archives reveal that more than half of all gulag deaths for the 1934-53 period occurred during the war years (1941-45), mostly from malnutrition, when severe privatization was the common lot of the entire Soviet population. (Some 22 million Soviet citizens perished in the war.) In 1944, for instance, the labor-camp death rate was 92 per 1000. By 1953, with the postwar recovery, camp deaths had declined to three per 1000.
Parenti, Michael. Blackshirts and Reds, San Francisco: City Light Books, 1997, p. 79

As to the dismal swamp of the aggregate numbers directly involved in the Terror, I did not write much about them, nor did I offer my own estimate. I simply said that my findings tend to support the lower of the available calculations, and they do. As for Weissberg’s and Beck and Godin’s estimates, I believe they are fraught with uncertainties.
First, as Weissberg admitted, he may have counted many prisoners twice; how many, he did not know. I have found numerous cases of prisoners transferred from prison to prison, from camp to camp, from camp to prison, and the like.
Second, as I have shown, there is serious reason to challenge his idea on prisoner turnover.
Third, his account does not make clear how he knew that all he counted came only from Kharkov and vicinity; any number may have come from much farther away [which would raise the total number], which would require lowering the percentage arrested.
Fourth, we simply do not know how typical Kharkov or any other place was. Moscow, Leningrad, and other large cities certainly had substantial prisons and inmate populations; but did Omsk, Vologda, and Kursk have them? I do not know, and I will wait for evidence.
Fifth, at least one of these careful calculations of a camp’s size has been seriously undermined in light of more specific evidence: two Poles who were not in the Vorkutstroi system estimated that it contained 250,000 prisoners by 1938. Since they wrote, an actual inmate has published the figures of just over 15,000 in 1938 and 19,000 in 1941.
Sixth, I am not convinced that we should take the word of NKVD officers on the aggregate figures. They may have tried to protect themselves by arguing that they were part of some massive process that overwhelmed them along with everyone else; this impression is left by remarks one of them made to Weissberg. It is hard for me to believe that anyone much below Ezhov and Stalin could ever have learned hard information on the grand totals.
Finally, prisoners made their estimates of the numbers in all sorts of unscientific ways. Gustav Herling remembered that the amateur statisticians he knew in the cells based their estimates on “stories, scraps of conversation overheard in corridors, old newspapers found in the latrine, administrative orders, movements of vehicles in the courtyards, and even the sound of advancing and receding footsteps in front of the gate. Clearly, he and his fellow prisoners did not have numbered receipts at their disposal, and I have not seen them mentioned in this fashion in any other account. No prisoner was in a position to have firsthand knowledge of the total number of prisoners on any scale larger than a small quantity of cells or camps.
I am not saying that Weissberg’s or any other estimate is wrong, merely that I have much less confidence in any method of calculation than Conquest does. To repeat a point made in my article, available evidence is so fragmentary that it must be interpreted with great caution.
Thurston, Robert W. “On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest.” Slavic Review 45 (1986), 242-243.


Menzhinsky, head of the OGPU, who died recently, once explained to me at length how absurd it was in principle to tax the political Party which directs the Soviet Union with cruelty or indifference to human life, since its ultimate aim is to bring everyone in the world together and to work for universal peace. And, in fact, he pointed out to me that the revolutionary police, brothers of the great mass of workers, are constantly on the lookout for any opportunity for “setting right” or “curing” not only common law prisoners (on this side of prison organization the Bolsheviks have carried patience and indulgence to an almost paradoxical point), but also political prisoners. Communists start from the double principle that transgressors of the common law are people who do not understand their own interests and are ruining their own lives, and that the best thing to do is to impress this upon them, and that the enemies of the proletarian revolution, the forerunner of universal Revolution, are equally (if they are sincere) people who are mistaken, and that the best thing is to prove it to them. Hence the constant effort to turn every kind of prison into a place of education.
Barbusse, Henri. Stalin. New York: The Macmillan company, 1935, p. 84


… he (Generalov) was sent to an obscure job in Siberia. Allowed to return at the end of 1933 and reinstated in the Party, he was, however, relegated to Dniepropetrovsk, again on low-level routine work under bureaucratic bosses of the new order, who treated him as an inferior creature. It was then that he married Shura.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 9


[Resolution of the Plenum the Central Committee, March 3, 1937, on Yezhov’s report of what was learned from the sabotage, subversion, and espionage committed by Japanese and German Trotskyite agents]

The major defects in the work of state security agencies that have decisively contributed to the delay in unmasking the Trotskyite anti-Soviet organization continue to be:

… d) Even more intolerable is the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs prison policy for the most vile convicted enemies of the Soviet government, the Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Rightists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and others.

As a rule these enemies of the people have been sent to so-called political isolation facilities supervised by the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. The political isolation facilities have been quite comfortable, resembling involuntary rest homes more than prisons.

Inmates in the isolated political prisons have had the opportunity to talk to each other, to discuss all political events in the country, to elaborate political plans of anti-Soviet activity for their organizations, and to establish contacts outside of prison. The prisoners have enjoyed access to literature, paper, and writing tools in unlimited quantity, and the right to receive unlimited numbers of letters and telegrams, to acquire their own equipment in their cells, and to receive along with prison food parcels from outside prison in any quantity or assortment.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 114

During the purges of the 1930s, he [Stalin] would support a proposal by Yezhov that the system for holding political prisoners be altered. At Stalin’s instigation, the February-March 1937 Central Committee plenum introduced a special point into the decree on Yezhov’s report, namely, that ‘the prison regime for enemies of Soviet power (Trotskyites, Zinovievites, SR’s, etc.) is intolerable. The prisons resemble nothing so much as compulsory rest homes. [The prisoners] are allowed to socialize, they can write letters to each other at will, receive parcels and so on. Steps were taken, of course. There was to be no question of ‘universities’ for these unfortunates.

Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 9

Neither orally nor in writing did Stalin ever call publicly for the repressions of 1937-38 to be intensified. Even the speech he gave at the February-March 1937 plenum, published in abridged form in Pravda, amounted only to a call for greater vigilance against the danger of Trotskyism and so on…. he edited [rewrote] the resolution on Yezhov’s report to the February-March 1937 plenum, including the following points:

…c. The system that has been created for enemies of the Soviet regime is intolerable. Their accommodation often resembles compulsory nursing homes more than prison (they write letters, receive parcels and so on).

Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991 , p. 336

The resolution [of late Feb. 1937] on Yezhov’s report repeated the formulation of the September telegram from Stalin and Zhdanov about being late in exposing the Trotskyists. It indicated that the NKVD “already in 1932-1933 had all the necessary threads in its hands to completely expose the monstrous conspiracy of the Trotskyists against the Soviet regime.”

… It [the resolution] said that the previous leadership of the NKVD, having carried out “an incorrect correctional policy, particularly with regard to Trotskyists,” had established “an intolerable…prison regime when it came to the convicts who were the most vicious enemies of the Soviet regime–Trotskyists, Zinovievists, Rightists, SR’s, and others. As a rule, all these enemies of the people had been sent to so-called political isolators, which…provided beneficial conditions and were more apt to resemble mandatory rest homes than prisons…. Those under arrest were given the right to enjoy literature, paper and writing utensils in an unlimited quantity, to receive an unlimited number of letters and telegrams, to outfit their cells with personal effects, and to receive, along with official nourishment, packages from outside the prison in any quantity and assortment.”

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 280

Still, compared with the camps of later years, Solovki was almost a luxury resort. It had a theater (” Paris of the North”), a newspaper, and visits from close relatives were occasionally permitted. The number of political prisoners counted in the tens of thousands rather than millions. According to official reports, there were 800,000 inmates in the labor camps all over the Soviet Union in 1934, but this figure may have included criminals. There were few Communists among the inmates; instead, the inmates were mainly people deemed to be “class enemies,” that is to say, of “bourgeois” origin, rather liberally interpreted.

Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 72


[Resolution of the USSR Central Executive Committee, Sept. 1, 1932, on privileges for convict-workers at the White Sea-Baltic Canal construction site]

… In connection with the successful completion of the basic work on the White Sea-Baltic Waterway, this great new accomplishment of the Soviet regime, the USSR Central Executive Committee resolves:

1. To give the Unified State Political Directorate [OGPU] the right to free those prisoners who distinguished themselves on the construction project from serving the remainder of their sentences, and where needed, from serving supplementary sentences.

2. To instruct the OGPU to grant to all other prisoners (participants who worked conscientiously in the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Waterway), in addition to existing ordinary privileges in the corrective labor camps, a reduction in the term of measures taken to insure the defense of society.

3. To instruct the OGPU to present for review by the USSR Central Executive Committee the expunging of the convictions of those freed in accordance with paragraph 1 of this resolution.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 153

To trace down all the criminals, old and new types, is a big enough job, and requires a large police force. But the Soviet police also have many constructive tasks, as I have already suggested. Because they are in charge of all the men and women put at forced labor, and because tens of thousands of people have been sentenced to such labor, the police operate some of the greatest construction and industrial enterprises in Russia. They have built such great public works as the Baltic-White Sea canal and the Moscow-Volga canal; they have double-tracked the trans-Siberian Railway for 2200 miles, using an army of at least 100,000 men and women prisoners for this purpose, who labored without any pause during three of the severe Siberian winters. The police also construct many of the main highways of Russia, especially the great new strategic motor roads.

Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 202

[In 1931] at first specialists were returned to their former places under the supervision of OGPU bodies, then a “pardon” was declared for a number of individuals previously labeled “saboteurs” in view of their readiness to work for the good of socialism.

Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 98

Being human, the prisoners whose labour brought Norilsk into being naturally hoped their work and their devotion to their country would be recognized, and that their sentences would be shortened, but I can testify that their primary motive was to defeat Hitler.

At the end of the war what happened was that the free salaried men, who directed the work, received decorations and promotion while some prisoners who had overfulfilled their norms, even some held under Article 58, were let off one, two, three or four years of their sentence. Of course, if they were serving a sentence of twenty or twenty-five years this did not mean very much, but at least it was taken as a good omen.

Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 206


[NKVD order, Oct. 3, 1939, on disposition of prisoners of war in Soviet camps]

The following resolution of the Central Committee of the all Russian Communist Party dated October 2 concerning prisoners of war is reproduced below for your information and guidance:

Approve the following proposals of comrades Beria and Mekhlis:

… 1. Prisoners of war of Ukrainian, Byelorussians, and other nationalities whose homes are located in the western Ukraine and western Byelorussia will be allowed to go home.

2. 25,000 prisoners of war will be kept to build the Novograd-Volynskii-Korets-Lvov Road until the end of December.

3. Prisoners of war whose homes are located in the German part of Poland will be assigned to a separate category and will be detained in the camps until negotiations with the Germans begin and the issue of their repatriation is resolved.

… 6. The Czech detainees (approximately 800 individuals) will be released after they have signed a pledge not to fight against the USSR.

… 8. Officer prisoners of war will receive better rations than enlisted prisoners of war.

… 10. All prisoners of war, including officers and enlisted men, will be required to surrender all valuables and any money over the limit established by the POW Affairs Administration to the administrations of the camps for safekeeping in exchange for a receipt.

… 3. All POWs whose homes are located in the German part of Poland will be temporarily confined to camps. We must explain to them that they will be repatriated in an orderly manner after our negotiations with the Germans on this issue.

4. All other enlisted POWs, including Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and other nationalities whose homes are located in our territory, should be immediately sent home. They should be given all possible assistance, including advice, in getting home. Major political indoctrination efforts should be initiated for these POWs to remind them that they will soon be citizens of the USSR. The soldiers should be informed of the forthcoming sessions of the two popular assemblies and the issues they will decide. The platform we are using in the election campaign should be explained to the soldiers. The indoctrinators should try to get the soldiers to become activists and advocates for our platform.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 163


With the object of “overinsuring” themselves, procurators were wrongly classifying cases under Article 58. Clearly trying to slow the momentum of the Terror, [in February 1938] Vyshinsky now stipulated that procurators at each level had to have approval from a superior procurator to bring counter-revolutionary charges.
In mid-March [1938] Vyshinsky continued to work against mass political arrests when he complained to Stalin and Molotov about improper counterrevolutionary charges against railroad personnel. He noted that during 1937, procurators took cases to the courts and obtained convictions with ten-year sentences for mere “formal violations of the rules of technical exploitation, in the absence of harmful consequences and evil intentions.” Vyshinsky proposed that all such cases be reviewed in the four months following….
In early February Vyshinsky also began to condemn the use of torture. He informed Yezhov’s assistant Frinovsky that, according to a military procurator in Kiev, prisoners there had been beaten and forced to stand for long periods. Vyshinsky’s concern was partly practical: the ill treatment had become widely known in the area after some of the abused had been released “owing to the complete groundlessness of their cases.” Yet Vyshinsky appeared to be genuinely angry; he referred to “direct fabrication of cases” and demanded that the guilty NKVDisty be arrested. “Slanderers,” or false denouncers, were convicted of wrongdoing by July 1938 at the latest and were sent to prison.
In late March the Procuracy Council referred in general to the “beating of honest Soviet people,” which it ascribed to penetration of its own agency by enemies. All procurators were now instructed to “strengthen the principles of judicial Soviet democracy” and to oppose sentences they disagreed with. At the same time Vyshinsky wrote to Yezhov to protest sleep deprivation and threats against a prisoner, which induced him to sign a statement that he was in an anti-Soviet group. The procurator-general planned to investigate and bring the guilty to justice.
Two days later Vyshinsky wrote to Malenkov, again mentioning enemies within the Procuracy. “In a number of places,” he indicated, citizens had been prosecuted without cause. As a result, higher levels of the Procuracy and judiciary had quashed many cases. Within weeks Vyshinsky’s officials were busy across the country investigating charges against prisoners and cases already decided, with an eye to weeding out the groundless ones. In June he ordered procurators to refer all cases involving the death penalty to him personally or, in his absence, to a deputy. Then on July 25 the Procuracy Council required all counterrevolutionary cases to be cleared by the procurator-general’s office in Moscow; a staff of 12 people would be assigned to review them. As of August 1, no new cases were to go to the troiki, though in fact some did. These changes represented further major steps toward halting the Terror.
By early August an oblast-level prosecutor had been tried, on Vyshinsky’s initiative, for bringing political charges without sufficient evidence. The accused had also classified some ordinary crimes, for example, malfeasance, as counter-revolutionary. Pravda announced that this “overinsurer,” who had carried out orders of enemies of the people, had received a 5-year sentence. In October the former prosecutor of the city of Omsk was sentenced to two years for sanctioning illegal arrests without “penetrating the essence of the case.” These reports were powerful indications to the justice system about how not to operate.
… By this time the judiciary had switched almost completely from facilitating the Terror to opposing it.
Vyshinsky, never a hero but brave enough to criticize the NKVD while Yezhov ran it, remained in important positions for the rest of Stalin’s life. Without the Gensec’s approval, the Procuracy would never have taken the steps it did to protest and curb the Terror.
… But by this point, or earlier, the NKVD had relinquished a great deal of power; conscientious party officials could thwart the agency, while Vyshinsky repeatedly challenged its practices.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 109-112


Scientists whose lives were spared were put to work in camp and prison laboratories under the supervision of the 4th special section of the Ministry of the Interior…. Quick results were what mattered, and when they were achieved, Stalin could even show a little kindness, sometimes reducing a sentence or even releasing a prisoner. Beria’a agency kept Stalin constantly informed of the work of the scientists in the prisons and camps….
And on February 1951 Kruglov reported that:
“in 1947 prisoner-specialist Abramson (sentenced to 10 years) proposed a new and original system for an economic automobile carburetor. Tests on a ZIS-150 produced a fuel saving of 10.9%. It is proposed that Abramson, mechanical engineer Ardzhevanidze and engine-builder Tsvetkov have their sentences reduced by two years.
I request your decision.
Stalin gave his consent.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 556


There is no doubt that not only nonpolitical defendants, but even strong political opponents can be broken by the “Yezhov method.” In this connection the statements of the Bulgarian Protestant pastors in their February 1949 Trial are the most relevant, since no one could possibly argue that loyalty to Party or creed induced them. In their confessions, they all remarked that they now saw Communist rule of their country “in a new light.” In their final pleas, Pastor Naumov thanked the police for their “kindness and consideration” and said, “I have sinned against my people and against the whole world. This is my resurrection”; Pastor Diapkov was in tears as he admitted his guilt and said, “Do not make of me a useless martyr by giving me the death sentence. Help me to become a useful citizen and a hero of the Fatherland Front”; Pastor Bezlov, who had earlier stated that he had read 12,000 pages of Marxist literature while in prison and that this had entirely changed his outlook, declared, “I have now an intellectual appreciation of what the new life means and I want to play my part in it.”
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 126


In his [Lenin] amendments to the project for the penal code, he insisted that the notion of “counter-revolutionary activity” should be given the widest possible interpretation. This definition was to be linked with the “international bourgeoisie” in such a way that this kind of crime became quite imprecise from a juridical point of view and thus left the way wide open for every kind of arbitrary action. Among other things, the crime would cover “propaganda and agitation” and “participation in or aid to an organization” which might benefit that part of the international bourgeoisie that does not recognize the Soviet regime’s equal rights with capitalist states and seeks to overthrow it by force. This definition was already broad enough, but what was worse, in view of the fact that the crime could carry capital punishment, was that it could be extended by analogy. Whoever “gave help objectively to that part of the international bourgeoisie” (which actively opposed the regime), and similarly whoever belonged to an organization within the country whose activities “might assist or be capable of assisting” this bourgeoisie, will also be guilty! This case shows that at this time Lenin was anxious to leave room for the use of terror or the threat of its use (not through the Cheka alone but through tribunals and a regular procedure) as long as the big capitalist countries continued to threaten the USSR.
Lenin, then, was very far from being a weak liberal, incapable of taking resolute action when necessary.
Lewin, Moshe. Lenin’s Last Struggle. New York: Pantheon Books. C1968, p. 133


One of the major difficulties in Russia, as everywhere else, is the matter of proper personnel. With the emphasis upon loyalty to Marxian and Leninist doctrine it is difficult to get men who are good Communists and at the same time have those personal qualities which make them good prison administrators and subtle molders of anti-social personalities. Here is where most of the departures from the ideals occur. Doubtless they happen in Russia as elsewhere. While the usual prison cruelties are forbidden by the Code, it is probable that they occur, due to this difficulty.
Davis, Jerome. The New Russia. New York: The John Day company, c1933, p. 238


Countries with the most people in prison, 2004 (in thousands):
United States 2,079
China 1,549
Russia 847
India 314
Brazil 308
Thailand 214
Ukraine 198
South Africa 181
Mexico 175
Iran 164
Source: Newsweek International, January 2005

From Hitler to Hearst, from Conquest to Solzhenitsyn
In the United States of America, for example, a country of 252 million inhabitants (in 1996), the richest country in the world, which consumes 60% of the world’s resources, how many people are in prison? What is the situation in the US, a country not threatened by any war and where there are no deep social changes affecting economic stability?
In a rather small news item appearing in the newspapers of August 1997, the FLT-AP news agency reported that in the US there had never previously been so many people in the prison system as the 5.5 million held in 1996. This represents an increase of 200,000 people since 1995 and means that the number of criminals in the US equals 2.8% of the adult population. These data are available to all those who are part of the North American Department of Justice. The number of convicts in the US today is 3 million higher than the maximum number ever held in the Soviet Union! In the Soviet Union there was a maximum of 2.4% of the adult population in prison for their crimes – in the US the figure is 2.8%, and rising! According to a press release put out by the US Department of Justice on 18 January 1998, the number of convicts in the US in 1997 rose by 96,100.
As far as the Soviet labour camps were concerned, it is true that the regime was harsh and difficult for the prisoners, but what is the situation today in the prisons of the US, which are rife with violence, drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery (290,000 rapes a year in US prisons). Nobody fees safe in US prisons! And this today, and in a society richer than ever before!
Sousa, Mario. Lies Concerning the History of the Soviet Union, 15 June 1998.

The “Real Stalin” Series. Part Fifteen: Yezhovshshina



March 1, 1933–the outer world is beginning to talk about a new red terror in Russia, but, as explained previously, neither the Bolsheviks themselves nor leading sections of the Russian people consider it anything but “repressive measures” against class enemies and opponents of the socialization program.
Duranty, Walter. Duranty Reports Russia. New York: The Viking Press, 1934, p. 309


They [those opposing collectivization] are class enemies, and anyway we [the Bolsheviks] do not kill them; we take and put them to work somewhere else because their opposition where they are hampers the development of our socialist system.
Duranty, Walter. Duranty Reports Russia. New York: The Viking Press, 1934, p. 310


Not all the details are yet known of the strange struggle which Stalin carried on for years against his own secret police….
The leading members of the secret police, which had become a separate caste, were bound neither to any ideology nor to any party policy. What they wanted–in the name, of course, and for the benefit of, the party–was far-reaching powers and also certain material advantages. They wanted to remain what they had been in the civil war, a privileged class in the matter of power and of material conditions. They therefore kept up a continual struggle against any limitation of their authority. When Stalin sought to impose certain restrictions on their right to pronounce death sentences, they simply secured that the new courts which were to hear certain cases with the public excluded, should be formed from their own members, that is to say members of the police caste. Stalin’s continual pressure for more rigid supervision by organs of the party was just what drove Yagoda and his colleagues into opposition and later into conspiracy.
Basseches, Nikolaus. Stalin. London, New York: Staples Press, 1952, p. 236


In the capitals of almost all the federal republics there were further trials, but in the inverse direction. Everywhere now there were prosecutions of people who during the purge had denounced other people, traducing them out of excess of zeal or in order to advance themselves.
Basseches, Nikolaus. Stalin. London, New York: Staples Press, 1952, p. 312

Unbalanced by the relentless propaganda and by exhortations to show vigilance and fearing for their own safety, people denounced neighbors, colleagues, even members of their own families. Lines formed outside NKVD offices, as people waited patiently to file their denunciations. Terror degraded the whole nation.
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 272

… various kinds of careerists and adventurers took advantage of the spy-and wrecker-phobia.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 437

Of course different prisoners behaved in different wayss. Some immediately complied with the desires of the investigators; without any sort of resistance they gave false testimony not only about themselves but about dozens and hundreds of their comrades…. Some of these weak-willed people went even further than the investigators demanded; they gained cruel satisfaction out of voluntarily denouncing co-workers and friends, demanding their arrest, though they had no doubt about their innocence.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 493

A denunciation to the NKVD was an easy way to get rid of athletic rivals.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 611

Under these conditions all sorts of careerists and scoundrels tried to use slander to destroy their enemies, to get a good job, an apartment or a neighbor’s room, or simply to get revenge for an insult. Some pathological types crawled out of their holes to write hundreds of denunciations…. The usual NKVD response to a denunciation was to arrest the victim and only later to bother about “checking” the charges made against him.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 612

The assertion is sometimes made that people denounced others to settle personal scores, to advance in their careers, or to gain their apartments. Inevitably such behavior did take place. But the evidence presented here, and a good deal more besides, shows that much more commonly people acted to denounce others because they believed in danger from saboteurs.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 151

“I have seen,” says Ehrenburg, “how in a progressive society people allegedly dedicated to moral ideas committed desirable acts for personal advantage, betrayed comrades and friends, how wives disavowed their husbands and resourceful sons heaped abuse upon hapless fathers.”…
Individual denouncers operated on an extraordinary scale. In one district in Kiev, 69 persons were dennounced by one man; in another, over 100. In Odessa, a single Communist denounced 230 people. In Poltava, a Party member denounced his entire organization.
At the 18th Party Congress, when the “excesses” of the Purge period were being belatedly and peripherally criticized, one was now made to confess his methods, which had involved removing 15 local Party Secretaries.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 253

Such prodigious denouncers must have been a rarity compared to the far larger number who denounced but not in a wholesale way. Among these, motives varied widely. Some denounced for fear of being denounced if they failed to turn in someone who had told a political anecdote in a group conversation. Some denounced persons they disliked. Some wanted to gain possession of the room or apartment of the person they denounced, whose family would likely be evicted once he was arrested. Some wanted to eliminate rivals for athletic glory or other desired goals. And not a few were actuated by career ambition to denounce persons senior to them who stood in their way.
Tucker, Robert. Stalin in Power: 1929-1941. New York: Norton, 1990, p. 460

Beck and Godin note the zeal with which many students denounced their professors, junior officials those higher up, rank-and-file party members those in responsible posts; and describe this ambition-driven “revolt of subordinates” as a most significant feature of the period.
Tucker, Robert. Stalin in Power: 1929-1941. New York: Norton, 1990, p. 461


The animosity of the world press has created a picture of a ruthless and bloodthirsty Stalin murdering his erstwhile colleagues, presumably for no better reason than to strengthen his own personal power….
In reality, Stalin hesitated for many months before embarking on the famous “Purges.” He was too deeply conscious of the seriousness of Lenin’s deathbed warning as to the dangers which would arise if one section of the Party condemned its opponents to death. Even when Zinoviev had whispered his plan to assassinate Trotsky, Stalin had refused to embark on that fatal policy of self-murder which had destroyed the French revolutionary Jacobins….
Cole, David M. Josef Stalin; Man of Steel. London, New York: Rich & Cowan, 1942, p. 98

Many embittered attacks have been made against Stalin for his treatment of the Opposition leaders and the blood-letting which followed the treason trials. He has been accused of seeking personal aggrandizement by eliminating his colleagues in the Bolshevik Central Committee and of treachery towards those who gave him their support in his campaign against Trotsky.
Impartial study of the years 1936 to 1938, however, disproves this thesis. Stalin was never the friend of Zinoviev, Kamenev, and the others. He worked with them for his own purposes and because they shared his views on the danger of Trotskyism. He did so with full knowledge that they were planning to turn against him when he had served their purpose. He regarded them as they regarded him and dealt with them as they would have dealt with him in different circumstances.
Whenever the Opposition confined its activity to attacks upon the views of the majority, Stalin permitted them to do so. They brought destruction upon themselves when they passed from attacks on Stalin to subversive maneuverings against the foundations of Soviet rule.
To those who have served Russia faithfully, Stalin has always been a loyal friend and generous colleague. He does not remove a man at the first sign of heterodoxy like Hitler did Roehm nor does he kill by stealth as Mussolini destroyed Balbo.
Kalinin still stands beside Stalin though he supported the pro-kulak theories of Bukharin in 1936. Voroshilov was in error on the question of Army discipline in 1937, but he lives in freedom and devotes his life to the defense of Russia. Ordjonikidze opposed Stalin on several occasions and did not hesitate to say so, but he occupied high office in the Government until Yagoda’s poisoners murdered him.
Cole, David M. Josef Stalin; Man of Steel. London, New York: Rich & Cowan, 1942, p. 128-129

GOLOVANOV: Some people believe he [Stalin] was a sadist.
But I knew him well. He was no bloodthirsty tyrant. A struggle was raging. There were various political currents and deviations. The building of socialism required firmness. Stalin had more of this firmness than anyone else. Was there a fifth column? There was no question about that. And they were prominent leaders, not underlings….
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 295

The most common explanation of the police atrocities in that infamous year [1937] points to a well-planned action by the NKVD, at the instigation of Stalin who wanted to eliminate all his real, potential, or imagined opponents on a national scale, whatever their position in the socio-political hierarchy. But having examined the decidedly tortuous meanderings of political maneuvers and counter-maneuvers during 1936, we must conclude that the likelihood of such an undertaking is very low….
In the last chapter we saw how improbable it is that the political moves which ushered in the crescendo of terror could have been the product of a single strategy put into effect by an absolute controlling and decision-making centralized power. Similarly, the fact that the police action of 1937 continued for so long, in company with equally self-contradictory political acts, makes it unlikely that we are dealing here with a victorious punitive expedition being carried through by the praetorian guard of an all-powerful dictator.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 113


It speaks highly of Stalin’s sense of justice that he did not hesitate to double check the charges made against the accused, lest place-seeking politicians should seek advancement by falsely informing against an inconvenient superior.
Cole, David M. Josef Stalin; Man of Steel. London, New York: Rich & Cowan, 1942, p. 101

CHUEV: So Stalin treated people altogether mercilessly?
MOLOTOV: What do you mean, mercilessly? He got reports; they had to be checked out.
CHUEV: People would slander one another….
MOLOTOV: We would have been complete idiots if we had taken the reports at their face value. We were not idiots. We could not entrust accused individuals with jobs of responsibility, because they could have reverted to type any time.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 276

CHUEV: If Stalin knew everything and did not rely on bad advice, he bears direct responsibility for the executions of the innocent.
MOLOTOV: That conclusion is not entirely correct. Understanding the idea is one thing, applying it is something else. The rightists had to be beaten, the Trotskyists had to be beaten, so the order came down: punish the vigorously. Yezhov was executed for that. If tough measures are rejected, the great risk is always that at the critical moment the nation may be torn apart and the devil knows how it may end–leading only to greater losses. Millions may die, and that may mean total collapse or at least a very deep crisis.
CHUEV: That’s true. Yezhov was executed, but the innocent were not released.
MOLOTOV: But, when all is said, many of the verdicts were justified. The cases were reviewed and some people were released….
MOLOTOV: A commission on Tevosian was set up after he was arrested. Mikoyan, Beria, myself, and someone else worked on that commission. Tevosian was a Central Committee member, a most upright man, an excellent specialist in metallurgy. An extremely competent man. A report came in that he was a saboteur and that he was working to damage our steel industry. He had intensive training in Germany with the Krupp works, and upon returning home he most perseveringly and effectively worked in our steel industry. But soon a lot of evidence given by specialists and managers was received. At Stalin’s initiative, a special commission was set up to review his case thoroughly. We went to the NKVD building to examine the evidence. We heard out one engineer, two, three. Each one insisted Tevosian was a wrecker because he had issued such and such instructions. Tevosian was in the same room and listened to all those accusations. He easily exposed and rejected all the charges. We compared the evidence with the facts and concluded that the charges were absurd. Sheer slander. Tevosian was acquitted. He remained a member of the Central Committee, and then he continued to do his job. We reported to Stalin, and he agreed with our conclusion.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 294

GOLOVANOV: Stalin also tried to find out from me who had me expelled from the party. I realized that if I indicated that person to him, the next day the man would be out of the Politburo. I never divulged the name to him….
MOLOTOV: Khrushchev brought his lists of enemies of the people to Stalin. Stalin doubted the numbers reported–“They can’t be so many!” “They are–in fact, many more, Comrade Stalin. You can’t imagine how many they are!”
GOLOVANOV: I have a friend who used to work with me as a flight engineer when I was a pilot in civil aviation. He studied at the political academy, switched to research work, and taught at the general staff academy. As the campaign of exposures and denunciations was launched, he was transferred to the Institute of Marxism-Leninism to pour over documents in search of execution orders and so forth signed by Stalin. He did not find a single paper of that kind bearing Stalin’s signature.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 296

MOLOTOV: The Central Committee was also to blame for running careless checks on some of the accused. But no one can prove to me that all those actions should never have been undertaken. That claim could only come from someone who had never been a Bolshevik with prerevolutionary experience….
…Not all the lists were signed by the Politburo members. In many cases the verdicts arrived at by the security agencies were taken on trust.
GOLOVANOV: On trust, of course.
MOLOTOV: Not all the cases could be checked out….
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 297

Wholesale expulsions based on this “heartless attitude” alienated party members and therefore served the needs of the party’s enemies. According to Stalin, such embittered comrades could provide addit___Yional reserves for the Trotskyists “because the incorrect policy of some of our comrades on the question of expulsion from the party and reinstatement of expelled people… creates these reserves.”
Large numbers of members have been incorrectly expelled “for so-called passivity.” Such passives were expelled because they hadn’t mastered the party program. “If we were to go further on this path, we should have to leave only intellectuals and learned people in general in our party.” Acceptance of the program is sufficient, especially for those working on mastering the program.
Stalin stated, “It is necessary to put an end to the present blockheaded interpretation of the question of passivity…. The fact is that our comrades do not recognize the mean between two extremes. It is sufficient for a worker, a party member, to commit some small offense…and in a flash he is thrown out of the party.
No interest is taken in the degree of his offense, the cause of his non-appearance at the meeting…the bureaucratism of this is simply unparalleled…. And was it impossible, before expelling them from the party, to give them, or administer a reprimand…or in the extreme case to reduce to the position of candidate, but not to expel them with a sweep of a hand from the party?
“Of course it was possible.
But this requires an attentive attitude toward people…. And this is exactly what some of our comrades lack.
It is high time to put a stop to this outrageous practice, comrades.”
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 147

Lastly, one more question. I have in mind the question of the formal and heartlessly bureaucratic attitude of some of our Party comrades towards the fate of individual members of the Party, to the question of expelling members from the Party, or the question of reinstating expelled members of the Party. The point is that some of our Party leaders suffer from a lack of concern for people, for members of the Party, for workers. More than that, they do not study members of the Party, do not know what interests they have, how they are developing; generally, they do not know the workers. That is why they have no individual approach to Party members and Party workers. And because they have no individual approach in appraising Party members and Party workers they usually act in a haphazard way: either they praise them wholesale, without measure, or roundly abuse them, also wholesale and without measure, and expel thousands and tens of thousands of members from the Party. Such leaders generally try to think in tens of thousands, not caring about “units,” about individual members of the Party, about their fate. They regard the expulsion of thousands and tens of thousands of people from the Party as a mere trifle and console themselves with the thought that our Party has two million members and that the expulsion of tens of thousands cannot in any way affect the Party’s position. But only those who are in fact profoundly anti-Party can have such an approach to members of the Party.
As a result of this heartless attitude towards people, towards members of the Party and Party workers, discontent and bitterness is artificially created among a section of the Party, and the Trotskyite double-dealers cunningly hook onto such embittered comrades and skilfully drag them into the bog of Trotskyite wrecking.
Stalin, Joseph. Works, Vol. 14, Speech in Reply to Debate, 1 April 1937, Red Star Press, London, Pravda 1978, pp. 292-296.

Taken by themselves, the Trotskyites never represented a big force in our Party. Recall the last discussion in our Party in 1927. That was a real Party referendum. Of a total of 854,000 members of the Party, 730,000 took part in the voting. Of these, 724,000 members of the Party voted for the Bolsheviks, for the Central Committee of the Party and against the Trotskyites, while 4,000 members of the Party, i.e., about one-half per cent, voted for the Trotskyites, and 2,600 members of the Party abstained from voting. One hundred and twenty-three thousand members of the Party did not take part in the voting. They did not take part in the voting either because they were away, or because they were working on night shift. If to the 4,000 who voted for the Trotskyites we add all those who abstained from voting on the assumption that they, too, sympathised with the Trotskyites, and if to this number we add, not half per cent of those who did not take part in the voting, as we should do by right, but five per cent, i.e., about 6,000 Party members, we will get about 12,000 Party members who, in one way or another, sympathised with Trotskyism. This is the whole strength of Messieurs the Trotskyites. Add to this the fact that many of them became disillusioned with Trotskyism and left it, and you will get an idea of the insignificance of the Trotskyite forces. And if in spite of this the Trotskyite wreckers have some reserves around our Party it is because the wrong policy of some of our comrades on the question of expelling and reinstating members of the Party, the heartless attitude of some of our comrades towards the fate of individual members of the Party and individual workers, artificially creates a number of discontented and embittered people, and thus creates these reserves for the Trotskyites.
For the most part people are expelled for so-called passivity. What is passivity? It transpires that if a member of the Party has not thoroughly mastered the Party program he is regarded as passive and subject to expulsion. But that is wrong, comrades. You cannot interpret the rules of our Party in such a pedantic fashion. In order to thoroughly master the Party program one must be a real Marxist, a tried and theoretically trained Marxist. I do not know whether we have many members of our Party who have thoroughly mastered our program, who have become real Marxists, theoretically trained and tried. If we continued further along this path we would have to leave only intellectuals and learned people generally in our Party. Who wants such a Party? We have Lenin’s thoroughly tried and tested formula defining a member of the Party. According to this formula a member of the Party is one who accepts the program of the Party, pays membership dues and works in one of its organizations. Please note: Lenin’ s formula does not speak about thoroughly mastering the program, but about accepting the program. These are two very different things. It is not necessary to prove that Lenin is right here and not our Party comrades who chatter idly about thoroughly mastering the program. That should be clear. If the Party had proceeded from the assumption that only those comrades who have thoroughly mastered the program and have become theoretically trained Marxists could be members of the Party it would not have created thousands of Party circles, hundreds of Party schools where the members of the Party are taught Marxism, and where they are assisted to master our program. It is quite clear that if our Party organizes such schools and circles for the members of the Party it is because it knows that the members of the Party have not yet thoroughly mastered the Party program, have not yet become theoretically trained Marxists.
Consequently, in order to rectify our policy on the question of Party membership and on expulsion from the Party we must put a stop to the present blockhead interpretation of the question of passivity.
But there is another error in this sphere. It is that our comrades recognise no mean between two extremes. It is enough for a worker, a member of the Party, to commit a slight offence, to come late to a Party meeting once or twice, or to fail to pay membership dues for some reason or other, to be kicked out of the Party in a trice. No interest is taken in the degree to which he is to blame, the reason why he failed to attend a meeting, the reason why he did not pay membership dues. The bureaucratic approach displayed on these questions is positively unprecedented. It is not difficult to understand that it is precisely the result of this heartless policy that excellent, skilled workers, excellent Stakhanovites, found themselves expelled from the Party. Was it not possible to caution them before expelling them from the Party, or if that had no effect, to reprove or reprimand them, and if that had no effect, to put them on probation for a certain period, or, as an extreme measure, to reduce them to the position of candidates¸ but not expel them from the Party at one stroke? Of course it was. But this calls for concern for people, for the members of the Party, for the fate of members of the Party. And this is what some of our comrades lack.
It is time, comrades, high time, to put a stop to this disgraceful state of affairs. (Applause.)
Stalin, Joseph. Works, Vol. 14, Speech in Reply to Debate, 1 April 1937, Red Star Press, London, Pravda 1978, pp. 292-296.

The Central Committee gathered in yet another plenum at the end of February 1937….
But once again Molotov specifically and firmly disdained a campaign aimed at everyone who had ever opposed the party line, including Trotskyites. He cited a telegram that Stalin had sent the previous December to the municipal party committee in Perm. There the director of an aviation motor factory, a former Trotskyite, was being persecuted “because of his former sins.” But in view of the fact that he and his subordinates, who were also suffering, “now work with a good conscience and enjoy the full confidence of the Central Committee,” Stalin asked the city secretary to protect them and “create around them an atmosphere of complete trust.” He requested the secretary to let the Central Committee know quickly of measures taken to help the group. It is hard to imagine a more direct and forceful statement that every oppositionist was to be evaluated on his or her merits and record; there was to be no witch-hunt.
Molotov’s recommendations for action were along the same lines. More Bolshevik tolerance for objections was needed: “We must prove our ability to cope with criticism,” even the unpleasant sort. The way to deal with enemies was through selection of employees, and methods of leadership. In short, Molotov did not assign a prominent role to the police.
Stalin was mild and supportive toward Kossior, first secretary of the party in Ukraine. Kossior admitted that in his area there had been a lot of “familyness,” meaning that he had created a network of people connected directly to himself and had sometimes resisted central directives. Such practices were now condemned as likely to let in enemies. Kossior regretted not having enough “Bolshevik sagacity and decisiveness.” Stalin interjected: “If you had told us, we would have helped.” When Kossior dwelled further on his errors, Stalin said, “No matter, people learn from mistakes.”
KOSSIOR: That’s true. But the price is too high.
STALIN: A good product is not bought cheaply. (General laughter).
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 43-44

At last Stalin took the floor. On March 3 he presented an address entitled “On Shortcomings of Party Work and Measures of Liquidation of Trotskyite and Other Double-Dealers.” He began by charging that sabotage and espionage, in which “Trotskyites have played a fairly active role,” had occurred in almost all government and party organizations. The agents of this nefarious work had reached not just lower levels but “some responsible posts” as well. Many leaders at the center and in the provinces had been “complacent, kindhearted, and naive” toward the wreckers, which had help them get into high positions. Often the enemies were masked as Bolsheviks.
Still, Stalin did not call for massive purges of the party, even for those guilty of complacency and indirect aid to the wreckers…. Stalin’s emphasis in coping with the danger was on reeducation, not on mass arrests. There was no point in retraining anyone not deemed basically trustworthy.
On the same day Stalin spoke, the central committee resolved that, at a minimum, Bukharin and Rykov knew of the terrorist activity of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite center and hid it from the party, thereby aiding terrorism. They also knew of other terrorist groups organized by their “pupils and followers.” Far from struggling with the terrorists, the two rightist leaders encouraged them. The Central Committee voted to expel Bukharin and Rykov from the party and to turn their case over to the NKVD.
Stalin now changed his tone, though why is not clear. His speech of March 5 was considerably milder than his first remarks,…
It was necessary to hunt down active Trotskyites but not everyone who had been casually involved with them, Stalin announced. In fact, such a crude approach could “only harm the cause of the struggle with the active Trotskyist wreckers and spies.” Even more surprising given his first set of remarks, but paralleling his December 1936 telegram in defense of a former Trotskyite, Stalin allowed that some people had long ago left their fellows and now “conduct the fight with Trotskyism no worse, but even better than some of our respected comrades…. It would be stupid to discredit such comrades.” Each case of expulsion from the party for connections with the former oppositions should be dealt with carefully.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 47-48

[At a January 1938 meaning of the Central Committee] Malenkov emphasized that the Commission of Party Control, still headed by Yezhov, had discovered that “very many” of the appeals for reinstatement “correctly objected” to expulsion. In the majority of cases the commission examined from 40 to 60 percent of those thrown out of the party had been reinstated. Malenkov reminded the Central Committee of Stalin’s objection in March 1937 to a “heartless bureaucratic” approach to communists.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 107

Several episodes recounted by Khrushchev show how the selection of candidates took place at the Moscow conferences. The first episode was connected with the head of one of the departments of the Moscow Committee, Brandt, who before the conference told Khrushchev that he always was having to explain whether he was the son of the colonel in the tsarist army named Brandt who headed the anti-Soviet uprising in Kaluga in 1918. Although Brandt would always say that his father had truly been a colonel, but another, who had never disgraced himself before the Soviet regime, he was sure that this time they would begin to slander him with particular cruelty, and therefore he was entertaining thoughts of suicide. Imagining all too well the atmosphere which would dominate at the conference, Khrushchev understood that it “might prove to be fatal for Brandt,” and decided to tell Stalin himself about this case, in order to save his comrade and colleague. After he had received assurances from Khrushchev that Brandt was “a person who had been tested,” Stalin ordered that “he not be subjected to insults.” As a result, Brandt was selected a member of the Moscow committee.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 300

After the break, Kaganovich delivered a brief but vicious speech. Evidently, he had “reconsidered” and begun to believe not only the “whore” Sokolnikov instead of Bukharin but also the forced testimony of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Molotov competed with Kaganovich in the ardor of his attacks on Rykov and Bukharin….
No one rose to defend the two. Ordzhonikidze did interrupt Yezhov to ask questions, trying to make sense out of the ongoing nightmare, thereby becoming the one person to indicate a certain distrust in the new people’s commissar [Yezhov]….
Finally, Stalin took the floor. I report from memory what Bukharin told me:
“No need to make a hasty decision, Comrades. Look, the investigative organs also had material against Tukhachevsky, but we sorted it out, and Comrade Tukhachevsky may now work in peace….
I think Rykov might have known something about the counterrevolutionary activity of the Trotskyists and did not inform the Party. But in respect to Bukharin, I still doubt this. [Here, he was purposely splitting Bukharin off from Rykov.] It is very painful for the Party to speak of the past crimes of comrades as authoritative as Bukharin and Rykov were. Therefore, we will not hurry with the decision, Comrades, but continue the investigation.
Larina, Anna. This I Cannot Forget. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993, p. 301


The sharpest test of the conscience remaking of human character is found in the Soviet policy for handling law-breakers. The Soviet criminologist holds neither of the theories on which the prevalent systems of prison regime in capitalist countries are based. He does not believe in the existence of “born criminals” whose will must be broken by brutal suppression nor does he rely on emotional appeals to the “better nature” of the criminal, for he knows that this better nature exists as yet only in rudimentary form. “We don’t assume that a man of anti-social habits will be at once reclaimed by gifts of chocolate, nice bathrooms, and soft words,” a leading Soviet penologist told me. “Men are made over by a new social environment and especially by their work done collectively.”
Soviet law aims to make over social misfits while protecting society from their attacks. Punishment as vengeance has no place in such an aim: revenge merely incites revenge in return. To make prisoners sit in solitude and think of their sins produces a fixation on crime. To “break a man’s will” or lessen his human dignity in any way injures him as material for a creative socialist society. Soviet justice therefore aims to give the criminal a new environment in which he will begin to act in a normal way as a responsible Soviet citizen. The less confinement the better; the less he feels himself in prison the better…. “We have a double approach,” said Attorney-General Vyshinsky in an interview. “Active, confirmed enemies of our Soviet power who stick at nothing to injure us must be ruthlessly crushed…. But if we had tried to apply the idea of absolute humanitarianism to bitter enemies we wouldn’t be here today.”
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 254

The labor camp is the prevalent method for handling serious offenders of all kinds, whether criminal or political…. The labor camps have won high reputation throughout the Soviet Union as places where tens of thousands of men have been reclaimed. They have, however, been the center of some of the most spectacular attacks on the Soviet Union in recent years. Allegations of brutal treatment and even of torture have found their way widely into the foreign press. While it is clearly impossible to check every one of these accusations, they are contradicted by every competent observer who has ever seen the camps. Dr. Mary Stevens Callcott, the American penologist who has studied prisons all over the world, and who has had the unique experience of visiting the larger part of the Soviet camps, including those for the worst–and for political–offenders, has commented both in her book Soviet Justice and in conversations with me personally, on the “amazingly normal” life that differentiates these camps from prisons in any other part of the world.
She notes the freedom of movement over large areas of territory, the very small amount of guarding, the work done under normal conditions–7 hours for ordinary labor to 10 for men whose tasks, such as driving a truck, permitted frequent rests during work. She could find no speed up; laws of labor protection operated as in factories. Wages were the same as those outside, with deductions for living expenses; all above this could be sent by the prisoner to his family, saved, or spent as he chose. “No uniforms with their psychological implications, no physical abuse; isolation only in extreme instances. Privileges and special rewards replace the system of special penalties.” Among these special rewards are the two weeks’ vacation in which the prisoner may leave the camp, and the opportunities given for his family not only to visit him but even to live with him for extended periods. Normal human association goes on; men and women meet and may even marry while serving sentence, in which case they are given separate quarters.
What most impressed Dr. Callcott, however, was the type of men in charge of these camps, and the relation they had to the prisoners. She tells of going through the Moscow-Volga Canal camp with its director. Prisoners hailed him with obvious pleasure and informality. A girl rushed up to detain him by seizing the belt of his uniform lest he get away before she could tell him something. A teacher whose term was about to expire expressed a wish to stay on and work under him. There were only five officials in the central administration office of this camp of many thousand prisoners; all the work, including most of the guarding, was done by the convicted men themselves. “In fact,” said Dr. Callcott, “I can never see what kept men in this camp unless they wanted to stay there. No convicts I have known would have any difficulty if they wanted to break away.”
Both prisoners and officials, of whom Dr. Callcott asked this question–she talked with prisoners freely without the presence of officials–replied that they didn’t run away because it they did, “nobody in my working gang would speak to me when I came back. They would say I had disgraced them.” There are, however, a certain number of incorrigibles who run away repeatedly, and these are given somewhat closer guarding for a time. Political prisoners, she noted, were treated like everyone else, except that those who had been persistent and dangerous in their attacks on the government were sent away from the possibility of connection with their past associates. In all her conversations with these “politicals,” she was unable to find one who had been sentenced merely for expressing anti-Soviet views. All were charged with definite action against the government.
“I did everything I could to destroy this government,” one such man frankly told her, “sabotage of the most serious kind. But the way they have treated me here has convinced me that they are right.”
Another prisoner, who had been in Sing Sing, San Quentin, as well as in jails of England, Spain, and Germany, before he was picked up by the Soviets for grand larceny, had been reclaimed by the Baltic-White Sea Canal. He had done a bit of engineering in his youth, and was promptly given a chance to work at this specialty. He won a metal, pursued his studies further, and was doing brilliant work on the Moscow-Volga Canal when Dr. Callcott met him. To her query about his reformation he replied:
“in the other countries they treated me like a prisoner, clapped me in jail and taught me my place. Here they clapped me on the back and said “what can we do to make you into a useful citizen?” Dr. Callcott conversed with many men now high in Soviet industry who had previously been reclaimed by the labor camps. Nothing in their attitude or that of those about them showed any stigma remaining from their prison life. “Of course, when it’s over, it’s forgotten,” one of them said to her. “That,” says Dr. Callcott, “is real restoration.”
Information from many other sources and from my own observation corroborates Dr. Callcott.
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 256

The Communists point out that in so-called democratic countries, while justice pretends to be impartial as between all citizens, and to guarantee individuals certain declared rights, in practice the propertied classes get the benefit of any doubt; private property has a superior claim.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 61

1) the maximum number of persons that may be held in custody in places of confinement attached to the People’s Commissariat for Justice, the 0GPU, and the Chief Directorate of the Police, other than in camps and colonies, is not to exceed 400,000 persons for the entire Soviet Union.
The 0GPU, the People’s Commissariat for Justice of each of the Union republics, and the Procuracy of the USSR are to proceed immediately to reduce the population of places of confinement. The total number of those confined is to be reduced within the next two months from the current figure of 800,000 to 400,000 persons.
2… The superintendents of places of confinement are prohibited from taking prisoners in excess of the maximum number that has been established.
3… The maximum period for holding a person in custody in police lockups is to be three days. Those incarcerated are to be provided with bread rations without fail.
Signed: Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR, Molotov and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, J. Stalin.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 117

…Moreover, according to the new regulations, the NKVD did not have the power to pass death sentences (as the 0GPU and its predecessors the GPU and Cheka had) or to inflict extralegal “administrative” punishments of more than five years. Treason cases, formerly under the purview of the secret police, were, along with other criminal matters, referred to the regular courts or to the Supreme Court.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 121

…A number of key events between 1934 and 1937, including the assassination of Politburo member Kirov, dramatically changed and hardened the political landscape.
…In September a memo from Stalin proposed the formation of a Politburo commission (chaired by Kuibyshev…) to look into 0GPU abuses. Stalin called the matter “serious, in my opinion,” and ordered the commission to “free the innocent” and purge the 0GPU of practitioners of specific “investigative tricks” and punish them regardless of their rank….
Thus, in response to Stalin’s recommendation, the Kuibyshev Commission prepared a draft resolution censuring the police for “illegal methods of investigation” and recommending punishment of several secret police officials.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 122

[June 17th, 1935 decree by the Council of People’s Commissar’s of the USSR in the Central Committee of the Communist Party]
1. In modification of instructions of May 8th, 1933, henceforth organs of the NKVD may make arrests only with the consent of the appropriate procurator. This applies to all cases without exception.
2. If arrests must be made at the site of the crime, officials of the NKVD authorized by law are obligated to report the arrest immediately to the appropriate procurator for his confirmation.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 188

[From Protocol # 38 of the Politburo on April 20th 1936]
Regarding: Dependents of persons deported from cities in the USSR subject to special measures.
…Residence in localities in the USSR subject to special measures is to be permitted to dependents of persons removed from these localities: to dependents whose family is engaged in socially useful work, or to students–that is to those people who are in no way personally to blame for anything.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 220

“Decree of the Narkomvnudel. Whereas Peter Kleist, engineer, age 29, and a former employee of the Cotton Trust, has been examined on the suspicion of engaging in political espionage and whereas the examination has shown that he did not knowingly engage in such activity, it is decided that he be acquitted of this charge.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 177

…whereas the aforesaid has been further examined on the suspicion of engaging in economic espionage by the sequestration of data and formulae, and whereas it has been established that secret technical data and formulae were in his possession at the time of his intended departure from the Soviet Union, it is decreed that the said Peter Kleist be forthwith expelled from the Soviet Union. It is further decreed that the charge of illegally exchanging Soviet currency for foreign currency shall not be proceeded with.
Signed. Tanev, Procurator.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 178

(Others Kleist met in prison). He was a Rumanian called Jonescu [who said],
“I wasn’t sorry to be in prison. I got regular food and something to occupy my mind– they gave me work and offered to teach me a trade. I had studied mathematics and so I asked permission to do the work of a planning statistician. I liked the work. It was interesting studying the work of men in relation to machines, output, and all the rest of it. They paid me a wage for my work and I wasn’t uncomfortable. I got there everything I wanted in the Lavka. (The Lavka is the prison shop where penal prisoners are allowed to buy from their wages things like tobacco, paper and pencil, newspapers and books.). I began to read again, to look forward to a settled life as a Soviet worker….
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 181

… in August 1936 he publicly rebuffed any idea that in Soviet circumstances children should answer for their parents’ sins.
Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York, New York: Viking, 1991, p. 196

…the government’s edict “On Revolutionary Legality,” issued on June 25, 1932, swung Soviet jurisprudence decisively toward statutory stability, formality, and correspondingly the professionalization of jurists. The main spokesman for the new approach was Vyshinsky, whose appointment as procurator general of the USSR in 1935 symbolized the ascendance of that philosophy. Taking his cue from Stalin’s assertion that “the withering away of the state will come not through a weakening of state authority but through its maximum intensification,” Vyshinsky worked tirelessly to make law the cornerstone of the burgeoning bureaucratic apparatus. He clashed repeatedly with the commissar of justice, Krylenko, over what Krylenko considered excessive borrowing of forms and norms from bourgeois legal systems. Vyshinsky engaged in bureaucratic turf battles with both Krylenko’s commissariat and the NKVD.
The Constitution epitomized the new Soviet legal thinking. As one Western scholar has noted, it provided for “a strong and stable criminal law for the protection of public property, and a predictable and differentiated civil law for the protection of the…right of ‘personal property.’ Beyond this, the emphasis on stability and predictability was entirely consistent with a whole series of measures adopted by the regime in 1934 and 1935. These included reconciliation with former oppositionists at the 17th Party Congress, the issuing of a kolkhoz statute, the convocation of a Writer’s Union congress and its preaching of literary toleration, and the rejection of the Comintern’s “class-against-class” strategy in favor of the more ecumenical antifascist popular-frontism . Together, they constituted a strategy of political moderation that distinguishes the mid-1930s from both earlier and later in the decade.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 159

The authors of the telegram [a telegram sent by the Labor and Socialist International and the International Federation of Trade Unions to the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR just before the trial began] then proceed to demand that “judicial guarantees” or “legal guarantees” be given. The implication must be that unless some powerful outside influence is brought to bear, the trial will be an unjudicial and improper proceeding; and, indeed, one of the authors has since stated that the meaning was that the case “ought to be tried in accordance with the ordinary canons of justice and humanity.” I confess that I find this request, and the criticism implied in it, very difficult indeed to justify. The Soviet Union is a civilized country, with a developed legal system, and some very fine lawyers and jurists. Its criminal procedure is at least the equal of that of very many other countries. There was not and is not, in my humble opinion, the slightest ground for fearing that, in any public trial (and it was announced from the outset that this trial would be public), it would deviate from civilized procedure. I am aware that provisions exist in its procedure for secret trials, and for the withholding of counsel and witnesses for the defense in secret trials for counter-revolutionary offenses. I regret the existence of such provisions, and have never concealed my regret. Defenders of the Soviet system can, of course, urge in defense that every country in the world provides in greater or less degree for secret trials, and that the practice of depriving a prisoner, arraigned on charges of high treason or similar offenses, of the right to counsel or witnesses, has prevailed in a great many countries and a great many ages; they could even say that this practice lasted for some centuries in England. But in truth all that is not to the point; for in this public trial there was never any intention of depriving, and I think that there was not even any procedural opportunity to deprive the accused either of counsel or of the right to make their defense or to call witnesses if they desired.
Every foreign critic who has studied the Soviet legal system has reported that, taken as a whole, it is good and fair; everyone who studies it at all knows that year by year it progresses steadily towards greater facilities for the prisoner, greater independence of judges and counsel, and greater technical efficiency. Even with the difficulties which must always exist in securing a fair trial in political cases, where the feelings of everyone must be deeply engaged (difficulties which are, of course, far smaller when the jury system is not in vogue), why should it, once again, be assumed that everything is being and will be done wrong. Such an attitude from a Press lord suffering from acute CommunistPhobia, which is the modern equivalent of the horror felt by our respectable grandfathers in the 1880s when they heard of men who voted Radical, would be quite comprehensible; but it is regrettable to find anything like it in Socialist quarters. To put the matter at its lowest, the self-interest of the Soviet Government would surely insure that a public trial at this time on a charge of the greatest gravity, brought against old servants of the revolution, would be held with the fullest possible degree of fairness.
I must diverge for a moment here to point out that the statement that the defendants were not allowed counsel appeared in several English newspapers, including the one that was obviously the fairest of all in its attitude, whilst the statement also appeared in reputable papers that they were not allowed to make a defense. These two statements, or rather misstatements (for there is clearly no foundation for them), must plainly be bona fide errors, and I can well imagine that they may have colored the whole feelings and attitude of commentators; so, perhaps, once again in journalistic history, a pure error has led people, acting in the utmost good faith, to a line of criticism which they would never otherwise have adopted. In truth, of course, the accused were at liberty to make any defense they liked; two of them did make or attempt a defense as to part of the charges, as I have already stated, and otherwise they all elected not to do so. They all expressly renounced counsel; and I do not think that counsel, however eminent, could have done more for them than they did for themselves….
Returning to this not unimportant telegram, we find next a request that the accused shall be allowed counsel who shall be “independent of the Government.” We are entitled to assume knowledge in the authors that the accused were entitled to counsel, so that the whole emphasis of the request obviously falls on the point of “being independent of the Government.” Counsel in the USSR are not government servants, but one must obviously look to substance and not to form, and I take it that the implied or hinted meaning is that, unless some special precautions are taken, any counsel whom the accused might select would, either out of fear of the Government or out of deference to popular feeling, not “pull his weight” for his clients. That suspicion of my much-maligned profession is entertained, I suppose, in every country in every political case, and perhaps in non-political cases too. There is never as much in it as laymen suspect; there is perhaps more in it than honest lawyers believe. Whether there is anything in it in the USSR or not is, of course, not easy to say; all that I can contribute to its elucidation is that I investigated it with care four years ago and came to the conclusion that a political defendant had as good a chance of getting reliable counsel in the USSR as anywhere else.
Pritt, Denis Nowell. At the Moscow Trial, New York City: International Publishers, 1937, p. 23-25

The next request to be found in the telegram is that no death sentences be “promulgated.”… But this request is made in a world where most, States still retain the death penalty for some offenses; and if there ever were a case in which any State which still kept upon its statute book provision for inflicting such a penalty would be likely to inflict it, it is a case of treasonable conspiracy to murder the half-dozen principal leaders of the Government. And the regrettable probability, or virtual certainty, that most States would inflict the penalty in such a case would only be increased by the circumstances that most of the men involved were men who had been forgiven and reinstated in the Party and in important posts once, twice, thrice, after expressing regret for past disloyalty and offering the most sweeping assurances as to their future conduct, intending all the time to use the opportunities thus secured to continue terrorist conspiracies against the State.
Pritt, Denis Nowell. At the Moscow Trial, New York City: International Publishers, 1937, p. 27

Now, the critic inquires why the opposition was brutally crushed just at this moment. I have already stated at length the grounds, to my mind overwhelming, for holding that the proceedings can only have been launched for the most genuine and cogent reasons; but I do not understand why the detection and punishment of a conspiracy for multiple assassination should be described as the brutal crushing of the opposition, merely because the conspiracy was opposed to the Government and several of the conspirators had in the past been among the leaders of the opposition. Why are we to assume that men guilty of conspiracy to murder are shot because they are or were in opposition rather than because they are guilty of conspiracy to murder?… It should not be overlooked, either, that if the more important of these men were regarded as “the opposition” which is not unreasonable, they are rather the opposition of the past than of the future. They had been definitely proved to be wrong in the controversy which had made them into an opposition; they had been, instead of being crushed, forgiven over and over again, as if no one wanted to be harsh to them; and as an opposition they were perhaps less to be feared than at any previous time.
Pritt, Denis Nowell. At the Moscow Trial, New York City: International Publishers, 1937, p. 29

In England, our friend remarks, a prisoner indicted for treason is practically forced to go through a legal routine of defense. He pleads Not Guilty; and his counsel assumes for him an attitude of injured innocence, refusing to admit any evidence that is not within certain rules, demanding legitimate proof of every statement and setting up a hypothesis as to what actually happened which is consistent with the prisoner’s innocence. He cross-examines the Crown witnesses mercilessly. He puts the prisoner into the witness-box and asks him questions so framed that by simple affirmative answers or indignant denials or at worst by flat perjury (which is considered allowable on such occasions) he may seem to support the hypothesis. The judge compliments the counsel on the brilliant ability with which he has conducted his case. He points out to the jury that the hypothesis is manifestly fictitious and the prisoner obviously guilty. The jury finds the necessary verdict. The judge then, congratulating the prisoner on having been so ably defended and fairly tried, sentences him to death and commends him to the mercy of his God.
May not this procedure, which seems so natural and inevitable to us, very intelligently strike a Russian as a farce tolerated because our rules of evidence and forms of trial have never been systematically revised on rational lines. Why should a conspirator who is caught out by the Government, and he knows that he is caught out and that no denials or hypothetical fairy tales will help him to escape–why should he degrade himself uselessly by a mock defense instead of at once facing the facts and discussing his part in them quite candidly with his captors? There is a possibility of moving them by such a friendly course: in a mock defense there is none. Our candid friend submits that the Russian prisoners simply behave naturally and sensibly, as Englishmen would were they not virtually compelled by their highly artificial legal system to go through a routine which is useful to the accused only when there is some doubt as to the facts or as to the guilt or innocence of the conduct in question. What possible good could it do them to behave otherwise? Why should they waste the time of the court and disgrace themselves by prevaricating like pickpockets merely to employ the barristers? Our friend suggests that some of us are so obsessed with our national routine that the candor of the Russian conspirators seems grotesque and insane. Which of the two courses, viewed by an impartial visitor from Mars, would appear the saner?
Webb, S. Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation. London, NY: Longmans, Green, 1947, p. 923-924


A sense of insecurity spread among the Soviet people, replacing that exultant sense of progress they had felt in 1934. It was not due alone, and not even primarily, to personal fear of arrest or to concern for friends. It was due to the knowledge that the enemy had penetrated high into the citadel of leadership, that nobody knew who was loyal. This was the first time any nation came to grips with the deadly efficiency of the Hitler Fifth Column. They felt it as a fight for the nation’s survival, but a fight in the dark. This nightmare quality of the struggle affected not only the people, but also, I think, Stalin. He produced the theory that the nearer a country got to socialism the more enemies it would have.
… Those years, and especially 1937, are recalled by all Soviet citizens as a time of great mental distress…. People were taken away at night and never seen afterward. Sometimes they re-appeared. George Andreichine was twice exiled to Siberia and each time came back fairly soon to a better job. Most people thus arrested were not executed but sent either to a convict labor camp or to residence in a distant place….
My closest woman friend, who had lived with me several years before she married and moved to Leningrad, was exiled with a ten-year sentence. Nine years later, I again met her in Moscow and learned what had happened. Her husband had been arrested; she never learned the details of the charge against him. Believing him innocent, she pestered the offices of the GPU and was herself arrested, charged with being “the wife of an enemy of the people.” She was sent, not to a camp but to a small town in Kazakhstan where she got a job as a teacher in the high school. Once a month she had to report to a local GPU official, an intelligent man with whom she had “many interesting discussions.” Several times he questioned her about her view of her own arrest and the many other arrests that she knew occurred.
“The way I have figured it,” she replied on one occasion, “is that the Nazi Fifth Column penetrated the GPU and got high in it and has been arresting the wrong people.” Her questioner replied: “Many people have that view.”
… Of the 134 persons [the 1934 Party Congress] elected to the Central Committee, 98–or 70 percent of all–were not only arrested but shot. Those who attribute this to a mad paranoia of Stalin have still to explain why even a paranoiac should eliminate his most successful and loyal supporters. The “Victory Congress” of 1934 was composed precisely of those who had stuck to Stalin’s line, and celebrated the triumph of socialism in both industry and farming. Their drastic elimination within three years becomes somewhat more credible as the successful attempt of a Nazi Fifth Column to get rid of the nation’s most efficient patriots.
Such cases as I myself knew would support the view that it was often “the wrong people” who were arrested, people who seemed almost picked out for the purpose of disorganizing. On our Moscow News staff, three people were suddenly taken. If I had to pick our three most useful, energetic workers, these would have been the ones. They were Party members, always working hard both for the paper and the trade union, always willing to work nights in emergencies.
… Let us now turn to the revelations of what was happening in the parties upper circles, as revealed by Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin in 1956…. He reveals that immediately after the Kirov murder, and on Stalin’s initiative, directions were issued to the courts to speed up investigations, sentences, and punishments. At that time, Yagoda was chief of the GPU. Stalin found him too dilatory and wired from Sochi on September 25, 1936, that Yezhov should be appointed Commissar of Internal Affairs, since Yagoda showed incompetence. Yezhov’s appointment and his plans were approved by the plenary session of the Central Committee in February 1937. The number of arrests at once multiplied….
… Suddenly, Yezhov disappeared from the scene; he was rumored to have been taken to a madhouse.
In fixing the blame for the criminal railroading of innocent people in 1937, Khrushchev makes several statements. “We are justly accusing Yezhov for the degenerate practices of 1937,” he says.
Strong, Anna Louise. The Stalin Era. New York: Mainstream, 1956, p. 65

I justify the repressions despite the grave mistakes committed in the process. Bear in mind it was not merely overdoing it–not with Yagoda heading state security. He explicitly told the court that the oppositionists had remained in high offices for so long only because he had assisted them.
I have the transcript of his trial. He said, “Indeed, the rightists and the Trotskyists sitting here in the dock were exposed so late because I was the one who prevented that. And now I am condemning them all! Can you guarantee life to me in exchange for that service?” What a skunk! A communist, a people’s commissar. And that scoundrel sat next to Dzerzhinsky! As Dzerzhinsky’s closest aide he was gradually, after Menzhinsky, moved up to take the job of people’s commissar for state security. What kind of man was this? What filth!
I used to know him well in those years, and I regret he was such a close aide to Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky was a radiant, spotless personality. Yagoda was a filthy nobody who wormed his way into the party and was only caught in 1937. We had to work with reptiles like that, but there were no others. No one! Now you understand why so many mistakes were made. They deceived us, and innocent people were sometimes incriminated. Obviously one or two out of 10 were wrongly sentenced, but the rest got their just desserts. It was extremely hard then to get at the truth! But any delay was out of the question. War preparations were under way. That’s how it was.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 257


“This policy of cruelty.” I answered, “seems to have aroused a very widespread fear. In this country I have the impression that everybody is afraid and that your great experiment could succeed only among this long-suffering nation that has been trained to obedience.”
“You are mistaken,” said Stalin, “but your mistake is general. Do you think it possible to hold power for so long merely by intimidating the people? Impossible. The Czars knew best how to rule by intimidation. It is an old experiment in Europe and the French bourgeoisie supported the Czars in their policy of intimidation against the people. What came of it? Nothing.”
“But it maintained the Romanovs in power for 300 years.”
“Yes, but how many times was that power shaken by insurrections? To forget the older days, recall only the revolts of 1905. Fear is in the first instance a question of the mechanism of administration. You can arouse fear for one or two years and through it, or at least partly through it, you can rule for that time. But you cannot rule the peasants by fear. Secondly, the peasants and the working classes in the Soviet Union are by no means so timid and long-suffering as you think. You believe that our people are timid and lazy. That is an antiquated idea. It was believed in formerly, because the landed gentry used to go to Paris to spend their money there and do nothing. From this arose an impression of the so-called Russian laziness. People thought that the peasants were easily frightened and made obedient. That was a mistake. And it was a threefold mistake in regard to the workers. Never again will the workers endure the rule of one man. Men who have reached the highest pinnacles of fame were lost the moment they had got out of touch with the masses. Plehanov had great authority in his hands, but when he became mixed up in politics he quickly forgot the masses. Trotsky was a man of great authority, but not of such high standing as Plehanov, and now he is forgotten. If he is casually remembered, it is with a feeling of irritation.”
I did not intend to mention Trotsky to Stalin but since he himself had broached the subject, I asked: “Is the feeling against Trotsky general?”
“If you take the active workers, nine tenths speak bitterly of Trotsky.” (We spoke before the Moscow trials, in December 1931.)
… “You cannot maintain that people may be ruled for a long time merely by intimidation. I understand your skepticism. There is a small section of the people which is really afraid. It is an unimportant part of the peasant body. That is represented by the kulaks. They do not fear anything like the initiation of a reign of terror but they fear the other section of the peasant population.
“But if you take the progressive peasants and workers, not more than 15 percent are skeptical of the Soviet power, or are silent from fear or are waiting for the moment when they can undermine the Bolsheviks state. On the other hand, about 85 percent of the more or less active people would urge us further then we want to go. We often have to put on the brakes. They would like to stamp out the last remnants of the intelligentsia. But we would not permit that. In the whole history of the world there never was a power that was supported by nine tenths of the population as the Soviet power is supported.
That is the reason for our success in putting our ideas into practice. If we ruled only by fear, not a man would have stood by us. And the working classes would have destroyed any power that attempted to continue to rule by fear. Workers who have made three revolutions have had some practice in overthrowing governments. They would not endure such a mockery of government as one merely based on fear.”
Ludwig, Emil, Stalin. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1942, p. 173-175

LUDWIG: It seems to me that a considerable part of the population of the Soviet Union stands in fear and trepidation of the Soviet power, and that the stability of the latter rests to a certain extent on that sense of fear….
STALIN: You are mistaken. Incidentally, your mistake is that of many people. Do you really believe that we could have retained power and have had the backing of the vast masses for 14 years by methods of intimidation and terrorisation? No, that is impossible. The czarist government excelled all others in knowing how to intimidate. It had long and vast experience in that sphere…. Yet, in spite of that experience and in spite of the help of the European bourgeoisie, the policy of intimidation led to the downfall of czarism.
Stalin, Joseph. Works. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, 1952, Vol. 13, p. 110

Nevertheless, the specific remedies he [Stalin] proposed for the remaining “problems” were in the benign areas of party education and propaganda rather than repression.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 129

“But if in this building you are so democratic,” I objected, “why is your government so cruel at the end of 14 years that everybody in your country fears you?”
To this challenge–for I had made up my mind to be rough and discourteous in the Kremlin–Stalin made a long, quiet reply on the history of the Bolsheviks, whose beginnings were far too mild, and said, at the end of his discussion, that my mistake in this matter was a general one. “Do you really believe a man could maintain his position of power for 14 years merely by intimidation? Only by making people afraid? The Czars were past masters of that art and what has become of them? Fear is a question of the mechanics of administration. You can excite fear for a year or two. But not among our peasants! Our workmen and peasants are not so timid as you think.
You ask about fear? Well, a small part of the peasants, the kulaks, are afraid. They are afraid of the other peasant groups…. Of the adult peasants and workmen 15% at the most keep silence through fear. Besides, our workmen have three revolutions behind them, that is sufficient practice for them to destroy leaders they do not like.”
Ludwig, Emil. Three portraits: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin. New York Toronto: Longmans, Green and Company, c1940, p. 118


Unfortunately, many foreigners left the Soviet Union during 1937 and 1938 for one reason or another, carrying away with them the impression that the purge ended everything, or at least ended something; an epoch, let us say. Everyone worthwhile had been arrested or shot, it seemed. This impression was basically incorrect. The purge caused many arrests, but the Soviet Union was large, and millions of Russians who had not been involved personally in the purge took it more or less as it came without allowing it permanently to influence their attitude toward the Soviet power. So that in the end of 1938 when the purge ended, when hundreds of arrested people were released with terse apologies for ‘mistakes’ of the investigators, when new arrests stopped or almost stopped, most of the workers in Magnitogorsk had an essentially cheerful and optimistic view of things.
Scott, John. Behind the Urals, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, p. 205


I was never really in on the case [the Leningrad trial] myself, but I admit that I may have signed the sentencing order. In those days when a case was closed–and if Stalin thought it necessary–he would sign the sentencing order at a Politbureau session and then pass it around for the rest of us to sign. We would put our signatures on it without even looking at it. That’s what was meant by “collective sentencing.”
Talbott, Strobe, Trans. and Ed. Khrushchev Remembers. Boston: Little Brown, c1970, p. 256


His ideas are made even more explicit in an interview with the Foreign Workers’ Delegation on November 5, 1927. At that time he said:…
“The GPU or the Cheka is a punitive organ of the Soviet government…. It punishes primarily spies, plotters, terrorists, bandits, speculators, and forgers. The organ was created on the day after the October revolution, after all kinds of plots, terrorist and spying organizations financed by Russian and foreign capitalists were discovered. This organ developed and became consolidated after a series of terrorist acts had been perpetrated against leaders of the Soviet government, after the murder of Comrade Uritsky, member of the revolutionary committee of Leningrad, after the murder of Comrade Volodarsky, member of the revolutionary committee of Leningrad, and after the attempt on the life of Lenin. It must be admitted that the GPU still holds good. It has been, ever since, the terror of the bourgeoisie, the indefatigable guard of the Revolution, the unsheathed sword of the Proletariat.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that the bourgeoisie of all countries hate the GPU. All sorts of legends have been invented about the GPU…. The sworn enemies of the revolution curse the GPU. Hence it follows that the GPU is doing the right thing.
“But this is not how the workers regard the GPU. You can go to the workers’ districts and ask the workers what they think of it. You’ll find they regard it with respect. Why? Because they see in it a loyal defender of the Revolution….
“I do not mean to say by this that the internal situation of the country is such as makes it necessary to have punitive organs of the Revolution. From the point of view of the internal situation, the revolution is so firm and unshakeable that we could do without the GPU. But the trouble is that the enemies at home are not isolated individuals. They are all connected in a thousand ways with the capitalists of all countries who support them by every means and in every way. We are a country surrounded by capitalist states. The internal enemies of our Revolution are the agents of the capitalists of all countries. The capitalist states are the background and basis for our internal enemies. In fighting against the enemies at home we fight the counterrevolutionary elements of all countries. Judge for yourselves whether under such conditions we can do without such punitive organs as the GPU.”
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 29

This Organ (Cheka) was created on the day after the October Revolution, after all kinds of plots, terrorist and spying organizations financed by Russian and foreign capitalists were discovered. This organ developed and became consolidated after a series of terrorist acts had been perpetrated against the leaders of the Soviet government, after the murder of Comrade Uritsky, member of the Revolutionary Committee of Leningrad (he was killed by a Socialist-Revolutionary), after the murder of Comrade Volodarsky, member of the Revolutionary Committee of Leningrad (he was also killed by a Socialist-Revolutionary), after the attempt on the life of Lenin (he was wounded by a member of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party). It must be admitted that the GPU aimed at the enemies of the revolution without missing. By the way, this quality of the GPU still holds good. It has been, ever since, the terror of the bourgeoisie, the indefatigable guard of the revolution, the unsheathed sword of the proletariat.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the bourgeoisie of all countries hate the GPU. All sorts of legends have been invented about the GPU.
The slander which has been circulated about the GPU knows no bounds. And what does that mean? It means that the GPU is properly defending the interests of the Revolution. The sworn enemies of the Revolution curse the GPU. Hence, it follows that the GPU is doing the right thing.
Stalin, Joseph. Stalin’s Kampf. New York: Howell, Soskin & Company, c1940, p. 231

Stalin described the GPU’s functions as the Communist Party sees them, in response to an inquiry put to him by a visiting delegation in 1927. He said: “…No, comrades, we do not want to fall into the same error as the Parisian Communards fell into. They were all too mild toward the Versaillers, and Karl Marx has accused them of this since.
From the internal standpoint the situation of the Revolution is so absolutely firm and unshakeable that we could easily do without the State Political Administration, but what internal enemies do exist are not isolated individuals, they are connected with the capitalists abroad by a thousand threads, and the latter support them with all means…. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the Parisian Communards. The State Political Administration is necessary for the Revolution and will continue to exist to the terror of the enemies of the proletariat.”
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 180

Notwithstanding all the horrors associated with the name Cheka during the first years of the Bolshevik Revolution, neither Dzerzhinsky himself nor the majority of his trusted assistants were motivated by anything except fanatical zeal to serve as the sword of the Revolution. Feared by people, the Secret Police were not then feared by those who worked loyally for the Soviet State.
Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 153

(Foreign Delegation’s Interview with Stalin on November 5, 1927)

QUESTION: Judicial powers of the GPU, trial without witness, without defenders, secret arrests. Considering that these measures are not approved of by French public opinion, it would be interesting to hear their justification. Is it intended to substitute or abolish them?

ANSWER: The GPU or the Cheka is a retributive organ of the Soviet Government. It is more or less similar to the Committee of Public Safety which existed during the Great French Revolution. It punishes primarily spies, plotters, terrorists, bandits, speculators, and forgers. It is something in the nature of a military-political tribunal set up for the purpose of protecting the interests of the Revolution from attacks on the part of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and their agents.
This organ was created on the day after the October Revolution, after all kinds of plots, terrorist and spying organizations, financed by Russian and foreign capitalists were discovered. This organ developed and became consolidated after a series of terrorist acts perpetrated against the leaders of the Soviet Government, after the murder of Comrade Uritsky, member of the Revolutionary Committee of Leningrad (he was killed by a Social-Revolutionary), after the murder of Comrade Volodarsky, member of the Revolutionary Committee of Leningrad (he was also killed by a Social-Revolutionary), after the attempt on Lenin (he was wounded by a member of the Social-Revolutionary Party). It must be admitted that the GPU aimed at the enemies of the Revolution without missing. By the way, this quality of the GPU still holds good. It has become the scare of the bourgeoisie, the indefatigable guard of the Revolution, the unsheathed sword of the proletariat.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the bourgeoisie of all countries have such hatred for the GPU. There is no legend which has not been invented in connection with the GPU. There is no such slander which has not been circulated about the GPU. And what does that mean? It means that the GPU is properly defending the interests of the Revolution. The sworn enemies of the Revolution curse the GPU. Hence, it follows that the GPU is doing the right thing….
But this is not how the workers regard the GPU. You go to the workers’ quarters and ask the workers what they think of it. You’ll find that they regard it with great respect. Why? Because they see in it a loyal defender of the Revolution.
I understand the hatred and distrust of the bourgeoisie for the GPU. I understand the various bourgeois tourists who, on coming to the USSR inquire before anything else as to whether the GPU is still alive and whether the time has not yet come for its liquidation. This is comprehensible and not out of the ordinary. But I cannot understand some workers’ delegates who, on coming to the USSR, ask with alarm as to whether many counter-revolutionaries have been punished by the GPU and whether terrorists and plotters against the proletarian Government will still be punished by it and is it not time yet for its dissolution. Where does this concern of some workers’ delegates for the enemies of the proletarian revolution come from? How can it be explained? How can it be justified?
They advocate a maximum of leniency, they advise the dissolution of the GPU…. But can anyone guarantee that the capitalists of all countries will abandon the idea of organizing and financing counter-revolutionary plotters, terrorists, incendiaries, and bomb-throwers after the liquidation of the GPU? To disarm the Revolution without having any guarantees that the enemies of the Revolution will be disarmed–would not that be folly, would not that be a crime against the working class? No, comrades, we did not want to repeat the errors of the Paris Communards. The Communards of Paris were too lenient in dealing with Versailles, for which Marx rightly denounced them at the time. They had to pay for their leniency, and when Thiers came to Paris tens of thousands of workers were shot by the Versailles forces. Do the comrades think that the Russian bourgeoisie and nobility were less bloodthirsty than those of Versailles in France? We know, at any rate, how they behaved towards the workers when they occupied Siberia, the Ukraine, and North Caucasia in alliance with the French, British, Japanese, and American interventionists.
I do not mean to say by this that the internal situation of the country is such as makes it necessary to have a retributive organ of the Revolution. From the point of view of the internal situation, the Revolution is so firm and unshakable that we could do without the GPU. But the trouble is that the enemies at home are not isolated individuals. They are connected in a thousand ways with the capitalists of all countries who support them by every means and in every way. We are a country surrounded by capitalist states. The internal enemies of our Revolution are the agents of the capitalists of all countries. The capitalist states are the background and basis for the internal enemies of our Revolution. Fighting against the enemies at home we therefore fight the counter-revolutionary elements of all countries. Judge for yourselves whether under such conditions we can do without such retributive organs as the GPU.
No, comrades, we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the Paris Communards. The GPU is necessary for the Revolution and it will continue to live and strike terror into the heart of the enemies of the proletariat.
Stalin, Joseph. The Worker’s State. London: Communist Party of Great Britain. 1928, p. 23-26


To the rest of the world it seemed at the time that Russia was enveloped in a smothering atmosphere of plots, murders, and purges. Actually this was a superficial view since, although the rest of the world was morbidly interested in the trials to the exclusion of anything else about Russia, only a tiny percentage of the population was involved and the same years which saw the treason trials saw some of the greatest triumphs of Soviet planning. While the screws tightened on a tiny minority the majority of Soviet people were enjoying greater prosperity and greater freedom.
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 30

It was easy, reading our newspapers, to believe that the whole of Russia was in the throes of trials and executions. This was not a true picture. Russia was building during this period–industrializing, rearming, educating–faster perhaps that any other country.
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 31

Reading this tedious catalog of never-ending arrests and trials, we are bound to imagine that the country’s state of mind in that terrible year 1937 was one of deep depression. Not a bit of it! The great majority of the population woke up happily to the relentless blare of loudspeakers, sped eagerly to work, participated enthusiastically in the daily public meetings at which their enemies were anathematized, and read skimpy newspaper reports of the trials which showed how very reliable the secret police were.
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 386

In the so called Moscow trials 55 people got capital punishment and 7 imprisonment. Most of those prosecuted were persons in high positions in the party, the state apparatus and the army accused of treason, espionage, terrorism, sabotage, corruption or collaboration with the enemy, Nazi Germany. The Moscow trials were followed by trials in other parts of the country against companions of the traitors tried in Moscow, and hundreds of saboteurs, spies and all kinds of traitors were condemned to prison or death. The trials were public except trials against military personnel, which were held behind closed doors because of the secrecy in the defence preparations against Nazi Germany. In Moscow the trials were monitored by the international press and the accredited diplomatic corps, for which seats were reserved in the court room.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


…Reports of brutality by the GPU, particularly of beating and third-degree methods are current, but the evidence to sustain them seems mostly to date back to the days of the Cheka. I have talked with many ex-prisoners in Russia and abroad, and have read also all the published accounts of the prison experiences of others, and from all of them I gathered that police brutality such as we know it in America is now rare in Russia. Long-continued grillings, isolation, and wretched physical conditions are the worst of the evils of preliminary detention. Only in Tiflis did I hear, from what seemed credible sources, of beatings to extort information. One GPU practice, frequently noted because so public, lends color to charges of brutality: the transfer of groups of prisoners on foot through the streets under soldier guard with fixed bayonets. To Americans it should be said that the brutality appears to be insignificant compared with the routine cruelties of the third-degree practiced daily by every sizable police department in the United States.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 186

What than made the prisoners confess? The indictment says that they had long ago lost all shame and conscience, had become hired assassins and diversionists and could hope for no mercy. Almost all of them declared that they had not been tortured or coerced….
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 362

The first and most reasonable supposition is, of course, that the confessions were extracted from the prisoners by torture and by the threat of still worse tortures. Yet this first conjecture was refuted by the obvious freshness and vitality of the prisoners, by their whole physical and mental aspect. Thus in order to explain the “impossible” confessions, the skeptics had to grope around for other causes. The prisoners, they proclaimed, had been given all sorts of poisons; they had been hypnotized and drugged. If this be true, then no one else in the world has ever succeeded in obtaining such powerful and lasting results, and the scientist who did succeed would hardly be satisfied with acting as the mysterious handy-man of police forces. He would presumably use his methods with a view to increasing his scientific prestige. But those who take exception to the conduct of the trial prefer to clutch at the most absurd backstair hypotheses rather than believe what is under their noses–that the prisoners were properly convicted and that their confessions were founded on fact.
When one speaks to the Soviet people of hypotheses such is these, they merely shrug their shoulders and smile. Why should we, they say, if we wanted to falsify the facts, resort to such difficult and dangerous expedients as spurious confessions? Would it not have been simpler to forge documents? Do you think that, instead of letting Trotsky make highly treasonable speeches through the mouths of Pyatakov and Radek, we could not much more easily have brought before the eyes of the world highly treasonable letters of his and documents which would have proved his association with the Fascists much more directly? You have seen and heard the accused: did you get the impression that their confessions had been extorted?
Indeed I did not. The men who stood before the court were not tortured and desperate people before their executioner. There was no justification of any sort for imagining that there was anything manufactured, artificial, or even awe-inspiring or emotional about these proceedings.
Feuchtwanger, Lion. Moscow, 1937. New York: The Viking Press, 1937, p. 121-122

The stories that they [the defendants] were hypnotized or given mysterious drugs may be safely dismissed.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 374

But critics were right in saying that torture alone could probably not have produced the public self-humiliation of a whole series of Stalin’s enemies, when returned to health and given a platform.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 123

Please do not think that these confessions were taken under brutal force on the guilty persons. There was nothing of that sort at all. I myself was always present at these processes. Alexiev was also present, keeping a close watch on these culprits and every day, brought these people fresh newspapers. They were held in jail cells with all the necessary conveniences and got fed really well. Even Bukharin in his trial stated this, with foreign correspondents present.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 74

Let us dismiss at the outset some of the fairy tales. Stalin, some whisperers had it, was mortally ill, and was extirpating the last remnants of opposition while he was still alive; according to other “reports” he had suddenly gone “insane.” It was said that the prisoners were tortured, hypnotized, drugged (in order to make them give false confessions) and–a choice detail– impersonated by actors of the Moscow Art theater! But the trials occurred soon after the preliminary investigations were concluded, and they took place before hundreds of witnesses, many of them experienced correspondents, in open court. The prisoners testified that they were well-treated during the investigation. Radek, indeed, says that it was he who tortured the prosecutor, by refusing to confess month after month. Pressure there certainly was, in the manner of police investigation all over the world, but no evidence of torture.
The trials, the Trotskyists assert, were a colossal frame up. The prisoners were induced to confess, they say, on a promise of immunity and a pardon after the trial–if they talked freely–and then double-crossed and shot. This is hardly conceivable from a close reading of the testimony. It could not easily have occurred in the second trial, when the defendants must of known that the first batch, despite their confessions, were sentenced to death and duly executed.
Gunther, John. Inside Europe. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, c1940, p. 552

In one of my articles I myself repeated the story that Zinoviev and Kamenev were tortured, and also that Stalin sent for them and used persuasion on them. I got one curious response: a letter amusingly signed NKVD: You are mistaken, Comrade. No torture was used on Zinoviev.
[the same letter says]…Zinoviev was, then, treated throughout with the greatest respect…. There was no torture. The setup was, I repeat, quite different. The prison was more like a clinic. The whole atmosphere suggested that they would surely be pardoned.
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 339-340

For, unlike the soldiers, who were tried in camera, Bukharin was to be granted the favor of a magnificent public trial. There are many legends about the tortures which induced him to take part in this ignominious farce. It is a pity to debunk a good legend, but let Bukharin’s letters speak for themselves….
[His letter states] “As it is I am perishing here [in prison]. The rules are very strict, you can’t even talk loudly in your cell, or play checkers or chess, when you go out into the corridor you aren’t allowed to talk at all, you can’t feed the pigeons at your window, can’t do anything at all. On the other hand, the warders, even the very junior ones, are always polite, reserved, correct. We are well fed. But the cells are dark. Yet the lights are on day and night. I swab floors, clean my slop pail. Nothing new in that.”
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 374-375

So the prison regimen was strict, but they were perfectly polite, and the food was good. No, there was no torture. And it seems unlikely that the delicate and hysterical Bukharin would have written so many literary works in the intervals of torture. He tortured himself–with his despair, his fear of being shot, the anguish he felt for his family. He was too delicate an organism for prison life. He was a poet, not a politician.
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 377

Even though they were not physically tortured [in prison], the regime of threats and sleeplessness demoralized Zinoviev, suffering from asthma, and Kamenev.
Montefiore, Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 185

On the question of whether torture was used to gain confessions, remarkably, Western diplomats and journalists attending the open trials, said of the prisoners that they saw no haggard faces, no twitching hands, no dazed expressions, and no bandaged heads.
Axell, Albert. Stalin’s War: Through the Eyes of His Commanders. London, Arms and Armour Press. 1997, p. 205


To sum up, the whole system of dealing with political opposition in Russia rests on extraordinarily broad foundations–broader than elsewhere in the world. It rests first on the loose and inclusive legal definitions of political offenses, and second on the extraordinary powers of the GPU in arrests, prosecution, “trial,” imprisonment, and exile. Both the conception of political crime and the discretion of the political police are wider either than under the czar, or than in other countries. They are analogous to other countries in a state of war, in which Soviet Russia regards herself.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 208

Given the conditions out of which this stern discipline of the country grew, together with the inherited habits of government and the continuous struggle against enemies abroad and within, its excesses are understandable. They yield to a far more natural explanation than the romantic interpretation of “Asiatic cruelty” often attached to them.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 209

…The 20 members of the old bourgeoisie shot in June, 1927, in reprisal for the assassination of the Soviet ambassador at Warsaw, were condemned solely by administrative order of the GPU backed up by the Central Executive Committee.
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 213

The effect of these summary executions in arousing a storm of protest in the foreign press surprised the Soviet officials…. Even Russians used to the severity of the regime spoke bitterly of it. But the reaction probably typical of the masses was voiced by the peasant president of a village Soviet way out in Moscow province. When I asked him what he thought of such a proceeding, he said slowly, with the far-away philosophical gaze, “Well, if it is necessary to shoot 1000 of those fellows to save what we’ve got, I’m for it.”
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 215


By far the largest number of political opponents of the Soviet regime against whom action is taken are exiled. Comparatively few are shot; more are imprisoned; most exiled…
Baldwin, Roger. Liberty Under the Soviets, New York: Vanguard Press, 1928, p. 219

Until 1937, the regime in the labor re-education camps was, usually, relatively liberal and humane. Political prisoners had a privileged status with many special rights denied to ordinary criminals. The workday during the winter was from four to six hours, and in summer ten. Generous pay was provided which allowed prisoners to send money to their families and to return home with money. Goods and clothing was adequate and serious attempts were made to re-educate the prisoners.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 235


The sadistic Yagoda and Yezhov, who for a time ruled a state within a state–the GPU, were chiefly responsible for these outrages. By Yagoda’s own account his hirelings faked thousands of documents and so mixed up the records that it was impossible to tell a genuine dossier from a bogus one. Curiously the public does not seem to blame Stalin for having permitted such a Frankenstein to develop, but instead gives him credit for having cleaned up the Yagoda gang and brought the secret police back under full control of the Politburo–which he did when the GPU was crushed.
Snow, Edgar. The Pattern of Soviet Power, New York: Random House, 1945, p. 148

How can anyone now allow himself the stupidity of criticizing Stalin for repression and crimes? This was a psychosis that was cleverly instituted by Yezhov and other enemies of the State… this psychosis took over the minds of millions of people. Practically all were involved in looking for “enemies.” The Central Committee ACP[B] was against this, fought this tooth and nail—Stalin in particular. People got involved in this, and friends were “drowning” friends in the name of getting rid of “enemies.” Of course, this cannot all be explained as a mass psychosis! In all the examinations that were conducted into this period, we had 30-40 people going over the same documents, but NOWHERE did we EVER find the name of Stalin, or the command of Stalin, or the resolution to do these things which were undertaken by the REAL ENEMIES of the Soviet people. No directives either of Stalin, Molotov, or Voroshilov were to be found in all of these documents.
According to my way of thinking, Stalin also bears some blame because he was the Head of the Motherland. His fault was that he was always favoring “collective decisions” and thus was fooled by his “comrades-in-arms.” Yagoda, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Beria, and others. Yezhov, Stalin spotted from the start and took steps to stop him and get rid of him.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 80


At every step of the way, there were constituencies both within and outside the elite that supported repression of various groups, sometimes with greater vehemence than Stalin did. The terror was a series of group efforts (though the groups changed frequently) rather than a matter of one man intimidating everyone else. This finding by no means takes Stalin off the hook or lessens his guilt. But it does mean that the picture is more complex.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. xiv

[Footnote]: Even on the subject of repression, Stalin sometimes seemed unsure. Although he took a hard-line toward Trotskyists and Zinovievists, he was for a long time undecided on Bukharin and Pyatakov. In the summer of 1936, he actually appointed Pyatakov to be a witness at the first show trials. But less than two weeks before the trial, Pyatakov was removed and himself arrested based on evidence suddenly produced by Yezhov and Yagoda. After receiving for five months Yezhov’s written “evidence” denouncing Bukharin, Stalin declined to sanction his arrest. Even at the notorious February Plenum of 1937, photostatic evidence shows that Stalin’s first impulse was to simply exile Bukharin, without sending him to trial. Of course, in the end, both Pyatakov and Bukharin were killed, but the road to their demise was not a straight one.
Nove, Alec, Ed. The Stalin Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 150

On December 30, 1934, during the examination, Khriukin, a member of the Komsomol and a third-year student in the History Department at the Rostov Pedagogical Institute, openly defended Zinoviev and Kamenev. He declared that Zinoviev and Kamenev rendered enormous services to the revolution, were friends of Lenin, and that now all this was being obliterated. Khriukin further declared that Zinoviev had no tie with the terrorists who killed Comrade Kirov, that in general members of the opposition cannot be champions of terror, and that the judicial procedure used to establish an ideological tie between the terrorists and the Zinoviev-Kamenev group was improper.
On Jan. 3, 1935, a Komsomol meeting took place in which Khriukin was admitted even though he had already been expelled from the Komsomol and the institute. The meeting’s presidium afforded Khriukin the opportunity to present his counter-revolutionary views despite protests from the Komsomol members present.
After Khriukin’s arrest, in the process of the investigation, it was determined that Khriukin was closely connected with the following group of students at the pedagogical institute: Yelin, Chalov, Ustimenko, Gavrilov, and Khriukin. All these individuals (not bona fide party members), the investigation determined, got in the institute by means of forged documents. In 1932, on Elin’s and Khriukin’s initiative, the individuals named stole from the party committee of the “Comintern” Mine (Shakhty Raion) a large quality of blank associate party member and registration cards, filled them out in their own names and, having prepared false documents about graduating from nine-year schools, gained admission to the institute.
In the Rostov Financial and Economics Institute on January 1, 1935 at a conference of party and Komsomol organizers and individuals assigned by the party, student Kondeev (a Komsomol member) declared: “One must also pay attention to the contributions of Zinoviev and others. Why do you only consider their faults? Zinoviev is a great leader. He was president of the Comintern.” Having said this, he left the meeting. The same day Kondeev assembled groups of students and passionately defended Zinoviev, Nikolayev [assassin of Kirov, Leningrad party secretary, on December 1, 1934] and other counter-revolutionaries.
In the evening at a meeting of the Komsomol group the question of excluding Kondeev from the Komsomol in the Institute was raised. In spite of the fact that Kondeev’s counter-revolutionary position was quite clear, he was afforded the opportunity of delivering an unabashedly counter-revolutionary sermon. At the end he said straight out that the purpose of his remarks was “to show the students that the party and government and our party committee in particular had wrongly judged the members of the opposition.” After his expulsion from the Komsomol and from the Institute, Kondeev immediately when underground, disappeared. [Accounts follow of “counter-revolutionary agitation” at several Novocherkassk institutes.]
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 135


…For one thing, the archival evidence from the secret police rejects the astronomically high estimates often given for the number of terror victims.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. xiv

In any event, the data available at this point make it clear that the number shot in the two worst purge years [1937-38] was more likely in the hundreds of thousands than in the millions.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 591

Because of these uncertainties, there is still controversy about the accuracy of these data, and no reason to believe them to be final or exact. One cannot stress enough that with our current documentation, we can posit little more than general, though narrow, ranges. Still, these are the only data currently available from police archives. Moreover, there are good reasons for assuming that they are not wildly wrong because of the consistent way numbers from different sources compare with one another.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 593

…That right-wing opposition was and is even today extremely hard to fight. But no one writes about this or tries to explain it.
Of course we committed a number of grave errors in the matter. But in fact those errors were many fewer in numbers than people think today.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 258

The charge against me [Molotov] is the same: abuse of power. The report written by that commission member…says that 1,370,000 arrests were made in the 1930s. That’s too many. I responded that the figures should be thoroughly reviewed and that unwarranted arrests did occur, but that we couldn’t have survived without resorting to stern measures.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 285

During the years 1930-1935, the Soviet Union was short of labor, especially in newly developed regions. The regime tried to use all available forces. It is difficult to see why it would have `killed’ men who had been working the land in Siberia or Kazakhstan for the previous year or two. Nevertheless, Merl estimates that the 100,000 heads of family of the first category, sent to the Gulag system, are all dead. But the Party only placed 63,000 kulaks in the first category and only those guilty of terrorist and counter-revolutionary acts should be executed. Merl continues:
`Another 100,000 persons probably lost their lives, at the beginning of 1930, due to expulsion from their houses, deportation towards the North and executions’. Then he adjusts the number by another 100,000 persons, `dead in the deportation regions at the end of the thirties’. Once again, no precision or indication.
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 96-97 [pp. 80-81 on the NET]

(Arch Getty and William Chase)
In the former USSR, several new studies have sharply narrowed the range of estimates of the aggregate numbers of victims and generally invalidated the highest Western guesses.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 225

Without denying that many individual members of the Soviet elite were victims of the terror during the Ezhovshchina, the fact remains that to date no one has systematically studied the fate of the elite’s members; our understanding of the impact on the elite remains imprecise and anecdotal.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 228

The true number of those falsely accused of counter-revolutionary activities who were executed in the 1936-38 period, is probably between 20,000 and 100,000. Both George Kennan and Jerry Hough concur that the likely number of executions was closer to the former than the latter figure. During the French Revolution about 17,000 people were executed for counter-revolutionary activity in the 1793-94 period of Jacobin Terror, representing about .065% of the French population at the time. If the figure of 20,000 for the 1936-38 Red Terror is accurate, this represents .01% of the Soviet population; if the 100,000 figure is correct, this represents.05%. Any reasonable estimate of executions in the 1936-38 period of the Great Purge indicates that, in relative terms, at most they did not exceed those of the Jacobin Terror, and were probably fewer. Clearly the popular conception of the bloodiness of the Great Purge is a gross exaggeration cultivated by those concerned to discredit developments in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and since, as well as the contemporary or revolutionary process in other countries.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 243

…To say that all the repressions were unwarranted is, I consider, incorrect. There was a sufficiently high number of enemies in the country after the revolution, dissatisfied people–political criminals as well as ordinary criminals. There was also a good deal of banditry going on in the country; on the collective farms they had to put up with murders of activists and people taking up arms. There were victims, of course. The repressions about which so much is written and talked about today were not at all on the scale that is stated now. “Hundreds of millions of repressed”, they say. Nonsense! All this idiotic propaganda has brought our country to where it is today, to the lowest level”
Richardson, Rosamond. Stalin’s Shadow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 277

Some Russian anti-communist writers such as Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, and many US anti-communist liberals, maintained that the gulag existed right down to the last days of communism. If so, where did it disappear to? After Stalin’s death in 1953, more than half of the gulag inmates were freed, according to the study of the NKVD files previously cited. But if so many others remained incarcerated, why have they not materialized? When the communist states were overthrown, where were the half-starved hordes pouring out of the internment camps with their tales of travail?…
What of the supposedly vast numbers of political prisoners said to exist in the other “communist totalitarian police states” of Eastern Europe? Why no evidence of their mass release in the postcommunist era? And where are the mass of political prisoners in Cuba?
If there were mass atrocities right down to the last days of communism, why did not the newly installed anti-communist regimes seize the opportunity to bring erstwhile communist rulers to justice? Why no Nuremberg-style public trials documenting widespread atrocities? Why were not hundreds of party leaders and security officials and thousands of camp guards rounded up and tried for the millions they supposedly exterminated? The best the West Germans could do was charge East German leader Eric Honecker, several other officials, and seven border guards with shooting people who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall, a serious charge but hardly indicative of a gulag….
Most of those incarcerated in the gulag were not political prisoners, and the same appears to be true of inmates in the other communist states.
Parenti, Michael. Blackshirts and Reds, San Francisco: City Light Books, 1997, p. 81-83


Behind and around them [a small number of authoritative persons], though, were other groups and constituencies–among them, members of religious and political hierarchies, policeman of various kinds, and ordinary citizen-members of “the crowd”–who abetted the proceedings, acquiesced in the process, or simply looked on, conceding that such ruthlessness was necessary, reasonable, or at least acceptable.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 7


Anyone who feels like arresting does so, including those who have, properly speaking, no right whatsoever to make arrests. It is no wonder, therefore, that with such an orgy of arrests, the organs [of state] having the right to make arrests, including the organs of the OGPU and especially of the police, have lost all sense of proportion–Central Committee circular, 1933
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 103

[May 8, 1933 Central Committee decree]
To all party-Soviet officials and to all organs of the OGPU, the courts, and the procuracy.
The desperate resistance of the kulaks in the kolkhoz movement and of the toiling peasants, already in full swing at the end of 1929 and taking the form of arson and terror against kolkhoz officials, has made it necessary for Soviet authorities to resort to mass arrests and harsh measures of repression in the form of mass expulsions of kulaks and their henchman to northern and remote regions.
The continued resistance by kulak elements–taking the form of sabotage within the kolkhozy and sovkhozy, a fact brought to light in 1932, the mass plundering of kolkhoz and sovkhoz property–have made necessary the further intensification of repressive measures against kulak elements, against thieves and saboteurs of every stripe.
True, demands for mass expulsions from the countryside and for the use of harsh forms of repression continue to come in from a number of regions, while petitions by others for the expulsions of 100,000 families from their regions and territories are presently in the possession of the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars. Information has been received by the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars that makes it evident that disorderly arrests on a massive scale are being carried out by our officials in the countryside. Arrests or being carried out by chairmen of kolkhozy, by members of the governing boards of kolkhozy, by chairmen of village soviets, by the secretaries of cells and by district and territorial commissioners. Anyone who feels like arresting does so, including those who have, properly speaking, no right whatsoever to make arrests. It is no wonder, therefore, that with such an orgy of arrests, the organs [of state] having the right to make arrests, including the organs of the OGPU and especially of the police, have lost all sense of proportion. More often than not, they will arrest people for no reason at all, acting in accordance with the principle: “Arrest first, ask questions later!”
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 114

These comrades apparently do not understand that these tactics of massive deportation of the peasants outside their region has, in the new circumstances, already outlived itself, that such deportation can only be applied on an individual and partial basis and then applied only to the leaders and organizers of the struggle against the kolkhozy.
These comrades do not understand that the method of mass, disorderly arrests–if this can be considered a method–represents, in light of the new situation, only liabilities, which diminish the authority of Soviet power. They do not understand that making arrests ought to be limited and carried out under the strict control of the appropriate organs. They do not understand that the arrests must be directed solely against active enemies of Soviet power.
The Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars do not doubt but that all these errors and deviations from the party line and others like them will be eliminated as soon as possible.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 115

…In Byelorussia, for example, party regional secretaries had sought to control railroad personnel through mass arrests. One Control Commission representative said that “Tens, hundreds were arrested by anybody and they sit in jail.” In the Briansk railroad line, 75 percent of administrative-technical personnel had been sentenced to some kind of “corrective behavior.” In Sverdlovsk and Saratov, Control Commission inspectors sent from Moscow reported that locals had “completely baselessly arrested and convicted people and undertaken mass repressions for minor problems, sometimes for ineffective leadership, and in the majority of cases arrested and convicted workers who merely needed educational work.” By insisting on the procurator’s permission in order to make an arrest, the Central Committee was taking unlimited arrest powers out of the hands of regional party leaders.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 188


…The vast majority of those executed during the storm of dekulakization and collectivization were victims of police “troikas.” On May 7, 1933 the Politburo ordered the troikas to stop pronouncing death sentences.
The next day a document carrying the signatures of Stalin for the Central Committee and Molotov for the government ordered a drastic curtailment of arrests and a sharp reduction in the prison population. Half of all prisoners in jails…were to be released. The power to arrest was sharply restricted to police organs, and all arrests had to be sanctioned by the appropriate judicial procurator.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 113

The Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party and the Council of People’s Commissars decree:
All mass expulsions of peasants are to cease at once. Expulsions are to be permitted only on a case-by-case and partial basis and only with respect to those households whose heads are waging an active struggle against the kolkhozy and are organizing opposition against the sowing of crops and their purchase by the state.
1) All persons who are not fully authorized by law to make arrests, namely, the chairmen of District Executive Committees, district and territorial commissioners, chairmen of village soviets, chairmen of kolkhozy and kolkhoz associations, secretaries of cells, and others, are prohibited from doing so.
Arrests carried out by heads of police are to be sanctioned or revoked by the district commissioners of the OGPU or by the corresponding procuracy within 48 hours after said arrest.
2)… Only persons accused of counterrevolution, terroristic acts, sabotage, gangsterism, robbery, espionage, border crossing and smuggling of contraband, murder, grave bodily injury, grand larceny, embezzlement, professional speculation in goods, speculation in foreign exchange, counterfeiting, malicious hooliganism, and professional recidivism may be taken into preventive custody.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 116

3) The organs of the OGPU are to obtain the prior consent of the directorate of the procuracy in making arrests, except in cases involving terroristic acts, explosions, arson, espionage, defection, political gangsterism, and counter-revolutionary, antiparty groups….
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 117

3. …Permission to arrest leading officials of the People’s Commissariats of the [Soviet] Union and Union republics and of the central institutions corresponding to them [heads of administration and directors of departments, managers of trusts and their deputies, directors and deputies of industrial enterprises, sovkhozy, and so on], as well as permission to arrest engineers, agronomists, professors, and physicians employed by a variety of institutions and directors of scholarly, educational, and scientific-research institutions is granted with the consent of the appropriate people’s commissars.
4. Permission to arrest members and candidate members of the All-Union Communist Party is granted with the consent of the secretaries of the district, territorial, and regional committees of the All-Union Communist Party, the central committees of the national Communist parties, through the proper channels. Arrests of Communists occupying leading posts in the People’s Commissariats of the [Soviet] Union and in central institutions of equivalent rank are to be granted upon receipt of consent by the chairman of the Commission of Party Control.
Signed: Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union, Molotov, and Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party, Stalin.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 188


Of course, no one in the Politburo was advocating abandonment of the party-state dictatorship. As Stalin had said at the 17th Party Congress, “we cannot say that the fight is ended and that there is no longer any need for the policy of the socialist offensive.” On the other hand, Stalin explicitly joined other Politburo members in proposing some kind of relaxation of that dictatorship, at least experimentally. The increased repression in later years “should not cast doubt on the intentions of Stalin and his colleagues in 1934.”
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 138

Internally, too, there developed a new policy of conciliation with ex-Oppositionists and even with former class enemies, based on a theory that bygones should be bygones, that henceforth all Russians might unite in support of the Soviet government, now firmly and successfully established at home and abroad.
Duranty, Walter. Story of Soviet Russia. Philadelphia, N. Y.: JB Lippincott Co. 1944, p. 209

From 1933 on, the leadership thought that the hardest battles for industrialization and collectivization were behind them. In May 1933, Stalin and Molotov signed a decision to liberate 50 per cent of the people sent to work camps during the collectivization….
The social and economic atmosphere relaxed throughout the country.
The general direction of the Party had proven correct. Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and a number of Trotskyists recognized that they had erred. The Party leadership thought that the striking victories in building socialism would encourage these former opposition leaders to criticize their wrong ideas and to accept Leninist ones. It hoped that all the leading cadres would apply Leninist principles of criticism and self-criticism, the materialist and dialectical method that allows each Communist to improve their political education and to assess their understanding, in order to reinforce the political unity of the Party. For that reason, almost all the leaders of the three opportunist movements, the Trotskyists Pyatakov, Radek, Smirnov and Preobrazhensky, as well as Zinoviev and Kamenev and Bukharin, who in fact had remained in an important position, were invited to the 17th Congress, where they made speeches.
That Congress was the congress of victory and unity.
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 136 [p. 117 on the NET]

This event [the assassination of Kirov] came as a tremendous shock to the Russian people, in a manner difficult for outsiders to understand….
When this assassination occurred, in December, 1934, the country had just begun to settle down fairly comfortably after the painful years which followed the Second Communist Revolution. The authorities had won out in the knock-down and drag-out fight with the groups which they thought stood in the path of socialist development…. Having proved that they were masters in all parts of the country, the Communists had begun to compromise….
The legalizing of prospectors and lessees in the gold industry in the spring of 1933 was the first of a series of compromises. By the beginning of 1934, the small farmers who had thus far resisted attempts to drive them into collective farms were told that they could stay as they were. Those who had joined collective farms were given certain privileges which might have persuaded a lot of the others to join without the use of force if those privileges had been handed out a little sooner. Even the nomads were given the right to own herds again, although not quite so large as those they had previously held.
The country was getting calm again, and the people were losing much of their sense of bewilderment. The police were still busy arranging how to utilize the labor of hundreds of thousands of kulaks, ex–priests, and the like. But they had stopped rounding up others, and those who had escaped liquidation began to feel safe.
Then this assassination came along. Kirov, as the people knew, had been Stalin’s right-hand man. The news of his assassination created consternation even in such remote mining settlements as that where I was staying in Kazakhstan.
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 194

In the summer of 1934, the Government had announced with a great air of kindness that the federal police powers were to be reduced, that they would no longer have the power to arrest people right and left and send them off into exile for five years without open trial. Now the Government announced the old powers were restored to the police, and the latter began to exercise them with the greatest vigor and enthusiasm….
I can testify that the Russians were terribly disturbed over this Kirov assassination…. conditions had begun to get back to normal, and this assassination had to happen.
Littlepage, John D. In Search of Soviet Gold. New York: Harcourt, Brace, c1938, p. 196

If we look at the political history of the early 1930s, we find that the Stalinist leadership frequently pursued initiatives that seemed to run counter to a repressive policy. Beginning with Stalin’s 1931 speech rehabilitating the old intelligentsia, a “moderate line” extended into 1933 with a Stalin/Molotov telegram releasing large numbers of prisoners and with a decision to reduce planned industrial targets in the Second Five-Year Plan. It continued in 1934 with the readmission and rehabilitation of former oppositionists at the 17th Party Congress and the abolition of bread rationing at the end of that year. Indeed, at Stalin’s initiative a special commission of the Politburo was formed in 1934 to look into excessive arrests and other misdeeds of the secret police. Among other things, the commission, of which Stalin and Yezhov were members, drafted a policy statement limiting the punitive rights of the dreaded Special Conferences of the NKVD. The commission’s work was abruptly terminated by the assassination of Kirov at the end of the year.
[Footnote: Within the Russian Federation the number of criminal sentences in 1934 was more than 25 percent lower than the previous year. Verdicts against “counter-revolutionaries” numbered some 4,300 in 1934, a drop of over 50 percent from the previous year.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 50

The pattern of arrests and executions from 1930 to 1936 supports the picture of increasing tolerance. After 1930 the number of executions fell in each of the next six years, as did the number of convictions for all crimes for 1931 and 1932.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 9

The figures for police and judicial action continued to be high into 1936; 91,000 arrests for counter-revolutionary crimes is a great many. But the key issue is how the country was ruled, and in that regard the overall trends were definitely in the direction of less coercion.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 10

The data indicate that as time went on the authorities were less interested in using the counter-revolutionary statutes, the legal weapon that allowed the most scope for arbitrariness and reliance on administrative methods rather than on evidence. There is no pattern here of increasing terror. During 1936 the whole picture of incarceration began a shift toward fewer political and nonpolitical arrests.
In spite of the sharp increase of in the number of prisoners from 1934 to 1936, judicial practice now became more humane and concerned for individuals’ rights. A first major step occurred in May 1933 when Stalin and Molotov ordered the release of half of all labor-camp inmates whose sentences were connected with collectivization. In January 1935, the Supreme Court of the USSR exonerated a group of convicted kolkhoz officials because procurators had mishandled the investigation and examination of evidence. The court even considered criminal proceedings to punish lower judicial bodies for their conduct. In February 1935 the official journal of the Commissariat of Justice, published, with evident satisfaction, the story of eastern Siberian courts that had quashed a series of cases initiated under Article 58. The journal maintained that these cases should not have arisen in the first place.
In August 1935 the government declared an amnesty for all collective farmers sentenced to less than five years if they were working “honorably and with good conscience” on the kolkhozy. Presumably this decree applied to those peasants punished but not sent into distant exile or prison. The directive did not apply to recidivists or those convicted of counter-revolutionary crimes, but sentences in such cases would have been longer than five years.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 11

Yet by 1934 the Stalinist regime had begun to rein in the police and courts and to institute substantial reforms within them, which changed and softened punitive practices.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 15

In the spring [of 1934] he [Stalin] ordered a limited amnesty for rebellious kulaks. In June, however, he authorized a decree which proclaimed the collective responsibility of every family for treason committed by one of its members. People who failed to denounce a disloyal relative to authority were made liable to severe punishment. A month later he abolished the GPU and replaced it by the Commissariat of Internal Affairs. The powers of the political police were limited; and the Attorney-General–an ex-Menshevik lawyer Andrei Vyshinsky was soon to be appointed to that post–was given the right to supervise its activities and to veto them if they conflicted with the law. The leaders of the oppositions were allowed to address public meetings and to write for the press, although not to criticize the powers that be. Hopes for further Liberal measures rose high. The idea of a constitutional reform was vented in the Politburo; and the main leaders of the opposition were invited to co-operate on the projects for a new constitution.
The quasi-Liberal spell was suddenly interrupted when, on December 1, 1934, a young Communist, Nikolayev, assassinated Kirov in Leningrad. Stalin rushed to Leningrad and personally interrogated the terrorist in the course of many hours…. Nikolayev and his friends regarded themselves as followers of Zinoviev, with whom, however, they had had no direct or indirect connection. Probably it was Kirov’s liberalism that enabled the terrorist to gain access to his offices in the Smolny Institute, for Kirov had objected to being heavily guarded by the political police. At any rate, the GPU of Leningrad had known about the planned attempt and had done nothing to prevent it. Had Stalin also known about it and connived? Nothing is certain; but he used Kirov’s death to justify his conclusion that the time for quasi-liberal concessions was over.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 354-355

The Russians have, in fact, several times tried to introduce some measures of real democracy, particularly during the period before the murder of Kirov.
Socialist Clarity Group. The U. S. S. R., Its Significance for the West. London: V. Gollancz, 1942, p. 61

… deportation of rich peasants for actively resisting collectivization stopped in May 1933. The liberal trend peaked in 1934. In this year the security police (The State Political Directorate of the Commissariat of the Interior), the GPU, was abolished and its functions restructured as part of a re-organized People’s Commissariat of internal affairs, which reflected a curtailed role for the security police. In July, The Ministry of Justice ordered a halt in the campaign of seeking out and prosecuting engineers and enterprise directors for ‘wrecking and sabotage.’ In the spring a partial amnesty was offered to rebellious kulaks, and in November the size of the private plots for collective farm peasants was increased. Leaders of oppositional tendencies in the Party were once again allowed to address public meetings. Work began on drafting a new liberal constitution which, in fact, culminated in 1936.
This relative relaxation between 1929-31 and 1932-34 was a result of an improvement in both the industrial and the international situation of the Soviet Union. The technical intelligentsias’ resistance to the new rapid industrialization policies decreased as: (1) the new policies proved to be effective in producing rapid rates of industrialization; and (2) a rapidly rising proportion of the technical intelligentsia were recruited from the children of workers and peasants, and trained in socialist institutions….
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 227

Starting in February 1934, step followed step in a steady march of official actions to better the lot of Soviet people. Some were gestures toward the peasantry. A decree published over the signatures of Stalin as Central Committee secretary and Molotov as head of the government canceled unmet grain-delivery quotas for 1933 and spread out over three years the repayment of government loans of grain for feed and food. Pravda’s 1st March editorial on this modest measure was blazoned: “In What Other Country Does the Peasantry Receive Such Aid!” In May local Soviet officials were authorized to restore to full citizenship deported kulaks who had worked hard and proved loyal, especially the young. In July Stalin and other Central Committee officials met with a group of regional party secretaries to discuss problems of rural policy. At that time about 70% of the peasant households were collectivized. Speaking for the Central Committee, Stalin cautioned against administrative coercion in collectivizing the remainder, and advocated the subsequently taken steps to raise collective farmers’ incomes, limit their delivery quotas, and fix the size of their private plots. A reported further topic of discussion at the July meeting was the dissolution of the political departments that had been created in the machine-tractor stations during collectivization. Kirov, who was present, is said to have spoken strongly on this issue, proposing the revival of Soviet power in the countryside. This proposal was within the frame of the policy Stalin was now pursuing,…
Stalin’s internal-detente policy took many other forms. In April 1934 the government issued a decree on the need to spur housing construction in towns and worker settlements. More goods began to appear in the shops, and people started to talk about the advent of a “little NEP.” The November plenum endorsed a Politburo decision–which Molotov said had been proposed by Stalin– to end bread rationing as of 1 January 1935…. Again in November 1935, speaking at the Stakhanovites’ congress in the Kremlin, Mikoyan told how Stalin had demanded of him that he produce samples of the high-quality new toilet soap now being manufactured for ordinary people at a Politburo meeting so that the members could look them over–after which “we received a special Central Committee decision on the assortment and composition of soap.” Not all expressions of Stalin’s new populism were similarly publicized. Khrushchev, then first secretary of the Moscow Party Committee, received a phone call from him one day saying “rumors have reached me that you’ve let a very unfavorable situation develop in Moscow as regards public toilets. Apparently people hunt around desperately and can’t find anywhere to relieve themselves. This won’t do. It puts the citizens in an awkward position. Talk this matter over with Bulganin and do something to improve these conditions.”
…Measures to alleviate material hardship went along with moves to dispel the piatiletka’s (the First Five-year plan) atmosphere of austerity. A lighthearted musical comedy, The Jolly Fellows, the first of a series of its kind, appeared on Soviet screens during 1934. Popular dance halls were opened in Moscow, Leningrad, and other big cities. There and in worker clubs people danced the formerly frowned-upon foxtrot to tunes of once tabooed American jazz. Tennis, previously decried as bourgeois, became respectable. The dining rooms of Moscow hotels, heretofore patronized almost exclusively by foreigners, filled up with decorously dressed young men and women representing, the Times correspondent reported, “all sections of Soviet business and industry.”
…Another sphere of the detente policy was law enforcement. Stalin wanted to give professional people and the ordinary man reassurance against arbitrary mistreatment by lower-level authorities. The Procuracy, which had been elevated to the rank of an all-union independent agency in 1933 and given power of supervision over the legality of acts by administrative bodies, including the OGPU, was mobilized for the legality campaign. Many persons convicted for trivial or inflated misdemeanors were released; and the police reportedly received orders not to arrest any engineers or Red Army personnel without a special warrant or consultation with the party Central Committee. The Procuracy was headed then by an Old Bolshevik, Ivan Akulov. He applied himself energetically to exonerating specialists imprisoned on flimsy charges. His deputy, who succeeded him as Procurator in 1935, was Stalin’s man Andre Vyshinsky. Stalin’s personal backing of the reform policy was clearly shown by Vyshinsky’s championship of it. He took justice officials to task for the “prosecutorial deviation” of assuming that every court case must end in a conviction; and sternly lectured them against harming the regime in the eyes of the people through unwarranted arrest, improper confiscation of property, and violation of rights.
Perhaps the most adroit maneuver in the detente policy was a temporary show of preparedness for reconciliation within the party…. some well-known ex-oppositionists publicly recanted, declared fealty to Stalin and the General Line, and petitioned for reinstatement in the party. One was Christian Rakovsky, who had been living in internal exile since 1928 and whose prestige in Left opposition circles was second only to Trotsky’s.
… Zinoviev contributed occasional articles to Pravda on international affairs and for about three months, between April and July 1934, was listed in successive issues of Bolshevik as a member of its editorial board. Kamenev also appeared in Pravda and wrote the preface to a volume of Machiavelli’s writings published in November.
Tucker, Robert. Stalin in Power: 1929-1941. New York: Norton, 1990, p. 283-287

In the first months of 1935,…Stalin tried to restore something of the liberal atmosphere of mid-1934.
Medvedev, Roy & Zhores Medvedev. The Unknown Stalin. NY, NY: Overlook Press, 2004, p. 284

For the outside world, the beginning of 1935 was the period of the real “Soviet spring.” On reform followed another, and they all tended in one direction: reconciliation with the non-Party intelligentsia, extension of the government’s base by attracting all those who by their work in any department of Soviet development gave practical proof of their abilities and of their devotion to the Soviet state.
Nicolaevsky, Boris. Power and the Soviet Elite; “The letter of an Old Bolshevik.” New York: Praeger, 1965, p. 59

It seems indisputable therefore that following collectivization there was a movement towards measures which, though their efficacy left much to be desired, were intended to put a limit on arbitrariness. There was a clear intention in high places to break with the practices of those troubled years. In fact, while two somewhat symbolic amnesties were granted in 1934 and 1935 to certain groups of peasants who had been convicted, officials who had been found guilty themselves for refusing to use coercion enjoyed a similar dispensation at the same time.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 244

I must now mention an incident from that shadowy period of Bukharin’s life. It was during the brief period of the brightest ‘liberalism’ the regime had known since the death of Lenin-between the Seventeenth Congress in January and February 1934 and the murder of Kirov in December 1934. Stalin was trying to convince the people that the regime had changed its character and that his aim was now to unite all groups and sections of society. One of his devices at this stage was to make use of people who had differed from him in the past, giving them responsible Party jobs. At the height of this ‘liberal’ period, in the summer of 1934, the first Writers’ Congress was held.
Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 106

Later that year [1934], there was even a softening of policy toward kulaks. In December 1934 a circular to all NKVD chiefs and procurators allowed the employment of exiles in organizations not having a defense character, and their children were permitted to enroll in educational institutions. Local NKVD chiefs were specifically ordered to inform the exiles of their new rights. A Politburo decree one week later abolished all restrictions on admission to higher educational institutions for persons heretofore excluded because of social origins or previous electoral disenfranchisement.
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 120.


On the other hand, a political hardening and a kind of legal nihilism in the fall of 1935 contradicted many of 1934’s initiatives that had seemed to augur an era of legality and rule of law. In September 1935, Yezhov gave a secret speech to a closed meeting of party personnel officials from the regions. His remarks advised party officials sharply to restrict the rights of expelled members to appeal, and not to be restrained by procurators’ insistence on procedural legality (both a which contradicted written party and state texts). He also encouraged his audience to make use of extralegal bodies to convict “dangerous elements” not guilty of specific chargeable offenses.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 189

Yezhov’s machine of terror interpreted Stalin’s call of vigilance thus:
“Accuse one another, denounce one another, if you wish to remain among the living.”
Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 257

Russia has produced a number of monsters. The most primitive of them was Yezhov;…
Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 158

Yezhov, for example, in a speech to NKVD executives, declared that the Soviet Union was going through a dangerous period, that a war with fascism was imminent, and that therefore the NKVD had to destroy all the nests of fascists in the country. “Of course,” Yezhov said,
“there will be some innocent victims in this fight against fascist agents. We are launching a major attack on the enemy; let there be no resentment if we bump someone with an elbow. Better that 10 innocent people should suffer than one spy get away. When you cut down the forest, wood chips fly.”
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 603

(Boris Starkov)
Yezhov bears great personal responsibility for the destruction of legality, for the falsification of investigative cases.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 29

While he was in the process of carrying out the purge, Yezhov was simultaneously reorganizing the organs of the NKVD. Personnel increased by almost four times. Between October 1936 and October 1937, the central offices of the local organs of the NKVD were continuously restaffed with Communists and Komsomol members who had to be “turned into model chekists in the space to three to four months.” These cadres frequently did not have the slightest idea of the character and methods of the work they would engage in. Frequently, far from the best representatives of the cadres of chekists served as their instructors, which could not help but have an effect on the quality of the new reinforcements. This took a particularly heavy toll on the effectiveness of the investigative apparatus. In 1937 and 1938, almost the entire staff of the NKVD was engaged in investigative work, including operational and office workers.
Frinovsky, who later landed in the dock himself, gave the following testimony:
“Yezhov demanded that I select investigators who would be completely bound to him, who had some kind of sins in their past, and who would know that they had these sins in their past, and then that I, on the basis of these sins, kept them completely in line. In my opinion, I would be telling the truth, if, generalizing, I said that often the investigators themselves gave the testimony and not those under investigation. Did the leadership of the People’s Commissariat, that is, Yezhov and I, know about this? They knew and they encouraged it. How did we react to it? I, honestly, didn’t react all, and Yezhov even encouraged it.”

Schneidman, a former investigator in the central offices of the NKVD who was called to account in the 1950s, gave the same kind of testimony:
“Yezhov’s authority in the organs of the NKVD was so high that I, like the other employees, did not doubt the guilt of individuals who were arrested on his direct orders even when the investigator did not have any materials which compromised the given individual. I was convinced of the guilt of such an individual even before the interrogation and then, during the interrogation, tried to obtain a confession from that individual using all possible means.”

During Yezhov tenure, the use of convictions by list came into practice.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 32

Berman, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of Byelorussia, created a terrifying reputation for himself. Every week, on Saturday, he organized a review of the work that had been carried out. At these times, the investigators who have brought in the largest number of death verdicts could expect encouragement, whereas those who had completed fewer investigative cases could expect disciplinary penalties and, not infrequently, arrest and repression. Yezhov encouraged all of this.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 34

The political discrediting and then conviction of Bukharin and Rykov, prominent figures in the Communist Party and the Soviet government, was something of a high point of “the great terror, that Yezhov had organized. Bubnov, Rudzutak, and Kossior were compromised and then repressed on the basis of Yezhov’s personal orders.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 35

Other opposition to Yezhov manifested itself at the beginning of 1938. At that time, a large group of NKVD employees complained to the Central Committee about Yezhov. They accused him of illegal use of government funds and also of the secret execution of a number of prominent party members without investigation or a court examination. In January 1938, the Central Committee Plenum produced a resolution criticizing excessive vigilance. Prominent in the movement to criticize Yezhov actions was Zhdanov, who played an important role in drafting the January 1938 resolution.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 36


[November 27th, 1935 Memorandum from Shkiriatov to Stalin on “crude political errors” in the Gagarina case]
Concerning the crude political errors committed by the RSFSR Supreme Court during its review of the case against former princess Gagarina, a counter-revolutionary and terrorist, and her accomplices.
The procurator of the Soviet Union, Comrade Vyshinsky, has notified the Commission of Party Control of the crude political error committed by the Supreme Court of the RSFSR in wrongly commuting the sentence of death by shooting meted out to Gagarina, a flagrant counter-revolutionary and terrorist, to 10 years of imprisonment….
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 193

Gagarina herself confessed to everything at the preliminary as well as at the court investigations. Cynically and flagrantly, she told of her counter-revolutionary activities and terroristic propaganda, declaring that, should an opportunity ever present itself, she would commit any terroristic act whatsoever.
In her last statement, she declared that “she did not intend to justify her actions in any way,” and after sentence was passed, she did not submit an appeal to the Supreme Court.
All this attests to the fact that Gagarina is a sworn, irreconcilable enemy of Soviet power, capable of committing any crime whatsoever.
Nevertheless, the Special Collegium of the RSFSR Supreme Court…did commute Gagarina’s sentence of death by shooting to 10 years of imprisonment. It is obvious to everyone that the… comrades have committed a crude political error.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 194

Those responsible for this decision have perverted the substance of the matter with their formal and bureaucratic arguments. Was it not obvious to them that they were dealing here with a sworn enemy, to whom no mercy should be shown?
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 195


[Footnote: Khlevniuk has written (1937: Stalin, NKVD, Moscow, 1992) that eventually more than 200,000 expelled party members were placed under NKVD surveillance…. It is difficult to imagine how this was possible.]
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 209

Evidence on police monitoring of the population as a whole suggests that it was not nearly so extensive as many Western accounts have argued.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 71


…If we set aside the notion of a grand Stalin plan to kill everyone–the evidence for which, aside from our knowing the end and reading backward is quite weak–it is possible to understand the politics of the 1930s as an evolving political history in which self-interested persons and groups jockeyed for position.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 330

Although the findings confirm Brzezinski’s belief that the “major effort of the purge was directed against the Communist Party itself,” they provide little support for Conquest’s assertion that there was a “plan to destroy Old Bolsheviks,” or for Armstrong’s claim that the “great Purge almost eliminated from the apparatus the Old Bolsheviks, who entered the party before the Revolution. In fact, among party members, the connection between when one joined the party and one’s subsequent fate in the purges is an interesting but nonlinear one: Those with the longest party membership were not necessarily the most vulnerable. Those who joined the party during the 1912-20., when party membership swelled, were purged more heavily than those who joined before 1912 or after 1920.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 235

Old Bolsheviks did not suffer disproportionately in the Great Purges and there is little reason to believe that they were singled out as the targets of the Ezhovshchina.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 236

Old Bolsheviks in the present group suffered not because they were Old Bolsheviks, but because they held prominent positions within the party, economic, a military elite, positions they held because they were Old Bolsheviks. When the party seized power in 1917, it placed its most trusted members into the bureaucracy’s most important positions. Although the individuals may have changed, Old Bolsheviks as a group retained the most privileged and powerful positions. When the terror erupted in 1936-37, Old Bolsheviks were among the victims because of where they worked rather than because they were Old Bolsheviks. In short, specialty or “position” in 1936, rather than Old Bolshevik status, was the crucial determinant of purge vulnerability.
…Those in the elite outside politics, for example, scientists, educational administrators, and artists, regardless of their “alien” class background, party status, age, or old regime education, were relatively safe from arrest….
So it was neither the Older Bolsheviks nor the “new men,” but rather those members of the party, economic, and military elite who belonged to what one might call the “class of 1912-20” who were most vulnerable.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 243

It is therefore hard to use the findings presented here and what we know about the importance of Old Bolsheviks’ credentials to support an interpretation that posits that Stalin planned the terror to destroy the revolutionaries as such.
Certain groups within the Soviet elite–high-ranking party, economic, and military officials, former oppositionists, and those who joined the Bolsheviks between 1912 and 1920–were most vulnerable to repression. Other groups–most notably Old Bolsheviks and the intelligentsia–long believed to have been designated targets were not. By showing that Old Bolsheviks were not repressed simply because they were Old Bolsheviks, this study cast considerable doubt on the thesis that the terror’s purpose was to destroy them as a category because they collectively represented a threat to Stalin.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 244

If we look at the specific context of the acts of repression it becomes apparent that police violence, rather than proceeding from the realization of the single will and design of an omnipotent center of power by its invincible armed forces, was in fact increasingly chaotic and out-of-control. This violence resulted rather from the lack of any such center and institution,…
The planning and execution of police repression during the “Great Purge” have traditionally been attributed to Stalin’s vengeful tyranny. This view does not stand up to examination of the sources…. Everything points to the conclusion that, far from illuminating the causes and effects of the epoch’s historical events, the tendency to attribute all things to Stalin’s vengeful intentions is likely to obscure the real problems of the period….
As for Stalin’s dictatorial omnipotence, this chapter has shown the extent to which the crisis of 1937 was dominated by the impossibility of controlling the internal workings of the Soviet system, even by means of police terror.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 170-171

It should be said straight away that Sovietologists are quite right to emphasize the crucial impact that the events of 1936-1938 had, both on the history of the USSR and on Stalin’s career. However, they have generally been so misled by the ritual invocation of Stalin’s name to explain and justify every political initiative, that they have rarely suspected that behind the scenes there might be intentions and aims other than those of the supposed despot. They have been too quick to identify the whole inner workings of the regime with his irresistible will. In this way research into Soviet history has commonly attributed to Stalin personally all the designs and schemes that claimed him as their authority, without asking whether these fit neatly into a homogeneous strategy.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 183

However, one only needs to look closely at the source material to see that the schemes–all without exception justified with obsequious references to the same revered authority–do in fact present some notable incongruities. If we look at the abundant and yet little-used material that researchers on this subject might have referred to, we quickly realize that Stalin, for all an important role he played, was in fact far from being always able to dictate the course of the turbulent events of the 1930s and that in fact his personal position on the top of the Party-State emerged shaken rather than strengthened from the “Great Purge.” What one might call in short a “conflict-centered” reading of the available data would conclude that the purges were in no way a punitive exercise delivered in triumph from above, but rather a fierce internal battle within the state apparatus. This struggle arose from the need to ensure regular functioning of the administrative, economic, and political mechanisms, though they were by their very nature uncontrollable, and it brought conflicting strategies into battle for control of the apparatus, strategies of which Stalin’s own–“real Stalinism”–was only one variant and not in fact the one which finally prevailed.
There is nothing easier than to misconstrue the true role played by Stalin in the internal struggles of the apparatus. His name and his utterances were invariably quoted throughout the country by everyone who took part in the confrontations of the “Great Purge,” in order to legitimize any kind of tortuous maneuver, a fact that easily gives the impression that it was he alone who initiated the majority of the actions. The impression is wrong, however, as one discovers as soon as one examines closely the available sources. From them it clearly emerges that, far from being the prime mover of the process of civil war which was increasingly ravaging and disrupting the Party-State, Stalin was merely the leader, and at times in a quite disadvantageous position, of one of the loose factions that were warring among themselves and against the rest of society.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 184-185


…Indeed, at the end of 1938 Stalin removed Yezhov, disavowed the latter’s excesses, ordered the arrest of the purgers, and released a number of those “falsely arrested.”
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 419

You could say he [Yezhov] overreached himself and committed all kinds of follies. When a man is afraid of losing his job and turns overzealous…that is called careerism. It is tremendously important because it keeps growing and is one of the main defects of our time.
By that time Yezhov had sunk to a point of degeneration…. They started to accuse Yezhov when he began to set arrest quotas by regions, on down to districts. No fewer than 2000 must be liquidated in such and such region, no fewer than 50 in such and such district…. That’s the reason why he was shot. His official conduct, of course, had not been subjected to oversight…. Closer oversight was needed. Oversight was inadequate.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 262

The lack of clarity in the limit approval process is one of the important lacunae in our knowledge of the mass operations. Was Ezhov authorized to approve increases without the Politburo’s or Stalin’s confirmation? Why were some increases run through the Politburo and others not? Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 131.

Plans and “control figures” for arrests actually did exist. Local areas received their arrest plans from Moscow. Telegrams in code reported that “in your oblast, according to the information of the central investigating agencies, there were so many terrorists or anti-Soviet agitators. Find them and try them.” The NKVD agencies had to fulfill these quotas and wait for a new quota the next month or quarter.
One day in 1937 the chief editor of a Ukrainian newspaper, Babinets, was summoned to the NKVD. He was told to edit the introductory part of an indictment of “a kulak terrorist center.” Working at night in the NKVD director’s office, Babinets heard the director calling the regional offices of the NKVD, demanding increases in the “index figures” of the fight against “enemies of the people.” “How many did you take today?” He would shout. “Twelve! Not enough, far from enough.” “And you?” He would say to another raion. “Sixty? Good, great work. Only watch you don’t drop off at the end of the month.” To a third: “What! You arrested only five people? Have you already built complete communism in your raion, or what?” And then, turning to Babinets, he said, “I have to put pressure on. Soon they’ll phone from Moscow, and then what could I tell them, what sort of report could I make?”
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 515

CHUEV: Did Stalin himself have any doubts about 1937? Did he speak of any extremes or excesses?
MOLOTOV: How could he not have had doubts? And not just doubts. Yezhov, chief of state security, was executed by firing squad.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 264

IVANOVICH, SHOTA: Solzhenitsyn writes that Stalin himself placed Yezhov in that job and made him slaughter the party’s key workers.
MOLOTOV: That’s not so. Yezhov was a rather prominent worker who had been promoted accordingly. Short in stature, slightly built, he was nevertheless a highly energetic, outstanding worker. But when he was placed in a position of enormous power and given sweeping directives, it put a strain on him, and he began to carry out repressions according to a production plan. Before him, Yagoda had paid for this. But overnight a man does not show himself in everything. The trees were felled, the chips began to fly, so to speak.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 294-295

Yezhov had been a rather fine fellow, too. But power intoxicated him and swept him off his feet. He tried to show off and curry favor. That’s when careerism begins. False evidence, previously set quotas of enemies: “The numbers of repressed persons are not high enough!” So everyone tries harder. And what kind of work is that?
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 340

In November 1937, after the celebrations of the October Revolution, I was summoned to the office of Yezhov, head of the NKVD, accompanied by Slansky. It was my first meeting with Yezhov, and I was shocked by his unimpressive appearance. He asked incompetent questions about elementary matters of intelligence trade-craft. He didn’t know basic techniques of working with a source of information. Moreover, he did not seem to care about splits in the Ukrainian emigre organization. Yezhov was both people’s commissar of internal affairs and a secretary of the Central Committee. I sincerely believed I was incapable of understanding the intellectual qualities that had placed him in such high positions. Although a tested professional, I remain naive about what to expect from the leadership, because the ones I had met, Kossior and Petrovsky, Communist party leaders of the Ukraine, were intelligent and sophisticated.
Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 22

I still regard Yezhov as responsible for grave crimes, but even worse, he was an incompetent criminal. I am sure that the crimes of Stalinism acquired such mad dimensions at least in part due to Yezhov’s professional incompetence in intelligence and police matters.
Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 63

Beria boldly told Stalin that Yezhov, who had succeeded Yagoda the year before as Chief of the Commissariat of the Interior…had passed all bounds of reason and discrimination in his conduct of the Purge;…
Duranty, Walter. Story of Soviet Russia. Philadelphia, N. Y.: JB Lippincott Co. 1944, p. 229

In charge of this stage were young, rough, and ignorant examining prosecutors. These were the Yezhov boys.
Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 207

Early in 1938, however, Stalin became disturbed by the mounting fury of the Ezhovshchina. His purpose of liquidating the old Bolsheviks and the veterans of the Revolution and the Civil War, and other sources of opposition, had been achieved. But under Yezhov the purge had spread like a malignant plague. Everywhere people were spying and informing against each other and everywhere arrests were on the increase. Terror was raging out of control. Stalin saw the need to call a halt. He showed the same sense of timing and the same authority, which he had displayed nearly eight years earlier with his article “Dizziness From Success.”
In January 1938 a central committee passed a resolution which heralded what was to be called the “Great Change.” The title of the resolution was “Concerning the Mistakes of Party Organizations in Excluding Communists from the Party, Concerning Formal-Bureaucratic Attitudes Towards the Appeals of Excluded Members of the Bolshevik Party, and Concerning Measures to Eliminate These Deficiencies.” The new orders were passed quickly to the party secretaries at every level and to the command points of the NKVD, and emanating from the Kremlin in Moscow. They were promptly obeyed. The new enemy was identified now as the Communist-careerist. He had taken advantage of the purge to denounce his superiors and to gain promotion. He was guilty of spreading suspicion and of undermining the party. A purge of careerists was launched. At the same time mass repressions diminished and the rehabilitation of victimized party members began.
The real halt to the great purge came, however, in July 1938, when Beria was appointed Yezhov’s deputy. He took charge of the NKVD at once, although Yezhov was not removed until December 1938, when he was made Commissar for Inland Water Transport. Soon afterwards he was shot.
Many NKVD officers were tried and executed for extracting confessions from innocent people, while others were relegated to labor camps. Loyal party members, emerging from the long nightmare, were relieved by the purging of the NKVD. It confirmed their belief that fascists had insinuated themselves into the security forces and the government and that they were responsible for the cruel persecutions and injustices of the Ezhovshchina. This explanation was encouraged officially, and it absolved Stalin and the Politburo of responsibility.
Directly controlling every branch of Soviet society and deeply involved in the buildup of the armed forces and conduct of foreign policy, Stalin could not maintain detailed control over the purge. He was aware that the NKVD had arrested many who were not guilty and that of the 7 to 14 million people serving sentences of forced labor in the GULAG camps many were innocent of any taint of disloyalty…. He resented this waste of human material. The aircraft designer Yakovlev recorded a conversation with him in 1940, in which Stalin exclaimed: “Yezhov was a rat; in 1938 he killed many innocent people. We shot him for that!”
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 288

Gulag (an acronym for State Administration of Camps).
McNeal, Robert, Stalin: Man and Ruler. New York: New York University Press, 1988, p. 142

In 1939 Garanin, like Kashketin, was shot on charges of “espionage” and “wrecking.” Many prison camp directors were removed and even shot. This was a result of Yezhov’s ouster from the leadership of the NKVD.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 512

Many of Yezhov’s and Beria’s torturers were destroyed in the Stalin era,…
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 518

Yagoda and Yezhov were both “scum,” thought Stalin. Yezhov was “a rat who killed many innocent people,” Stalin told Yakovlev, the aircraft designer. “We had to shoot him,” he confided to Kavtaradze. After the war, Stalin admitted: “One can’t believe a lot of the evidence from 1937. Yezhov couldn’t run the NKVD properly and anti-Soviet elements penetrated it. They destroyed some honest people, our best cadres.”
Montefiore, Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 324

Isolated, and with many of his former subordinates arrested in a purge of the NKVD, Yezhov crumbled without a struggle. A few years later Stalin told the aircraft designer Yakovlev that Yezhov stopped showing up for work and was at home, drunk, all day. ‘The wretch, he killed many innocent people in 1938,’ said Stalin, ‘for that we shot him’,…
McNeal, Robert, Stalin: Man and Ruler. New York: New York University Press, 1988, p. 212

Beginning in the summer of 1938 a coalition of Politburo members, reportedly consisting of Zhdanov, Andreev, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, and Molotov, worked to limit Yezhov’s and the NKVD’s powers. In August, Beria was appointed Deputy People’s Commissar of the NKVD without Yezhov’s consent. During the fall, the Politburo restricted the NKVD’s power somewhat and appointed a series of commissions to investigate NKVD operations, arrest procedures, and Yezhov’s performance. The most dramatic move came on 17 November 1938, when it criticized aspects of the NKVD’s work, abolished its troikas that had summarily sentenced so many to death or hard labor, and condemned its excesses. On 23 November 1938, Yezhov submitted his resignation as NKVD chief to Stalin. The Politburo accepted it and replaced him with Beria. Yezhov retained his other party and state positions until he was arrested in April 1939. He was executed on 4 February 1940.
Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 306.


According to official figures released by the Russian government in 1995, of the 681,000 people sentenced to be shot in 1937-38, 92.6% were sentenced by troikas. [It’s not Stalin]
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 470

As had often been the case in the past, local repression outdistanced that envisioned by the center. It is interesting that in nearly all regions, the precise local numbers proposed to be shot after Stalin’s telegram at the beginning of July were higher than the round-number quotas later approved by Moscow at the end of the month.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 471


The Central Committee resolution of January 1938 provided such a formulation. It attacked the “false vigilance” of certain careerist Communists who are striving to…insure themselves against possible charges of inadequate vigilance through the indiscriminate repression of party members.” Such a leader “indiscriminately spreads panic about enemies of the people” and “is willing to expel dozens of members from the party on false grounds just to appear vigilant himself.”
“It is time to understand,” the resolution asserted, “that Bolshevik vigilance consists essentially in the ability to unmask an enemy regardless of how clever and artful he may be, regardless of how he decks himself out, and not in indiscriminate or “on the off-chance” expulsions, by the tens of thousands, of everyone who comes within reach.”
Thus the mass depredations in the party were to be blamed (not without some justification) on former parties secretaries who for the most part had already been removed.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 496


EDITOR: Molotov complained that the terror and not gone far enough. After all, it failed to purge incipient or covert right-wingers such as Khrushchev & Mikoyan.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 160


… many honest Communists perished then. There is no smoke without fire. The security people overdid it. They were overzealous in fulfilling their tasks. But many wavered, and good people often perished as a result.
A great many people cheered “Hurrah!” and were for the party and for Stalin in words but vacillated in deeds. Khrushchev, who was a Trotskyist in his time, presents a striking example….
I bear responsibility for this policy of repression and consider it correct. Admittedly, I have always said grave mistakes and excesses were committed, but the policy on the whole was correct.
All the Politburo members, including myself, bear responsibility for those mistakes.
The allegation persists that the majority of the condemned were innocent and were wrongly punished. But in the main it was the guilty, those who needed to be repressed to one degree or another, who were punished.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 256

CHUEV: Didn’t Stalin merely make a scapegoat of Yezhov, thereby placing all the blame on him?
MOLOTOV: Too simplistic. That version is pushed by those who misunderstand the state of the country at the time. Of course the demands originated with Stalin, and of course there were excesses, but all that was permissible, to my mind, for the sake of the main objective–keeping state power!
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 264

CHUEV: Nowadays it is said, “Yes many lives were sacrificed in order to defend Soviet power. But who needs a system that caused so many millions to perish? Wouldn’t a monarchy or a constitutional democracy have been better?”
MOLOTOV: Every well-off individual in bourgeois society will talk that way, but those not well off–the worker, the peasant, the poor man–can’t agree with this. Lives were sacrificed under the old regime, and if not for Soviet power the number of lives lost would have been greater; there would have been ever more wars without end. That would have been inevitable.
CHUEV: Just try to prove it!
MOLOTOV: It does not require proof. Life will demonstrate it to those who still don’t see it. But the masses of workers and peasants do.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 268

We could not pause [in the 1930s] to go into a person’s record thoroughly and get the objective facts about him. We did not have the time or the resources to defer action. In certain cases the fate of the cause hung by a thread. I believe we acted correctly, though it entailed certain inevitable, even grave, excesses in repression. But there was no other way during that period…. We can and must be criticized, even charged with excesses. But I don’t think we had an alternative then. It was the best of all possible alternatives…. Our mistakes, including the crude mistakes, were justified.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 270

1937 was a very grave year. Had we not done what we did, our losses would have been greater. This I don’t doubt. Had the opposition prevailed, we would undoubtedly have incurred even greater losses.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 277

Stalin in my opinion, pursued a correct line…. Yes, mistakes were made. But look, Rokossovsky and Meretskov were freed.
CHUEV: And how many others like them perished?
MOLOTOV: Not many. The terror was necessary, and it couldn’t have been completed without mistakes….
Vlasov [a captured Soviet General who voluntarily organized an army from among fellow POWs to fight the USSR] would have been as nothing compared to what might have happened. Many people were wavering politically.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 278-279

CHUEV: Then Stalin is to blame for all that?
MOLOTOV: No. You can’t say Stalin is….
CHUEV: Who then?
MOLOTOV: It couldn’t have been done without his consent, of course. He was in desperate straits. There were so many people around him who changed….
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 282

I would like to see you in our positions then. I wonder how you would’ve coped.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 283

That policy of repression was the only salvation for the people, for the Revolution. It was the only alternative in keeping with Leninism and its basic principles.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 287

1937–we could not have done without it. The very saints could not have accomplished anything with their sweet talk in those critical periods. They would have failed miserably. You can’t do without harsh measures against ferocious enemies.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 289


CHUEV: I have heard that Stalin and you issued a directive to the NKVD to apply torture.
MOLOTOV: Torture?
CHUEV: Did you?
MOLOTOV: No, we never did that.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 259


CHUEV: An individual could be sentenced at the will of a district party secretary.
MOLOTOV: That was possible. The true Bolsheviks could not afford to hesitate on the eve of World War II. It’s most important to realize that.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 260


Recently a chauffeur drove me here from Moscow. He was an elderly man whom I had never seen before. I accept any driver they send over to me. I normally listen to the news radio station to get the latest news and enjoy some music. But this time my driver wanted to talk and asked if I would turn off the music. I wondered what he would say….
He remarked, “Isn’t it great that in Russia’s there is a Siberia!”…
I thought, what was he up to?
“What exactly do you have in mind when you mention the benefits of Siberia?” I asked.
“I think you know what’s on my mind. There was the time when all that human scum and rubbish had to be crushed. Stalin was far-sighted; Joseph Vissarionovich was a man of vision. Those who had to be put out of the way were done away with just in time. Just in time because it was necessary to act strongly, resolutely, and mercilessly. Comrade Stalin took the job firmly in hand.”
“Right. I agree with you,” I told him.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 260


CHUEV: Didn’t the security agencies place themselves above the party?
MOLOTOV: No, that’s not so…. There was not enough time. We lacked resources. I did not say that the Politburo was overly trusting, but I did say that insufficient oversight was exercised. I disagree that we were overly trusting. The oversight was inadequate.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 262

I believe there were deficiencies and mistakes. It couldn’t have been otherwise with our enemies operating within the security agencies in charge of investigations…. The major deficiencies were that the security agencies had been left without due oversight by the party during certain periods. The negligence was not purposeful. The resources for adequate oversight were insufficient.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 287

…These errors were largely caused by the fact that at certain stages the investigations fell into the hands of people who were later exposed as traitors guilty of heinous, hostile, antiparty acts. These belatedly exposed degenerates–traitors within the security agencies and party organizations–obviously at times, with malice aforethought, pushed certain incorrect measures against honest party members and nonparty people. The party and the Soviet state could not permit delay or postponements in carrying out the punitive measures which had become absolutely necessary…. For crude abuses of power People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs Yezhov, guilty of certain crude distortions of party policy, was unmasked and then condemned to the “highest measure of punishment.”
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 288

As soon as he arrived in Kiev, Uspensky summoned all NKVD officers and said he would suppress such traditions as synagogue gatherings. Anyone who did not want to work with him could leave, and some of Emma’s [Sudoplatov’s wife] friends took advantage of the offer. In the presence of a large audience, Uspensky signed their applications for transfer into the reserve for appointments to vacancies at lower levels in other republics. Uspensky was responsible for mass tortures and repressions, and Khrushchev was one of the few top Politburo members who personally joined Uspensky in interrogating prisoners.
During the 1938 purge, when Yezhov, head of the NKVD, lost the confidence of Stalin and the hunt began for “traitorous” chekists, Uspensky tried to escape abroad.
Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 111


In the first place, as chairman of the Council of Ministers, I am accountable for all the repressions. I am responsible for…. I signed most–in fact, almost all–the arrest lists. Of course we debated, then made a decision. In the end, however, the decision was based on trust in the GPU’s word. Haste ruled. Could one go into all the details?
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 263


CHUEV: “Stalin himself had to admit in 1938 that something had gone wrong and that things had to be sorted out,” said Golovanov. “I am lucky to have had a very close escape then. Later I was expelled from the party, I was nearly arrested, I was out of work. My family starved, with one loaf of brown bread for a week. My sister’s husband, a noted security officer, was shot. I wrote about those years in my book. I believe then that Stalin had gone on a rampage to destroy everything. But after I met him and worked for him for a few years, I came to realize he was different. In fact, he was the man I have portrayed in my book of reminiscences. The fact that I or Rokossovsky, who also suffered in 1937–to say the least!–hold such a high opinion of Stalin and won’t allow his name to be trampled into the dust, is especially unpleasant for many people.
“When Khrushchev asked Rokossovsky to write some filth about Stalin, Rokossovsky responded, ‘Comrade Stalin is a saint to me.’ The next day Rokossovsky comes to his office and finds Moskalenko sitting at his desk, who hands him the orders on his retirement. That was how it was arranged. Rokossovsky says, ‘I get up in the morning, stretch a little, and realize I have no job to go to. No one needs us these days. We are merely stumbling blocks for those who wish to portray the past in their own way.’
“At one government reception someone toasted Khrushchev and everyone came up to him with his glass, the lame Meretskov being no exception. At that point Rokossovsky and myself were somewhere in the center of the crowd, and we didn’t budge. We just went on with our conversation, which evidently could not have gone unnoticed, since we seemed to be the two tallest men in the crowd. We have never been invited to those reception since….
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 290

Look at Rokossovsky. He was tortured, nonetheless he denied all the charges. He implicated no one. And no one else was arrested. He was incarcerated in the Shlisselburg prison. Then he was released. Rokossovsky is still respected for this by the army. Stalin held Rokossovsky in very high esteem. By the way, after the Stalingrad battle he became the second military officer after Shaposhnikov…. He considered Rokossovsky a great military captain. It was no accident that Rokossovsky commanded the victory parade on Red Square. It was to honor service he rendered! Stalin asked, “Rokossovsky, did they beat you up there?” “They did, Comrade Stalin.” “We still have a lot of yes-men in our country,” Stalin concluded.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 295

MOLOTOV:: She [Molotov’s wife] certainly endured great hardship, but I repeat, she never changed her attitude toward Stalin. She always thought highly of him.
IVANOVICH, SHOTA: Once a relation of hers started to assail Stalin at a dinner, and she abruptly put him in his place. ‘Young man, you understand absolutely nothing about either Stalin or his times. If only you knew the burden he bore in office!’
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 324

The meeting had lasted about two hours. This time Stalin did not invite us to dinner in his home. I must confess that I felt a sadness and an emptiness because of this, so great was my own human, sentimental fondness for him still.
Djilas, Milovan. Conversations with Stalin. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962, p. 184

And yet, Sakharov’s response to the death of Stalin was utterly typical. He heard the news while he was working on the Soviet bomb project and wrote home to his first wife, Klavdia: “I am under the influence of a great man’s death. I am thinking of his humanity.”
Remnick, David. Lenin’s Tomb. New York: Random House, c1993, p. 166


“If you want to to know what I [Golovanov] think of ’37, I will tell you–it was a national calamity. Millions suffered. But it would be wrong to conclude that Stalin was 100 percent responsible. Who did he have as his principal assistants? Mekhlis supervised the Army, Khrushchev supervised non-military matters, the Moscow party organization. Fifty-four thousand people in Ukraine were sent off by Khrushchev when he chaired the notorious troika. It was he who signed the verdicts! Certainly Stalin is politically responsible for all of that in the first place as head of state. But you can’t say all of the individual verdicts were sanctioned by him.”
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 291

Stalin was in a position where, if they gave him documents against a particular person, he himself could not sort out all these matters. He had neither the time nor the capability, due to the structure of state power…. Most of the repressions were not caused by him personally. If a special tribunal found someone guilty, the guilt lies in equal measure on Stalin and the tribunal.
Richardson, Rosamond. Stalin’s Shadow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 277


I ought to have been punished, true, but expulsion from the party? Punishment, of course, because sometimes the ax must be used without sorting things out. I believe we had to pass through a phase of terror. I am not afraid of that word, because back then we had neither the time nor the opportunity to sort things out, for not only Soviet power in Russia but the international communist movement as well were at risk.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 356

(Sinclair’s comments only)
History knows all about the French terror, and yet it credits that revolution with having broken the feudal system throughout most of Western Europe, and having helped to bring republican ideas to all the world. Historians whom we respect today consider this revolution in its totality one of the great forward steps of humanity.
Sinclair and Lyons. Terror in Russia?: Two Views. New York : Rand School Press, 1938, p. 54


Finally, on executions, Conquest reports: “It will be seen that no exact estimate of total executions can be given, but that the number was most probably something around one million.” This figure is even more speculative than those on numbers in prison camps, since Commissariat for Internal Affairs budgets, payroll discrepancies, and census statistics give no basis for statistics on executions. The figure one million is based mainly on prisoners’ reports and calculations by former Internal Affairs officers, neither of whom would be likely to give objective estimates and most or all of whom can have known only a segment of the total operation.
Cameron, Kenneth Neill. Stalin, Man of Contradiction. Toronto: NC Press, c1987, p. 127

Should all Gulag inmates be considered innocent victims of Red repression? Contrary to what we have been led to believe, those arrested for political crimes (“counterrevolutionary offenses”) numbered from 12 to 33% of the prison population, varying from year to year. The vast majority of inmates were charged with nonpolitical offenses: murder, assault, theft, banditry, smuggling, swindling, and other violations punishable in any society.
Total executions in 1921 to 1953, a 33 year span inclusive, were 799,455. No breakdown of this figure was provided by the researchers. It includes those who were guilty of nonpolitical capital crimes, as well as those who collaborated in the Western capitalist invasion and subsequent White Guard Army atrocities. It also includes some of the considerable numbers who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and probably German SS prisoners. In any case, the killings of political opponents were not in the millions or tens of millions–which is not to say that the actual number was either inconsequential or justifiable.
The three historians who studied the heretofore secret gulag records concluded that the number of victims was far less than usually claimed in the West. This finding is ridiculed by anti-communist liberal Hochschild . Like many others, Hochschild has no trouble accepting undocumented speculations about the gulag but much difficulty accepting the documented figures drawn from NKVD archives.
Parenti, Michael. Blackshirts and Reds, San Francisco: City Light Books, 1997, p. 80


The repression in Stalin’s time was not in essence different from that in Lenin’s. It was simply on a larger scale; and it was on a larger scale because the enemies of socialism were more numerous and better organized. That the repression had been basically directed at those engaged in anti-socialist actions, was, Stalin contended, shown by the fact that reactionaries everywhere immediately took up the cry of “injustice” and condemned the USSR out of hand (as they had also in Lenin’s day):
Cameron, Kenneth Neill. Stalin, Man of Contradiction. Toronto: NC Press, c1987, p. 131


The problem of repression, therefore, is reduced to a question of the necessary minimum, having due regard to general progress. It is just as wrong to fall short of this minimum as to go beyond it. The man who spares people who are working against the cause of humanity is a malefactor. The duty of true kindness is to think of the future.
If the Russian Revolution had, to the intense satisfaction of a few sanctimonious idealists, adopted the system of automatic forgiveness and of not defending itself with the same weapons with which it was attacked, it would not have survived for long. It would have been stabbed in the back by France, England, and Poland, who would immediately have brought the Tsar and the Whites back to Petrograd, as they tried to do by every other means in their power. The reason the work of the Revolution subsists and is already brightening the future of humanity is because it fought without faltering and without mercy that appalling network of treachery, and all the plots–all stabs in the back–woven by White Guards, imperialist spies, diplomats and detectives, wreckers, Revolutionary-Socialists, Anarchists, and Nationalist Mensheviks, the degenerate Oppositionists, all more or less subsidized from abroad– all that raffle furiously attacking the country which had given the subversive example of rising in order to make the liberty of the worker and human dignity secure.
Barbusse, Henri. Stalin. New York: The Macmillan company, 1935, p. 85


Stalin, replying some time ago (towards the end of 1931) in an interview relating to “the severe and implacable attitude of the Soviet Government in its struggle against its enemies,” said as follows:
“When the Bolsheviks came into power, they began by showing leniency towards their enemies. The Mensheviks continued to exist lawfully and to bring out their newspaper. So did the Revolutionary-Socialists. Even the Cadets (Constitutional-Democrats) continued the publication of their newspaper. When general Krasnoff organized his counter-revolutionary march on Petrograd and fell into our hands we might, according to the rules of war, at least have kept him prisoner. More than that, we ought to have shot him. But we freed him on parole. What was the result of this? We soon found that this leniency only undermined the stability of the power of the Soviets, and that we had made a mistake in giving proof of our forbearance towards the enemies of the working classes. If we had continued to be so forbearing we should have committed a crime against the working classes and we should have betrayed their interests. This soon became an obvious fact. We quickly discovered that the more indulgent we showed ourselves towards our enemies the stronger was the resistance they put up against us. In a short time the Revolutionary-Socialists, Gotz and others, and the Mensheviks of the Right, organized the rising of the pupils of the Military School at Petrograd, which resulted in the death of a great number of our Revolutionary sailors. The same Krasnoff, whom we had freed on parole, organized the White Cossacks. He joined Mamontoff and for two years carried on an armed struggle against the power of the Soviets…. It is easy to see that we had made a mistake in being too gentle.”
Barbusse, Henri. Stalin. New York: The Macmillan company, 1935, p. 85

They [the bourgeoisie] advocate a maximum of leniency, they advise the dissolution of the GPU…. But can anyone guarantee that the capitalists of all countries will abandon the idea of organizing and financing counter-revolutionary plotters, terrorists, incendiaries, and bomb-throwers after the liquidation of the GPU? To disarm the revolution without having any guarantees that the enemies of the revolution will be disarmed–would not that be folly, would not that be a crime against the working-class? No, we do not want to repeat the errors of the Paris Communards. The Communards of Paris were too lenient in dealing with Versailles, for which Marx rightly reproved them at the time. They had to pay for their leniency, and when Thiers came to Paris, tens of thousands of workers were shot by the Versailles forces. Do the comrades think that the Russian bourgeoisie and nobility are less bloodthirsty than those of Versailles and France? We know, at any rate, how they behaved towards the workers when they occupied Siberia, the Ukraine, and the North Caucasus in alliance with the French and British, Japanese and American interventionists.
Stalin, Joseph. Stalin’s Kampf. New York: Howell, Soskin & Company, c1940, p. 233

Within thirty hours of sentence of death being passed upon them, it was carried out. Thus ended the career of men who, as we shall see, had abused the repeated leniency that had been shown them by the Soviet people whom they had so thoroughly and so often betrayed.
Shepherd, W. G. The Moscow Trial. London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1936, p. 10


And I will add to this what Stalin said to me personally, seven years ago, with regard to the famous “Red Terror.” He was speaking of the death penalty. We are naturally all in favor of the suppression of the death penalty. Indeed we believe that there is no need for us to retain it in the interior administration of the Soviet Union. We would have abolished the death penalty long ago had it not been for the outer world, the great Imperialist Powers, which have compelled us to retain it in order to preserve our existence.”
Barbusse, Henri. Stalin. New York: The Macmillan company, 1935, p. 86

Stalin had abolished the death penalty in 1947, apparently to please Western opinion, though some executions seem still to have taken place. Early in 1950, ‘in response to numerous demands by workers’ he restored it, with a view to coping with the new wave of treachery in the top leadership.
Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York, New York: Viking, 1991, p. 289

The immediate post-War period in the Soviet Union for the most part continued to be one of relative tolerance. In Roy Medvedev’s words:
“… right after the War the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet decreed an end to the death penalty, even for the most serious crimes. The spy mania and the universal suspicion that prevailed before the War tended to disappear, especially in view of the drastic change in the international situation. The Soviet Union was no longer isolated.”
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 258


Conquest writes that after 1938, there were an “odd million arrests per annum.” Stubborn as I am, I insist on evidence for this claim…. Weissberg wrote that, “After January 1, 1939, the arrests fell away practically to nothing.” As my article showed, a number of survivors spoke of the bad time as only 1937 or 1937-1938. The Poles and Ukrainians arrested beginning in September 1939 belong to a different story, in a very different context. I would argue that early 1939 represented a sharp break with the immediately preceding period. The idea that a system of terror continued in some fashion is contradicted by a number of accounts, while evidence for this theory presented to date is very thin indeed.
Thurston, Robert W. “On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest.” Slavic Review 45 (1986), p. 241.

Conquest’s book [Harvest of Sorrow] will thus give a certain academic credibility to a theory which has not been generally accepted by non-partisan scholars outside the circles of exiled nationalities. In today’s conservative political climate, with its “evil empire” discourse, I am sure that the book will be very popular.
Getty, Arch. “Starving the Ukraine.” Reviewing in The London Review of Books on January 22, 1987, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest September,1986.

The most striking tales of atrocity are generally second-hand and unverifiable; they seem to compete with one another in their body-counts and depiction of savagery.
Getty, Arch. “Starving the Ukraine.” Reviewing in The London Review of Books on January 22, 1987, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest September,1986.

…But there is plenty of blame to go around. It must be shared by the tens of thousands of activists and officials who carried out the policy and by the peasants who chose to slaughter animals, burn fields and boycott cultivation in protest. Beyond fixing blame, however, the tempting conclusion of intentionality is unwarranted: the case for a purposeful famine is weakly supported by the evidence and relies on a very strained interpretation of it….
Yet there are reasons why the majority of scholars have so far rejected the theory [that Stalin sealed off the Ukraine’s borders to prevent flight and produce mass starvation]. First, we actually know very little about the scale of the famine. Using census calculations of excess mortality, Conquest arrives at a figure of some five million victims of the Ukrainian famine. Yet such respected economic and demographic experts as Wheatcroft, Anderson, and Silver have examined the same census data and have suggested that the numbers Conquest supports are much too high. Additionally, Conquest notes that the famine varied greatly from place to place in the Ukraine. According to post-WWII interviews with Ukrainian emigres, some places saw little or no shortage of food. What regional or local differences could explain this? Were grain quotas arbitrarily set by local officials? Did high levels of peasant resistance or boycott contribute to famine? We do not know.
Second, Conquest has failed to establish a convincing motive for genocide. Certainly Stalin was capable of vindictive cruelty,…but those who knew and dealt with him during the war and after, and they include many Westerners, agree that he was not insane or irrational. Although he certainly meant to break peasant resistance to his brand of socialism, one must wonder why any national leader would deliberately imperil the country’s survival, its military strength and thus his own security, by methodically setting out to exterminate those who produced the food–and then stopping short of completing the presumed suicide…. our knowledge of the sources suggests that a genocidal Stalin is unnecessary to explain the events of the famine as we know them. More convincing explanations can be advanced….
Getty, Arch. “Starving the Ukraine.” Reviewing in The London Review of Books on January 22, 1987, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest September,1986.

Conquest is a major `authority’ in the right wing. But Merl noted that Conquest’s writings show a `frightening lack of criticism of sources’. Conquest `uses writings from obscure Emigres taking up information transmitted by second or third hand…. Often, what he presents as `facts’ are only verified by a single questionable source.’
Merl, Stefan, “Ausrottung” der Bourgeoisie und der Kulaken in Sowjetrussland? Geschichte und Gesellschaft 13 (1987), p. 535
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 97 [p. 81 on the NET]

…For a long time, writings by authors who are not Communists, such as Merl, allowed one to refute Conquest’s gross slanders.
But in 1990, Zemskov and Dugin, two Soviet historians, published detailed statistics of the Gulag. Hence the exact figures are now available and they refute most of Conquest’s lies.
During the most violent period of the collectivization, in 1930–1931, the peasants expropriated 381,026 kulaks and sent their families to unplowed land to the East. These included 1,803,392 persons. As of 1 January 1932, there were 1,317,022 people in the new establishments. The difference is 486,000. The disorganization helping, many of the deported were able to escape during the trip, which often took three months or more. (To give an idea, of the 1,317,022 settled, 207,010 were able to flee during the year 1932.)
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 97 [p. 81 on the NET]

Up to now [1990], no problem. Everything was going just fine for our anti-Communists. Their word was taken for granted.
Then the USSR split up and Gorbachev’s disciples were able to grab the Soviet archives. In 1990, the Soviet historians Zemskov and Dugin published the unedited statistics for the Gulag. They contain the arrivals and departures, right down to the last person.
Unexpected consequence: These accounting books made it possible to remove Conquest’s scientific mask.
In 1934, Conquest counted 5 million political detainees. In fact there were between 127,000 and 170,000. The exact number of all detained in the work camps, political and common law combined, was 510,307. The political prisoners formed only 25 to 35 per cent of the detainees. To the approximately 150,000 detainees, Conquest added 4,850,000. Small detail!
Annually, Conquest estimated an average of 8 million detainees in the camps. And Medvedev 12 to 13 million. In fact, the number of political detainees oscillated between a minimum of 127,000 in 1934 and a maximum of 500,000 during the two war years, 1941 and 1942. The real figures were therefore multiplied by a factor of between 16 and 26. When the average number of detainees was somewhere between 236,000 and 315,000 political detainees, Conquest `invented’ 7,700,000 extra! Marginal statistical error, of course. Our school books, our newspapers, do not give the real figure of around 272,000, but the horror of 8,000,000!
Conquest, the fraud, claims that in 1937–1938, during the Great Purge, the camps swelled by 7 million “politicals” and there were in addition 1 million executions and 2 million other deaths. In fact, from 1936 to 1939, the number of detained in the camps increased by 477,789 persons (passing from 839,406 to 1,317,195). A falsification factor of 14. In two years, there were 115,922 deaths, not 2,000,000. For the 116,000 dead of various causes, Conquest adds 1,884,000 “victims of Stalinism.”
Gorbachev’s ideologue, Medvedev, refers to 12 to 13 million in the camps; under the liberal Khrushchev, there remained 2 million, all common law. In fact, during Stalin’s time, in 1951, the year of the greatest number of detained in the Gulag, there were 1,948,158 common law prisoners, as many as during Khrushchev’s time. The real number of political prisoners was then 579,878. Most of these “politicals” had been Nazi collaborators: 334,538 had been convicted for treason.
According to Conquest, between 1939 and 1953, there was, in the work camps, a 10 per cent death rate per year, some 12 million “victims of Stalinism.” An average of 855,000 dead per year. In fact, the real figure in peace time was 49,000. Conquest invented a figure of 806,000 deaths per year. During the four years of the war, when Nazi barbarity was imposing unbearable conditions on all Soviets, the average number of deaths was 194,000. Hence, in four years, the Nazis caused an excess of 580,000 deaths, for which, of course, Stalin is responsible. Werth, who denounces Conquest’s falsifications, still does his best to maintain as much as possible the myth of Stalinist “crimes.”
“In fourteen years (1934–1947), 1 million deaths were registered in the work camps alone.” So Werth also blames socialism for the 580,000 extra deaths caused by the Nazis!
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 193 [p. 168-169 on the NET]


It was Beria’s diagnosis of the danger of Yezhov’s excesses that had induced Stalin to trust him and brought him to power. Throughout the country these excesses had cast their shadow. At one sitting alone, the Central Committee of the Azerbaizhan Party had expelled 279 members, the Ukrainian Stalinsk Provincial Committee 72, the Ordjonikidze Regional Committee 101–it was the same everywhere…. The fear of being suspected of lack of vigilance drove local fanatics to denounce not only Bukharinists, but also Malenkovists, Yezhovists, even Stalinists. It is of course not impossible that they were also egged on to do so by concealed oppositionists! Hence Beria’s task when he was summoned from Georgia by Stalin was to head a secret commission of inquiry into Yezhov’s work.

To give Beria his due, he pulled no punches. At a closed joint session of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the Party, held in the autumn of 1938, he declared that if Yezhov were not a deliberate Nazi agent he was certainly an involuntary one. He had turned the central offices of the NKVD into a breeding ground for fascist agents. He had scorned citizens’ constitutional rights and used illegal methods of extorting information, to such an extent that he had set quite non-political people against the Government. For a rank-and-file member of the Central Committee to say this was the height of courage.

The impression produced on Stalin and Molotov was tremendous. The Central Committee resolutions dismissing Yezhov (Member of the Politburo, the Orgburo, and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Secretary of the Central Committee, and People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs; were written in Beria’s hand. Beria’s first acts as head of the NKVD, were the arrest of Yezhov and the issue of orders quashing an enormous number of sentences and recently-started proceedings. People who had been unjustly repressed were even indemnified by the State. Special commissions inquired into the past of convicted persons.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 119

Evgeniia Ginsburg, who was in Yaroslavl Prison and who saw no newspapers, said that the prisoners could tell when Yezhov fell: The draconian regime in the prisons (frequent solitary confinement and deprivation of all privileges) was relaxed one day. The timing was confirmed a few days later when Beria’s name began to appear on official prison notices.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 189

… the replacement of Yezhov by Beria was received as a hopeful sign. And in fact, right after Yezhov’s replacement mass repression was discontinued for a while. Hundreds of thousands of cases then being prepared by the NKVD were temporarily put aside.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 465


… When in 1947 I spoke to some people of the West regarding what had happened they shrugged their shoulders non-committally and said that such ‘punitive action’ was an internal matter and that after all Stalin’s victims were not innocent as Hitler’s had been: had I not admitted that they had taken advantage of the war to declare against the Stalin regime?

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 260

Colonel Koznich [Estonian Military Attache in Moscow, later Ambassador] called to see me…. The Colonel wanted to tell me something about his conversations with foreign diplomats. He talked about the trial, saying that in his opinion all the defendants were really guilty and that our justice was the best in the world…. He praised Vyshinsky as much as he could, and said he wished Estonia had such prosecutors.

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 255

Anyone who doubts this should read an article entitled “Red Wreckers in Russia” in the Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 1, 1938, in which John Littlepage, an anti-Communist American engineer, describes in detail what he saw of this sabotage while he was working in the Soviet Union. In fact, Littlepage gives this judgment:

“For 10 years I have worked alongside some of the many recently shot, imprisoned, or exiled in Russia as wreckers. Some of my friends have asked me whether or not I believe these men and women are guilty as charged. I have not hesitated a moment in replying that I believe most of them are guilty.”

Franklin, Bruce, Ed. The Essential Stalin; Major Theoretical Writings. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972, p. 26


“Alexis Pushnov, the NKVD chief in Magnitogorsk in 1937, was himself arrested in 1939. He was accused of excessive ardour in purging the village population.

Brar, Harpal. Trotskyism or Leninism. 1993, p. 326

When, early in 1939, the Soviet press started to report the arrest of various NKVD officers for extorting false confessions, one case at Leninsk-Kuznetsk in the Kemerovo province concerned children as young as ten years old. Four officers in the NKVD and the Prosecutor’s Office received five to ten-year sentences.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 274

…Garanin, launched on a campaign of, even by NKVD standards, maniac terror, torture, and execution, with the shooting in 1938 of an estimated 26,000 men in a special camp set up for the purpose. Garanin was soon shot, and his successor, Vyshnevetsky, also lasted a very short time, receiving 15 years for a disastrous expedition intended to open up new areas.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 325

Preparations for the greatest trial of all were in less expert hands than those which had produced the Zinoviev and Pyatakov shows. The NKVD veterans had gone. Agranov had by now followed Yagoda and his staff, being “in 1937 expelled from the Party for systematic breaches of socialist legality,”… He died, presumed shot, in 1938.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 341

[Footnote]: Zakovsky, Deputy Chief of the NKVD under Yezhov. He was shot in 1938.

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 230

In January 1938, The Central Committee criticized local Party organizations for exaggerated vigilance and excessive expulsions. The intensity of the purge then diminished. After the last of the ‘Great Purge Trials,’ expulsions and arrests markedly decreased. Abuses were, in part, attributed to ‘careerists trying to gain merit by throwing people out of the Party, trying to gain security for themselves through mass repressions against the rank-and-file members.’

In December 1938, the campaign came to a complete halt. Most pending investigations for counter-revolutionary activities were dropped and the suspects released. Yezhov was dismissed as head of the NKVD and replaced by Beria. A number of leading NKVD officers were arrested and some executed for having extracted false confessions. Most regional heads of the security police were purged, and many were subject to criminal actions. Past abuses were widely criticized. Both Yagoda and Yezhov were denounced as enemies of the people. Numerous cases were reinvestigated and quite a few of the sentenced released; conditions in the labor camps were ameliorated.

Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 239

Former NKVD officials Yezhov, Frinovsky, Agranov, Nikolayev, Dmitriyev, Tserpento, Ushakov, Chris Boldakovtov, Passov, Kogan, Gerzon, Glebov, Lulov and others, who had investigated this case [the Bukharin case] and others were convicted for making illegal arrests and falsifying evidence.

Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 138

Compared with the loss of life caused directly and indirectly by collectivization the deaths caused by the great Stalin purges of the late ‘thirties were almost negligible,…. But apart from those executed (for example those sentenced to death in the famous open purge trials of 1936-38, and in the trial of Marshal Tukhachevsky and other army leaders) and those shot in greater “privacy,” the deaths directly caused by the purge resulted from the overzealousness of certain “examining magistrates” whose tortures of those unwilling to “confess” merely led to the prisoner’s death.

Werth, Alexander. Russia; The Post-War Years. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co.,1971, p. 29


Resolution by the USSR Council of People’s Commissars and the Party’s Central Committee, Nov. 17, 1938, on improving NKVD arrest procedures]

… This is all the more necessary as the mass operations to crush and root out hostile elements carried out by NKVD agencies in 1937-38 employing simplified investigation and prosecution could not but result in a number of gross inadequacies and distortions in the operations of the NKVD agencies and the Procuracy. More importantly, enemies of the people and spies from foreign intelligence services who have infiltrated NKVD agencies (both central and local), continuing to carry on their subversive activity, have tried in all conceivable ways to confound investigative and undercover activities, have knowingly violated Soviet laws, have carried out unfounded mass arrests, while protecting their collaborators, particularly those planted in NKVD agencies.

Below are described the most significant shortcomings recently uncovered in the operations of agencies of the NKVD and Procuracy.

First of all, NKVD employees have completely abandoned undercover work, preferring to work in an oversimplified manner using mass arrests, paying no attention to the thoroughness and quality of the investigation.

NKVD employees have grown so unaccustomed to painstaking, systematic undercover work and have taken such a liking to the oversimplified modus operandi until very recently they have objected to placing limits on their execution of mass arrests.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 23

Second, a very gross inadequacy in the operation of the NKVD agencies is the deeply rooted, oversimplified procedure of investigation, whereby, as a rule, the examining magistrate limits himself to obtaining a confession of guilt from the accused and completely ignores substantiating this confession with the necessary documentary evidence (testimony of witnesses, expert depositions, statements, material evidence, etc.).

… Enemies of the people, having infiltrated NKVD and Procuracy agencies, often have skillfully exploited this irresponsible attitude toward investigative work and this gross violation of established legal procedures. They have knowingly twisted Soviet law, committed forgery, falsified investigative documents, indicted and arrested on trumped up charges and even without any grounds whatever, brought charges (for provocation) against innocent persons, while doing everything possible to conceal and protect their collaborators in criminal anti-Soviet activity. These kinds of things went on in both the central and local bureaucracy of the NKVD.

All these in tolerable failings in the work of NKVD Procuracy agencies were possible only because the enemies of the people, having infiltrated the NKVD and Procuracy agencies, made every conceivable attempt to sever the work of NKVD and Procuracy agencies from party organs, to escape party control and supervision, and thus make it easier for themselves and their collaborators to continue their anti-Soviet, subversive activity.

In order to eliminate the above-described failings and properly organize the investigative work of NKVD and Procuracy agencies the [Central Committee of the Communist Party] resolves: 1) To prohibit NKVD and Procuracy agencies from carrying out any kind of mass arrests or evictions….

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 24

[Letter from members of the Procuracy of the USSR, Oct. 28, 1939, appealing to Zhdanov for changes in the Procuracy and calling for a halt to the criminal behavior of the NKVD]

Dear Comrade Zhdanov!… The Party’s Central Committee decision of Nov. 17, 1938, identified the grossest distortions of Soviet laws by NKVD organs and obligated those organs and the Procuracy not only to stop these crimes but also to correct the gross violations of law that have resulted in mass sentencing of totally innocent, honest Soviet persons to various sorts of punishments, often even execution. These persons–not a few, but tens and hundreds of thousands–sit in camps and jails and wait for a just decision; they are perplexed about why and for what they were arrested and by what right the bastards from Yezhov’s band persecuted them, using medieval torture.

It would seem that the party’s Central Committee decision of Nov. 17, 1938, should have mobilized all attention on immediately rectifying the criminal policy of the bastard Yezhov and his criminal clique, which has literally paralyzed Soviet persons, upright, dedicated citizens, old party members, and entire party organizations.

In reality, something else is happening.

Comrade Pankratev, who replaced Comrade Vyshinsky, cannot guarantee implementation of this critical decision of the party Central Committee because of his lack of authority in the Procuracy and particularly in the eyes of NKVD personnel.

It is strange to say, but it is a fact that Comrade Beria not only is not burning with desire to free totally innocent people, but to the contrary is conducting a definite policy to handle this effort and is using his authority to maintain the “honor of the uniform.”

Therefore, the decision to charge a special conference of the NKVD with reviewing its own decisions executed by Yezhov’s band is a big mistake.

Here, at a special conference, the decisive role and final word belong not to the representative of supervision–the Procurator–but to Comrade Beria and his entourage, who, with all the means and resources at their disposal, are violating the requirements of the Procuracy to stop these actions.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 26

Comrade Pankratev, who attends these meetings, bows his head to Politburo candidate member Comrade Beria and silently goes along with obviously wrong decisions.

Thus, at these special conferences the absolutely correct and lawful protests of the Procuracy of the USSR are crushed with the direct connivance of the Procurator of the USSR, Comrade Pankratev.

One only needs to review what took place at the last special conference sessions and speak with the procurators who directly prepared these matters and it becomes apparent that the line followed by Comrade Beria has nothing in common with party directives.

Such practices have disoriented the staff of the Procuracy of the USSR, those honest procurators who directly monitor these scandalous cases and spend sleepless nights and grieve for guiltless Soviet persons condemned by Yezhov’s band.

We earnestly beseech you, comrades Zhdanov, to take up this matter of utmost importance, and if there is no chance of changing the criminal practices pursued within the walls of the NKVD, to change the system, to entrust the Procuracy with reviewing matters incorrectly handled by Yezhov’s band–excluding from these matters the authority of Comrade Beria, who intentionally or unintentionally is cultivating a defense of the “honor of the uniform” of NKVD personnel at all costs.

… We ask you to think about this. We are completely convinced that all that has been described here is being concealed from the party’s central committee–obviously it is more advantageous that way for someone.

The procurators of the Procuracy of the USSR.

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 27

Executions are going on. Several groups of opposition members have been shot in the Urals. The situation is particularly terrifying in Leningrad, where Zakovsky, an illiterate and debauched drunkard, reigns supreme. He himself shoots the victims and has declared that “a chief of the NKVD must himself carry out the sentences.” He orders his subordinates to act in the same manner. It is said that Zakovsky hails from Odessa and is a former penal convict of the Orel prison. After the revolution he managed to pass off as a political prisoner and to make a career….

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 231

Such was the case with the letter by Eikhe, an alternate member of the Politburo, whose spine was broken by his interrogator; the letter by Rudzutak, chairman of the Central Control Commission, also tortured cruelly;…

Nekrich and Heller. Utopia in Power. New York: Summit Books, c1986, p. 531

As for Stalin himself, on the other hand, he had publicly admitted, not in 1956, but at least as early as 1939, the innocent people had been convicted and punished in the purge: “It cannot be said that the purge was not accompanied by grave mistakes. There were unfortunately more mistakes than might have been expected.” (Report to the 18th Congress.) That is one reason why many of those tried and convicted in the last trials were high officials from the secret police, the very people guilty of forcing false confessions.

Franklin, Bruce, Ed. The Essential Stalin; Major Theoretical Writings. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972, p. 29

When asked about the fate of the perpetrators of the repressions and about the statute of limitations, Solomontsev answered:

“With regard to those instances of violations of socialist legality in the ’30s, ’40s, and early ’50s that have been revealed, the culprits have already been punished through criminal, legal, and party channels. It is obviously not a secret to everyone that Avakumov, Ryutin, Leonov, Komarov, Likhachev, Shvartsman, and other former leaders and personnel of the USSR Ministry of State Security were sentenced to death for fabricating investigation materials….”

Even more amazing was an interview given by Pirozhkov, deputy head of the KGB. When asked how many hangmen had been brought to trial, he answered that 1,342 NKVD officials had been sentenced for severe violations of socialist legality, including Beria, Yezhov, Kobulov, Frinovsky, Agranov, Avakumov and others.

Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 266

No matter how Yezhov tried to conceal these arrests and killings from Stalin, this news reached him soon enough. Sensing his own danger, Yezhov started to befriend Stalin, trying by all sorts of methods to convince him of his dedication and loyalty to socialism. Stalin was beside himself, tried to contact Yezhov in every known place, and the answer was always that no one of his helpers knew where Yezhov was. Stalin sent a Colonel Kirilin with a package to Podlipki where he finally located Yezhov, demanding that Yezhov sign the envelope that he had received this package. Fatianov, assistant to Yezhov, tried to save his chief, willing to sign the envelope himself, but Kirilin refused, so that Yezhov was forced to sign this himself. This was a request for Yezhov to appear before the meeting of the Central Committee.

The plenum of the Central Committee ACP[B] was held in January of 1938. Stalin spoke at this Plenum, analyzed and criticized the work of the NKVD, which had abandoned its revolutionary principles. This activity of disregarding some organizational rules extended to higher commands and to some sections of the Red Army. Yezhov was removed from his post as head of the NKVD. In the ranks of the NKVD, there took place a very sharp debate and criticism to such an extent that the present “Glasnost” would be put to shame. There was a concerted aim of saving the leadership of the NKVD from criticism. But all over the country, there were stormy meetings and criticism of the leadership of the NKVD. In all districts, there took place a removal of provocateurs, spies, quislings, and perpetrators of injustices and some of them were jailed, while others, after being tried, were sentenced to death for the harm that they had done to the country, to the party, and to socialism. Right in the Central Committee of the NKVD, there was a commission looking into this, headed by Andreev. After this country-wide cleansing of the NKVD and other security branches, over 30,000 members were arrested, who, over the years, were placed there by Yezhov and before then, by Yagoda and others. One of these arrested came into my jurisdiction….

Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 79

In fact it is quite typical that in 1933, just as top decision-makers were beginning to be preoccupied with the excesses of the apparatus, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recommended in the same document strong measures to be taken not only against officials guilty of having recourse to “violence, weapons, cruel and insulting acts,” but also against participants in “mass unrests,”…

Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 245

As secretly as the Trotskyists, the heads of the troikas which had condemned them, as well as members of the execution squads, were shot in 1938. The few who escaped by chance were those who had left the service.

In 1939 came the turn of Yezhov, whose orders they had carried out and by whose order most of them had died. The only announcement was of his transfer to another post, but he vanished completely.

Berger, Joseph. Nothing but the Truth. New York, John Day Co. 1971, p. 98

On 20 June 1937, with Stalin’s approval, the first NKVD “conspirators” group was shot, among them Gai and S. V. Puzitskii, the head of the operational department of Dmitrov camp, or Dmitlag,

In early June a commission of the NKVD and the Procuracy, or dvoika, was created for quick examination of such cases. During the following months a great number of former OGPU-NKVD leaders were shot: on 14 August Pauker, Prokofiev, Shanin, and Firin; on 21 August former Foreign Department head A. Kh. Artuzov; on 2 September Piliar and S. A. Messing; on 9 October Molchanov; on 15 November Bokii and Sosnovskii; and on 27 November F. D. Medved’ and V. A. Balitskii.

According to official NKVD statistics, from 1 October 1936 to 15 August 1938, that is, during the Ezhov purge, throughout the country 2,273 state security officers were arrested.

Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 64-65.

No quotas were set in the national operations; the regional NKVD chiefs were given free rein. As a result, people were arrested indiscriminately and on a large scale. In the words of the Krasnoiarsk province Party secretary, Sobolev: “Stop playing internationalism, all these Poles, Koreans, Latvians, Germans, etc. should be beaten, these are all mercenary nations, subject to termination. . . all nationals should be caught, forced to their knees, and exterminated like mad dogs.” This may have been an exaggeration, but (after Ezhov’s fall) he was accused of this by the Krasnoiarsk state security organs’ Party organization: “By giving such instructions, Sobolev slandered the VKP(b) and comrade Stalin, in saying that he had such instructions from the Central Committee and comrade Stalin personally.”

Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 98


e) A very serious flaw in the work of state security organs is the practice of selection, promotion, and training of Cheka personnel. People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs staff as a whole are unquestionably experienced, professional Chekamen, selflessly devoted to the goals of our party. In spite of this, in practice, promotions and appointments of people have not been performance-based. In many cases people were promoted not by reason of their loyalty to the party, capabilities, or expertise, but for their servility and ability to flatter.

As a result, alien and criminal elements have infiltrated some units of state security organs. Several cases have been revealed where even foreign intelligence agents have managed to infiltrate state security organs“

…This very lack of professionalism in promoting people and also the lack of political training have created conditions that have enabled outright Trotskyite traitors to obtain supervisory positions in the Cheka.

Some of them have systematically informed members of the Trotskyite organization about People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs materials on the anti-Soviet activities of the latter (Balaniuk, head of the Taganrog Department of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, Shapovalov, head of the Novocherkassk Department of the People’s Department of Internal Affairs; Kozelskii, former head of the Secret Political Division of the Ukrainian People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs).

Koenker and Bachman, Eds. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997, p. 114 and 116

Relatives of “enemies of the people,” former oppositionists, former Mensheviks, and so on could be found at the highest levels. No agency was stricter in selection of personnel than the NKVD, yet that agency had the most alien elements, people who had once been expelled from the party, people with criminal records and dubious political histories.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 848


A most fashionable word among the opposition is the word “excesses,” as applied to grain collections. That word has become the most popular word among them, since it helps them to mask their own line. When they want to mask their own line they usually say we, of course, are not opposed to pressure being exerted on the kulak, but we are against the excesses which are being committed in this sphere and which hurt the middle peasant. They then go on to relate stories of the horrors of these excesses, they read you letters from “peasants,” panic-stricken letters from comrades, such as Comrade Markov, and they then draw the conclusion: the policy of bringing pressure to bear on the kulaks should be abandoned. How do you like that? It appears that because excesses occur in carrying out a correct policy, the correct policy must be abandoned. That is the usual trick of the opportunists: on the pretext that excesses are committed in carrying out a correct line, to abandon that line and replace it by an opportunist line. Moreover, the men in Comrade Bukharin’s group are very careful to say nothing about the fact that there is another kind of excess, which is more dangerous and more harmful, namely, excess expressed in a tendency to become merged with the kulak, to adapt oneself to the wealthy sections of the countryside, to replace the revolutionary policy of the Party by the opportunist policy of the Right deviationist.

Of course, we are all opposed to excesses. None of us want the blows directed against the kulaks to fall on the middle peasants. That is obvious, and there can be no doubt on that point. But we are most decisively opposed to the nonsensical talk about excesses which Comrade Bukharin’s group so zealously indulges in being used in order to secure the abandonment of the revolutionary policy of our Party and to substitute for it the opportunist policy of the Bukharin group.

Is there a single political measure taken by the party that has not been accompanied by excesses? The conclusion we must draw is that we have to combat excesses. But ought we for this reason decry the line itself, the only correct line? Take a measure like the seven-hour day. There can be no doubt that this is one of the most revolutionary measures carried out by our Party in recent years. Who does not know that this measure, which in itself is a most revolutionary one, is frequently accompanied by excesses, sometimes of a most objectionable kind? Does that mean that we ought to abandon the policy of the seven-hour day? Does the opposition understand what a mess it is slipping into, when it tries to make capital of the excesses committed during the grain collections?

Stalin, Joseph. Stalin’s Kampf. New York: Howell, Soskin & Company, c1940, p. 172-173


No attempt is made to fix the total number of victims of the Great Purges. Because there are no convincing statistics, all calculations are quite subjective and appear to reflect the point of view of the person making the calculation.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 7


Stalin again argued for circumspection (if not restraint) on the liquidation of Trotskyists. After noting that, of course, the present wreckers, spies, etc., had to be smashed, he reflected: “But here is the question–how to carry out in practice the task of smashing and uprooting the German-Japanese agents of Trotskyism. Does this mean that we should strike and uproot not only the real Trotskyists, but also those who wavered at some time toward Trotskyism, and then long ago came away from Trotskyism; not only those who are really Trotskyist agents for wrecking, but also those who happened once upon a time to go along a street where some Trotskyist or other had once passed? At any rate such voices were heard at the plenum. Can we consider such an interpretation of the resolution to be correct? No, we cannot consider it correct.

On this question, as on all other questions, there must be an individual, differentiated approach. You must not judge everybody by the same yardstick….

Among our responsible comrades, there are a certain number of former Trotskyists who left Trotskyism long ago, and now fight against Trotskyism not worse, but better than some of our respected comrades who never chanced to waver toward Trotskyism. It would be foolish to vilify such comrades now.”

Stalin seemed to be cautioning against uncontrolled witch hunting of persons with only tenuous connections to Trotskyism. “Voices” at the plenum had apparently supported such measures, and it seems safe to presume that they came from two sources. First, Yezhov and Molotov may have argued for such a root-and-branch approach to Trotskyism in the party and economic leadership. Stalin warned against vilifying such “responsible comrades” simply because they were former adherents of Trotskyism. Second, regional party secretaries frequently sought to demonstrate their own vigilance by “unmasking” the enemy (currently defined as Trotskyists) among the rank-and-file. Given this record, it would not have been strange for local officials to protect their cronies by encouraging the expulsion of rank-and-file members with remote (or no) connections to Trotskyism. Despite Stalin’s strictures, this practice would continue because it was the obvious way for local leaders to expel troublesome critics and subordinates while appearing to be zealous.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 144-145

…on June 14, 1939 Ulrich reported to Stalin and Molotov that a ‘large number of cases were pending against members of Right-Trotskyite, bourgeois nationalist and espionage organizations:… For the sake of secrecy, we suggest the defendants not be allowed to attend their trials. I await your orders.’ There is no indication on this document of Stalin’s response, but given the huge deficiency of officers in the face of a looming war, it is possible that he rejected it as an example of ‘mistakes and slander’.

Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 368

Thus, on the very eve of 1937, Stalin let it be known that people with “the past sins of Trotskyism” could enjoy “full confidence.”

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 90

Just as during the sharpest moments of the legal struggle against the Oppositions of the 1920s, Stalin superficially was distancing himself from the extremist moods of Central Committee members and was speaking in favor of “flexible” decisions. He declared, “you cannot measure all people by the same yardstick…. Among our leading comrades there are a certain number of former Trotskyists who long ago abandoned Trotskyism and are now waging a battle against Trotskyism no worse, and even better than a few of our respected comrades who did not have the occasion to waiver in the direction of Trotskyism.”

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 290

The third episode involved the fate of Khrushchev himself. Knowing that during the discussion of candidacies, the slightest affiliation of each candidate in the past to “Trotskyism” would be presented, inevitably in an especially biased manner, Khrushchev was terrified that some of the delegates might remember a dangerous page in his biography: during the discussion of 1923 he had spoken in support of Trotsky on the question of inner-party democracy. Understanding that if this fact became known in the heated atmosphere of the conference, he “would find it very difficult to give an explanation,” Khrushchev decided to confess directly to Stalin. Imagining what consequences this confession might entail, he sought advice from Kaganovich, who at that time was very favorably disposed toward him. Kaganovich, who “had been entrusted with observing the Moscow conference,” began to strongly dissuade Khrushchev from his intentions to tell Stalin about his “Trotskyist vacillations.” Despite his warnings, Khrushchev nevertheless decided to tell Stalin “about the mistake committed in 1923,” so that he would not appear at the conference to be a man “who had concealed compromising information.”

After he had told Stalin about his “mistake,” Khrushchev added that he “had been taken in at that time by Kharechko, who was a rather well-known Trotskyist.” Stalin reacted to his words: “Kharechko? Oh, I knew him. He was an interesting man.” (Kharechko at that time was in a Kolyma concentration camp). Khrushchev asked Stalin whether he should speak at the conference about his “mistake” from the distant past. Stalin answered: “As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have to mention it. You have told us, and that is enough.” Molotov, who was present during this conversation, objected: “No, it would be better if he spoke.” Stalin agreed: “Yes, you had better speak about it, because if you don’t, then someone might latch onto it, and then they will shower you with questions, and us with denunciations.”

Thirty years after the event, Khrushchev recalled that this discussion produced a certainty in him that “those who had been arrested were truly enemies of the people, even though they had acted so craftily that we were unable to notice because of our inexperience, political blindness, and trustfulness. Stalin…seemed to rise up even higher on the pedestal: he saw everything, knew everything, judged people’s mistakes fairly, defended and supported honest people, and punished those who were undeserving of trust.”

Kaganovich treated this episode somewhat differently in his discussions with Chuev. Kaganovich reported that Khrushchev came running to him with tears in his eyes: “What am I to do? Should I speak at the conference or not?” Kaganovich promised to seek advice on this question from Stalin. When he learned that Khrushchev “had been a Trotskyist,” Stalin asked, “And what about now?” Kaganovich replied, “He is very active, and fights sincerely.” Then Stalin said: “Let him speak, let him tell about it. Then you should speak and say the Central Committee knows about this and trusts him….” As Kaganovich recalls, “That’s what was done.”

The episode of Khrushchev’s “Trotskyist past” had a noteworthy continuation. At the session of the Presidium of the Central Committee in June 1957, when Molotov and Kaganovich proposed to remove Khrushchev from his post as First Secretary of the Central Committee, one of their main arguments was reference to Khrushchev’s “Trotskyism.” Kaganovich was particularly impassioned in exposing Khrushchev as a “Trotskyist.” When several participants at the session began to protest against this “inadmissible method,” Molotov declared, “But it all happened.”

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 301-302

As at the February-March plenum, Stalin declared his readiness to give indulgences to former Trotskyists who “have left Trotskyism, left it for good and who are putting up a very good fight against it.” Having said that he could “count 20 or 30” such people, Stalin named as an example the Politburo member Andreev, who “had been a very active Trotskyist in 1921,” but now “was fighting very well.”

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 433

Some of those present had outdone themselves in calling for punishment of all who had ever had the most tenuous ties with Trotskyists or Trotskyism. This we may infer from the fact that Stalin now cautioned against demands “heard here at the plenum” for casting out not only “real Trotskyists” but also those who had once oscillated toward Trotskyism but then turned away from it, and even those who had occasion “to walk along the same street as a Trotskyist.” An individualized approach was needed, he [Stalin] said. Some one-time Trotskyists had really reformed, and some non-Trotskyists had maintained personal ties with individual Trotskyists for a time. But such comrades must not be lumped together with the Trotskyists.

Tucker, Robert. Stalin in Power: 1929-1941. New York: Norton, 1990, p. 427

But the question arises: how is this task of smashing and uprooting the Japano-German Trotskyite agents to be carried out in practice? Does that mean that we must strike at and uproot, not only real Trotskyites, but also those who at some time or other wavered in the direction of Trotskyism and then, long ago, abandoned Trotskyism; not only those who are really Trotskyite wrecking agents, but also those who, at some time or other, had occasion to walk down a street through which some Trotskyite had passed? At all events, such voices were heard at this Plenum. Can such an interpretation of the resolution be regarded as correct? No, it cannot be regarded as correct. In this matter, as in all others, an individual, discriminate approach is required. You cannot measure everybody with the same yardstick. Such a wholesale approach can only hinder the fight against the real Trotskyite wreckers and spies.

Among our responsible comrades there are a number of former Trotskyites who abandoned Trotskyism long ago and are fighting Trotskyism not less and perhaps more effectively than some of our respected comrades who have never wavered in the direction of Trotskyism. It would be foolish to cast a slur upon such comrades now.

Among our comrades there are some who ideologically were always opposed to Trotskyism, but who, notwithstanding this, maintained personal connections with individual Trotskyites which they did not hesitate to dissolve as soon as the practical features of Trotskyism became clear to them. Of course, it would have been better had they broken off their personal friendly connections with individual Trotskyites at once, and not only after some delay. But it would be foolish to lump such comrades with the Trotskyites.

3) What does choosing the right people and putting them in the right place mean?

It means, firstly, choosing workers according to political principle, i.e., whether they are worthy of political confidence, and secondly, according to business principle, i.e., whether they are fit for such and such a definite job

Can it be said that this Bolshevik rule is adhered to by our Party comrades? Unfortunately, this cannot be said. Reference was made to this at this Plenum. But not everything was said about it. The point is that this tried and tested rule is frequently violated in our practical work, and violated in the most flagrant manner. Most often, workers are not chosen for objective reasons, but for casual, subjective, philistine, petty-bourgeois reasons. Most often, so-called acquaintances, friends, fellow-townsmen, personally devoted people, masters in the art of praising their chiefs are chosen without regard for their political and business fitness.

Stalin, Joseph. Works, Vol. 14, Speech in Reply to Debate, 1 April 1937, Red Star Press, London, Pravda 1978, pp. 279-280

The campaign against the Party opposition continued. Ezhov drafted the Politburo resolution “On the Attitude to Counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist Elements,” which Stalin signed on 29 September; the “Trotskyist-Zinovievist scoundrels” should from now on be considered “foreign agents, spies, subversives, and wreckers on behalf of the fascist bourgeoisie in Europe,” and one needed to make short work of them all. Stalin did delete one point from the draft: a demand for the summary execution of several thousand Trotskyists and the exile of thousands of others to Iakutiia.

Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 57


Finally, Stalin touched a longtime sore point: the “formal and heartless bureaucratic attitude of some of our party comrades toward the fate of individual party members” who had been expelled from the party. Moscow had denounced the practice on several occasions, but this time Stalin took a stronger stand.

“The fact is that some of our party leaders suffer from lack of attention to people, to party members…. They have, therefore, not an individual approach to party members. And just because they have not an individual approach when appraising party members, they usually act at random, either praising them wholesale, without measure, or crushing them, also wholesale and without measure, expelling thousands and tens of thousands from the party….

But only people who in essence are profoundly anti-party can have such an approach to members of the party.”

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 147

It was Stalin who called a special plenum of the Central Committee in January 1938, when more than half of the members of the Central Committee had already been arrested, to pass the resolution “On the mistakes of party organizations in expelling Communists, on the bureaucratic handling of the appeals of those expelled, and on measures to eliminate these shortcomings.” Presenting scattered figures on expulsions that had been rescinded by the Control Commission and on “enemy” accusations that had been proved groundless by the NKVD, the resolution attacked the expellers and accusers:

“All these facts show that many of our party organizations… have not exposed the cleverly massed enemy who hides… behind shouts for vengeance… and tries to slaughter our Bolshevik cadres and sow distrust and excessive suspiciousness in our ranks.”

Whereupon the Central Committee ordered all party organizations to cease “mass, wholesale expulsions,” to decide each case on an individual basis, to get rid of party officials who did not take the individual approach, and to review the appeals of expelled members within the three-month period.

… Only on the eve of the 18th Party Congress, after Yezhov’s dismissal, did the press begin to emphasize Stalin’s leading role in the assault on “enemies of the people.” The theme was continued by many speakers at the congress itself in March 1939. Shkiryatov, for example, declared:…

“Comrade Stalin has directed the work of purging enemies who have wormed their way into the party. Comrade Stalin taught us how to fight wreckers in a new way; he taught us how to get rid of these hostile elements quickly and decisively.”

…Many years later, further details were made public. At first Shkiryatov was given the job of checking Mishakova’s accusations. He supported her, but only to the extent of suggesting that Kosarev be reprimanded for “persecuting” Mishakova. Shkiryatov sent this proposal to Stalin, with a covering note: “Dear Joseph Vissarionovich: As always, I am sending this memo to you. If something is not right, you will correct me.” And Stalin did “correct” Shkiryatov. In his speech to the seventh plenum of the Komsomol Central Committee, Shkiryatov shouted: “You, Kosarev, wanted to kill everything Stalinist and Bolshevik in Mishakova, but you didn’t succeed, because Stalin intervened in this matter.”

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 528-529

On this question, as on all other questions, there must be an individual, differentiated approach. You must not measure everyone with the same yardstick. Such a sweeping approach can only harm the cause of struggle against the real Trotskyite wreckers and spies.

Among our responsible comrades there are a certain number of former Trotskyites who left Trotskyism long ago, and now fight against Trotskyism not worse but better than some of our respected comrades who never chanced to waver toward Trotskyism. It would be foolish to vilify such comrades now.

Among our comrades there are also those who always stood against Trotskyism ideologically, but in spite of this kept up personal contacts with individual Trotskyites, which they did not delay in liquidating as soon as the actual visage of Trotskyism became clear to them. It is, of course, not a good thing that they did not break off their personal friendly connections with individual Trotskyites at once, but belatedly. But it would be silly to lump such comrades together with the Trotskyites.

Stalin, Joseph. Mastering Bolshevism. San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1972, p. 33

Given the explicit assumption at the February 1937 Plenum that “enemies” were within the gates, Stalin’s measured call for an “individual, differentiated approach” to the verification of comrades was overwhelmed by the cacophony of calls for vigilance, for giving the NKVD increased powers, for smashing the enemy. His cautions may have tempered somewhat the resolution of the Plenum, but such nuances were drowned out by the rallying cries of the advocates of vigilance, comrades who believed that the August 1936 and January 1937 trials and other recent revelations proved that “enemies” threatened the party and national security. Of course, none of them believed that they themselves were “enemies.”

Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 221.


Although Stalin certainly supported the liquidation of highly placed “spies, wreckers, and enemies” and a promotion of “control from below,” there is no reason to believe that he intended for the fusion of the two campaigns to produce the chaos it did. Almost immediately, Moscow began a series of unsuccessful attempts to limit the chaos while continuing to support investigations of highly placed “enemies.”

Even as the press continued to push anti-bureaucratic and mass criticism themes, Moscow warned against excesses that could lead to chaos….

In June 1937, the press continued to criticize radical “excesses.” Pravda complained that criticism of leaders had sometimes gone too far. Production and labor discipline had suffered as rank-and-file activists criticized their leaders and managers. The press warned that such excesses were dangerously reminiscent of the anti-party activities of Trotskyists….

Later in October 1937, Stalin made one of his rare 0lympian pronouncements, which esoterically condemned radical excesses. In a reception for lower-and middle-level leaders of industry from the Donbas, Stalin toasted the leaders of Soviet industry. Although he did not directly denounce radicalism, he went out of his way to explain that Soviet technicians and economic leaders, unlike their prerevolutionary counterparts, deserved the trust and respect of the Soviet people. Stressing that members of the Soviet intelligentsia and management cadre were drawn from the proletariat, he defended such leaders and warned that it was wrong to persecute all leaders. It would have been unnecessary for him to make such remarks had radical specialist baiting not been out of control.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 178

Although sources on this period are weak and vague, there are signs that Stalin may not have been entirely satisfied with other events in mid-1937. He certainly favored an offensive against disobedient, suspicious, and corrupt members of the bureaucracy, but it is by no means certain that he was comfortable with the accompanying excesses. For whatever reason, he seems to have tried to reduce the cult of the NKVD by putting a certain distance between himself and the radical efforts of the police.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 182


Although Moscow politicians, including Stalin, tried to channel and control political campaigns, the evidence shows that they had great difficulty doing so. As in the cases of the Shakhty trial, collectivization, and membership screenings, Moscow had to intervene forcefully to limit and defuse movements it had unleashed. The repeated but unheeded demands to halt expulsions of passives between 1935 and 1939 are examples of Moscow’s inability to control events. “Fulfillment of decisions” remained as elusive as ever.

In 1937 and 1938, Stalin and company tried to contain radicalism through press articles, speeches, revised electoral plans, and deglorifying the police. That they had to take such measures shows their lack of tight control over events.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 195

But we have still another error in this field. The fact is that our comrades do not recognize the mean between two extremes. It is sufficient for a worker, a Party member, to commit some small offense, to be late two or three times at a Party meeting, not to pay membership dues for some reason or other, and in a flash he is thrown out of the Party.

No interest is taken in the degree of his offense, the cause of his non-appearance at the meeting, the cause of the non–payment of membership dues. The bureaucracy of this is simply unparalleled. It is not difficult to understand that, precisely as a result of such a heartless policy, splendid skilled workers, excellent Stakhanovites, have been thrown out of the Party. And was it impossible, before expelling them from the Party, to give a warning, and if this had no effect, to censure them, or administer a reprimand, and, if this had no effect, to set a period for reformation, or in the extreme case to reduce to the position of a candidate, but not expel them with a sweep of the hand from the Party?

Of course it was possible.

But this requires an attentive attitude to people, to the Party members, to the fact of Party membership. And this is exactly what some of our comrades lack.

It is high time to put a stop to this outrageous practice.

Stalin, Joseph. Mastering Bolshevism. San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1972, p. 48


On March 5, 1937, Stalin told the Central Committee that only active Trotskyists still loyal to their exiled leader had to be repressed. “Among our comrades,” he said, “are a certain number of former Trotskyites who abandoned Trotskyism a long time ago and are fighting against it. It would be stupid to defame these comrades.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 383


On his [Stalin] suggestion the Central Committee unexpectedly appointed a special commission to investigate NKVD activity; it included, among others, Beria & Malenkov. During the discussion of this matter in the Politburo, Kaganovich suggested that Beria be appointed deputy people’s commissar of internal affairs in order to “facilitate his access to all the materials of the NKVD.” This proposal was accepted.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 456


Hardly anyone paid attention to this appointment either within the Soviet Union or outside its borders. But for Yezhov and his circle it was an alarming signal…. As soon as Yezhov was replaced by Beria, the NKVD was hit by the usual wave of dismissals and arrests. Almost all of Yezhov’s close associates and dozens of leading NKVD officials were arrested and shot. Among those arrested were Frinovsky and Zakovsky, men left over from Yagoda’s days; Maltsev, “chief executioner” of Novosibirsk oblast; Berman, the sadistic head of the Byelorussian NKVD; Lavrushin, head of the Gorky NKVD, and his deputies Kaminsky and Listengurt. Among others who were arrested and soon shot was Redens, husband of Alliluyeva’s sister. In 1937 he had directed the mass repression in Moscow and then, as NKVD chief in Kazakhstan, had decimated the party and government apparatus of that republic. The head of the Ukrainian NKVD, Uspensky, was also eliminated. Most prison wardens got a taste of their own prison discipline, including Popov of Butyrskaya, Vainshtok of Yaroslavl, and the warden of Solovetskaya. They were all quickly shot, as were most of the heads of the major prison camps and administrative units of the Gulag. As a rule, these people had occupied their posts in the NKVD for only a short time, from the removal of Yagoda to the removal of Yezhov.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 457


In late 1938 and the first part of 1939 Feldman acted as first secretary of the party’s Odessa oblast committee. He was a delegate at the 18th Party Congress,… Feldman left his friends the following memorandum about this gathering:

“When the Congress was ending, the Council of Elders gathered in one of the halls of the Kremlin. In front of the elders at a long table, as if on a stage, sat Andreev, Molotov, & Malenkov. Behind them, far to the rear, in a corner to the left sat Stalin, puffing away at his pipe. Andreev stated that since the congress was finishing its work, it was necessary to nominate candidates for the Central Committee that was to be newly elected. The first to be named were members of the previous Central Committee, except of course for those who had fallen. They came to Yezhov. Andreev asked, “What do you think?” After a short silence someone said that Yezhov was one of Stalin’s people’s commissars, everyone knew him, he should be kept. “Any objections?” Everyone was silent. Then Stalin took the floor. He got up, walked to the front table, and, still smoking his pipe, called out:

“Yezhov! Where are you? Come up here!”

From one of the back rows Yezhov came up to the table.

“Well! What do you think of yourself? Are you capable of being a member of the Central Committee?”

Yezhov turned pale and in a broken voice answered that his whole life had been devoted to the party and to Stalin, that he loved Stalin more than his own life and didn’t know anything he had done wrong that could provoke such a question.

“Is that so?” Stalin asked ironically. “And who was Frinovsky? Did you know him?”

“Yes, of course I knew him,” answered Yezhov. “Frinovsky was my deputy. He—”

Stalin cut Yezhov short, asking who Shapiro was, what Ryzhova had been (Yezhov’s secretary), who Fyodorov was, and who others were. (By this time all these people had been arrested.)

“Joseph Vissarionovich! You know it was I–I myself!–who disclosed their conspiracy! I came to you and reported it….”

Stalin didn’t let him continue. “Yes, yes, yes! When you felt you were about to be caught, then you came in a hurry. But what about before that? Were you organizing a conspiracy? Do you want to kill Stalin? Top officials of the NKVD are plotting, but you, supposedly aren’t involved. You think I don’t see anything?! Do you remember who you sent on a certain date for duty with Stalin? Who? With revolvers? Why revolvers near Stalin? Why? To kill Stalin? And if I hadn’t noticed? What then?!”

Stalin went on to accuse Yezhov of working too feverishly, arresting many people who were innocent and covering up for others.

“Well? Go on, get out of here! I don’t know, comrades, is it possible to keep him as a member of the Central Committee? I doubt it. Of course, think about it…. As you wish…. But I doubt it!”

Yezhov, of course, was unanimously struck from the list; after a recess he did not return to the hall and was not seen again at the Congress….

Yezhov was not arrested right away, however. He continued to appear at the offices of the Commissariat of Water Transport. His behavior showed evidence of severe depression and even psychological disorder. While attending meetings of the collegium of the Commissariat, Yezhov remained silent and did not intervene in any way. Sometimes he made doves and airplanes out of paper, sailed them, and went after them, at times even crawling under the tables and chairs. All this in silence. A few days after the Congress, when a group of NKVD operatives entered the conference room of the collegium, Yezhov rose and said, with his face almost aglow, “How long I have waited for this!” He put his gun on the table and they led him away….

Yezhov’s arrest was not reported in the press. The man whom Pravda had called “the nation’s favorite,” who possessed “the greatest vigilance, a will of iron, a fine proletarian sensitivity, enormous organizational talent, and exceptional intelligence” was not mentioned again in any newspaper.

Yezhov was not shot right after his arrest. A long investigation was conducted in connection with his case. He was not tortured, since he readily confessed to all charges, changing or correcting them when necessary and, in general, calmly acceeding to all the demands of the investigators. The old Bolshevik Shabalkin, who died in 1965, gave me the following account of Yezhov’s subsequent fate:

“When they took me from the Solovetskie Islands back to Butyrskaya prison for reinterrogation, I found myself in a cell with Bulatov, a well-known party official. Bulatov was refusing to testify and demanding interrogation by Yezhov himself. (A few years earlier Bulatov and Yezhov, when they were in charge of CC departments, had lived next to each other and often visited each other.) In the fall 1938 Bulatov was taken to interrogation for the fifth time. Suddenly a door in the wall opened and Yezhov entered the interrogator’s office. “Well,” he [Yezhov] said, “is Bulatov testifying?” Not at all, Comrade General Commissar,” replied the investigator. “Then lay it on him good,” said Yezhov, and left by the same door…. After that Bulatov was beaten several times, but then they seemed to forget about him. A few months later, in 1939, Bulatov was again taken to interrogation and for more than a day did not return to the cell. When he came back, he fell on his bunk and began to sob. Two days later Bulatov told Shabalkin that they had taken him to some other prison and into an investigators office, where he saw Yezhov, now arrested and held in confinement. This was a confrontation. In a monotonous and indifferent voice Yezhov began to tell how he had been preparing to get rid of Stalin and seize power and how Bulatov had been one of the members of his organization, whom, for “better protection,” they had decided to keep in Butyrskaya prison. Bulatov naturally denied this slander, but Yezhov kept to his story.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 458-460

The airplane designer Yakovlev recalls the following in his memoirs:

“In the summer of 1940 Stalin said these precise words in a conversation with me:

“Yezhov is a rat; in 1938 he killed many innocent people. We shot him for that.”

I wrote these words down immediately after returning from the Kremlin.”

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 529

Here is one such document, read to the 22nd Congress by Serdyuk:

“Comrade Stalin:

I am sending for confirmation four lists of people whose cases are before the Military Collegium:

(1) List No. 1 (general)

(2) List No. 2 (former military personnel)

(3) List No. 3 (former NKVD personnel)

(4) List No. 4 (wives of enemies of the people)

I request approval for first-degree condemnation of all these people.

Signed Yezhov

Condemnation in the first-degree meant shooting.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 530

Over the autumn of 1938 Stalin set up a commission to investigate the NKVD. It reported adversely, as was no doubt intended. In December Yezhov was replaced by Beria. Over the next few months many of Yezhov’s men were shot. But Yezhov still remained in at least one of his various posts–People’s Commissar of Water Transport. And he appeared on the platform at Lenin’s birthday celebrations in February 1939. [LENIN’S BIRTHDAY IS IN APRIL STUPID] At the informal Council of Elders which met before the 18th Party Congress in March to decide on a new Central Committee, he was present as a current member of that body. When his name was suggested from the chair, there was at first no objection, and in fact speakers noted his loyal service, until Stalin, puffing his pipe, walked from the corner where he was sitting to the front table and called Yezhov forward:

‘Well! What do you think of yourself? Are you capable of being a member of the Central Committee?’

Yezhov turned pale and in a broken voice answered that his whole life had been devoted to the party and to Stalin, that he loved Stalin more than his own life and didn’t know anything he had done wrong that could revoke such a question.

‘Is that so?’ Stalin asked ironically. ‘And who was Frinovsky? Did you know him?’

‘Yes, of course a do him,’ answered Yezhov. ‘Frinovsky was my deputy. He–‘

Stalin cut Yezhov short, asking who Shapiro was, what Ryzhova had been (Yezhov’s secretary), who Fyodorov was, and who others were.

‘Joseph Vissarionovich! You know it was I–I myself!–who disclosed their conspiracy! I came to you and reported it…’

Stalin didn’t let him continue. ‘Yes, yes, yes! When you felt you were about to be caught, then you came in a hurry. But what about before that? Were you organizing a conspiracy? Did you want to kill Stalin? Top officials of the NKVD are plotting, but you, supposedly are not involved. You think I didn’t see anything? Do you remember who you sent on a certain date for duty with Stalin? Who? With revolvers? Why revolvers near Stalin? Why? To kill Stalin? And if I hadn’t noticed? What then?’

Stalin went on to accuse Yezhov of working too feverishly, arresting many people who were innocent and covering up for others.

‘Well? Go on, get out of here! I don’t know comrades, is a possible to keep him as a member of the Central Committee? I doubt it. Of course, think about it…. As you wish… But I doubt it!’

and that was the end of Yezhov. Arrested a few days later, he was shot on 4 February 1940 [approximately a year later].

Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York, New York: Viking, 1991, p. 208

“It’s high time to do something about the NKVD,” he [Stalin] said. “If that madman of a Yezhov keeps on the way he’s going, he’ll arrest me yet for plotting against Stalin. It can’t go on! But just now I can’t do anything about your engineers. Beria is coming here the day after tomorrow, and I think I’m going to name him the head of a committee to re-organize the NKVD completely. I’ll ask him to make an investigation into the case of your engineers.”

I left Sochi the following day. Three months later Beria, now head of the NKVD instead of Yezhov, who later committed suicide in the asylum to which he was sent, freed my engineers.

Svanidze, Budu. My Uncle, Joseph Stalin. New York: Putnam, c1953, p. 151

Although not a delegate to the 18th Party Congress, in March 1939, he [Yezhov] was present as a member of the outgoing Central Committee. And when the Congress’s “Senioren Konvent,” or informal Council of Elders, met to consider names for the new Central Committee, Yezhov’s went forward. There were no objections until Stalin said he thought him unsuitable, since he was involved in a plot with Frinovsky and others to use Stalin’s own bodyguard to assassinate him. Yezhov answered that it had been he who had exposed this plot. But Stalin retorted that this was only to cover himself; moreover, he had arrested many innocent people while protecting the guilty. Stalin ended by telling those present that in his opinion Yezhov was unfit to serve on the Central Committee, though it was, of course, up to them to decide.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 432

The only epitaph that Stalin left to his faithful servant [Yezhov] was recorded in a private conversation. Over a luncheon with a young protege Stalin confided, “Yezhov was a scoundrel. He killed our best people. The man went to the dogs. You call him at the Ministry, they say he has gone to the Central Committee. Call him there, they say he is at work. You send after him to his house, he is lying in bed dead drunk. How many innocent people he destroyed! For that we had him shot.”

Ulam, Adam. Stalin; The Man and his Era. New York: Viking Press, 1973, p. 487


The special commission appointed to investigate NKVD activity continued its work, with Andreev as its new chairman. Andreev himself had been very active during 1937-1938 in the assault on “enemies of people,” and this was Stalin’s chief consideration in selecting him to head the commission.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 465

On 11 September 1934, Stalin complained to Zhdanov and Kuibyshev about misguided secret-police coercion: “Find out all the mistakes of the deduction methods of the workers of the GPU…. Free persecuted persons who are innocent if they are innocent and…purge the OGPU of people with specific “deduction methods” and punish them all–whoever they may be.”

Montefiore, Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 141


One of the memoirs I have is by a former high official in the NKVD, who wrote:

“We declare, with full responsibility, that only individual, morally unstable, and unprincipled chekists went so far as to apply physical torture and torment, for which they were shot in 1939, following the November [1938] letter to the Politburo on excesses in investigation.”

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 486


It is also instructive to observe how Stalin frequently limited himself, at first, to shifting a major figure without arresting him, although the NKVD already had fabricated testimony against him. The man would be transferred to a less important or sometimes a more important post;…

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 544


If many ordinary citizens took advantage of the terror to pursue their own despicable aims, what could be expected from the leaders on all the various levels, including Stalin’s closest aides?

… The newly appointed people’s commissars, directors of major enterprises and institutions, obkom and raikom secretaries, and state security officials were given the right to decide the fate of Soviet citizens. Each of them was virtually the master of his domain, and many of them abused this power, forming cliques of hangers-on and unprincipled careerists around themselves. Thus a basis was created for ceaseless mass repression.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 613

A great deal of work has been done in the West on the relative power and influence of Moscow versus local political organizations. We now have studies of the local judiciary and of the local process of collectivization. While Moscow gave the orders, it seems that local party bodies, far removed from the capital, carried out policies independently and frequently at odds with those desired by Moscow. Campaigns–including purges–could be stalled, sped up, aborted, or implemented in ways which suited local conditions and interests. Local judicial bodies conducted trials and pronounced sentences wildly at variance with the procedures prescribed in the center but in accord with the political interests of local machines. Local agents of agricultural collectivization were sometimes genuinely “dizzy with success.” They often jumped the gun in initiating the process, outran central targets, violated and ignored directives which did not suit them.

Local proizvol (arbitrary misconduct) and disobedience of central directives were endemic, particularly in collectivization and in the purges of the 1930s.

Nove, Alec, Ed. The Stalin Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 128

…the state played a major role. At the same time, the vitally important specific and personal decisions of life and death for most of the population were made locally. How many “kulaks” were to be deported from which villages? Who had the power to arrest them? Whose name appeared on the purge list? Which local faction controlled the NKVD? If one is interested in either a social history of the common folk or in “total history,” one should look less at those at the pinnacle, who tried to push the tides one way or another, and more at the forces that were really important to the fates of most people.

… If, for example, implementation of political, judicial, and agricultural policies in the country was so dependent on local conditions and alignments, how can one be certain that the actual results, on the ground, were an accurate reflection of Stalin’s wishes? Even if one assumes Stalin’s personality was the only or main factor in the initiation of policies, one must still explain the obvious disparities between central orders and local outcomes: for example the failure of local agencies to adhere to Moscow’s collectivization (and later, purge) targets.

Why was it that during the membership chistki (purges) of 1933-36, local leaders expelled so many more members than Moscow wished? Why was it that practically no local officials were purged until the power of their “family circles” was broken in 1937? What were the personal and political interests of those local officials who decided who was to be purged and when? How much of the… selection of victims, was “just local stuff”?

The complex political sociology of the system involved kolkhozniki, factory workers, rank-and-file party activists, local party apparatchiki, regional first secretaries, and several factions in Moscow. Each group had its own interests and agendas and, with varying limits, the means to realize them…. Local actors may not have decided national policies but they certainly determined their results. R.W. Davies is right to draw our attention to “autonomous or uncontrolled behavior at various levels.”

Consider the party membership purges (chistki) of 1933-6. At the lowest level, that of party cells, the membership targeted the peasantry’s traditional class enemies as well as those with dubious Civil War pasts. This included former tsarist policeman, wealthy peasants, former noble landowners and their associates, White Army participants, locally known crooks, members of the intelligentsia and generally unpopular types who had entered the party. As the Smolensk Archive transcripts of these grass-roots chistka meetings show, this process victimized innocent bystanders, relatives and even past associates of the above categories: the “genetic” peasant approach again. Local party secretaries tried to protect their political machines by defending those of their number who work targets of rank-and-file wrath and by running up the purge score. These secretaries expelled “passive” (non-participating or non-dues paying) members, those who could be tripped up on ideological questions and particular members who had made trouble for the machine.

[Footnote]: “Passives were not mentioned or targeted in the instructions for the 1933 Chistka, but were nonetheless the largest single group expelled in the operation itself.–Page 149

This was not at all what the Stalinist center had in mind, as its subsequent furious reaction showed.

[Footnote]: From the “outside,” though, it was and is easy to mistake this mass purging at the hands of local secretaries for a Stalin plan to terrorize everyone.–Page 149

Indeed, the Moscow leadership spent a good deal of time trying to clean up the mess that local conduct of the membership screenings had caused. Beginning in June 1936 and picking up steam after January 1938, the center encouraged those expelled to appeal to higher authorities. Party committees, local control commissions, the Party Control Commission and the Central Committee itself were all involved in considering appeals for reinstatement. Hundreds of thousands were readmitted. Nationally, by June 1, 1938, 51.6% of all purge penalties and expulsions that were appealed were reduced or vacated by higher authorities.

When the Yezhov vigilance campaign began in mid-1936, local party secretaries were happy to direct the enemy accusation against has-been ex-oppositionists. When Stalin and the Moscow leadership demanded further vigilance against local machines, the local leaders were still able to protect themselves by turning police attention to helpless and unprotected common folk who were accused of suspicious connections and singing counter-revolutionary songs. When rank-and-file party members managed against all odds to spontaneously overthrow local leaders, the provincial leadership took in the ranking victims and protected them from police trouble. When rank-and-file party members were expelled on the other hand, the machine controlled NKVD frequently arrested them.

In Smolensk, for example, as long as the party obkom controlled the local NKVD (whose chief sat on the Smolensk Party Buro and was part of its nomenklatura, or personal list), no important members of the oblast and raion party leadership were arrested. Only when the Smolensk machine was attacked by Moscow in June 1937 and a new NKVD chief sent in were party leaders arrested. Who controlled whom locally was once again the key to understanding the impact of the event on real people.

Nove, Alec, Ed. The Stalin Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 128-131

Peasants and rank-and-file party members accused and purged each other, accusing each other of being byvshie liudi (former people) from the old regime, such as kulaks, former gendarmes and White Army soldiers. Relatives of enemies of the people were also swept away as common folk used familiar genealogical and kin categories as their reference points in defining enemies. Blind and pitiless peasants and others also lashed out at the local intelligentsia in traditional assertions of cultural and social resentment…. Peasants naturally jumped to the conclusion that “our” dead livestock had been poisoned by “them”–the educated specialists…. In some collective farms, “one half expelled the other half.”

…Before the mid-1930s, the “enemy,” in both official Soviet and customary peasant usages, referred to the traditional social enemy: the kulak, the nobleman, the White Army officer, and so forth. By 1937, though, Stalin had identified “enemies with party cards,” suggesting that the bureaucrat was the class enemy.

Rank-and-file party members lashed out at their secretarial leaders, accusing them of bureaucratism, corruption, and dictatorial methods. Factory workers attacked their managers with the same kind of populist anger. Even the newly prompted Red Specialists came under fire in the pitiless assertion of radicalism. In response, the threatened official strata fought back by blaming their subordinates. Party secretaries expelled huge numbers of rank-and-file members in order to protect themselves and display their vigilance. Collective farm chairmen desperately ejected troublesome peasants from the kolkhozy for the same reasons. It was a war of all against all and the battle lines reflected social conflicts, some of them decades or even centuries old.

… Party secretaries, anxious to feed their industrial workers, extend their own rural powers and increase their budget allocations truly became “dizzy with success.” For their own reasons, and encouraged by Moscow’s irresponsible cheerleading, they routinely exceeded dekulakization and collectivization targets, sponsored intense religious persecution and illlegally arrested vast numbers of recalcitrant peasants.

Again at the micro level, local peasants and party activists dekulakized unpopular “outsiders”: those who had violated communal traditions by getting ahead, members of the rural intelligentsia, and other traditional enemies. Things were out of control; everyone was arresting everyone. Of course, Stalin and his clique share ultimate responsibility for these “excesses.” Their strident rhetoric and sloganeering had sparked the fire in the first place and in their attempts to build momentum for dekulakization and collectivization they had (until March 1930) encouraged “energetic” measures.

As they would do five years later during the chistki, the Stalinist center intervened during collectivization in an attempt to control the process. Stalin’s March 1930 “Dizzy With Success” article was the best known such attempt. Sending in the supposedly disciplined and tempered proletarian 25,000ers was another and the Stalin-Molotov May 1933 decree limiting arrests and detentions was a third.

In the collectivization, chistki, and Ezhovshchina phenomena we find the same dynamics at work: the anatomy of a radical Stalinist transformation. First, the leadership announces the campaign, pressure for which had been developing in the party. The announcement is vague and confused and the documents show signs of poor planning and internal conflict. Nevertheless, in order to overcome traditional inertia of local interests, enthusiastic measures are demanded in strident language as the party is shoved to the left.

Second, the decision percolates down, local officials at all levels variously delay, speed up, re-interpret, or twist the idea to suit both local conditions and their own interests. Implementation of the campaign, quite regardless of Stalin’s presumed intentions, alternatively reflects historical class hatreds, Civil War legacies, zealotry, personal rivalry, and the needs of official “family circle” cliques.

Third, things rapidly get out of control. Insofar as anyone is directing events, it is the local party secretary. But much is beyond his power, not to mention Stalin’s. The Stalinist center intervenes through jawboning speeches, exemplary indictments of particular organizations and individuals, an official decrees. More often than not, the intervention is on the side of restraining local chaos and enhancing Moscow’s control over the territorial apparatchiki: Stalin now shoves them to the right. Moscow tries to protect favored groups, break local “family circles,” and conveniently pose as the friend of the persecuted “little person.”

Finally, the central leadership decides to attenuate the campaign or end it altogether. Once again, this requires multiple statements and interventions. Halting a campaign was much more difficult than starting it precisely because of the strong influence of local attitudes, multiple actors, and omnipresent confusion. The entire process is characterized by zig-zag pushes of the political/social leviathan to the left and right in an attempt to direct it.

Several times Moscow intervened to restore the party membership of rank-and-file persons expelled by local officials. Stalin had to intervene personally to stop the anti-specialist zeal of local party members in industrial centers. A highly publicized January 1938 Central Committee resolution, which Stalin must have approved, condemned the wild orgies of vigilance at lower levels….

Nove, Alec, Ed. The Stalin Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 131-134

Collectivization and collective farming were shaped less by Stalin and the central authorities than by the undisciplined and irresponsible activity of rural officials, the experimentation of collective farm leaders left to fend for themselves, and the realities of a backward countryside and a traditional peasantry which defied Bolshevik fortress storming.

…The center never managed to exert its control over the countryside as it had intended in the schema of revolution from above.

Viola, Lynne. The Best Sons of the Fatherland. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987, p. 216


The third objection to the theory that Stalin planned everything to create a climate of universal fear relates to the process of arrest itself. Except for a few well-publicized show trials in Moscow and in the localities, most arrests were carried out quietly and without publicity. The press in the period, while filled with editorials about maintaining vigilance, carried practically no lists or even mentions of those arrested. It is almost as if the authorities wanted to keep them a secret: hardly an effective plan to generate universal terror.
Nove, Alec, Ed. The Stalin Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 134


Yezhov was seen for the last time in February 1939 on the Presidium of a meeting commemorating the death of Lenin. Soon he was arrested and charged with “leftist overreaction.” The next purge of the NKVD began at the same time. His assistants, the heads of departments, and his closest henchmen were arrested.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 39


In June 1936, Stalin interrupted Yezhov at a Central Committee Plenum to complain about so many party members being expelled:
YEZHOV: Comrades, as a result of the verification of party documents, we expelled more than 200,000 members of the party.
STALIN: [interrupts] Very many.
YEZHOV: Yes, very many. I will speak about this….
STALIN: [interrupts] If we expelled 30,000… [inaudible remark] and 600 former Trotskyists and Zinovievists, it would be a bigger victory.
YEZHOV: More than 200,000 members were expelled. Part of this number of party members, as you know, have been arrested.
At about this time, Stalin wrote a letter to regional party secretaries complaining about their excessive “repression” of the rank-and-file. This led to a national movement to reinstate expelled party members,…
[Later in this plenum, Stalin spoke specifically on this question. Circumstantial evidence suggests that he was genuinely concerned that too many of the rank-and-file had been expelled because such large numbers of disaffected former members could become an embittered opposition.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 51


Mark Tolts revealed in late 1987 that results of the 1937 census had indicated a population of 162 million. This flatly contradicted the claims of Rosefielde and Antonov-Ovseenko that the 1937 census had indicated that the population in the USSR was only 156 million and that an additional 6 million deaths needed to be added to estimates of excess mortality.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 276

These figures [of deaths] are much lower than many of the excess mortality and population loss figures that are cited in the West. Mace believes that 5-7 million for the Ukraine alone is a “conservative figure;” Conquest claims 5 million Ukrainian famine deaths, and 8 million overall including the North Caucasus and Kazakhstan; but on top of this he wishes to add another 6.5 million deaths as a result of dekulakization.” The figures given by Mace and Conquest are impossible to accept.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 280

By the mid-30s the old hoary anti-Soviet slanders were wearing thin. Capitalist propagandists had prophesied the quick downfall of the Soviet regime, but it had not fallen down. In the columns of their “respectable” journals they had killed by “Ukrainian famines” many times the total population of the USSR.
Klugmann, James. From Trotsky to Tito. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1951, p. 83

Jerry Hough, of Duke University, has suggested just how ambiguous such calculations can be. Using the dramatically rising death rates in Russia in the 1990s, and with perhaps a bit of tongue-in-cheek, Hough calculated that 1.5 million “extra deaths” occurred in Russia in just the first four years of Yeltsin’s tenure–a total that, Hough points out, is “considerably larger than the number Stalin killed in the Great Purge” of the 1930s….
If we want to play this scorecard game with isms, we could post a huge number of deaths to the account of capitalist and nationalist competition, starting with imperialism and two world wars and ending with excess deaths in Yeltsin’s democratic Russia.
The Future Did Not Work by J. Arch Getty, Book Review of The Passing of an Illusion by Franois Furet [March 2000 Atlantic Monthly]


“But the GPU isn’t composed of lunatics,” I (Peter Kleist) said. It’s not going to take useful and sincere men away from their job merely because once they breathed the same air as Trotsky.”
… If the GPU charges a man it has usually good grounds. There are hundreds of thousands of people who had contact with Trotsky. Are they all in prison? What infinitesimal fraction of them has been imprisoned. If you admit that Trotsky is a threat to the USSR today you must admit that the GPU is justified in caution.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 105

The press constantly…[stated] that the ‘Trotskyite-Zinovievite wreckers’ were planning terrorist acts against the party and state leadership and that above all ‘they wanted to kill Comrade Stalin’, also that ‘Comrade Stalin, who was in constant peril, would concern himself with anyone who had made mistakes and who wants to improve himself.’ At the February-March 1937 plenum, Molotov read out one of the leader’s letters as an example of ‘Comrade Stalin’s solicitous attitude to the cadres’:
“To town committee secretary Comrade Golyshev, Perm.
The Central Committee has received information concerning the persecution and slander of the manager of the motor factory, Poberezhsky, on account of his past sins as a Trotskyist. In view of the fact that both Poberezhsky and his fellow workers are now working conscientiously and have the full trust of the Central Committee, we request that Comrade Poberezhsky and his fellow workers be protected against such slander and that an atmosphere of complete trust be created around him.”
‘That’s the way to treat former Trotskyist comrades who are now working honestly in their jobs.’ Molotov concluded.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 265


… I asked [Jonescu], pointing to the turbaned man who was asleep, “Who’s he?”
Jonescu said, “He? Oh, he’s a Persian carpet dealer who came to Baku to sell shawls to the Trust and then began to bribe the officials to take inferior qualities and pay high prices.”
“What’s the sentence?”
Jonescu replied, “Expulsion–and you can believe me, if you’re expelled from the Soviet Union it’s much more easy for a camel to pass through the needle’s eye or even for a rich man to enter Paradise than it is for a deportee to re-enter the Soviet Union. You can apply for visas till you get writer’s cramps. A sea of ink won’t blot out your stain. What the devil! The Soviet Union’s got to be rigid. I’m a Socialist. This is the world’s first Socialist country. The Revolution is still taking place. There are still counter-revolutionaries lurking in dark corners. Only a stiff broom can sweep them out. There are still a horde of interventionists ready to pour their agents over the frontiers. What do the sentimentalists ask the Soviet Union to do? Open her frontiers, embrace with open arms the counter-revolutionaries waiting to press themselves to her bosom? The GPU must be vigilant. Divorce yourself from the personal accident which has made you a prisoner. Then say whether the GPU is right or wrong.”
“It’s true,” I said, “I don’t abuse the GPU. I can’t say that I’ve liked being in prison. I haven’t. But I have been treated considerately, without brutality, and in the circumstances, fairly.”
Edelman, Maurice. G.P.U. Justice. London: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd.,1938, p. 182


Altogether, 364,437 prisoners were released from the gulag in 1937, though the meaning of this figure is not clear.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p.69

In July 1946, for instance, Beria reported that his corrective labor camps contain more than 100,000 prisoners who were completely incapable of further useful work and whose upkeep was costing the state a fortune. Beria recommended that the incurably ill and the mentally disturbed be released forthwith. Stalin agreed, but insisted that especially dangerous criminals and those serving hard labor, however sick, be kept in.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 235

…Malenkov managed to persuade Stalin into performing a ‘humanitarian’ act. He showed his boss a report from the head of the Gulag, Dobrynin, which stated that in 1949 there were 503,375 women in camps and exile colonies. Malenkov suggested they should consider releasing women with children under the age of seven, since the cost of maintaining children in the camps was running at 166 million rubles a year. After careful scrutiny of the figures, Stalin agreed, and went further by decreeing that such mothers should henceforth be employed on forced labor in their home towns. Any women who had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activity, however, were to be excluded from this category.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 523

Stalin’s camps were different from Hitler’s. Tens of thousands of prisoners were released every year, upon completion of their sentences…. Rations and medical care were substandard, but were often not dramatically better elsewhere in Stalin’s Soviet Union and were not designed to hasten the inmates’ deaths,… Similarly, the overwhelming weight of opinion among scholars working in the new archives (including Werth) is that the terrible famine of the 1930s was the result of Stalinist bungling and rigidity rather than some genocidal plan.
Getty, J. Arch. “The Future Did Not Work.” Atlantic Monthly Book Review of The Passing of an Illusion by Franois Furet, March 2000.

How long was the average prison sentence? The length of prison sentences has been the subject of the most scurrilous rumour-mongering in Western propaganda. The usual insinuation is that to be a convict in the Soviet Union involved endless years in prison–whoever went in never came out. This is completely untrue. The vast majority of those who went to prison in Stalin’s time were in fact convicted to a term of 5 years at most.
The statistics reproduced in the American Historical Review show the actual facts. Common criminals in the Russian Federation in 1936 received the following sentences: up to 5 years: 82.4%; between 5-10 years: 17.6%. 10 years was the maximum possible prison term before 1937. Political prisoners convicted in the Soviet Union’s civilian courts in 1936 received sentences as follows: up to 5 years: 44.2%; between 5-10 years 50.7%. As for those sentenced to terms in the gulag labour camps, where the longer sentences were served, the 1940 statistics show that those serving up to 5 years were 56.8% and those between 5-10 years 42.2%. Only 1% were sentenced to over 10 years.
For 1939 we have the statistics produced by Soviet courts. The distribution of prison terms is as follows: up to 5 years: 95.9%; from 5-10 years: 4%; over 10 years: 0.1%.
As we can see, the supposed eternity of prison sentences in the Soviet Union is another myth spread in the West to combat socialism.
Sousa, Mario. Lies Concerning the History of the Soviet Union, 15 June 1998.


By the fall of 1938 Yezhov’s leadership of the NKVD was under steady fire from various directions. The regime responded officially on Nov. 17, in a joint resolution of the Sovnarkom and the party Central Committee. This document went to thousands of officials across the USSR in the NKVD, the Procuracy, and the party, down to the raion level. Thus, the acknowledgement that grotesque mistakes and injustice had occurred spread widely–hardly the action of a government that wanted to continue fighting its citizens.
The resolution began by stating that in 1937-38 the NKVD had carried out “major work” in destroying enemies of the people. More remained to be done in this sphere, but the struggle now had to adopt more “perfect and reliable methods.” This was all the more necessary because the “mass operations” of the preceding period, with their “simplified conduct of investigations and trials,” had led to “a number of serious shortcomings and distortions in the work of the organs of the NKVD and the procuracy.” Enemies of the people and foreign spies had penetrated the security police and the judicial system and had “consciously…carried out massive and groundless arrests.” NKVDisty had completely abandoned careful investigative operations and had recently adopted “so-called ‘limits’ [quotas]” for arrests. Agents had wanted only to obtain confessions from arrestees, regardless of evidence or lack of it.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 114

[1937 letter from Ivanova to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Party]
I am writing you, old party members, and I think you will pay attention to all the actions by our NKVD. Is a really possible that you haven’t heard yet about all the horrors that are going on in our provincial cities, where horrors in the literal sense of the word are taking place, so that it is even hard to believe that we live in a “land of joys.” After all, we are living in a happy time, yet power NKVD is perpetrating total outrages. For some reason lately they have begun to arrest only old party members, who have acquitted themselves well among the people, have worked in conformity with the party line honestly and conscientiously, have not had any party penalties, have a party service record of 20 to 25 years apiece behind them, and suddenly are made enemies of the people in just 15 or 20 days. How are we to take this, either he is an enemy of the people, or the enemies of the people got him out of the way because he was interfering with them. But his arrest sets off a whole series of sufferings: the family is immediately evicted from its apartment, and persecution of the children and all kinds of other abuse begin. But in point of fact their father is the most honest worker, he carried out all party tasks conscientiously, the people know him as the most honest worker, but our NKVD doesn’t take any of this into account.
Comrades, you would do better to pay attention to what is going on in our NKVD and check whether an enemy of the people hasn’t wormed his way and there or whether a kulak hasn’t taken over there and is doing all sorts of vile things there in order to undermine Soviet power.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 232

[Dec. 10, 1938 letter from Chernousov to the Central Committee on the removal of Yezhov]
As an ordinary citizen of the USSR I cannot help but comment on the removal of Yezhov from the NKVD leadership–an event of no small importance.
Appointed to the job to uncover betrayers and traitors and to purge the country of enemy elements, he himself caused as much harm as maybe all of the betrayers and traitors combined.
According to tens and hundreds of thousands of people, Yezhov overlooked real spies and saboteurs. The fires and explosions at enterprises have not stopped, and they are undoubtedly plotted by saboteurs. It is naive to think that the country has been completely purged of them. But Yezhov had his agents specialize in taking innocent citizens from their beds, while they forgot how to catch real saboteurs. On the contrary, they are even openly allowed into the country. The case of the pilot Lindbergh is a very striking one.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 240

A further decline in Yezhov’s influence was detectable on 23 Oct 1938, when the writer Sholokhov gained an audience with Stalin to complain about being investigated by the NKVD. Stalin humiliated Yezhov by requiring him to attend. On 14 November an order came from Stalin to purge the NKVD of individuals “not worthy of political confidence.’ Next day the Politburo confirmed a directive of party and government to terminate cases currently under investigation by the troiki and the military tribunals. On 17 November the Politburo decided that enemies of the people had infiltrated the NKVD. Such measures spelled doom for Yezhov….
Just as many people at the time and a few subsequent commentators surmised that the Great Terror had not been started on Stalin’s initiative, so the idea got about that the process was entirely out of his control once it had begun. Stalin may well have failed to anticipate the catastrophic excesses of the NKVD under Yezhov. What is more, local police organs undoubtedly bothered less about arresting individuals who fell into the designated social categories than in meeting the numerical quotas assigned to them. Repressions in 1937-38 were constantly accompanied by “wrongful’ arrests. Abuses and excesses were ubiquitous. It is also true that many truly anti-Soviet individuals survived the Great Terror and put themselves at the disposal of the German occupation regime in 1941. Hitler’s forces had little difficulty discovering kulaks, priests, and other anti-Soviet elements
Service, Robert. Stalin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2005, p. 368-369

On 1 February 1939 Andreev, Beria, and Malenkov handed over to Stalin the act on the transfer of authority for the NKVD. In their conclusions they established “flagrant errors, perversions, and excesses” in the NKVD work: “Enemies of the people who have forced their way into the NKVD organs have deliberately perverted the punitive policy of the Soviet regime and carried out unfounded mass arrests of completely innocent people, while at the same time concealing real enemies of the people.” Illegal investigation methods had been used and torture applied in order to obtain “confessions.” The work of the troikas had been full of defects. Under Ezhov the guarding of Party and government leaders had been directed by Kurskii, Dagin, and other enemies: “The whole foreign agents and informants network of the NKVD was in the service of foreign intelligence services.” Ezhov used to appear at his office very late and had abandoned himself to drink. He had concealed from the Central Committee “compromising evidence with respect to leading NKVD executives who have now
been unmasked and arrested as conspirators.” All these things “cause serious doubts with respect to comrade Ezhov’s political honesty and reliability.” The draft of the covering letter, dated 29 January, asked whether Ezhov could remain a Party member, but this passage had been crossed out and was not included in the final text. The authors are inclined to think it was crossed out in accordance with Stalin.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 176-177.


The resolution went on to say that many prisoners had not been questioned until long after their arrests. Protocols of their statements were often not kept, or if taken down, were full of changes made by the police. Vyshinsky’s staff also stood accused: the Procuracy had not worked to improve its procedures, and enemies had entered its ranks. All this had happened because the NKVD and the Procuracy had tried to “tear [their] work” away from party supervision.
Sovnarkom and the Central Committee therefore resolved to prohibit “any sort of mass operations relating to arrests and exiles” by the NKVD and the Procuracy. Henceforth arrests would require a court order and the sanction of a procurator. Exile from a border area was permitted in “each individual case” only with the approval of the Sovnarkom and the Central Committee. The troiki, so instrumental in raising the tempo of the Terror, were immediately disbanded.
When requesting a procurator’s sanction for arrests, the NKVD had to produce incriminating materials, which the Procuracy was required to verify. State attorneys were specifically directed not to permit groundless arrests. NKVDisty had to follow strictly the procedures of the criminal code on investigations, including interrogation within 24 hours. All questioning had to be under the supervision of procurators, who were responsible for seeing that any violations of the specified procedures were corrected. Vyshinsky was ordered to create a special group of procurators dedicated to this task. The resolution concluded with a warning to all members of the NKVD and Procuracy: “no matter who the person,” any party guilty of the “slightest violation” of the directive and Soviet laws would be brought to the “strictest legal accounting.”
Vyshinsky quickly echoed the main points of the resolution in an order to the Procuracy. He added that all cases that had passed through the troiki or the NKVD’s Special Sessions but had not yet reached sentencing had to be returned to the NKVD for further investigation. There could be no more prolonging of jail or camp terms for inmates. Local procurators had to meet with local NKVD heads to make all this clear to them….
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 115

As early as January 1938 a plenum of the Central Committee did take some steps, adopting a resolution that condemned the mistakes of party organizations in expelling Communists from the party and the formally bureaucratic treatment of appeals by expelled members. It also condemned scandalmongers and careerists, who were contributing to an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion in the party. It mentioned functionaries of the NKVD, the procurator’s office, and judicial bodies that were under the thumb of the NKVD and committed “mistakes” in convicting honest Communists.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 238

All Party bodies, from local cells right up to the regional leaderships, were required to expel from the Party and denounce to the police any official in serious discredit, but at the same time members of the NKVD themselves were placed under surveillance, insofar as their actions were subject to the collective responsibility of the Party organizations to which they belonged. As Party members or officeholders, they could thus be criticized, even by their own subordinates, and even expelled in their turn for “hostile” behavior. In addition–presumably to avoid the settlement of personal scores by arbitrary arrests and to ensure that policemen did not try to cover up for their friends or show off their zeal by arresting any official who happened to annoy them–the powers of police officers were hierarchically defined: they were only allowed to arrest officials of a lower rank than themselves, and never their equals. The archive material shows clearly that local NKVD officers did not have the right to arrest local leaders like themselves, even after they had been expelled from the Party.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 144


The Terror had ended…. the highest authorities of the land had made clear their desire to end mass arrests, stabilize the country, and restore a much greater level of justice.
Yezhov had to go. On Nov. 23, 1938 he wrote to Stalin asking the Central Committee to release him from his post. He took responsibility for failing to notice that several of his close subordinates had attempted to conceal their own links to conspiracies. There were other, “completely intolerable shortcomings” in the NKVD’s work, and it had been widely penetrated by enemies and foreign agents. Yezhov continued that he had been satisfied with destroying only the upper level and part of the middle reaches of this infestation. Many enemies were left in the NKVD.
He stressed that he had proved unable to cope with the task of running a “huge and responsible commissariat.” He had seen mistakes in the NKVD but did not bring them to the Central Committee’s attention. He had recommended people for promotion who later proved to be spies. Two high NKVD officials had defected or disappeared.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 116


Neither the beginning of, the course of, nor the end of the Terror show the hand of a master planner.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 135

This book argues that Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder from 1934 to 1941 and did not plan or carry out a systematic campaign to crush the nation. This view is not one of absolution, however: his policies did help to engender real plots, lies, and threats to his position.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 227

Several conclusions follow: Stalin becomes more human than others have portrayed him. And his regime becomes less malevolent but possessed of greater popular support than is usually argued.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 228


Even if, despite all the evidence presented thus far, extensive fear did reign for a time in the USSR, it could have begun no earlier than the spring of 1937. And it would have lasted no longer than the end of 1938, though the course of the Terror became highly checkered well before that.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 157

The evidence is thus substantial that even many people close to the centers of power did not feel fear, let alone pervasive fear, before 1937. Indeed, those who say that they personally experienced fear earlier than that are the exception, not the rule; and the accounts that do mention fear almost invariably refer to a situation among the country’s elite, not to the population as a whole.”
Thurston, Robert W. “Fear and Belief in the USSR’s ‘Great Terror’: Response to Arrest, 1935-1939.” Slavic Review 45 (1986), p. 218

… Anyway, my evidence suggests that widespread fear did not exist in the case at hand.
I will not simply imply, but will state outright that the Ezhovshchina was an aberration. Torture was uncommon until August 1937, when it became the norm; it ended abruptly with Beria’s rise to head the NKVD in late 1938. Mass arrests followed the same pattern. Stalin emphasized the complete victory of socialism in the USSR, suggested that the old classes had been completely defeated, and belittled fear of “enemies” up into November 1936. A little over three months later, he was practically foaming at the mouth about how “enemies” had penetrated the entire country. But his tone at the 18th Party Congress in March 1939 was again largely moderate; he generally spoke of wreckers in the past tense, and he defended the Soviet intelligentsia against critics. Once more, he emphasized the unity of Soviet society, not differences within it….
I do not think that a monstrous Terror existed in the Soviet Union in the 1930s; the article repeatedly noted mass arrests of the innocent, and I wrote of “tremendous injustice and state crime… for the terror victims.” We all agree that that happened. Where I differ with Conquest is in describing the scale of the Terror, its effect on the Soviet people, and whether it was a logical policy. I base my view on a detailed examination of the evidence.
Everyone in the field realizes the importance of studying these issues; one’s assessment of them bears enormously on one’s view of the entire Soviet experiment and of the USSR today. If Conquest or anyone who generally accepts his views can come forward with specific, firsthand evidence that counters my view of the Terror’s effect on Soviet society, let him now do so.
Thurston, Robert W. “On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest.” Slavic Review 45 (1986), 243-244.


Both evidence and theory lead to acceptance of what people said about the Terror as reflecting their feelings at the time.
Most reactions to arrest catalogued above suggest that extensive fear did not exist in the USSR at any time in the late 1930s…. Citizens at liberty often felt that some event in the backgrounds of detained individuals justified their arrest. The sense that anyone could be next, the underpinning of theories on systems of terror, rarely appears. If by the Terror we mean that many innocent people suffered tremendously at the hands of the state, that is a valid statement; to say that all, or probably even the majority, were terrorised is as incorrect for the USSR in the last half of the 1930s as it is for Germany at the same time.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 159

But statistics from Russian archives suggest that the scale of arrests and unnatural deaths under Stalin was not sufficient to induce general fear of the regime, even considering as indirect victims the friends and families of those taken away by the NKVD. The weight of impressionistic evidence found in many memoirs, interviews, and other accounts shows the same thing. More often than fearing the government in the late 1930s, people supported its campaign to root out enemies.
… In any case, terror touched a minority of the citizens, albeit a substantial one, and the violence was concentrated among the country’s elite. Many citizens, however, did not experience or even notice the Terror except in newspapers or speeches.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 232

In the civil war it was the hot breath of a genuine revolutionary anger that struck at the forces of the ancien regime which plotted, organized, armed, and fought against the new republic. The agents of the Cheka were freshly recruited from insurgent workers, were steeped in the experience of their class, shared its privations and sacrifices, and relied on its support. Their terror was as discriminating as it could be amid the chaos of civil war: it aimed at the real and active enemies of the revolution, who, even if they were not “a mere handful,” were in any case a minority.
Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Outcast. London, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963, p. 109


Regional authorities often differed from national leaders in their reactions to criticism from below. Complaints challenged the power of local officials, and some lead to reallocation of scarce resources and unwanted, dangerous scrutiny from above. Provincial satraps therefore sometimes acted severely to throttle or punish criticism.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 187


The evidence is now strong that he [Stalin] did not plan the Terror. By 1935-36, the country had relaxed substantially in political terms. Coercion was steadily declining. Then came a huge new internal crisis and bloodletting. It too passed, although it left a gruesome trail. By late 1938, the regime admitted that many horrible mistakes had occurred. Once more the leadership reduced tension and curtailed the political use of law. Without the sharpening international situation of the years immediately preceding the war, more liberalization would have taken place.
There was never a long period of Stalinism without a serious foreign threat, major internal dislocation, or both, which makes identifying its true nature impossible. Was Stalinism therefore little more than crises and brutal responses to them? In answer, the trends of the calmer years between 1933 and the German invasion acquire great significance. Twice in that period amelioration in political life and use of the law, with the promise of even better to come, dominated the scene. But twice this direction was broken by unplanned events.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 233


The purge was raging throughout the country under the direction of the head of the NKVD, Yezhov, whose reputation was terrifying. Everyone agreed that he was half mad, a sadist, and a victim of persecution mania. But no one dared oppose him. Even the members of the Politburo were afraid of him. He was perfectly capable of forging documents which would permit him to arrest the highest officials of the government. It was common talk that Stalin, whose health was bad and who was frequently absent from Moscow, paid very little attention to what Yezhov was doing. As for Molotov, the chairman of the Politburo, he was on bad terms with Yezhov, but dared not attempt to check him.
I met Beria in Moscow at the home of my friend Mikeladze. Beria was already head of the NKVD in the Caucasus and an alternate member of the Politburo; but when I tried to persuade him to intercede with Yezhov for my engineers, he refused flatly.
“If I said anything,” he said, “it would have the opposite effect from what you desire. Yezhov would crack down on your men even more severely. He doesn’t always follow even Stalin’s orders. I think we’re going to have him shut up in an asylum soon–along with his aide, Zakovsky, who spent six years in one before the revolution. For that matter, there’s a rumor that Yezhov was once in the ‘yellow house’ [Russian slang for ‘lunatic asylum’] too in his hometown–Rostov-on-the-Don.
Svanidze, Budu. My Uncle, Joseph Stalin. New York: Putnam, c1953, p. 138

[Yezhov was] Dwarfish, racked by the phthisis, asthma, and angina, he was a sadist who, as well as being thin and ugly, could have given points for sheer hypocrisy to Loyola’s Grand Inquisitors.
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 69

Yagoda is no longer in charge of the NKVD…. I met Yezhov. The impression he made on me was a repulsive one…. He is a pigmy with the face of a murderer, a shifty look in his eyes and a perpetual twitching of the upper lip and left eye-lid….
He is young and does not know the past…and he is stupid to boot…. And a sadist. Pathological perversion with a sexual basis…. Such a chief for the “neighbors” will purge the country as nobody else could…. And there is no danger, because he is stupid and will not be able to take advantage of his position. Yagoda is different.
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 241

I saw Sasha who told me horrifying things. Yezhov ordered the prisoners to be brought to his office…. He humiliated them and called them the worst names in the Russian language. He spat in their faces and struck them with the butt of his revolver…. Then he had the wives brought in…. There were horrible scenes…. The women were undressed and threatened with rape…. The 18 year old daughter of… was actually raped…. He had refused to sign a confession…. Mezhlauk lost his self-control. He spat in Yezhov’s face and was shot dead at once in Yezhov’s office.
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 259

I think I would have signed anything if only to say my daughter from…. Yezhov is a sadist and a madman.
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 260

The formal indictment against Yezhov, dated February 1, 1940, reads in part: “Yezhov has been detected in treasonable espionage contacts with the Polish and German intelligence services, and with the ruling circles of Poland, Germany, England, and Japan, countries hostile to the USSR, and has headed a conspiracy in the NKVD.”
… Yezhov and his confederates were in effect planning a putsch for November 7, 1938,” the report continues.
… But there were points in the indictment which he [Yezhov] did not care to deny. “I had sexual relations with men and women, taking advantage of my official position…. In October or November 38 I had an intimate liaison with the wife of a subordinate and with her husband with whom I had a pederastic affair.”
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, c1996, p. 430

Ezhov was criticised strongly for sometimes having led NKVD into exaggerations in the hunt for traitors, exaggerations that meant that innocent people were imprisoned and submitted to severe hardships.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Yezhov’s biographers agree that ““the worst sides of his character revealed themselves,’’ and they note his ““lust for power, arrogance, rudeness.’’
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 9

If during this operation an extra thousand people will be shot, that is not such a big deal.
I. Ezhov, July 1937

Better too far than not far enough.
I. Ezhov, October 1937


The Secretary-General’s Office rang up to say that Bogomolov [Soviet Ambassador to the Allied Governments in London (1943-44), France, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister in 1950] must return to Moscow…. It means that even he, Stalin, gives in to Yezhov….
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 262


He [Voroshilov] is said to have already demanded from the Secretary-General the removal and arrest of Yezhov…. He threatened to shoot him personally, like a dog at the Party’s Central Committee,… Yezhov knows it and fears him….
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 281


The Instantia [Politburo] has held a secret meeting. Beria submitted a document from the archives of the Rostov Okhrana…. Yezhov was at one time a secret informer working for Colonel Vassilyev…. How horrible …. The chief purger, “the glorious head of Soviet intelligence,” is a former petty agent of the Tsarist Okhrana…. It was decided to remove Yezhov without further delay and quietly….
Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 282


This is how the new head of the NKVD [Yezhov] was ruling and masterminding the provocations. Before that, he worked as a secretary in the Central Committee. At the decision of the Central Committee, he was to solidify the composition of secretaries of the Central Committee with good, solid, dedicated Bolsheviks. But soon enough, these were “Yezhov’s gloves,” who were at his command.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 76

Who was it that recommended such an unreliable scoundrel [Yezhov] to such a high position? It was Malenkov, Mikoyan, Khrushchev, and Kaganovich. Unfortunately, none of these people told Stalin that this drunkard, this loose-living scoundrel was like that before in the Secretariat of the party.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 77

Two years of arrests and executions had occurred, and it was known that a high proportion of the victims did not belong to the categories of people describable as “anti-Soviet elements.’ It is quite possible too that Yezhov misled Stalin about aspects of the process.
Service, Robert. Stalin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2005, p. 369


Where there were party secretaries of districts that were honest Bolsheviks, dedicated and loyal Soviets, there were no problems of arrests of innocent people or provocations. One example was the dedicated party Secretary of the Stalingrad District Committee, Chuyanov. When the head of the NKVD Sharov and assistant Tsac presented him with a list of people to be arrested, he told them that he needed a day to think about this. He looked over the documents and saw that these people were innocent. He freed all of those arrested. Then he got an angry telephone call from Malenkov in Moscow, accusing Chuyanov of doing this on his own. Malenkov, fired up, came to Stalin and reported all this. Stalin did not support Malenkov, knowing Chuyanov well and Stalin knew from long working together with Chuyanov that here was a brave Bolshevik dedicated to Socialism.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 78


Speech by Stalin at the Enlarged Meeting of the Defense Counsel of the Ministry of Defense–June 2, 1937

STALIN: Comrades, about this, that a military-political plot was working against the Soviet State, I know now that no one can question these charges. The fact is that the admission of these conspirators themselves and the facts gathered by our people working in our Soviet Army, such an enormous mass of evidence, such numbers of comrades from all over the USSR who testified as to the work of these traitors, that everything points to the military-political undermining of the Soviet State, stimulated and financed by German fascism….
They say that Tukhachevsky is, or was, a landowner, someone else was from a religious family. Such talk and such an attitude does not yield any results at all… and it does not solve anything–absolutely nothing. When they talk about landownership, it means that this class is a class which is antagonistic to the working class, but this does not mean that some people from this ownershipclass cannot serve the people. Lenin was from a landowner class–did you know that?
VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: Of course we know.
STALIN: Engels was a son of a factory owner–you cannot say that it was a proletarian element. The same Engels managed this factory but at the same time was feeding Karl Marx. Chernishevsky was a son of a priest–he was a very good person. And on the other side… Serebryakov was a worker, and you know what kind of unsavory character he became. Lipshitz was a worker also, not well-educated, but became–a spy.
When we talk about our enemies, we talk about a class, but that does not mean that every person from that class cannot help the working class and these people worked well. From a section of the people, let’s say from the lawyers, there were many revolutionaries. Marx was a son of a lawyer, not a son of a worker or farm laborer…. So, to use the saying that of course “he is not a son of a worker”–this is an old saying and cannot be used to describe everyone. This is not the Marxist way.
This is not a Marxist method. This is, I would say, a biological way-method, but not Marxist. We Marxist do not follow the biological path, but the sociological path. I will not analyze these people from this point of view at all.
There is among you another method which is also wrong. Many times I hear: “In 1922 someone voted for Trotsky.” This is not correct. A person could have been young not versed in the struggles that were taking place. Dzerzhinsky as you know also voted for Trotsky, not only voted, but openly supported Trotsky during Lenin’s time and against Lenin. Do you know that? He was not such a kind of person that could remain passive in any kind of debate or argument. He was a very active Trotskyite and even in the GPU, he wanted to raise an argument to defend Trotsky. In this, he was not successful. Andreev was also a very active Trotskyite in 1921.
STALIN: Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Andrey Andreev. So you see, that the question of someone, some time ago voted for so and so, someone in the past was neither here nor there in his outlook, is not always absolute or correct.
Thus, this second prevalent attitude that we find in our ranks is not altogether correct and many times, it leads to misunderstanding and incorrect conclusions.
The most important way of judging people is by their own actions. There were people who were supporting now one side then another, but they left, and left peacefully and honorably and together with us, are struggling and fighting against Trotskyism. Dzerzhinsky, after seeing the reality, argued and criticized Trotsky as did comrade Andreev. There still are people of this caliber. I would surmise that there are scores among our top rank leaders who left Trotskyism, left in anger and now are criticizing and exposing this activity excellently…. This is not surprising, that people like Dzerzhinsky, Andreev, and scores of other former Trotskyites finally realized their mistakes, saw the correctness of Lenin’s position, and finally came over to our side of the party.
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 104-107

[April 1937 resolution of the ECCI Presidium and the ICC Bureau]
Having announced the intention of continuing to pursue a vigilant policy toward “enemies” and their abettors, the resolution then echoed one of Stalin’s “invaluable instructions.” “Pitilessly expelling from the Party traitors, alien and hostile elements, double-dealers, degenerates, demoralized elements, crooks, incorrigible factionalists and people who systematically violate the rules of Party secrecy, the control commissions must, however, be lenient with those Party members who have made a mistake [but] are still capable of being good Party members and, realizing the incorrectness of their actions, honestly undertake by their future conduct to repair their guilt before the Party.”
Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 223.


… in fact, there has been no qualitative difference between the civil liberties granted to those who attack the fundamental institutions of U.S. society and the civil liberties granted to those who attack the fundamental institutions of any other society. Whenever dissidence has threatened to promote mass-based assaults on the prevailing property and state system, or the ability of the state to mobilize for external war or intervention, it has been repressed in the U.S. as surely and thoroughly as it has been in the Soviet Union…. Such is the nature of any state.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 152

During the American War of Independence from Great Britain (1775-83) there were few civil liberties for Loyalists in areas controlled by the rebels. In this respect, as well as others, the birth of the American Republic was no different from any other revolutionary war.
There was considerable Loyalist sympathy among the colonists. Approximately one-third of white adults sympathized with the crown and supported British rule against the Americans. It has been estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 Americans served with the British army against the revolutionaries. In 1780 there were perhaps 8000 Loyalists in the British regular Army while Washington’s army numbered only 9000. Loyalists were active in all aspects of mobilization and support of the British cause, as well as in direct military actions against the independence forces. Because the exercise of speaking, writing, and of other civil liberties in support of the King endangered the rebel cause, these ‘human rights’ were suppressed. Everywhere there was unlimited freedom to support the rebel cause, but support of the King, or even criticism of the rebels, brought tar and feathers, if not jail. ‘ Liberty of speech belonged solely to those who spoke the speech of liberty.’
Repression of loyalist sentiments began in the mid-1760s with the formation of the Sons of Liberty, who engaged in ‘patriotic’ violence and intimidation against Tory publishers and other vocal supporters of the King. Boycotts, riotous demonstrations, and mob violence became the fate of authors of articles, pamphlets, and newspapers that reflected support of Britain.
Beginning in 1775, states started passing legislation making it a seditious act to libel or defame Congress or the state assemblies; by 1778 all states had such legislation. Eight states formally banished prominent Tories. In 1776, the Congress urged all the states to enact laws to prevent people from being ‘deceived and drawn into erroneous opinion.’ Loyalty tests and oaths became common. Those who refused to swear that ‘a war of the Colonies was just and necessary’ and ‘renounce all allegiance and obedience to George III and promise fair and true allegiance’ to his State were subject to political, legal, and civil punishments, including disenfranchisement, loss of legal rights, confiscation of property, banishment, disarming, special taxes, loss of jobs, and imprisonment. To practice a profession one had to secure a certificate of loyalty. In all states, Tories were deprived of the right to vote and prohibited from holding any office. Basic civil rights, such as the right to buy or sell land, travel, or serve on a jury, were denied to Tories in most states.
Denunciation of the patriot cause or utterance of remarks deemed to undermine it were severely punished. Legislation was common which imposed penalties from heavy fines or jail sentences to death and forfeiture of property for utterance of opinions denying the independent authority of the new states and asserting the sovereignty of the King. Loyalists were banned from the teaching profession. They were forcibly moved en mass from lesser to greater secure areas, especially when an area was under threat from the British. For example, Rhode Island forcibly relocated some of its Loyalists to the northern part of the state, and New York and New Jersey’s Loyalists were shifted to Connecticut. In 1777 the Continental Congress advised the states to confiscate Loyalist estates. All the states levied special taxes on, or confiscated, considerable numbers of Loyalist properties, including the large Loyalist landed properties in the Hudson River Valley.
As the crisis between Britain and the colonies deepened after 1765, newspapers and printers came under increasing pressure to ban Loyalist or even neutralist material. By 1774, only Boston and New York had a Loyalist Press, and in 1775 only New York.
Editors who dared to publish articles critical of the rebels had their presses destroyed and were banished and Imprisoned. In early 1776 the printer of a Loyalist tract in New York City had his press broken into and the plates and copies destroyed. Every printer in New York immediately received a copy of the following communique:
“Sir, if you print, or suffer to be printed in your press anything against the rights and liberties of America, or in favor of our inveterate foes, the King, Ministry, and Parliament of Great Britain, death and destruction, ruin and perdition, shall be your portion….”
After this there were no more Loyalist publications printed in New York City.
The American revolutionaries systematically employed revolutionary terror to intimidate Loyalists and inspire revolutionary sentiments. Gen. Nathaniel Greene, commander of the American Southern Continental Army from 1780 to 1783 instructed his commanders that the American partisans were ‘to strike terror into our enemies and give spirit to our friends.’ Greene described a partisan raid against Loyalist supporters as follows. ‘They made a dreadful carnage of them, upward on 100 were killed and most of the rest cut to pieces. It has had a very happy effect on those disaffected persons of which there are too many in this country.’ Greene’s scientific understanding of the role of terror in a revolutionary situation in intimidating counter-revolutionaries, while inspiring the morale of the revolutionaries, has been understood by other revolutionaries before and since.
Not until after the War of 1812 did the various laws discriminating against Tories finely disappear from the statute books. The conclusion of peace with Great Britain did not mean the end of persecution of the Loyalists, in fact in some areas persecution increased. Loyalists who had fled or been banished, and tried to return to their homes, often met violence, public humiliation, imprisonment, deportation, and even death. Loyalists who were allowed to settle peacefully in their old home areas were often fined and denied political rights.
A great many loyalist fled (or were forced out of) rebel areas. There was a total of between 80,000 and 100,000 Loyalist refugees who left the 13 colonies during the Revolution, about 4% of the white population….
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 153-154

The Jeffersonians were generally sympathetic to developments in France. In the face of rising public support for the Jeffersonians and growing disenchantment with Federalist principles, The Federalist administration of John Adams attempted to repress criticism through the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The sedition act punished ‘false, scandalous and malicious writings’ against the government. The text of its most relevant section follows:
“Section 2…. That if any person shall right, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered, or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, etc…. any false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress… or the president, with intent to bring them into contempt or disrepute or to excite against them… shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $2000 and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.”
Twenty-five persons were arrested between 1798 and 1801 under the sedition law, 11 cases came to trial and 10 persons were convicted. The most important of the prosecutions were against the leading Republican newspapers in the country:… The trials against the leading Republican newspaper editors were heavily biased against the defendants with prejudiced Federalist judges closely guiding the proceeding and juries selected on account of their Federalist sympathies.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 155-156

As in all civil wars, there were no civil liberties for opponents in the American Civil War….
Southern sympathizers, and even neutrals, were systematically repressed in the North. Habeas corpus was suspended by President Lincoln in April 1861 in the region between Washington and Philadelphia, and in July the suspension was extended to New York. In September 1862 there was a general suspension of the writ of habeas corpus because, according to Lincoln, ‘disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary process of law.’ Lincoln’s writ (ratified by Congress in March 1863), read:
“During the existing insurrection… all rebels and insurgents, their aiders and abetters, within the United States and all persons discouraging voluntary enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practices… shall be subject to martial law and liable to trials and punishments by courts-martial or military commission:
Second, that the writ of habeas corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested,…”
Thus the Bill of Rights was suspended for the duration of the war for Confederate sympathizers and neutralists. Lincoln, towards the end of the war, justified suspension of civil liberties by arguing that it was necessary to protect the Constitution:
“… By general law, life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life, but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong I assumed this ground and I now avow it.”
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 158-159

The Army of the Republic directly suppressed pro-Confederate papers. In St. Louis The Missouri State Journal, The Herald and The Evening News were suspended. All newspapers in Missouri, except those in St. Louis, had to furnish advance copy of each issue to the army for inspection before they could go to press. The Chicago Times was suppressed in June 1863 by order of the Department of the Ohio. In May 1864 The Baltimore Evening Transcript was suppressed and The Cincinnati Enquirer was forbidden to circulate in Kentucky, by order of the military.
From February 1862 to the end of the war approximately 13,500 civilians were arrested and confined in military prisons for activities in support of the Confederacy. In addition there were many imprisonments in state and Federal prisons. The total number of Northern political prisoners of all categories was approximately 38,000.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 160

At a rally in Chicago on May 4, 1886, called to protest at the killing of strikers by the Chicago police, a still unidentified person threw a dynamite bomb into the ranks of the police killing a number of them…. Two of those who were tried, Albert Parsons & George Engel, were not even at the rally when the bomb was thrown. However, these two anarchist leaders, along with two others, were hung, having been convicted at various times in the past of having ‘uttered and printed incendiary and seditious language,…
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 162

In short, it appears that the attention given by the West to the repression of ‘human rights” in the USSR is out of all proportion to what is actually occurring there. This suggests that the immense publicity the dissident movement receives in the West must have other causes.
Close parallels exist between restrictions on formal civil liberties in the U.S. during those periods in which there was a challenge to its hegemonic institutions, and the restrictions on civil liberties in the Soviet Union in the last generation. Both societies have deported those whom it considers undesirables, and both restrict the entry of foreigners considered to be undesirable, and the right of its citizens to travel overseas, although emigration from the USSR has been more restricted than it has in the US. Both societies have employed police harassment, surveillance, seizure of books, etc., against dissidents. There appears to be no significant difference in this regard between the U.S. response to the Red Scare periods of 1917-23 and 1947-56 and the response to dissident activity in the Soviet Union since the 1950s. Both societies have restricted the circulation of published works and the expression of subversive ideas in the mass media. The ban on the expression of leftist ideas in American radio, television, films, mass newspapers, etc. in the 1950s was as thorough as the suppression of anti-socialist ideas in the Soviet Union. On the whole, it appears that the level of repression in the Soviet Union in the 1955 to 1980 period was at approximately the same level as in the US during the McCarthy years (1947-56).
Cycles of suppression of civil liberties have occurred throughout U.S. history, corresponding to periods when the dominant institutions, namely, the state and the property of the upper class, have been challenged. When neither of these institutions was specifically endangered, but when mobilization for external wars was considered necessary, civil liberties were also repressed. Usually, a combination of both these factors has precipitated periods of the most intense repression of civil liberties in U.S. history.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 290

Stalin did indeed act more harshly than the democratic leaders, but Roosevelt and Churchill killed their millions too. The difference was there, but it was not so great as most Westerners like to think. It was a difference in judging the degree of emergency in the political and international scenes: Stalin saw emergencies constantly and everywhere, Roosevelt only sometimes and only at the theaters of war. But when an emergency was recognized, all the world leaders of Stalin’s day acted as if the end justified the means.
Randall, Francis. Stalin’s Russia. New York: Free Press,1965, p. 90


But it should be noted that of the 20th Century revolutions only the Cuban (as a matter of deliberate policy) has produced, relatively, a significantly higher number of permanent refugees than did the American Revolution. The percentage of refugees from China or Russia was lower than that reached after the American Revolution. There were, for example, about 2.5 million refugees from the Russian Revolution–almost 1.5 percent of that country’s population [which is about a third of those who left during the American Revolution].
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 155


Newspapers with Confederate sympathies were suppressed throughout the North, through imprisonment of editors and denial of the mails, as well as executive orders and the military forcibly suppressing papers or forbidding their circulation in certain areas. Henry Reeves of the Greenport, Long Island Republican was sent to military prison for the treasonable character of his paper. James McMaster, editor of the New York Freeman’s Appeal, was arrested in September 1861 and charged with editing a disloyal newspaper. F. D. and J. R. Flanders of the New York Franklin Gazette were imprisoned without trial. James Wall, a contributor to The New York Daily News (which was suppressed by banning from the U.S. mails) was arrested and placed in military prison because of the pro-Southern articles he had written for the paper. Denial of the use of the mails (any class) became a tool to suppress insufficiently patriotic papers. In addition to The New York Daily News excluded papers included The South and The Exchange (both from Baltimore), The New York Day Book, The Brooklyn Eagle, The New York Journal of Commerce and The Freeman’s Journal.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 159


The purpose of the ‘Palmer’ raids was to destroy the newly formed Communist parties in the U.S., primarily through seizing and deporting their alien members (who were a substantial proportion of their membership). Deportation was an especially efficient process, because deportation proceedings did not require the due process safeguards of criminal proceedings (no indictments, no judge, no jury, no lawyers). Deportation was a purely administrative matter handled by the Department of Labor.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 169

Many of the arrests were made without warrants, and of those detained many were held incommunicado and denied the right to counsel; many were not even radicals.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 170


In 1937 this privileged status ended. For the next few years the regime for political prisoners was harsher than that for common criminals. The corrective labor camps were transformed into hard labor camps, with the primary function of punishing suspected counter-revolutionaries while forcing them to aid the socialist transition by physical construction work, with little or no serious attempt at rehabilitation….
For the first 20 years of the Revolution, in the words of Anna Louis Strong: ‘The Soviet people had prided themselves on the absence in the jails, not only of the torture used by the Nazis, but of even the third-degree as practiced in the United States.’ The year 1937 also saw the introduction of torture as a permissible police technique. An instruction from the party’s General Secretary issued on January 1939 read:
“The General Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) explains that the application of methods of physical pressure in NKVD practice is permissible from 1937 on in accordance with permission of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)…. It is known that all bourgeois intelligence services use methods of physical influence against the representatives of the socialist proletariat and that they use them in their most scandalous form. The question arises as to why the socialist intelligence service should be more humanitarian against the mad agents of the bourgeoisie, against the deadly enemies of the working-class and the Kolkhoz workers. The Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) considers that physical pressure should still be used obligatorily, as an exception applicable to known and obstinate enemies of the people, as a method both justifiable and appropriate.”

In Getty’s words: “The increased tension of the spy scare/war scare/vigilance campaign was in vivid contrast to the preceding events, which constituted a lull of nearly two years since the death of Kirov. Concerning the period 1935-36 Getty argues that it would be: ‘ridiculous to regard this period as one of rising hysteria or vigilance. With the exchange of Party documents, in fact, the vigilance theme had receded into the background.’
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 236


It is no accident that day after day the Western mass media gives prominent attention to the dissidents in the Soviet Union, to the attempted ‘escapes’ from the German Democratic Republic, to the flight of ‘boat people’ from Vietnam, the restrictions on books at the Moscow International Book Fair, and so on. But these events are virtually insignificant in comparison with the denial of civil liberties, massive deaths through repression, malnutrition and preventable disease, and other sufferings in U.S.-supported states in Asia and Latin America. The relative handful of Soviet dissidents have been elevated to the status of international heroes and their every proclamation circulated around the world, but hardly anyone in the US realizes that repression is qualitatively greater in U.S. client states, and that very few know the names of any of the hundreds of thousands of people murdered for their political beliefs by ‘friendly’ governments in these countries in recent years.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 316


This was the first execution of its kind [in late 1929]. True, other Trotskyists had already paid for their convictions with their lives, perishing from hunger and exhaustion–the year before, for instance, Butov, one of Trotsky’s secretaries, died in prison after a long hunger strike. Nevertheless, the rule that the Bolsheviks must never repeat the mortal error of the Jacobins and have recourse in their internecine struggles to execution had hitherto been respected, at least in form. Now that rule was broken. Blumkin was the first party member on whom capital punishment was inflicted,….
Curiously enough, no capital punishment was as yet inflicted on the avowed Trotskyists, who from their prisons and punitive colonies were in communication with their leader, who sent him collective greetings on October anniversaries and May Days, and whose names appeared under articles and “theses” in the Bulletin Oppozitsii [Opposition Bulletin].
Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Outcast. London, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963, p. 89


Western publications frequently give exaggerated figures for the number of people who died during the Stalin Terror or the years of war. Solzhenitsyn, for example, referring to the calculations of professor Kurganov, has declared on many occasions that 66 million lives were lost during the terror and a further 44 million during the war. In other words, it is claimed that over the period 1918-53 the USSR lost 110 million persons, for the most part male. The simplest demographic calculation shows this to be implausible. For if these figures were regarded as accurate, it would have to be the case that from 1918 to 1953 not one person died a natural death in the Soviet Union.
Medvedev, Roy. On Stalin and Stalinism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 140


(Foreign Delegation’s Interview with Stalin on November 5, 1927)
QUESTION: Why are not the imprisoned Mensheviks released?

ANSWER: Evidently this refers to the active Mensheviks. Yes, it is true the active Mensheviks in our country are not released from prison until their sentence expires. But why wonder at this? Why did they not release from prison, for instance, the Bolsheviks in July, August, September, and October, 1917, when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries were in power? Why was Lenin compelled to keep in hiding and underground in August, September, and October, 1917, when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries were in power?… How can you explain the fact that… “Pravda,” the organ of Lenin’s Party, was smashed by the bourgeois Yunkers in spite of the fact that prominent and active leaders of the Second International (Mensheviks and Social Democrats) were then in power. This can be explained evidently by the fact that the struggle between bourgeois counter-revolution and proletarian revolution cannot but lead to repression. I have already stated that the Social-Democrats in our country are a counter-revolutionary party, and from this it follows that the proletarian revolution cannot help arresting the active leaders of this counter-revolutionary party.
Stalin, Joseph. The Worker’s State. London: Communist Party of Great Britain. 1928, p. 7


“It is difficult to describe the process,” said Stalin when asked 30 years later why he became a socialist. “First, one became convinced that existing conditions were wrong and unjust. Then one resolved to do the best one could to remedy them…. Russian capitalism was the most atrocious and bestial in the world. The tsar’s government was also the most corrupt, cruel, and inefficient.”
“My whole atmosphere,” observed Stalin, “was saturated with hatred of tsarist oppression, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into revolutionary work.”
Levine, Isaac Don. Stalin. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, c1931, p. 9-10

Peter Solomon, in his study of Stalinist criminal justice, combined an emphasis on Stalin’s intentions with an analysis of the environment and structure in which he functioned. He showed how in the 1930s Stalin was working to consolidate a modern legal order with reliable courts, respect for laws, and predictable punishments all in the interests of a strong centralized state….
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 116

When it had become clear that the battle for collectivization was won, the Stalinists thus sought to abolish mass operations and to stop the promiscuous use of punitive sanctions by local and nonjudicial bodies. As early as July 1931 the party ordered that all death sentences imposed by the secret police (OGPU) be confirmed by the Politburo, and the following spring removed the OGPU’s right to judge criminal cases of exiled peasants, transferring them to the regular courts. In February 1933 the Politburo established a commission that recommended a substantial decrease in prison populations to be effected by early releases of many convicts and wholesale release of those illegally arrested. These measures were consolidated and extended in an important party-state decree of 8 May 1933, which official spokesmen would refer to often in the next five years. Although it is usually cited for its call to reduce prison populations by half, its real message was the end of mass operations. Signed by Stalin and Molotov, this directive stated that the moment has come…when we are no longer in need of mass repression. Blaming local officials for an “orgy of arrests,” Stalin and Molotov argued that mass violence was inefficient and counterproductive. Repression was not to be ended, but rather focused and streamlined. “These comrades do not understand that the method of mass, disorderly arrests, if this can be considered a method, represents, in light of the new situation, only liabilities which diminish the authority of Soviet power. They do not understand that making arrests ought to be limited and carried out under the strict control of appropriate organs. They do not understand that arrests must be directed solely against active enemies of Soviet power…. They do not understand that if this kind of action took on a massive character to any extent, it could nullify the influence of our party in the countryside. The day before the 8 May 1933 decree was published, the Politburo had forbidden secret police (OGPU) troikas from passing any more death sentences at all, and according to the 8 May 1933 decree, police agencies could make arrests only with the preliminary sanction of a state procurator. Such a rule would make mass repressive operations practically impossible insofar as it required approval of individual arrests by an individual procurator.
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) pp. 118-119

In July 1933 an all-union USSR Procuracy was established for the first time to supervise the legality and rightness of actions undertaken by the OGPU, by the police, by the department of criminal investigation and by corrective-labor institutions. The most important institutional change limiting the ability of local and nonjudicial bodies to arrest, try, and execute was the formation of an All-union People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD SSSR). Taken in February 1934 on Stalin’s motion, this decision abolished the former secret police (OGPU) and folded some of its functions into the new NKVD, but without any judicial powers. According to the new regulations, the NKVD did not have the power to pass death sentences or to inflict extralegal .administrative. punishments of more than five years exile. As Stalin’s lieutenant L. M. Kaganovich put it, “the reorganization of the OGPU means that, as we are now in more normal times, we can judge through the courts and not resort to extrajudicial repression as we have until now.” New NKVD chief G. G. Yagoda, perhaps wistfully, told a secret police conference that the era of mass repression had ended, and that any calls to renew it were now an “enemy theory.” In January 1935, Stalin wrote to Vyshinsky that policing measures should now be “gradual, without shocks” and should be carried out “without extra administrative enthusiasm.”
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 120.

Stalin certainly encouraged zeal in the hunt for “enemies of the people.” Both directly and through Ezhov he pressed for more and more arrests and he approved requests for increased limits. At the same time, he reserved the center’s right to approve those limits. Despite his murderous encouragement, after spending several years trying to secure his regional subordinates obedience to his commands, there is no reason to believe that he expected to be disobeyed or that he wanted the locals to exceed instructions. We do not have at our disposal a single document suggesting that he encouraged or planned for local spontaneity that went beyond his permission, and quite a few suggesting the contrary, beginning with the limits and restrictions against “excesses” and procedures in Order No. 447.
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 133.


It is said that you shot people even for ideas.
Not for ideas. Why for ideas at all? But who would believe that these old, experienced conspirators, using the experience of Bolshevik conspiracy and cooperation, underground organisation would not get together to form an organisation.
They did form an organisation. Tomsky and Zinoviev did get together. They met at their dacha. And what about the Ryutin Platform – these were not ideas. These people organised an uprising against the Soviet state and they could have headed a revolt.
The entire method of Lenin’s struggle against the bourgeoisie could have been used against us. They had their people everywhere, in the army and elsewhere. They had formed organisations spread out in chains.
THUS SPAKE KAGANOVICH by Feliks Chuyev, 1992


To the Secretaries of oblast and regional party committees,
To the CCs of national Communist parties,
To the people’s commissars of internal affairs, and to the heads of NKVD directorates

It has become known to the VKP CC that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees, in checking up on employees of NKVD directorates, have laid blame on them for the use of physical pressure against those who have been arrested, treating it as something criminal. The VKP CC affirms that the use of physical pressure in the work of the NKVD has been permitted since 1937 in accordance with a resolution of the VKP CC. This directive indicated that physical pressure was to be used in exceptional cases and only against blatant enemies of the people who, when interrogated by humane methods, defiantly refuse to turn over the names of co-conspirators, and who refuse for months on end to provide any evidence, and who try to thwart the unmasking of co-conspirators who are still at large, and who thereby continue even from prison to wage a struggle against the Soviet regime. Experience has shown that such an arrangement has produced good results and has greatly expedited the unmasking of enemies of the people. True, subsequently in practice the method of physical pressure was abused by Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and other scoundrels, converting it from an exception into a rule and beginning to apply it against honest people who had been arrested accidentally. For these abuses, they [the scoundrels] have been given due punishment. But this in no way detracts from the value of the method itself when it is properly used. It is known that all bourgeois secret services use physical pressure against representatives of the socialist proletariat and rely on especially savage methods of it. We might therefore ask why a socialist secret service should be any more more humane in relation to inveterate agent of the bourgeoisie and sworn enemies of the working class and collectivized farmers. The VKP CC believes that the use of physical pressure must absolutely be continued from here on in exceptional cases and against blatant and invidious enemies of the people, and that this is a perfectly appropriate and desirable method. The VKP CC demands that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees and the CCs of national party committees bear in mind this explanation when they check up on the employees of NKVD directorates.
Stalin, Joseph. “On Applying Physical Pressure to Prisoners.” 10 January 1939. RGASPI, f. 1, op. 58, d. 6, ll. 145-146. Trans. by Dr. Mark Kramer, Harvard University. 1940.

In early 1939, Stalin informed the regional Party and NKVD chiefs that “from 1937 on in NKVD practice the use of physical pressure [on prisoners] was permitted by the Central Committee.” It was permitted “exceptionally,” according to Stalin), “only with respect to such overt enemies of the people who take advantage of humane interrogation methods in order to shamelessly refuse to give away conspirators, who for months don’t testify and try to impede the unmasking of those conspirators who are still free.” Stalin considered it a “totally correct and expedient method”–though later the practice had been soiled by scoundrels like Zakovskii, Litvin, and Uspenskii, Stalin added, after these NKVD executives had been liquidated themselves. They had turned it “from an exception into a rule,” applying it to “accidentally arrested honest people.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 111.


Even some of those who were repressed continued to believe that “enemies” existed. In fact, they attributed their unjust fate to “enemy” machinations and believed that if only Stalin or Yezhov knew the facts of their case, Soviet justice would prevail, and they would be set free.
Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 410.

Even after being tortured, Razumova, Valter, and Terziev did not believe the NKVD as an organization to be at fault. Rather, they believed that “Trotskyists” and “enemies” had infiltrated its ranks.
Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 416.


Mass operations in the 1933-36 period were on a dramatically reduced scale, incomparable with those of the preceding period. According to secret police data, arrests for “counterrevolutionary insurrection” (a common charge in mass operations, including the subsequent kulak operation) fell from 135,000 in 1933 to 2,517 in 1936. Each year from 1933 to 1936, the number of both political and nonpolitical arrests declined. In this period there was a three-fold decrease in arrests for “political,” counterrevolutionary crimes (Article 58 of the criminal code) from 283,029 in 1933 to 91,127 in 1936. Arrests for nonpolitical offenses fell five-fold in the same period, from 222,227 in 1933 to 40,041 in 1936. Despite the continuation of certain restricted mass operations, the time of mass NKVD arrests was clearly on the wane.
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 121.


Given that local authorities decided how many would be repressed, who would live and who would die, it is difficult to agree that everything was planned and administered from Moscow.
Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 133.


After his fall, the Chekist S. F. Redens testified that Ezhov had on at
least one occasion privately boasted about having come out against Lenin and having been an adherent of the anti-intellectual Machajski movement. In 1936 in a registration form Ezhov stated that he had belonged to the ““Workers’ Opposition’’ within the Communist Party but had broken with it before the Tenth Party Congress of March 1921. Four years later, before the court, he admitted only to having sympathized with the Opposition,
adding that he had never been a member and that after Lenin’s criticism of March 1921 he had recognized its deceit and had lined up behind Lenin.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 8


I don’t know of any more ideal functionary than Ezhov. Rather, he is not a functionary, but an executor. After charging him with a task, you don’t have to check up on him: he will accomplish the mission. Ezhov has only one, indeed essential, shortcoming,he does not know where to stop. . . . Sometimes you have to take care to stop him in time.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 20

We may recall that, being the ideal executor, according to Moskvin, he had one essential shortcoming: he did not know where to stop. Summed up in his own words, his logic was: “Better too far than not far enough.” This method of working could not infinitely be prolonged without great danger even for the Stalinist system itself.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 209.

At the end of his life, Stalin told his bodyguard that “the drunkard Ezhov” had been recommended for the NKVD by Malenkov: “While in a state of intoxication, he signed lists for the arrest of often innocent people that had been palmed off on him.”
In interviews in the 1970s, Molotov reasoned along similar lines. According to him, Ezhov had enjoyed a good reputation, until he “morally degenerated.” Stalin had ordered him to “reinforce the pressure,” and Ezhov “was given strong instructions.” He “began to chop according to plan,” but he “overdid it”: “Stopping him was impossible.” Extremely selective in his memory, Molotov gave the impression that Ezhov had fixed the quotas on his own and that therefore he had been shot. He did not agree that Ezhov had only carried out Stalin’s instructions: “It is absurd to say that Stalin did not know about it, but of course it is also incorrect to say that he is responsible for it all.”
Another former Stalin adjutant who justified the purges was Kaganovich. There was sabotage and all that, he admitted, and “to go against the public opinion was impossible then.” Only Ezhov “overdid it”; he even “organized competitions to see who could unmask the most enemies of the people.” As a result, “many innocent people perished, and nobody will justify this.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 210.


As before, Ezhov suffered from bad health. By now he ranked high enough to earn the privilege of traveling abroad. In July 1934, the Politburo sent him to Italy for medical treatment, with a disbursement of 1,200 rubles in foreign currency (later supplemented with an additional 1,000 gold rubles); he had to be forbidden to return until the end of his rest. Instead of Italy he went to Vienna, where he was treated in a sanatorium for several weeks. (After arrest he gratuitously stated that while there he had had intimate intercourse with a nurse; when a doctor found out about it, he had himself recruited as an “agent of the German intelligence service.”)
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 23

Later, in 1939, during interrogation, Ezhov confirmed that in 1935 he had indeed gone again to Vienna to be treated for pneumonia by Dr. Noorden and that he had been accompanied by his wife, who had gone shopping. (As was expected of him by then, he confessed to having used the visit for contacting the German intelligence service.)
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 36

He [Yezhov] confessed to having been recruited as a spy for German intelligence in 1930, when by order of the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture he had visited Konigsberg for the purchase of agricultural machines and to having spied on behalf of Poland, Japan, and England, to having directed a conspiracy within the NKVD, and to having plotted against Stalin and other leaders.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 183.


Legality was of no concern to Ezhov’s NKVD. In January 1939, after his fall, a commission consisting of Andreev, Beria, and Malenkov accused Ezhov of having used illegal investigation methods: “In a most flagrant way, investigation methods were distorted, mass beatings were indiscriminately applied to prisoners, in order to extort false testimony and “confessions.’” During twenty-four hours an investigator often had to obtain several dozen confessions, and investigators kept each other informed about the testimony obtained so that corresponding facts, circumstances, or names could be suggested to other prisoners. “As a result, this sort of investigation very often led to organized slander of totally innocent people.” Very often, confessions were obtained by means of “straight provocation”; prisoners were persuaded to give false testimony about their “espionage activity” in order to help the Party and the government to “discredit foreign states” and in exchange for the promise of release. According to Andreev et al., “the NKVD leadership in the person of comrade Ezhov not only did not cut short such arbitrariness and excesses in arresting and conducting investigation, but sometimes themselves encouraged it.” All opposition was suppressed.
The functioning of the troikas was also sharply criticized. Andreev et al. reported that there had been “serious slips” in their work, as well as in that of the so-called Grand Collegium [bol’-shaia kollegiia], where during a single evening session from 600 to 2,000 cases were often examined. The work of the regional troikas was not controlled by the NKVD at all. Approximately 200,000 people were sentenced to two years by the so-called militia troikas, “the existence of which was not legal.” The NKVD Special Board “did not meet in its legal composition even once.”
As an executive of the Tiumen’ operational sector of the NKVD testified later, arrests were usually made arbitrarily, people were arrested for belonging to groups that did not actually exist, and the troika duly fell in line with the operational group: “At a troika meeting, the crimes of the defendants were not examined. In some days during an hour I reported to the troika cases involving 50-60 persons.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 108-109

The assistant chief of the Saratov police administration gave similar testimony: “The basic instruction was to produce as many cases as possible, to formulate them as quickly as possible, with maximum simplification of investigation. As for the quota of cases, [the NKVD chief] demanded [the inclusion of] all those sentenced and all those that had been picked up, even if at the moment of their seizure they had not committed any sort of concrete crime.
After arrest, Ezhov’s deputy, Frinovskii, explained that the main NKVD investigators had been the “butchers” [sledovatelikolol’shchiki], mainly selected from “conspirators or compromised people.” “Unchecked, they applied beatings to prisoners, obtained “testimony’ in the shortest possible time.” With Ezhov approving, it was the investigator rather than the prisoner who determined the testimony. Afterward, the protocols were “edited” by Ezhov and Frinovskii, usually without seeing the prisoner or only in passing. According to Frinovskii, Ezhov encouraged the use of physical force during interrogations: he personally supervised the interrogations and instructed the investigators to use “methods of physical influencing” if the results were unsatisfactory. During interrogations he was sometimes drunk.
As one of the investigators later explained, if somebody was arrested on Ezhov’s orders, they were convinced of his guilt in advance, even if all evidence was lacking. They “tried to obtain a confession from that individual using all possible means.” Under arrest, the former Moscow NKVD deputy chief A. P. Radzivilovskii quoted Ezhov as saying that if evidence was lacking, one should “beat the necessary testimony out of [the prisoners].” According to Radzivilovskii, testimony “as a rule was obtained as a result of the torturing of prisoners, which was widely practiced both in the central and the provincial NKVD apparatuses.”
After arrest both the chief of the Moscow Lefortovo investigation prison and his deputy testified that Ezhov had personally participated in beating prisoners during interrogation. His deputy, Frinovskii, had done the same thing. Shepilov recollects how after Stalin’s death Khrushchev told his colleagues that one day, while visiting Ezhov’s Central Committee office, he saw spots of clotted blood on the skirt and cuffs of Ezhov’s blouse. When asked what was up, Ezhov answered, with a shade of ecstasy, that one might be proud of such spots, for it was the blood of enemies of the revolution.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 109-110


After his arrest, Ezhov was accused of having schemed against the Party leadership. He testified himself that after arrests began within the NKVD he, together with Frinovskii, Dagin, and Evdokimov, made plans to commit a “putsch” on 7 November 1937, the October Revolution anniversary, during the demonstration in Red Square. The plan was to cause a commotion and then in the panic and confusion to “drop bombs and kill someone of the government members.” Dagin, who was chief of the NKVD guard department, was to execute the plan, but on 5 November he was arrested, followed a few days later by Evdokimov. Ezhov alone could not prevent Beria’s initiative. “This way all our plans collapsed.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 155.

Evdokimov gave similar evidence. According to him, in September he discussed the threatening situation after Beria’s appointment with Ezhov, Frinovskii, and Bel’skii. Allegedly, they agreed to prepare an attempt on Stalin and Molotov. Ezhov was also said to have had plans to murder Beria. Obviously, Ezhov’s utterances with respect to terrorism were no more than drunken talk, the fantasizing of somebody who had become embittered toward Stalin and his adjutants. After his arrest, Beria’s investigation, not taking it too seriously, did not delve into it deeply.
According to Konstantinov, some time in mid-November Ezhov told him that his song was ended, thanks to Stalin and loyal Stalinists like his deputy Beria: “If they could be removed, all would be different.” He suggested that Konstantinov should kill Stalin, but without giving any concrete form to his plans.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 156.

There is evidence that beginning in the summer of 1938, when Beria was appointed his deputy and started arresting people from his circle, he became disillusioned with Stalin. A number of witnesses have testified that on several occasions after that he abused and insulted Stalin and other Party leaders. After arrest he himself confessed to having conspired against Stalin and having planned an attempt on him; this was confirmed by a number of accomplices and witnesses.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 208.


He [Yezhov] dragged many people along in his fall. Besides his nephews Anatolii and Viktor Babulin, who were also arrested on 10 April, a few weeks later, on 28 April, his brother Ivan, by then already having lost his job, was arrested in Moscow, accused of plans to murder Stalin and of counterrevolutionary and anti-Semitic utterances. In addition, Ezhov confessed to having recruited him for the Polish intelligence service. A few days before Ezhov’s arrest, on 6 April, his former first deputy, Mikhail Frinovskii, had been arrested, soon to be followed by his wife, Nina, and his seventeen year-old son, Oleg. He too was confined in Sukhanovka prison. Five days after his arrest he issued a forty-three-page statement for Beria, in which he confessed his crimes: “Only after arrest, after having been shown the charge, and after a conversation with you personally, I took the path of repentance, and I promise to tell the investigation the whole truth to the end.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 184.

After Ezhov’s fall, hundreds of his direct accomplices and other NKVD officers were arrested. This goes for all of Ezhov’s deputies and department heads. Almost all former NKVD chiefs of the Union and Autonomous Republics as well as the majority of the provincial NKVD chiefs and other leading executives were dismissed and convicted. In the autumn of 1938, between September and December, 332 leading NKVD executives had already been arrested, 140 of them from the central apparatus and 192 from the provinces. Arrests continued in 1939; during that year 1,364 NKVD executives were arrested, 937 of them state security officers.
After Ezhov’s dismissal as NKVD chief, many cases were reviewed. Several tens of thousands of people who were under investigation were liberated and the charges dropped. The Gulag was emptied somewhat: during 1939, unprecedentedly, 327,400 prisoners were liberated from the camps and colonies.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 192.


[Footnote]: Yezhov was not on the list of Congress delegates from Moscow, which would have been his constituency, and his name was missing from the list of delegates, in the record of the Congress, which was published later that year. Thus it is impossible to give credence to the story in Medvedev, attributed to one Feldman, who was in fact, a delegate to the Congress. In this version Yezhov was humiliated by Stalin at the meeting of senior delegates to the Congress that met to select nominees for the new Central Committee. But as a non-delegate Yezhov would not have been present there. Moreover, the story has it that Yezhov sought to defend himself by saying that he had ‘unmasked’ his former aide Frinovsky, who in time was indeed purged. But at the time of the Congress Frinovsky was still in good standing and could not have been referred to as an arrested enemy. His name appeared in the list of delegates published later that year. According to Admiral Kuznetsov who was a delegate, it was during the Congress that Frinovsky asked to be relieved of the post of narkom of the Navy, to which he had been transferred from the police.
McNeal, Robert, Stalin: Man and Ruler. New York: New York University Press, 1988, p. 366

The “Real Stalin” Series. Part Fourteen: Military Purges




The Moscow press announced that they [the primary Generals on trial] had been in the pay of Hitler and had agreed to help him get the Ukraine. This charge was fairly widely believed in foreign military circles, and was later substantiated by revelations made abroad. Czech military circles seemed to be especially well informed. Czech officials in Prague bragged to me later that their military men had been the first to discover and to complain to Moscow that Czech military secrets, known to the Russians through the mutual aid alliance, were being revealed by Tukhachevsky to the German high command.
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

CHUEV: Now some think you appointed such untrained people as Pavlov, but if it had been Tukhachevsky….
MOLOTOV: Take someone like Tukhachevsky. If trouble started, which side would he have been on? He was a rather dangerous man. I doubted he would have been fully on our side when things got tough, because he was a right-winger. The right wing danger was the main danger at the time.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 26

The right wing already had a channel to Hitler even before this. Trotsky was definitely connected to him, that’s beyond any doubt…. Many of the ranking military officers were also involved. That goes without saying.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 275

Nevertheless, he [Tukhachevsky] organized an anti-Soviet group in the army.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 279

CHUEV: He [Tukhachevsky] was accused of being a German agent.
MOLOTOV: He hurried with plans for a coup. Both Krestinsky and Rosengoltz testified to that. It makes sense. He feared he was at the point of being arrested, and he could no longer put things off. And there was no one else he could rely on except the Germans. This sequence of events is plausible.
I consider Tukhachevsky a most dangerous conspirator in the military who was caught only at the last minute. Had he not been apprehended, the consequences could have been catastrophic. He was most popular in the army.
Did everyone who was charged or executed take part in the conspiracy hatched by Tukhachevsky? Some were certainly involved….
But as to whether Tukhachevsky and his group in the military were connected with Trotskyists and rightists and were preparing a coup, there is no doubt.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 280

MOLOTOV: Take Tukhachevsky, for example. On what grounds was he rehabilitated? Did you read the records of the trial of the right-wing and Trotskyist bloc in 1938? Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, and others were on trial then. They stated flat out that in June 1937 Tukhachevsky pressed for a coup. People who have not read the record go on to say that the testimony was given under duress from the Chekists.
But I say, had we not made those sweeping arrests in the 1930s, we would have suffered even greater losses in the war.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 285

CHUEV: At the 22nd Congress Khrushchev alleged that Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kaganovich recognized the court’s ruling on Tukhachevsky and others to be incorrect and welcomed the rehabilitation of Tukhachevsky and others….
MOLOTOV: Emphatically no.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 286

Bolstering Khrushchev’s version of this affair, that Stalin swallowed German disinformation designed to destroy Tukhachevsky, is a legend that Stalin was warned of a conspiracy with the Germans. In 1939 the Soviet defector Krivitsky, who had worked for the NKVD and GRU in Western Europe, published his book In Stalin’s Secret Service, in which he claimed that the NKVD received secret information about such a conspiracy from Czech President Benes and from its agent Skoblin,…. Krivitsky accused Skoblin of providing the Soviets with disinformation from the Germans about secret contacts with Tukhachevsky. Later General Schellenberg, chief of Hitler’s foreign intelligence service, in his memoirs also claimed that the Germans fabricated documents pointing to Tukhachevsky as their agent. Before the war, he said, they passed these documents to the Czechs, and Benes reported the information to Stalin.
For me, this is a self-serving fairytale. The documents have never been found in the KGB or Stalin archives. The criminal case against Tukhachevsky is based entirely on his confession, and there’s no reference to any incriminating evidence received from German intelligence. If such documents existed, I, as deputy director and the man responsible for the German desk in the intelligence directorate, would have seen them or found some reference to their existence.
Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 90

The case of the generals was different from that of the accused civilians. Not only was it held in camera, but the “Court” of a presiding judge and two assistants was reinforced by eight of the highest officers in the Red Army. In addition, more than 100 high-ranking officers from all over the country were summoned as spectators, in order later to give an eye-witness account of proceedings to the troops under their command. It is a matter of record that none of them ever expressed doubts about the genuineness of the charge or the justice of the verdict. In this case at least, there was no possibility that the accused had been “worked on” during a long period of preliminary examination, as they were tried within three days after their rest, confessed their guilt, were condemned by unanimous verdict, and shot without delay.
…The charges against them, and the exact nature of their offense, had never been made public officially, but they can be surmised with a reasonable degree of accuracy. The night before Tukhachevsky and the others were arrested, Marshall Gamarnik, Vice Commissar of War and chief of the Political Department of the Red Army, committed suicide, which gives the key to the puzzle. The Political Department had been originally intended by Lenin as a means of civil control over the Army, but in the course of time it had gradually become a part or appanage of the General Staff, owing allegiance to the Army rather than to the Kremlin. The danger of war, and perhaps doubts provoked by the murder of Kirov and subsequent investigation, led Stalin to decide that a radical change should be made in the status of the Political Department, that it must henceforth revert to its original function as an instrument of civilian control. The Army leaders resented this “interference,” and finally decided to prevent it by violent action…. Accordingly, Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, and their colleagues appealed to the German General Staff for support in their projected coup d’etat or “palace revolution” against Stalin. They hoped to affect the coup through the Kremlin Guard and the students of the military academy in the Kremlin, who, they believed, would obey their orders; but they had the gravest doubts about the mass of the Army and the nation as a whole, which prompted them to seek German aid in return, it is said, for an offer of territory and for economic and political advantages in the Ukraine and North Caucasus.
Duranty, Walter. Story of Soviet Russia. Philadelphia, N. Y.: JB Lippincott Co. 1944, p. 220

I gave him [Spiegelglass] the contents of a brief confidential dispatch from one of my chief agents in Germany. At a formal reception tendered by high Nazi officials, at which my informant was present, the question of the Tukhachevsky affair came up. Captain Fritz Wiedemann, personal political aide to Hitler –appointed subsequently to the post of Consul-General at San Francisco –was asked if there was any truth in Staliin’s charges of espionage against the Red Army generals. My agent’s report reproduced Wiedemann’s boastful reply:
“We hadn’t nine spies in the Red Army, but many more. The 0GPU is still far from on the trail of all our men in Russia.”
Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 242

But how could generals of the Red Army have envisaged collaborating with Hitler? If they were not good Communists, surely these military men were at least nationalists?
This question will first be answered with another question. Why should this hypothesis be any different for the Soviet Union than France? Was not Marshal Petain, the Victor at Verdun, a symbol of French chauvinist patriotism? Were not General Weygand and Admiral Darlan strong defenders of French colonialism? Despite all this, these three became key players in the collaboration with the Nazis. Would not the overthrow of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the bitter class struggle against the bourgeoisie be, for all the forces nostalgic for free enterprise, be additional motives for collaborating with German `dynamic capitalism’?
And did not the World War itself show that the tendency represented by Petain in France also existed among certain Soviet officers?
General Vlasov played an important role during the defence of Moscow at the end of 1941. Arrested in 1942 by the Germans, he changed sides. But it was only on September 16, 1944, after an interview with Himmler, that he received the official authorization to create his own Russian Liberation Army, whose first division was created as early as 1943. Other imprisoned officers offered their services to the Nazis; a few names follow.
Major-General Trukhin, head of the operational section of the Baltic Region Chief of Staffs, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-General Malyshkin, head of the Chiefs of Staff of the 19th Army. Major-General Zakutny, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-Generals Blagoveshchensky, brigade commander; Shapovalov, artillery corps commander; and Meandrov. Brigade commander Zhilenkov, member of the Military Council of the 32nd Army. Colonels Maltsev, Zverev, Nerianin and Buniachenko, commander of the 389th Armed Division.
What was the political profile of these men? The former British secret service officer and historian Cookridge writes:
“Vlasov’s entourage was a strange motley. The most intelligent of his officers was Colonel Mileti Zykov (a Jew)…. He had a been a supporter of the “rightist deviationists’‘ of Bukharin and in 1936 had been banished by Stalin to Siberia, where he spent four years. Another survivor of Stalin’s purges was General Vasili Feodorovich Malyshkin, former chief of staff of the Far East Army; he had been imprisoned during the Tukhachevsky affair. A third officer, Major-General Georgi Nicolaievich Zhilenkov, had been a political army commissar. They and many of the officers whom Gehlen recruited had been “rehabilitated’‘ at the beginning of the war in 1941.’…”
E. H. Cookridge, Gehlen: Spy of the Century (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 57–58.

So here we learn that several superior officers, convicted and sent to Siberia in 1937, then rehabilitated during the war, joined Hitler’s side! Clearly the measures taken during the Great Purge were perfectly justified.
To justify joining the Nazis, Vlasov wrote an open letter: “Why I embarked on the road of struggle against Bolshevism.”
What is inside that letter is very instructive.
First, his criticism of the Soviet regime is identical to the ones made by Trotsky and the Western right-wing.
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 169 [p. 155 on the NET]

Towards Tukhachevsky he was said to have harbored resentment and jealousy because of disagreements during the Civil War. He had, however, recognized his ability and instead of sending him to some distant command, he had appointed him to high office in 1935 making him a Marshal of the Soviet Union. But then, suddenly, he became convinced that Tukhachevsky was a traitor.
On May 1, 1937, Tukhachevsky stood at Stalin’s side on the Lenin Mausoleum, reviewing the parade on Red Square. He was nearing the peak of his career, for in the event of war with Germany–and he was convinced that it was eminent–he would probably be made deputy to the Commander-in-Chief. He had been appointed to represent the Soviet government in London at the coronation of King George VI. A few days before he was to depart, however, his appointment was canceled He was relieved of office as Deputy Commissar of War on May 20 and sent to command the Volga military district. He arrived there on May 25 and was arrested the next day.
Pravda announced on June 11, 1937, that he and seven others with the rank of general were to be tried in secret. The military court, which took only one day to hear the evidence and find them guilty, included four Marshals of the Soviet Union…. Their crime, according to the press, was that they had spied on behalf of Germany and Japan and had conspired to surrender Soviet territory in the Ukraine and the Far East in return for military support to overthrow Stalin and his regime.
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 280

There are many rumors and speculations about the Tukhachevsky Affair. In the absence of primary sources, speculations of memoirists and politicians have variously accused Hitler and Stalin of framing Tukhachevsky. Others have suggested that the generals were actually plotting a coup against Stalin, who beat them to the punch. With no credible sources and so many contradictory rumors, the entire affair must remain mysterious.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 167

[Stalin said in a June 1937 speech], Gamarnik. Although he did not spy, he was the organizer of the spying program, overseeing Uborevitch, Yakir, Tukhachevsky who were involved in gathering systematic information for the German High Command.
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 109

STALIN [In a June 1937 speech]: Further, Tukhachevsky. You read his statement?
VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: Yes, we read it.
STALIN: He gave away our operative plan–our sacred plans for defense of our Motherland; he gave it to the German High Command. He always met with the representative of the German Reich Intelligence Agency. A spy? Yes, a spy! The Western countries, so-called “civilized countries,” call these people “informers,” but we in Russia know that this is an outright spy. Yakir –systematically informed the German High Command. He pretended that he had this sickness “kidney ailment.” He traveled to Germany to get treatment.
Uborevitch… singly informed Germans about our defense potential.
Karakhan–German spy.
Eideman–German spy.
Karakhan–informed the German High Command, starting from that time when he was our Military Attache in Berlin, Germany.
Rudzutak–I already spoke about this that he admitted that he was a spy, but we have all the information about his activities. We know to whom he gave the secrets. There is one Secret Agent in Germany, in Berlin. If sometimes you will have the opportunity to be in Berlin, Dzhosefina Genzi is the lady that will charm you. Maybe some of you here know this charmer. She is a first class intelligence agent with much experience. She ensnared Enukidze. She helped to ensnare Tukhachevsky. She holds in her hands Rudzutak. She is a very clever agent… Dzhosefina Genzi. She is supposed to be a Dutch national working in Germany. Beautiful, and she’s willing to go to all lengths on all proposals made by men, and then she buries you. You might have read an article in “Pravda” about some covert operations which included this lady. Well, she is one of the most efficient, masterfully getting you into her clutches, the best that German intelligence has. Here, you have people! Nine spies and three organizers who were involved in supplying the German High Command with the plans that were made for saving our Motherland. These are the people!
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 110-112

[In a June 1937 speech Stalin said], They [the Soviet traitorous generals] did not depend on their own strength, they depended on the might of Germany. The Germans told them that they will help them. But the Germans in the end did not help them. The Germans thought: you fellows cook the porridge, we’ll just look. The Germans wanted these traitors to show them concrete results;…
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 133

Stalin maintained that ten of the 13 leaders of the conspiracy he had named, that is all of them except Rykov, Bukharin, and Gamarnik, were spies for German intelligence, and some for Japanese intelligence. Talking of Tukhachevsky and other commanders under arrest, Stalin charged: “He handed our operations plan–the operations plan, that holy of holies–to the German’s Reichswehr. A spy? Yes, a spy…. Yakir provided systematic information to the German staff…. Uborevitch personally, as well as with his friends, his cronies, supplied information. Karakhan is a German spy, Eideman is a German spy. Kork had been informing the German staff since he was military attache in Germany.”
In Stalin’s words, Rudzutak, Karakhan, and Enukidze had been recruited by Josephine Hensie (Jensen), a German spy of Danish origin who was on the payroll of the German Reichswehr. She had “helped to recruit Tukhachevsky.”
… He [Stalin] accused them of spying and told the Military Council: “This is a military-political conspiracy. It was created by the hands of the German Reichswehr’s hands. The Reichswehr wanted a conspiracy to exist here, and these gentlemen built up a conspiracy. The Reichswehr wanted these gentlemen to systematically supply them with military secrets and these gentlemen did supply them with military secrets. The Reichswehr wanted the present government to be ousted and slaughtered, and they attempted to do so but failed. The Reichswehr wanted everything to be ready, in the event of war, for the army to engage in sabotage and be unprepared for defense; the Reichswehr wanted that and they prepared for it. These are agents, the guiding nucleus of the military-political conspiracy in the USSR, consisting of 10 patent spies and three patent instigators of the spies. They are agents of the German Reichswehr. This is the main thing. The conspiracy, therefore, is rooted not so much in domestic soil as in external conditions. It is not so much a policy in our country’s domestic line as a policy of the German Reichswehr. They wanted to make another Spain out of the USSR, so they found and recruited spies who operated in this matter. Such is the situation!”
Stalin said that 300 to 400 military men had already been arrested and charged with military conspiracy, that “we overlooked it and exposed too few of the military ourselves.” He said Soviet military intelligence was doing a poor job, it was contaminated with spies, and inside the Cheka intelligence a group had worked for Germany, Japan, and Poland. Having voiced dissatisfaction that no exposure signals were coming from local authorities, and having demanded that there be such signals, Stalin said: “Even if this were 5% true, it would be business enough.”
… Primakov and Putna, who had indeed supported Trotsky’s views prior to 1927, were included in this group.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 227

The indictment claimed that in April and May 1937 the NKVD had uncovered and eliminated a military Trotskyite conspiracy in Moscow, which have been led by Gamarnik, Tukhachevsky, and others. The military Trotskyite organization, to which all the accused had belonged, had been formed in 1932-1933 on direct instructions from the German general staff and Trotsky. It had been in contact with the Trotskyite center, and the rightist group of Bukharin and Rykov. It had engaged in sabotage, subversion, and terrorism, and had planned to overthrow the government and seize power with a view to restoring capitalism in the USSR.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 228

The scope of the repressive measures in the Red Army can be judged from Voroshilov’s speech to his Military Council on Nov. 29, 1938: “When a group of contemptible traitors to our country and the Red Army led by Tukhachevsky was uncovered and wiped out by a revolutionary court last year, none of us could have imagined, and unfortunately did not imagine, that this filth, this rot, this treachery had penetrated our army so widely and so deeply; in 1937 and 1938 we had to ruthlessly purge our ranks, mercilessly severing the contaminated parts of the body from the living and healthy flesh, ridding ourselves of that filthy, treacherous rot….
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 230
Altogether the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court tried 408 high-ranking officials and commanders of the Army and Navy, of whom 386 were party members; 401 were sentenced to death and 7 to various terms in labor camps.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 231

I was to meet Tukhachevsky for the last time on the day after the funeral of King George V. At a dinner at the Soviet Embassy, the Russian general had been very conversational with Politis, Titulescu, Herriot, Boncour, Potemkin, and Madame Potemkin. On that occasion his eyes had been alive, and his melancholy had disappeared in constructive talk. For he had just returned from a trip to Germany, and was heaping glowing praise upon the Nazis. Seated at my right, he said over and over again, as he discussed an air pact between the great powers and Hitler’s country: “They are already invincible, Madame Tabouis!”
Why did he speak so trustfully? Was it because his head had been turned by the hearty reception he had found among German diplomats, who found it easy to talk to this man of the old Russian school? At any rate, I was not the only one that evening who was alarmed at his display of enthusiasm. One of the guests–an important diplomat– grumbled into my ear as we walked away from the Embassy: “Well, I hope all the Russians don’t feel that way!”
And two years later, when the Soviets were to accuse and convict Tukhachevsky of complicity in a military plot hatched by Germany, my thoughts often reverted to his attitude during that dinner.
Tabouis, Genevive. They Called Me Cassandra. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1942, p. 257

As time passed, however, there came a change in the relation of the Political Department, as it was now termed, to the Red Army, and in 1937 the matter of military versus civilian control grew into a sharp and perilous issue. By then, after 17 years of peace, the Political Department was little more than an appanage of the General Staff. The commissars still looked after the education and morale welfare of the troops, and still held classes for Communist instruction, but they no longer regarded themselves as civilians, and the head of their Department, Gamarnik, was a marshal, a soldier every inch of him.
This change had occurred gradually, but sometime in 1935-1936 its importance and implications were brought to Stalin’s attention, I was told, by Voroshilov himself. He is said to have asked for a special meeting of the Politburo to discuss conditions which he described as alarming and in direct contradiction to Lenin’s view that the Political Department should be the channel and instrument of civilian control over the army. Without much noise or fanfare steps were taken to divert the political Department back from the General Staff to the Kremlin. In the lower echelons this was not so difficult, but it met stiff and obstinate resistance at the top. Military commands invariably and traditionally dislike a division of powers or “interference” by civilians in the workings of an army….
A powerful group of Red Army leaders, headed by the brilliant Marshal Tukhachevsky, resented Stalin’s “interference” and after several months of increasingly acrimonious controversy, decided to prevent it by violent and conspirative action. During the 10 years between the Treaty of Rapallo (1922) and rise of Hitler, relations between the Russian and German armies had been intimate and friendly. On one occasion in the late twenties the Chief of the German Reichswehr, General von Hammerstein, is said to have conducted Red Army maneuvers in the region of Kiev. Accordingly, Marshals Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik and the militarist clique in the army appealed to the German General staff for support in a coup d’etat, or “Palace revolution” against Stalin. They hoped to effect the coup through the Kremlin Guard and the students of the Military Academy in the Kremlin, whose commanders belonged to their clique. But they had grave doubts about the mass of the army and the nation as a whole, which prompted them to seek German aid, in return, it was said, for an offer of territory and for economic and political advantages in the Ukraine and North Caucasus.
The Kremlin acted with speed and vigor. Tukhachevsky and seven other generals were arrested early in June, 1937, and put on trial within three days, in sharp contrast to proceedings in other treason trials where the accused were held for preliminary examination during a period of weeks or months. The night before the arrests Marshal Gamarnik committed suicide. Like other treason trials, this was a court-martial, judged by the Supreme Military Tribunal of the USSR, but there were two important differences. First, this case was tried in camera whereas the others were public. Second, the court of three judges was reinforced by eight high-ranking officers of the Red Army. More than 100 prominent soldiers were summoned from various parts of the country to attend the trial. All the accused confessed their guilt and were condemned to death. Their sentences were carried out within 48 hours….
I was told by Troyanovsky, former Ambassador to the United States, who had many friends among the spectators, that none of them had any doubts about the guilt of the accused. From other sources I received an explanation of the whole affair which I believe to be reasonably authentic, although I have not been able to confirm it in detail. It appears that the GPU first got wind of treasonable conversations between the German General Staff and Tukhachevsky, who had just visited Prague and Berlin, from information supplied by the Czech Secret Service. In Prague, Tukhachevsky had a meeting with Foreign Minister Benes, the Czech Commander in Chief, General Sirovy, and one other Czech leader, to discuss measures for the defense of the country in case Hitler should attack it. Although no secretaries were present at the meeting and no minutes were kept, the Czech Secret Service in Berlin, where Tukhachevsky stayed for two days after leaving Prague, reported that high German military circles were fully informed about the Tukhachevsky-Benes-Sirovy conversations. The report gave facts and details which Mr. Benes recognized as correct, and he was therefore forced to the conclusion that no one but Tukhachevsky could have conveyed this information to the Germans. There was no suggestion that Mr. Benes was aware of any conflict between Tukhachevsky and the civil authorities in the Kremlin, but he was so angry that Tukhachevsky had given the Germans the substance of the ultrasecret talks in Prague that he promptly passed the report on to Moscow. Tukhachevsky had been scheduled to leave Berlin for London to attend the coronation of King George VI, but was promptly recalled to Moscow and arrested on arrival.
As a result of this trial and the ruthless purge of high military officers which followed, the Politburo control over the army was completely reestablished, though at heavy cost in army efficiency and prestige. For a term of years, the position of the political commissars in Red Army units was restored to something near the level of Civil War days, so that they had the same authority as that of equivalent regimental ranks and, in the event of death or disablement of the commanding officer, he would be succeeded, at least temporarily, by the commissar.
Duranty, Walter. Stalin & Co. New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1949, p. 214-217


The G.P.U. has always disclaimed — I think truthfully — the use of Gestapo forms of torture, and even of the American third degree. (Gedye, Prague correspondent for the New York Times, also cabled on June 18, 1937, that ” two of the highest officials in Prague told him they had definite knowledge for at least six months that secret connections between the German General Staff and certain high Russian generals had existed ever since the Rapallo treaty.”)
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

(Harold Denny, in the New York Times, January 15, 1939, wrote: “In almost five years residence, trying to learn the facts, I have found no evidence which I consider trustworthy that physical torture is applied to prisoners. I am convinced that there does not occur, unless in isolated and exceptional instances, the sadistic cruelties reported from German prison camps or even the beating with rubber hoses bestowed, as every American police reporter knows, in the back rooms of many American police stations.”)
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

In the majority of historical works devoted to the Tukhachevsky case, these confessions are explained exclusively by the use of physical torture. However, such an explanation is inadequate for a number of reasons.
First of all, the defendants at the trial of the generals were strong and healthy people, most of whom had only recently crossed the threshold of their 40th birthday. Unlike the main defendants at the open trials, they had not spent long years before their arrest engaged in endless acts of self-deprecation and humiliation. For this reason, one might expect significantly greater resistance from them, than, for instance, from Zinoviev or Bukharin.
Second, the stunning speed with which the confessions were obtained draws our attention. The majority of the defendants at the open trials did not give such confessions for several months. The trial of the generals, however, was prepared in record-setting time. From the arrest of the main defendants to the trial itself, slightly more than two weeks passed. Such a time period was clearly insufficient to break these courageous men who had many times looked death in the eye.
Third, unlike the defendants at the open trials, where the judges were faceless bureaucrats, the defendants at the trial of the generals were appearing before their former comrades-in-arms. This fact should have filled them with hope that the truth, if spoken in their presence, would inevitably make it beyond the courtroom’s walls.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 446


Because of the confidential military character of the testimony to be heard, the trial was held behind closed doors.
Sayers and Kahn. The Great Conspiracy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946, p. 305


This perhaps is the answer to the question that has been raised abroad, why, if the “Generals” were guilty beyond cavil, did the Kremlin not make public the full story? I think, however, that there is another answer, that some of the facts must have been grave enough and far-reaching enough to involve not merely a “Palace Revolution” or coup d’etat, but the safety of the State itself.
Duranty, Walter. The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, Inc., 1941, p. 67

Little is known about the trial of the marshals and generals; it was a secret one….
Basseches, Nikolaus. Stalin. London, New York: Staples Press, 1952, p. 294


Though the purge had deprived the Red Army of many capable soldiers, Stalin had retained the services of the best known. They were eventually to justify his faith by their devotion to the USSR in its war against Hitlerite Germany.
Prominent among them are: Voroshilov,… Budenny,…Yegorov,… and Shaposhnikov,… To this core of tried and reliable soldiers, the post revolutionary military academies have added many younger figures whose worth was proved for the first time in action against the Nazis. Best known of these is the 46 year old Timoshenko.
Cole, David M. Josef Stalin; Man of Steel. London, New York: Rich & Cowan, 1942, p. 107

On July 4, 1937, Ambassador Davies wrote in his diary, “Litvinov was very frank. He stated that they had to ‘make sure’ through these purges that there was no treason left which could co-operate with Berlin or Tokyo; that someday the world would understand that what they had done was to protect their government from ‘menacing treason.’ In fact, he said they were doing the whole world a service in protecting themselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination, and thereby preserving the Soviet Union strong as a bulwark against the Nazi threat. That the world someday would appreciate what a very great man Stalin was.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 167

Everything was strained to the breaking point. In that period it was necessary to act mercilessly. I believe our actions were fully justified…. But if the Tukhachevskys and the Yakirs, with the Rykovs and the Zinovievs, had started an opposition during the war, there would have been cruel internal strife and colossal losses. Colossal!
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 275

In June, 1919, an important fort called “Krasnaya Gorka” (The Red Hill), in the Gulf of Finland, was captured by a detachment of Whites. A few days later it was recaptured by a force of Red marines. Then it was discovered that the chief of the staff of the Seventh army, Colonel Lundkvist, was transmitting all information to the Whites. There were other conspirators working hand-in-glove with him. This shook the army to its very core.
Trotsky, Leon. My Life. Gloucester, Massachusetts: P. Smith, 1970, p. 423


On June 28, 1937, Ambassador Davies wrote to Sumner Wells, “The judgment of those who have been here longest is that conditions are very, very serious; the best judgment seems to believe that in all probability there was a definite conspiracy in the making looking to a coup d’etat by the army–not necessarily anti-Stalin, but antipolitical and antiparty, and that Stalin struck with characteristic speed, boldness, and strength.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 160

As to the alleged to guilt of these army generals of overt acts –actual conspiracy with the German government…it should be said that two very well-informed ambassadors, with whom I have discussed the matter, have stated it to be their belief that there was probably some truth in the allegations.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 192

Facts are not now available, and it is doubtful whether they will be for a long time to come, which would justify a statement as to exactly what happened and just what constituted the “offense” of these officers of the Red Army. Opinion must be based largely on deductions from known facts and these are few. The press reports here are practically bare of anything, except allegations. The same applies to Voroshilov’s manifesto to the army. About all that has been stated is the position of the government, i.e., that these men were guilty of treason in the Red Army, had conspired with Germany to overthrow the government, had admitted their guilt, had been tried by the cream of the Red Army–their own peers–and that the evidence of their guilt was submitted, prior to the trials, to representative officers of all military districts of the Soviet Union. That such a conference was in fact held and that a very large number of officers were present here in Moscow at that time seem to be confirmed by foreign military observers who saw many of these Red Army officers whom they had met in different parts of the Soviet Union.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 200

In view of the character of the accused, their long terms of service, their recognized distinction in their profession, their long-continued loyalty to the communist cause, it is scarcely credible that their brother officers–Voroshilov, Egorov, Budenny, Blucher, and the many other district military commanders–should have acquiesced in their execution, unless they were convinced that these men had been guilty of some offense.
(Footnote: The Bukharin trial six months later developed evidence which, if true, more than justified this action. Undoubtedly those facts were all fully known to the military court at this time.)
It is generally accepted by members of the Diplomatic Corps that the accused must have been guilty of an offense which in the Soviet Union would merit the death penalty.
From the facts which we have, certain deductions can be reached as to what the situation probably was. It would have been quite natural for strong-minded man, such as these men were, to have criticized political bureaucratic control of industry when it handicapped the army. It is also reasonable to assume that a group of men, such as these, would resent vigorously the imposition of an espionage system over them, through the instrumentality of a secret police system, under the control of politicians. It would also be quite natural for men of this character, and particularly with this training, to have resented bitterly the possible destruction of the fine military organization which they had built up, by the imposition of political control over the military command in each military district. It is quite fair to assume that these men would not permit the party, of which they were members, to adopt this course of conduct as a matter of “party principle,” without vigorous opposition. It is possible that they continued to voice such opposition.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 201

However, if after the 17th of May, when political control of the army was established as a result of a party decision, the opposition on the part of these officers continued, even though it were simply through discussions among themselves, their action would be treasonable and a felony under Bolshevik rules of behavior. It is a fundamental of party government that once a party action is established by a vote of the majority, any further opposition thereto constitutes treason.
Under all of the conditions it can also be quite reasonably considered that the party leaders responsible for the conviction of these defendants had convinced themselves that these Red Army generals had outgrown their creators and were a serious threat to the party organization and dominance. It is possible also that these party leaders found but little difficulty in spelling out of the conduct of the defendants an overt conspiracy to impose the will of the army over the party, and failing therein to engage in a conspiracy with a foreign enemy to overthrow the state.
(I don’t think any of these are the real reasons)
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 202

Another factor that led to general acceptance of their [the military officers] treason by the rank-and-file was that the “traitors” were said to have been tried by a military tribunal of high-ranking officers, albeit in secret, which was normal for serious military crimes.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 205

But quite a few non-Stalinist sources maintain that the generals did indeed plan a coup d’etat and did this from their own motives, and on their own initiative, not in contact with any foreign power. The main part of the coup was to be a palace revolt, following an assault on the headquarters of the GPU and culminating in Stalin’s assassination. Tukhachevsky was regarded as the leader of the conspiracy. A man of military genius, the real modernizer of the Red Army, surrounded by the glory of his feats in the civil war, he was the army’s favorite, and was indeed the only man among all the military leaders of that time who showed a resemblance to the original Bonaparte and could have played the Russian First Consul. Generals Yakir, commander of Leningrad, Uborevitch, commander of the western military district, Kork, commander of Moscow’s Military Academy, Primakov, Budienny’s deputy in the command of the cavalry, Gamarnik, the chief Political Commissar of the army who presently committed suicide, and other officers were supposed to have been in the plot. On May 1, 1937, Tukhachevsky stood at Stalin’s side at the Lenin Mausoleum, reviewing the May Day parade. Eleven days later he was demoted. On June 12 the execution of Tukhachevsky and his friends was announced.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 379

By May 29, 1937, Marshall Tukhachevsky was confessing to espionage, links with the Germans, and recruitment by Yenukidze into Bukharin’s conspiracy.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 200

The least interesting chapter in the book [The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes by Orlov] was the chapter devoted to the “Tukhachevsky affair,” which Orlov treated hastily and in many ways inaccurately. Only at the end of this chapter does he let slip an enigmatic phrase: “When all the facts connected with the Tukhachevsky case become clear, the world will understand that Stalin knew what he was doing.”
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 469

Even in The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, Orlov had carefully served notice that an attempt at a military-political coup had actually taken place.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 474

In light of the statements, we can place a certain amount of confidence in Molotov’s words which we cited earlier: “We even knew the date of the conspiracy.”
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 475

Yet another relevant article, “The Soviet Union on the Road to Bonapartism,” appeared in the semiofficial German military journal of Deutsche Wehr, but only after the event. Its author had no doubt that Tukhachevsky had indeed plotted against Stalin but was betrayed at the very last moment. His article, which attracted much attention and was widely translated and disseminated, was by one “A. Agricola “–none other than Russian-born Alexander Bauermeister, who, during World War I, was the most effective German spy master on the Eastern Front.
Agricola said that every true Soviet expert knew that the conspiracy had not been just a matter of espionage; it aspired to be a truly enormous military coup. The commanders of the most important military districts were involved in the plot. Tukhachevsky had made his first preparations in 1935, and zero hour was fixed for June 1937. Only because of General Skoblin’s betrayal had the coup been averted.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 87

After Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” it became the practice to accuse Stalin of murdering the “flower of the Red Army.” At the same time, mitigating circumstances were adduced: Stalin had fallen victim to the forgeries of the Nazi Secret Service…. [They ignore the fact that] Above all, it has been known for a long time that the first arrest (of Generals Putna and Primakov) took place almost a year before the Nazi forgeries reached the Kremlin. Furthermore Tukhachevsky had already been incriminated during the second Moscow show trial of former leading Bolsheviks (Pyatakov, Radek, et al.), which took place in early 1937.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 89

… the organs of state security began preparations for the trial of Soviet generals nine months before the German forgeries reached Moscow. Pavlenko had it on the authority of Major General Golushkevich (who was present at the 1937 trial) that the Heydrich documents were never once brought up in the course of the proceedings.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 90

But investigation, so far as investigation was possible, began to disclose a number of enlightening details. Tukhachevsky, brilliant and ambitious, wanted power for himself; he and Voroshilov were on bad terms, it was said; a general impression in military circles is that Tukhachevsky planned a “palace” coup d’etat to get rid of Stalin and set up a dictatorship himself. Stalin got him first.
All eight of the generals had close relations at one time with the German Reichswehr. The Red Army and the German army worked intimately together before 1932, it should be remembered; every year Russian officers went to Germany for training and study; even after Hitler, the two general staffs had a cordial respect for each other. Generals Kork and Feldman, with obviously German names, were Baltic Germans; General Uborevitch attended the German maneuvers after the Nazi party congress last year; both Kork and Putna had been military attaches in Berlin.
Few people think that Tukhachevsky could have sold out to Germany, or promised the defeat of his own army in the event of war; but it is quite possible that he envisaged some arrangement with the Reichswehr independently of Stalin. He wanted the Red Army and the German army to work together; politics prevented this. He was known to be an opponent of the Franco-Soviet pact, and the French distrusted him.
Gunther, John. Inside Europe. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, c1940, p. 560

Some of this analysis cannot be dismissed. It seems not impossible that Tukhachevsky and other high army officers had in 1937 made a plot to depose him [Stalin]. In fact, it is a priori likely.
Snow, Charles Percy. Variety of Men. New York: Scribner, 1966, p. 262

Diary of October 24, 1936:
The French Ambassador had engaged the Calvet Quartet to play for his guests, but the real entertainment took place when the Russian diplomats arrived and the German officials tried to avoid greeting them. Neurath and Dieckhoff were icy cold. Madame Franois-Poncet was equal to the situation, however, and ushered the Russian guests to the very first row of seats.
Henry, one of the French staff, was indignant. He said, “This is preposterous. The Nazis snub the Russians in public, but I know that privately they have been in close contact with an extensive clique of Russian army officers. Quite a plot, too. Involves some of Marshal Tukhachevsky’s highest staff officers. The clique entered into an agreement to effect the removal of Stalin. Afterward, a pact with Germany against the world. ‘Send us a list of your most reliable men,’ the generals were told.”
The generals returned to Russia and sent the list. It was promptly placed in Stalin’s hands. An example of Nazi diplomacy as practiced by Count Werner von Schulenberg, German Ambassador to Moscow. It accounts, if you believe it, for the torture and execution of so many high civil and military officials in Russia.
Fromm, Bella. Blood and Banquets. New York: Carol Pub. Group, c1990, p. 231

It is along the same lines that the failure of a “conspiracy” of “traitors” and “spies” among leaders of the Red Army was announced on June 11, 1937 together with their forthcoming trial which supposedly indicated the “crisis of bourgeois intelligence services.” The eight accused were all officers of the highest ranks–seven generals and a marshal…. The most illustrious of them, the first deputy of the people’s commissar of defense, Tukhachevsky. For about six months, rumors had been persistently circulating in diplomatic circles about his alleged intention to stage a coup as well as about his purported secret contacts with the Nazi high command, and it is improbable that they were unknown in Moscow. One month before his fall, ranking officials of the NKVD who had been already in the hands of their former colleagues, accused him and three of his prospective codefendants of “criminal contacts,” at the same time also implicating a general, Shaposhnikov, (who would never be arrested). Moreover, in the first days of May the president of Czechoslovakia, Benes, transmitted a message with documents of German origin, which he did not suspect to be forgeries, that seemed to establish the marshal’s “guilt.” But the material was not used during the investigations or at the trial and no step was taken immediately after its receipt in Moscow. All that happened was Tukhachevsky’s demotion from his post of deputy People’s Commissar and his transfer to head a military district. This was hardly the usual treatment of dangerous conspirators, and nevertheless two codefendants of the marshal were also merely reassigned at the same moment, one of them, Yakir, even twice in 10 days.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 139

All those who headed the Red Army during the Stalinist period– Tukhachevsky, Yegorov, Bluecher, Budenny, Yakir, Uborevich, Gamarnik, Dybenko, Fedko, [Kork, Putna, Feldman, Alksnis, Eidemann, Primakov, and many others],–were each in his time advanced to responsible military posts when I was at the head of the War Department, in most cases advanced personally by me during my tours of the fronts and during my direct observation of their war work. However bad, therefore, my own leadership was, it was apparently good enough to have selected the best available military leaders, since for more than 10 years Stalin could find no one to replace them. True, almost all the Red Army Leaders of the Civil War, all those who subsequently built our army eventually proved to be “traitors” and “spies.”
Trotsky, Leon, Stalin. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1941, p. 269


It is generally considered here that the liquidation of the older and experienced generals has weakened the army very materially. Personally, I agree with our Military Attache, Colonel Faymonville, that while this is measurably true, it is much exaggerated.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 409

Stalin has also been held guilty of bringing upon Russia the disasters of 1941-42 by his purge of the Red Army. Although tragic and wasteful, the purge probably had little effect, and certainly less than is often stated. Although many senior army commanders were purged, it was in this category that the Red Army was generally superior to the Germans, even in the years 1941-42. Germans superiority was marked among junior officers and NCOs.
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 421

Reese also shows that newly released statistics on the military purges indicate that at most 9.7% of the officers at the height of the terror in 1937 were “repressed,” in contrast to earlier estimates by Conquest and Erickson that 25-50% of the officer corps fell victim to arrest in 1937 and 1938.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 9

The destruction of the cadres of young officers around the reformer Tukhachevsky is usually taken as evidence that the Soviet Union took a giant step backward in military effectiveness and levels of military preparedness. This is a superficial conclusion….
Any argument which suggests that the purges weakened the Red Army (and navy) rests on a prior assumption that the pre-purge army must have been a more effective instrument. Such an assumption is clearly open to question. For all of Tukhachevsky’s enthusiasm for mass tanks and aircraft, there existed a wide discrepancy between theory and practice. Soviet forces had made poor progress in “command and control,” the critical dimension of fast-moving aircraft and tank combat. Communications systems were rudimentary or nonexistent. Tanks and aircraft were not equipped with radios and could not easily communicate with each other. Commanders had no way of coordinating air and ground action, nor of holding a large group of tanks and armored vehicles together. These deficiencies rendered the concept of “deep operations” almost impossible. At most levels of junior command there existed a lack of flexibility and tactical awareness. German soldiers who watched their Soviet counterparts in training and on maneuvers were unimpressed by what they saw. “The weak point of the army,” wrote a German army adjutant in 1933, “is that all commanders from platoon to regiment commander, are not yet efficient enough. Most of them are capable of dealing with problems only at the level of a non-commissioned officer.” The German military attache in Moscow the same year detected throughout the army “a fear of responsibility.” Many of those liquidated after 1937 were men who had little military education and had achieved office on the grounds of their Civil War experience. In 1937 thousands of younger man, trained in military academies since the 1930s, were ready to take their place. By the mid-1930s there were 16,000 officers a year training in the military academies. By 1941 over 100,000 officers were entering the Soviet armed forces each year. The purges certainly removed many military men of talent, but it is questionable whether the aggregate effect was to make the average performance of the officer corps much worse than it had been beforehand or to make the tank and air war any less capable of realization. The army had significant technical and human weaknesses both before and after 1937.
Overy, R. J. Russia’s War: Blood Upon the Snow. New York: TV Books, c1997, p. 50


… Radek in his testimony hinted that a conspiracy existed within the Red Army which involved Marshall Tukhachevsky, a high commander. I had personal reasons for feeling no surprise when Radek pled guilty. I had interviewed him in his apartment in Moscow in 1935, knowing that he was in the opposition group. In the course of the conversation Radek remarked that he considered Foreign Affairs the best periodical in America. This seemed a strange comment for a man of his views, until I learned that Trotsky had just published an article there. From further conversation I received the distinct impression, which he possibly wished to convey, that Radek was in closest contact with Trotsky in exile.
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 29

While the other accused spoke flatly and drearily, he [Radek] put real feeling into his evidence. He developed the post-1927 history of Trotskyism, and the complex links between those now accused and the Zinoviev group. He then listed a number of fresh terrorist bands, implicated Bukharin, spoke of the “Bonapartist” regime Trotsky intended, which would in fact be under fascist control, and added that Trotsky was already prepared to sacrifice the Ukraine and the Far East to the aggressors.
On the whole, Radek was a most co-operative and convincing defendant.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 152


[February 9th, 1938 Politburo decision “On Comrade Yegorov”]
a) Comrade Yegorov, first deputy of the people’s commissar for defense of the USSR had acquitted himself very unsatisfactorily during his tenure as chief of staff of the Workers’-Peasants’ Red Army, throwing the work of the general staff into disarray by delegating power to Levichev and Mezheninov, inveterate spies working for the Polish, German, and Italian Intelligence agencies.
b)…As is evident from the testimonies of Belov, Grinko, Orlov, and others, all spies now under arrest, Comrade Yegorov obviously knew something concerning the existence of an army plot headed by the spies Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, and other scoundrels who were formerly Trotskyists, right Socialist-Revolutionaries, White officers, and so on.
Judging by these materials, Comrade Yegorov attempted to establish contact with conspirators through Tukhachevsky, a fact mentioned by the spy Bepov, a former socialist-Revolutionary, in his testimony.
c) Comrade Yegorov, unjustifiably dissatisfied with his position in the Red Army and knowing something concerning the existence of conspiratorial groups in the army, decided to organize his own antiparty group, into which he inveigled Comrade Dybenko and tried to inveigle Comrade Budenny.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 521-522


CHUEV: …if a palace revolution had been carried out in 1937 it would have placed at the head of the country intelligent people such as Tukhachevsky; they would have coped both with the country and with fascism.
MOLOTOV: That is absurd. Where is the evidence that Tukhachevsky could do something useful for the country… . Where is it? What kind of data?
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 219

The point is, Tukhachevsky did not know where he was going. It seems to me that he would have veered to the right. He was closer to Khrushchev.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 220


… These were the work of the leaders of the united right-wing military underground of Moscow under the general directive of a man whose name is familiar to most of my readers.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 42

[Footnote: Likhachev editor of Posev was in the Far Eastern Red Army in 1937-38 and describes a genuine military plot against the Stalinist leadership, which Stalin smashed in a countercoup].

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 267

This affair [the military officers] began more or less in August 1936, just days before the first Moscow show trial opened, with the arrest of two senior officers. The first, detained on Aug. 14, was Primakov, a Bolshevik since 1914, a cavalry commander during the Civil War, and corps commander since 1935. Then on Aug. 20 Putna, the corps commander and Soviet military attache to London mentioned earlier, was arrested. He had been a Bolshevik since 1917. Both men had taken part in the Trotskyist opposition in 1926-27.

Until May 1937 Primakov categorically denied any kind of counter-revolutionary activity, though he wrote to Stalin that after breaking with Trotskyism in 1928 he “had not completely severed personal contacts with Trotskyites.” Putna, on the other hand, quickly admitted to participation in current “Trotskyist-Zinovievist centers” and an organization within the Soviet military. He named Primakov as a member…. Meanwhile one of the defendants at the August show trial referred to Putna as an “active participant” in terrorist work.

The major event occurred in April 1937. Marshall Tukhachevsky, one of the best-known officers in the Soviet Union, a colonel under the tsarist regime, and then a Civil War hero for the Reds, had been scheduled to travel to London for the coronation of George VI. But now Yezhov wrote to Stalin claiming that a “foreign source, worthy of complete confidence,” had informed him that the Germans were planning to assassinate Tukhachevsky during his stay in Britain, with the goal of stirring up international trouble. The Politburo responded by removing Tukhachevsky from the Soviet delegation. So far there was no hint of a lack of confidence in him; the decision was taken for his own protection.

But then several officers being held…by the NKVD named Tukhachevsky as a plotter against the government….

The accounts of two NKVD men therefore show that Yezhov personally drove the generals’ affair forward. Of course, Stalin may well have been behind him, issuing orders. But the impression these reports make is one of Stalin reacting to information as it came to him, not initiating matters. During the investigation he met with Yezhov almost daily, and from May 21 to 28 he also met regularly with Frinovsky [one of Yezhov’s aides]. Such close attention to a case that would never come to public trial suggests that Stalin wanted not to manufacture evidence but to learn what the police had found. He might have pushed Yezhov forward in this case in order to investigate something he feared. That Stalin and the Politburo reacted to Yezhov’s report about a plot to murder Tukhachevsky in London suggests that the Gensec did not have a plan to proceed against the officers; indeed, the whole picture of long investigations, NKVD behavior, and Yezhov’s role is one of material making its way up to Stalin.

Another variant was offered by the ex–NKVD officer Almazov. In one of his manuscripts in the Hoover Archives, he claimed that a real military conspiracy against Stalin existed. Planning to rely on several army units and on political prisoners as their main forces, Tukhachevsky and his followers intended to surround the Kremlin, arrest key leaders, and kill Stalin in one quick blow. But they were discovered in 1936, when Putna was recalled to Moscow. Sensing danger, he left a packet of incriminating materials in the Soviet capital with someone he thought he could trust, his brother-in-law. Instead the latter immediately took the documents to the Central Committee. Putna was arrested and quickly confessed–this point is not quite accurate, as we have seen–naming Tukhachevsky and others as his co-conspirators.

It must be noted that Almazov offered different versions of the background to the “generals’ plot.” Yet he was not alone in claiming that a real conspiracy against Stalin existed in the armed forces. Likhachev, a Red Army officer who served in the Far Eastern military district for six years prior to his ouster from the service in 1937 or 1938, also maintained that such a plot was under way and provided extensive details about it. He insisted that he was not directly involved but that he knew many officers who were. They told him that Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik had begun to lay plans in 1932 (that fateful year once again). The affair centered in the Far East, where most of the plotters had served. Putna was stationed there for several years in the early 1930s. High-ranking civilians in places like Leningrad, Smolensk, Kalinin, Tula, the North Caucasus, and Siberia were also involved. Gamarnik, trusted completely by the Kremlin, often traveled as its emissary to outline military districts; he maintained communications among the conspirators.

The chief plotters did not feel that they could trust their troops to follow them against Stalin (an interesting comment on popular loyalties), so they planned to stir up the men by announcing that foreign infiltrators had taken over the NKVD headquarters in Khabarovsk, the administrative center of the Far Eastern Army. Once the troops had attacked the building and blood had been shed, it might be possible to turn them against the regime. (How? Why?) In another version of the plan, an attack on the leadership was to take place inside the Kremlin simultaneously with the Khabarovsk action. But all was in vain; although Likhachev does not say how, the plot was discovered before it could unfold. His account is indirectly supported by an ex-Soviet officer who said that his brother had been involved in a “Tukhachevsky group” in 1935.

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 50-53

There was, moreover, always a grain of truth to the accusations of the show trials: the Trotskyist bloc had existed in the USSR, and Bukharin did know of a center, albeit a small one, organized against Stalin. At least one of Bukharin’s followers spoke of killing the vozhd. Putna was probably guilty of treason. The Germans fed the Gensec information incriminating Tukhachevsky, and evidence from various sources points to a plot in the army. Yezhov relayed damaging material on officers to his boss. With some justification, Stalin saw dangerous opposition developing around him.

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 57

The principal line of the Generals appears to have been that a conflict with Germany must be avoided at all costs and that the necessary territorial concessions must be made in order to buy the Germans off, and as this was clearly impossible without a change of Government, the Generals were prepared to steer for that in peace or in war. Just as reactionaries in Western Europe are prepared to divert Germany from attacking in Western Europe by offering it a free hand in the East, so the renegade Generals were prepared to offer it a free hand in the West. But from the German point of view, this policy had to be backed by something more than promises. The Generals had not only to declare their willingness to make territorial concessions, but also to prove the genuineness of their attitude by giving the German General Staff information as to the military position in the Soviet Union.

Campbell, J. R. Soviet Policy and Its Critics. London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1939, p. 225

On May 24, 1937 the following document, signed by Stalin, was circulated to members of the Central Committee requiring their vote:

“On the basis of facts which expose Central Committee member Rudzutak and candidate member Tukhachevsky as participating in an anti-Soviet Trotskyite-Right conspiratorial bloc and espionage work against the USSR for Fascist Germany, the Politburo of the Central Committee puts to the vote the proposal to expel Rudzutak and Tukhachevsky from the party and to hand their case to the commissariat of internal affairs.”

The vote was unanimously in favor. No one had any doubts, no one came to the victims’ defense…. Some members went even further than Stalin’s resolution. For instance, Budenny wrote on the voting slip ‘Definitely yes. These scoundrels must be punished.’ Mekhlis as usual underlined his ‘yes’ several times. Neither Voroshilov, nor Yegorov, who had both served with Tukhachevsky, nor Khrushchev and Mikoyan, who were later to condemn this act… found the courage to abstain from writing the fateful ‘yes’. For unexplained reasons, Stalin as usual left his voting slip blank.

Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 319

[Footnote]: That the officers had, at least, discussed a coup d’etat is authenticated. A former German Communist, Schutz, was imprisoned in Kharkov during 1937 and told the authorities that among the prisoners were high-ranking officers accused of belonging to the group of conspirators, who stated that it had been planned to force Stalin to agree to Polish partition, in order to secure the Soviet frontier against Germany. When the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial heralded the frustration of these moves they decided to resort to force. But Stalin struck first, with the aid of the “proofs.”

Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 149

[1929] Our military people have told their German counterparts that they are prepared to collaborate with them against the Communist Party and that at a chosen moment they could seize power and set up a pro-German government in the USSR. Therefore nothing should be done against the present Soviet government, and Stresemann’s plans for the creation of a unified bloc against it should be thwarted. The overthrow of the present Soviet government would lead to the setting up of a new government under the wing of France and England, while a military coup d’etat in the Kremlin would bring a pro-German government into power and ensure for Germany the inexhaustible markets of a Russia ruled by a military dictatorship….

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 105


In short, as the war drew to its close, those of us who or were still anti-Stalinist and had kept our sense of the objective facts, found ourselves more and more isolated. This had some ironical results. The Air Force officers who in 1941 had tried to get me to join them in an anti-Stalin coup tried as passionately in 1944 to convince me that there could now be no reason to object to Stalin’s rule. ‘Stalin has opened the churches,’ said one of them, ‘he has dissolved the Comintern, he has set of the All-Slav Committee, his allies are the most democratic nations in the world, he relies loyally on the Russian people, he is restoring the true Russian traditions…. What more do we want?’ In 1943 and 1944 I do not think that there was a trace of opposition in the USSR. Men who had been in opposition to Stalin were even ashamed of what they had done.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 253


In late 1939 and early 1940 several thousand Red Army commanders were rehabilitated because of the extreme shortage of officers and the incompetence demonstrated during the Soviet-Finnish war. Generally officers up to the level of divisional commanders were rehabilitated. The rehabilitated included many future heroes of the Great Patriotic War, such as: Rokossovsky, future marshall; Meretskov, future marshall; Gorbatov, future army general; Bogdanov, future commander of the Second Tank Army; Kholostyakov, future vice-admiral; Rudnev, future commissar of partisan units in Ukraine–all of whom were later named Heroes of the Soviet Union. Also, 0zeryansky, hero of the defense of Leningrad, awarded two Orders of Lenin and three Orders of the Red Banner;…

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 466

A few survivors were released from the camps; serveral had already been freed in 1940-41, such as Gorbatov, Rokossovsky, and Meretskov, who rose to fame during the war.

Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 92


(Roger Reese)
Thousands of officers were expelled from the party as a result of independent actions by primary party organizations, and subsequently discharged from the army in an orgy of denunciations at the local level out of Moscow’s control…. Simultaneously, thousands of officers were reinstated and tens of thousands of new officers commissioned, more than making up for the purged officers numerically, but not in experience, and making it extremely difficult to assess the impact of the Ezhovshchina on military cadres. This new information suggests a need to re-examine our understanding of the purge of the Red Army, because before the publishing of the aforementioned materials and documents, it was assumed that all officers removed from the armed forces in the years 1937-39 had been arrested and either executed or imprisoned by the NKVD. Table 9.1 from a report by Shchadenko, Chief of the Commanding Personnel section of the People’s Commissariat of Defense, however, shows that a minority of army officers and political leaders were removed from the army by arrest, and the majority were discharged from the army through expulsion from the party.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 198

He [Stalin] replaced all his military leaders at one time or another, often with good cause, but he also gave them the opportunity to show that their previous mistake had been accidental. Giving them this chance, however, did not mean that he had forgotten the earlier fault.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 468


All told, 34,301 army, air force, and Political Administration of the Red Army (PUR) leaders were discharged from the army either through arrest or expulsion from the party during the Ezhovshchina. Of these, 11,596 were reinstated by May 1940….
The numbers also show a more limited impact on the military than previously thought. Before the publication of the figures in Table 9.1, it had been variously estimated that between 25% and 50% of the Red Army officer corps were repressed in the Ezhovshchina. Conveniently, Shchadenko’s office gave the percentage of the leadership permanently discharged in the purge, which allows a calculation of the total strength of the nachal’sostav (the military leadership) in the purge years. In 1937, [the military leadership] numbered 144,300, of whom 11,034 discharged for political reasons remained discharged as of May 1940, equaling 7.7% of the [military leadership]. In 1938 there were 179,000 leaders, of whom 6742 political dischargees were still discharged in May 1940, which equaled 3.7% of the [military leadership]; and in 1939 the Army had 282,300 leaders, 205 or .08% of whom were discharged for political reasons and remained discharged in May 1940. Because the Army stepped up officer procurement during the Ezhovshchina, and at a rate that outpaced discharges, it is extremely difficult to invent a statistic to describe the cumulative impact of the purge on the military, and Shchadenko’s annual figures are probably the most definitive we will ever have. We face the same situation with the Red Air Force, which in 1937 had approximately 13,000 officers, lost 4724 in the purge, but had about 60,000 officers in 1940.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 199

The reason for the earlier high estimates of the percentage of repressed officers and PUR men by Western historians was not so much the erroneous estimates of the number of repressed officers, but tremendously low estimates of the size of the [military leadership]. John Erickson and Robert Conquest estimated the officer corps to number 80,000 and 70,000 respectively, so whereas Erickson’s estimates of between 20,000 and 30,000 men discharged is very near the mark, his estimate of the impact is very far off, as is Conquest’s estimate of 35,000 arrested officers out of a corps of 70,000. His estimate of a minimum of 20,000 arrested PUR men is 300 percent off. Both these historians considered the majority of victims of the Ezhovshchina to have been arrested, not expelled and discharged, and did not realize how quickly and in what large numbers men were rehabilitated.
[The number arrested is much higher than the number actually expelled or discharged]
…On orders from Moscow, the Communist Party purged itself frequently between 1921 and 1939. Some chistki (purges) were conducted on a unionwide basis, others were restricted to selected areas, all were to rid the party of self-serving opportunists, people from social classes ineligible for party membership, the politically unreliable, those of a bad moral character, and even those incompetent at their posts.

In the years of the Ezhovshchina, 34,301 Red Army and Red Air Force officers and political personnel were removed from the military for political reasons. As of May 1, 1940, 11,596 victims of arrest and expulsion in the army and air force had been reinstated in rank, but as a rule not to their former positions, leaving as a direct result of the purge 22,705 personnel of the [military] (of which about 13,000 were from the army, 4700 from the air force, and 5000 from PUR) either dead, in the Gulag, or cast into civilian society in disgrace. Although in its worst year approximately only 7.7% of the Red Army’s leadership was discharged for political reasons, versus the 20% to 25% suggested by John Erickson and 50% claimed by Robert Conquest, this does not diminish the seriousness of the purge;…
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 213

In 1937 the Soviet Armed Forces readmitted 4661 ousted men. At the direction of the party Central Committee, the Commissariat of Defense created a board in August 1938 to receive complaints from dismissed officers. More than 30,000 appeals and petitions came to it. As a result, 6333 officers regained their old status in the services in 1938, and 184 in 1939, totaling 11,178 in three years. In addition, 2416 won changes in the terms of their dismissals, presumably from political to less serious grounds. By 1939, more Air Force officers were reinstated (867) than arrested (344).
The impact of these dismissals on the armed forces is hard to determine. To begin with, the percentage of officers permanently removed for any reason is unclear, since the number of officers was growing extremely rapidly as new graduates poured out of military schools in preparation for war. But two frames from this moving picture are available: 6.9% of all infantry officers in the ranks as of 1936-37 had been dismissed but not reinstated by May 1940; the figure for the officers active in 1938-39 was 2.3%. Older works commonly suggested that 50 percent of all officers had been purged, with most shot. This number resulted from overestimating the number arrested and greatly underestimating the size of the officer corps.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 123

The repressions of 1937-38 inflicted significant losses on military cadres. During the Yezhovshchina 24,000 men were arrested and “discharged for associating with plotters.” In addition, more than 4000 commanders of Polish, Latvian, and other “undesirable nationalities” were purged. As a result, the army lost 8 percent of its commanders. The condemnation of the Yezhovshchina seems to have pertained primarily to army cadres. By May 1, 1940 12,000 repressed individuals had been reinstated.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 274

Over 40,000 soldiers were freed from arrest after it was found out that Yezhov and others, under their command, falsified their “criminal anti-State activities.” Altogether, there were let out of jail, for lack of evidence, after Stalin started the process of these Investigative Commissions–over 320,000 people… because they were innocent.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 79

There was much talk at the Congress of rehabilitating the unjustly condemned. Indeed, thousands were rehabilitated in 1939 and 1940, including many military commanders; many future military heroes of World War II were restored to their positions during these two years.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 240


Chistki should not be viewed as antimilitary actions on the part of the party, or as attempts to subvert the leadership of the army; in fact, they reflected a genuine concern for the moral health of the Red Army just as civilian chistki were to strengthen, not punish, those party organs. In the military chistki men were expelled not only for political reasons; failure in one’s military duties could also result in being booted out of the party. In the 1933 chistka, for example, the particular stress was on discipline. Those who did not maintain it in their units, or were personally undisciplined, were subject to expulsion from the party.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 203


Table 11.9 shows, those who worked in the central party and state apparatus, the military, and economic administration were most vulnerable. But those who were members of the artistic and creative intelligentsia or who worked in scientific research were relatively safe.
…The most surprising finding, however, is that members of the artistic, creative, and scientific elites were far less vulnerable. These findings offer no support to the assertion that the terror struck the intelligentsia “with particular force.”… Statistically, though, it seems that the vast majority of the elite intelligentsia escaped repression.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 239

But the most striking finding is that the elite members of the intelligentsia working in intellectual/artistic/scientific activities in 1936 were safest from arrest. Party leaders were five times as likely to be arrested, and military officials were more than seven times as likely to perish as were intelligenty. The risk for the creative intelligentsia was even lower than that for other miscellaneous groups. Although there is no doubt that members of the intelligentsia suffered during the repression, these findings make it clear that compared to members of the party, economic, and military elite–or even to other groups–the intelligentsia was much less likely to have perished.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 242


As we have seen, in 1926 Tukhachevsky had headed a Soviet military delegation to Berlin. Yakir had been on military courses in Germany in 1929. Kork had been the military attache there. Many others had met German representatives at diplomatic receptions, maneuvers and various talks. All of them, with the exception of Primakov, vigorously denied any ‘spy link’ with Germany.

Primakov’s last words introduced a dissonant note into the proceedings. He fully confirmed the official charges and stated that ‘all the conspirators were united by the banner of Trotsky and dedication to Fascism.’ He said he had given the investigators the names of 70 people whom he personally knew to be involved in the military-Fascist conspiracy. According to him, the leaders of the plot had a ‘second motherland’: Putna, Uborevitch and Eideman had close relatives in Lithuania . Yakir had family in Bessarabia, and Eideman had his in America.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 322


Until 1937 he had allowed Tukhachevsky a free hand in matters concerned with strategic and tactical conceptions and with the modernization of the Armed Forces….
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 494

Absolute dictator as he was after 1930, he [Stalin] could easily have consigned Tukhachevsky to obscurity or exile, but he kept him in high posts and in 1935 promoted him to Marshal of the Soviet Union.
Ulam, Adam. Stalin; The Man and his Era. New York: Viking Press, 1973, p. 190


But he [Rykov] also, backed by Krestinsky and Rosengoltz, confirmed the participation of Tukhachevsky in the bloc.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 355


[Stalin stated to Voroshilov], “Tukhachevsky has dared to make all sorts of approaches involving our foreign policy, without authorization from the foreign affairs branch, without even informing them, in fact.”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 60


Tukhachevsky’s telephone rang. When the caller announced himself the marshal was startled.
“At your service, Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“How are you?” asked Stalin, pleasantly enough.
“I’m well–at least as far as my health is concerned.”
“I see what you mean,” said Stalin, so warmly that Tukhachevsky could imagine him smiling at the other end. “I have just heard about today’s confidential report,” Stalin went on, “and that is one reason for my call. I think Mekhlis has gone too far.”
“If not further, Comrade Stalin.”
“I’ve made myself plain to him, you can be sure. What foolishness to bring up that meeting at Volna. We know quite well, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, that you have acted according to the spirit of the Party.”
“I think so, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“You are quite right. That absurd Radek business. And the nonsense of Mekhlis into the bargain. But what is one to do? I am surrounded with incompetents; you must understand the difficulties.”
“I understand them very well, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“Your name has certainly come up in an unfortunate context. But what can we do except regret it? In the existing atmosphere I think the best thing would be to prevent the rumor spreading. There must not be too much of this. Of course I know it is nothing but lies and foolishness, but while waiting for better times, what would you say to a change of air beside the Volga?”
“What’s that, Comrade Stalin?”
“You will be released from your duties as Vice-Commissar for Defense and posted as Commandant of the Volga military region. That is a decision of the Council of Commissars.”
“As you wish, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“Only do not, I beg you, see any disgrace in this. It looks like a step down but in fact I intend to keep you in reserve for the difficult days ahead when I shall need your military flair badly. You understand me?”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 153


[On May 18, 1937, Yezhov visited Stalin]. He opened the file and displayed the proofs of the guilt of Tukhachevsky, the paid spy.
Stalin did not take any notice. Nor did he ask Yezhov to sit down, but walked to and fro exclaiming so that all the secretariat could hear through the door that he had left open on purpose: “Sergo Ordjonikidze [who had just died] was the conscience of the party. An incorruptible tested during thirty years of struggle. As blameless as anyone could be, our Sergo.”
Yezhov was silent: mechanically leafing through his file he waited for the chief to recover his composure.
Stalin, however, continued to rage. “Soon there may be war. That will be a great settling of accounts and some bad ones among them. We may well suffer for having tarnished the heritage of our master, Lenin, Sergo should have outlived us, whatever happened. Everyone loved him; even our enemies would have hesitated to touch him. Unlike you, Nikolai Ivanovitch! There would have been no lack of volunteers for the job of getting rid of you.”…
Yezhov felt he was in quicksand. Stalin’s words resounded and were lost in the high room, with a menacing effect that even his staff in the next room had noticed. The “cannibal” trembled with fear. He had dropped his file on the desk, but Stalin went on pacing the room and ignored it. Finally he brandished the letter under Yezhov’s nose.
“Let me tell you what Sergo wrote before his death. It should interest you. He accused you of dishonoring the Party and me of dishonoring myself by employing you. He said that you isolate me and make me hated. Also that I am forgetting Marxism and running the risk of being cut off at the summit, in a personality cult.”
Yezhov was dumbfounded. The file obtained at such cost seemed to interest the chief no longer. Instead of well-deserved praise he was getting this….
Then, calmer, he sat down and told Yezhov to check the file before passing it on to Vyshinsky for a double check. He must then destroy it, make an official report of this, and then meet the Commissar for Defense to try to convince him of the authenticity of the documents.
“He’s the one who will need convincing,” Stalin concluded. “Party business, particularly at the top, must follow definite procedures. Only the members of Lenin’s old guard knew how to do this as it should be done. You, Yezhov, could never manage it. There can be no trial until Comrades Voroshilov, Molotov, and Kaganovich have signed this report.”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 157-158


Right up until May of 1937, other future defendants in the “Tukhachevsky affair” felt themselves, as before, to be people enjoying full trust. On August 10, 1936, i.e., immediately before the Trial of the Sixteen, the Politburo approved Voroshilov’s proposal to remove from a number of generals, including Kork, the severe party reprimands which they had received in 1934-35. A month and a half before that, also at the request of Voroshilov, the party reprimands which had been made in 1932 were removed from another group of generals, including Kork and Uborevitch. In September-October 1936, the Politburo passed a resolution to send Eideman on an official trip abroad. At the VIIIth Extraordinary Congress of Soviets (November-December 1936), a group photograph was taken showing Tukhachevsky sitting in the front row alongside Stalin and other members of the Politburo.
On March 17, 1937, a sugar factory in the Kiev area which had previously borne Pyatakov’s name was now given Yakir’s name. On April 27, 1936, Gamarnik was confirmed as a candidate member of the newly formed Defense Committee of the USSR, which included Stalin and other members of the Politburo.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 412


Tukhachevsky’s behavior at the investigation appears more enigmatic. He was arrested on May 22, brought to Moscow on May 24 and interrogated for the first time on May 25. On the day following the first interrogation, he wrote a statement to Yezhov, in which he acknowledged the existence of a “military-Trotskyist conspiracy” and promised “to present the investigation independently with everything concerning the conspiracy, hiding none of its participants, nor a single fact or document.” “The beginning of the conspiracy,” Tukhachevsky writes, “goes back to 1932. Those participating in it were Feldman, Alafuzo, Primakov, Putna, and others, and I will testify about it in detail later.”
A few days after this statement, Tukhachevsky sent Stalin a letter which was called, “Plan of Defeat.” An analysis of the contents of this document fully excludes the possibility that it was dictated to Tukhachevsky by the investigators. The document displays the author’s profound knowledge of the international political situation of the time, high professionalism and erudition in military questions. It is written in the language of military-scholarly literature, which was obviously inaccessible to the incompetent investigators of the NKVD. The letter, which is written in a calm and businesslike tone, includes many references to German military theoreticians and to the experience of previous wars. The basic ideas of the letter are illustrated with maps that are appended to it.
From the contents of the letter it is clear that at the time it was written, Tukhachevsky was familiar with the testimonies of other military leaders about “wrecking activity” in the army.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 435

Before the trial [of the generals], it was proposed that the defendants appeal in a written statement to Stalin. In a statement written on June 9, Yakir wrote: “All my conscious life has proceeded in honest and self-sacrificing work in plain sight of the party and its leaders–then came the descent into a nightmare, into the incorrigible horror of treachery…. The investigation is over. I have been charged with state treason, I have confessed my guilt, and I have fully repented. I unreservedly believe in the correctness and wisdom of the decision made by the court and the government…. Now each word I speak is the truth–I will die with words of love for you, the party, and the country, and with unbounded faith in the victory of communism”.
This letter was read aloud by Zhukov at the June Plenum of the Central Committee in 1957, and then by Shelepin at the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU. However, both times it was presented in a deliberately truncated and therefore falsified form. The words shown above in italics were omitted. This omission consciously gave the impression that after he had been falsely charged, tortured, and humiliated, and sensing his unavoidable execution, the completely innocent Yakir was trying to accomplish one thing, to convince Stalin of his personal loyalty.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 439

Although many commanders contemptuously denied the absurd charges against them, others confessed and turned against their comrades. Among them was General Primakov, commander of the Red Cossacks in the civil war, the recipient of three Orders of the Red Banner. He named no less than 70 senior officers who he said had been members of the “military-fascist conspiracy.” In his final speech, Primakov said, “Neither in the history of our country nor in the history of other revolutions had there ever been such a plot, as far as its extent, means, and ends are concerned.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 92

Archive materials from the investigation show that the behavior of Tukhachevsky, that is, denying involvement in a plot, was very short-lived.
On May 29, 1937, Yezhov interrogated Tukhachevsky. As a result of that interrogation, “direct testimony” was obtained from Tukhachevsky: “Back in 1928 I was recruited by Yenukidze into a rightist organization. In 1934 I had personal contacts with Bukharin, and I had espionage links with the Germans from 1925, when I traveled to Germany for training and maneuvers…. During a trip to London in 1936, Putna arranged a meeting for me with Sedov [the son of Trotsky]…. I maintained clandestine links with Feldman, Kamenev, Yakir, Eideman, Yenukidze, Bukharin, Karakhan, Pyatakov, Smirnov, Yagoda, 0sipyan, and a number of others.”
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 318

On May 29, 1937, when Tukhachevsky was questioned by Yezhov, he made a “confession.” He stated: “Back in 1928 Enukidze drew me into a rightist organization. In 1934 I established personal contacts with Bukharin. I became a spy for the Germans in 1925, when I went to Germany for exercises and maneuvers. When I visited London in 1936, Putna arranged a meeting for me with Sedov [Trotsky’s son]…. I acted in conspiracy with Feldman, Kamenev, Yakir, Eideman, Enukidze, Bukharin, Karakhan, Pyatakov, Smirnov, Yagoda, 0sipyan, and some others.”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 224

On June 11, 1937, the Special bench met in camera to consider the case against Tukhachevsky and the others. After the indictment was read out, all the accused, in answer to questions from the chairman of the court, pleaded guilty.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 228

Ulrich asked Tukhachevsky: You claim that you joined in anti-Soviet activities in 1932, and, concerning your spying, which you consider anti-Soviet, did begin much earlier?” To this Tukhachevsky replied: “I don’t know if it would be considered spying….”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 229

Tukhachevsky deposed that the conspiracy had been led by himself, Tukhachevsky, and Feldman, whom he had allegedly recruited in 1932 together with Smolin and Alafuzo.
But no charges concerning the “military-fascist conspiracy” were brought against Alafuzo, and Smolin has now been rehabilitated.
Furthermore Tukhachevsky deposed that he had drawn Efimov, Putna, Eideman, and Vakulich into the conspiracy in 1933, and Primakov, Gorbachev, Vasilenko and others, in 1934.
Tukhachevsky’s depositions to the effect that back in 1925 he had given intelligence about the state of the Red Army to the Polish spy Dombal, and that in 1931 he had established an espionage relationship with General Adams, Chief of the German General Staff, and a staff officer, Niederneyer…and that Niederneyer, at the time indicated by Tukhachevsky, was an official representative of the Reichswehr in the USSR, and, in accordance with the agreements of those years, liaised not only with Red Army commanders but with the NKVD.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 234

A few days later, as Yezhov buzzed in and out of Stalin’s office, a broken Marshal Tukhachevsky confessed that Yenukidze had recruited him in 1928, that he was a German agent in cahoots with Bukharin to seize power. Tukhachevsky’s confession…survives in the archives….
Montefiore, Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 223


…In 1925 Frunze completed all this by making personnel appointments and switches that placed competent military men at the head of military districts, corps, and divisions. These men were selected on the basis of their military qualifications, not their devotion to the party.
By this time I was already secretly anti-communist. Looking at the lists of Frunze’s senior officers, I asked myself, “If I were in his place, and anti-communist, who would I have selected to run the army?” I would have had to respond to myself, “The same men.” They were a group who would have been perfect for a coup d’etat in case of war. They were, of course, in appearance merely excellent military officers.
I never discussed this matter with Stalin, and naturally I had no wish to draw his attention to it. But when the occasion presented itself I asked Mekhlis if he had heard Stalin say what he thought of the new military appointments. I asked it innocently, “Stalin is always interested in military matters.” “What does Stalin think? [He replied,] “Nothing good. Look at the list: men like Tukhachevsky, Kork, Uborevitch, Avksentiev, are they good Communists? They’re good for an 18th Brumaire, but not the Red Army.” I wanted to know more, “is that your opinion, or Stalin’s?” Mekhlis puffed himself up and said conceitedly, “His, and mine too, of course.”
Bazhanov, Boris. Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, c1990, p. 100

This tendency to see conspiratorial linkages among those who were not on his side was detectable in a note he [Stalin] sent to Ordzhonikidze in 1930. The OGPU had conducted interrogations of a large number of former Imperial Army officers and discovered that several have put their political hopes in Tukhachevsky….
[In the same September 1930 notes to Molotov] Stalin stated:
“At any rate, Tukhachevsky has turned out to be captive to anti-Soviet elements and has been especially worked over by anti-Soviet elements from the ranks of the Rightists. That’s what comes out of the materials [of the interrogations]. Is this possible? Of course it’s possible once it has failed to be excluded. Obviously the Rightists are ready to go to the lengths of a military dictatorship if only this would free them from the Central Committee, from kolkhozes, and sovkhozes, from Bolshevik rates of development of industry.”
…Stalin was in no doubt: Tukhachevsky, Kondratev, and Bukharin were leading figures in this disloyal “camp’ of the Rightists.
Service, Robert. Stalin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2005, p. 279-280


Arrested on Aug. 14, 1936, Corps Commander Primakov had been held in the Lefortovo prison in Moscow for nine months; he refused to admit he was guilty…. However,…on May 8, 1937, in the Lefortovo prison, he wrote the following statement to Yezhov:
“For nine months I have refused to speak about the affair of the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary organization. In this refusal I have resorted to such insolence that even in the Politburo before Comrade Stalin I continued to refuse to speak and tried in every way possible to mitigate my guilt. Comrade Stalin was right when he said “Primakov is a coward, for to refuse to speak in such a matter is cowardice.” In fact, for my part this was cowardice and false shame for the purpose of deception. I now state that when I returned from Japan in 1930, I made contact with Dreitzer and Putna with Mrachkovsky and started Trotskyite work about which I shall provide full testimony for the investigation.
Already at the interrogation on May 14, 1937, naming his “accomplices,” he had reported the following about Yakir: “The Trotskyite organization thought that Yakir was most suitable for the post of people’s commissar to replace Voroshilov…. They thought that Yakir was a strictly clandestine Trotskyite and allowed that he, Yakir, was linked personally with Trotsky and would possibly carry out top-secret independent tasks unknown to us.”
Continuing the “treatment” [there’s no justification for putting quotes around the word treatment] on Primakov on May 21, 1937, the NKVD organs managed to obtain from him “his own testimony” that Tukhachevsky, who had links with Trotsky, led the conspiracy. In addition, at this interrogation, Primakov named 40 eminent Soviet workers as participants in a military Trotskyite plot in the army. In particular, he offered testimony that compromised eminent military figures such as Shaposhnikov, Kamenev, Gamarnik, Dybenko, Uritsky, and others.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 314-315

Corps Commander Primakov was arrested on Aug. 14, 1936. He was put into Lefortovo Prison in Moscow and for nine months denied all charges. Stalin’s archives contain several statements from him, in which he protested his illegal arrest. But he failed to stand the ordeal and on May 8, 1937, wrote a statement in Lefortovo prison, addressed to Yezhov: “For nine months I have withheld from the investigators the truth about the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary organization. In this I became so impudent that even in the Politburo before Comrade Stalin I continued to hold back and belittle my guilt in every way. Comrade Stalin rightly said that ‘Primakov is a coward, it is cowardice to hold back in a case like this.’ Indeed, it was cowardice and a pretense of shame for the deception on my part. I hereby state that after I came back from Japan in 1930 I got in touch with Dreitzer & Schmidt, and through Dreitzer & Putna, with Mrachkovsky, embarked on Trotskyite work, about which I will testify to the investigators in full.”
… Interrogated on May 14, 1937, he named his accomplices and testified against Yakir: “The Trotskyite organization considered Yakir the best man for People’s Commissar instead of Voroshilov…. We believe that Yakir was a most thoroughly concealed Trotskyite, and admitted of the possibility that he, Yakir, maintained personal contacts with Trotsky and, possibly, was carrying out absolutely secret missions, of which we were not aware.”
On May 21, 1937… the NKVD got Primakov to “make a deposition in his own hand” that the conspiracy was headed by Tukhachevsky, who was linked with Trotsky. At the same interrogation he named 40 prominent officers as members of the alleged military Trotskyite conspiracy in the army. He testified against such noted military leaders as Shaposhnikov, Kamenev, Gamarnik, Dybenko, and Uritsky.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 223


New arrests of eminent military workers took place in mid-May 1937. Those arrested included the chief of the Frunze Academy, Army Commander 2nd Rank Kork, and Corps Commander Feldman, who had been appointed deputy commander of the Moscow Military District.
During the first interrogations of Kork, who was arrested on the night of May 14, 1937, he denied involvement in anti-Soviet activity, but on May 16 his resistance was broken, and he signed two statements addressed to Yezhov. Kork reported that he had been recruited into a rightist organization by Yenukidze and that the military rightist organization also included a Trotskyite military group made up of Putna, Primakov, and Turovsky. Tukhachevsky was supposedly also connected with the rightist organization. Kork wrote further that the group’s main task was to effect a military coup in the Kremlin and that he led a military organization of rightists headquarters people for the coup made up of himself along with Tukhachevsky and Putna.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 316

New arrests among the military were made in the middle of May 1937. Those arrested include Kork… and Feldman….
At the first interrogations following his arrest on the night of May 13, 1937, Kork denied any involvement in anti-Soviet activities, but on May 16 his resistance was over-powered, and he signed two statements addressed to Yezhov. He said he had been drawn into a right-wing organization by Enukidze, and that their military organization included a Trotskyite military group consisting of Putna, Primakov, and Turovsky. Tukhachevsky was said to have been connected with the military organization of the right. Kork wrote that the group’s main aim was to carry out a military takeover in the Kremlin, and that the military organization was led by a take-over headquarters consisting of himself, Tukhachevsky, and Putna.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 223

In a statement to the NKVD, Kork maintained that he had been drawn into the conspiracy by Enukidze, and that the “take-over headquarters” comprised Tukhachevsky, Putna, and himself, Kork. He had entered into a criminal relationship with Tukhachevsky in 1931. Later Kork changed his testimony, saying that the leading center of the conspiracy had consisted of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevitch, Eideman, and himself, Kork.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


Corps Commander Feldman was arrested on May 15, 1937. In his statement he requested that he be able to familiarize himself with the available material in the investigation, and he expressed his readiness to provide testimony concerning that material.
When he presented the record of the interrogation to Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kaganovich on May 20, 1937, Yezhov asked them to discuss the question of the arrest of “the remaining participants in the plot” named by Feldman.
The “remaining participants in the plot” who had not been arrested at that time were Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Eideman, and other commanders. They were arrested after May 20. In the records of Feldman’s interrogations on May 19, 21, and 23, 1937, more than 40 army commanders and political workers were named as participants in the military Trotskyite organization.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 317

… According to the records of Feldman’s interrogations on May 19, 21, and 23, 1937, he named 40-odd army commanders and political officers as members of the alleged military Trotskyite organization.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 224

At first Feldman deposed that he had been drawn into the conspiracy by Primakov. At subsequent interrogations he deposed that he had been recruited by Tukhachevsky, who allegedly back in 1932 had told him that Putna, Primakov, Efimov, Vasilenko, Garkavy, Turovsky, and others were involved in the conspiracy.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


On May 9, 1937, Voroshilov sent a letter to the All-Union Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) Politburo confirming new appointments. On May 10, 1937, the All-Union Communist Party Politburo adopted the following: “The following appointments are confirmed: (1) marshal of the Soviet Union Comrade Yegorov as first deputy people’s commissar of defense; (2) commander of the Leningrad Military District Commander 1st Rank Comrade Shaposhnikov as RKKA chief of General Staff; (3) commander of the Kiev Military District Army Commander 1st Rank Comrade Yakir as commander of the Leningrad military district… (8) marshal of the Soviet Union Comrade Tukhachevsky as commander of the Volga Military District, relieving him of his duties as deputy people’s commissar of defense.”
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 317


When he was interrogated for the first time on August 24-25, 1936, Putna admitted that he had participated in the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Opposition in 1926 and 1927, but said he had completely broken with it and had not engaged in any counter-revolutionary activity. But at the next interrogation, on August 31, 1936, he testified to the existence of a “nation-wide,” a “parallel,” and a ” Moscow center of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc” and his involvement, jointly with Primakov, in a military Trotskyite organization.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 220


On May 6, 1937, the NKVD administration for the Moscow Region arrested M. E. Medvedev, retired brigade commander, who prior to 1934 had been head of the Red Army’s Air Defenses and had been expelled from the party for squandering public money. That same day he testified against some of the Air defense officers. The interrogation record stated that he had “doubted their sincerity and loyalty.” On May 8, 1937, he stated that he had participated in a “Trotskyite military organization,” which had been headed by Feldman, deputy commander of the Moscow Military Areas. Interrogated on May 10, 1937, Medvedev spoke of a “military counter-revolutionary organization” in the Red Army, whose aim was to “overthrow the Soviet system, and establish a military dictatorship with the restoration of capitalism, which was to be carried out with armed assistance from invaders.” He alleged that the organization’s leaders included Tukhachevsky (the potential dictator), Yakir, Putna, Primakov, and Kork.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 222


A short while later Uborevitch signed two statements addressed to Yezhov, in which he confessed to having played a role in a military conspiracy. He also signed the minutes of the interrogation at which he had admitted his guilt.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 225


Like Uborevitch, Yakir at first denied any part in the conspiracy, but after a confrontation with Kork, he wrote Yezhov a statement admitting that he had been a member of the conspiracy and that he had been drawn into it by Tukhachevsky in 1933.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


Later Yakir changed his depositions and said that back in 1936 he had informed Gamarnik of the sabotage that he, Yakir, and Tukhachevsky and Uborevitch had committed in border areas to weaken the nation’s defense capability, and that Gamarnik had said that similar work had been done in the Soviet Far East. Yakir maintained that Gamarnik had not been a member of the military conspiracy’s center and that he had not maintained counter-revolutionary contacts directly with Tukhachevsky, Kork, or others but had maintained these contacts through Yakir. Yakir could not cite any instance of Gamarnik’s alleged counter-revolutionary activities, saying that Gamarnik had engaged in sabotage in the Soviet Far East and that he himself had known little of the Far Eastern Theatre.
Uborevitch did not testify to Gamarnik’s role in the military conspiracy but said that Tukhachevsky had spoken very highly of him and that in turn Gamarnik had kept in touch with Tukhachevsky and others on some matters, and therefore he supposed that Gamarnik had been a member of the military conspiracy’s center.
Tukhachevsky testified more specifically to Gamarnik’s part in the conspiracy. He deposed that its center had consisted of Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, S.S. Kamenev, Uborevitch, Yakir, Feldman, Eideman, Zarem, Primakov, and Kork.
Tukhachevsky maintained that Gamarnik had joined the center in 1934, had held a leading position in it, and had been in charge of sabotage in the Soviet Far East.
Kork, who was also convicted as a member of the center, deposed: “The center consisted of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevitch, Eideman, and myself. Tukhachevsky didn’t tell me then or later about any other persons, including Gamarnik.”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 237

Stalin Tries to Resign: Unpublished Speech by Stalin at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, 1952


October 16,1952


Yes, we did hold the Congress of our party. It went very well, and many of you might think that, amongst us there exists full harmony and unity. But we have not this harmony and unity of thought. Some of you are even opposed and do not like our decision.

They say, why do we need an enlarged Central Committee. But isn’t it self-evident that we need to get new blood and new strength into the CC CPSU? We arc getting older and shall sooner or later die, but we must think into whose hands we shall give this torch of our great undertaking, who will carry it onward and reach the goal of communism? For this we need younger people with more energy, dedicated comrades and political leaders. And what does it mean to bring up a dedicated, devoted political leader of the State? It needs ten, no, fifteen years so that we would be able to bring up a state leader, able to carry on this torch.

But just to wish for this to happen is not enough. To bring up such new cadres needs time and involvement in the day-to-day governing of the state, learning in practical matters which encompass the whole gamut of state apparatus plans and ideological concepts to carry on to a higher plateau of building a Socialist society and that comrades must be able to recognize and struggle against all sorts of opportunistic tendencies. He must be a Leninist worker, taught by our party its history, tactics, plans and future of the Soviet Union as envisaged by Lenin.

Is it not self-evident that we must lift up the importance and the role of our party and its party committees? Can we afford not to follow the desire of Lenin to improve the work of the party constantly? All this needs a flow of younger blood into the leadership, especially in the CC CPSU. And this we followed as Lenin always suggested. In this way even the membership of our party has grown.

The question is asked as to why we relieved some well-known comrades from their posts in the party and state apparatus? What can be said about this? We replaced comrades Molotov, Kaganovich. Voroshilov and others and they were elected to new, less demanding but no less important posts. The work of a Minister is extremely hard work, demanding strength, stamina and new thinking to new problems. Why did we put in their place younger and more qualified, energetic comrades? They are younger comrades, have more energy plus strength. We old Bolsheviks shall not be here forever. We must support and help them.

The replaced comrades, the old Bolsheviks are in very important new positions, where their expertise, dedication and respect is beyond question. They are all now our Deputy chairpersons of the Council of Ministers of USSR. Thus, even I do not know how many deputy Ministers we have.

We must, as Communists, be self-critical and also critical of others.

There has been criticism of comrade Molotov and Mikoyan by the Central Committee.

Comrade Molotov – the most dedicated to our cause. He shall give his life for the cause of the party. But we cannot overlook his weakness in certain aspect of his work. Comrade Molotov as our Minister of Foreign Affairs, finding himself at a “slippery” Diplomatic Reception, gave assurance to a British diplomat that the capitalists can start to publish bourgeois newspapers in our country. Why? Was that the place to give such an assurance, without the knowledge of the CC CPSU? Is it not self-evident that the bourgeoisie is our class enemy and to promote bourgeois newspapers amongst our party people besides doing harm, shall not bring us any benefit. If this were allowed to transpire, we could foresee circumstances where the attacks against Socialism and the CPSU would be started, first very subtly then overtly. This is the first political mistake of comrade V.M. Molotov.

What about the incorrect suggestion by Molotov to give the Crimea to Soviet Jews? This is a flagrant mistake of comrade Molotov. Why was this even proposed? On what grounds did comrade Molotov make this proposal? We have a Jewish Autonomous Republic. What else is yet needed? There are many other minority nations that have now their own Autonomous Regions and also Autonomous Republics… is this not enough now? Or is this meant not to trust the Constitution of the USSR and its policy on nationalities? Comrade Molotov is not appointed by anyone to be a lawyer for pursuing territorial pretensions on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics! This is the second mistake of our esteemed comrade V.I. Molotov! Thus, in this respect comrade Molotov is not correct in his proclamations as a member of the Politburo. The CC CPSU has categorically defeated his suggestion.

Comrade Molotov has such deep respect for his wife, that no sooner have the CC or the Politburo made very many decisions on this or that question, that this decision immediately is conveyed to Molotov’s wife Zhemtchuzhina and all of her friends. Her friends, as is well known to all of you here, are not to be trusted, as former situations have shown. It is of course not the way that a member of the CPSU CC Politburo should behave.

Now regarding comrade Mikoyan. He is categorically against and thus he agitates against any taxes for the Soviet peasants. What is it that is not clear to our esteemed comrade A.I.Mikoyan?

Farmer Deputy – We have good relations with the collective farmers. Our Collective Farms are forever dedicated to collectivization. Our crops are abundant and all our Collective Farms should give taxes to the state as the workers do. Therefore we do not agree with the suggestion – put forward by comrade Mikoyan.

MIKOYAN – coming to the speaker’s tribune started to defend his collective farm policies.

STALIN – Well comrade Mikoyan, you are lost in your own policies and you are now trying to get the members of the CC to be lost with you. Are you still unclear?

MOLOTOV – coming to the speaker’s tribune completely admits his mistakes before the CC, but he stated that he is and will always he a faithful disciple of Stalin.

STALIN – (interrupting Molotov) This is nonsense. I have no students at all. We are all students of the great Lenin.

Stalin suggested that they continue the agenda point by point and elect comrades into different committees of state.

With no Politburo, there is now elected a Presidium of the CC CPSU in the enlarged CC and in the Secretariat of the CC CPSU altogether 36 members.

In the new list of those elected are all members of the old Politburo – except that of comrade A.A. Andreev who, as everyone knows now is unfortunately completely deaf and thus can not function.

VOICE FROM THE FLOOR – We need to elect comrade Stalin as the General Secretary of the CC CPSU and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

STALIN – No! I am asking that you relieve me of the two posts!

MALENKOV – coming to the tribune: Comrades! We should all unanimously ask comrade Stalin, our leader and our teacher, to be again the General Secretary of the CC CPSU.

Reblogged from:  Espresso Stalinist (

Source:  Northstar Compass.  April 2000, pp. 22-24.

Che Guevara on Anti-“Stalinism.”


“My duty as a Marxist-Leninist Communist is to expose the reactionary tendencies of historical revisionism, opportunism and Trotskyism and teach comrades (both by words and deeds) that they should not accept as valid the attacks against Stalin made by these bourgeois social-democrats and other pseudo-communist reactionaries. These traitors’ real purpose is to dynamite and destroy the workers’ movement from within.”

— Ernesto “Che” Guevara