Category Archives: Myth-Busting

Vietnam & Trotskyism: Three letters from Ho Chi Minh


Sent from China to the Vietnamese CP in 1939

(* Ho Chi Minh refers in these letters to a number of Chinese communists, by names translated from Chinese to Vietnamese, and the editors have been unable to establish their identity. The names are left in the French-Vietnamese translation).

First Letter

Kwelin, 10 May 1939

Dearly beloved comrades,

In the past, in my eyes and those of a good number of comrades, Trotskyism seemed a matter of a struggle between tendencies within the Chinese Communist Party. That’s why we hardly paid it any attention. But a little before the outbreak of war, more exactly since the end of the year 1936 and notably during the war, the criminal propaganda of the Trotskyists opened our eyes. Since then, we have set ourselves to study the problem.

And our study has led us to the following conclusions:

1. The problem of Trotskyism is not a struggle between tendencies within the Chinese Communist Party, for between communists and Trotskyists there is no link, absolutely not one link: It is a question that concerns the entire people: the struggle against the Fatherland.

2. The Japanese fascists and foreigners now it. That’s why they seek to create divisions to deceive public opinion and damage the reputation of the Communists, making people believe that Communists and Trotskyists are in the same camp.

3. The Chinese Trotskyists (like the Trotskyists of other countries) do not represent a political group, much less a political party. They are nothing but a band of evil-doers, the running dogs of Japanese fascism (and of international fascism).

4. In all countries, the Trotskyists give themselves fine names in order to mask their dirty work and banditry. For example: in Spain they call themselves the United Marxist Workers Party (POUM). Do you know that it’s they who constitute the nests of spies in Madrid in Barcelona and in other places in the service of Franco?

It is they who are organising the infamous ‘fifth column’, the espionage body of the army of the Italian and German fascists. In Japan, they call themselves the Marx-Engels-Lenin League (MEL). The Japanese Trotskyists lure youth into their league, then they denounce them to the police. They seek to penetrate the Japanese Communist Party with the aim of destroying it from within. To my mind, the French Trotskyists now organised around the Proletarian Revolution Group have settled on the aim of sabotaging the Popular Front. On this subject, I think you are surely better informed than I. Here in China, the Trotskyists are regrouping around formations such as The Struggle Against the Japanese, Culture and Red Flag.

5. The Trotskyists are not only the enemies of Communism, they are also the enemies of democracy and of progress. They are the most infamous traitors and spies.

Perhaps you have read the charges in the proceedings against the Trotskyists in the Soviet Union? If you have not read them, I advise you to read them and to get your friends to read them. This reading is very useful. It will help you to see the true repugnant face of Trotskyism and Trotskyists. Here, I have taken the liberty of extracting some passages directly concerning China.

Before the tribunal, the Trotskyist Rakovsky has sworn that, in 1930, when he was in Tokyo (as representative of the Soviet Red Cross) a person highly placed in the Japanese government said to him: “We are now expecting a change of strategy from the Trotskyists. I won’t enter into the details. I only want to tell you that we expect from the Trotskyists actions which favour our intervention in the affairs of China”.

Replying to the Japanese, Rakovsky said: “I will write to Trotsky on this subject”. In December 1935, Trotsky sent his followers in China instructions in which he underlined several times this phrase: “Do not create obstacles to the Japanese invasion of China”.

Thus, the Russian Trotskyists wished to sell to the Japanese part of their Fatherland – Siberia and the Maritime Provinces – they now wish to sell to the latter our Fatherland, China!

And the Chinese Trotskyists, how have they acted? That is what you are in a hurry to know, isn’t it?

But, beloved comrades, I cannot reply to you till my next letter. Haven’t you recommended that I write short letters?

I hope to see you again soon.

PC Line
(Ho Chi Minh)

Second Letter

Dearly beloved comrades,

Before I reply to you on the activities of the Trotskyists in China, permit me to introduce half a dozen of their ring-leaders, known traitors, who have written on behalf of the Fourth International. Tran Doc Tu (Chen Duxiu), Banh Thuat Chi, La Han, Diep Thanh, Truong Mo Dao, Hoang Cong Luoc.*

Chronologically, here are the acts they have committed:

In September 1931, at the time of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, Japanese Security made contact with the first three. The two parties signed a pact: the Trotskyist group agreed not to advance any propaganda against the Japanese invasion. Japanese Secunty agreed to make over to the Trotskyists a sum of three hundred dollars monthly as well as other supplementary sums, according to the ‘results of the services rendered’.

From this moment, Chen Duxiu (Tran Doc Tu) and his accomplices immediately set to work. With the Japanese funds, they published magazines and satirical pamphlets to propagate ideas such as: ‘In occupying Manchuria, the Japanese wanted to rapidly settle the conflict and suspend it, they did not aim to make themselves masters of China’.

Scarcely had these ideas been propagated in the columns of their publications than Shanghai was attacked in turn in January 1932 by Japanese troops.

At this moment, what do the Trotskyists say? Do they recognise that they were wrong? Do they cease collaborating with the occupier? Absolutely not! While the soldiers of the 19th army spill their blood to defend the Fatherland, the Trotskyists, in acts as in words, continue to commit crime upon crime. On one side, they write: ‘The war for Shanghai doesn’t concern the people at all. It is not a case of a national revolutionary war. It is a case of imperialist war’. On the other side, they spread false rumours, put forward slogans of a defeatist character, gave away defence secrets, etc.

But that’s not all. Trotskyists such as Hoa Van Khoi and Cung Van Thu, in secret liaison with the police and the Japanese bosses, infiltrated into the workers’ strike at Shanghai and employed all means to sabotage the movement. To the point where they managed to have the most talented activists in the strike arrested.

In 1933, Generalissimo Phung Ngoc Tuong and General Cat Hong Xuong, members of the Communist Party, organised an anti-Japanese resistance force at Kal Gan. At this time, the CCP being underground, liaison between the centre and the North was proving difficult. Profiting by this situation, the Trotskyist Truong Mo Dao, calling himself a ‘representative of the Communist Party’, tried to transform the anti-Japanese war into a civil war with the slogan: ‘March with the Japanese, struggle against Chiang Kai Shek’. In the end, he was unmasked and expelled by General Cat. A short time later, in the course of a journey of the latter to Tientsin, Truong Mo Dao had him assassinated by his followers.

In my next letter, I shall tell you how the Trotskyists of China have pursued their activities as traitors to the Fatherland.

Fraternal greetings
PC Line

Third Letter

Beloved Comrades,

In my last letters, I told you how the Trotskyists received their salary from the Japanese and how they sought to sabotage our heroic struggle at Shanghai and our patriotic movement at Kal Gan. Today, I will tell you the rest of their crimes.

Having fallen back to Fukien, the 19th Army again took up its struggle. It formed an anti-Japanese Government and led the propaganda for the united front thanks to the signing of a pact with the Chinese Red Army. Shortly before this, the 19th army was one of the most anti-communist forces. But confronted by the danger which menaced the Fatherland, it agreed to forget the quarrels and hatred in order to aim at one single end: the struggle against the invaders.

Obeying the orders of the Japanese, the Trotskyists immediately went into action: on one side, they fomented regionalist sentiments amongst the population—the 19th army having come from Kwangtung—to combat the new government. On the other side, they sought to enfeeble the Red Army. The way in which they accomplished the second task is the following: among the many revolutionary militants, they applied to join the Red Army. In the beginning, in order to win over confidence, they led very positive actions. Once placed in more or less important posts of responsibility, they began to commit criminal acts. I will cite you some examples: In battle, when it was necessary to retreat, they gave the order to advance. When it was necessary to advance, they gave the order to retreat. They sent reinforcements and arms to places where they were not needed. But where they were needed, they didn’t send them. They painted with poison the wounds of combatants, above all of the cadres of the army, with the aim of making them have their arms and legs etc. amputated. These criminal acts were luckily discovered in time. What luck for the Communists!

Since 1935, the Communists have led a campaign of great scope for the formation of a national Front against the Japanese. The people, and particularly the workers and peasants, have actively taken up this programme. In the Kuomintang, the idea of a national Front is making progress. During this time, it has been proved that the Trotskyists are playing a double game, having recourse at the same time to lies and to treachery. They say to the masses: ‘You see, the Communists have sold out to the bourgeoisie. The Kuomintang would not fight against the Japanese!’ Addressing the Kuomintang, they say: ‘The National Front! It’s nothing but a ruse of the Communists. To fight the Japanese you must destroy the Communists’.

Towards the end of 1936, the politics of uniting against the Japanese triumphed in the events of Tay An. Faced with the defeat of their politics of civil war, the Trotskyists Truong Mo Dao and Ta Duy Liet decided to organise the assassination of Vuong Di Triet, one of the most convinced followers of the National Front.

Now, I am talking to you about 1937, the period that preceded the war. Everyone united to fight the Japanese except the Trotskyists. These traitors met clandestinely and adopted the ‘resolution’ of which here are some extracts: ‘In the war against the Japanese, our position is clear: those who wanted the war and have illusions about the Kuomintang government, those concretely have committed treason. The union between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang is nothing but conscious treason’. And other ignominies of this kind.

When the war approaches, the Japanese promises materialise. The Trotskyists of Shanghai receive 100,000 dollars each month for their activities in the centre and south of the country. Those of Tientsin and Peking 50,000 each month for their activities in Hoa Bac, in the north, against the 8th army and against patriotic organisations.

Towards the middle of 1937, the Trotskyists were discovered and arrested in the ‘special zone’ (Dac Khu). According to the confession of Ton Ngia Ha, they had settled on these objectives: 1. To destroy the 8th army. 2. To hinder the development of the National Front. 3. To spy 4. To organise the assassination of activists.

Before the popular tribunal of the ‘special zone’, the Trotskyist Hoang Phat Hi, amongst other confessions, declared that in the course of the fourth interview with Truong Mo Dao, the latter had given him the following instructions: ‘You must actively study the methods and the system of organisation of the Red Army. After that, you will organise brigades of youth to carry out the tasks of sabotage. Our aim is to provoke disorder within the Red Army and to liquidate its activists’. Truong Mo Dao added: ‘We must persuade a section of the cadres of the base to follow us, raise their nostalgia for their native land, encourage their desertion and furnish them with a little money. That’s one of the means of causing the disintegration of this army’.

The Trotskyist Quach Uan Kinh has sworn that Ton Ngia Ha charged him with advancing defeatist propaganda amongst the combatants by demonstrating to them that ‘China cannot win’ for ‘even if we end up driving out the Japanese, the Americans and the English will still be there to oppress us’; that ‘not only can we not win, but our land will be destroyed if we continue the war’; that ‘China is too weak to struggle against Japan, England and America at the same time’. Truong Mo Dao finished his instructions with these words: We must exploit the policies of the National Front to denounce the Communists and say that they have sold out the working class. Our aim is to foment discontent amongst the combatants’. Under the pretext of educating them, the Trotskyists organised the most backward elements of the army in small groups, then, profiting by the harsh conditions of life in the army, they encouraged them to desert with arms and ammunition. In liaison with the bandits, they created disorder behind the lines of the 8th army while it was in full combat.

This is the background of the Trotskyists in their struggle against the 8th national revolutionary army. In my next letter, I will talk to you about the ignoble methods that these traitors have employed in attempting to destroy the other anti-Japanese forces.

PC Line


The Contribution of J.V. Stalin to Marxism-Leninism


M.B. Mitin
M.D. Kammari
G.F. Aleksandrov

… The theoretical works of Comrade Stalin and the practical revolutionary-creative struggle for communism led by him has had a powerful transforming influence on science. Already the foundation of Marxism itself was a great revolution in science, and in our epoch the teachings of Marx and Engels, raised by Lenin and Stalin to a new, higher level, have become the scientific basis for the transformation of social relations, technology and nature itself.

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin — the continuator of the immortal work of Marx and Engels, the friend and companion-in-arms of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and continuator of his works of genius — is the greatest thinker of our modern epoch, a treasure of Marxist-Leninist science. He has enriched and developed materialist dialectics — a powerful means for the scientific understanding of social sciences, he has greatly and fruitfully influenced the development of natural sciences.

The Academy of Science of the USSR marked the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the birth of Comrade Stalin with a large series of sessions of its General Council and all its sections and scientific councils of numerous institutes. In a number of lectures, in an atmosphere of general enthusiasm, the great contributions of Comrade Stalin to the development and continuation of Marxism-Leninism and the creation of a new Soviet science and technology were summarized.

On December 26, 1949, representatives of historical and philosophical disciplines filled the conference hall of the Section of History and Philosophy, the hall in which 20 years ago Comrade Stalin gave a magnificent talk to the conference of Marxist agricultural workers that enriched the treasure of Marxism-Leninism. The sessions held were part of the sessions of the Academy of Sciences devoted to the seventieth anniversary of the birthday of the beloved leader.

Eminent Soviet scientists take their places at the presidium.

For the talk on the topic “J.V. Stalin — of Marxist-Leninist Science” the podium is given to Academician M.B. Mitin.

J.V. Stalin, loyal follower of Lenin, continuator of his cause, made an invaluable contribution to the development of Leninism — the speaker says. During an earlier period of the political activity of Comrade Stalin, at the time of his stay in the Caucasus, he already showed himself to be the most stalwart and consistent follower of Lenin. Already during these years, the speaker emphasized, Comrade Stalin created a number of original works of Marxist-Leninist theory, that represented by themselves a serious contribution to Leninism. In the Leninist spirit he approached questions of ideology, tactics, organization, the theoretical and practical training of the Bolshevik party.

The significance of the theoretical works of J.V. Stalin is great. He generalized all the ideological inheritance of V.I. Lenin, gave the theoretical substantiation of Leninism. Comrade Stalin gave the classical definition of Leninism: “Leninism — he wrote — is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular” (J.V. Stalin Problems of Leninism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1976, p. 3 [The Foundations of Leninism].)

In this definition Comrade Stalin emphasizes the continuous unity, integrity and progression of the teachings of Marks and Lenin. He pointed that the basis of Leninism is Marxism, that without understanding and beginning from Marxism there is no way to understand Leninism. In this way, Comrade Stalin drew attention to what is new that is connected with the name of Lenin, what Lenin contributed to the development of Marxist theory on the basis of the generalization of the new experience in the class struggle of the proletariat in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution.

Comrade Stalin always emphasizes that the theoretical basis of Leninism is Marxism. It is known that relatively recently there was an attempt in our philosophical literature to “complete” this statement of J.V. Stalin with the consideration that, along with Marxism, Leninism is based on the Russian classical revolutionary-democratic philosophy of the 19th century.

No doubt the significance of the classical philosophical thinking of the19th century is great as the most advanced and most revolutionary thinking of the pre-Marxist period. However, it is completely wrong to consider Russian classical philosophy as the theoretical basis of Leninism along with Marxism. Leninism, as pointed out repeatedly by Comrade Stalin, has one theoretical basis, and this basis is Marxism.

The work of Comrade Stalin The Foundations of Leninism written in 1924, right after the death of Lenin — is an outstanding creative development of Marxist-Leninist science. A powerful force of theoretical generalization, of deep knowledge of history, runs through this whole work, there is the complete recognition of the treasure of ideas of Lenin — all this characterized the role of V.I. Lenin as the creator of Leninism, as the continuator of Marxism for a new historic era. The work of Comrade Stalin The Foundations of Leninism and a number of other works of J.V. Stalin (The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists, Concerning Questions of Leninism, The Results of the Work the XIV Conference of the R.C.P.(B.), Questions and Answers and others) as a whole formed a united work on the question of Leninism.

Comrade Stalin showed the international significance of Leninism. He exposed sharply and straight-forwardly the attempts to distort Leninism, that attempted to restrict Leninism to the peculiar situation of Russia, that attempted to turn Leninism into a “purely Russian” phenomenon.

Comrade Stalin showed that the main thing in Leninism consists of the teachings on the dictatorship of the proletariat, that all other constituent parts of Leninism: the peasant question, the national question, the teachings on strategy and tactics… should be approached as a consequence of this main essence to which they are organically linked. In this way, Comrade Stalin emphasized the truly militant, revolutionary character of Leninism, which fights for the liquidation of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the construction of a new society.

Comrade Stalin shows with a tremendous convincing force that Marxist theory is the guide to action, that thanks to Lenin the Bolshevik party possessed a great weapon, with which it could seize the most inaccessible fortress.

Lenin died in 1924. All the burdens due to the solution of the historical task of the construction of socialism in our country was carried out by Comrade Stalin. Under his leadership a gigantic transformation was accomplished that had no precedent in history and that radically changed the face of the country.

The epoch of Stalin is the epoch of the victory of socialism in one-sixth of the earth and the step-by-step transition from socialism to communism in the USSR. The international-historical significance of this victory is invaluable. The USSR was the first to pave the way towards socialism. The inexhaustible experience of the construction of socialism in the USSR is an example for all countries, for all fraternal communist parties.

Comrade Stalin creatively developed Leninism for this new epoch, showed the laws of this epoch, gave an answer to most complicated questions posed by revolutionary practice. Comrade Stalin enriched Marxist-Leninist theory with new statements and new directives corresponding to the new experience in the class struggle of the working class in the USSR and the whole world. What J.V. Stalin contributed to Marxist teachings is a new, higher stage in the development of Leninism. J.V. Stalin is a theorist of victorious socialism, the founder of the scientific theory of socialist society.

The victory of socialism in the USSR resulted in the creation of a new social-economic formation. The new social and state formation that has been created, developed and strengthened, displays social features specific only to this formation. Socialism has become part of the everyday life of millions of toilers. New social relations among people have emerged. The relations of production, i.e. the relations among people engaged in the social process of production, are built on the basis of the comradely co-operation and socialist mutual assistance. A new man of the socialist epoch has been formed.

J.V. Stalin made an all-sided analysis of the socialist mode of production, which is a superior mode of production to capitalism. He made the analysis of the radical difference between socialism and capitalism, the characteristics of the superiority of this mode of production as a higher stage, a more progressive social system that any former one, as a higher type of social organization of labor. J.V. Stalin thoroughly investigated the laws of this new formation.

Following V.I. Lenin’s indications, Comrade Stalin developed a rigorous, scientific, theoretical and practical program for the socialist industrialization of our country. The socialist method of industrialization, he pointed out, is radically different from methods of industrialization in capitalist countries. Capitalist countries accomplished their industrialization by a ruthless exploitation of the toilers, the plundering of colonies, by means of conquests, plundering, burdensome loans. Capitalist industrialization resulted in the impoverishment of the toiling masses, the enlarging of the reserve army of labor and the formation of a huge mass of unemployed. It resulted in the sharpening of the economic crisis of capitalism, in mass misery and suffering for the toiling masses. The Soviet method of industrialization is based on the domination of social property over the instruments and means of production, on the internal sources of socialist accumulation for the development of industry. Following V.I. Lenin’s considerations, Comrade Stalin worked out in theory and put into effect in practice a rigorous plan for the collectivization of agriculture. This was one of the most complicated tasks of the socialist revolution; nevertheless Soviet power successfully accomplished this task. As a result, in the Soviet village a revolution occurred whose significance, as pointed out by Comrade Stalin, can be compared to that of the October 1917 Revolution. Comrade Stalin created the theory of the collectivization of the countryside, he is the founder of the kolkhoz system.

On the basis of the collectivization of the countryside the former exploiting class in our country — the kulaks — were liquidated. All these social changes produced the conditions for the victory of socialism in all spheres of the economy of the USSR.

The victory of socialism in our country was established from the legal point of view with the adoption of the Constitution of the USSR of 1936. The Soviet Union entered a new period of development. Then de facto the question of the construction of communism was raised, the step-by-step transition from socialism to communism. In connection with the victory of socialism in the USSR new aspects and features of the new social formation were brought out. J.V. Stalin’s historical contribution is based on the discovery of the laws of socialist society, on the deep theoretical generalization of this new epoch, on the concretization and development of Leninism on the question of the state, classes, labor, the driving forces, nations in socialism and communism.

In the Report to the XVIII Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.) (March 1939) on the question of the state, Comrade Stalin stated: “We cannot expect the Marxist classics, separated as they were from our day by a period of 45 or 55 years, to have foreseen each and every zigzag of history in the distant future and in every separate country. It would be ridiculous to expect the Marxist classics to have elaborated for our benefit ready-made solutions for each and every theoretical problem that might arise in a particular country 50 or 100 years afterwards, so that we, the descendants of the Marxist classics, might calmly doze at the fireside and munch ready-made solutions.” (J.V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1976, p. 931.)

Stalin’s statements regarding the possibility of the construction of communism in our country, regarding the preservation of the state in the period of communism in the case of capitalist encirclement, enriched Leninism with a new theoretical weapon, they gave to the Bolshevik party, to the working class, to all toilers of the Soviet country a great perspective, clarity of goals and inspired new achievements. They clarified with a powerful driving force, the subsequent development of the Soviet country, towards the heights of the new social formation. Comrade Stalin continued the work of Lenin on the question of the state which the latter could not conclude due to his early death.

J.V. Stalin first of all developed the complete characteristics of the classes of socialist society in the USSR. The essence of his explanations of the class content of socialist society may be summarized as follows:

a) The consolidation of socialism in the USSR implied the complete liquidation of all exploiting classes and strata in our country.

b) The victory of the October Revolution and the consolidation of socialism in the USSR resulted in a change in the social nature of the working class, peasantry and intelligentsia.

The social groups in Soviet society experienced radical changes: “…the working class of the USSR is an entirely new working class, a working class emancipated from exploitation, the like of which the history of mankind has never known before” (ibid., p. 801 [On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R.]). Also “… the Soviet peasantry is an entirely new peasantry, the like of which the history of mankind has never known before” (ibid., p. 802).

c) Soviet socialist society consist of two classes — workers and peasants; the intelligentsia is a social stratum but not a separate class; the workers, peasants and laboring intelligentsia have equal rights in all spheres of the economic, political, social and cultural life of the country.

d) In the future, when all class differences will be overcome, the workers, peasants and intelligentsia will become the laborers of the communist society. In this way, on the basis of the generalization of the experience of Soviet socialist society, J.V. Stalin established that under socialism, as the first phase of communism, classes still exist, certain class differences among them are still preserved, that these classes have a new, socialist nature, but that only in the highest stage of communism will these class differences disappear.

These theoretical considerations were embodied in the Constitution of the USSR; they are a step forward in the development of the theory of Leninism, they enrich Leninism with new theoretical values. The existence of two classes under socialism, the existence of substantial class differences between them, are based on the existence under socialism of two forms of socialist property. Formerly it was more or less accepted that under socialism just one form of property would exist based on the socialized instruments and means of production. This question could not be posed in a more definite way since the required conditions did not exist. J.V. Stalin developed and concretized the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin on socialism, established that under socialist property may exist in two forms: the form of the consistently-socialist, state property, which is the whole people’s property, and in the form of cooperative-kolkhoz property, the property of the collective producers.

The thesis of the two forms of socialist property under socialism was substantiated by Comrade Stalin. He elaborated the question of the socialist nature of the kolkhozes, the question of the forms of development and consolidation of the kolkhoz. All these form an eminent contribution to Marxist-Leninist science, which make it possible to expound the laws of development of socialist society.

J.V. Stalin concretized the Leninist teaching on the question of work under socialism and communism. Regarding this question, the main thesis could be summarized as follows:

1. Socialism and work cannot be isolated from each other; the socialist formation is first of all a formation that has no loafers or parasites, where the famous Leninist thesis: “he who does not work, neither shall he eat,” that work is an obligation of all toilers, were put into effect. “Socialism — said Comrade Stalin – does not in the least repudiate work. On the contrary, socialism is based on work. Socialism and work are inseparable from each other.” (J.V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, p. 663. [Speech Delivered at the First All-Union Congress of Collective-Farm Shock Brigaders.])

2. Under socialism work becomes an affair of popular honor and glory, it has a directly social character: the worker is honored, is a sort of social figure, society pays attention to him and he receives from society a great moral and material reward for work well-done.

3. Developing the famous consideration of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the question of socialism and communism, Comrade Stalin gave the following definition of these two stages of the new social formation. He pointed out that by equality Marxism understands:

“…c) the equal duty of all to work according to their ability, and the equal right of all working people to receive in return for this according to the work performed (socialist society); d) the equal duty of all to work according to their ability, and the equal right of all working people to receive in return for this according to their needs (communist society). Moreover, Marxism proceeds from the assumption that people’s tastes and requirements are not, and cannot be, identical and equal in regard to quality or quantity, whether in the period of socialism or in the period of communism.” (J.V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, p. 741-742. [Report to the XVIIth Party Congress.])

The positions of Comrade Stalin are a development of the Marxist-Leninist teachings on socialism and communism. We have here a more concrete formulation of the main principles of socialism and communism based on the practical experience of the construction of socialism in the USSR.

J.V. Stalin, developing the Leninist ideas on socialism, and based on the victorious construction and consolidation of socialism in the USSR, discovered the new driving forces of socialist society that were unknown before and were absent in previous social-economic formations, namely: the moral-patriotic unity of the peoples of the USSR, Soviet patriotism.

Comrade Stalin discovered the driving forces of the development of the socialist society, which is a discovery of fundamental significance for Marxist-Leninist science. Comrade Stalin brought out new forms of social development, new stimulation for the development of socialist society. J.V. Stalin also discovered the special role played by self-criticism in the development of the Soviet country. Comrade Stalin’s positions are well-known, that we need self-criticism as much as we need air and water.

The all-sided explanation of the significance of self-criticism, its tremendous role, the extent to which the party requires self-criticism as a means of proper leadership of the country, its significance as an objective law in the development of the socialist society — these are all serious steps forward in the development of the Marxist-Leninist teachings of socialism.

In the works of Marx and Engels the national question is considered in the era of pre-monopoly capitalism. The national-liberation movement was studied in a number of countries: Ireland, Poland, Hungary, India and China.

Lenin, based on the main ideas of Marx and Engels, developed the views of the founders of Marxism with regard to the national question, created the teaching of the national question in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution. Lenin substantiated and proved that the national question is a part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin created a solid system of views on the question of the national-colonial revolutions in the era of imperialism. He linked up the national-colonial question with the question of the overthrow of imperialism.

The contribution of Stalin in the subsequent development of the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the national question is specially great. J.V. Stalin is the creator of the theory and the Bolshevik program of the national question. J.V. Stalin elaborated the Marxist theory of nations, the question of the origin of the nation, the peculiarities of the development of nations in Western Europe and in the East. He formulated the basics of the Bolshevik approach to the solution of the national question, substantiated the Bolshevik principle of the international unity of the workers.

By developing the theory of socialist society, the basis of the teachings of the Soviet socialist state, Comrade Stalin produced a scientific substantiation of the main problems and questions connected with the construction of the multinational Soviet state. The Soviet Union is for the whole world an example of brotherhood of peoples never before seen in history. The friendship of the peoples of the Soviet country has become one of the sources of the strength of our state, one of the sources of Soviet patriotism.

In the report delivered on the 27th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Comrade Stalin gave the classical definition of the essence and strength of Soviet patriotism: “The strength of Soviet patriotism — said Comrade Stalin — lies in the fact that it is based not on racial or nationalist prejudices, but on the people’s profound loyalty and devotion to their Soviet Motherland, on the fraternal partnership of the working people of all the nationalities in our country. Soviet patriotism harmoniously combines the national traditions of the peoples and the common vital interests of all the working people of the Soviet Union.” (J.V. Stalin, On the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union [also in Works, Red Star Press, London, 1984, Vol. 15, p. 422-423].)

J.V. Stalin further developed the Leninist theory of the national question with respect to Soviet socialist society. He elaborated a very relevant thesis that determines the development of the culture of the peoples of the USSR. This thesis reads: the development of the culture of the peoples of the USSR is national in form but socialist in content.

Comrade Stalin points out that the slogan of national culture was a bourgeois slogan as long as power remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and the consolidation of the nation took place under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The slogan of national culture, national in form and socialist in content, became a proletarian slogan when the proletariat achieved power, and the consolidation of the nation began to develop under Soviet power. “In point of fact – wrote Comrade Stalin – the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the building of socialism in the U.S.S.R. is a period of the flowering of national cultures that are socialist in content and national in form; for, under the Soviet system, the nations themselves are not the ordinary ‘modern’ nations, but socialist nations, just as in content their national cultures are not the ordinary bourgeois cultures, but socialist cultures.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 12, p. 379. [Report to the XVI Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.)])

This thesis has a fundamental significance and determined a whole program for the practical work in our national republics, a program based on solid ground.

In his article “The National Question and Leninism” (1929) and in the Political Report to the XVI Congress of the Party (1930) J.V. Stalin put forward new and most important positions about bourgeois nations and socialist nations. Formerly socialism was conceived in a very general manner, as the system that leads to the abolition of the nation. J.V. Stalin showed that socialism does not lead to the abolition of nations, but only to the abolition of bourgeois nations. He showed that based on the ruins of the old, bourgeois nations appear new, socialist nations that are far more solid and stable than any bourgeois nation, since they are free from antagonistic class contradictions. The statement of J.V. Stalin that in history there exist two types of nations – bourgeois and socialist, that bourgeois nations are linked to the fate of capitalism and that they should disappear with the collapse of capitalism, while the appearance of socialism leads to the creation on the basis of the old nations of new, socialist nations – these statements are a new, great contribution to the development of the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the national question, to the development of the teaching on socialism.

The huge and inexhaustible experience of the development of the Soviet multinational state, the development of Soviet nations was scientifically generalized by J.V. Stalin. What was given by him in the course of the elaboration of the question of bourgeois and socialist nations – is a new page in the Marxist-Leninist theory of the national question. In this respect J.V. Stalin also studied the question of the future of nations and national languages.

J.V. Stalin, a great representative of creative Marxism, is a continuator of the best qualities, features and traditions of V.I. Lenin. As is well known, from his very earliest works Lenin never failed to emphasize that a real Marxist should be able to take account of real life. Lenin reiterated many times the famous thesis of Marx and Engels, that “our teaching is not a dogma but a guide to action.”

J.V. Stalin developed further, elevated to a new, higher stage the teaching of dialectical and historical materialism. His work “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” represents one of the most eminent works of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. It stands together with such works of the classics of Marxism-Leninism as Marx’s “Capital,” Engel’s “Anti-Dühring” and Lenin’s “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.” In this genius work the bases of dialectical and historical materialism are given in an extremely concise and compact way. Comrade Stalin made in this work a generalization of the contributions of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the teaching of the dialectical method and the materialist theory. He developed all this on the basis of the newest results of science and revolutionary practice.

J.V. Stalin is a great leader of the peoples of the USSR and the working people of the whole world, a coryphaeus of Marxist-Leninist science. He combines within himself colossal theoretical power and tremendous experience in leadership. J.V. Stalin is the leader of the CPSU(B) and the Soviet state. The power of the Stalinist leadership is based on mobilizing and inspiring directions, that are always aimed at what is most important, most relevant, most necessary for the fruitful and successful solution of the tasks that confront the working masses. The power of the Stalinist leadership is based on the brilliant dialectical analysis of phenomena, on the capability of considering facts and events in their development, in their interrelation, in their contradiction. Its power is the genius capability of looking forward into the future, in foreseeing the development and calling for the necessary actions. The power of the Stalinist leadership consists of a tough critique of the shortcomings, of helping those that lag behind, of assisting all that is new, progressive and capable of pushing a positive development in the decisive breakdown of the old, obsolete, that has become a brake on development. The power of the Stalinist leadership is based on the deepest Leninist faith in the creative and inexhaustible power of the popular masses.

…Prof. M.D. Kammari delivered a paper on the development of the Marxist-Leninist theory on the national question by Stalin.

The name of Stalin, a genius continuator of the great teaching and work of Lenin, is linked – said the speaker – to the solution of one of the most important questions of the socialist revolution. This question as well as others was elaborated by Stalin in close co-operation with Lenin.

Lenin and Stalin in their approach to the national question started off from the main ideas drawn by Marx and Engels. Lenin and Stalin developed these ideas in the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution, in the era of the construction of communism in the USSR; they merged and generalized these ideas into a solid system of views on the national-colonial revolutions, linked the national-colonial question with the question of the liquidation of imperialism, they explained the significance of the national-colonial question as a constituent part of the general question of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The works of J.V. Stalin give an all-sided scientific substantiation of the program and the policy of the Bolshevik party with respect to the national question and they are a directive for all communist parties: they are like a shining candle that sheds light on the path of the peoples of the colonies and dependent countries towards freedom and independence.

From the very first steps of his revolutionary career, J.V. Stalin together with V.I. Lenin defended and developed the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution, the principle of proletarian internationalism in the construction of Russian Social-Democracy against the Bundists, Caucasian federalists and nationalists, who disguised themselves with socialist phrases.

In his work The Social-Democratic View of the National Question (September, 1904), J.V. Stalin made a remarkable contribution to the national program of the RSDLP.

Already in this period J.V. Stalin proved himself a leading theoretician of the national question. He mastered the Marxist dialectical method and gave an exceptionally deep, dialectical, classical, proletarian organization and solution to the national question. In this work lies the embryo of the ideas subsequently developed by Comrade Stalin in his classical work Marxism and the National Question (January, 1913), written on the eve of the First World War, when nationalist feelings in the working class were strengthened and fostered by the social-chauvinist parties of the Second International, the Bundists, Liquidators and Trotskyites in Russia. The work of J.V. Stalin the became a major statement of Bolshevism internationally before the war of 1914. This was a theoretical statement and the Bolshevik program regarding the national question as well. In his work, two theories, two methods, two programs, two ways of thinking regarding the national question are opposed to each other: that of the parties of the Second International and that of Leninism.

Comrade Stalin elaborated here the foundation of the Bolshevik approach to the national question: the requirement of considering the national question from the concrete historical, dialectical standpoint, in a discontinuous interconnection with the international situation corresponding to the era of imperialism, as a part of the general question of the revolution. Stalin substantiated the programmatic slogan of the party on the right of nations to self-determination and the principle of the international solidarity of workers as a required starting point for the solution of the national question.

By founding the Marxist theory of the nation, J.V. Stalin laid a solid theoretical basis for the program and the policy of the Bolshevik party regarding the national question, he created an invincible weapon for the struggle of Marxism-Leninism against any variety of the ideology and politics of bourgeois nationalism.

J.V. Stalin foresaw the future by linking up the solution of the national question with the growth of imperialism in Europe and the inevitability of the growth of democracy in Asia, with impending imperialist wars and the “complications” created by them, i.e. crises and revolutions.

This prediction of Comrade Stalin was completely borne out in the period of the First World War and especially in the period of the Great October Revolution.

J.V. Stalin points out two stages in the elaboration of the national question by the Bolshevik party: the pre-October stage, when the national question had not yet become an international question and was associated with the solution of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and the October stage, when the national question became an international question, when it merged with the question of the liberation of the colonies and became associated with the fate of the socialist revolution. These positions of Stalin together with his positions on the three periods in the history of the national-liberation movements — the period of pre-monopoly capitalism, the period of imperialism and the Soviet period — have an invaluable significance for the policies of the communist parties and for historical science as well. The victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution opened a new, Soviet stage in the solution of the national question and in the development of Marxism-Leninism in general. The October Revolution, as pointed out by Stalin, gave birth to a new era in the history of humankind, a new era in the history of the oppressed nations. The era of exploitation “without revolt” in the colonies is over, a new era has commenced, the era of the leadership of the proletariat and in the colonies, the era of its hegemony in the revolution.

J.V. Stalin made an all-sided elaboration of the question of the alliance of the proletarian revolution with the national-liberation movements of the peoples of the colonies and dependent countries, the question of the strategy and tactics of the communist parties, the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in these movements; he substantiated and further developed Lenin’s statement on the possibility of the transition of backward countries to socialism, skipping capitalism under the conditions of the support from proletarian revolutions in the developed countries. These ideas have become a great, transforming, creative revolutionary power capable of raising hundreds of millions of people to the struggle for their liberation.

The hegemony of the proletariat is new and decisive in the national-liberation movements, which gives these movements consciousness, organization, stability, an invincible power which leads to their victory over imperialism.

J.V. Stalin constantly emphasizes that the existence the Soviet Union is a decisive factor that facilitates and guarantees the success and final victory of all national-liberation movements of the peoples of the dependent countries and colonies, since the very existence of such a state constrains the dark forces of reaction, its successes inspire the oppressed peoples in the struggle for their liberation, facilitates this liberation. The liberation of the peoples of the countries of peoples’ democracies in Europe and Asia bears witness of the greatness of the liberating role of the Soviet Union, as the liberator of peoples from the yoke of imperialism.

Comrade Stalin brilliantly foresaw that China would follow the path of the anti-imperialist popular revolution towards the creation of an anti-imperialist, popular power which would lead China to the socialist path of development. The creation of the People’s Republic of China implies a new powerful blow against the whole colonial system of imperialism, which is undergoing a profound crisis, it elevates to a higher stage the struggle of the peoples of Asia and the whole colonial world in general. This victory implies a serious strengthening of the forces of peace, socialism and democracy, led by the USSR.

J.V. Stalin shows that the national question is posed and solved in Leninism differently as it was in the period of the Second International. J.V. Stalin points to the existence of four main elements in the Leninist theory of the national question:

“The first point is the merging of the national question, as a part, with the general question of the liberation of the colonies, as a whole…

The second point is that the vague slogan of the right of nations to self-determination has been replaced by the clear revolutionary slogan of the right of nations and colonies to secede, to form independent states…

The third point is the disclosure of the organic connection between the national and colonial question and the question of the rule of capital, of overthrowing capitalism, of the dictatorship of the proletariat…

The fourth point is that a new element has been introduced into the national question — the element of the actual (and not merely juridical) equalisation of nations (help and co-operation for the backward nations in raising themselves to the cultural and economic level of the more advanced nations), as one of the conditions necessary for securing fraternal co-operation between the labouring masses of the various nations.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953, Vol. 5, pp. 52-60. [From Concerning the Presentation of the National Question.])

J.V. Stalin developed the Leninist thesis about the two tendencies in capitalism with regard to the national question: the tendency towards the formation of nations and national states and the tendency towards the “unification” of nations under the power of financial capital. J.V. Stalin argues that these tendencies are irreconcilable contradictions for imperialism since imperialism cannot “unite” without exploiting a nation. The struggle between these two tendencies enriches the analysis of capitalism in the period of imperialism and this contradiction is one of the sources of its structural weakness, internal instability, of the collapse of multinational bourgeois states, of the collapse and bankruptcy of the policies of the bourgeoisie with regard to the national question. The bankruptcy of the policies of German, Japanese, and after them Anglo-American imperialism in the colonies and the dependent, “Marshalized” countries, is a brilliant confirmation of the strength and significance of the Leninist theses.

For communism these two tendencies, emphasizes J.V. Stalin, are two sides of the same question: the liberation of the oppressed nations from the yoke of imperialism and their unification into a unified socialist world economy voluntarily and on the basis of total equality. Stalin together with Lenin created and strengthened the multinational socialist state, put into practice the national policy of the Soviet power, defined the paths and forms leading to the formation of a fraternal commonwealth of nations on the basis of the Soviet system, under the leadership of the working class and its party, defined the path for the formation and development of socialist nations and their culture.

Comrade Stalin brilliantly solved the complicated and intricate questions of relations between nations, accomplished a gigantic practical work in the foundation of the national Soviet republics and their unification into the USSR.

There is no single Soviet republic in whose formation and consolidation Stalin did not take a decisive and leading part.

J.V. Stalin brilliantly generalized the masses’ revolutionary experience in the construction of the Soviet state. He posed the question of the federation, developed the most convenient forms of unification of Soviet republics into a unified state. He showed the superiority of the Soviet federation compared to bourgeois federations.

Soviet power established the complete political and legal equality of nations and liquidated national oppression. This achievement of the party and Soviet power has historic and world-wide significance. But this is not enough, J.V. Stalin pointed out. “The essence of the national question in the R.S.F.S.R. — said J.V. Stalin at the X Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) — lies in abolishing the actual backwardness (economic, political and cultural) that some of the nations have inherited from the past, to make it possible for the backward peoples to catch up with central Russia in political, cultural and economic respects.” (J.V. Stalin,Works, Vol. 5, p. 39.)

This great historical task was accomplished by the party under the leadership of Stalin on the basis of the Leninist-Stalinist national policy, on the basis of the policy of industrialization and collectivization, the liquidation of the exploiting classes, the construction of socialism. The history of socialism and the social conquests of the peoples of the USSR was established in the Stalin Constitution. The great Stalin Constitution of the USSR declares that all nations and races, regardless of their past and present stage of development, regardless of their strength or weakness, should be entitled to equal rights in all spheres of the social life. The Soviet Constitution prosecutes any expression of the propaganda of national hostility as a severe offence against the pillars of the Soviet state. In Soviet society there are no privileged, oppressed, unequal nations or races. It is not national origin but individual capabilities, individual labor, that determine the place of a citizen in Soviet society. Comrade Stalin showed that on the basis of the Soviet system there were created and consolidated new Soviet, socialist nations which, according to their class structure, spiritual attributes, their socio-political orientation, radically differ from the old bourgeois nations.

Soviet nations are socialist nations, liberated from exploitation, from class antagonism with new Soviet, socialist moral and political characteristics, psychological types, consisting of fraternal classes, the working class, peasantry and intelligentsia, whose class boundaries are disappearing. These are nations that are building communism, freed from the remnants of capitalism, that are coming together and jointly constructing communism by means of all-sided socialist competition and fraternal co-operation.

The great commonwealth of socialist nations was created under the leadership of the Bolshevik party, under the leadership of the Russian working class, thanks to the correct, Leninist-Stalinist national policy, of disinterested assistance to formerly oppressed nations and considerate stand towards the particularities of their mode of life and culture. Thanks particularly to the accomplishment of this policy, the Russian working class and Russian people won the trust and support of all peoples of the USSR and all progressive peoples of the world. Comrade Stalin developed and raised to a higher stage the ideology of proletarian internationalism, the friendship of peoples, he showed that the source of friendship of the peoples of the USSR is the Soviet, socialist system, the internationalist policies of the working class, its party and state.

As a result of the accomplishment of this policy and the construction of socialism, the friendship of the peoples of the USSR has flourished, new relations of trust and fraternal co-operation have been established between them.

The multinational socialist state has survived a great test during the Great Patriotic war against the fascist invaders, under which any other state would have collapsed. There is no other state that could have emerged more strengthened and with the friendship of its people more consolidated than the Soviet state; Soviet patriotism, the friendship of peoples, the moral-political unity are powerful driving forces of Soviet society. Comrade Stalin generalized the experience of the war by stating that in the Soviet state the “national question and the problem of the co-operation of nations has been solved better than in any other multinational state” (Bolshevik, No. 3, 1946, p. 4. Translated from the Russian). The Soviet system gave to the peoples of the USSR a unique power. The works of J.V. Stalin have served and now serve our party and all fraternal communist parties as a weapon in their struggle against bourgeois nationalists, against the nationalist-fascist Tito clique, against right socialists and similar agents of Anglo-American imperialism, the speaker emphasizes.

The theory of culture as national in form and socialist in content has great significance in the struggle against nationalism, for the education of the working people in the spirit of internationalism, for the friendship of peoples, and makes possible the flourishing of the national cultures of the peoples of the USSR.

Comrade Stalin exposed the chauvinist theory of Kautsky, according to which the proletariat having come to power should take the path of assimilation. Comrade Stalin generalized the experience of the socialist revolution in the USSR and stated that it revived many new nationalities that were formerly “forgotten,” it “gave them new life and a new development.” Comrade Stalin foresaw that the same thing would happen in other multinational countries; as a result of a revolution in countries such as India, “scores of hitherto unknown nationalities, having their own separate languages and separate cultures, will appear on the scene.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 7, p. 141. [The Political Tasks of the University of the Peoples of the East.])

These statements of J.V. Stalin expose and overturn different bourgeois-cosmopolitan theories of the modern Anglo-American imperialists, who carry out a policy of forcible assimilation, swallowing all nations and races by the “superior” Anglo-American race. J.V. Stalin’s prediction in his work The National Question and Leninism regarding the preservation of nations, national languages and cultures, have great theoretical and political significance. Comrade Stalin, the speaker points out, gave a clear perspective of the development of socialist nations, national languages and cultures, both in the period of the victory of socialism in our country and in the period of the victory of socialism in other countries and in the whole world. Here with unique strength Stalin’s scientific predictions manifest themselves as dialectical-materialist, showing him to be a great theorist of creative Marxism. These statements of Stalin have a leading significance for all social sciences, for philosophy, the science of the state, law, language, the theory of literature, art and culture in general, as well as for the practice of the communist parties in all countries of the world, especially concerning the national question.

In the USSR under the leadership of the party of Lenin-Stalin a great cultural revolution is being carried out, which has involved all tribes and peoples of our country in the process of conscious historical creation. Gigantic efforts are being made to develop the national cultures and languages, an experience that has world-wide historical, scientific and practical significance. The great socialist revolution opened a new era in history, created a completely new world of social relations among people, nations, races, a new world of concepts, ideas, feelings, features that forced the creation of new words, enriched and developed the national languages. It is not surprising that the languages of the peoples of the USSR, both ancient and modern, those less developed or more developed, are now being filled with new forms, are undergoing a revolution, they experience leaps to qualitatively different states. As for culture and languages the struggle of socialism against reactionary bourgeois-nationalist, feudal-clerical and other similar tendencies and elements comes to a victorious end with the victory of socialism, with the victory of the principles of socialist internationalism, the Leninist-Stalinist national policy.

Comrade Stalin teaches that “every nation — no matter how large or small it might be – possesses its own peculiarities, its own specific features that only belong to that nation and not to any other nation. These peculiarities are a contribution of each nation to the treasure of world culture, which makes the latter more complete and rich. In this respect all nations — both small and large — are entitled to equal rights and all nations are different from each other.” (J.V. Stalin, Bolshevik, No. 7, 1948, p. 2. Trans. from the Russian). Comrade Stalin teaches that internationalism in culture implies respect for the cultural creativity of all peoples, not the suppression of national cultures, but assistance to their development.

That is why, points out M.D. Kammari, it is completely logical that it has been particularly the peoples of the USSR, educated by the party of Lenin-Stalin in the spirit of socialism, proletarian internationalism and friendship of the peoples, who saved world civilization from the fascist invaders and at the present time lead the camp of socialism and democracy, stand in the leadership of the struggle for socialism, democracy and democratic peace in the world.

The works of J.V. Stalin are a weapon in the struggle against all kinds of anti-patriotic, cosmopolitan ideologies and phraseologies in the service of Anglo-American imperialism. The works of Comrade Stalin are an irreplaceable weapon in the struggle with all kinds of nationalism, racism, imperialist ideology and policies.

The name of J.V. Stalin — the genius follower of the great teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin — has become a symbol and a banner of the liberation of peoples from the yoke of imperialism, the banner of proletarian internationalism. The great ideas of Leninist-Stalinist friendship and brotherhood of peoples that stand for a new world, concludes Professor Kammari, are currently inspiring hundreds of millions of people in all parts of the planet in the struggle for their liberation.

… Academician G.F. Aleksandrov gave a talk on the topic “The Struggle of J.V. Stalin for Militant Marxist-Leninist Philosophy.” The speaker began his talk by reminding the audience that J.V. Stalin from the very beginning, as a pupil and companion-in-arms of V.I. Lenin, stood firmly for the struggle for the elevation of the working class, for its socialist education and political organization. Comrade Stalin gave an all-sided substantiation of the idea of the role of revolutionary theory in the workers’ movement. Lenin’s and Stalin’s statement on the merging of the struggle of the working class with scientific socialism has special significance. The workers set out to construct a new world, communism. History has never provided an example of such construction. Unlike capitalism, socialist society cannot move forward spontaneously; it is formed, built and created consciously, according to a plan. The science of socialism and communism has a particularly important significance for the struggle of the working class. It was not in vain that the Bolshevik party, Lenin and Stalin, both before and after the Great October Revolution, strengthened the fervent agitation of Bolshevik ideals among the masses. It is not a coincidence that this task had been confronted for the past third of the century in the Soviet epoch. It would not be impossible to reach communism if the working class, the laboring peasantry, the intelligentsia, the popular masses, did not know the goals of this construction and the path towards its successful accomplishment. This is why the struggle of the party for the communist education of the Soviet people has acquired such significance in the epoch of the step-by-step transition to communism.

Comrade Stalin established a continuous link between the content and tasks of militant revolutionary theory and the situation and state of the working class. Marxism-Leninism is substantiated and developed by the working class, as the class ideology of the proletarian masses, of the communist party. The Leninist idea on the expression of the line and class struggle within the party played the most important role in the process of creating a party of a new type, in the class education of the Russian and international proletariat. This idea was adopted and developed by Stalin.

Already in his article The Class Struggle, written in 1906, Comrade Stalin expounded the question of the historical necessity of the construction of the proletarian party, its role in the political struggle of the proletarian masses, its ideological leadership in this struggle.

The Leninist-Stalinist party oriented and inspired the workers’ revolutionary movement, raised its political, class level and the militant character of its struggle against the bourgeoisie, against imperialism; one can say that the communist party saved the workers’ movement from bourgeois domination, from its division by the activity of the intelligence services of the bourgeoisie.

Comrade Stalin put forward and substantiated the tremendous significance of the implementation of the teachings of dialectical and historical materialism in the political struggle of the working class, in the practical activity of its party. Comrade Stalin gave an all-sided development and scientific substantiation to this deepest consideration that “mastering the Marxist-Leninist theory means assimilating the substance of this theory and learning to use it in the solution of the practical problems of the revolutionary movement under the varying conditions of the class struggle of the proletariat” (History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), Short Course, p. 355.) Dialectical and historical materialism, therefore, requires a deep and exact study of the contemporary conditions of the class struggle, the implementation in practice of the materialist analysis of the political activity, the position of all classes involved in the class struggle. Lenin and Stalin defined struggle, the development of opposites, contradictions, as the essence of Marxist philosophy. They demanded that revolutionaries expose the main contradictions in society with a dialectical and materialist approach to the analysis of the perspective for the development of the struggle between these opposites, that they engage in an unconditional and purposeful struggle for the fastest and complete victory of the revolutionary class, the proletariat.

It becomes clear from here, continues Academician G.F. Aleksandrov, that the ideology of a communist party, its philosophical science, serves one goal — the ideology of the proletariat in its class struggle against capitalism, for communism, for the scientific substantiation of the policies, the revolutionary tactics and strategy of the party. This is the essence of the ideology of the Leninist-Stalinist party. If the ideology of the bourgeoisie, its philosophical-historical system, collapses under the merciless blows of the practice of the class struggle, the development of natural sciences, if they burst, in the words of Great Lenin, like soap bubbles, then this is a result of the very fate of the bourgeoisie, the irreversible collapse of its social and state system.

If the ideology of the proletariat, its philosophical basis, dialectical and historical materialism — in every single experience in the class struggle, in every single step forward, in the development of natural sciences found a proof of its principles, enlarged its influence on the working class and dealt powerful blows to the ideology of the bourgeoisie, then this is a reflection of the historical fate of the working class, of its great role as the gravedigger of capitalism, as the builder of communism.

In the defeat and collapse of bourgeois ideology, in the victories and triumphs of Marxist-Leninist philosophy is clearly seen the irreversible result to which the modern class struggle leads: the victory of the proletariat of all countries over the bourgeoisie, of the socialist camp over the capitalist camp.

Lenin and Stalin raised high the banner of militant Marxism in the party, gave an all-sided substantiation and developed the genius view of Marx and Engels on the irreconcilable struggle between proletarian and bourgeois ideology, as a law of class struggle. They were guided by this view throughout their revolutionary experience.

J.V. Stalin gave the deepest Marxist-Leninist analysis of the modern class struggle by showing that the struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie had become an axis around which modern life turns. He also showed that the current struggle between dialectical materialism and idealist obscurantism comprises the ideological form of that very same class struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois ideologists and philosophers, defeated by Marxism, always resort to cunning manoeuvering. They try to conceal the disgusting bourgeois essence of their thinking by pretending that they stand above classes, parties and ideologies. They pretend that they represent a “third force,” that stands above the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Lenin and Stalin proved that in the struggle between modern classes, in the struggle between two camps — the socialist camp and the imperialist camp — there is no room for a “third force.” This so-called “third force” always stood and stands now on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.

Lenin and Stalin teach that in a class society there is no room for an ideology, a philosophy that stands above classes. Lenin and Stalin put forward this question in a clear and exact manner — there is no “third,” “middle” line in philosophy: either the revolutionary materialist thinking of the proletariat, or the religious-mystical narcotic of the imperialists. There is no middle road here. The defence of objectivism is a class expression, the expression of bourgeois ideology.

By means of his genius materialist analysis of the modern class struggle, his fearless exposure of the deepest contradictions of the modern epoch, the scientific elaboration of the paths and ways of achieving victory for the international working class over imperialism, Comrade Stalin gives a classical example of how Marxist-Leninist philosophy should be understood and applied.

Every passing day confirms the genius Stalinist analysis of the modern epoch. This is how materialism — the philosophy of the Marxist-Leninist party — triumphs and idealism — the ideology of the imperialist bourgeoisie — finally collapses. The Stalinist conclusion on the inevitability of the collapse of imperialism and the undoubted victory of the proletariat is based on the creative application of dialectical and historical materialism in the analysis of the phenomena of modern social life, of the modern class struggle. Stalinist analysis ideologically arms the camp of peace, democracy and socialism, gives a scientific substantiation to the struggle waged by this camp.

Comrade Stalin teaches that Marxism-Leninism is not a dogma, but a guide to action. The party of the working class, says Comrade Stalin, is “not a school of philosophy or a religious sect. Is not our Party a fighting party?” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 1, p. 66. [The Proletarian Class and the Proletarian Party.])

Dialectical materialism requires a clear materialist analysis of reality, a struggle that can accomplish scientifically determined tasks that breaks down the obstacles posed by practice in the course of the struggle of the working class. Marxists translate the center of gravity to the application in life of the ideas of scientific communism. In this light, with the Marxists of the Leninist-Stalinist school “there is no discrepancy between word and deed… the teachings of Marx completely retain their living, revolutionary force.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 4, p. 318.) It is necessary to emphasize and always remember — the speaker says — that the Leninist-Stalinist philosophical science does not only imply that revolutionaries are bound to act with decision, to struggle with passion, but to act in struggle based on a deep knowledge of the laws of development of society. We owe to Comrade Stalin the great achievement of the total defeat of bourgeois ideology that denies the necessity for historical development, the achievement of the exposure of all advantages of the deep scientific knowledge of the laws of development of society for the proletarian masses and their communist parties. He showed that by mastering the laws of development of society one can lead the working class with confidence, one can see more than the proletarian class as a whole. This is the point, argues Comrade Stalin. “The ideologists push forward, and it is precisely for this reason that the idea, socialist consciousness, is of such great importance for the movement.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 1, p. 120. [Briefly About the Disagreements in the Party.]) The knowledge of the laws of development has a tremendous significance for the class struggle of the proletarian masses, induces the movement forward, accelerates the course of history towards the socialist revolution. And in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat this leads to communism. This significance makes it possible to elaborate the correct political strategy, to take account of the experience of the revolutionary struggle in all countries, to determine correctly the main direction of the proletarian movement in a given country for a given historical period.

The political strategy of the party, based on the knowledge of the laws of development of society, accelerates historical development, leads the movement along the shortest path, prevents the working class from having unnecessary victims, from experiencing unnecessary sufferings in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Failing to understand the laws of development of society means betraying the revolutionary, Marxist method, means closing ones eyes to the development of life and acting blindly and randomly.

Comrade Stalin placed special importance on the question of the scientific forecast of the development of social life by the revolutionary party and its leaders. Revolutionary theory provides knowledge of the laws of development of society, of the perspectives of this development. This is why theory, argues Comrade Stalin, “gives practical workers the power of orientation, clarity of perspective, confidence in their work, faith in the victory of our cause.” (J.V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 12, p. 148. [Concerning Questions of Agrarian Policy.]). In the Report on the Results of the First Five-Year Plan Comrade Stalin said: “The communist party is invincible, if it knows its goal, and if it is not afraid of difficulties.” (J.V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, p. 630.)

These statements of Marxist-Leninist theory have an exceptional significance for the understanding of the whole revolutionary spirit, the whole scientific content of materialism. These statements argue that only the Leninist-Stalinist stand in philosophy can provide the objective and correct analysis of the development of society, that reflects the historical truth, the objective course of the development of society.

In our time these words of Great Lenin acquired a new and brilliant confirmation: “by following the path of Marxian theory we shall draw closer and closer to objective truth (without ever exhausting it); but by following any other path we shall arrive at nothing but confusion and lies.” (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works,Vol. 14, p. 143. [Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.])

Only the communist party has the courage and boldness to face historical necessity openly and declares to the whole world the indubitable and consistent party character of its ideology. This is possible because this class, proletarian point of view is the only scientific one and coincides with objective reality. The more principled, persistent and consistent is the application in life by the communist party of the analysis of the social phenomena and the ideological struggle, the more exact, complete and true will be the knowledge achieved. The class interests of the proletarian masses, the goal of the communist party, on the one hand, and the laws of objective development, on the other, follow the same direction: the broader and richer the knowledge of the development of society achieved by the party, the more exact and complete will be the analysis of any phenomenon of social life and development of society, the closer will it be merged with the interests of the communist parties, with the interests of the working class.

Our party — concludes Academician G.F. Aleksandrov — is called communist because its goal is the construction of communist society. To defend the party character of philosophy and of any other field of human knowledge means to struggle in a selflessness manner, with the ardent and inflexible revolutionary will of the Leninist-Stalinist school, to fight for the line of the communist party for its goals.

From ‘The Seventieth Anniversary of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin’, published in Izvestia Akademii Nauk SSSR, Seria Istorii i Filosofii, Tom VII, Izdatelstvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, Moscow, 1950, pp. 3-30.

Translated from the Russian by ‘Inter’.


Thoughts on Georges Soria’s Denunciation of “Trotskyism in the Service of Franco”

soria_trotskyismby Espresso Stalinist

Recently I was reading a PDF of the 1938 pamphlet Trotskyism in the Service of Franco: Facts and Documents on the Activities of the P.O.U.M. in Spain by Georges Soria. Soria was a representative in Spain of the French communist paper L’Humanité and also wrote for the International Press Correspondence of the Comintern. The material for the pamphlet was originally published as a series of articles reporting on the situation of the Spanish Civil War.

Forty years after its original publication, Soria is said to have denounced the work and its contents as a forgery.

The work has subsequently been dismissed as a fabrication for a number of years. It is now cited by Trotskyists as evidence of a “Stalinist” campaign to smear the P.O.U.M. as fascist agents. Jeffrey Meyers, a biographer of George Orwell, called it “a vicious book” and Orwell himself dedicated lengthy passages in his novel “Homage to Catalonia” to blaming the Communists for similar accusations, and for the loss in Spain as a whole. The pamphlet has become a tool to denounce the heroic role of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) in the Spanish Civil War as counterrevolutionary.

The copy of the full pamphlet in its 1938 form on the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) comes with an editor’s note that cites the original author apparently claiming the work and its contents are a complete forgery:

“Forty years later, in a work about the Spanish civil war (Guerra y revolución en España 1936-1939, III, 78-79), Soria himself stated – without mentioning anything about his own role in disseminating the accusation  – that ‘the charge that the POUM leaders were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence’ and the whole story was ‘an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism’” (Marxists Internet Archive).

It’s worth noting MIA are not the first ones to use these quotes to “disprove” the Soria pamphlet. Many scholarly and non-scholarly books have used them as well.

As the MIA editor’s note shows, the original source for these quotes from Soria is the book “Guerra y revolución en España 1936-1939.” This source is not available to me. However, I did find another source that details the full unedited quotes by Soria which are being cited as proof his work is a forgery: the book “Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution” by Burnett Bolloten.

Within this source there is enough information to argue that the way the quotes from Soria are often presented is quite deceptive. Here I will present only what are actual quoted words from Soria, and omit the words and phrases MIA inserted between them. The first quote that is commonly used is that Soria said that:

“[…] the charge that the POUM leaders were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence.”

The second quote, which MIA and others present as being about “the whole story,” (more on this later) meaning about the entire contents of Soria’s pamphlet, says:

“[…] an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.”

These passages in quotes are the only portions of the editor’s note that were actually said by Soria. Now I will present the full and unedited Soria quotes in their original context as cited in Bolloten’s book. All portions in brackets [ ] without the annotation “E.S.” appeared in brackets in the original Bolloten text. The first full quote reads as follows:

“Forty years later however, in an attempt to exculpate the Spanish Communists from responsibility for the death of Nin, he [Soria – E.S.] stated that ‘the accusations leveled against Nin in Spain in the form of the couplet: ‘Where is Nin? In Salamanca or Berlin?’ were ‘purely and simply…an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.’”

So Soria was not, in fact, talking about his pamphlet, but rather the story surrounding the disappearance of Andrés Nin, the founder of the P.O.U.M., where he was freed from prison by fascist agents. Soria then blames the NKVD for the death of Nin, which is what he dismissed as “an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.”

Bolloten even goes on to condemn Soria for his “attempt…to exonerate the PCE by shifting responsibility for the crusade against the P.O.U.M. and for the disappearance of Nin to the phenomenon of ‘Stalinism’” (507). So the Soria quote specifically speaks of the charges against Nin and one story of his disappearance.

The MIA editor’s note however, frames this quote as being about “the whole story,” implying that it’s about his original work and all charges of the P.O.U.M. acting as agents (either de-facto agents or actual spies) of Franco or Hitler:

“the whole story was ‘an extension…[Soria quote continues as above].”

As we can clearly see however, in this first quote Soria was not talking about his pamphlet or the “whole story,” but specifically about the alleged liberation of Andrés Nin from prison by fascist agents, which Soria recounts in the pamphlet, though he does not mention the involvement of the Gestapo but rather implies that fascist agents may have been involved.

Bolloten then cites the second Soria quote used by MIA in the same paragraph, which contains even greater pronounced differences with the MIA citation. The original says:

“On the one hand, the charge that the leaders of the POUM, among them Andrés Nin, were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence. On the other hand, although the leaders of the POUM were neither agents of Franco nor agents of the Gestapo, it is true that their relentless struggle against the Popular Front played the game nolens volens of the Caudillo [General Franco]” (Bolloten 507).

So despite Soria claiming that the charges of the P.O.U.M. leadership, including Nin, being fascist spies was without evidence, he still blamed the P.O.U.M. for taking an ultra-left position and undermining the popular front in Spain, which still rendered de-facto service to the fascists. In other words, even if the Trotskyists and ultra-lefts in the P.O.U.M. were completely innocent of all charges and were not agents of the Gestapo or Franco, they “only” offered de-facto, and not de-jure, service to Franco.

The phrasing here says that even though he claims there is no evidence of the P.O.U.M. leadership being fascist agents and spies, Soria does not deny the fact that they rendered service to Franco, using the phrase, “nolens volens,” meaning “whether willing or unwilling.”

The editor’s note on MIA omits this second phrase for obvious reasons. There are a number of other interesting points regarding these full, unedited quotes that are worth pointing out.

In these quotes Soria does not denounce his original work – merely the specific charge that the P.O.U.M. leadership were spies of the Gestapo and Franco. He does say it was “impossible to adduce the slightest evidence,” which can be said to imply that the documents and sources he cites in the pamphlet are, at least in part, forgeries. However, this is not stated specifically. In fact, Soria does not mention his work at all! This is implicitly stated by the editor’s note on the MIA page, which states that Soria spoke “without mentioning anything about his own role in disseminating the accusation.” His “role,” of course, was the pamphlet!

To some extent MIA makes a valid point about Soria never mentioning his own “role” in the charges that he claims was a “fabrication…[without] the slightest evidence.” Assuming the work is a complete fabrication, Soria never claimed to have been coerced to write the pamphlet, and never mentions an outside party forcing him to do so. Therefore, even in the case that it is a complete forgery, until there is proof that Soria authored it under the influence of an outside force, the blame must be placed not on the Soviet Union, “Stalinism” or the PCE, but on Soria the author for allegedly forging the evidence in his articles in the first place, and allowing those articles to be published as a pamphlet.

It’s also worth repeating that though Soria expresses his belief that the charges against the “P.O.U.M. leadership” being fascist spies was false and without evidence, this does not mean everyone in the P.O.U.M. was innocent of such activities, and Soria says explicitly that the P.O.U.M.’s actions still helped Hitler and Franco, even if unwillingly. One must ask then: how does this in any way exonerate the P.O.U.M.?

Furthermore, why Soria should choose forty years after the publication of the original document, long after such a “confession” of forgery could have had any effect whatsoever on the anti-fascist war in Spain or its outcome is unclear, thought it must be pointed out that these words were said after Soria became sympathetic to the Eurocommunism of the PCF, and during the era of “de-Stalinization,” where the virtues of making slanderous statements and denunciations regarding the Stalin era were looked upon with favor both inside and outside the Soviet Union. The pace for this was set by the many utter falsehoods uttered by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress, and the decades of revisionism that followed.

CONCLUSION: Until there is more direct evidence that Georges Soria denounced his articles and the documents he cited in them as forgeries, there is no reason to “dismiss” them from consideration as evidence, and though he later claimed the charges against the P.O.U.M. leadership were baseless and there was no evidence for them, implying that at least part of the original work was false and/or mistaken, the conclusion that Soria admitted his work and all of its contents were complete forgeries cannot be supported by the existing facts.

Friedrich Engels on Morality


“We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate and forever immutable ethical law on the pretext that the moral world, too, has its permanent principles which stand above history and the differences between nations. We maintain on the contrary that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life. And now one can gauge Herr Dühring’s presumption in advancing his claim, from the midst of the old class society and on the eve of a social revolution, to impose on the future classless society an eternal morality independent of time and changes in reality.”

 –  Friedrich Engels, “Anti-Dühring”

On Closed Speech of Khrushchev at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU


George Gruenthal

Book Review:  Khrushchev Lied, by Grover Furr

Prof. Grover Furr has done a great service to Marxist-Leninists and all revolutionaries and to all those who are interested in historical truth. He has picked out 61 major statements from Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech, checked them against other material, especially from the Russian archives that have recently been made public, and found that they are all lies. He gives extensive quotes from primary sources, as well as from internet web-sites that give English translations of the source material. Thus, he has made available and translated a wealth of material, especially valuable for those who do not read Russian.

In order to make the book more readable, Furr has divided it into two parts. In the first, with 221 pages, he presents each of 61 statements and the basic material that refutes them. In the second part, an Appendix of 194 pages, Furr presents additional documentation to back up the refutations. Thus, people who want to read the ‘short version’ can read only the first part; those who want the full details may find it easiest to read each chapter together with the corresponding chapter in the Appendix.

I will give several examples of Furr’s revelations to provide an idea of the scope of his book.

1) Khrushchev claimed that ‘Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint and the correctness of his position was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation.’

There are many facts that contradict this. We will mention only one, by Marshal Zhukov on military matters, which Furr quotes: ‘After Stalin’s death appeared the one about how he used to take military and strategic decisions unilaterally. This was not the case at all. I have already said above that if you reported questions to the Supreme Commander with a knowledge of your business, he took them into account. I know of cases when he turned against his own previous opinion and changed decisions he had taken previously’ (both quotes, Furr, p. 245).

2) Khrushchev implied, without actually stating it, that Kirov was killed by or on the orders of Stalin. Furr points out that very little of the material on Kirov’s murder has been published, or even made available to researchers. He does note that the well-known author on Soviet history, J. Arch Getty, pointed out that several Soviet and post-Soviet commissions had tried and failed to find evidence that Stalin was behind Kirov’s murder. Former Soviet General Sudoplatov, who provided much information (or misinformation) on Soviet activities to the West after the fall of the Soviet Union, stated in 1996: ‘No documents or evidence exist to support the theory of the participation of Stalin or of the apparat of the NKVD in Kirov’s assassination… Kirov was not an alternative to Stalin. He was one of the staunchest Stalinists. Khrushchev’s version was later approved and used by Gorbachev as part of his anti-Stalin campaign’ (p. 274).

3) Khrushchev claimed that Stalin was responsible for mass repressions in the late 1930s. But Furr points out that Khrushchev himself was guilty of mass repressions, both as Party head in Moscow and then as Party head of the Ukraine. Furr quotes from a note that Khrushchev sent to Stalin: ‘Dear Iosif Vissiaronovich! The Ukraine sends [requests for] 17,000 – 18,000 [persons to be] repressed every month. And Moscow confirms no more than 2,000 – 3,000. I request that you take prompt measures. Your devoted N. Khrushchev’ (p. 259). Furr thinks that Khrushchev was responsible for more repressions than anyone else except for Ezhov (Yezhov).

4) Furr points out that Stalin was always in favour of dealing with Trotskyites and other agents as individuals, not through mass repression. He also proposed carrying out political education of leading Party officials. Some of this has been known for a long time to those not blinded by bourgeois-Trotskyite propaganda. Stalin discussed this in ‘Mastering Bolshevism,’ in which he called for each of the leading Party cadre to select temporary replacements for themselves while they attended courses in Party history and ideology (see Furr, p. 280-281). As to the question of mass repression, Stalin stated: ‘how to carry out in practice the task of smashing the German-Japanese agents of Trotskyism. Does this mean that we should strike and uproot not only the real Trotskyites, but also those who wavered at some time toward Trotskyism; not only those who are really Trotskyite agents for wrecking, but also those who happened once upon a time to go along a street where some Trotskyite or other had once passed? At any rate, such voices were heard here at the plenum. Can we consider such an interpretation of the resolution to be correct?

‘No, we cannot consider it to be correct. On this question, as on all other questions, there must be an individual, differentiated approach. You must not measure everyone by the same yardstick. Such a sweeping approach can only harm the cause of struggle against the real Trotskyite wreckers and spies’ (p. 282, Furr’s emphasis).

In this connection it is also worth reading the section of Zhdanov’s speech at the 18th Party Congress in 1939, Amendments to the Rules of the C.P.S.U.(B.), on eliminating mass purges. This is not discussed in Furr’s book, but is available in the archives of Revolutionary Democracy at

5) After Khrushchev came to power, he and his supporters began a process of ‘mass rehabilitations’ of many high-level officials who had been repressed earlier. Without doing any investigation to see who was actually innocent of any crimes and who was really guilty, people were simply declared innocent. In so doing, crucial statements of people who had admitted their guilt were sometimes totally distorted to make them appear to be claiming innocence.

One example of this is a letter to Stalin written by Gen. Iakir, who had been found guilty of treason along with Marshal Tukhachevskii and was soon to be executed. Marshal Zhukov read from this letter at the CC Plenum in June of 1957 (the Plenum at which the ‘anti-Party bloc’ of Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich were expelled from the CC). However, a more complete version of the letter has since been published, in 1994. Zhukov had omitted from the text the words printed below in bold:

‘Dear, close com. Stalin. I dare address you in this way because I have told everything and it seems to me that I am once more that honourable warrior, devoted to Party, state and people, that I was for many years. All my conscious life has been passed in selfless, honourable work in the sight of the Party and its leaders. – then I fell into a nightmare, into the irreparable horror of treason… The investigation is finished. The indictment of treason to the state has been presented to me, I have admitted my guilt, I have repented completely. I have unlimited faith in the justice and appropriateness of the decision of the court and the government. Now each of my words is honest. I die with words of love to you, the Party, the country, with a fervent belief in the victory of communism’ (pp. 214-215).

Zhukov tries to turn an admission of guilt into a proclamation of innocence. It would be hard to imagine a more dishonest example of falsifying a quotation.

6) In 1936, Ezhov took over as head of the NKVD after the removal and later execution of Yagoda for being a member of the Rightist conspiracy. Ezhov had many people, including many who were innocent, arrested and executed from 1937 to 1938. This period was colloquially known as the Yezhovshchina. Ezhov was removed from his post in late 1938 and was arrested and executed the following year. He was replaced by Beria, who put an end to the mass arrests and, after investigations, had many innocent people released from prison. It was this writer’s understanding that Ezhov had been executed simply for taking a heartless, bureaucratic attitude towards these mass arrests.

In the last few years, however, many of the transcripts of the interrogations of Ezhov have been published, and Furr refers readers to the English translations of these on the Internet. They show that Ezhov organised these mass arrests and executions ‘to cover up his own involvement in the Rightist conspiracy and with German military espionage, as well as in a conspiracy to assassinate Stalin or another Politburo member, and to seize power by coup d’état’  (p. 57). Furr includes some 15 pages of documents on Ezhov’s case in his Appendix.

7) We shall shortly move on to areas dealt with in Furr’s book, and particularly some of the fables about Stalin’s behaviour during World War II.

However, we would like to first point out a short but fascinating account of the behaviour of the Trotskyites in the Spanish Civil War. Furr quotes Gen. Sudoplatov:

‘The Trotskyites were also involved in actions. Making use of the support of persons with ties to German military intelligence [the ‘Abwehr’] they organised a revolt against the Republican government in Barcelona in 1937…. Concerning the connections of the leaders of the Trotskyist revolt in Barcelona in 1937 we were informed by Schulze-Boysen…. Afterward, after his arrest, the Gestapo accused him of transmitting this information to us, and this figured in his death sentence by the Hitlerite court in his case’ (p. 269).

Schulze-Boysen was a German citizen who spied for the Soviet Union from within the SS. The Nazi military court which tried and executed him for this espionage confirmed Sudoplatov’s statement.  It declared: ‘At the beginning of 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, the accused learned in his official capacity that a rebellion against the local red government in the territory of Barcelona was being prepared with the co-operation of the German Secret Service. This information, together with that of Pöllnitz,’ [a member of the ‘Red Orchestra,’ the famous Soviet anti-Nazi spy ring] ‘was transmitted by him to the Soviet Russian embassy in Paris’ (p. 270).

8) Let us now take up some of Khrushchev’s lies, since repeated by many others, about Stalin’s actions during the war.

a) The first is that Stalin was not prepared for the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union. There is no question that Stalin knew that Nazi Germany would eventually attack the Soviet Union. The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed to delay that attack for as long as possible. Furr points out that, in these circumstances, Stalin could not have carried out a mobilisation of Soviet forces, as that would have given Hitler the opportunity to declare war and possibly make a deal with the Western allies. He quotes a statement from a German General-Major Marks in 1940 that ‘The Russians will not do us the favour of attacking us first’ (p. 88). Moreover, the Soviet Union could not rely on British warnings of an impending attack, since Britain clearly wanted to set Hitler against the Soviet Union, and then possibly make a deal with Hitler.

b) Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the early hours of June 22, 1941. In his speech, Khrushchev blamed Stalin for allegedly ignoring information about the impending attack. He quoted a statement by a Soviet Captain, Vorontsov, that had contained information from a Soviet citizen, Bozer, that ‘Germany is preparing to invade the USSR on May 14.’ This information is contained in a letter by Admiral Kuznetsov to Stalin of May 6, which has now been published in full. The letter concludes with Kuznetsov’s statement that  ‘I believe that this information is false, specifically directed through this channel with the object of reaching our government in order to find out how the USSR would react to it’ (pp. 344-345).

c) In his speech, Khrushchev also told of a German citizen who crossed the border with the Soviet Union on the eve of the invasion and stated that the Soviet Union would be attacked at 3 AM the following morning, June 22. Khrushchev claims that ‘Stalin was informed of this immediately, but even this warning was ignored..

Furr points out that the warning was not ignored, that the information was transmitted to Moscow as quickly as possible considering the need to find a reliable translator and to verify the information. In fact, after the attack the statement by the German soldier, Alfred Liskow, a self-declared communist, was published by Pravda and made into a leaflet to undermine the morale of the German soldiers by letting them know that there were opponents of the war and Hitlerism, friends of the Soviet Union, in their ranks.

Furr also refutes Khrushchev’s statement, again repeated by many others, that Stalin was demoralised at the beginning of the war and that he had withdrawn from any activities in those first days. Furr points out that the logbooks of visitors to Stalin’s office show that Stalin was extremely active in those days and quotes from Dimitrov, as well as Zhukov and the anti-Stalinists Volkogonov and Sudoplatov, all of whom testified to Stalin’s activity in the first days of the war.

Khrushchev also denigrated Stalin’s abilities as a wartime commander. In response, Furr quotes military figures such as Marshals Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Golovanov, all of whom testified in their memoirs not only to Stalin’s great abilities as wartime commander but also to the great respect felt for him by other commanders at the front.

To conclude, I would like to add a few remarks on Furr’s standpoint, his position and views toward Stalin and Soviet socialism.

Furr is an objective researcher and scholar, although he clearly also is sympathetic to Stalin and the Soviet Union under his leadership. In this way he is different from other researchers such as J. Arch Getty who, although he is not a sympathiser of socialism, was one of the first researchers in the post-Stalin period to dispel some of the myths behind the general anti-communist depictions of Stalin as some sort of ogre.

It is certainly necessary for researchers who adopt a proletarian class stand to start from objective facts; otherwise one becomes an idealist who wants the world to correspond to his ideological views, instead of vice-versa. Throughout the book, Prof. Furr starts from objective facts and follows them to their conclusions, which lead to a clear demonstration that Khrushchev lied throughout his ‘secret speech’ in 1956.

However, Furr does not go much beyond this conclusion. He correctly states that the facts overturn the ‘anti-Stalin paradigm’ that has been basic to much of the anti-communist view of Soviet history, both in the Soviet Union and the rest of the world, since the middle of the last century. But he barely discusses the significance of this. For example, there is little mention of the fact that Khrushchev’s speech was accepted by a large part of the international communist movement, that this led to the split in this movement between Marxist-Leninist forces and revisionists a few years later, and that the struggle between them is still of great significance for the world communist movement today.

Of course, one cannot rebuke Furr for not taking up a task that he had no intention of taking up. Furr does briefly discuss what he sees as the reasons for Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin in Chapter 12: ‘Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of Khrushchev’s Deception.’ He says: ‘Stalin and his supporters had championed a plan of democratisation of the USSR through contested elections. Their plan seems to have been to move the locus of power in the USSR from Party leaders like Khrushchev to elected government representatives. Doing this would also have laid the groundwork for restoring the Party as an organisation of dedicated persons struggling for communism rather than for careers or personal gain. Khrushchev appears to have had the support of the Party First Secretaries, who were determined to sabotage this project and perpetuate their own positions of privilege’ (p. 200).

He then mentions other so-called ‘reforms’ that were carried out after Stalin’s death. These include: a shift towards ‘market’-oriented reforms; a shift from heavy industry, production of the means of production, towards light, consumer industry; from the Marxist-Leninist view that war is inevitable as long as imperialism exists to the avoidance of war with imperialism at any cost; a de-emphasis on the vanguard role of the working class in the revolution; the view that capitalism could be overcome through ‘peaceful competition’ by parliamentary means; and an abandonment of Stalin’s plan to move towards communism, classless society.

This writer is in agreement with the need to prevent the party from becoming an organisation of careerists. However, it is not at all clear that ‘contested elections’ would prevent bureaucratisation. (Besides, in choosing candidates for the Soviets, there were discussions of different candidates all along this line. For more on this, see the fascinating chapter of Sam Darcy’s memoirs: ‘How Soviet Democracy Worked in the 1930s’, in Revolutionary Democracy Vol. XI. No. 2, Sept. 2005, available at: Rather, this writer thinks it would be more important to reinforce the Party maximum (maximum salary that a Party member was allowed to receive, regardless of what position he held) and limit other material privileges available to Party leaders. Nor is it clear why moving the ‘locus of power’ from Party leaders to government representatives would increase democracy. This writer thinks that it would have been more important to strengthen the struggle against revisionism. For example, the necessary fight against Titoism seems to have been itself carried out in a bureaucratic way, compared to the way the struggles against Trotskyism and Bukharinism were carried out in the 1920s. That may be why the Soviet Union and all the Eastern European countries except for Albania followed the path of Titoism less than a decade later. However, this is all the subject for much further debate.

‘Khrushchev Lied’ is available from Erythrós Press at:


Grover Furr: Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland in September 1939? (The answer: No, it did not.)


by Grover Furr


Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland on September 17, 1939? Why ask? “We all know” this invasion occurred. “You can look it up!” All authoritative sources agree. This historical event happened.

Here’s a recent article in The New York Review of Books (April 30, 2009, p. 17) by Timothy Snyder, Yale University professor, academic expert in this area — and fanatic anticommunist — who just has to know that what he writes here is, to put it politely, false:

Because the film (although not the book)* begins with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 rather than the joint German-Soviet invasion and division of Poland in 1939… the Soviet state had just months earlier been an ally of Nazi Germany… (* “Defiance”)

“Behind Closed Doors” (PBS series 2009):

“After invading Poland in September 1939, the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…”

Wikipedia article: “Soviet invasion of Poland”:

“… on 17 September, the Red Army invaded Poland from the east…”

Every historian I have read, even those who do not conform to Cold War paradigms, state unproblematically that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939.

But the truth is that the USSR did not invade Poland in September, 1939. Even though the chances are at least 99 to 1 that every history book you can find says that it did. I have yet to find an English-language book that gets this correct. And, of course, the USSR had never been an “ally of Nazi Germany.”

I will present a lot of evidence in support of this statement. There is a great deal more evidence to support what I say – much more than I can present here, and no doubt much more that I have not yet even identified or located.

Furthermore, at the time it was widely acknowledged that no such invasion occurred. I’ll demonstrate that too.

Probably the truth of this matter was another victim of the post-WW2 Cold War, when a great many falsehoods about Soviet history were invented or popularized. The truth about this and many other questions concerning the history of the first socialist state has simply become “unmentionable in polite company.”

Demonizing – I use the word advisedly, it is not too strong – the history of the communist movement and anything to do with Stalin has become de rigeur, a shibboleth of respectability. And not only among avowed champions of capitalism but among ourselves, on the left, among Marxists, opponents of capitalism, the natural constituency of a movement for communism.

Some time ago Doug Henwood tweaked me on the MLG list for “defending Stalin.”

I could make a crack about what defenses of Stalin have to do with a “sensible materialism,” but that would be beneath me.
(MLG list May 17 2009)

Doug thinks he knows something about Stalin and the USSR during Stalin’s time. He doesn’t! But you can’t blame him too much, since none of us do. More precisely: We “know” a lot of things about the Soviet Union and Stalin, and almost all of those things are just not true. We’ve been swallowing lies for the truth our whole lives.

I’ll be brief in this presentation. I have prepared separate web pages with references to much of the evidence I have found (not all – there is just too much). I’m also preparing a longer version for eventual publication.

The Nonaggression Treaty Between Germany and the USSR of August 1939

For a discussion of the events that led up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 an excellent account is still Bill Bland, “The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939” (1990). I have checked every citation in this article; most are available online now. It’s very accurate, but far more detailed than the present article requires.

Before we get into the question of the invasion that did not take place, the reader needs to become familiar with some misconceptions about the Nonaggression Treaty and why they are false. These too are based on anticommunist propaganda that is widely, if naively, “believed.”

The most common, and most false, of these is stated above in the PBS series “Behind Closed Doors”

…the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…

This is completely false, as any reading of the text of the M-R Pact itself will reveal. Just read the words on the page (see below).

The Soviets Wanted to Protect the USSR – and therefore to Preserve Independent Poland

[For the text of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact see m-rpact.html ]

It is conventionally stated as fact that the Nonaggression Pact between the USSR and Germany (often called the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” or “Treaty” after the two foreign ministers who signed it) was an agreement to “partition Poland”, divide it up.

This is completely false. I’ve prepared a page with much fuller evidence; see  “The Secret Protocols to the M-R Pact Did NOT Plan Any Partition of Poland”.

No doubt a big reason for this falsehood is this: Britain and France did sign a Nonaggression Pact with Hitler that “partitioned” another state — Czechoslovakia. That was the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938.

Poland too took part in the “partition” of Czechoslovakia too. Poland seized a part of the Cieszyn area of Czechoslovakia, even though it had only a minority Polish population. This invasion and occupation was not even agreed upon in the Munich Agreement. But neither France nor Britain did anything about it.

Hitler seized the remaining part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. This had not been foreseen in the Munich Agreement. But Britain, France, and Poland did nothing about it.

So the anticommunist “Allies” Britain, France, and Poland really did participate in the partitioning of a powerless state! Maybe that’s why the anticommunist “party line” is that the USSR did likewise? But whatever the reason for this lie, it remains a lie.

The Soviet Union signed the Nonaggression Pact with Germany not to “partition Poland” like the Allies had partitioned Czechoslovakia, but in order to defend the USSR.

The Treaty included a line of Soviet interest within Poland beyond which German troops could not pass in the event Germany routed the Polish army in a war.

The point here was that, if the Polish army were beaten, it and the Polish government could retreat beyond the line of Soviet interest, and so find shelter, since Hitler had agreed not to penetrate further into Poland than that line. From there they could make peace with Germany. The USSR would have a buffer state, armed and hostile to Germany, between the Reich and the Soviet frontier.

The Soviets — “Stalin”, to use a crude synecdoche (= “a part that stands for the whole”) — did not do this out of any love for fascist Poland. The Soviets wanted a Polish government — ANY Polish government — as a buffer between the USSR and the Nazi armies.

The utter betrayal of the fascist Polish Government of its own people frustrated this plan.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the Polish government had two alternatives in the event its army was smashed by an attacking army.

1. It could stay inside the country, perhaps moving its capital away from the invading army. From there it could have sued for peace, or surrendered.

2. The Polish government could have fled to an allied country that was at war with Germany: either France or England.

The governments of all other countries defeated by Germany did one or both of these things. The Polish government — racist, anticommunist, hyper-nationalist, — in short fascist, as bad as they get — didn’t do either. Rather than fight the Polish government fled into neighboring Rumania.

Rumania was neutral in the war. By crossing into neutral Rumania the Polish government became prisoners. The legal word is “interned”. They could not function as a government from Rumania, or pass through Rumania to a country at war with Germany like France, because to permit them to do that would be a violation of Rumania’s neutrality, a hostile act against Germany.

I will discuss “internment” and the international law on this question extensively below.

The USSR did not invade Poland – and everybody knew it at the time

When Poland had no government, Poland was no longer a state. (More detailed discussion below)

What that meant was this: at this point Hitler had nobody with whom to negotiate a cease-fire, or treaty.

Furthermore, the M-R Treaty’s Secret Protocols were void, since they were an agreement about the state of Poland and no state of Poland existed any longer. Unless the Red Army came in to prevent it, there was nothing to prevent the Nazis from coming right up to the Soviet border.

Or — as we now know they were in fact preparing to do — Hitler could have formed one or more pro-Nazi states in what had until recently been Eastern Poland. That way Hitler could have had it both ways: claim to the Soviets that he was still adhering to the “spheres of influence” agreement of the M-R Pact while in fact setting up a pro-Nazi, highly militarized fascist Ukrainian nationalist state on the Soviet border.

Once the Nazis had told the Soviets that they, the Nazis, had decided that the Polish state no longer existed, then it did not make any difference whether the Soviets agreed or not. The Nazis were telling them that they felt free to come right up to the Soviet border. Neither the USSR nor any state would have permitted such a thing. Nor did international law demand it.

At the end of September a new secret agreement was concluded. In it the Soviet line of interest was far to the East of the “sphere of influence” line decided upon a month earlier in the Secret Protocol and published in Izvestiia and in the New York Times during September 1939. This reflected Hitler’s greater power, now that he had smashed the Polish military. See the map at new_spheres_0939.html

In this territory Poles were a minority, even after the “polonization” campaign of settling Poles in the area during the ‘20s and ‘30s. You can see the ethnic / linguistic population map at curzonline.html

How do we know this interpretation of events is true?

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

1. The Polish government did not declare war on USSR.

The Polish government declared war on Germany when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939. It did not declare war on the USSR.

2. The Polish Supreme Commander Rydz-Smigly ordered Polish soldiers not to fight the Soviets, though he ordered Polish forces to continue to fight the Germans.

See rydz_dont_fight.html

3. The Polish President Ignaz Moscicki, interned in Rumania since Sept. 17, tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html

4. The Rumanian government tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html


The Rumanian position recognized the fact that Moscicki was blowing smoke when he claimed he had legally resigned on September 30.  So the Rumanian government fabricated a story according to which Moscicki had already resigned back on September 15, just before entering Rumania and being interned (NYT 10.04.39, p.12). Note that Moscicki himself did not claim this!

Rumania needed this legal fiction to try to sidestep the following issue. Once Moscicki had been interned in Rumania – that is, from September 17 1939 on – he could not function as President of Poland. Since resignation is an official act, Moscicki could not resign once he was in Rumania.

For our present purposes, here’s the significant point: Both the Polish leaders and the Rumanian government recognized that Poland was bereft of a government once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and were interned there.

Both Moscicki and Rumania wanted a legal basis – a fig-leaf — for such a government. But they disagreed completely about this fig-leaf, which exposes it as what it was – a fiction.

5. Rumania had a military treaty with Poland aimed against the USSR. Rumania did not declare war on the USSR.

The Polish government later claimed that it had “released” Rumania from its obligations under this military treaty in return for safe haven in Rumania.

But there is no evidence for this statement. No wonder: it is at least highly unlikely that Rumania would have ever promised “safe haven” for Poland, since that would have been an act of hostility against Nazi Germany. Rumania was neutral in the war and, as discussed below, insisted upon imprisoning the Polish goverment and disarming the Polish forced once they had crossed the border into Rumania.

The real reason for Rumania’s failure to declare war on the USSR is probably the one given in a New York Times article of September 19, 1939:

“The Rumanian viewpoint concerning the Rumanian-Polish anti-Soviet agreement is that it would be operative only if a Russian attack came as an isolated event and not as a consequence of other wars.”
– “Rumania Anxious; Watches Frontier.” NYT 09.19.39, p.8.

That means Rumania recognized that the Red Army was not allied with Germany, an “other war.” This is tacit recognition of the Soviet and German position that Poland no longer had a government, and therefore was no longer a state.

6. France did not declare war on the USSR, though it had a mutual defense treaty with Poland.

See m-rpact.html for the reconstructed text of the “secret military protocol” of this treaty, which has been “lost” – i.e. which the French government still keeps “secret”

7. England never demanded that the USSR withdraw its troops from Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the parts of the former Polish state occupied by the Red Army after September 17, 1939.

On the contrary, the British government concluded that these territories should not be a part of a future Polish state. Even the Polish government-in-exile agreed!

See maisky_101739_102739.html  These documents are in the original Russian, with the relevant quotations translated into English below them.

8. The League of Nations did not determine the USSR had invaded a member state.

Article 16 of the League of Nations Covenant required members to take trade and economic sanctions against any member who “resorted to war”.

No country took any sanctions against the USSR. No country broke diplomatic relations with the USSR over this action.

However, when the USSR attacked Finland in 1939 the League did vote to expel the USSR, and several countries broke diplomatic relations with it. See

A very different response! which tells us how the League viewed the Soviet action in the case of Poland.

9. All countries accepted the USSR’s declaration of neutrality.

All, including the belligerent Polish allies France and England, agreed that the USSR was not a belligerent power, was not participating in the war. In effect they accepted the USSR’s claim that it was neutral in the conflict.

See FDR’s “Proclamation 2374 on Neutrality”, November 4, 1939:

“…a state of war unhappily exists between Germany and France; Poland; and the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa,…”


– also “152 – Statement on Combat Areas” – defines

“belligerent ports, British, French, and German, in Europe or Africa…”


The Soviet Union is not mentioned as a belligerent. That means the USA did not consider the USSR to be at war with Poland. For the Soviet Union’s claim of neutrality see soviet_neutrality.html

Naturally, a country cannot “invade” another country and yet credibly claim that it is “neutral” with respect to the war involving that country. But NONE of these countries declared the USSR a belligerent. Nor did the United States, the League of Nations, or any country in the world.

The Polish State Collapsed

By September 17, 1939, when Soviet troops crossed the border, the Polish government had ceased to function. The fact that Poland no longer had a government meant that Poland was no longer a state.

On September 17 when Molotov handed Polish Ambassador to the USSR Grzybowski the note Grzybowski told Molotov that he did not know where his government was, but had been informed that he should contact it through Bucharest. See polish_state_collapsed.html

In fact the last elements of the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and so into internment during the day of September 17, according to a United Press dispatch published on page four of the New York Times on September 18 with a dateline of Cernauti, Rumania. See polish_leaders_flee.html

Without a government, Poland as a state had ceased to exist under international law. This fact is denied — more often, simply ignored — by anticommunists, for whom it is a bone in the throat.

We take a closer look at this issue in the next section below. But a moment’s reflection will reveal the logic of this position. With no government — the Polish government was interned in Rumania, remember — there is no one to negotiate with; no body to which the police, local governments, and the military are responsible. Polish ambassadors to foreign countries no longer represent their government, because there is no government. (See the page polish_state_collapsed.html , especially the NYT article of October 2, 1939 )

The Question of the State in International Law

See state_international_law.html for more details.

EVERY definition of a “state” recognizes the necessity of a government or “organized political authority.” Once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania, it was no longer a “government.”

Even the Polish officials of the day recognized this by trying to create the impression that “the government” had never been interned since it had been handed over to somebody else before crossing into Rumania. See the discussion concerning Moscicki and his “desire to resign” on September 29, 1939, also cited above.

So EVERYBODY, Poles included, recognized that by interning themselves in Rumania the Polish government had created a situation whereby Poland was no longer a “state.” This is not just “a reasonable interpretation” – not just an intelligent, logical deduction but one among several possible deductions. As I have demonstrated in this paper, it was virtually everybody’s interpretation at the time. Every major power, plus the former Polish Prime Minister himself, shared it.

Once this is problem is squarely faced, everything else flows from it.

* The Secret Protocol to the M-R Pact was no longer valid, in that it was about spheres of influence in “Poland”, a state.

By September 15 at the latest Germany had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state (discussed further here).

Once Poland ceased to exist as a state this Secret Protocol did not apply any longer.

Therefore if they wanted to the Germans could march right up to the Soviet frontier.

Or – and this is what Hitler was in fact going to do if the Soviet Union did not send in troops — they could facilitate the creation of puppet states, like a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state.

In any case, once Hitler had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state, and therefore that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’s agreement on spheres of influence in the state of Poland was no longer valid, the Soviet Union had only two choices: either to

  1. Send the Red Army into Western Ukraine and Wester Belorussia to establish sovereignty there; or
  2. Let Hitler send the Nazi army right up to the Soviet border.

* Since the Polish state had ceased to exist, the Soviet-Polish nonaggression pact was no longer in effect.

The Red Army could cross the border without “invading” or “committing aggression against” Poland. By sending its troops across the border the USSR was claiming sovereignty, so no one else could do so – e.g. a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state, or Nazi Germany itself.

* Legitimacy flows from the state, and there was no longer any Polish state.

Therefore the Polish Army was no longer a legitimate army, but a gang of armed men acting without any legitimacy. Having no legitimacy, the Polish Army should have immediately laid down its arms and surrendered. Of course it could keep fighting — but then it would no longer be fighting as a legitimate army but as partisans. Partisans have NO rights at all except under the laws of the government that does claim sovereignty.

* Some Polish nationalists claim that the Soviets showed their “perfidy” by refusing, once they had sent troops across the Soviet frontier, to allow the Polish army cross the border into Rumania.

But this is all wrong. The USSR had diplomatic relations with Rumania. The USSR could not permit thousands of armed men to cross the border from areas where it held sovereignty into Rumania, a neighboring state. Imagine if, say, Mexico or Canada tried to permit thousands of armed men to cross the border into the USA!

Re-negotiation of “Spheres of Influence” September 28 1939

See new_spheres_0939.html

All this is referred to directly in a Ribbentrop (German Foreign Minister)-to-Schulenburg (German ambassador to Moscow) communication of September 15-16 — Telegram No. 360 of 15 September 1939 — with its reference to “the possibility of the formation in this area of new states.”

Note that Ribbentrop is very displeased with the idea that the Soviets would “tak[e] the threat to the Ukrainian and White Russian populations by Germany as a ground for Soviet action” and wants Schulenberg to get Molotov to give some other motive. He was unsuccessful; this was exactly the motive the Soviets gave:

“Nor can it be demanded of the Soviet Government that it remain indifferent to the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland, who even formerly were without rights and who now have been abandoned entirely to their fate.
The Soviet Government deems it its sacred duty to extend the hand of assistance to its brother Ukrainians and brother Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

– TASS, September 17, 1939; quoted in New York Times September 18, 1939, p. 5; also Jane Degras (Ed.), Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy 1933-1941, vol. III (London/New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 374-375.

The German government was already considering that Poland no longer existed — there’s no reference to “Poland”, only to “the area lying to the East of the German zone of influence”, etc.

Polish Imperialism

A word of explanation regarding the Soviet reference to “the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

At the Treaty of Riga signed in March 1921 the Russian Republic (the Soviet Union was not officially formed until 1924), exhausted by the Civil War and foreign intervention, agreed to give half of Belorussia and Ukraine to the Polish imperialists in return for a desperately-needed peace.

We use the words “Polish imperialists” advisedly, because Poles — native speakers of the Polish language — were in the small minority in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the areas that passed to Poland in this treaty. The Polish capitalist regime then encouraged ethnic Poles to populate these areas to “polonize” them, and put all kinds of restrictions on the use of the Belorussian and Ukrainian languages.

Up till the beginning of 1939, when Hitler decided to turn against Poland before making war on the USSR, the Polish government was maneuvering to join Nazi Germany in a war on the USSR in order to seize more territory.

As late as January 26, 1939, Polish Foreign Minister Beck was discussing this with Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in Warsaw. Ribbentrop wrote:

… 2. I then spoke to M. Beck once more about the policy to be pursued by Poland and Germany towards the Soviet Union and in this connection also spoke about the question of the Greater Ukraine and again proposed Polish-German collaboration in this field.

M. Beck made no secret of the fact that Poland had aspirations directed toward the Soviet Ukraine and a connection with the Black Sea…

(Original in Akten zur deutschen ausw�rtigen Politik… Serie D. Bd. V. S. 139-140. English translation in Documents on German Foreign Policy. 1918-1945. Series D. Vol. V. The document in question is No. 126, pp. 167-168; this quotation on p. 168. Also in Russian in God Krizisa T. 1, Doc. No. 120.)

Polish Foreign Minister Beck was telling Ribbentrop that Poland would like to seize ALL of the Ukraine from the USSR, for that was the only way Poland could have had “a connection with the Black Sea.”

In occupying Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine the USSR was reuniting Belorussians and Ukrainians, East and West. This is what the Soviets meant by the claim that they were “liberating” these areas. The word “liberation” is conventionally used when an occupying imperialist power withdraws, and that’s what happened here.

The Polish Government In Exile

At the beginning of October 1939 the British and French governments recognized a Polish government-in-exile in France (later it moved to England). This was an act of hostility against Germany, of course. But the UK and France were already at war with Germany. (The USA took the position of refusing to recognize the conquest of Poland, but treated the Polish government-in-exile in Paris in an equivocal manner. Evidently it wasn’t sure what to do.)

The USSR could not recognize it for a number of reasons:

* Recognizing it would be incompatible with the neutrality of the USSR in the war.

It would be an act of hostility against Germany, with which the USSR had a non-aggression pact and a desire to avoid war. (The USSR did recognize it in July 1941, after the Nazi invasion).

* The Polish government-in-exile could not exercise sovereignty anywhere.

Most important: if the USSR were to recognize the Polish government-in-exile, the USSR would have had to retreat back to its pre-September 1939 borders — because the Polish government-in-exile would never recognize the Soviet occupation of Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine.

Then Germany would have simply marched up to the Soviet frontier. 

To permit that would have been a crime against the Soviet people, of course. And, as the British and French soon agreed, a blow against them, and a big boost to Hitler as well. See should_the_ussr_have_permitted.html

Polish Government Uniquely Irresponsible

No other government during WW2 did anything remotely like what the Polish government did.

Many governments of countries conquered by the Axis formed “governments in exile” to continue the war. But only the Polish government interned itself in a neutral country, thereby stripping itself of the ability to function as a government and stripping their own people of their existence as a state.

What should the Polish government leader have done, once they realized they were completely beaten militarily?

  • The Polish government should have remained somewhere in Poland – if not in the capital, Warsaw, then in Eastern Poland. If they had set up an alternative capital in the East — something the Soviets had prepared to do East of Moscow, in case the Nazis captured Moscow — then they could have preserved a “rump” Poland.
    There it should have capitulated – as, for example, the French Government did in July 1940. Or, it could have sued for peace, as the Finnish government did in March 1940.
    Then Poland, like Finland, would have remained as a state, though it would certainly have lost territory.
  • Or, the Polish government could have fled to Great Britain or France, countries already at war with Germany.
    Polish government leaders could have fled by air any time. Or they could have gotten to the Polish port of Gdynia, which held out until September 14, and fled by boat.
  • Why didn’t they? Did Polish government leaders think they might be killed? Well, so what? Tens of thousands of their fellow citizens and soldiers were being killed!
    • Maybe they really did believe Rumania would violate its neutrality with Germany and let them pass through to France? If they did believe this, they were remarkably stupid. There’s never been any evidence that the Rumanian government gave them permission to do this.
    • Did they believe Britain and France were going to “save” them? If so, that too was remarkably stupid. Even if the British and French really intended to field a large army to attack German forces in the West, the Polish army would have had to hold against the Wehrmacht for a month at least, perhaps more. But the Polish Army was in rapid retreat after the first day or two of the war.
    • Or, maybe they fled simply out of sheer cowardice. That is what their flight out of Warsaw, the Polish capital, suggests.

Everything that happened afterwards was a result of the Polish government being interned in Rumania.

Here’s how the world might have been different if a “rump” Poland had remained after surrender to Hitler:

* A “rump” Poland might finally have agreed to make a mutual defense pact that included the USSR. That would have restarted “collective security”, the anti-Nazi alliance between the Western Allies and the USSR that the Soviets sought but UK and French leaders rejected.

That would have

  • greatly weakened Hitler;
  • probably eliminating much of the Jewish Holocaust;
  • certainly preventing the conquest of France, Belgium, and the rest of Europe;
  • certainly prevented many millions of deaths of Soviet citizens.

* Poland could have emerged from WW2 as an independent state, perhaps a neutral one, like Finland, Sweden, or Austria.

All this, and more – if only the Polish government had remained in their country at least long enough to surrender, as every other government did.


See conclusion.html


Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-war Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence

Graphs in the original are shown here as embedded images that are compressed to fit the site’s format. Please click the images to see the original graphs full size.

 – E.S.


Peter A. Coclanis is an associate professor of history and the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the Universitv of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He worked under Stuart W. Bruchey at Columbia University, earning his doctorate in 1984. He is the author of The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670-1920 (1989), as well as of numerous articles in economic and social history. Currently, he is writing a book on the history of rice. Coclanis spent the 1992-1993 academic year conducting research in Southeast Asia on a Fulbright Research Fellowship.

J. Arch Getty is a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. He studied with Roberta Manning and received his Ph.D. from Boston College in 1979. He is the author of Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1949 (1985) and co-editor of Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (1993). His research is on the political history of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and concentrates on the history of the Soviet Communist Party. Getty is now writing (with Gabor Rittersporn) Society and Politics in the Soviet 1930s (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press), a treatment of the state-society question in the pre-war Stalin period, and is collaborating in the editing of a series of researchers’ guides to Russian archives.

James L. Huston is an associate professor of history at Oklahoma State University. He received his doctorate in 1980 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, under the guidance of Robert W. Johannsen. He is the author of The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War (1987), which was subsequently awarded the Phi Alpha Theta prize for an author’s first book. Although Huston has pursued a number of topics in political and economic history, his major concern has

been an investigation of protectionist political economy. He is currently completing a book-length manuscript on this topic.

Marc Raeff is Bakhmeteff Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Columbia University. He earned his doctorate in history from Harvard University in 1950. His recent books include The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change through Law in the Germanies arid Russia, 1600-1800(1983), Understanding Imperial Russia: State and Society in the Old Regime (1984), and Russia Abroad: A Cultural History of the Russian Emigration, 1919-1939 (1990).

Gabor T. Rittersporn is a senior research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. He studied at the universities of Szeged (Hungary), Leningrad, and Tokyo, defending his doctoral dissertation at the Sorbonne in 1979. His research interests involve the interaction of collective representations, social practices, and political processes in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, with particular emphasis on the evolution of penal policy. Rittersporn is the author of Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications: Social Tensions and Political Conflicts in the USSR, 1933-1953 (1991).

Paul W. Schroeder is professor of history and political science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of three books and many articles on the history of international politics from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, as well as Austrian and German history. His latest work, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848, will be published by Oxford University Press in the Oxford History of Modern Europe series early in 1994. His current research is on change, development, and learning in international politics, 1648 to 1945.

Carl Strikwerda received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan under the supervision of Louise A. Tilly and is now an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas. The co-editor with Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Oberlin College, of The Politics of Immigrant Workers: Labor Activism andMigration in the World Economy since 1830 (1993), he is currently editing a volume with Ellen Furlough. Kenyon College, on the history of consumer cooperation. Strikwerda has hadarticles published in Comparative Studies in Society and History, International Labor and Working Class History, and theJournal of Urban History, and recently completed a manuscript on Catholic and Socialist workers in Belgium between 1870 and 1914. His article in this issue grew out of research for a book on the conflict between nationalism and internationalism in the era of World War 1.

Viktor N. Zemskov is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He received his kandidat nauk degree from the History Faculty of Moscow State University in 1974, specializing in the history of the Soviet working class. He has written The Leading Force of National StruggleThe Struggle of the Soviet Working Class in the Period of Fascist Occupation of the USSR, 1941-1944 (in Russian) (1986). In 1989, Zemskov was among the first researchers admitted to the secret archives of the GULAG system, and he published a series of articles in Argumenty i fakty and Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia on prisoners, exiles, and repatriation in the Stalin period. He is now preparing two books, one on Soviet citizens dn forced labor in Nazi Germany, 1941-1945 and another on exiles in the USSR, 1930-1960.

Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-war Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence


The Great purges of the 1930s were a maelstrom of political violence that engulfed all levels of society and all walks of life. Often thought to have begun in 1934 with the assassination of Politburo member Sergei Kirov, the repression first struck former political dissidents in 1935-1936. It then widened and reached its apogee in 1937-1938 with the arrest and imprisonment or execution of a large proportion of the Communist Party Central Committee, the military high command, and the state bureaucracy. Eventually, millions of ordinary Soviet citizens were drawn into the expanding terror.

Debate in the West about the precise numbers of victims has appeared in the scholarly press for several years and has been characterized by wide disparity, often of several millions, between high and low estimates. Using census and other data, scholars have put forward conflicting computations of birth, mortality, and arrests in order to calculate levels of famine deaths due to agricultural collectivization (1932-1933), victims of the Great Terror (1936-1939), and total “unnatural” population loss in the Stalin period. Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, Robert Conquest, Steven Rosefielde, and others have posited relatively high estimates (see Table 1). On the other hand, Stephen Wheatcroft and others working from the same sources have put forth lower totals. Both “high” and “low” estimators have bemoaned the lack of solid archival evidence and have claimed that should such materials become available, they would confirm the author’s projection. The debate, along with disputes on the “totalitarian” nature of the Stalinist regime, the importance of Joseph Stalin’s personality, and the place of social history in Soviet studies, has polarized the field into two main camps, perhaps unfortunately labeled “Cold Warriors” and “revisionists.” Revisionists have accused the other side of using second- hand sources and presenting figures that are impossible to justify, while the proponents of high estimates have criticized revisionists for refusing to accept grisly facts and even for defending Stalin. Both sides have accused the other of sloppy or incompetent scholarship.

Now, for the first time, Soviet secret police documents are available that permit us to narrow sharply the range of estimates of victims of the Great Purges. These materials are from the archival records of the Secretariat of GULAG, the Main Camp Administration of the NKVD/MVD (the USSR Ministry of the Interior). They were housed in the formerly “special” (that is, closed) sections of the Central State Archive of the October Revolution of the USSR (TsGAOR), which is now part of the newly organized State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). A few Moscow scholars (among them V. N. Zemskov) had access to some of them in the past but were not allowed to cite them properly. Now, according to the liberalized access regulations in Russian archives, scholars are able to consult these documents and to publish exact citations. (See “A Note on Sources” at the end of this article.)

We propose to deal here only with quantitative elements of the terror, with what we can now document of the scale of the repression. Of course, such a cold numerical approach risks overshadowing the individual personal and psychological horror of the event. Millions of lives were unjustly taken or destroyed in the Stalin period; the scale of suffering is almost impossible to comprehend. The horrifying irrationality of the carnage involves no debatable moral questions – destruction of people can have no pros and cons. There has been a tendency to accuse “low estimators” of somehow justifying or defending Stalin (as if the deaths of 3 million famine victims were somehow less blameworthy than 7 million).

Scholars and commentators will make use of the data as they choose, and it is not likely that this new information will end the debates. Still, it seems a useful step to present the first available archival evidence on the scale of the Great Terror. Admittedly, our figures are far from being complete and sometimes pose almost as many questions as they answer. They nevertheless give a fairly accurate picture of the orders of magnitude involved and show the possibilities and limits of the data presently available.

The penal system admrnistered by the NKVD (Peoples’ Commissariat of Internal Affairs) in the 1930s had several components: prisons, labor camps, and labor colonies, as well as “special settlements” and various types of non-custodial supervision. Generally speaking, the first stop for an arrested person was a prison, where an investigation and interrogation led to conviction or, more rarely, release. After sentencing, most victims were sent to: one of the labor camps or colonies to serve their terms. In December 1940, the jails of the USSR had a theoretical prescribed capacity of 234,000, although they then held twice that number. Considering this-and comparing the levels of prison populations given in the Appendixes for the 1930s and 1940s one can assume that the size of the prison system was probably not much different in the 1930s.

Second, we find a system of labor camps. These were the terrible “hard regime” camps populated by dangerous common criminals, those important politicals” the regime consigned to severe punishment, and, as a rule, by other people sentenced to more than three years of detention. On March 1, 1940, at the end of the Great Purges, there were 53 corrective labor camps (ispravitel’no-trudovye lageri: ITL) of the GULAG system holding some 1.3 million inmates. Most of the data cited in this article bear on the GULAG camps, some of which had a multitude of subdivisions spreading over vast territories and holding large numbers of people. BAMLAG, the largest camp in the period under review, held more than 260,000 inmates at the beginning of 1939, and SEVVOSTLAG (the notorious Kolyma complex) some 138,000.

Third came a network of 425 “corrective labor colonies” of varying types. These colonies were meant to confine prisoners serving short sentences, but this rule varied with time. The majority of these colonies were organized to produce for the economy and housed some 315,000 persons in 1940. They were nevertheless under the control of the NKVD and were managed-like the rest of the colony network-by its regional administrations. Additionally, there were 90 children’s homes under the auspices of the NKVD.

Fourth, there was the network of “special resettlements.” In the 1930s, these areas were populated largely by peasant families deported from the central districts as “kulaks” (well-to-do peasants) during the forced collectivization of the early 1930s. Few victims of the Great Purges of 1936-1939 were so exiled or put under other forms of non-custodial supervision: in 1937-1938, only 2.1 percent of all those sentenced on charges investigated by the political police fell into this category. This is why we will not treat exile extensively below.

Finally, there was a system of non-custodial “corrective work” (ispravitel’no-trudovye raboty), which included various penalties and fines. These were quite

common throughout the 1930s-they constituted 48 percent of all court sentences in 1935-and the numbers of such convictions grew under the several laws on labor discipline passed on the eve of the war. Typically, such offenders were condemned to up to one year at “corrective labor,” the penalty consisting of work at the usual place of one’s employment, with up to 25 percent reduction of wage and loss of credit for this work toward the length of service that gave the right to social benefits (specific allocations, vacation, pension). More than 1.7 million persons received such a sentence in the course of 1940 and almost all of them worked in their usual jobs “without deprivation of freedom.” As with resettlements, this correctional system largely falls outside the scope of the Great Terror.

Figure A provides the annual totals for the detained population (GULAG camps, labor colonies, and “kulak” resettlements, minus prisons) in the years of the Great Purges. It shows that, despite previously accepted-and fairly inflated-figures to the contrary, the total camp and exile population does not seem to have exceeded 3.5 million before the war. Were we to extrapolate from the fragmentary prison data we do have (see the Appendixe’s), we might reasonably add a figure of 300,000-500,000 for each year, to put the maximum total detained population at around 3 million in the period of the Great Purges.


Figure A: Camp, Colony, and “Kulak” Exile Populations, USSR, 1935-1940

Mainstream published estimates of the total numbers of “victims of repression” in the late 1930s have ranged from Dmitrii Volkogonov’s 3.5 million to Ol’ga Shatunovskaia’s nearly 20 million. (See Table 1.) The bases for these assessments are unclear in most cases and seem to have come from guesses, rumors, or extrapolations from isolated local observations. As the table shows, the documentable numbers of victims are much smaller.

We now have archival data from the police and judiciary on several categories of repression in several periods: arrests, prison and camp growth, and executions in 1937-1938, and deaths in custody in the 1930s and the Stalin period generally. Runs of data on arrests, charges, sentences, and custodial populations in the 1930s unfortunately reflect the simultaneous actions of several punitive agencies including the secret police, procuracy, courts, and others, each of which kept their own records according to their own statistical needs. No single agency (not even the secret police) kept a “master list” reflecting the totality of repression. Great care is therefore needed to untangle the disparate events and actors in the penal process.

Table 1 Current Estimates of the Scale of Stalinist Repression


A 1953 statistical report on cases initiated or investigated by the NKVD provides data on arrests and on the purported reasons for them. According to these figures, 1,575,259 people were arrested by the security police in the course of 1937-1938, 87.1 percent of them on political grounds. Some 1,344,923, or 85.4 percent, of the people the secret police arrested in 1937-1938 were convicted. To be sure, the 1,575,259 people in the 1953 report do not comprise the total of 1937-1938 arrests. Court statistics put the number of prosecutions for infractions unrelated to “counterrevolutionary” charges at 1,566,185, but it is unlikely that all persons in this cohort count in the arrest figures. Especially if their sentence was non-custodial, such persons were often not formally arrested. After all, 53.1 percent of all court decisions involved non-custodial sentences in 1937 and 58.7 percent in 1938, and the sum total of those who were executed or incarcerated yields 647,438 persons in categories other than “counterrevolution.” Even if we remember that during the Great Purges the authorities were by far more inclined to detain suspects than in other times, it seems difficult to arrive at an estimate as high as 2.5 million arrests on all charges in 1937-1938.

Although we do not have exact figures for arrests in 1937-1938, we do know that the population of the camps increased by 175,487 in 1937. and 320,828 in 1938 (it had declined in 1936). The population of all labor camps, labor colonies, and prisons on January 1, 1939, near the end of the Great Purges; was 2,022,976 persons. This gives us a total increase in the custodial population in 1937-1938 of 1,006,030. Nevertheless, we must add to these data the number of those who had been arrested but not sent to camps, either because they were part of a small contingent released sometime later or because they were executed.

As Table 1 shows, popular estimates of executions in the Great Purges of 1937-1938 vary from 500,000 to 7 million. We do not have exact figures for the numbers of executions in these years, but we can now narrow the range considerably. We know that between October 1, 1936, and September 30, 1938, the Military Board of the Supreme Court, sitting in 60 cities and towns, sentenced 30,514 persons to be shot. According to a press release of the KGB, 786,098 persons were sentenced to death “for counterrevolutionary and state crimes” by various courts and extra-judicial bodies between 1930 and 1953. It seems that 681,692 people, or 86.7 percent of the number for this 23-year-period were shot in 1937-1938 (compared to 1,118 persons in 1936). A certain number of these unfortunates had been arrested before 1937, including exiled and imprisoned ex-oppositionists who were summarily killed in the autumn of 1937. More important, however, our figures on 1937-1938 executions are not entirely comparable to those quoted in the press release. Coming from a 1953 statistical report “on the quantity of people convicted on cases of NKVD bodies,” they also refer to victims who had not been arrested for political reasons, whereas the communique concerns only persons persecuted for “counterrevolutionary offenses.” In any event, the data available at this point make it clear that the number shot in the two worst purge years was more likely a question of hundreds of thousands than of millions.

Of course, aside from executions in the terror of 1937-1938, many others died in the regime’s custody in the decade of the 1930s. If we add the figure we have for executions up to 1940 to the number of persons who died in GULAG camps and the few figures we have found so far on mortality in prisons and labor colonies, then add to this the number of peasants known to have died in exile, we reach the figure of 1,473,424. To be sure, of 1,802,392 alleged kulaks and their relatives who had been banished in 1930-1931, only 1,317,022 were still living at their places of exile by January 1, 1932. (Many people escaped: their number is given as 207,010 only for the year of 1932.) But even if we put at hundreds of thousands the casualties of the most chaotic period of collectivization (deaths in exile, rather than from starvation in the 1932 famine), plus later victims of different categories for which we have no data, it is unlikely that “custodial mortality” figures of the 1930s would reach 2 million: a huge number of “excess deaths” but far below most prevailing estimates. Although the figures we can document for deaths related to Soviet penal policy are rough and inexact, the available sources provide a reliable order of magnitude, at least for the pre-war period.

Turning to executions and custodial deaths in the entire Stalin period, we know that, between 1934 and 1953, 1,053,829 persons died in the camps of the GULAG. We have data to the effect that some 86,582 people perished in prisons between 1939 and 1951. (We do not yet know exactly how many died in labor colonies.) We also know that, between 1930 and 1952-1953, 786,098 “counter-revolutionaries” were executed (or, according to another source, more than 775,866 persons “on cases of the police” and for “political crimes”). Finally, we know that, from 1932 through 1940, 389,521 peasants died in places of “kulak” resettlement. Adding these figures together would produce a total of a little more than 2.3 million, but this can in no way be taken as an exact number. First of all, there is a possible overlap between the numbers given for GULAG camp deaths and “political” executions as well as between the latter and other victims of the 1937-1938 mass purges and perhaps also other categories falling under police jurisdiction. Double-counting would deflate the 2.3 million figure. On the other hand, the 2.3 million does not include several suspected categories of death in custody. It does not include, for example, deaths among deportees during and after the war as well as among categories of exiles other than “kulaks.” Still, we have some reason to believe that the new numbers for GULAG and prison deaths, executions as well as deaths in peasant exile, are likely to bring us within a much narrower range of error than the estimates proposed by the majority of authors who have written on the subject.

Table 2. Age and Gender Structure of GULAG Population (as of January 1 of each year)


We now have some information about the demographic composition of the GULAG’s prisoners. In terms of gender, there are few surprises. As Table 2 shows, women constituted a minority of hard regime camp inmates, although their share reached almost 13 percent by 1943 and 24 percent by 1945. They accounted for no more than 11 percent of the people prosecuted by the court system until the late 1930s, then the demographic situation of the war years increased their part to more than 40 percent by 1944; and, even though this proportion diminished afterward, it did not descend below 20 percent until 1955.

As we look at Table 2, the prominence of persons between 25 and 40 years of age among labor camp inmates is not surprising. A shift can be observed between 1934 and 1940. The generation that grew up in the tumult of war, civil war and revolution and came of age in the New Economic Policy era continued to constitute a cohort more exposed to penal sanctions than the rest of society. Thus people between ages 19 and 24 in 1934 are likely to account for the large over-representation of the age group 25 to 30 in 1937 and of the 31 to 35 cohort on the eve of the war. Those in the 51 to 60 and especially 41 to 50 age ranges, however, seem to be most vulnerable to repression in the wake of crises like collectivization and the Great Purges. The presence of persons between ages 18 and 21 also becomes notable in the camps by March 1940, when they made up 9.3 percent of the inmates (their share in the 1937 population was 6.4 percerit).

In. fact, it gives one pause to reflect that 1.2 percent of strict regime camp detainees were 18 or younger in 1934 and that, by 1941, their share nearly reached the proportion of those between 16 and 18 in the country’s population. From mid-1935 to the beginning of 1940, 155,506 juveniles between the ages of 12 and 18 passed through the labor colonies. Some 68,927 of them had been convicted of a crime and 86,579 had not. The large proportion of unconvicted young detainees indicates that they were likely to be incarcerated by extra-judicial bodies, as was a high proportion of adult inmates not sentenced by courts between 1938 and 1940. Nevertheless, political reasons did not play a predominant role in the conviction of minors. The ordeal of collectivization and the ensuing famine as well as the turmoil of mass migration from countryside to cities dramatically increased the number of orphans, abandoned children, and single-parent house-holds and weakened the family as well as the social integration of some categories of youth. Juvenile delinquency became a serious concern for the authorities by the spring of 1935, when they ordered that the courts were entitled to apply “all penal sanctions” to children having reached 12 years and guilty of “theft, violence, bodily harm, mutilation, murder and attempted murder.”

Records show that 10,413 youngsters between 12 and 16 years of age were sentenced by the courts of the Russian Federation in the second half of 1935 and

the first half of 1936; 77.7 percent of them were accused of theft (as opposed to 43.8 percent of those in the 16 to 18 group) and 7.1 percent of violent crimes. At this time, when the overall proportion of custodial sentences did not exceed 44 percent in the republic, 63.5 percent of the youngest offenders (and 59.4 percent between 16 and 18) were sent to detention. In addition, there was a tendency to apply the 1935 decree to infractions it did not cover; thus, despite instructions to the contrary, 43 juveniles were sentenced for alleged misconduct in office [!] by mid-1936 and 36 youngsters under 16 were so sentenced between 1937 and 1939. The sources show, incidentally, that the procuracy suggested that people below 18 years of age should not be confined in ordinary places of detention, and there is reason to believe that it also vainly protested against a directive of the camp administration stipulating that “the stay of minors in labor colonies is not limited by the terms of court sentences.”

Table 3. Data on 10,366 Juvenile Camp Inmates, April 1, 1939


At any rate, 24,700 children and adolescents up to 16 years of age appeared in courts in 1938 and 33,000 in the course of the following year, an increase that reflects a hardening penal practice. Table 3 indicates, however, that even if juveniles could be detained for political reasons, this motive did not account for a high proportion of the youngest camp inmates, even in the wake of the Great Purges. Although these data denote a tendency to imprison juveniles almost in the same proportions as adults if they were accused of the most serious crimes, they also show the penal system’s proclivity to impose custodial sentences on youngsters more readily than on grown-ups.

Table 4 shows the national origin of the majority of labor camp inmates on January 1, 1937-1940, alongside the ethnic composition of the USSR according to the working materials of the (suppressed) 1937 and (published) 1939 censuses. In comparison with their weight in the general population, Russians, Belorussians, Turkmen, Germans, and Poles were over-represented in the camps by 1939; Germans and Poles being especially hard-hit. On the other hand, Ukrainians, Jews, Central Asians (except Turkmen) and people from the Caucasus were less represented in the GULAG system than in the population of the country; as national groups, they suffered proportionately less in the 1937-1938 terror.

Table 4. Ethnic Groups in GULAG Camps, January 1, 1937-1940

Image 5

If ethnic groups for whom camp figures are unavailable in 1937 were too weakly represented to be counted, then Table 4 accurately demonstrates the statistical impact of the terror on different nationalities. Because we know that the party/state administration was heavily staffed by Russians and that many members of the party elite and economic leadership were of Polish and German background, the changes in the ethnic composition seem to indicate a terror aimed more at the elite than at particular national groups per se. To be sure, a sizable proportion of citizens of Polish and German origin living in border areas suffered several waves of “cleansing” for their alleged unreliability. In addition, wherever they resided, they were likely to be accused of political sympathies with states with which relations were strained, especially at a time when the authorities suspected fifth columns throughout the country and ordered a clampdown on “spies and nationalists.” This circumstance must have contributed to the fact that, in early 1939, when GULAG inmates made up 0.77 percent of the country’s population, some 2.7 percent and 1.3 percent of these ethnic groups were in hard regime camps, as well as about 1.3 percent of all Koreans, 1.7 percent of all Estonians, 1.9 percent of all Finns, and 3.2 percent of all Lithuanians, compared to approximately 0.85 percent of all Belorussians, 0.84 percent of all Russians, 0.65 percent of all Ukrainians, and 0.61 percent of all Jews. The national group suffering the most in proportional terms was the Latvians, who were heavily represented in the party and state administration and of whose total census population a staggering 3.7 percent was in strict regime camps alone. The hypothesis of an increasingly anti-elite orientation of the penal policy is supported by data on the educational levels of labor camp inmates. Table 5 shows the educational background of hard regime camp inmates on January 1, 1937, alongside educational levels for the population as a whole in 1937. Even allowing for the rise in educational levels in the general population between 1937 and 1940, it seems clear that the purge hit those with higher educational levels more severely. Although less educated common folk heavily outnumbered the “intelligentsia” in the camps, those who had studied in institutions of higher or secondary education were proportionally nearly twice as numerous in the GULAG system as they were in society at large, while those with elementary (or no) education were under-represented.

Table 5. Educational Levels of the GULAG Population versus the USSR as a Whole, 1937


Moreover, in the years spanning the Great Terror, the proportion of the camp population with some education rose significantly, while that of less educated people declined. From 1934 to 1941, the segment of the camp population with higher education tripled and the proportion with secondary education doubled. Again, however, care must be used in interpreting these data, because educational levels in the population as a whole were increasing steadily during the decade of the 1930s. We lack detailed annual education data for the period and especially statistics on the share of people with college and high school instruction in the population of the late 1930s and early l940s. Thus it would be dangerous to draw firm conclusions, even though the available evidence strongly suggests that the terror intensified against the educated elite. It comprised 12.8 percent of the population of hard regime camps by 1941, compared to 6.3 percent in 1934. As Table 6 indicates, the number of detainees with higher and secondary education grew much faster than the rest of the GULAG population.

It is commonly believed that most of the prisoners of the “Gulag Archipelago” had been arrested and sentenced for political offenses falling under one of the headings of “counterrevolutionary offenses” (Article 58 in the criminal code). It is also common wisdom that many people arrested for other reasons were accused of political crimes for propaganda value. The available evidence does not bear out this view, but it does suggest considerable ambiguity in definitions of “political crimes.” Table 7 shows the breakdown of labor camp inmates for selected years, according to the offense for which they were sentenced. Although the presence of alleged counterrevolutionaries is impressive, it turns out that ostensibly non-political detainees heavily outnumbered “politicals.”

Table 6. Percentage of Increase in Detainees by Educational background in GULAG Camps


In view of the murderous campaign of 1932-1933 against pilferers of state and collective farm property. and of the fact that in 1951 the number of prisoners convicted for this offense largely outstripped that of all categories of “counterrevolutionaries,” their share seems at first glance suspiciously low in Table 7, especially in 1940. One explanation for the relatively low proportion of inmates convicted under the “Law of August 7, 1932”-which had prescribed the death penalty or ten years of hard labor for theft of state property-is an unpublished decree of January 1936 ordering the review of the cases of all inmates convicted under the terms of this Draconian law before 1935. The overwhelming majority of these people had been condemned between 1932 and 1934, and four-fifths of this cohort saw their sentences reduced by August 1936 (including 40,789 people who were immediately released). Another possible explanation is that many people benefited from a directive reorienting the drive against major offenders and from reviews of their convictions that led by the end of 1933 to modifications of 50 percent of the verdicts from the previous seventeen months. This state of affairs seems to account for the considerable confusion in the records concerning the implementation of the “Law of August 7” and for the fact that, while claiming that the number of persons sentenced under its terms was between 100,000 and 180,000, officials were reluctant to advance exact figures even as late as the spring of 1936.

Table 7. Offenses of GULAG Population (by percent as of January 1 of each year)


The category of “socially harmful and dangerous elements” and the manner it was put to use must also warn us not to accept the definitions of “counter-revolutionaries” in our sources. Article 7 of the penal code stated that “to persons having committed socially dangerous acts or representing danger through their relation(s) with the criminal milieu or through their past activities, measures of social defense of a judicial-corrective, medical or medico-pedagogical character are applied.” Nevertheless, it failed to specify penalties except to indicate in Article 35 that these persons could be subjected to internal exile, without giving the slightest hint of the sentences courts were entitled to pass. The definition of the offense and the corresponding penalty were more than vague, but this did not prevent extra-judicial bodies of the secret police from singling out “harmful” and “dangerous” people among “recidivists [and] persons associated with the criminal milieu conducting a parasitic way of life etc.” This information comes from an appeal Co the top leadership by the procurator general, who was proposing to restrict the sentencing powers of the NKVD Special Board at the beginning of 1936 but not insofar as “dangerous elements” were concerned.

Although the procurator of the USSR, Andrei Vyshinskii, valued procedural precision, his office does not appear to have objected to the launching in August 1937 of a lethal “mass operation” targeting “criminals (bandits, robbers, recidivist thieves, professional smugglers, recidivist swindlers, cattle

thieves) engaged in criminal activities and associated with the criminal milieu)”-whether or not they were actually guilty of any specific offense at the moment-and connecting these common criminals to a wide range of supposedly “anti-Soviet” and “counter-revolutionary” groups, from “kulaks” to former members of forbidden political parties, former oppositionists, and alleged terrorists. Clearly, the regime saw a political threat in the conduct, and indeed in the sheer existence, of “dangerous” persons. The secret directive of 1937 was no dead letter: the records suggest that it led to the arrest of a great number of people. some of whom were hardly more than notorious hooligans and yet were sometimes sent to the firing squad.

Some 103,513 “socially harmful and dangerous elements” were held in hard regime camps as of January 1937, and the number grew to 285,831 in early 1939, when, as Table 3 shows, they made up a record 21.7 percent of all detainees (and 56.9 percent of juvenile detainees). But the proportion (and also the number) of “dangerous” persons began to decline by January 1940 and that of “hooligans” started to rise, until the size of their contingent came close to that of the “harmful elements” by 1941, in part because of toughened legislation concerning rowdies. A total of 108,357 persons were sentenced in 1939 for “hooliganism”; in the course of the next year, 199,813 convicts fell into this category. But by 1948, the proportion of “hooligans” among camp inmates was 2.1 percent, whereas that of “dangerous elements” fell to 0.1 percent. No doubt the same offense in the 1930s could be regarded as “socially dangerous” and in the 1940s as “hooliganism.”

“Socially harmful” people may have been victims of political repression, but it would be far-fetched to presume that the unjust punishment they received was a response to conscious acts of opposition to the regime. Having observed this, we must remember that the great majority of those sentenced for “counter-revolu-tionary offenses” had never committed any act deliberately directed against the Soviet system and even continued to remain faithful to the Bolshevik cause, notwithstanding their victimization. From this point of view, the regime’s distinction between “political” and “non-political” offenders is of doubtful relevance.Unless we are prepared to accept broad Stalinist definitions of “counterrevolutionary” offenses or the equally tendentious Western categorization of all arrests during Stalin’s time (even those for crimes punishable in any society) as political, we should devise ways to separate ordinary criminality from genuine opposition to the system as well as from other reasons for which people were subjected to penal repression.

At any rate, the Appendix figures show that from 1934 to 1953, a minority of the labor camp inmates had been formallv convicted of “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Our data on sentencing policy are incomplete for the period before 1937, but they permit us to advance some estimates of orders of magnitude. Thus we can calculate that only about 11 percent of the more than 5.3 million persons sentenced by courts and extrajudicial bodies between 1933 and 1935 represented “cases of the OGPU/NKVD” of which. as we have seen, a relatively high proportion had not been considered “political.” Some 28 percent of the almost 5 million people convicted by various courts and NKVD boards in 1937-1939 were sentenced “from cases of the security police,” mostly under the pretext of “counterrevolutionary offenses.” But while the judiciary and the Special Board of the NKVD/MVD subjected nearly 31 million persons to penalties in the period 1940-1952, only 4.8 percent (though a sizable 1.5 million persons) fell under Article 58. By contrast, more than twice as many (11 percent) of all people sentenced in these years were charged with appropriating public property.

Table 8. GULAG Population according to Sentencing Authority (Percentages as of January 1)


It turns out that by far the largest group of those sentenced between 1940 and 1952 consisted of people accused of violating laws devised to strengthen labor discipline, ranging from unauthorized absence from work to dodging mobilization for work in agriculture, to failing to meet the compulsory minimum of work in the collective farm. Although the judiciary jargon called them “wartime decrees,” most of them remained in force until 1956. More than 17 million people had been convicted under their terms between 1940 and 1952 (albeit “only” 3.9 million of them were sentenced to detention), comprising half (55.3 percent) of all the period’s sentences. One may wonder if acts infringing on proprietary prerogatives and labor relations in a state that is virtually the only proprietor and practically the only employer do not bear some relation to politics. But if we leave aside this dilemma as well as the year 1936, for which our data are too fragmentary, we can conclude that, on the whole, only about 8.4 percent of the sentences of courts and extra-judicial bodies were rendered “on cases of the secret police” and for alleged political reasons between 1933 and 1953.

From 1934, when many believe the terror was mounting, to 1937-1938, the camp proportion of “counterrevolutionaries” actually declined. Table 8 shows that so did the proportion in the strict regime camp population of those who had been sent there by specific police bodies.

Even though the number of people convicted “on cases of the NKVD” more than tripled from 1934 to 1935, a careful look at the sources shows that many sentences had hardly anything to do with “political” cases. Data on the arrested “counterrevolutionaries” show a 17 percent growth due to an increase in the number of people accused of “anti-Soviet agitation” by a factor of 2.6. As for sentences in 1935, 44.6 percent of them were rendered by regional NKVD “troikas” (tribunals), which did not deal with “political” affairs. Another 43 percent were passed by regular courts, but fewer than 35,000 of the more than 118,000 people concerned had been “counterrevolutionaries.” To be sure, the quantity of “political” sentences increased, compared to the previous year. In 1936, however, the NKVD arrested the same number of “counterrevolutionaries” as in 1934, which does not seem to show steadily intensifying political repression. Similarly, the continually decreasing number of people shot in cases initiated by the secret police and the constantly diminishing share (as well as aggregate number) of “counterrevolutionaries” in hard regime camps between 1934 and 1937 casts doubt on the idea of “mounting” repression in this period.

The abolition of the OGPU, a degree of uncertainty concerning the sentencing privileges of the new NKVD, and attempts to transfer the bulk of “political” cases to the jurisdiction of military tribunals as well as to the special boards of regional courts and the Supreme Court suggest that the penal policy of more or less ordinary judicial instances, whose statistics are available, is indicative of the general trend of 1935-1936. The data are unfortunately incomplete, but we have information on at least 30,174 “counterrevolutionaries” who were sentenced by civilian and military courts in 1935, in the wake of the Kirov assassination, and on 19,080 people who were prosecuted by the same courts for supposedly political offenses in the first half of the next year. Most of this growth is attributable to the increased frequency of “anti-Soviet agitation,” which accounted for 46.8 percent of the cases before the courts of the Russian Federation in the first six months of 1935, and 71.9 percent in the corresponding period of the next year. The loose application of this charge did not always sit well in high places, and the people’s commissar of justice along with the prosecutor general warned top decision-makers of the consequences of an excessive use of the more than vague legislation on “counterrevolutionary agitation.” The prosecutor general had a heated exchange of letters with the head of the security police that raised the possibility of limiting NKVD jurisdiction in this matter.

There was a tendency to diminish rather than inflate the share of “political” cases in 1936. Even the chairman of the ominous Military Collegium of the Supreme Court noted in December 1936 that the number of “counterrevolutionaries” convicted by his bench and its subordinate courts in the first nine months of the year was 34.4 percent less than in the same period of 1935. The number of prosecutions had grown only for two categories of crimes. Characteristically enough, these were espionage and sabotage, and their frequency increased, especially in the third quarter of 1936.

It is from that time, late 1936, and not from late 1934 that the number of “counterrevolutionaries” (as well as the cohort sentenced by the NKVD) began to swell dramatically, above all in the wake of the launching of wholesale “mass operations” during the summer of 1937 that victimized “socially harmful” people alongside a wide range of purported political delinquents. The documents that ordered the mass “repression of former kulaks, criminals, and anti-Soviet elements” through decisions of newly organized “Special Troikas” of the secret police specified that the operation had to be completed within four months and even set “control figures” for the numbers of people to be shot and imprisoned. The relevant instruction foresaw 72,950 executions and 186,500 new detainees as the outcome of the drive and stipulated that the numerical targets were not to be exceeded without authorization of the Moscow headquarters of the NKVD.

Nothing indicates that the operation enjoyed a more orderly implementation than any other campaign in the Soviet system of planning. Available documentation on the course of the action is fragmentary, but it shows that after mid-February 1938, when according to the initial orders the operation should have been over for more than two months, the chief of the NKVD requested additional funding for the detention and transportation of about twice the number of people spoken about in the original directives. Moreover, the “Special Troikas” had largely “overfulfilled plans” by this time, having doomed 688,000 people before the end of 1937. Similarly, the expectations of the NKVD boss proved equally low compared to the 413,433 persons actually subjected to the jurisdiction of the local “troikas” in 1938. Local enthusiasm outstripped the expectations of the center.

In general, the leadership of the terror was not very good at predicting events. In December of 1936, NKVD chief N. I. Ezhov issued a secret order to the effect that the number of inmates at SEVVOSTLAG (Kolyma) should be 70,000 in 1937 and 1938. (This was its population as of July 1936.) But this “plan” was overfulfilled by 20,000 in the second half of 1937, and by the end of 1938 the camp housed 138,170, twice the planned level. Characteristically, as late as February 1938, the GULAG administration was at a loss to give the exact number of victims falling under its authority nationally.

Some local camp commandants found the numbers of convicts modest by the early months of 1938 and bombarded Moscow with telegrams asking for a larger “labor force,” probably because their production plans were calculated on the basis of larger contingents than the ones at their disposal. Still, hundreds of thousands of new inmates arrived after the summer of 1937 to camps unprepared to accommodate them. At the moment when the head of the secret police was applying for an increase in the NKVD budget to receive a new influx of prisoners, reports of the procurator general-who was supposed to supervise penal institutions-painted a dreary picture of the lack of elementary conditions of survival in the GULAG system as well as of starvation, epidemic disease, and a high death rate among those already there. The year 1938 saw the second highest mortality in hard regime camps before the war and probably also in prisons and labor colonies, where 36,039 deaths were recorded, compared to 8,123 in 1937 and 5,884 in 1936.

Returning to the question of plan and control over the purge, we find a letter in which the NKVD chief promised to improve the poor camp conditions, yet he reported figures for the increase in GULAG population different from the data reported by his own administration. Evidence also suggests that the NKVD and the Central Committee issued directives during the drive that were incompatible with each other. In addition, there is at least one republic on record, that of Belorussia, where vigilant local officials continued mass shootings for a time even after an order was dispatched calling for an end to the wholesale purge

Although the theoretical capacity of the prisons in Turkmenistan was put at 1,844 places, 6,796 people had been locked up in them at the beginning of 1938, and 11,538 by May; this was clearly unanticipated in Moscow. The dimensions the campaign reached in the republic explains the over-representation of Turkmen among camp inmates. Other ethnic groups also suffered-at one time, all of Ashkhabad’s 45 Greek residents were arrested as members of an “insurrectionary organization.” The NKVD chief of the republic prescribed “control figures for cases of espionage [and] sabotage” as well as specific “limits” for the number of arrests to celebrate May Day, which suggests that after a while, the operation was farmed out to regional heads of the secret police. A fife at a factory became an occasion to meet “quotas” for sabotage by arresting everybody who happened to be there and forcing them to name their “accomplices” (whose number soon exceeded one hundred persons). If nothing else worked, it was always possible to round up people having the bad luck to be at the marketplace, where a beard made one suspect of the “crime” of being a mullah and where more than 1,200 “counterrevolutionaries” were seized in a matter of five months. Mock executions and incredibly savage torture were used in Turkmenistan to wring out confessions to all sorts of “subversive acts” and “organizations.” To be sure, neither torture nor trumped-up cases was a Turkmen monopoly: the records show that both became widespread in the wake of the wholesale purge the “Special Troikas” spearheaded.

This state of affairs illustrates the problems posed by our sources on the question of “politicals.” A person arrested for his “suspicious” Polish origin or shot because of having been married to a Pole in the past was no doubt accused of being a “counterrevolutionary.” We can also only wonder how many victims shared the fate of namesakes and were sentenced to long terms or shot as alleged former members of defunct parties. How many people were like the peasant who had been condemned “merely” to ten years but whose paperwork slipped in among that of people slated for capital punishment? (He was shot with them.)

Probably, most such people figure in our data on “politicals,” even if some of the mistakenly executed were listed under the heading of their original “non-political” sentences.

Last but not least, there was the purge of the purgers: how “counterrevolutionary” were the great number of officials of the NKVD and the judiciary who were denounced for “anti-Soviet activities” after November 1938, when the Central Committee abolished the “troikas,” called off the purge, and decided that “enemies of the people and spies having made their way” into the secret police and the procuracy had been responsible for the terror of the preceding period ? Many of these “hostile elements”were sentenced as “politicals,” just as the majority of those they had cruelly mistreated, although they continued to protest their fidelity to the regime until the very end.

Figure B: “Political” Crimes as Proportion of GULAG Population, 1934-1953

Image2But whatever we think about “counterrevolutionaries,” their identified cohort constituted 34.5 percent of the camp population by 1939. This was not their largest share in the pre-war period: at the beginning of 1932, people sentenced for “political” reasons in what corresponded then to hard regime camps comprised 49 percent of the inmates. The widespread recourse to capital punishment in 1937-1938 is responsible for holding the proportion of “counterrevolutionaries” under 50 percent until 1946. The percentage then declined again, probably as the result of a renewed offensive against pilferers of public property. If we superimpose the numbers of purportedly political inmates on the oscillating population of the labor camps from year to year, we find that while the proportion of “counterrevolutionaries” fluctuated, their aggregate numbers remained remarkably constant from 1939 until Stalin’s death (Figure B). This suggests that, numerically, a cohort of “politicals” was taken into the camps at the time of the Great Terror and remained relatively constant in future years.

The time of the great purges (1936-1939), as Figure C indicates, was numerically not the period of greatest repression. even if we take into account the masses of people shot in 1937-1938 and the much less frequent recourse to capital punishment from the late 1940s. Annual numbers of detainees were greater after World War II, reaching a peak shortly before Stalin’s death. If we extract the war years from the trend, we find that the picture is one of steadily increasing repression throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Figure C: GULAG and Colony Populations, 1934-1953


Looking specifically at the hard regime camp populations (Figure C and the Appendixes), we find that in the twenty years from 1934 through 1953, the annual population increased in fourteen of the years and dropped in six. Of the six declining years, four were wartime; we know that approximately 975,000 GULAG inmates (and probably also a large number of persons from labor colonies) were released to military service. Nevertheless, the war years were not good ones for the GULAG. First, many of those released to the army were assigned to punitive or “storm” formations, which suffered the heaviest casualties. Second, at the beginning of the war, prominent political prisoners were transferred and isolated in the most remote and severe camps in the system and most “politicals” were specifically barred from release to the military. Third, of the 141,527 detainees who had been in jails and evacuated during the first months of the war from territories soon to be occupied by the enemy, 11,260 were executed. Fourth, in the first three years of the war, 10,858 inmates of the GULAG camps were shot, ostensibly for being organizers of underground camp organizations.

Finally, wartime life became harder for the remaining camp residents. More than half of all GULAG deaths in the entire 1934-1953 period occurred in 1941-1943, mostly from malnutrition. The space allotment per inmate in 1942 was only one square meter per person, and work norms were increased. Although rations were augmented in 1944 and inmates given reduced sentences for overfillng their work quotas, the calorie Content of their daily provision was still 30 percent less than in the pre-war period. Obviously, the greatest privation, hunger, and number of deaths among GULAG inmates, as for the general Soviet population, occurred during the war.

The other years of significant population decrease in the camps were 1936 and 1953-1954. In 1936, the number of persons in both the GULAG system and labor colonies declined, as did the proportion of those incarcerated for “counterrevolution” and on sentences of the NKVD. Similarly, while the aggregate numbers of detainees were generally increasing between 1934 and 1937, the rate of increase was falling. In 1953, the year that saw the deaths of both Stalin and his secret police chief L. P. Beria, more than half of the GU LAG inmates were freed.

We have fairly detailed data about the internal movement of persons-arrivals, transfers, deaths, and escapes-inside the strict regime camp network (see the Appendixes and Figure D). They confirm Solzhenitsyn’s metaphor that this was a universe in “perpetual motion.” Large numbers of persons were constantly entering and leaving the system. During the 1934-1953 period, in any given year, 20-40 percent of the inmates were released, many times more than died in the same year. Even in the terrible year of 1937, 44.4 percent of the GULAG labor camp population on January 1 was freed during the course of the year. Until 1938-1939, there were also significant numbers of escapes from the hard regime camps. In any year before 1938, more of the GULAG inmates fled the camps than died there. A total of about 45,000 fugitives were on record in the spring of 1934, a year when a record number of 83,000 detainees took flight. Between 1934 and 1953, 378,375 persons escaped from the GULAG camps. Of them, 233,823 were recaptured, and the remaining 38 percent made good their escape. The data show, however, that the number of escapes fell sharply beginning in 1938, as Stalin with Ezhov and then with Beria tightened camp regimes and security.

Figure D: GULAG Population Shifts, 1934-1953


The data also indicate that the average length of sentence increased in the last years before the war. The longer terms “counterrevolutionaries” were likely to receive must have contributed to the growth of the proportion of people serving more than five years. However, Table 9 suggests that despite a notable drop in the share of long terms meted out by the courts-the sentencing policy for inmates of hard regime camps came closer by the late 1930s to the one applied to “politicals” around mid-decade.

Even if most camp convicts were “non-political,” were only serving sentences of up to five years, and hundreds of thousands were released every year, the GULAG camps were horrible places. Work was hard, rations were barely adequate, and living conditions were harsh. The inmates were exposed to the exactions of fellow prisoners and especially to the cruelty of the guards. Behind our figures lies the suffering of millions of people.

Table 9. Length of Sentences during Stalinist Repression, 1935-1940 (by percent)


The long-awaited archival evidence on repression in the period of the GreatPurges shows that levels of arrests, political prisoners, executions, and general camp populations tend to confirm the orders of magnitude indicated by those labeled as “revisionists” and mocked by those proposing high estimates. Some suspicions about the nature of the terror cannot be sustained, others can now be confirmed. Thus inferences that the terror fell particularly hard on non-Russian nationalities are not borne out by the camp population data from the 1930s. The frequent assertion that most of the camp prisoners were “political” also seems not to be true. On the other hand, the new evidence can support the View, reached previously by statistical study and evidence of other types, that the terror was aimed at the Soviet elite. It also confirms the conclusions of authors who had studied the available sources and shown the uncertainties of legal theory and penal practice in the 1930s. In addition, it seems that much of the process was characterized by high-level confusion and by local actions in excess of central plans.

The Stalinist penal system can be profitably studied with the same sociological tools we use to analyze penal structures elsewhere. It contained large numbers of common criminals serving relatively short sentences, many of whom were released each year and replaced by newly convicted persons. It included a wide variety of sanctions, including non-custodial ones. For most of those drawn into it, it was in fact a penal system: a particularly harsh, cruel, and arbitrary one, to be sure, but not necessarily a one-way ticket to oblivion for the majority of inmates.

Yet it is also important to highlight three specific features. For the first, the use of, capital punishment among the “measures of social defense” sets Soviet penal practices apart from those of other systems, even though the number of executions shows a sharp decrease after the dreadful dimensions in 1937-1938. Second, the detention system in the second half of the 1930s (and perhaps at other times) was directed against educated members of the elite. Third, it had a clearly political purpose and was used by the regime to silence real and imagined opponents.

Our attempt to examine the repression of the Stalin period from the point of view of social history and penology is not meant to trivialize the suffering it inflicted or to imply that it was “no better or worse” than in other authoritarian states. Although repression and terror imply issues of politics and morality, above all for those who perpetrate or justify them, we believe that scholars can also study them as a question of historical precision. The availability of flew data permits us to establish more accurately the number and character of victims of the terror and to analyze the Stalinist repressive system on the basis of specific data rather than relying on the impressions and speculations of novelists and poets. We are finally in a position to begin a documented analysis of this dismal aspect of the Soviet past.

A Note on Sources

The GARF (TsGAOR) collection we used was that of the GULAG, the Main Camp Administration of the NKVD/MVD (the USSR Ministry of the Interior). This collection consists of nine inventories (opisi), the first of which, that of the Secretariat, contains the main body of accessible data on detainees. To be sure, it was not possible to scrutinize the more than 3,000 files of this opis’, so we restricted ourselves to those that promised to tell the most about camp populations.

Accurate overall estimates of numbers of victims are difficult to make because of the fragmentary and dispersed nature of record keeping. Generally speaking, we have runs of quantitative data of several types: on arrests, formal charges and accusations, sentences, and camp populations. But these “events” took place under the jurisdiction of a bewildering variety of institutions, each with its own statistical compilations and reports. These agencies included the several organizations of the secret police (NKVD special tribunals, known as troikas, special collegia, or the special conference [osoboe soveshchanie]), the procuracy, the regular police, and various types of courts and tribunals.

For example, archival data on sentences for “anti-Soviet agitation” held in different archival collections may or may not have explicitly aggregated such events by the NKVD and the civilian courts. Summary data on “political” arrests or sentences may or may not explicitly tell us what specific crimes were so defined. Aggregate data on sentences sometimes include persons who were “sentenced” (to exile or banishment from certain cities) but never formally “arrested”; when we compare sentencing and arrest data, therefore, we do not always have the information necessary to sort apples from oranges. Similarly, our task is complicated, as shown above, by the fact that many agencies sentenced people to terms in the GULAG for many different types of crimes, which were variously defined and categorized. We believe, however, that despite the lack of this information, we now have enough large chunks of data to outline the parameters and to bring the areas for which we lack data within a fairly narrow range of possibility.

Further research is needed to locate the origins of inconsistencies and possible errors, especially when differences are significant. We must note, however, that the accuracy of Soviet records on much less mobile populations does not seem to give much hope that we can ever clarify all the issues. For instance, the Department of Leading Party Cadres of the Central Committee furnished different figures for the total party membership and for its ethnic composition as of January 1, 1937, in two documents that were nevertheless compiled about the same time. Yet another number was given in published party statistics. The conditions of “perpetual movement” in the camp system created even greater difficulties than those posed by keeping track of supposedly disciplined party members who had just seen two major attempts to improve the bookkeeping practices of the party.

At times, tens of thousands of inmates were listed in the category of “under way” in hard regime camp records, although the likelihood that some of them would die before leaving jail or during the long and tortuous transportation made their departure and especially their arrival uncertain. The situation is even more complicated with labor colonies, where, at any given moment, a considerable proportion of prisoners was being sent or taken to other places of detention, where a large number of convicts served short terms, and where many people had been held pending their investigation, trial, or appeal of their sentences. The sources are fragmentary and scattered on colonies, but it seems that A. N. Dugin’s attempt (see the Appendixes) to find figures for the beginning of each year – which was checked by V. N. Zemskov – yielded rather accurate results. Even so, we are not certain that errors have not slipped in.

Moreover, we do not know at the time of this writing if camp commandants did not inflate their reports on camp populations to receive higher budgetary allocations by including people slated for transfer to other places, prisoners who were only expected to arrive, and even the dead. Conversely, they may have reported low figures in order to secure easily attainable production targets.

We made extensive use of a series of statistics that were compiled about 1949 and that followed the evolution of a great number of parameters from 1934 tip to 1948. We indicated some instances in which current periodic reports of the accounting department furnished slightly different figures from those of 1949 (see the notes to Tables 3, 4, and 6) and one case in which an NKVD document in 1936 gave data similar to but not entirely identical with those calculated after the war (note to Table 8). In these as well as in most other instances, the gaps are insignificant and do not call into question the orders of magnitude suggested by the postwar documents, whose figures are, as a rule, somewhat higher than the ones recorded in the 1930s. A notable exception concerns escapes, because a 1939 report mentioned almost twice as many fugitives for 1938 as the relevant table of 1949. Although we have no explanation for this discrepancy at this moment, we can speculate that the fact that a 1939 medical report showed lower mortality figures in hard regime camps in the years between 1934 and 1939 than the 1949 account may be because the latter also includes people who had been executed.

Another source we relied on consists of four tables concerning people arrested and sentenced “on cases of the secret police” from 1921 through the first half of 1953. A peculiarity of the document is that while enumerating sentences and arrests up to 1938, it lists fewer people arrested in 1935 and 1936 than sentenced. All the while quoting the same figure for 1935 detentions as does our source, a letter signed by the head of the NKVD also speaks of more persons against whom “proceedings [had been] instituted” than those arrested. We know that some of the victims of the “cleansing” of border zones and major urban centers of “socially alien elements” had been arrested before being bankhed to faraway localities, although most of them seem to have been exiled without arrest by decisions of the NKVD jurisdiction. We also have information in this period about defendants in affairs of “anti-Soviet” agitation who had been left free pending their trial, as well as instances of the judiciary asking the police to “resolve by administrative order” cases in which there was no legal ground for conviction, a good many of which were not necessarily initiated by the NKVD.

We cannot stress enough the fact that this is only the first exploration of a huge and complex set of sources; little more than scales, ranges, and main trends of evolution can now be established. Although the above-mentioned circumstances cannot guarantee exactitude, there are good reasons for assuming that the data are reliable on the population of strict regime camps, on orders of magnitude, and on the general orientation of penal policy. There is a remarkable consistency in the way numbers, from different sources, evolve over the period under study and a notable coherence among the figures to which different types of documents refer at particular moments.

Moreover, figures produced by researchers using other archival collections of different agencies show close similarities in scale. Documents of the People’s Commissariat of Finance discuss a custodial population whose size is not different from the one we have established. In the same way, the labor force envisioned by the economic plans of the GULAG, found in the files of the Council of People’s Commissars, does not imply figures in excess of our documentation. Last but not least, the “NKVD contingent” of the 1937 and 1939 censuses is also consistent with the data we have for detainees and exiles.

Appendix A USSR Custodial Populations, 1934-1943


Appendix B USSR Custodial Populations, 1943-1953


Note: The 1938 data for the population of colonies also includes prison inmates, who numbered 548,417 on February 10, 1938, and the 1946 population, which contains 444,500 persons sentenced to “corrective work” without detention; GARF (TsGAOR), fond 9414, opis’ 1, delo 330, listy 55; d. 1139, l. 88; d. 1259, l. 18. The figure 1950 for “politcals” includes detainees in labor colonies. Camp and colony data are unavailable for December 31, 1953 and are here replaced by numbers for April 1, 1954, when 448,344 “counterrevolutionaries” were held at these places of detention.

Sources: GARF (TsGAOR), fond 9414, opis’ 1, delo 1155, listy 2-3 (camps and “counterrevolutionaries,” 1934-47); d. 1190, l. 36; d. 1319, ll. 2-15, d. 1356, ll.2-3 (camps and “counterrevolutionaries,” 1948-53); f. 9413, op. 1, d. 11, ll. 1-10 (prisons); A. N. Dugin and A. Ia. Malygin, “Solzhenitsyn, Rybakov: Tekhnologiia Izhi,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, no. 7, 1991, 68-70 (for colonies: calculations verified by V. N. Zemskov on the basis of GARF (TsGAOR), f. 9414, op. 1, d. 330, l. 55). See also A Note on Sources


Michael Parenti on “Pure Socialism”

MP 2009 portrait BW

“[R]eal socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this ‘pure socialism’ view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.”

– Michael Parenti, “Blackshirts and Reds”

Bill Bland: The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939


by Bill Bland


One of the many stories which circulate about Stalin is that, while the Soviet government was negotiating for a collective security pact with Britain and France directed against German aggressive expansion, he initiated the signing of a pact with Germany which precipitated the Second World War.

Of course, not everything that happened in the Soviet Union at this time was done with the approval of Stalin. In the case of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, however, we have the testimony of Stalin’s closest collaborator, Vyacheslav Molotov, that:

“Comrade Stalin . . suggested the possibility of different, unhostile and good neighbourly relations between Germany and the USSR. . ..
The conclusion of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact . . . shows that Comrade Stalin’s historical foresight has been brilliantly confirmed”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech at 4th (Special) Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 August 1939, in: ‘Soviet Peace Policy’; London; 1941; p. 16).

The charge that this was a serious mistake on Stalin’s part must, therefore, be examined seriously.

The Reorientation of Soviet Foreign Policy

In his notorious book ‘My Struggle’, written in mid-1920s, the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler expressed frankly the foreign policy the Nazis intended to follow:

“We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. . . . We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze towards the land in the East. .
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia”.

(A. Hitler: ‘Mein Kampf’; London; 1984; p. 598, 604).

Thus, the coming to power of the Nazi government in Germany in January 1933 heralded a situation in Europe which clearly presented great danger to the Soviet Union — and not, of course, to the Soviet Union alone.

The Marxist-Leninists in the leadership of the Soviet Union, concerned to defend the socialist state, responded to this new, more dangerous situation by reorientating Soviet foreign policy, by adopting a policy of striving for collective security with other states which had, objectively, an interest in maintaining the status quo in the international situation.

The Objective Basis of Collective Security

The objective basis of the Soviet policy of collective security was that the imperialist Powers of the world could be divided into two groups.

One group — Germany, Italy and Japan had a relatively high productive power and relatively restricted markets and spheres of influence. As a result, these Powers had an urgent need to change the world to their advantage; they were relatively aggressive Powers.

Another group of imperialist Powers — Britain, France and the United States — had relatively large markets and spheres of influence and thus had objectively more need to keep the world as it was than to see it changed; they were relatively non-aggressive Powers.

Stalin, who argued that the Second World War had already begun, summed up this position to the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:

“The war is being waged by aggressor states, who in every way infringe upon the interests of the non-aggressor states, primarily, England, France and the USA. .
Thus we are witnessing an open re-division of the world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states.”

(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14).

As a socialist state, a working people’s state, the Soviet Union had the strongest interest of any state in the preservation of peace.

The Soviet government’s policy in the 1930s, therefore, was to strive to form a collective security alliance with the European non-aggressive imperialist states, Britain and France — a collective security alliance strong enough either to deter the aggressive imperialist states from launching war or to secure their speedy defeat.

The Soviet Government summed up this post-1933 foreign policy in 1948:

“Throughout the whole pre-war period, the Soviet delegation upheld the principle of collective security in the League of Nations”.

(‘Falsifiers of History: Historical Information’; London; 1948; p 15).


Although, as we have seen, Stalin maintained that the British and French imperialists had, objectively, an interest in joining the Soviet Union in such a collective security alliance, the governments of Britain and France, led respectively by Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, did not recognise this objective fact because of their detestation of socialism and the Soviet Union and their wish to see it destroyed.

As Stalin told the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:

“England, France and the USA . . . draw back and retreat, making concession after concession to the aggressors.

Thus we are now witnessing an open redivision of the world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states, without the least attempt at resistance, and even with a certain amount of connivance. .

How is it that the non-aggressive countries . . . have so easily, and without any resistance, abandoned their positions and their obligations to please the aggressors?

Is it to be attributed to the weakness of the non-aggressive states? Of course not! Combined, the non-aggressive, democratic states are unquestionably stronger than the fascist states, both economically and militarily. . .

The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive countries, particularly England and France, have rejected a policy of collective security, of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up a position of ‘non-intervention’……

The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder Germany, say, . . . from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union. .
One might think that the districts of Czechoslovakia were yielded to Germany as the price of an undertaking to launch war on the Soviet Union”.

(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14-15, 16).

British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax is on record as telling Hitler in November 1937 that

“he and other members of the British Government were well aware that the Fuehrer had attained a great deal. . . . Having destroyed Communism in his country, he had barred the road of the latter to Western Europe and Germany was therefore entitled to be regarded as a bulwark of the West against Bolshevism. .

When the ground has been prepared for an Anglo-German rapprochement, the four great West European Powers must jointly set up the foundation of lasting peace in Europe”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945’, Series D, Volume 1; London; 1954; p. 55).

Nevertheless, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists understood that this policy of ‘appeasement’ ran, objectively, counter to the interests of the British and French imperialists and counter to the interests of the British working people They therefore calculated that, if the Soviet government persisted in its efforts to form a collective security alliance with Britain and France, sooner or later the appeasers in Britain, which dominated France,. would be forced out of office by the more far-seeing representatives of British imperialism (such as Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden) in cooperation with the British working people.

(This, of course, actually occurred in 1940, but only after war had broken out in Europe).

The Anglo-French-Soviet Negotiations

On 31 March 1939, without consulting the Soviet Union, the British government gave a unilateral guarantee to defend Poland against aggression.

The leader of the liberal Party, David Lloyd George, told the House of Commons:

“I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves to this tremendous enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion of Russia. . . . If Russia has not been brought into this matter because of certain feelings that Poles have that they do not want the Russians there, . . . unless the Poles are prepared to accept the one condition with which we can help them, the responsibility must be theirs”.

(Parliamentary Debates. 5th Series, House of Commons, Volume 35; London; 1939; Col. 2,510).

The Anglo-French guarantee stimulated public pressure on the appeaser governments to at least make gestures in the direction of collective security.

So, on 15 April 1939 the British government made an approach to the Soviet government suggesting that it might like to issue a public declaration offering military assistance to any state bordering the Soviet Union which was subject to aggression if that state desired it.

Two days later, on 17 April the Soviet government replied that it would not consider a unilateral guarantee, which would put the Soviet Union in a position of inequality with the other Powers concerned. It proposed:

Firstly, a trilateral mutual assistance treaty by Britain, France and the Soviet Union against aggression;

Secondly, the extension of guarantees to the Baltic States (Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania), on the grounds that failure to guarantee these states was an open invitation to Germany to expand eastwards through invasion of these states;

Thirdly, that the treaty must not be vague, but must detail the extent and forms of the military assistance to be rendered by the signatory Powers.

On 27 May the British and French governments replied to the Soviet proposals with the draft of a proposed tripartite pact. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain commented on the British draft in a letter to his sister at this time:

“In substance it gives the Russians what they want, but in form and presentation it avoids the idea of an alliance and substitutes declaration of intention. It is really a most ingenious idea”.

(Neville Chamberlain Archives, University of Birmingham, 11/1/1101).

Vyacheslav Molotov, who had just taken over the post of People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs from Maksim Litvinov, rejected the draft on the grounds that it proposed in the event of hostilities not immediate mutual assistance, but merely consultation through the League of Nations.

On 2 June the Soviet government submitted to Britain and France a counter-draft making these joints.

The British and French governments responded by saying that Finland, Estonia and Latvia refused to be guaranteed.

The Soviet government continued to insist that a military convention be signed at the same time as the political treaty, in order that there might be no possibility of any hedging about the application of the latter. On 17 July Molotov stated that there was no point in continuing discussions on the political treaty until the military convention had been concluded.

On 23 July the British and French governments finally agreed to begin military discussions before the political treaty of alliance had been finalised, and a British naval officer with the quadruple-barreled name of Admiral Reginald Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax was appointed to head the British delegation. No one, apparently, had informed the British government that the aeroplane had been invented, and the delegation left Tilbury by a slow boat to Leningrad, from where they proceeded by train to Moscow. When the delegation finally arrived in Moscow on 11 August, the Soviet side discovered that it had no powers to negotiate, only to ‘hold talks’. Furthermore, the British delegation was officially instructed to:

“Go very slowly with the conversations”;

(‘Documents on British Foreign Policy;’, 3rd Series, Volume 6; London; 1953; Appendix 5; p. 763).

Nevertheless, the military talks began in Moscow on 12 August.

On 15 August the leader of the Soviet delegation, People’s Commissar for Defence  Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, told the delegates that unless Soviet troops were permitted to enter Polish territory it was physically impossible for the Soviet Union to assist Poland and it would be useless to continue discussions.

This point was never resolved before the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations were negotiations were adjourned indefinitely on 21 August — after the Soviet government had decided to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany.

Warning Shots from Moscow

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think it is fair to say ‘that no diplomats are more expert in hypocritical double-dealing than British diplomats.

Nevertheless, the Soviet leaders were no fools and, as the negotiations for an Anglo-French-Soviet mutual security pact dragged on month after month, a number of warning shots were fired from Moscow.

On 11 March 1939 Joseph Davies, the former US Ambassador in Moscow, now posted to Brussels, wrote in his diary about Stalin’s speech to the 18th Congress of the CPSU a few days before:

“It is a most significant statement. It bears the earmarks of a definite warning to the British and French governments that the Soviets are getting tired of ‘non-realistic’ opposition to the aggressors. . .
It certainly is the most significant danger signal that I have yet seen”.

(J. E. Davies: ‘Mission to Moscow’; London; 1942; p. 279-80).

Then, on 3 May 1939 the resignation was announced of Maksim Litvinov as Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and his replacement by a close colleague of Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov. Although the Soviet government denied that this signified any change in Soviet foreign policy, it was significant that Litvinov’s name was particularly associated with collective security and he was known to be personally sympathetic to the West.

On 29 June the leading Soviet Marxist-Leninist Andrei Zhdanov published an article in ‘Pravda’ which, most unusually, revealed that there were differences in the leadership of the CPSU on whether the British and French governments were sincere in saying that they wished for a genuine treaty of mutual assistance:

“the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations on the conclusion of an effective pact of mutual assistance against aggression have reached a deadlock. . . .
I permit myself to express my personal opinion in this matter, although my friends do not share it. They still think that when beginning the negotiations with the USSR, the English and French Governments had serious intentions of creating a powerful barrier against aggression in Europe. I believe, and shall try to prove it by facts, that the English and French Governments have no wish for a treaty . . . to which a self-respecting State can agree. .

The Soviet Government took 16 days in preparing answers to the various English projects and proposals, while the remaining 59 days have been consumed by delays and procrastinations on the part of the English and French. 

Not long ago . . . the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Beck, declared unequivocally that Poland neither demanded nor requested from the USSR anything in the sense of granting her any guarantee whatever…..However, this does not prevent England and France from demanding from the USSR guarantees . . . for Poland. . .

It seems to me that the English and French desire not a real treaty accepable to the USSR, but only talks about a treaty in order to speculate before the public opinion in their countries on the allegedly unyielding attitude of the USSR, and thus make easier for themselves the road to a deal with the aggressors.
The next few days must show whether this is so or not.”

(A. Zhdanov: Article in ‘Pravda’, 29 June 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy’; London; 1953; p. 352, 353, 354).

A final warning shot was fired on 22 July, when it was officially announced that Soviet-German trade negotiations were taking place in Berlin.

The Soviet-German Negotiations

At the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939, Stalin described the basis of Soviet foreign policy as follows:

“We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all countries. That is our position, and we shall adhere to this position as long as countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union and as long as they make no attempt to trespass on the interests of our country”.

(J. V. Stalin: Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the 18th Congress of the CPSU (b). in : ‘The Land of Socialism Today and Tomorrow’; Moscow; 1939; p. 18).

On 17 April 1939, the Soviet Ambassador in Berlin, Aleksei Merekalov, had a conversation with the German State Secretary, Baron Ernst von Wiezsaecker, who asked him whether there was any prospect of the normalisation of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Ambassador’s reply was in line with Soviet foreign policy:

“There exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal, the relations might become better and better”.

(‘Nazi-Soviet Relations: 1939-1941’, Doc. 1; Washington; 1948; p. 2).

On 29 July the German Foreign Office instructed the German Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Count Fritz von der Schulenburg, to tell Molotov:

“We would be prepared . . . to safeguard all Soviet interests and to come to an understanding with the Government in Moscow. . . . The idea could be advanced of so adjusting our attitude to the Baltic States as to respect vital Soviet interests in the Baltic Sea”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945’, Series D, Volume 6; London; 1956; p. 1,016).

On 14 August the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentropp, cabled Schulenburg, instructing him to call on the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and read him a communication:

“There is no question between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea which cannot be settled to the complete satisfaction of both countries. . . . The leadership of both countries, therefore, should . . . take action. . .

As we have been informed, the Soviet Government also feel the desire for a clarification of German-Russian relations. . . . I am prepared to make a short visit to Moscow in order, in the name of the Fuehrer, to set forth the Fuehrer ‘s views to M. Stalin. In my view, only through such a direct discussion can a change be brought about, and it should not be impossible thereby to lay the foundations for a final settlement of German-Russian relations.”

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945’, Series D, Volume 7; London; 1956; p. 63).

Schulenburg saw Molotov on 16 August and, as instructed, read to him Ribbentropp’s message. He reported to Berlin the same night that Molotov had heard

“With great interest the information I had been instructed to convey. . . ..

He was interested in the question of how the German Government were disposed towards the idea of concluding a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . ‘; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 77).

Ribbentropp replied the same day, directing Schulenburg to see Molotov again and inform him that:

“Germany is prepared to conclude a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. . . . Further, Germany is ready to guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union. . . .

I am prepared to come by aeroplane to Moscow at any time after Friday, August 18, to deal, on the basis of full powers from the Fuehrer, with the entire complex of German-Russian relations and, if the occasion arises, to sign the appropriate treaties”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . .’; op. cit. Volume 7; p. 84).

On 17 August Molotov handed Schulenburg the Soviet government’s written reply. The Note began by recalling Germany’s policy of hostility to the Soviet Union in the past, and welcoming the prospect of an improvement in German-Soviet relations. It proposed a number of steps in this direction, beginning with a trade agreement and proceeding ‘shortly thereafter’ to the conclusion of a non-aggression pact.

On 18 August Ribbentropp sent a further urgent telegram to Schulenburg saying that the ‘first stage’ in the diplomatic process (the signing of the trade agreement) had been completed, and asking that Ribbentropp be permitted to make an ‘immediate departure for Moscow’, where he would:

“be in a position . . . to take the Russian wishes into account, for instance, the settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘ ; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 123).

On 19 August Schulenburg replied that Molotov had agreed that:

“The Reich Foreign Minister could arrive in Moscow on August 26 or 27.
Molotov handed me the draft of a non-aggression pact”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit., Volume 7; p. 134).

On 20 August Hitler himself intervened with a personal letter to Stalin, saying that he accepted the draft of the non-aggression pact but pleaded that Ribbentropp should be received in Moscow

“At the latest on Wednesday, August 27th.”

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit.. Volume 7; p. 157).

Stalin replied to Hitler on 21 August, thanking him for his letter and saying:

“The assent of the German Government to the conclusion of a non-aggression pact provides the foundation for eliminating the political tension and the establishment of peace and collaboration between our countries.

The Soviet government have instructed me to inform you that they agree to Herr von Ribbentropp’s arriving in Moscow on August 23″.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit.; p. 168).

Ribbentropp and his delegation arrived in Moscow on 23 August, and the non-aggression pact was signed later the same day. Its text was almost identical with the Soviet draft which had been submitted to the Germans on 19 August. Neither party would attack the other, and should one party become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other party would render no support to this third Power.

Even more strongly criticised than the pact itself has been a ‘Secret Additional Protocol’ to the pact which laid down German and Soviet ‘spheres of interest’ in Europe.

But the term ‘sphere of interest’ does not necessarily have implications of imperialist domination. Where two states are likely to be affected by war but wish this not to involve them in mutual conflict, then the demarcation of spheres of interest is a legitimate and desirable act.

The ‘secret additional protocol’ declared:

“1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR. . .
2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, Series D, Volume 7; p. 246-47).

In ordinary language, this meant that the German government promised that, when German troops invaded Poland, they would not attempt to advance beyond the ‘Curzon Line’, drawn by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, after the First World War as the ethnic boundary separating the Poles from the Ukrainians and Byelorussians. The area east of this line had been Soviet territiory which was seized from the Soviet Union following the Revolution.

Germany had thus agreed that it would raise no objection to the Soviet government taking whatever action it considered desirable east of this line.

The Effect of the Non-Aggression Pact

Speaking to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on 31 August, Molotov described the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact as:

“A turning-point in the history of Europe, and not of Europe alone”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech to Supreme Soviet of 31 August 1939, in: ‘Soviet Peace Policy’; London; 1941; p. 18).

Molotov accepted Zhdanov’s conclusion — that the British and French had never been serious in their attitude to the negotiations:

“They themselves displayed extreme dilatoriness and anything but a serious attitude towards the negotiations, entrusting them to individuals of secondary importance who were not vested with adequate powers. . .
The British and French military missions came to Moscow without any definite powers and without the right to conclude any military convention. Furthermore, the British military mission arrived in Moscow without any mandate at all”.

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 13).

Molotov declared that the breakdown of the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations was only superficially the refusal of Poland or accept Soviet assistance, since:

“The negotiations showed that Great Britain was not anxious to overcome these objections of Poland, but on the contrary encouraged them.
Poland . . . had been acting on the instructions of Great Britain and France. .”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 12, 14).

He stressed that it was not the Soviet government’s action in signing the pact which had disrupted the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations. On the contrary, the Soviet government had signed the pact only after the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations had been irrevocably sabotaged by the British and French governments:

“Attempts are being made to spread the fiction that the conclusion of the Soviet-German pact disrupted the negotiations with Britain and France for a mutual assistance pact. . . . In reality, as you know, the very reverse is true. . . . The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany, amongst other things, because negotiations with France and Great Britain had . . . ended in failure through the fault of the ruling circles of Britain and France”.

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 20).

The same point was made by the Soviet People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, at a press conference on 27 August 1939:

“Miltary negotiations with England and France were not broken off because the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany; on the contrary, the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany as a result, inter alia, of the fact that the military negotiations with France and England had reached a deadlock”.

(K. Y. Voroshilov: Press statement of 27 August 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy’; London; 1953; p. 361).

Furthermore, Molotov emphasised that the Soviet negotiations with Germany were on a completely different level to the Soviet negotiations with Britain and France:

“We are dealing not with a pact of mutual assistance, as in the case of the Anglo-French-Soviet relations, but only with a non-aggression Pact.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 18).

So that, as a result of the signing of the German-Soviet pact:

“the USSR is not obliged to involve itself in war, either on the side of Great Britain against Germany or on the side of Germany against Great Britain.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.,; p. 21).

Even such anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr agree that the Soviet government’s decision to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany was an enforced second choice, which was taken only with extreme reluctance:

“The most striking feature of the Soviet-German negotiations . . . is the extreme caution with which they were conducted from the Soviet side, and the prolonged Soviet resistance to close the doors on the Western negotiations”.

(E. H. Carr: ‘From Munich to Moscow: II’, in: ‘Soviet Studies’, Volume 1, No. 12 (October 1949); p. 104).

Indeed, some Soviet leaders — notably Maksim Litvinov, the former People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs — urged that more time should be given for the British and French governments to be pressed by public opinion in their countries into serious negotiations for a pact of mutual assistance.

What precipitated the acceptance of the pressing German proposals for a rapprochement was the discovery by Soviet intelligence that the Chamberlain government was secretly negotiating for a military alliance with Germany, so threatening the Soviet Union with aggression from four Powers — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — combined. The British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, describes in an official report to Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, dated 29 August 1939, a conversation with Hitler and Ribbentropp:

“Herr von Ribbentropp asked me whether I could guarantee that the Prime Minister could carry the country with him in a policy of friendship with Germany. I said that there was no possible doubt whatever that he could and would, provided Germany cooperated with him. Herr Hitler asked whether England would be willing to accept an alliance with Germany. I said, speaking personally, I did not exclude such a possibility”.

(‘Documents concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilites between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939’; (Cmd. 6106); London; 1939; p. 130).

The fact that both German and Soviet troops entered Poland has been used to equate Fascist Germany with the socialist Soviet Union. But, of course, a socialist state cannot be equated with an aggressive imperialist state. It has to be noted,

Firstly, that Soviet troops entered what had been Polish territory only on 17 September — 16 days after the German invasion of Poland – when the Polish state had collapsed, as Molotov stressed to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1939:

“Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after the Polish State had collapsed and actually had ceased to exist. . . . The Soviet government could not but reckon with the exceptional situation created for our brothers in the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia, who had been abandoned to their fate as a result of the collapse of Poland”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 October 1939, in: ‘Soviet Foreign Policy’; London; 1941; p. 32).

And the correspondents of the capitalist press agree with Soviet contemporary Soviet sources that the Red Army was welcomed as liberators by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population concerned. Molotov reported:

“The Red Army . . . was greeted with sympathy by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population, who welcomed our troops as liberators from the yoke of the gentry and from the yoke of the Polish landlords and capitalists.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 33).

In the House of Commons on 20 September, Conservative MP Robert Boothby declared:

“I think it is legitimate to suppose that this action on the part of the Soviet Government was taken . . . from the point of view of self-preservation and self-defence. . . . The action taken by the Russian troops . . . has pushed the German frontier considerably westward. .
I am thankful that Russian troops are now along the Polish-Romanian frontier. I would rather have Russian troops there than German troops”.

(Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Volume 351; House of Commons; London; 1939; Col. 996).

It is outside the scope of today’s seminar to discuss one of the most absurd of the anti-Stalin stories — that Stalin trusted the Nazis to adhere to the pact and was completely taken by surprise when the German army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Who can forget Stalin’s prophetic words in 1931:

“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under”.

(J. V. Stalin: ‘The Tasks of Business Executives’, in: ‘Works’, Volume I13; Moscow; 1955; p. 41).

Exactly ten years later, in 1941, came the German invasion.

The test of the correctness or incorrectness of Stalin’s policy is whether or not it strengthened or weakened the ability of the socialist Soviet Union to defend itself against the future aggression which its leaders knew was inevitable.

Even such virulent anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr admit that the signing of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact enabled the Soviet Union to put itself in an incomparably stronger defensive position to meet the German invasion:

“The Chamberlain government ., as a defender of capitalism, refused . . . to enter into an alliance with the USSR against Germany. . . .
In the pact of August 23rd, 1939, they (the Soviet government — Ed.) secured:
a) a breathing space of immunity from attack;
b) German assistance in mitigating Japanese pressure in the Far East;
c) German agreement to the establishment of an advanced defensive bastion beyond the existing Soviet frontiers in Eastern Europe; it was significant that this bastion was, and could only be, a line of defence against potential German attack, the eventual prospect of which was never far absent from Soviet reckonings. But what most of all was achieved by the pact was the assurance that, if the USSR had eventually to fight Hitler, the Western Powers would already be involved”.

(E. H. Carr: ‘From Munich to Moscow: II’, in: ‘Soviet Studies’, Volume 1, No. 2 (October 1949); p. 103).


Questions Put By The Audience to The Speaker, And His Replies

Question 1: 

It has been suggested that Litvinov was removed from his post simply because he was a Jew, and as such would have been regarded as unsuitable as a negotiator by the Germans. Is there any truth in this?


In my opinion, no. We know that Stalin supported the replacement of Litvinov, and Stalin was known to be have been opposed not only to racism but to any concession to racism. Litvinov had, personally, been strongly associated with the policy of collective security and reliable sources testify to his conviction that, with more time, the British and French governments would sooner or later endorse this policy. As soon as the Soviet leaders began to give consideration to the possibility of a rapprochement with Germany, therefore, Litvinov ceased to be a reliable instrument of Soviet foreign policy.

Question 2: 

Did Litvinov actually oppose the signing of the non-aggression pact?


I have no concrete information as to whether he opposed it on principle, but he is known to have held the view that more time should be given to allow the Anglo-French representatives to see sense’. But he is on record later as declaring that it had been ‘a mistake’ resulting from Molotov’s ‘lack of understanding of the functioning of Western democracy’.

Question 3: 

In one of Molotov ‘s speeches following the occupation of Eastern Poland, he referred to the Polish state as being the illegitimate child of Versailles and commented that, happily, it had disappeared. This has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Soviet Union always had territorial designs upon Poland. Was the Soviet position one of supporting the destruction of the Polish state?

Question 3a. 

Does this mean that the Soviet Union was prepared to deny the aspirations of the Polish people to have their own state?


There is no doubt that the Polish people constitute a nation, and Marxist-Leninists have always recognised the right of any nation to have its own independent state. The Polish state which existed in 1939, however, did not have its boundaries drawn on ethnic lines; it included, for example, millions of Ukrainians and Byelorussians and I feel sure that it was such facts which lay at the basis of Molotov ‘s statement. In other words it was not any Polish state, but that existing in 1939 which Molotov depicted as a monstrosity. However, that Polish Polish state was not destroyed by the Red Army, but by the German army; the Red Army’s occupation of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia began only after the Polish state had collapsed and ceased to exist. The Polish state was restored after the United Nations victory over Germany in 1945.

Question 4: 

Was a protocol signed as part of the non-aggression pact which led to a line being drawn across Poland dividing the spheres of interest of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany? Is this the secret protocol referred to in the West and did such a protocol really exist? Was the dividing line the Curzon Line?


The Anglo-American imperialists published the ‘secret protocol’ after the Second World War, claiming that it had been discovered in the captured archives of the German Foreign Office. I know that the late Soviet President, Andrei Gromyko, denounces the ‘secret additional protocol’ as a forgery in his memoirs, but he was a notorious revisionist and not a source I would place any reliance on. As far as I recall, the Soviet government of the time neither confirmed nor denied its authenticity. However, in the Soviet Information Bureau published in 1948, Falsifiers of History, no charge is made that the document is spurious, and this official pamphlet states:

“The Soviet Union succeeded in making good use of the Soviet-German Pact to strengthen its defences, . . . in moving its frontiers far to the West and in barring the way of the unhampered eastward advance of German Aggression”.
(‘Falsifiers of History’; op. cit.; p. 45).

It would seem that this cannot possibly refer to the treaty itself (which makes no mention of spheres of interest or frontiers), but only to the ‘secret additional protocol’. As I said before, I do not accept the view that ‘spheres of interest’ between states are necessarily an phenomenon to be condemned. A socialist state may have its own spheres of interest which it sees as essential to its defence and, where these may conflict with the spheres of interest of other states, it seems to me correct to try to reach agreement with these other states, to map them out in order to maintain peaceful relations with these other states. On the evidence available to me at present, I believe the published ‘secret protocol’ to be genuine. Yes, the dividing line ‘ran along the old Curzon Line.

The above paper was read by Bill Bland at a seminar organised by the STALIN SOCIETY in London in February 1990.

The German Situation and the Question of Social-Fascism

Demonstrators in East Berlin carry portraits of both German socialist Karl Liebknecht and political activist Rosa Luxemburg in 1988, during a protest march against their assassination in 1919. (AP/Press Association Images)

Demonstrators in East Berlin carry portraits of both German socialist Karl Liebknecht and political activist Rosa Luxemburg in 1988, during a protest march against their assassination in 1919. (AP/Press Association Images)

The greatest factor in the stabilization of capitalism after the first round of wars and revolutions was Social-Democracy. In such countries as Germany and Austria the Social-Democratic leaders actually undertook to organize and maintain the capitalist State against the revolutionary onslaught of the workers. A German Social-Democrat, Noske, drowned in blood the workers’ revolution in Germany in 1918 and 1919. Social-Democratic ministers suppressed strikes, fired at workers’ demonstrations, declared martial law against the workers. A Socialist government in Great Britain sent armies to subdue the uprising of the colonial peoples. The Social- Democrats of France took the initiative in introducing the imperialist martial laws. In. short, everywhere the leaders of Social-Democracy became part and parcel of the bourgeois State apparatus. They advanced the idea that where there is a coalition government, i.e., a government of’ capitalist and Socialist ministers, there we have a transition from capitalism to socialism. The fact of the matter is that a coalition government remains a capitalist government since it does not shake the foundations of capitalism, private property and exploitation. On the contrary, it only serves to strengthen capitalism by deceiving the workers with the idea of peaceful transition to socialism.

In Germany and Austria Social-Democracy actually aided the growth of fascism. Fascist bands were being organized under the protection of Social-Democratic governments. Fascist demonstrations were unmolested by Social-Democratic police presidents while Communist demonstrations were being dispersed. Fascist bands were allowed to arm while the militant Red Front organization of the German workers was outlawed. Martial law and semi-martial law were repeatedly introduced to curb the movement of the workers who demanded an improvement of their intolerable conditions.

In the very same way as Lenin, after the betrayal of the proletariat by Social-Democracy at the beginning of the War, called the Social-Democratic leaders social-patriots and social-chauvinists, so the Communist International, after the new betrayals of Social-Democracy, called its leaders social-fascists –in the sense of paving the way for fascism.

It was disastrous for the proletariat of Germany and of the whole world that the Social-Democratic leaders made common cause with capitalism. It was disastrous that so many millions of workers were deceived by the socialist phrases of the Social-Democratic leaders and believed them to be true fighters for the interests of the working class. It was unfortunate that the Communist Party of Germany could swing only around six million votes and did not have the majority of the working class behind it. It would have been better for the workers of Germany and for the world revolution had the masses of German workers cherished fewer illusions about their Social-Democratic leaders. It would have been difficult for fascism to sweep into power in Germany had there been organized in Germany a powerful united front.

It cannot be denied that there were certain weaknesses in the work of the Communist Party of Germany, but opposition to the united front was not among them. The Communist Party did not succeed in bringing all its members into the reformist trade unions so as to have there a stronger revolutionary support. It did not work sufficiently in the reformist trade unions – and this was the most neglected sector of its activities, although it did build the red trade-union opposition with a membership – prior to the advent of fascism of over 300,000. It did not root itself sufficiently in the factories and plants. It was not flexible enough in approaching Social-Democratic rank-and-file workers. All these shortcomings were repeatedly pointed out by the Communist International, and the Party made strong efforts to improve its work. As a result its influence grew tremendously.

“During the last period before Hitler came to power, the Communist Party succeeded in penetrating the broad masses and even in obtaining influence among the social-democrats, the members of the reformist trade unions and also the members of the Republican Flag (Reichsbanner) organization, for the very reason that it was able to organize the struggle against this emergency decree. The authority of the Party was greatly enhanced, and members of reformist trade unions began to participate in the strikes led by the Red Trade Union Opposition and the Communists. Thus, besides Communists, members of reformist trade unions and even National Socialists participated in the Berlin transport strike committee.” (O. Piatnitsky, The Present Situation in Germany, p. 20.)

The Communist Party of Germany was ready to fight fascism. As a matter of fact, the Communists did fight the fascist bands in the streets on numerous occasions, meeting their attacks and the attacks of the police which, in Prussia for instance, was under Social-Democratic command and everywhere protected the Brown Shirts.

That the Communists were working for a united front with the Social-Democratic workers, if need be through an agreement with the Social-Democratic leaders, may be seen from the following:

In 1925 the Communist Party proposed to the Social-Democratic Party a united struggle against the monarchist danger. Later in the year, seeing that the Communists and the Social-Democrats had a majority of members in the Berlin municipality, the Communists proposed to the Social-Democrats a common program of action for the interests of the workers. In 1926 the Communists called upon the Social-Democratic leaders to join in a plebiscite against returning the property to the former German royal family. In the Spring of 1928 the C.P. proposed joint May-Day demonstrations. In October, 1928, it proposedjoint anti-militarist action against the building of a battle cruiser. In 1929-1932 it repeatedly proposed joint action against wage-cuts. In April, 1932, it proposed a joint struggle of all working-class organizations against an impending wage-cut.

All these proposals were turned down by Social-Democracy. Broad masses of workers responded to some of the Communist appeals for united action. Social-Democratic leaders preferred cooperation with the capitalist parties.

When Von Papen drove the Social-Democrats out of the Prussian government, the Communist Party proposed a joint general strike for the repeal of the emergency decrees and for the disbanding of the Storm Troops. On January 30, 1933, when Hitler came into power, the Communist Party again proposed a general strike to fight reaction. Again in March, 1933, after the burning of the Reichstag, the Communist Party called upon the Social-Democratic Party and the trade unions to declare a general strike against the attack on the workers. All these proposals were rejected by the Social-Democrats who preferred to believe that they could function and maintain a modicum of power under any capitalist régime.

Who is to be blamed?

Trotsky says: the Communists are to blame. Why? Because they called the Social-Democrats social-fascists. Trotsky cannot deny the fact that the Communists were trying to organize the united front. They organized the Anti-Fascist Action which was to unite workers of various parties. They tried to organize the united front in the factories and unions. The Social-Democratic leaders sowed mistrust toward the Communists and toward the united front, and this hampered the Communist action. Trotsky did his bit.

Now he is dissatisfied.

Here is his chief trump:

“Had the Comintern placed, from 1929, or even from 1930 or 1931, at the foundation of its policies the objective irreconcilability between Social-Democracy and fascism, or more exactly between fascism and Social-Democracy; if upon this it had built a systematic and persistent policy of the united front, Germany, within a few months, would have been covered with a network of mighty committees of proletarian defense, potential workers’ Soviets, that is.” (Leon Trotsky, The Militant, March 10, 1934.)

But, my dear Mr. Trotsky, there was no irreconcilability between Social-Democracy and fascism, or more exactly: between the Social-Democratic leaders and fascism. There was no irreconcilability as far as the Social-Democratic leaders were concerned. They certainly had not anticipated that they would be so ruthlessly driven out. They had formed a substantial part of the State apparatus under all regimes prior to that of Hitler and they were convinced that even under Hitler would they retain a certain share of power. No matter how much the Communists would have painted before them the dire results they were to expect from the ascendancy of fascism – they simply would not have believed it. They would have said they knew better.

Witness the conduct of the Austrian Social-Democratic leaders who were supposed to be much more radical than their German brethren and who had the experience of their German comrades. Listen to the testimony of the “Left” Marxist, Otto Bauer, in his interview with the New York Times correspondent, C, E. R. Gedye (published February 18, 1934) as to how the Social-Democrats of Austria were ready to cooperate with the fascist dictator Dollfuss at the expense of the Austrian constitution:

“Since the date of the Hitler triumph in Germany (March 5)when the Reichstag ‘elections’ gave the German Nazis control, our party has made the very greatest efforts to come to an agreement with the government…. In the first weeks of March our leaders were still in close personal contact with Dollfuss and frequently tried to get him to agree to a constitutional solution. At the end of March he promised our leader, Dr. Dennenberg, personally that at the beginning of April he would open negotiations with us for the reform of the Constitution [for the limiting of bourgeois democracy to suit fascism – M.J.O.]. This promise he never fulfilled, for at the beginning of April he passed over definitely to the fascist camp… and refused to speak to any of the socialists. When he said that he could not see the existing leaders we offered to send him other negotiators. He refused sharply. As we could not see him again, we tried to negotiate through other people. Honestly, we left no stone unturned. We approached President Miklas…. Then we tried the clerical politicians, whom we had known for a long time…. But everything was shattered on the stubborn resistance of Dollfuss who simply refused to hear of the socialists again. A group of religious socialists got together with a group of Catholic democrats and tried to induce the Church to intervene. This also failed.”

Suppose you offered them at that time a united front with the Communists to fight Dollfuss? They did not think of fighting fascism. They had no intention of defending bourgeois democracy. Listen to this precious admission by Bauer in the same interview:

“We offered to make the greatest concessions that a democratic and socialistic party ever made. We let Dollfuss know that if he would only pass a bill through Parliament we would accept a measure authorizing the Government to govern by decree without Parliament for two years [our emphasis – M.J.O.], on two conditions, that a small parliamentary committee, in which the government had a majority, should be able to criticize decrees and that a constitutional court, the only protection against breaches of the Constitution, should be restored.”

They certainly were prepared to go far enough. The “Left” Social-Democrats were ready to agree to the abolition of Parliament provided the abolition is passed by Parliament (a procedure actually practiced in Germany under Hitler). They were ready, they say, to agree to a government without Parliament “for two years”, but it is quite obvious that it would not have been over-difficult to induce them to accept an extension of the time. They were interested in maintaining their positions in the trade unions, in the municipalities, in the police power, in the judicial system – knowing very well that those positions would be curtailed under fascism. They clung to a shadow of power at the time when, according to their own testimony, “the dissatisfaction and agitation of the workers against the conservative policy of our Party committee grew as the government provocations increased…. Excitement rose to a fever pitch during the last weeks.” (Ibid.)

It is for not having induced such leaders to organize a united front that Trotsky blames the Communists.

Be it remembered that he does not blame the Communists for not approaching the workers because he knows very well that they did approach the workers and did make every effort to induce them to join the united front. His chief stock in trade is the accusation that the Communist leaders did not make peace with the Social-Democratic top leaders.

Trotsky s argument in support of the possibility of a united front with the Social-Democratic leaders holds no water.

“Social-Democracy [he says] can neither live nor breathe without leaning upon the political and trade union organizations of the working class. Concurrently it is precisely along this line that the irreconcilable contradiction between Social-Democracy and fascism takes place; precisely along this line does there open up the necessity and unbridgeable stage of the policies of the united front with the Social-Democracy.” (The Militant, March 10, 1934.)

This argument is just as incorrect as the English translation of the sentences is rotten. Events have proven that the bourgeoisie resorts to fascism when it finds that Social-Democracy is no longer able to keep in check the revolutionary movement of the masses. For this reason all the mass organizations of the working class, even if dominated by Social-Democratic leaders, are suppressed. But prior to the advent of Hitler the Social-Democratic leaders did not believe this.

They relied on capitalist democracy, on the Weimar Constitution, on the German respect for law and order and – last but not least – on their record in the service of the bourgeoisie. They invented the policy of supporting the “lesser evil” just to have an excuse for collaborating with the bourgeoisie. Their Berlin Chief of Police Zoergiebel opened machine-gun fire on workers participating in a May-Day parade (1929) without a permit. The number of victims was over 30. Their leaders approved of semi-martial law introduced to quell the workers’ revolts. Their leaders supported wage-cuts and armaments. Social-Democracy supported the governments of Bruening, Von Papen and Schleicher. It was ready to support Hitler. Did it not give its recognition to the Hitler government after the elections of March 5, 1933, declaring that Hitler had been legally appointed by Hindenburg and given a clear mandate by a majority of the people? Was it not ready to cooperate with the Hitler government if offered a chance? Was it not assuming the role of a loyal opposition even after being kicked in the face by the Nazi boots? Did not the Social-Democratic parliamentary group, on May 17, 1933, vote unanimously in the Reichstag in favor of Hitler’s policy? Did not Carl Severing remain a supporter of Hitler in spite of all? Did not the same veteran Social-Democratic leader appeal to the population of the Saar to vote for the Nazis? Did not the Social- Democratic union leaders make overtures to Hitler?

When their collapse came, when they were ignominiously driven out without resistance, then the process of revaluation of values began not only among the Social-Democratic workers but also among some of the leaders. One section (Severing & Co.) are just waiting for an opportunity to be “taken in” by the fascists. The center is vacillating. The Left Wing is for a united front with the Communists. The united front is making headway, notably in France, in Spain and also in the United States – under the initiative and leadership of the Communists. But to expect that the leaders of German Social- Democracy would have agreed to the united front with the Communists before January, 1933, is to be a Trotsky.

At the bottom of all this preachment is Trotsky’s Menshevik attitude to Social-Democracy. The old Menshevik asserts himself in the leader of the “Left opposition”. He does not believe that Social-Democracy is “as bad as that”. He is sincere when he says that the Communists should not have called the Social-Democratic leaders social-fascists. He believes they are not. He believes they are also fighters, at least for bourgeois democracy and for the interests of the workers as far as they can be defended under bourgeois democracy. The Social-Democrats to him are “also” socialists. Now it is perfectly true that if the Communists had abandoned their Communist position and made peace with the German Social-Democratic leaders on the terms of these leaders, then there would have been a united front. The trouble is, it wouldn’t have been a united front against fascism.

The travesty of the whole barrage is evident from the experiences of. France. When the united front was established in France, when huge mass movements against fascism began to develop on a united-front basis, the Trotsky group joined the Socialist Party, fused with it, and is fighting within the Socialist Party against the united front.

Here you have the Trotskyites in action.

But why did not the Communist Party attempt an armed uprising in Germany in the early part of 1933 with its own forces? This question is often asked by Trotskyites.

The answer is given by Lenin who explains “the fundamental law of revolution”.

“It is not sufficient for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for revolution, it is necessary that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule as of old. Only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want the old regime,and when the ‘upper classes’ are unable to govern as of old, then only can revolution succeed. This truth may be expressed in other words: Revolution is impossible without an all-national crisis, affecting both the exploited and the exploiters. [Our emphasis – M.J.O.] It follows that for revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand the necessity for revolution, and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling class be in a state of governmental crisis, which attracts even the most backward masses into politics… weakens the government and facilitates its rapid overthrow by the revolutionaries.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XXV, p. 222.)

In discussing the German situation of the time when Hitler came to power, O. Piatnitsky, a leader of the Communist International, quotes the above Leninist definition of a revolutionary situation and draws the inevitable conclusion. He says:

“Had all these conditions matured in Germany in January 1933? No. The entire bourgeoisie, in the face of the menace of a proletarian revolution, in spite of the existence of discords among them, stood united against the revolutionary proletariat. The overwhelming majority of the petty bourgeoisie followed the bourgeoisie as represented by Hitler, who promised them the return of the ‘grand’ old Germany in which the petty bourgeoisie had lived in more or less tolerable conditions. The proletariat was split by the Social-Democratic Party which was still followed by the majority of the workers. So the exploiters were still able to live and administer, were still able to exploit the working class as of old, although by new, fascist methods.” (O. Piatnitsky, The Present Situation in Germany, p. 27.)

The Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, evaluating the German situation, came to the only conclusion which a responsible leadership could draw from the existing relationship of the social forces in Germany.

“Under these circumstances [says the Presidium resolution] the proletariat was in a position in which it could not organize and in fact failed to organize an immediate and decisive blow against the state apparatus, which, for the purpose of fighting against the proletariat, absorbed the fighting organizations of the fascist bourgeoisie: the Storm Troops, the Steel Helmets and the Reichswehr. The bourgeoisie was able without serious resistance to hand over the power of government in the country to the National-Socialists, who act against the working class by means of provocations, bloody terror and political banditry.

“In analyzing the conditions for a victorious uprising of the proletariat, Lenin said that a decisive battle can be considered as fully mature,

“ ‘…if all the class forces which were hostile to us have become sufficiently entangled, have sufficiently come to blows, have sufficiently weakened themselves by the struggle which is beyond their strength. If all the vacillating, hesitating, unstable, intermediate elements, i.e., the petty bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeois democracy as distinguished from the bourgeoisie, have sufficiently exposed themselves to the people, have sufficiently disgraced themselves by their practical bankruptcy. If among the proletariat mass sentiment has begun, and is rising strongly in favor of supporting the most decisive, supremely bold and revolutionary action against the bourgeoisie. Then the revolution has matured, and if we have properly taken into account all of the conditions mentioned above… and have properly selected the moment, our victory is assured.’

“The characteristic feature of the circumstances at the time of the Hitler coup was that these conditions for a victorious rising had not yet managed to mature at that moment. They only existed in an embryonic state.

“As for the vanguard of the proletariat, the Communist Party, not wishing to slip into adventurism, it, of course, could not compensate for this missing factor by its own actions.”

Trotsky’s criticism of the Comintern is the expression of the despair of a petty bourgeois frightened by fascism and disbelieving in the revolutionary forces of the proletariat. Trotsky’s proposed policies, therefore, are policies of a frightened petty-bourgeois reformist.

“Democratic slogans and illusions [he says] cannot be abolished by decree. It is necessary that the masses go through them and outlive them in the experience of battle…. It is necessary to find the dynamic elements in the present defensive position of the working class; we must make the masses draw conclusions from their democratic logic; we must widen and deepen the channels of the struggle.” (Leon Trotsky, “Our Present Tasks,” The Militant, December 9, 1933.)

In these words is contained a whole program. It presupposes a general political situation where black reaction is destined to reign supreme for a very long period and where there can be no thought of a determined proletarian fight for power. It presupposes a stable capitalist system. It assumes that the struggle of the workers for the improvement of their immediate conditions must necessarily proceed in parliamentary channels. It therefore advances the struggle for democratic reforms as the prime task of the workers.

Like all such Social-Democratic creations it is both reactionary and utopian.

It is reactionary because it gives up the proletarian struggle for power at a time when conditions are rapidly maturing for such a struggle. It is utopian because it is not possible for the workers at any time to confine themselves to “democratic slogans” alone if they are to defend their right to live.

The workers are hungry. They are oppressed. They must fight for higher wages, social insurance, against police brutality, against lynch laws. Whenever they undertake a real fight they inevitably reach out beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy. They clash with the police. They defy the courts. They break injunctions. They forcibly annul evictions. They “riot”. When capitalism is shaken and undermined as at present the seizure of power becomes a task for the near future. Every fight is a step nearer to the seizure of power. Every battle gives the working class new experience, teaches it the lessons of unity and concerted advance against the bourgeoisie. Only such an advance can yield immediate improvement of the workers’ lives today, can secure for them elementary rights and better economic conditions.

It is the class struggle against capitalism that the Communists are inscribing on the banner of the working class – the class struggle which in its sharpest form is armed uprising, the final battles for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is class collaboration on which Trotsky is building the flimsy structure of his “fourth international” program.

Listen to a Trotskyite “Bolshevik” exhorting the world in the following piece of sonorous declamation:

“We, Bolsheviks, consider that the real salvation from fascism and war lies in the revolutionary conquest of power and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. [But our ‘belief’ is just a shadow, bloodless, lifeless. – M.J.O.] You, Socialist workers [Read: Social-Democratic bureaucrats – M.J.O.] do not agree to this road. You hope not only to save what has been gained but also to move forward along the road of democracy. [In collaboration with Roosevelt, Richberg and Perkins. – M.J.O.] Good! As long as we have not convinced you and attracted you to our side we are ready to follow this road with you to the end. [It is easier to follow you than bother with rank-and-file workers who may not agree to submit to ‘democratic’ edicts of chiefs of police – M.J.O.] But we demand that you carry on the struggle for democracy not in words but in deeds [For instance, let Norman Thomas pay a new visit to the ‘First Lady’ of the land. – MJ.O.]…. Make your Party open up a real struggle for a strong democratic movement. [Which is to be even more misleading than the Epic or LaFollette movements which contain economic planks in their programs. – M.J.O.] For this it is necessary first of all to sweep away all the remnants of the feudal state. It is necessary to give the suffrage to all men and women who reached their 18th birthday, also to the soldiers in the army [Forget about the hunger of the boys and girls. Give them the happiness of suffrage that will be a balm to their wound. Incidentally it costs the bosses less than social insurance. – M.J.O.] Full concentration of legislative and executive power in the hands of one chamber! Let your Party open up a serious campaign under these slogans! Let it arouse millions of workers, let it conquer power through the drive of the masses. [Hurrah for a new Ebert-Noske-Scheidemann-Ramsay McDonald government. – M.J.O.] This at any rate would be a serious attempt of struggle against fascism and war. [In the same way as Severing, Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch fought against fascism and war. – M.J.O.] We, Bolsheviks, would retain the right to explain to the workers the insufficiency of democratic slogans; we could not take upon ourselves the political responsibility for the Social-Democratic government; but we would honestly help you in the struggle for such a. government [We would help you to deceive the masses. – M.J.O.] Together with you we would repel all attacks of bourgeois reaction. [And help shoot down workers and farmers who infringe on ‘democratic’ laws in their fight for bread – M.J.O.] More than that, we would bind ourselves before you not to undertake any revolutionary actions which go beyond the limits of democracy (real democracy) so long as the majority of the workers has not consciously placed itself on the side of revolutionary dictatorship. [It will be our democratic duty to break ‘unlawful’ strikes and to disperse ‘unlawful’ assembly. How dare they go beyond the limits of real bourgeois democracy! – M.J.O.]” (Trotsky, “Our Present Tasks,” The Militant, December 9, 1933.)

It must be made clear at the outset that when Trotsky addresses himself to the “Socialist workers”, he means the Socialist leaders – those who prevent the Socialist workers from engaging in the real class struggle. It must be noted, secondly, that the program which he proposes is purely reformist. He would help Social-Democracy to become the government in a capitalist State (“honestly” help it); he would help Social-Democracy improve the machinery of the capitalist State; he would bind himself to undertake no actions that go beyond bourgeois democracy (when he says “real democracy” he ought to know that such democracy exists only as the dictatorship of the proletariat – and that every bourgeois democracy, no matter how embellished, is a sham democracy designed as a weapon of the exploiters against the exploited); in other words he undertakes to help fasten upon the workers the rule of the capitalists operating through the instrumentality of bourgeois fake democracy. It must be noted, third, that not in vain did Trotsky omit such vital demands as higher wages, a shorter labor day, unemployment insurance, the right of the oppressed nationalities. For, the moment the workers undertake the fight for such demands, bourgeois legality goes smash. The limits of bourgeois democracy are overstepped. Trotsky implicitly promises the Social-Democratic leaders not to undertake such actions, not to countenance them. Moreover, he knows well that when the Social-Democrats are in power they will use the State armed forces against the workers if they undertake such actions. When he appeals to the Social-Democrats to join with him, he is forced to confine himself to such innocuous demands as one chamber and the lowering of the voting age. It is only here that the Social-Democrats can meet him half way. And it is on such a program that he is willing to bind up the fate of the Trotskyites with the fate of the Social-Democratic leaders.

Once more we have before us the petty bourgeois who is panic-stricken. He has seen the advent of fascism. He believes that fascism has come to stay. He believes that the working class is crushed. He calumniates the Communist Party of Germany, saying that it is dead when in reality it lives and fights. He does not wish to see the forces making for a social revolution. He does not wish to understand that once the masses rise – and wherever they rise – they must fight for their lives, against hunger, against annihilation at the hands of finance capital – and that means fight against the capitalist State whether in its fascist or in its democratic form. He does not wish to realize that the workers – the masses of the workers, the majority of the workers – will join the banner of struggle against the capitalists, which is always a struggle undermining the capitalist State. He wants to keep the masses of workers from engaging in the struggle against capitalism under Communist leadership. He appeals to the Social-Democratic leaders for a united front on this program. No wonder he is against the united front as built by the Communist Parties. Such united front is directed against capitalism, it does not build fortresses for capitalism. It comes to destroy them.


Marxist-Leninist Research Bureau: The Kirov Murder


The Murder

On 2 December 1934, ‘Pravda’ announced that:

“On 1 December at 16.30, in the city of Leningrad in the building of the Leningrad Soviet (former Smolny), at the hands of a murderer, a concealed enemy of the working class, died Secretary of the Central and Leningrad Committees of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and member of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, Comrade Sergei Mironovich KIROV*. The gunman has been arrested. His identity is being established”.

(Robert Conquest: ‘Stalin and the Kirov Murder’ (hereafter listed as ‘Robert Conquest (1989)’; London; 1989; p. 7, citing “Pravda” 2 December 1934).

Having entered the building, the assassin went up to the second floor and:

” . . hid in the bathroom. From the bathroom window the main entrance was visible”.

(Anton Antonov-Ovseenko: ‘The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny’; New York; 1981; p. 91).

Then, as Kirov walked along the corridor to his office, the assassin emerged from his hiding place:

“To shoot him in the back of the neck”.

(Stepan V. Krasnikov: ‘Sergei Mironovich Kirov’; Moscow; 1964; p. 200).

The murder was premeditated:

“The murder was not done on impulse. The assassin had been preparing his act since the summer”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 9).

The assassin was arrested at the scene of the crime:

“The assassin fainted and fell beside his victim Kirov was carried, bleeding and unconscious into his office. . . . He soon died. The autopsy gives in great detail the path of the bullet and its effects. It was soon established that a Nagan revolver was used, and that this was what was found near the assassin. Meanwhile, NKVD men arrested the unconscious killer”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 9).

The Assassin

On 3 December 1934, it was announced that:

“Preliminary investigations had established that the assassin was Leonid Vasilevich NIKOLAYEV*, born 1904, a former worker in the Leningrad Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (RKI) and that the investigation was continuing”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 10, citing; ‘Pravda’, 3 December 1934).


“Was married to a woman named Milda Draule, and had two children. His wife was a Latvian. . . . She had a secretarial job at Party headquarters.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 11).

He ultimately got:

“A position in the RKI. He seems to have been found inadequate and was demoted to a lesser post”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 10).


“Had joined the Communist Party in 1920, at the age of sixteen.
He . . . in March (1934– Ed.) was expelled from the Party for breach of its discipline, However, two months later he was reinstated, having made ‘a declaration of repentance”‘.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 10, 11).

He had developed a single-minded hatred of authority:

“Which he blamed for failing to give him his due and ignoring his problems. He began to see himself as an assassin on the historic scale. One report has him saying at an early interrogation in times to come my name will be coupled with those of ZHELIABOV* and BALMASHEV*‘, the great assassins of the Russian past”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 11).

Nikolayev later admitted that in the period August-November 1934, he had:

“‘Tried out’ . . . the ‘Nagan revolver he possessed”‘.

(“The Crime of the Zinoviev Opposition” (hereafter listed as ‘Crime’ (1935)’ Moscow; 1935; p. 19).

And it emerged during the investigation that:

“With the object of covering up traces of the crime and concealing his accomplices, and also with the object of masking the true motives for the murder of Comrade Kirov, the accused Nikolayev prepared several documents (a diary, statements addressed to various institutions, etc.) in which he endeavoured to portray his crime as a personal act of desperation and dissatisfaction arising out of his straitened material circumstances and as a protest against ‘the unjust attitude of certain members of the government towards a live person.”

(‘Crime’ (1935): op. cit.; p. 19).

The Investigation

On the evening of 1 December, a high-level delegation, consisting of three members of the Political Bureau – Stalin, Kliment VOROSHILOV*, Vyacheslav MOLOTOV* – and Andrey ZHDANOV* set out from Moscow to head the investigation into Kirov’s murder. Lower-level members of the delegation included Aleksandr KOSAREV*, General Secretary of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Genrikh YAGODA* , USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, and Yakov AGRANOV*, Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs. The delegates from Moscow reached Leningrad

“Around 7.30-8.30 a.m. on 2 December”;

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 41).

It was already apparent that there were several odd circumstances about the murder:

“The absence of all guards at the Smolny was, on the face of it, an astonishing lapse, and so was the failure of Kirov’s bodyguard to accompany him.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 8, 39).

While the behaviour of the security police had been even stranger. They:

“Had long since been aware of Nikolayev’s attitude and threats. They had reported this to Zaporozhets (Ivan Zaporozhets, Deputy Head of Leningrad NKVD – Ed.)”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 40).

It was discovered that, when Nikolayev visited the Smolny in December 1934 (a few days before Kirov was murdered), his brief-case had been searched and:

“In the brief-case there were a loaded pistol and a diary. Nikolayev was immediately detained and taken to the commandant’s office”.

(Alexander Orlov: ‘The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes’; New York; 1953; p. 17).

However, as the defendant Pavel BULANOV* testified at the 1938 treason trial, Zaporozhets had ordered him to be released:

“I recall that . . . several days before the assassination of Kirov, the guard detained Nicolayev . . . and a notebook and revolver were found in his portfolio, but that Zaporozhets released him in time.”

(Pavel Bulanov: Testimony at 1938 Treason Trial (March 1938), in: Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’ (hereafter listed as ‘Trial’ (1938)); Moscow; 1938; p. 558).

Stalin himself interrogated the assassin, Nikolayev. According to Alexander ORLOV* who defected from the Soviet security police in July 1938, when the prisoner was brought from his cell, Stalin asked him:

“‘Why did you kill such a nice man?”‘.

(Alexander Orlov: op. cit.; p. 22).


“All accounts agree that Nikolayev replied boldly, pointing to the NKVD men and saying that Stalin should ask them that question.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 41).

The Murder of Borisov (1934)

A vital witness in the case was clearly the head of Kirov’s personal bodyguard, a man named BORISOV:

“Accounts are agreed that Borisov was devoted to Kirov”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 42).

Late in the morning of 2 December, in response to a request from Leningrad NKVD headquarters, Borisov was driven to the Smolny:

“Zaporozhets, being alarmed by this and fearing that Borisov would betray those who stood behind Nikolayev, decided to kill Borisov. Zaporozhetz so arranged it that an accident occurred to the automobile which took Borisov to the Smolny, Borisov was killed in the accident, and in this way they got rid of a dangerous witness.”

(Pavel Bulanov: Testimony at 1938 Treason Trial, in: ‘Trial’ (1938); op. cit.; p. 558-59).

The Arrest of the Leningrad Security Police Officers (1934)

During the day (2 December):

“Almost the whole leadership of the Leningrad NKVD . . . were removed from their posts and sent for trial for ‘negligence in connection with their duties”‘.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 42-43, citing ‘Pravda’, 4 December 1934).

Yakov Agranov:

“Was given temporary charge of the Leningrad NKVD”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 43, citing ‘Pravda’, 4 December 1934).

Kirov’s Funeral (1934)

Stalin left Leningrad on 4 December to return to Moscow,

“With Agranov running the actual investigation.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 43.

On 4 December 1934:

“Kirov’s coffin arrived in Moscow at 10.30 a.m., . . . and the State funeral started at 2.30 p.m. on 6 December. Stalin was one of the guards of honour.”

(Robert Conquest (1989) op. cit.; p. 43.)

The Anti-Terrorist Legislation (1934)

On the evening of 1 December 1934, the day of Kirov’s murder:

“The Secretary of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee, YENUKIDZE*. signed the following directive:
1. Investigative agencies are directed to speed up the cases of those accused of the preparation or execution of acts of terror.
2. Judicial organs are directed not to hold up the execution of death sentences pertaining to crimes of this category in order to consider the possibility of pardon, because the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR does not consider as possible the receiving of petitions of this sort.
3. The organs of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs are directed to execute the death sentences against criminals of the above-mentioned category immediately after the passage of sentences.”

(Avel Yenukidze: Anti-Terrorism Directive of USSR Central Executive Committee (1 December 1934), cited in: Nikita S,. Khrushchev: Secret Speech to 20th Congress of CPSU (February 1956), in “‘The Dethronement of Stalin”; Manchester; 1956; p. 11).


” . the ‘Law of 1 December 1934’ . . . was subsequently rarely used.”

(J. Arch Getty: ‘Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered: 1933-1938’; Cambridge; 1985; p. 298).

The Trial of the Whiteguard Terrorists (1934)

On 4 December 1934:

“It was announced that ‘cases of recently arrested Whiteguards charged with preparing terrorist attacks against workers of the Soviet power’ had been sent on 2 December for immediate consideration to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court. The period from December 5 to 18 December saw the announcement of the trial and execution of 102 of these. . . . . .(17 were remanded for further investigation).. . .
All those indicted were accused of being terrorists sent over the frontiers with arms and instructions to assassinate”.

(Robert Conquest (1989) op. cit.; p. 44).

On 2 January 1935, Ivan MAISKY*, the Soviet Ambassador in London, responding on 2 January 1935 to representations on these cases, declared:

“The persons recently executed in various towns of the USSR under sentences imposed by the courts . . . were found guilty of the planning and execution of acts of terrorism. . . . The majority of them entered the Soviet Union illegally from abroad, and were found to have in their possession bombs, grenades, revolvers and other weapons. In court they openly admitted that they were enemies of the Soviet Union and confessed to the perpetration of the crimes with which they were charged”.

(Ivan Maisky; Statement on Trial and Execution of Terrorists (2 January 1935), in: Jane Degras (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy’, Volume 3; London; 1953; p. 100).

It was not suggested that the terrorists involved in these cases were involved in the murder of Kirov. As J. Arch Getty comments:

“It seemed that the regime, unprepared for the crime and unclear about who should be punished, lashed out in a violent but ad hoc way at traditional enemies of the Soviet power.”

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 209).

The ‘Leningrad Terrorist Centre’ (1934)

Yakov Agranov, as temporary head of the Leningrad NKVD:

“Quickly established a connection between Nikolayev and the men who had been the leading figures in the Leningrad Komsomol during ZINOVIEV’s* ascendancy in the city. The most prominent was I. I. KOTOLNYOV*, former member of the Central Committee of the Komsomol. . . . He had, in fact, been a real oppositionist”.

(Robert Conquest: ‘The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties’; London; 1973; p. 86).

In fact:

“Nikolayev had been in the Vyborg district’s branch, whose head was of course a Zinovievite – I. I. Kotolnyov”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 51).

Further investigation established that:

“in 1933 and 1934 . . . an underground counter-revolutionary and terrorist group was formed in Leningrad”.

(‘Crime’ (1935): op. cit.; p. 8)

and that the Kotolnyov group:

“was headed by the underground terrorist ‘Leningrad Centre’

(‘Crime’ (1935): ibid.; p. 9)

On 22 December 1934, Nikolayev, Kotolnyov and 12 other people:

“Were committed for trial before the Military Collegium”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 53, citing ‘Pravda’, 17 December, 1934).

On 22 December 1934, the NKVD announced that:

“The investigation into Nikolaev and his accomplices had been concluded on 20 December. The act (the murder of Kirov — Ed.) had been carried out on the orders of ‘the illegal terrorist “Leningrad Centre” (described as ‘former members of the Zinoviev opposition’)”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 53).

The indictment in the case of the ‘Leningrad Centre’, published on 27 December 1934, named Ivan Kotolnyov as among:

“The principal organisers of the conspiracy against Kirov”.

(‘Crime’ (1935): op. cit.; p. 8).

The Arrests of Members of the Moscow Terrorist Centre (1934)

Ivan BAKAYEV*, Zinoviev’s former Leningrad security police chief, and Grigory YEVDOKIMOV*, Kirov’s predecessor as Leningrad 1st Secretsry, were:

“Arrested around 14 December (1934 — Ed.)”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 53).

Grigory Zinoviev and Lev KAMENEV* and five of their associates were:

“Arrested ‘in Moscow’ on 16 December ‘in connection with the Kirov murder.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 54, citing ‘Pravda’, 23 December 1934).

But on 23 December it was announced that:

“In the absence of sufficient evidence to put them on trial”,

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 209).

Their cases had:

“Been handed over for examination to the Special Board of the NKVD with a view to the summary exile of these persons. Investigations in connection with the other arrested persons are proceeding”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 55, citing ‘Pravda’, 23 December 1934).

The Trial of the ‘Leningrad Terrorist Centre’ (1935)

On 28-29 December 1934, the trial took place of Nikolayev, Kotolnyov and 10 other defendants accused of conspiracy to murder Kirov:

“All twelve accused, who were stated to have belonged to a ‘Leningrad Centre’, were sentenced to death and immediately shot”.

(Friedrich Adler: ‘The Witchcraft Trial in Moscow’; London; 1936; p. 25).

The First Trial of Kamenev and Zinoviev (1935)

In January 1935 it was announced that further investigation had produced:

“. . new material”.

(‘Crime’ (1935): op. cit.; p. 33).

relating to the activities of Kamenev, Yevdokimov, Zinoviev and others, and on 13 January they were indicted as members of the:

“. . so -called ‘Moscow Centre.”

(‘Crime’ (1935): ibid,; p. 33-34).

It was admitted that the further investigation had:

“Not established facts which might serve as grounds for directly accusing the members of the ‘Moscow Centre’ of having given their consent to . . . the terrorist attack committed against Comrade Kirov”,

(‘Crime’ (1935): ibid.; p. 41).

nevertheless, said the indictment, the facts proved:

“That they were aware of the terrorist sentiments of the members of the group and that they inflamed those sentiments”.

(‘Crime’ (1935): ibid.; p. 41).

and so:

“Must bear not only moral and political responsibility, but also responsibility before Soviet law, for the consequences of their underground counter-revolutionary activities which induced their Leningrad group to resort to terrorist acts”.

(‘Crime’ (1935): ibid; p. 41).

From 15 to 16 January 1935, the first trial of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Yevdokimov, Bakayev and 15 other defendants took place in Leningrad in camera before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court.

The defendant Yevdokimov admitted in court:

“When we are blamed for a terrorist attitude, I firmly declare: yes, for that we must take responsibility, for the venom by which we poisoned those who surrounded us over the last decade and which made possible a supreme crime, the murder of Kirov”.

(Grigory Yevdokimov: Testimony at 1935 Trial, in: Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 65, citing ‘Pravda’, 16 January 1935).

A summary of the trial was published in ‘Pravda’:

“The accused confessed . . . that they had tried . . . to strengthen their supporters’ feelings of bitterness and open hatred for the leaders of the Party and for Soviet power. . .
They were forced by the weight of the evidence to confess that in that poisionous, Zinovievist underground counter-revolutionary cesspool, they developed and strengthened authentic Whiteguard methods of struggle against Soviet power, and an openly terroristic temperament that led to the foul murder of Comrade Kirov”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 65, citing ‘Pravda’, 17 January 1935).

In short, at the trial, Kamenev and Zinoviev:

“Denied that they took any part in the murder of Comrade Kirov. . . . . stating at the trial that they bore only moral and political responsibility for the assassination of Comrade Kirov”.

(Report of Court Proceedings: The Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre (hereafter listed as ‘Report’ (1936); London; 1973; p. 10).

The accused were found guilty. Zinoviev and three minor figures were sentenced:

“to ten years’ imprisonment as the ‘active leaders’ and ‘most active members’ of the underground group”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 66).

Most of the others were sentenced:

“To eight or six years for ‘active participation’ and membership'”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 66).

while Kamenev and two other defendants were sentenced to five years as:

” . . less active members.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 66).

In addition:

” . . . . the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs sentenced 49 persons involved in the matter of the Zinoviev group to internment in camps for criminals for a period of four to five years, and 29 other persons to be removed to various places in the country for a period of two to five years.”

(Friedrich Adler: op cit.; p. 26).

The Trial of the Leningrad Security Police Officials (1935)

On 23 January 1935,

“The police officials whose arrest had been announced on 4 December were brought to trial”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 69).

The 12 defendants, who included the head of the Leningrad NKVD Filip MEJDVED and his two deputies Ivan Zaporozhets and Fedor FOMIN, were charged with varying degrees of:

“Criminal negligence. All . . . pleaded guilty”,

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 69, 70).

and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of between ten and three years (Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 70).

The convicted police officials were in fact treated very leniently:

“The chiefs of the Leningrad section of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs and their deputies . . . were . . . given responsible posts in the administratrion of the concentration camps to which they were sent. Actually, therefore, the punishment meant nothing more than a reduction in rank”.

(Boris Nikolayevsky: ‘Power and the Soviet Elite: “The Letter of an Old Bolshevik” and Other Essays’; New York; 1965; p. 53).

The Second Trial of Kamenev (1935)

The Yenukidze Affair (see Report No. 12) in the summer of 1935, involved:

“a woman employee in the Kremlin library. Among the forty-six persons arrested was Kamenev (whose brother was a doctor in the Kremlin)”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.,; p. 78).

He was:

“sentenced on July 27 1935 to imprisonment for ten years”.

(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 174).

The Trial of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre (1936)

In the late spring of 1936:

” Zinoviev, Kamenev, Yevdokimov and Bakayev were brought back from their isolators to face a new interrogation, with the veteran I. N. SMIRNOV“.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 79).

The Indictment:

“Was published on 15 August, and on 19 August the trial opened in public, . . . . with representatives of the Western press and diplomatic corps present”.

(Robert Conquest (1889): op. cit.; p. 80).

The seven principal defendants were:

Ivan Bakayev,
Grigory Yevdokimov,
Lev Kamenev,
Ivan Smirnov,
Vagvarshak TER-VAGANYAN*, and
Grigory Zinoviev,

and there were ten minor defendants, making 16 in all. (‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 38-39).

Leon TROTSKY and his son Leon SEDOV* were indicted in absentia:

“L. Trotsky and his son L. L. Sedov, both of whom are abroad, having been exposed by the materials in the present case as having directly prepared and personally guided the work of organising in the USSR terroristic acts against the leaders of the CPSU and of the Soviet State, in the event of their being discovered on the territory of the USSR, are subject to immediate arrest and trial”.

(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 39).

14 of the defendants (including all the major figures except Ivan Smirnov):

“pleaded guilty on all charges”.

(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 40).

Smirnov and one of the minor defendants denied:

“Only . . . personal participation in the preparation of terroristic acts”.

(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 40).

The defendant Sergei Mrachovsky testified that at the end of 1932, a unified terrorist bloc was formed between the Trotskyites and the Zinovievites and:

“That in the second half of 1932 the question was raised of the necessity of uniting the Trotskyite terrorist group with the Zinovievites. The question of this unification was raised by I. N. Smirnov. . . . In the autumn of 1932 a letter was received from Trotsky in which he approved the decision to unite with the Zinovievites. . . Union must take place on the basis of terrorism, and Trotsky once again emphasised the necessity of killing Stalin, Voroshiloy and Kirov.. . . The terrrorist bloc of the Trotskyites and the Zinovievites was formed at the end of 1932”.

(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 41-42).

The defendants Grigory Zinoviev, Grigory Yevdokimov and Lev Kamenev admitted that Kirov’s murder had been organised by this unified Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist centre:

“VYSHINSKY (TO ZINOVIEV): Was the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov organised by your centre . . .?

ZINOVIEV: Yes, by our centre.

VYSHINSKY: In that centre there were you, Kamenev, Smirnov, Mrachovsky and Ter-Vaganyan?


VYSHINSKY: So you all organised the assassination of Kirov?


(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 44-45).

“VYSIIINSKY: Was the murder of Sergei Mironoviuch Kirov prepared by the centre?


VYSHINSKY: You personally took part in these preparations?


VYSHINSKY: Did Zinoviev and Kamenev participate with you in the preparations?


(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 49).

“VYSHINSKY (TO KAMENEV): Did you give instructions to make preparations for the assassination of Kirov?

KAMENEV: Yes, in the autumn. .The terrorist conspiracy was organised by myself, Zinoviev and Trotsky. . .In June 1934 I myself went to Leningrad . . . to prepare an attempt on the life of Kirov parallel with the Nikolayev-Kotolynov group. .

VYSHINSKY: Was Kirov’s assassination directly the work of your hands?


(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 46, 65, 67).

Both Grigory Yevdokimov and Grigory Zinoviev admitted that they had lied at their previous trial in January 1935 when they had denied involvement in planning Kirov’s assassination:

“VYSHINSKY (TO YEVDOKIMOV): At the trial in Leningrad, on January l5-16, 1935, when facing the court as you do now, you emphatically asserted that you had nothing to do with that murder. At that time you told untruths?

YEVDOKIMOV: Yes, I deceived the court

(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 47).

“VYSHINSKY: Are you telling the whole truth now?

ZINOVIEV: Now I am telling the whole truth to the end.

VYSHINSKY: Remember that on January 15-16 1935, at the session of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, you also asserted that you were telling the whole truth.

ZINOVIEV: Yes, On January 15-16 I did not tell the whole truth.

VYSHINSKY: You did not tell the truth, but you maintained that you were telling the truth”.

(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 72).

Defendant Ivan Bakayev admitted conspiring with the assassin, Leonid Nikolayev, to murder Kirov:

“VYSHINSKY (TO BAKAYEV): Did you meet Nikolayev in Leningrad?
BAKAYEV: Yes. . . .

VYSHINSKY: Nikolayev told you that he had decided to assassinate S. M. Kirov, didn’t he?

BAKAYEV: He did. .

VYSHINSKY: Did you take part in the assassination of Comrade Kirov?


VYSHINSKY: You were the organiser of the assassination of Kirov?

BAKAYEV: Well, yes, but I was not the only one”.

(‘Report’ (1936): op. cit.; p. 49, 61, 62).

The defendants waived their right to speeches in their defence, but made their last pleas to the court, as follows:

“MRACHOVSKY: I am a counter-revolutionary. . . I do not ask for mitigation of my punishment. . I depart as a traitor to my Party, as a traitor who should be shot.

YEVDOKIMOV: I don’t consider it possible to plead for clemency. Our crimes against the proletarian state and against the international revolutionary movement are too great to make it possible for us to expect clemency. . .

BAKAYEV: I am guilty of the assassination of Kirov. I took a direct part in the preparation of other terroristic acts against the leaders of the Party and the government. .

KAMENEV: I, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, was the organiser and leader of a terrorist plot which planned and prepared a number of terroristic attempts on the lives of the leaders of the government and Party of our country, and which carried out the assassination of Kirov.

ZINOVIEV: I admit that I am fully and completely guilty . . . of having been an organiser of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc second only to Trotsky, the bloc which set itself the aim of assassinating Stalin, Voroshilov and a number of other leaders of the Party and the government. I plead guilty to having been principal organiser of the assassination of Kirov. .

TER-VAGANYAN: I bow my head in guilt before the Court and say:
whatever your decision may be, however stern your verdict, I accept it as deserved.

(‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 165-73).

All 16 accused were found guilty and sentenced: “to be shot”. (‘Report’ (1936): ibid.; p. 180);

On 25 August 1936:

“It was announced . . . that all the accused had been shot.”

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 86).

The 1937 Treason Trial (1937)

At the second public treason trial in January 1937:

PYATAKOV*, RADEK* and fifteen others were accused of having been a ‘Reserve Centre’, kept secret in case the Zinoviev plotters were discovered. The group shot in August 1936 were now accused of having deceived the court by concealing this second network”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 95).

At this trial,

“Little was said about the Kirov case”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 95).

But Yuri Pyatakov and Karl Radek testified that in July 1935, after the murder of Kirov, this ‘Reserve Centre’ has discussed the question of multiple assassinations of the Party leadership as a whole:

“RADEK: In July 1935, . . . there arose the question that it was senseless killing single individuals. This would produce no political results. .

VYSHINSKY: Do I understand you rightly: it was not enough to have killed Comrade Kirov, others must be killed also?

RADEK: Either abandon terrorism altogether, or start seriously organising mass terrorist acts which would give rise to a situation bringing us nearer to power. . Trotsky’s directive concerning terrorist acts, group acts, arrived in January 1936. .

VYSHINSKY: In the second half of 1935, . . . were preparations being made in your midst for a group terrorist act?

RADEK: Yes, there were. .
When the question arose against whom terrorism should be directed.. . .
I . . did not have the slightest doubt that the acts were to be directed against Stalin and his immediate colleagues, against Kirov, Molotov, Voroshilov and KAGANOVICH*“.

(Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre; Moscow; 1937; p. 72, 74, 77, 89).

The 1938 Treason Trial (1938)

In February 1937:

BUKHARIN* and RYKOV*, leaders of the ‘Rightists’, were arrested.
Yagoda was arrested in April 1937″.

(Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. 96).

and the 1938 treason trial, like those of 1936 and 1937 held in public,

“opened on 2 March 1938”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 97).

From the point of view of the Kirov murder:

“The main interest of the trial was that it was now that the NKVD was first publicly blamed not for mere negligence but for active complicity in the crime”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 97).

It was now revealed that Cenrikh Yagoda, who had held the post of People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs (in charge of the NKVD) from July 1934 to September 1936, had been a leading member of the conspiracy. Yagoda’s secretary, Pavel Bulanov, testified that:

“In the early part of 1936 . . . Yagoda . . . said that he had known that an attempt on S. M. Kirov was being prepared, that he had a reliable man in Leningrad who was inititiated into everything, Zaporozhets, Assistant Chief of the Leningrad Regional Administration of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, and that he had so arranged matters as to facilitate the assassination of Kirov by Nikolayev. . . . The whole affair was nearly exposed when, several days before the assassination of Kiroy, the guard detained Nikolayev by mistake, and a notebook and revolver were found in his portfilio, but . . . Zaporozhets released him in time”.

(‘Report’ (1938): op. cit.; p. 558).

Yagoda himself confirmed that, on orders from Avel Yenukidze, the Secretary of the Central Executive Committee and a member of the conspiracy, he had instructed Zaporozhets to facilitate the assassination of Kirov by Nikolayev:

“VYSHINSKY (TO YAGODA): Did you personally take any measures to effect the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov?

YAGODA: I gave instructions


YAGODA: To Zaporozhets in Leningrad. . . . Zaporozhets came to Moscow and reported that a man had been detained. . . .

VYSHINSKY: In whose brief-case. . .

YAGODA: There was a revolver and a diary. And he released him. . . .

VYSHINSKY: And then you gave instructions not to place obstacles in the way of the murder of Sergei Mironovich Kirov?.

YAGODA: Yes, I did.. . . .

YAGODA: In 1934, in the summer, Yenukidze informed me that the centre of the ‘bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’ had adopted a decision to organise the assasination of Kirov. . . . Yenukidze insisted that I was not to place any obstacles in the way; the terrorist act, he said, would be carried out by the Trotskyite-Zinovievite group. Owing to this, I was compelled to instruct Zaporozhets, who occupied the post of Assistant Chief of the Regional Administation of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, not to place any obstacles in the way of the terrorist act against Kirov. Some time later Zaporozhets informed me that the organs the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs had detained Nikolayev, in whose possession a revolver and a chart of the route Kirov usually took had been found. Nikolayev was released, Soon after that Kirov was assassinated by this very Nikolayev”.

(‘Report'(1938): ibid.; p. 376, 572-73).

Bulanov also testified that Yagoda and Zaporozhets had arranged the murder of Kirov’s bodyguard, Borisov:

“Yagoda further told me that . . . when members of the government came to Leningrad and summoned this Borisov to the Smolny to interrogate him as a witness in connection with the assassination of Kirov, Zaporozhets, being alarmed by this and fearing that Borisov would betray those who stood behind Nikolayev, decided to kill Borisoy. On Yagoda’s instructions, Zaporozhets arranged it that an accident occurred to the automobile which took Borisov to the Smolny. Borisov was killed in the accident, and in this way they got rid of a dangerous witness”.

(‘Report’ (1938): ibid.; p. 558-59).

and explained the privileged treatment accorded to the convicted security police officials as having been ordered by Yagoda:

“I then understood the exceptional and unusual solicitude which Yagoda had displayed when Medved, Zaporozhets and the other officials were arrested and brought to trial. I recalled that he had entrusted the care of the families of Zaporozhets and Medved to me personally. I recalled that he had had them sent for detention to the camp in an unusual way, not in the car for prisoners, but in a special through car”.

(‘Report’ (1938): ibid.; p. 559).

The 20th Congress of the CPSU (1956)

In his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, the revisionist First Secretary of the CPSU Nikita KHRUSHCHEV* recounted a garbled version of the murder of Kirov in such a way as to imply that Stalin had been responsible for organising it:

“It must be asserted that to this day the circumstances surrounding Kirov’s murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov. Before the killing, Nikolayev was arrested on the grounds of suspicious behaviour, but he was released and not even searched. It was an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on December 2 1934, he was killed in a car ‘accident’ in which no other occupants of the car were harmed. After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the NKVD were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume they were shot in order to cover the traces of the organisers of Kirov’s killing”.

(Nikita S. Khrushchev: Secret Speech to 20th Congress, CPSU (February 1956), in: ‘The Dethronement of Stalin’; op. cit.; p. 12).

Even Robert Conquest*, who maintains that:

“Stalin’s guilt (of organising the murder of Kirov — Ed.) is indeed scarcely in doubt”.

(Robert Conquest: Preface to: Robert Conquest (1989): op. cit.; p. vii).

feels compelled to admit that:

“Though Khrushchev adds the odd detail, what he reveals does not differ essentially from the evidence of Yagoda and Bulanov at the 1938 trial”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 113).

The 22nd Congress of the CPSU (1961)

In October 1961, at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev again referred (this time publicly) to ‘suspicious’ features of the murder of Kirov:

“Great efforts are still needed to find out who was really to blame for his (Kirov’s – Ed.) death. The deeper we study the materials connected with Kirov’s death, the more questions arise. Noteworthy is the fact that Kirov’s killer had twice before been detained by Chekists (security men) near the Smolny, and that arms had been found on him. But he was released both times on someone’s instructions. And the next thing this man was in the Smolny, armed, in the corridor through which Kirov usually passed. And for some reason or other, at the moment of assassination Kirov’s chief bodyguard was far behind him, although instructions did not authorise him to be at such a distance away from Kirov.

Equally strange is the following fact: When Kirov’s chief bodyguard was being escorted for questioning – and he was to be questioned by Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov – the vehicle, as the driver said afterwards, was deliberately involved in an accident by those who were taking the man for interrogation. They said that he had died as a result of the accident, although he was in fact killed by those who were escorting him.

In this way, the man who guarded Kirov was killed. Later, those who had killed him were shot. This was no accident, apparently, but a carefully planned crime. Who could have done this? A thorough inquiry is now being made into the circumstances of this complicated case.

As it turned out, the driver of the vehicle in which Kirov’s chief bodyguard was being taken for questioning is still alive. He has said that an NKVD man sat with him in his cabin during the journey. They went in a lorry. (It is, of course, very strange why a lorry should have been used to take the man for questioning, as if no other vehicle could have been found for the purpose).

Evidently, everything had been planned in advance, in detail. Two other NKVD men were in the back of the lorry together with Kirov’s chief bodyguard.
Continuing his story, the driver said that when they were driving along a street, the man sitting next to him suddenly wrested the steering wheel from his hands and directed the vehicle straight at a house. The driver had regained control of the wheel and steered the lorry so that it hit the wall of the building only sideways. He had been later -told that Kirov’s chief bodyguard had lost his life in the accident.

Why did he lose his life while none of the other people in the vehicle suffered? Why were both the officials of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs who escorted Kirov’s chief bodyguard later shot? This means that someone had to have them killed in order to cover up all the traces.

Many, very many circumstances of this and other similar cases are still obscure”.

(Nikita S. Khrushchev: Report on the Programme of the CPSU, delivered to 22nd Congress of the CPSU (October 1961); London; 1961; p. 111-12).

As Robert Conquest comments:

‘Once again, the story was not incompatible with the Yagoda-Bulanov
version. . . .
Khrushchev . effectively repeated the accusations against Yagoda,
Zaporozhets and the NKVD”.

(Robert Conqest (1989): op. cit.; p. 115, 116).

However, although no direct accusation was made, the implication of Khrushchev’s diatribe was that:

“. . . the true culprit or culprits had yet to be named”,

(Robert Conqest (1989): op. cit.; p. 115).

and that these were headed by Stalin.

Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, refers to the

” . . . transparent hints”

(Sevetlana Alliluyeva: ‘Twenty Letters to a Friend’; London; 1968; p.147.

that Stalin had organised the murder of Kirov.

The Commissions of Inquiry (1956-91)

In 1956-57 the Politburo of the Central Committe of the Party set up a Commission of Inquiry into the murder of Kirov:

“It took a large amount of evidence – 200 volumes is the f igure mentioned. Hundreds of witnesses were called, and the commission had access to all the secret archives. . . *
The Commission went to look at the scene of Borisov’s accident, and heard the driver’s evidence”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 115).

However, one must presume that it proved impossible to reconcile the draft report with hypothesis desired by the revisionist leaders — that Stalin had master-minded Kirov’s murder — for

“. . . none of this was made public, and it is unoffically reported that the Commission’s report was simply shelved”.

(Robert Conquest (1989): ibid.; p. 115).

“The Commission’s report has never been made public”.

(Alan Bullock: ‘Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives’; London; 1991; p. 520).

In addition to the Commission of the 1950s, there were

” . . . at least two investigations in the 1960s, the PELSHE* Commission and the SHVERNIK* Commission”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): Perspectives’; Cambridge; 1993; p. 46).

In 1989 a further Commission — the YAKOVLEV* Commission — was organised, charged with filling the ‘gaps’ left by the earlier inquiries:

“A. Yakovlev’s Politburo Commission . . . appointed an intra-agency investigative team consisting of personnel from the USSR Procurator’s Office, the Military Procuracy, the KGB and various archival administrations. For two years, this team conducted interviews, reviewed
thousands of documents, and attempted to check all possible scenarios; their work has added another fifteen volumes to the thirty-year old efforts. . . . The team’s charter was to show Stalin’s complicity . . . It had little political incentive to let him off the hook; quite the contrary. Nevertheless, members of the working team concluded that in this affair, no materials objectively support Stalin’s participation or NKVD participation in the organisation and carrying out of Kirov’s murder’. The team concludes that only ‘one-sided, superficial, unverified facts, rumours and conjectures’ support Stalin complicity”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 46-47).

True, Olga Shatunovskaia:

“has recently written that the Kirov investigation in the 1960s had uncovered
convincing evidence that Stalin was behind the assassination …. and claimed that materials from the 1960 investigation have since been removed by Party Control Commission (KPK) personnel in order to change that investigation’s conclusion”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): ibid.; p. 46).

And yet:

” . . . in 1989 investigators checked the earlier commission’s documents against KPK and KGB files and concluded that nothing is missing from the earlier collection. They also found that as a Khrushchev-backed KPK investigator back in 1960, Shatunovskaia . . . at that time agreed with the conclusion that Stalin had not organised the killing”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): ibid.; p. 46).

The Myth of Stalin’s Involvement (1953-94)

The myth that Stalin masterminded the murder of Kirov first appeared in the West in 1953 as a propaganda weapon in the ‘Cold War’:

“Before the Cold War, no serious authority argued that Stalin was behind the assassination (of Kirov — Ed.). The KGB defector Aleksandr ORLOV* was the first to make such a claim in his dubious 1953 account. Boris Nikolaevsky repeated the story in his influential 1956 essays (his 1936 ‘Letter of an Old Bolshevik’ had not accused Stalin”.

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 207).

The usual motive attached to the myth was that Kirov was a ‘moderate’ political opponent of Stalin:

“The standard view of Stalinist pre-purge politics in the thirties, derived from an oral tradition, runs roughly as follows. At the end of the first Five-Year Plan (1932), a majority of the Politburo favoured relaxation and reconciliation with political opponents. Led by the Leningrad party chief, Serge Kirov, this group of Stalinist ‘moderates’ opposed Stalin’s plans to apply the death penalty to . . . adherents of the ‘Ryutin Platform’. . . .
After that, Stalin planned to eliminate the popular Kirov.
This scenario of the Kirov affair comes to us almost entirely from two sources: . . . Boris J. Nikolaevsky and NKVD defector Aleksander Orlov.
. . Virtually all versions of the story inside and outside the USSR can be traced to one of these two original presentations”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 42-43).

On Orlov, the revisionist historian Roy MEDVEDEV* writes:

“It is obvious, in short, that Orlov’s 1956 article is a clumsy fabrication”

(Roy A. Medvedev: ‘Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism’; London; 1972; p. 318).

while BUKHARIN*‘s widow Anna LARINA* writes of Nikolaevsky:

“I consider both the ‘Letter of an Old Bolshevik’ and the interview’ with Nikolaevsky to be spurious documents”.

(Anna Larina: “This I cannot forget; The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Wife’; London; 1993; p. 276).

In fact, most historians agree that there is no evidence that Kirov was a ‘moderate’ or had any political differences with Stalin:

“Kirov’s speech to the 1934 Party Congress, . . . actually praised the secret police’s use of forced labour and ridiculed the opposition. . . . Kirov was identified with Stalin, and the parts of his speech producing general ovations were the parts in which he praised Stalin and abused the opposition. . . . Careful scrutiny of Kirov’s speeches and writings reveal little difference between them and Stalin’s utterances, and Soviet scholars familiar with closed party archives scoff at the notion that Kirov was a moderate, an opponent of Stalin or the leader of any bloc. .

The Politburo Commission’s examination of the Ryutin group did not find any evidence that Stalin demanded their execution in 1932, or that Kirov opposed it”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 45).

“Stalin and Kirov were allies and . . . Kirov’s death was not the occasion for any change in policy . . . .
Virtually no evidence suggests that Kirov favoured or advocated any specific policy line other than Stalin’s General Line. . . .
Stalin chose Kirov for the sensitive Leningraad party leadership position and trusted him with delicate ‘trouble-shooter’ missions”.

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 92, 93, 94).

Indeed, documents recently released with the intention of charging Stalin with organising Kirov’s murder have, paradoxically, tended to establish his non-involvement:

“Recent revelations, intended to show Stalin’s personal participation in the repression, have paradoxically produced documents and factual evidence that dispprove or contradict key elements of this story. The traditional understanding of Stalin’s motive, means and opportunity to arrange Kirov’s assassination. . . . can no longer be comfortably reconciled with the sources now available”.

(J. Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 43-44).

And other anti-Soviet defectors agree. For example, Grigory TOLKAEV*

” . . . believed that the assassination was really the work of misguided young oppositionists”,

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 207).

while Genrikh LIUSHKOV*

” . . . an KNVD defector who outranked Orlov protectors ….. . told his Japanese that Stalin was not involved”.

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 207).

To sum up.

” . . . neither the sources, circumstances nor consequences of the crime suggest Stalin’s complicity. . . . There is no good reason to believe that Stalin connived at Kirov’s assassination”.

(J. Arch Getty: op. cit.; p. 210).






ADLER, Friedrich: ‘The Witchcraft Trial in Moscow’; London; 1936.

ALLILUYEVA, Svetlana: ’20 Letters to a Friend’; London; 1967.

ANTONOV-OVSEENKO, Anton: York; 1983. ‘The Time of Stalin:

Portrait of a Tyranny’; New York 1983;

BULLOCK, Alan: ‘Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives’; London; 1991.

CONQUEST, Robert: ‘The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties’; London; 1973.

——-: ‘Stalin and the Kirov Murder’; London; 1989.

DEGRAS, Jane (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Affairs’, Volume 3; London; 1953.

GETTY, J. Arch: ‘Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered: 1933-1938’; Cambridge; 1985.

GETTY, J. Arch & MANNING, Roberta T. (Eds.): Perspectives’; Cambridge; 1993.

KHRUSHCHEV, Nikita S.: Secret Speech to 20th Congress of CPSU, in: ‘The ‘The Dethronement of Stalin’; Manchester; 1956.

—–: Report on the Programme of the CPSU, delivered to the 22nd Congress of the CPSU; London; 1961.

KRASNIKOV, Stepan V.: ‘Sergei Mironovich Kirov’; Moscow; 1964.

LARINA, Anna: ‘This I cannot forget: The Memoirs of Anna Larina, Nikolai Bukharin’s Wife’; London; 1993.

NIKOLAEVSKY, Boris: ‘Power and the Soviet Elite: “The Letter of an Old Bolshevik’; New York; 1965.

ORLOV, Alexander: ‘The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes’; London; 1954.

———‘The Crime of the Zinoviev Opposition’; Moscow; 1935.

—— Report of the Court Proceedings: The Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre’; Moscow; 1936.

——– Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre; Moscow; 1937.

——— Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’; Moscow; 1938.

Biographical Notes

AGRANOV, Yakov, Soviet revisionist politician (1893-1939); Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs (1921-34); Deputy Chairman, GPU (1934); expelled from CPSU (1937); arrested, tried and found guilty of subversion (1937); died in imprisonment (1938).

BAKAYEV, Ivan P. , Soviet revisionist politician (1887-1936); found guilty of subversion and sentenced to imprisonment (1935); re-arrested, retried for treason, found guilty, sentenced to death and executed (1936),

BALMASHEV, Stepan V., Russian terrorist (1881-1902); member, Socialist Revolutionary Party; assassinated Tsarist Minister of the Interior Dmitri S. Sitiagin (1853-1902); hanged (1902).

BUKHARIN, Nikolai I., Soviet revisionist politician (1888-1938); editor, ‘Communist’ and ‘Pravda’ (1918-31); President, Communist International (1925); editor, ‘Izvestia’ (1934-37); expelled from CP and arrested (1937); tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1938).

BULANOV, Pavel P., Soviet revisionist politician 1895-1938); secretary to Genrikh Yagoda (1929-37); arrested (1937); tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1938).

KAGANOVICH, Lazar M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1893-1991); secretary, CC, RCP (1924-25, 1928-30); General Secretary, CP Ukraine (1925-28); member, Political Bureau, AUCP/CPSU (1930-57); 1st Secretary, AUCB, Moscow District (1930-35); USSR People’s Commissar of Transport (1935-37, 1938-48); USSR People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry (1937-39); USSR People’s Commissar of Fuel Industry (1939-40); member, USSR State Defence Committee (1942-43); Minister of Construction Materials Industry (1946); lst Secretary, CP Ukraine (1947-55); director, Sverdlovsk Cement Works (1957-60); expelled from CP (1960),

KAMENEV, Lev B., Soviet revisionist politician (1883-1936); USSR People’s Commissar of Foreign Trade (1926-27); expelled CP (1927); readmitted (1928); re-expelled (1932); readmitted (1933); re-expelled (1934); sentenced to imprisonment for subversion (1935); retried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1936).

KHRUSHCHEV, Nikita S., Soviet revisionist politician (1894-1971); lieutenant-general (1943); 1st, Secretary, CP Ukraine (1947-49); 1st Secretary, CP,. Moscow District and Secretary, CP, AUCP (1949-53); 1st Secretary, CPSU (1953-64); USSR Premier (1958-64).

KIROV, Sergei M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1888-1934); RSFSR Minister to Georgia (1920); Secretary, CC, CP Azerbaijan (1921-26); 1st Secretary Leningrad District Committee, AUCP (1926-34); member, Political Bureau, CC, CPSU (1930-34); Secretary, CC, CPSU (1934); murdered by revisionist conspirators (1934).

KOSAREV, Aleksandr V., Soviet revisionist youth leader (1903-39); Secretary. Moscow Communist Youth League (1926-27); Secretary, CC, CYL (1927-28); General Secretary, CYL (1929 -36);

KOTOLNYOV, Ivan I., Soviet revisionist student (1905-34); arrested, tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1934).

LARINA, Anna M., (1914- ); married Nikolai Bukharin (1934).

LIUSHKOV, Genrikh S., Soviet revisionist security official (1900-45); defected to Japanese (1938); executed by Japanese (1945).,

MAISKY, Ivan M., Soviet revisionist diplomat (1884-1975); USSR Minister to Finland (1929-32); USSR Ambassador to Britain (1932-43); USSR Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs (1943-46).

MEDVEDEV, Roy A, Soviet revisionist historian (1925- Deputy Editor–inChief, Publishing House of Educational Literature (1957-61); divisional head, Research Institute of Vocational Literature (1962-71); free-lance writer (1971-).

MOLOTOV, Vyacheslav M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1890-1986); Secretary, CC, AUCP (1921-30); member, Political Bureau, AUCP (1926-52); USSR Deputy Premier (1930-41); USSR People’s Commissar/Minister of Foreign Affairs (1939-49, 1953-56); USSR Deputy Premier (1941-57); member, State Defence Committee (1941-45); USSR Minister of State Control (1956-57); USSR Ambassador to Mongolia (1957-60); Chief USSR Delegate to International Atomic Energy Commission (1960-62); retired (1962); expelled from CP (1964); re-admitted (1984).

MRACHOVSKY, Sergei V., Soviet revisionist politician (1888-1936); expelled from CP (1927); re-admitted (1936); re-expelled (1936); arrested, tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1936).

NIKOLAYEV, Leonid V., Soviet revisionist terrorist (1904-35); expelled from and re-admitted to CP (1934); assassinated Sergei Kirov (1934); tried and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1935).

ORLOV, Aleksdandr’ (= FELDBIN,Lev L.), Soviet revisionist intelligence officer (1895-1973); defected to USA (1937); died in USA (1973).

PELSHE, Arvid I., Latvian-born Soviet revisionist politician (1899-1983); Secretary, CC, AUCP/CPSU (1941-59); 1st Secretary, CP Latvia (1959-66); Chairman, Party Control Commission (1966-85); member, Political Bureau, CC, CPSU (1966-85).

PYATAKOV, Grigory (Yuri) L., Soviet revisionist politician (1890-1937); USSR Deputy People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry (1933-34); expelled from CP (1927); readmitted (1929); re-expelled (1936); tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1937),

RADEK, Karl B., Soviet revisionist politician (1885-1939); Secretary, Communist International (1920-24); expelled from CP (1927); re-admitted (1929); editor, ‘Izvestia’ (1931-36); re-expelled and arrested (1936); tried for and found guilty of subversion and sentenced to imprisonment (1937); died in prison (1939).

RYKOV, Aleksey I., Soviet revisionist politician (1881-1938); Chairman, RSFSR Supreme Council of National Economy (1918-21); member, Political Bureau, CC, AUCP (1922-30); USSR Premier (1924-30); USSR People’s Commissar of Communications (1931-36); expelled from CP (1937); tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1938).

SEDOV, Leon, Soviet revisionist politician (1905-38); son of Leon Trotsky; to Germany (1928); editor, ‘Bulletin of the Opposition’ (1928-38); to France (1933); died in France (1938).

SHVERNIK, Nikolai M., Soviet revisionist trade union leader and politician (1888-1970); member, Presidium, Central Control Commission, RCP/AUCP (1923-25); Secretary, Leningrad District Committee, AUCP (1925-26); Secretary, Central Comittee, AUCP (1926-27); Chairman, Metal Workers’ Union (1929-30); 1st Secretary, All-Union Council of Trade Unions (193044); USSR President (1946-53); member, Political Bureau, CC, CPSU (195253, 1957-66); Chairman, AUCTU (1953-56); Chairman, Party Control Committee (1956-66).

SMIRNOV, Ivan N., Soviet revisionist politician (1881-1936); expelled from CP (1927); readmitted (1930); re-expelled, tried for and found guilty of subversion and sentenced to imprisonment (1933); retried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1936).

TER-VAGANYAN, Vagarshak A, Soviet revisionist politician (1893-1936); arrested, tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1936).

VOROSHILOV, Kliment Y., Soviet revisionist miltary officer and politician (1881-1969); Commander, Moscow Military District (1924-35); Chairman, Revolutionary Military Council (1925-34); member, Political Bureau, CC, AUCP (1926-52); USSR People’s Commissar of Defence (1925-40); USSR Deputy Premier (1946-53); USSR President (1953-60); retired (1960).

YAGODA, Genrikh G., Soviet revisionist politician (1891-1938); Chairman, GPU (1934); USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs (1934-36); USSR People’s Commissar of Communications (1936-37); arrested, tried for and found guilty of treason, and executed (1938).

YAKOVLEV, Aleksandr N., Soviet revisionist politician (1923- ); USSR Ambassador to Canada (1973-83); Director, Institute of World Economics and International Relations (1983-86); member, Political Bureau, CPSU (1987-90); retired (1990); resigned from CP (1991).

YEVDOKIMOV, Grigory, Soviet revisionist politician (1894-1936); secretary, Leningrad RCP (1925-27); expelled from CP (1927); readmitted (1928); arrested, tried for and found guilty of subversion and sentenced to imprisonment (1935); retried for and found guilty of treason and sentenced to death (1936).

YENUKIDZE, Avel S., Soviet revisionist civil servant (1877-1937); head, Military Section, All-Russian Central Executive Committee (1917-18); Secretary, All-Russian/USSR Central Executive Committee (1918-35); arrested, tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1937).

ZHDANOV, Andrei A., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1890-1948); Secretary, CPSU (1934-48); member, Political Bureau, CC, AUCP (1938-48); murdered by revisionists (1948).

ZHELIABOV, Andrei I., Russian terrorist (1851-81); member, ‘People’s Will’; one of organisers of the assassination of Tsar Aleksandr 11 (1855-81).

ZINOVIEV, Grigory Y., Soviet revisionist politician (1883-1936); President, Executive Committee of Communist International (1919-26); member, Political Bureau, CC, RCP/AUCP (1921-26); expelled from CP (1927); readmitted (1928); re-expelled (1932); re-expelled (1932); re-admitted (1933); re-expelled (1934); arrested (1934); tried for and found guilty of subversion and imprisoned (1935); re-tried for and found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and executed (1936).


Jules Humbert-Droz on Nikolai Bukharin and the Use of Individual Terror Against Stalin


“Before leaving I went to see Bukharin for one last time not knowing whether I would see him again upon my return. We had a long and frank conversation. He brought me up to date with the contacts made by his group with the Zinoviev-Kamenev fraction in order to coordinate the struggle against the power of Stalin. I did not hide from him that I did not approve of this liaison of the oppositions. ‘The struggle against Stalin is not a political programme. We had combatted with reason the programme of the Trotskyites on the essential questions, the danger of the kulaks in Russia, the struggle against the united front with the social-democrats, the Chinese problems, the very short-sighted revolutionary perspective, etc. On the morrow of a common victory against Stalin, the political problems will divide us. This bloc is a bloc without principles which will crumble away before achieving any results.’

Bukharin also told me that they had decided to utilise individual terror in order to rid themselves of Stalin. On this point as well I expressed my reservation: the introduction of individual terror into the political struggles born from the Russian Revolution would strongly risk turning against those who employed it. It had never been a revolutionary weapon. ‘My opinion is that we ought to continue the ideological and political struggle against Stalin. His line will lead in the near future to a catastrophe which will open the eyes of the communists and result in a changing of orientation. Fascism menaces Germany and our party of phrasemongers will be incapable of resisting it. Before the debacle of the Communist Party of Germany and the extension of fascism to Poland and to France, the International must change politics. That moment will then be our hour. It is necessary then to remain disciplined, to apply the sectarian decisions after having fought and opposed the leftist errors and measures, but to continue to struggle on the strictly political terrain’.

Bukharin doubtlessly had understood that I would not bind myself blindly to his fraction whose sole programme was to make Stalin disappear. This was our last meeting. It was clear that he did not have confidence in the tactic that I proposed. He also certainly knew better than I what crimes Stalin was capable of. In short, those who, after Lenin’s death and on the basis of his testament, could have destroyed Stalin politically, sought instead to eliminate him physically, when he held firmly in his hand the Party and the police apparatus of the state.”

 – Jules Humbert-Droz, Mémoirs de Jules Humbert-Droz. De Lénine à Staline. Dix ans au service de l’internationale communiste 1921-1931. Neufchâtel: A la Baconnière, 1971, pp. 379-80. Translated from the French by Vijay Singh.

Further Material on the Affair of Marshal Tukhachevsky


“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.”

– Anna L. Strong, “The Soviets Expected It,” page 134.

“The Trotskyist Deutscher rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate and slander Stalin. However, despite the fact that he claimed that there was only an ‘imaginary conspiracy’ as basis for the Moscow trials, he did have this to say about Tukhachevsky’s execution:

‘(A)ll the non-Stalinist versions concur in the following: the generals did indeed plan a coup d’état …. The main part of the coup was to be a palace revolt in the Kremlin, culminating in the assassination of Stalin. A decisive military operation outside the Kremlin, an assault on the headquarters of the G.P.U., was also prepared. Tukhachevsky was the moving spirit of the conspiracy …. He was, indeed, the only man among all the military and civilian leaders of that time who showed in many respects a resemblance to the original Bonaparte and could have played the Russian First Consul. The chief political commissar of the army, Gamarnik, who later committed suicide, was initiated into the plot. General Yakir, the commander of Leningrad, was to secure the co-operation of his garrison. Generals Uberovich, commander of the western military district, Kork, commander of the Military Academy in Moscow, Primakow, Budienny’s deputy in the command of the cavalry, and a few other generals were also in the plot.’

– Isaac Deutscher, “Stalin: A Political Biography,” page 379, cited in Ludo Martens “Another View of Stalin.”

“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 Stalin’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 GPU is still far from on the trail of all our men in Russia.’

– Walter G. Krivitsky, “I Was Stalin’s Agent,” page 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,” pages 57-58.

“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.”

– Genevive Tabouis. “They Called Me Cassandra,” page 257.

“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.”

– Walter Laqueur, “Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations,” page 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.”

Ibid., page 90.

Grover Furr: New Light On Old Stories About Marshal Tukhachevskii : Some Documents Reconsidered


Grover Furr
Montclair State University

Originally published in RUSSIAN HISTORY/HISTOIRE RUSSE, 13, Nos 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1986), 293-308.

The innocence of Marshal Tukhachevskii and the other military commanders condemned with him in 1937 has become firmly accepted by both Soviet and Western historians. [1] The current scholarly consensus also includes the view that “the nazi secret archives contain no sort of evidence of anything” like a plot between the Soviet military and Germany, that “not a jot of evidence has emerged from the German archives.” [2] The present article re-examines some of the material bearing upon the Tukhachevskii case which has come to light so far from the captured German Foreign Office files, and concludes that it suggests a plot of some kind involving Tukhachevskii and the German High Command may, in fact, have existed.

In 1974 a newly-discovered document from these files was examined by British historian Frederick L. Carsten. [3] It is a report concerning high-level rumors current in Munich in early 1937, which ended up in the Vienna Bureau of the Austrian Chancellor. Among other matters it deals with relations between the German and Soviet military commanders, about which it makes four points: 1) It claims that the top men in the German General Staff, including Generaloberst Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, Chief of Staff of the German Army (Chef der Heeresleitung), were at that time involved in trying to form an alliance with the Soviet military. 2) It claims that Marshal Tukhachevskii had been present at the German army’s autumn maneuvers in the past year (den vorjährigan detuschen Herbstmanoevern). 3) At that time Tukhachevskii is said to have proposed a toast to the German Army “as the champion (Vorkämpferin) against world Jewry.” and to Goring. 4) It claims that the German military was closely following the “power struggle presently taking place in Russia,” in hopes that Stalin would be overthrown in favor of a military dictatorship. [4]

Carsten denies the validity of the first three of these points on several grounds: 1) He claims that the last time any Russian officers attended German maneuvers was the autumn of 1933. 2) Though admitting that Tukhachevskii congratulated General Ernst Köstring, German military attaché in Moscow, upon the German army’s successful occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, Carsten avers that “this is a far cry from being a declared anti-semite and a sympathizer with the Nazi ideology. Even Karl Radek congratulated General Köstring on the same occasion in Moscow.” [5] 3) For Carsten, the existence of this document is explained by the story that Reinhardt Heydrich’s Sicherheitsdienst (SK, the intelligence division of the SS) was busy fabricating a dossier of forged materials to incriminate Tukhachevskii and decapitate the Soviet military. No doubt, then the SD would have been “spreading this kind of `news’ about Tukhachevskii, his sympathies with Nazism and his allegedly intimate relations with leading German officers.” [6]

The present article uses an analysis of this report from the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt (BKA) as a framework within which other documents, including those from the German Foreign Office files which bear on the Tukhachevskii case, are re-examined. It examines each of the assertions (one through four) in the document, and each of Professor Carsten’s objections (1 through 3).

General Ernst Köstring former German military attaché  in Moscow, stated in memoires published in 1965 that “Autumn 1935 was the last instance of Russian officers participating (Teilnahme) in our maneuvers.” [7] Evidently Carsten has misinterpreted this passage, for Köstring  says nothing to rule out Soviet attendance at, as opposed to participation in, German maneuvers in later years. In letters to Paris at the time General Renondeau, French military attach‚ to Berlin, reported that Soviet officers attended German army maneuvers in both 1936 and 1937. [8] Apparently either Komkor (corps commander) Orlov (according to Renondeau) or Komandarm (army commander) Uborevich (as Walter Görlitz has it) were present at German maneuvers in autumn 1936. [9] Tukhachevskii, Uborevich, and Orlov were closely associated with the Soviet military cooperation with Germany under the Treaty of Rapallo. This association might account for the rumor, reported in the Austrian BKA document, that it was Tukhachevskii who had attended the 1936 German maneuvers (point one) — particularly since the marshal had visited Berlin at least once in 1936. [10] Thus the rumor is perhaps not very wide of the mark.

Carsten would have it (2) that it is hard to believe Tukhachevskii would have made such a pro-Nazi and anti- Semitic toast as the document recounts. In fact, the opposite is true: such a statement would have been entirely consistent with what was widely reputed to be Tukhachevskii’s attitude.

In 1928 a former French officer published a short biography of Tukhachevskii “Pierre Fervacque” — nom de plume of the French journalist Remy Roure — had been Tukhachevskii’s fellow prisoner-of-war in 1917 in the German officers’ camp at Ingolstadt, Bavaria. In his biographical sketch he set down the contents of several conversations he had had with the young Russian lieutenant during their captivity, among them the following:

— You are an anti-semite, then, I said to him. Why? — The Jews brought us Christianity. That’s reason enough to hate them. But then they are a low race. I don’t even speak of the dangers they create in my country. You cannot understand that, you French, for you equality is a dogma. The Jew is a dog, son of a dog, which spreads his fleas in every land. It is he who has done the most to inoculate us with the plague of civilization, and who would like to give us his morality also, the morality of money, of capital. — You are now a socialist, then? — A socialist? Not at all! What a need you have for classifying! Besides the great socialists are Jews and socialist doctrine is a branch of universal Christianity. … No, I detest socialists, Jews and Christians. [11]

Tukhachevskii never protested the contents of this well-known book. On the contrary, until shortly before his execution Tukhachevskii maintained friendly relations with Roure. He spoke with the French journalist at a banquet in Paris in 1936, and then three days later held another, private, conversation with him. Roure recalled in July 1937 that, in his book, he had portrayed the young Tukhachevskii as expressing horror and disgust for Western civilization and a juvenile love of “barbarism” in hair-raising tones (which, we note, could have come from the most radical Nazis). Twenty years later Tukhachevskii had mellowed, had become an admirer of French culture, but remained a “patriotic” pan-Slavic nationalist and imperialist who felt that, by serving Bolshevism, he had served his country. [12]

We have examined and rejected Carsten’s first two objections to the Austrian BKA report, and in so doing have determined that the second and third points made in that report accord well with facts attested elsewhere. We now turn to points four and one of the Austrian document. The fourth point is the claim that the German military was watching the “power struggle” (meaning the Moscow trials) in the USSR in hopes that a military dictatorship might replace Stalin. In December 1936 the Soviet government assigned David Kandelaki, head of the Soviet Trade Delegation to Germany, the task of “feeling out” the German government concerning the possibility of opening secret talks. By early 1937 Hitler had turned the USSR down, [13] as is illustrated in an interesting document, noted by Erickson, from the German Foreign Office files whose significance for the Tukhachevskii Affair has not yet been appreciated. This is a letter to Dr. Hjalmar Schacht (head of the Reichsbank and the person whom Kandelaki had approached concerning the Soviet Government’s desire for formal secret talks) from the German Foreign Minister, Baron Constantine von Neurath. [14] In this letter Neurath summarizes Hitler’s view, with which Neurath also declares his agreement. This is expressed as follows:

As concerning the eventual acceptance of talks with the Russian government, I am, in agreement with the Führer, of the view that they could not lead to any result at this time, would rather be made great use of by the Russians to achieve the goal they seek of a closer military alliance with France and, if possible, to achieve as well a further rapprochement with England. A declaration by the Russian government that it dissociates itself from Comintern agitation, after the experience with these declarations in England and France, would be of no practical use whatever and therefore be unsatisfactory.

Neurath adds an interesting qualification: “It would be another thing if matters in Russia should develop in the direction of an absolute despotism propped up by the military. In this event we should not let the opportunity pass us by to involve ourselves in Russia again.” The Neurath-Schacht letter is dated 11 February, 1937, while the cover letter to the Austrian BKA document, on BKA stationery, is dated four days later, and the report itself deals with the previous month. Thus the letter proves that the rumor set down in the report does, in fact, reflect the real views of the Nazi hierarchy at precisely the time it claims: in other words, the Neurath-Schacht letter strikingly verifies point four of the Austrian BKA report.

In early 1937 there were two leading military figures in the soviet Union: Tukhachevskii and the Commissar for Defense, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov. It was well known that tensions within the top leadership of the Soviet military were profound. [15] Too much should not be made of an argument e silentio. But later in the same letter Neurath may be tacitly letting Schacht know which one of the two Soviet military leaders he means: “In this connection I should also note, for your personal information, that, according to reliable information reaching us concerning the events in Russia, there is nothing to any slit between Stalin and Voroshilov. So far as can be determined, this rumor, which is being spread by our press as well, originated in interested circles in Warsaw.” Perhaps this passage suggests that, with Voroshilov still a staunch Stalinist, German would only be interested in talks with Russia in the event of a military dictatorship under Tukhachevskii.

There remains the first point in the Austrian BKA report, the supposed attempt by the German General Staff to form an alliance with the Soviet Army. To begin with, we note that Neurath was very close to Fritsch and to General Blomberg, worked with them behind Hitler’s back on several occasions, and was replaced as foreign minister by Ribbentrop on 4 February, 1938, the same day that Fritsch and Blomberg resigned and dozens of other generals and officials were dismissed to be replaced by officers more compliant with Hitler’s desire for war. [16] If Fritsch were in secret touch with Tukhachevskii, Neurath might well have been informed. But there is other evidence of a Tukhachevskii-Fritsch connection.

In his famous book I Paid Hitler, Fritz Thyssen, the former German steel magnate, one of the immensely influential “Schlotbarone,” the Ruhr heavy industry magnates, and an early member of the Nazi party explicitly associated Tukhachevskii with Fritsch: “Fritsch always advocated an alliance with Russia, though not with a Communist Russia. Attempts were made to establish relations between Fritsch and the Russian generalissimo, Tukhachevskii. The two had one point in common: each desired to overthrow the dictator in his own country.” [17]

Thyssen was certainly in a position to know of the kind of secret liaisons he alleges here, and may have been in on it too, since by 1936 or 1937 he himself was deeply disillusioned with Hitler. Professor Erickson, who cites this passage but would clearly like to dismiss it, confidently states in the text of his book that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans.” However, in a footnote on the same page he refers to the `Thyssen passage quoted above, and adds the following remark: “It is difficult to know where the support for this statement comes from, although there was a contemporary Polish newspaper report that a letter or note from Fritsch had been seized from Tukhachevskii.” [18]

There is yet more evidence from the German Foreign Office files hinting at a link between Tukhachevskii and the German General Staff. This is the set of documents referred to on page 435 of Erickson’s study, The Soviet High Command. These documents record the loan, between February and November, 1937, of military court papers concerning Tukhachevskii when he was a prisoner-of-war in Germany during World War I (the court papers themselves are not extant). A study of the four loan request documents reveals that the Tukhachevskii files were requested from the Potsdam branch of the Heeresarchiv(army archives) by the Wehrmachtamt, Aus. (Ausland) VI, the section which dealt with foreigners. Wehrmachtamt requested it on behalf of the “GZ.” This is the abbreviation for Generalstab-Zentralstellung, the main headquarters of the German General Staff. [19] GZ was of course in Berlin, and was headed by General von Fritsch.

It is noteworthy that someone in Fritsch’s Berlin HQ was apparently showing some considerable interest in Tukhachevskii at precisely the same time that: 1) the report to the Austrian BKA told of Fritsch’s interest in an alliance with the Soviet military — a report backed up by Thyssen’s testimony; and 2) both that report and Neurath speak of an interest in a military coup in the USSR.

Our examination of the Austrian BKA report shows that, as regards German-Soviet military relations, it is highly consistent with other evidence available. Points one, three, and four are fully consistent with this other evidence, while point two may simply be due to a confusion (or may even be correct as well). We have also disposed of the first two of Professor Carsten’s objections to it. However, there remains his third point: that the documents might have been related to the well-known SD plot to forge a dossier incriminating Tukhachevskii as a traitor. The whole matter of this alleged forgery is very complex, and cannot be unraveled in this article. In addition, it is in principle impossible to prove a negative — in this case, that no German forgery attempt was made. One can merely examine the evidence cited to support the existence of such a forgery attempt and see how it holds up. This said, several considerations are relevant to the matter at hand.

First, the crucial sources for the “SD-NKVD forgery” story are untrustworthy. In his introduction to the English edition of Walter Schellenberg’s memoires, Alan Bullock concludes: “nor would it be wise to accept Schellenberg as a trustworthy witness where his evidence cannot be corroborated.” Erickson also points out several important passages of Schellenberg’s which he recognizes cannot be true. [20] The account by Alfried Naujocks, the SS man who claimed to have been personally responsible for organizing the forgery and who is usually taken at his word, is even more patently false. [21]

Second, according to all the accounts of the forgery plot, Hitler and Himmler were both a party to it. But nothing of the kind could be inferred from their later references to the military purges. For example, Himmler is reported to have discussed the Tukhachevskii Affair in a conversation with the renegade Soviet General A. A. Vlasov on 16 September 1944 in a manner which makes it clear he believed Tukhachevskii had been guilty of some plotting: “Himmler asked Vlasov about the Tukhachevskii Affair. Why this had gone awry. Vlasov gave a frank answer: ‘Tukhachevskii made the same mistake that your people made on 20 July [21a]. He did not know the law of masses.'” [22] In an important speech in Posen on 4 October 1943 Himmler stated:

When — I believe it was in 1937 or 1938 — the great show trials took place in Moscow, and the former czarist military cadet, later Bolshevik general, Tukhachevskii, and other generals were executed, all of us in Europe, including us in the [Nazi] Party and in the SS, were of the opinion that here the Bolshevik system and Stalin had committed one of their greatest mistakes. In making this judgment of the situation we greatly deceived ourselves. We can truthfully and confidently state that. I believe that Russia would never have lasted through these two years of war — and she is now in the third year of war — if she had retained the former czarist generals. [23]

This probably reflected Hitler’s assessment as well, for, according to Goebbels (diary entry of 8 May 1943): “The conference of the Reichsleiters and Gauleiters followed…. The Führer  recalled the case of Tukhachevskii and expressed the opinion that we were entirely wrong then in believing that Stalin would ruin the Red Army by the way he handled it. The opposite was true: Stalin got rid of all opposition in the Red Army and thereby brought an end to defeatism.” [24]

Finally, the German forgery — if indeed there was one — does not exclude the existence of a real military plot. In fact, all of the  SD sources for the forgery story leave open the possibility that the marshal was in fact plotting with the German General Staff. [25]

Thus the story of the “SD-NKVD forgery” is very problematic. Based purely on hearsay, it abounds in contradictions and outright lies. If it were nonetheless consistent with the other evidence concerning the Tukhachevskii Affair, it might merit consideration despite it all. but the opposite is true.

The only pre-war account of any plot to frame Tukhachevskii is that of Walter Krivitsky, which concludes that the NKVD possessed its own evidence against Tukhachevskii quite independent of any forged dossier. [26] This coincides with the opinion of Heinz Höhne, the most recent student of the forgery plot from the German and SD side. [27]

Important testimony asserting the existence of a real conspiracy including Tukhachevskii and other military leaders comes from Nikolai N. Likhachyov, better known as Andrei V. Svetlanin. A lecturer in Russian at Cambridge, then journalist and finally editor (1955-65) of the emigre Russian journal Posev, Svetlanin claimed second-hand knowledge of the conspiracy as a member, during the mid-1930s, of the staff of the Far Eastern Army (later the Red Banner Far Eastern Front) commanded by Marshal Bliukher.

In this account, the military and party leaders executed during 1937 as part of the “Tukhachevskii Affair” were in fact part of a wider conspiracy the central figure in which was Yan Gamarnik. [28] Chief of the Political Directorate in the Army, Gamarnik had probably begun the plot, together with Tukhachevskii, as early as 1932. By the time of the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, it was well developed. The plotters, motivated by the disastrous consequences of collectivization, were said to have considered two distinct plans. Plan “A,”, originating with Tukhachevskii and the young commanders around him, centered on a coup in the Kremlin, to be supported by party and military leaders in some of the provinces. Plan “B,”, envisaging independent revolts in different border areas of the USSR, originated with Gamarnik and the state and party officials in the plot, and was the version finally approved by the conspiratorial center. The Far Eastern Region was to have been the site of the initial revolt.

Svetlanin never claims to have been a part of the conspiracy himself which, he insists, was limited to men of the highest rank. Apparently no one of his acquaintance in the Far Eastern Army believed the Tukhachevskii Affair to have been a frame-up against innocent men. His story can be partially checked from independent sources, the main one of which is the account by Genrikh S. Liushkov given to the Japanese interrogators after his defection to them in June, 1938 (Liushkov, head of the Far Eastern NKVD, had been sent there to help the 1938 purge). Liushkov disclosed to the Japanese the existence of an plot in the Far East, and his account of the plot confirms Svetlanin’s in several minor respects. [29]

Curiously, none of the post-1956 Soviet accounts have revealed any information other than that which was already available in the West, and draw principally upon the SD accounts of the forged dossier. Even the Western sources used by Nikulin, the “official” Khrushchev-era biographer of Tukhachevskii, are carefully pruned of evidence they contain that suggests some real conspiracy in fact occurred. there is, strictly speaking, so Soviet post-Stalin historical account of the Tukhachevskii Affair at all, since Nikulin’s work, upon which all others rely, is filled out with dramatic dialog and frankly termed fictionalized (povestvovanie). [30]

Taken single, none of these bits of evidence is very significant in itself. But when considered as a whole, they constitute at lest a prima facie case that some real military conspiracy involving Tukhachevskii may have actually existed. Nor is it difficult to understand why Khrushchev might have wanted to rehabilitate real conspirators. Khrushchev used the rehabilitations of the Tukhachevskii group as a stick with which to beat Stalin and, more importantly, remaining “Stalinists” in high places — that is, in order to hold power and support certain policy decisions. The Soviet military elite regards Marshal Tukhachevskii and those associated with him as the fathers of the contemporary Soviet armed forces. [31] To accuse Stalin of having wrongly killed them was at once to make of the military a firm ally and to blacken any policies associated with Stalin’s name.

In conclusion, each of the points concerning Tukhachevskii mentioned in the Austrian BKA document is consistent with other, independent evidence. The “SD forgery plot” story, and the Khrushchev-era versions of the Tukhachevskii Affair, have been accorded a degree of scholarly acceptance that is not justified by the contradictions and inconsistencies which abound in them. Any new study should examine them far more skeptically than has hitherto been the case. The present scholarly consensus notwithstanding, there is little about the Tukhachevskii Affair, including the very basic matter of Tukhachevskii’s guilt or innocence, about which we can be certain.

Montclair State University


–N.A. Series T-120, Roll No. 1448, page D 567 777.

Now as always there are efforts under way within the Wehrmacht which aim at the possibility of an alliance with the Russian army. The argument is simple: the Russian army cannot be taken care of by force; therefore it should happen in friendship. Fritsch, Admiral Raeder, and even General von Reichenau are rumored to be proponents of this plan. Blomberg is seen as a mere accessory (Figurant). But the proponents of these efforts are found chiefly among the younger school of the General Staff. When he was in Berlin on the occasion of last year’s German autumn maneuvers, Marshal Tukhachevskii offered, in return for Colonel-General Fritsch’s toast to the Russian army in Wüzberg, a toast to the German army as the champion against world Jewry, and to General Goring. The power struggle presently taking place in Russia, which might possibly end with Stalin’s fall and the establishment of a military dictatorship, is being followed by the Wehrmacht with closest attention, and with unconcealed sympathy for a solution of that kind.


* I would like to thank Professor J. Arch Getty, of the University of California at Riverside, and Professor S.G. Wheatcroft, of the University of Melbourne, who read and commented upon earlier versions of this article. Naturally they are not responsible for any shortcomings it still contains.


1. Khrushchev’s “secret speech” to the Twentieth congress of the CPSU (February, 1956) attacked Stalin for his “annihilation of many military commanders” after 1937, but did not mention any of the executed officers. Marshal Tukhachevskii was first “rehabilitated” in 1958. See Robert Conquest, “De-Stalinization and the Heritage of Terror,”, in Alexander Dallin and Alan F. Weston, et al., eds. Politics in the Soviet Union: 7 Cases (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), pp. 57-58. Virtually all Western scholars today accept Khrushchev’s story; e.g. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties, rev. ed. (New York: Collier Books, 1973), pp. 300-02.

2. Conquest, Great Terror, p. 285; Leonard Shapiro, “The Great Purge,”, chapter 6 of Basil Henry Liddle-Hart, ed., The Red Army (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), p. 70. Professor John Erickson, in his authoritative work The Soviet High Command (London: Macmillan; New York: St Martin’s Press, 1962, p. 464 and note), states that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans,” and “no post-war evidence has come to light to disprove this.”

3. Frederick Ludwig Carsten, “New `Evidence’ against Marshal Tukhachevskii,” Slavonic and East European Review, 52 (1974), 272-73. The document itself is in N(ational) A(rchives) microfilm series T-1220, Roll no: 1448, pages D 567 772 – D 567 778; page D 567 771 is the cover letter.

4. page D 567 777; see the Appendix for a translation of this part of the document.

5. According to K; see Herman Teske, ed., Profile bedeutender Soldaten. Band I. General Ernst Köstring Der militärischer Mittler zwischen dem Deutschen Reich und der Sowjetunion. 1921-1941. (Frankfurt/M.: Mittler, 1965), pp. 125-26.

6. Carsten, “New ‘Evidence’,” p. 273.

7. Ibid., citing Teske, Profile bedeutender Soldaten, p. 69. These words were written by Köstring for this volume, more than thirty years after the fact.

8. Georges Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” in J.-B. Duroselle, ed., Les relations germano-sovietiques de 1933 – 1939  (Paris: Colin, 1954), pp. 218-19 and n. 97, p. 218.

9. Ibid., nn. 97 and 98, citing Gen. Renondeau’s letter to Paris of 5 October and 28 September, 1937. For Uborevich, see Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945 (New York: Praeger 1962), p. 307 (German edition 1953). The whole affair is omitted, however, from Görlitz’s Kleine Geschichte des Deutschen Generalstabes (Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1967). Since the Austrian BKA report was compiled in December 1936-January 1937, it is impossible to be certain whether it refers to maneuvers in autumn 1935 or in autumn 1936.

10. On the question of this visit (or visits) see Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” pp. 217-18; 224; also Pierre Dominique, “L’affaire Toukhatchevski et l’opinion française,” L’Europe nouvelle, 19 June 1937, p 590; Ian Colvin, Chief of Intelligence (London: Gollancz, 1951), pp. 39-40; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 411-13, and 729, n. 27. Disagreement exists about what Tukhachevskii did during this visit or visits but it is sufficient for our purposes to note that all agree he did visit Berlin in 1936.

11. Pierre Fervacque, Le Chef de Larm e Rouge: Mikhail Toukatchevski (Paris: Fasquelle, 1928), pp. 24- 45. Remy Roure was one of the most prominent journalists and newspapermen in France in his day, a founder of Le Monde and its political editor from 1945 to 1952, when he left it for the conservative Le Figaro. See the necrology by Louis Marin-Chauffier, “L’Honneur de Notre Profession,” Le Figaro, 9 Nov. 1966, pp. 1, 32; also,  “La Carrière de Remy Roure,” ibid, p. 32.

12. Pierre Fervacque, “Le Julien Sorel de bolchevisme,” Le Temps (Paris), 24 July 1937, p. 3. Julien Sorel, the protagonist of Stendhal’s novel Le rouge et le noir, assumes holy orders out of cold-blooded careerism; Fervacque implies this was also Tukhachevskii’s motive for adhering to Bolshevism.

13. Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 432 and 453.

14. N(ational) A(rchives) Series T-120 Roll No. 1057, pp. 429-296-7.

15. For tensions within the Soviet military leadership, see John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany. Vol. I (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 3; and idem, Soviet High Command, passim.

16. There is no evidence that these dismissals (the famous “Fritsch Affair”) had anything to do with Tukhachevskii. What linked Neurath with Fritsch and Blomberg was opposition to Hitler’s plan to move swiftly against Austria and Czechoslovakia. See Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June, 1938 (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1974), pp. 64, 70- 71, 258-66.

17. Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (New York: Cooperative Pub., 1941), p. 163. According to Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., “Fritz Thyssen und das Buch ‘I Paid Hitler’,”, in Turner, Faschismus und Kapitalismus in Deutschland (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973), p. 95, n. 20, the Tukhachevskii-Fritsch passages occurs in one of the few chapters in German in the original manuscript of the book and so probably reflects Thyssen’s personal work (Emery Reeves, Thyssen’s ghost-writer, conducted his interviews with Thyssen in French).

18. Erickson, Soviet High Command, p 464. According to Professor Alvin T. Coox, the Japanese considered Polish intelligence to be “the best anti-Soviet service in the world at the time.” See his “L’Affaire Lyushkov: Anatomy of a Soviet Defector,” Soviet Studies, 20 (Jan. 1968), 406.

19. N.A. Series T-78, Roll No. 10.

20. Alan Bullock, “Introduction,” in The Labyrinth: Memoires of Walter Schellenberg (New York: Harper, 1956), p. xix; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 731, n. 84 and 735, nn. 25 and 27.

21. Naujocks’ story is in Gunter Peis, The Man Who Started the War (London: Oldham Press, n.d. [1960]), pp. 76-103. The names of the printing establishments Naujocks claimed to have visited in trying to find a forger do not occur in the very complete lists in the Berliner Adressbuch of 1932, 1936 or 1938. Erickson rejects Schellenberg’s account of the forgery because “it certainly took longer that four days to prepare the dossier” (Soviet High Command, p. 735, n. 25); what then can be said of the later Naujocks account, which states that the forgery took place in one night? Finally, Naujocks’ account of the Polish border incident (the “Gleiwitz transmitter” affair) set up by Hitler as a cause de guerre., has been proven heavily falsified; Jürgen Runzheimer: Der Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz im Jahre 1939,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 10 (1962), 408-26.

21a. This is a reference to the assassination attempt on Hitler of 20 July 1944.

22. Archiv des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte (Munich), Signatur ZS 2, Bd I., page 55. This document contains the notes of conversations between Gunter d’Alquen,  an SS officer present at the Himmler-Vlasov interview, and a co- worker of Jürgen Thorwald, the German author. The ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) phrase “das Gesetz der Masse” could refer either to the law of inertia or to the behavior of the masses. In either case it means about the same thing. Thorwald cited the phrase in Wen Sie Verderben Wollen (Stuttgart: Steingr ben-Verlag, 1952), p. 394.

23. Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal {Nuremberg, 1949], Vol. 29, p. 111 (Document 1919-PS).

24. Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries: 1942-1943, ed. & tr. Louis P. Lochner (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), p. 355.

25. Peis, Man Who Started the War, p. 79; Walter Schellenberg: Memoiren (Köln: Politik und Wirtschaft, 1959), pp. 48-49; Walter Hagen [pseudonym of Wilhelm Höttl], Die Geheime Front: Organization Personen und Aktionen des Deutschen Geheimdienstes (Linz und Wien: Nibelungen-Verlag, 1956), p. 63. A close study of these accounts reveals, however, that they are mutually contradictory more often than not and that, in general, they cannot be trusted.

26. Walter G. Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent (London: Right Book Club, 1940), pp. 257-58. But Krivitsky’s book is harshly condemned as untrustworthy by his friend of many years and wife of his assassinated friend Ignace Reiss; see Elizabeth Poretsky, in Our Own People: A Memoire of ‘Ignace Reiss’ and His Friends (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1970), pp. 71; 75, n.2; 124; 146; 204, n. 1; 211, n.1; 269-70. See also Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge,” pp. 233, 2234 & nn.; 257, n. 194, for criticisms of Krivitsky.

27. Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS, tr. Richard Barry (New York: Coward-McCann, 1970), p. 233; similarly, idemCanaris, tr. J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979, p. 248. Höhne  interviewed other German sources and also studied the SD survivors’ accounts; while accepting their story of the forgery plot, he believes it was not the cause of the arrests of Tukhachevskii and the others.

28. A. Svetlanin, Dal’nevostochnyi zagovor (Frankfurt/M.: Possev-Verlag, 1953). Details about Likhachyov/Svetlanin’s life are given in the necrology by N. Tarasova, Grani, No. 61 (1966), pp. 82-97. A very intelligent discussion, from an emigre  viewpoint, of Svetlanin’s account of the conspiracy took place in the pages of the journal Posev in 1949-50; for a complete list of the articles, see ibid, No. 32 (1950), p. 10, n. I am indebted to the late Professor Nikolai Andreyev, of Cambridge, England, for additional information about his colleague and personal friend, Mr Likhachyov, alias Svetlanin.

29. See the article by Coox cited in n. 18 above. The post-war Soviet defector Grigory Tokaev also claimed first-hand knowledge of high-level military opposition to the Stalin government which survived even the military purges; he knows nothing of any Tukhachevskii involvement, however. See his Betrayal of an Ideal (London: Harville Press, 1954), and Comrade X (London: Harville Press, 1956). A Soviet dissident account of the Khar’kov trial, in November, 12969, of the engineer Genrikh Altunian (Khronika tekushchikh sobytii, No. 1, pp. 312-13), states the following: “IRKHA, witness for the prosecution and party organizer of the military academy at which ALTUNIAN taught, stated at the court that it was still not certain whether Komandarm I. Iakir’s rehabilitation was correct (`eshche neizvestno, pravil’no li reabilitirovan komandarm I. IAKIR’).” Robert Conquest also cites this quotation, though without identifying his source, in the introduction to Pyotr Yakir, A Childhood in Prison (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 12973), p. 17.

Altunian was involved in dissident activities with Pyotr Iakir, son of the general condemned with Tukhachevskii. According to Victor Krasin, Iakir and he were tried in 1973 for collaborating with “the old Russian emigre organization, the National Labor Union (N.T.S.).” (Victor Krasin, “How I Was Broken by the K.G.B., The New York Times Magazine, 19 March 1984, pp. 71, 75). Founded in the 1930s as a fascist-type organization the N.T.S. collaborated closely with the Germans during their invasion of the USSR. George Fischer, ed., Russian emigre Politics (New York: Free Russia Fund, 1951), p. 72. Iakir had thus been working with a fascist group whose “ultimate goal” is “the armed overthrow of the Soviet regime ” (Krasin, p. 71). Almost precisely these activities constituted the most dramatic charges against Iakir’s own father, condemned with Tukhachevskii — charges which Iakir believed were false. In a further irony, it was the N.T.S. publishing house, “Possev-Verlag,” that published Svetlanin/Likhachev’s 1952 book in which the author claimed direct knowledge of a plot against the Soviet government by Iakir, Tukhachevskii, and the others (Svetlanin/Likhachyov went on to edit Posev, the N.T.S’s main journal, from 1955 until his death in 1965).

30. Lev Nikulin, Tuchachevskii: Biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1964), pp. 192-93. uses the account of the forgery plot and President Benes’ involvement taken from Colvin and Churchill, but omits all their evidence for the marshal’s guilt. The Soviet reader would never suspect that Colvin, Benes, Churchill, and the SD agents all believed there really had been a Tukhachevskii conspiracy (Nikulin also leaves out Colvin’s name, making the source harder to identify). Cf. Colvin, Chief of Intelligence, pp. 39-40, and 42; Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), pp. 288-89;Memoires of Dr. Edward Benes: From Munich to New War and New Victory (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), pp. 19-20, 47.

31. For examples, see Col M.P. Skirdo, The People, the Army, the Commander (Washington, DC, n.d.; orig. ed. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1970), p. 141; V. Savost’ianov and N. Egorov, Komandarm pervogo ranga (I.N. Uborevich) (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1966), pp. 212-13; Soviet Life (June, 1981).


Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov on Tukhachevsky


“In 1937, Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov was working for the Central Commitee of the Bolshevik Party. A bourgeois nationalist, he had close ties to opposition leaders and with the Central Committee members from the Caucausus. In his book The Reign of Stalin, he regrets that Tukhachevsky did not seize power in 1937. He claims that early in 1937, after his trip to England, Tukhachevsky spoke to his superior officers as follows:

‘The great thing about His Britannic Majesty’s Army is that there could not be a Scotland Yard agent at its head [allusion to the role played by state security in the USSR]. As for cobblers [allusion to Stalin’s father], they belong in the supply depots, and they don’t need a Party card. The British don’t talk readily about patriotism, because it seems to them natural to be simply British. There is no political ‘line’ in Britain, right, left or centre; there is just British policy, which every peer and worker, every conservative and member of the Labour Party, every officer and soldier, is equally zealous in serving…The British soldier is completely ignorant of Party history and production figures, but on the other hand he knows the geography of the world as well as he knows his own barracks…The King is loaded with honours, but he has no personal power…Two qualities are called for in an officer — courage and professional competence.”

– Ludo Martens, “Another View of Stalin.”