The Changing Leadership of the Secret Service

Nikolai_Yezhov_conferring_with_Stalin

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #30, “Marx, Lenin and Stalin on Zionism.”

THE CHANGING LEADERSHIP OF THE SECRET SERVICE

It is accepted by most if not all Marxist-Leninists, that at various times, revisionists within the USSR Bolshevik party took control of the secret services.

Since that is the case, determining whether particular campaigns undertaken by the secret services – were really in the interests of the Marxist-Leninists, or the interests of the revisionists – needs to take into account several specific facts of the campaign as well as the personality of the chiefs of the secret service at the particular time in question.

In assessing the evidence regarding the alleged Zionist Plot, it is therefore necessary to understand those who made the allegations and effected the arrests.

The Case of Ezhov And the Appointment of Beria To The Secret Services

Stalin’s attempts at creating a trusted and close network of Marxist-Leninists around him in foreign policy (See Part Two of this article), matched a similar strategy in the secret service. In previous Alliance issues, we have discussed how, Stalin attempted to either root out, or at worst, to contain the counter-revolutionary terror, that was striking at the best of the Bolsheviks, as intended and organised by the hidden revisionists.

Firstly Yagoda was removed from heading the secret service after his Trotskyite affiliations became clear. His substitute was Nikolai Ivanovich Ezhov, who became the head of the Secret Police the NKVD. But again it appears that this office had been infiltrated by hidden revisionists.

For example, Arch Getty has shown how Stalin obstructed Ezhov in his “mass” arrests and expulsions from the party. For example, this exchange shows the antagonism between the two:

Ezhov: Comrades as a result of the verification of party documents we expelled more than 200,000 members of the party.
Stalin: [Interrupts] Very many.
Ezhov: Yes very many. I will speak about this..
Stalin: [Interrupts] If we explained 30,000..(inaudible remark) and 600 former Trotskyites and Zinoviev-ists it would be a bigger victory.
Ezhov: More than 200,000 members were expelled. Part of this number.. were arrested.”

Cited from Stenographic Records. Cited In AStalinist Terror, New Perspectives.”Ed. J.Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning. Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.51).

Zhdanov (a close comrade-in-arms of Stalin) tried to place further brakes upon Ezhov, as shown when:

“In a highly publicized attack Zhdanov accused the Saratov kraikom (party leadership-Ed) of “dictatorship” and “repression”.. At the Feb 1937 Central Committee Plenum, Zhdanov gave the keynote speech on democratizing party organisations, ending bureaucratic repression of “little people,” and replacing the co-option of party leaders with grass roots elections. Indeed under pressure of this line, contested secret ballot party elections were held in 1937.”

Cited from Stenographic Records. Cited In AStalinist Terror, New Perspectives.”Ed. J.Arch Getty & Roberta T. Manning. Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.51).

In the case of Avel Enukidze, then Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of Soviets, Ezhov had wanted to expel him. But Stalin and Molotov defended Enukidze.

After further pressure from Ezhov, he was expelled.

But then Molotov and Stalin moved for him to be re-admitted. Though the plenum agreed with Stalin and Molotov, this re-admission never happened – having been arrested, he was shot in 1937. The record shows a clear pattern here – where Stalin was set versus Ezhov. (Arch Getty & Manning; Ibid; p.54).

Even in the case of the arch-Right revisionist Bukharin, (a leading ex-Bolshevik whose prominence and past service made him especially controversial – yet especially important to deal with. Precisely just in case he did become the focus of further organised opposition) – even his execution was controversial. Stalin wanted him expelled, and not even put on trial, let alone executed.

The opposition to Stalin on this matter were: Ezhov, Budennyi, Manuilskii, Shvernik, Kosarev and Iakir (who voted to shoot Bukharin without trial); and Litvinov, Postyshev, Shiriatov, and Petrovskii (Who voted to send Bukharin to an open trial).

The Plenum voted for Stalin’s line by a majority. But the documents of agreement were altered (in Mikoian’s handwriting) and Stalin’s advice was simply ignored. (Arch Getty & Manning; Ibid; p.58).

Even a very hostile Sudoplatov, records that Stalin’s attitude was surprisingly the opposite of the conventional portrait painted of a vindictive dictatorial individual. According to Sudoplatov, Stalin preferred private rebukes rather than prosecution, for example when dealing with instances of “corruption“:

“I learnt from Malenkov’s deputy- Anna Tsukanova.. That the Central Committee did not always prosecute corruption reported by the Party Control Commission and security organs. Stalin & Malenkov preferred to reproach an errant high-ranking official rather than to prosecute him, but if the man landed in the wrong power group, then the incriminating evidence was used to demote or purge him.”

Sudoplatov; Ibid; p. 319

It can only be reasonably concluded, that Stalin was trying hard to limit the damage being done by a revisionist taking cover behind a Left-ist and zealot position.

In this situation, Lavrentii Beria was put in this sensitive and critical job. Stalin himself put Beria into this job, after Ezhov had tried to prepare a case against Beria. Beria appealed to Stalin, who appointed Beria initially as Ezhov’s Aassistant”. Beria became first deputy chairman of the USSR NKVD at the end of August 1938, having been relieved of his prior position as first secretary of the Georgian party organisation. (Amy Knight: “Beria-Stalin’s First Lieutenant”; Princeton New Jersey 1993; p. 87-88). On 17 November 1938, Sovnarkom and the Central Committee adopted a report issued by Beria’s investigation entitled: “On Arrests – Supervision By the Procuracy And the Conduct of Investigations”, which passed a resolution. This was a:

“Strongly worded, lengthy resolution.. (it) Completely renounced the purges. Directed at party, Procuracy and NKVD officials in the republic it was highly critical of the “gross violations of legal norms” that had been committed during arrests and investigations in particular the reliance on confessions extracted from the accused and the failure to keep records. Furthermore the resolutions stated,
‘The NKVD has gone so far in distorting the norms of the judicial process that very recently questions have arisen about giving it so called limits on the process of mass arrests”. According to the resolution, Aenemies of the people” who had penetrated the NKVD and the Procuracy were falsifying documents and arresting innocent people”. The resolution forbade these organs from continuing their policy of mass arrests and exile. Henceforth arrests were to be made only with the consent of the court or the Procurator; the noxious NKVD troikas which decided cases of the spot were to be abolished.'”

Amy Knight: “Beria-Stalin’s First Lieutenant”; Princeton New Jersey 1993; p. 89.

Immediately after, in the words of Amy Knight, his biographer, Beria “cleansed” the NKVD. As far as he could, he tried to only place trusted Bolsheviks in the key positions. As he had personal knowledge from Georgia of who was reliable or not, many of the appointees were from Georgia. This has been labelled as a “Georgian mafia” controlled by Beria. But since the objective was to place trusted comrades in key positions, and Beria knew these people best – this derogatory term is un-justified. As Knight puts it, Beria:

“Set about “cleansing” the NKVD of undesirable elements, in other words he initiated a full-scale purge of the Ezhovites, executing or imprisoning hundreds of officials…. By early 1939 Beria had succeeded in arresting most of the top and middle level hierarchy of Ezhov’s apparatus, replacing these men with members of his Georgian group. It is possible to identify at least 12 Beria men…. appointed to key NKVD posts… Vsevold Merkulov.., Vladimir Dekanozov,… Bogdan Kobulov… Solomon Mil’shtein… Iuvelian Sumbatov-Topuridze.. Sardeon Nadaraia.”

Amy Knight: “Beria-Stalin’s First Lieutenant”; Princeton New Jersey 1993; p. 90-91

It is accepted by even hostile and anti-Marxist-Leninist writers, that following Beria’s changes, thousands of prisoners in the camps were released:

“There was a general feeling that the NKVD would eschew the excesses of the Ezhov period and people began to talk about a ‘Beria thaw’.”

Amy Knight: “Beria-Stalin’s First Lieutenant”; Princeton New Jersey 1993; p. 92

Many bourgeois reports and Khruschevite revisionists have labelled Beria as a man who was both a political evil and a sexual debauchee given to raping young girls. But these are dubious, as Knight herself acknowledges:

“It should be noted that the stories have been disputed by some who knew Beria. One former NKVD employee expressed strong doubts that Beria was raping young girls, noting that he was known in police circles as a man with exceptional self-control who worked extremely hard.”

Amy Knight: “Beria-Stalin’s First Lieutenant”; Princeton New Jersey 1993; p. 97.

As an enemy of both bourgeois and Khruschevite revisionists, Beria is bound to attract negative and libellous comments. But Marxist-Leninists are aware that Beria effectively cleared the NKVD of revisionist practices and revisionist personnel. His later treatment at the hands of the revisionists led by Khrushchev, who were now in power, after the death of Stalin – lends credence to the view that Beria was a Marxist-Leninist. That case has been well summarised by W.B. Bland in an article published by the Stalin Society of London UK.” (Bland: “The Doctors Case & The Death Of Stalin”; Stalin Society; London nd ca 1992. NB: soon to be placed on the web site of Alliance).

The Post-War Reshuffle That Removed Beria From Sole Control of the Secret Services – The Atomic Threat

Beria had proven himself capable of running the necessarily vigilant, but controlled secret service that a socialist state must have, faced by an imperialist combination.

However after the war, a new danger arose – the atomic bomb monopoly by the USA. It was essential to have in charge of the Russian Atomic Bomb project, someone who was an utterly reliable Bolshevik. Stalin ensured that Lavrentii Beria was given this mandate. This very serious and onerous task could not be done well with divided attention.

The future safety of the USSR critically depended upon its success. Therefore, Beria was duly relieved of his post as the sole Commissar of Internal Affairs which he had held from 1938 to December 1945. He ceased to be solely in charge of security and intelligence in the USSR and overseas – excepting for all security problems directly connected with his job as manager of the Special State Committee on Problem Number One – the creation of the atomic bomb. (Sudoplatov P, Ibid; p.315)

The secret services had already been divided into three arms in April 1943.

Probably this was likely to be because the work load was already too great to enable only one agency to entirely cover the work. Thus the former People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) was split into three arms:

1) The NKVD – still under Beria but who was now no longer responsible for state security but only for economic security:

“The NKVD under the leadership of Beria, was thereby relieved of the heavy problems of state security and became more and more an “economic’ organisation.”

B.Levytsky: “The Uses Of Terror: The Soviet State Security: 1917-1970”; London; 1971; p.160.

2) The Peoples Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) headed by Vsevolod Merkulov. He was known to be a close ally of Beria’s:

“He was one of Beria’s closest and trusted collaborators.”

B.Levytsky: “The Uses Of Terror: The Soviet State Security: 1917-1970”; London; 1971; p.141.

3) The Counter-Espionage Department of the People’s Commissariat for Defence (SMERSH) headed by Victor Abakumov.

After the war in 1946, SMERSH was abolished, and the NKVD was re-named the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and was headed by Sergey Kruglov who was later openly revisionist. The NKGB was renamed the Ministry of State Security (MGB) and remained under Abakumov.

Today most Marxist-Leninists are in agreement on the class affiliations of Beria, Kruglov, and Merkulov.

It is true that some Indian Marxist-Leninists (of Revolutionary Democracy) have recently raised questions about Beria, but these have not been to date, substantiated in print. We therefore will not deal with these purely verbal allegations.

But there still remains some significant queries about whether Abakumov was a Marxist-Leninist, or whether he was a revisionist.

We are forced to consider this matter for the correct interpretation of several later events – including the matter of Stalin’s death. Also, at least in part, the correct interpretation of the alleged Zionist Plot – hinges on this matter. We msut examine the question:

Was Victor Abakumov A Marxist-Leninist?

The Case for Abakumov Being a Marxist-Leninist:

Essentially as far as Alliance can discern, the case on behalf of Abakumov rests on two matters as follows:

i) An Alleged Friendship with Beria:

As the British Marxist-Leninist W.B. Bland views it, Beria and Abakumov were associated as close comrades. By this reasoning, Abakumov must have been a Marxist-Leninist. Bland cites the following views of historians of the Soviet secret services- Levytsky and Wolin & Slusser:

“Beria’s adversaries in the Party (i.e. the opponents of M-L-ism-Ed).. Achieved a notable victory in late 1951, with the replacement of V.S.Abakumov, an associate of Beria’s by S.P.Ignatiev a Party official, as head of the MVD”

S.Wolin & R.Slusser :”The Soviet Secret Police”; London; 1957; p.20.

“Abakumov, Beria’s intimate friend was removed from his post and replaced by S.D.Ignatiev.”

Levytsky op cit p.204

In corroboration of Bland’s point of view, it is also alleged by Sudoplatov that Abakumov was an ally of Beria (Sudoplatov; Ibid; p.324). However this view is contested by Amy Knight- who is undoubtedly the most extensive biographer of Beria (albeit a bourgeois historian), available in the English language. Knight claims that:

“Beria’s loyal deputy Merkulov was replaced by Victor Abakumov as head of the MGB late in the summer of 1946. This change was not instigated by Beria who was distressed to lose Merkulov.”

Knight Ibid; p.141.

Knight maintains that Stalin placed Abakumov in charge of the MGB. This is very possible as the pressures on Beria had to be relieved somehow. But it is most unlikely that it was done for the purpose, as Knight maintains, that Stalin wanted to:

“Limit Beria’s pervasive influence on the security organs.”

(Knight Ibid; p.141).

The pressures dictating that Beria should be freed for the work on the nuclear bomb, meant that several loop-holes had opened, for the revisionists to squeeze themselves back into the security apparatus with a view to renewing disruption. As the changes took place, several opportunities arose:

“The following months witnessed numerous changes in both the MVD and MGB as several new deputies arrived, apparently under the auspices of Abakumov and Kruglov. These changes may also have been influenced by the arrival of a new CC secretary A.A.Kuznetsov, who took over party supervision of the police. With the exception of Stepan Mamulov, a longtime Beria crony who became a deputy minister in the MVD, none of the new men were part of Beria’s “Georgian Mafia”, although most had been in the security or internal affairs organs for a long time.”

(Knight Ibid; p.141).

ii) Khrushchev ordered the execution of Abakumov

Abakumov was arrested while Stalin was still alive.

It is thus highly plausible that the arrest itself, coming under Stalin’s life time, might have been a part of the revisionist strategy or the Marxist-Leninist strategy.

However, there is no doubt that Abakumov was tried, after Stalin’s death, in Leningrad before the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court presided over by Lieutenant-Colonel E.L. Zeidin. He was charged with “committing the same crimes as Beria”, and also with having:

“Fabricated the so-called Leningrad Case’, in which many Party and Soviet officials were arrested without grounds and falsely accused of very grave state crimes”.

In Bland: “The Doctors Case & The Death Of Stalin”; Stalin Society; London nd ca 1992; p.66.

Thus Abakumov was then sentenced to death by shooting, by the revisionists. This pro-Abakumov evidence seems to Alliance fragmentary at best.

If Stalin was still alive while Abakumov was imprisoned, it suggests that Stalin did not try to obtain his release. One suspects that were Beria to be imprisoned, Stalin would have moved heaven and earth to get him out.

What evidence is there against Abakumov?

The Case Against Abakumov

i) Abakumov’s other Allegiances

In 1947, Abakumov revealed the responsibility of Malenkov for some defects in aviation production that were apparently concealed from the state. (Sudoplatov; Ibid; p.315).

Malenkov was given a party reprimand, demotion & a temporary exile to Kazakhstan and removed from the CC secretariat. However Malenkov’s duties were then taken by Aleksei A. Kuznetsov. Sudoplatov claims that: “Kuznetsov & Abakumov soon became friends.”

But if this is truly so, this must shed some doubt and suspicion upon Abakumov’s identity as a Marxist-Leninist, since Kuznetsov was well known to be a close ally of the revisionists Vosnosenky and Khrushchev. As Bland has pointed out in the Marxist-Leninist Research Bureau Report no 2 (reprinted as Alliance Number 17) the Politburo of the CC of the CPSU(B):

“adopted a resolution “On the Anti-Party Actions of the Comrades Aleksey A. Kuznetsov, Mikhail I Rodionov and Pyotr S Popkov.”

Bland ML Research Bureau; Report No.2; London; nd circa 1992; p. 25

Also, as W.B.Bland had previously made clear in the now classic “Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR,” Kuznetsov was an ally of the arch-revisionists Vosnosenky and Khrushchev:

“Party leaders confide that … Vosnosensky and Kuznetsov … (were) in 1949… trying to establish a separate Communist organisation in the Russian Soviet Republic .. With headquarters in Leningrad instead of Moscow.”

C.L. Sulzberger:”The Big Thaw”; New York; 1956;

Also See Bland In “Restoration”; Wembley 1988; reprinted Alliance Number 14; p.342.

Also find Appendix 3 “The Leningrad Plot” at: http://www.virtue.nu/allianceml/

But Stalin is said to have fought for Malenkov’s reinstatement from Sudoplatov’s testimony:

“Stalin however allowed Malenkov to return to Moscow after two months & appointed him deputy prime minster. Beria in this period strongly supported Malenkov.” (Ibid).

Malenkov was a later vacillator and not a firm Marxist-Leninist. But Stalin had clearly recognised the anti-Marxist-Leninist behaviurs of Kuznetsov.

(ii) The General Zhukov Affair

Abakumov was apparently behind various attempts to destroy the career of General Zhukov, and his efforts resulted in the dismissal of Zhukov from the Bolshevik party CC. Using evidence from the imprisoned General Nivikov, Zhukov was charged with conspiracy. In these charges, Novikov had described Zhukov as being of a man of:

“Exceptional ambition” and… A man “namoured with himself”, who loved glory and honour. He was officious and would not tolerate opposition.”

Chaney, Preston: “Zhukov”; 1976; Norman Oklahoma; p. 371.

But as Zhukov’s biographer makes clear, Stalin only reluctantly agreed to an enforced and temporary retreat for Zhukov, pending full investigation saying:

“Nonetheless Comrade Zhukov, you will have to leave Moscow for a while.”

Chaney Ibid; p. 373.

Zhukov was sent to Odessa to run the Military District from June 13th to December 1947.

He was reprimanded in June 1947 for the only single objective negative fact that had emerged on him. What was this? Zhukov had in peacetime awarded an actress with a medal. He was therefore reprimanded then for:

“Improperly rewarding artists in his district. The right to reward reverted in peacetime to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.”

Chaney Ibid; p. 374.

In December 1947 Zhukov was summoned to the Central committee Plenum where he heard his charges read out. Upon hearing that no new facts were stated he refused to argue, and when he saw that the ensuing vote had expelled him from the Central Committee, he simply marched out. All other allegations, against Zhukov remained un-proven. But as Chaney says, Stalin remained unconvinced of Zhukov’s “error”:

“Despite their relentless effort to have Zhukov arrested, Beria and Abakumov failed to convince Stalin of the Marshall’s guilt. As Khrushchev told Zhukov later, Stalin said to Beria:
“I don’t believe anyone that Zhukov would agree to this. I know him well. He is a straightforward person; he is sharp and can say unpleasant things to anyone bluntly, but he will never be against the Central Committee.”
Another version was that Stalin said:
“No, I won’t arrest Zhukov. I know him well. For four years of war, I knew him better that my own self.”

Chaney Ibid; p. 375.

Thus it was Stalin who resisted the attacks on Zhukov, in which to a large extent Abakumov was involved. Naturally, others were also involved in the complex battles, and the inter-relationships become important, to attempt to systematically work out.

From 1947 General Rukhadze was placed in the Ministership of state security of Georgia, having been in the war years, the head of SMERSH in the Caucasus. According to Sudoplatov his anti-Beria inclinations were well known. (Sudoplatov; Ibid; p.321.)

He was assisted by Ryumin, who later becomes a key figure in the subsequent anti-Marxist-Leninist plots, that became known to the world at large as the “Anti-Zionist Plot” and the “Doctors’ Plot.”

We will return to Abakumov below, when we examine his testimony on the murder of Mikhoels and the Doctor’s Plot (See below).

But at least some evidence cited to this point in this report, continues to identify Abakumov as an honest Marxist-Leninist.

Given the obvious truth that the revisionists were responsible for his death, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that as Bland has it, Abakumov was an honest Marxist-Leninist.

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