Category Archives: Baltic states

‘I’m a Russian Occupant’: Viral video justifies imperial aggression

A recently released YouTube video entitled ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ is a deeply telling panegyric to 19th century-style white man’s burden imperialism, which goes a long way towards explaining what is wrong with the mentality of many Russians today.

It’s a rare occurrence to see proponents of a worldview unironically putting out such a bold (and frankly racist) statement of agency, a statement which approaches Idiocracy levels of parody. One could almost laugh, if this clarion call to unapologetic national pride was not so blatantly supremacist and aggressive.

To put it all in a rather crude nutshell, everything in this part of the world would be crap if it weren’t for the Russians, and it’s crap again because Moscow’s petulant children forgot the benefit of kowtowing to their suzerain. That might sound like an exaggeration. It is not. In a typical display of Russian militaristic bravado, the highly-stylized clip begins with a so-called Little Green Man (slang for the crack Russian troops who took Crimea sans insignia) loading a clip into his AK-100 while the narrator proclaims that being an occupier is his manifest destiny.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Turning his eye to Yermak’s 16th century conquest of Siberia, the video goes full on Heart of Darkness by arguing that now they (whoever they might be) produce oil, gas and “other useful stuff, have “schools and hospitals” and can’t sell women for “a bundle of sable skins” – all thanks to Russian colonial expansion.

I guess one is left to assume that the benefits of 400-plus years of progress would have escaped the indigenous population if it weren’t for the Russians occupation. It’s also strange how putting a stop to selling women for sable skins is brought up as a justification, seeing that rape, enslavement and self-admitted genocidal policies were carried out against the natives, often, and rather ironically, due to the lucrative fur trade.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Serfdom was also being deeply entrenched in Russian society during the same time period, which is to say, Russia was actually moving backwards socially during this period of imperial expansion (legal amendments in 1649 and 1658 made the bulk of Russians slaves in all but name.) So they saved the people from selling their women into slavery so Russians  themselves could sell them into slavery? Right.

The narrator moves on to the Baltics, arguing they were renowned for their high quality radio equipment, cars, famous perfumes and balms during Soviet times.

“I [Russia] was asked to leave them. Now they sell sprats, and part of their people clean toilets in Europe.” 

That the financially robust Baltic states, one of which is projected to reach the economic level of the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway by 2025 (and potentially become one of the top five most productive nations in the world) have been relegated to forage fish sellers and European toilet cleaners is frankly odd.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Central Asia is next, and perhaps an easier target given the authoritarianism and wealth inequality that plagues these states for a number of reasons. Seemingly reducing the five republics of the former Soviet bloc to one homogeneous mass, the narrator sidesteps any substantive issues by saying they are now being saddled with US loans and “growing Cannabis” (with the image of a pot leaf quickly being replaced with a white powder I’m assuming is heroine.)

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Apart from the unforeseen possibility that Colorado has outsourced its pot business to Uzbekistan on the back of high interest loans, I’m not really sure what the narrator is getting at. Another contention, that many migrants now work in Russia in often desperate conditions, is true, though to blame them for the macroeconomic conditions that make some states net importers of guest laborers seems ludicrous.

The reductionist approach also belies the fact that Kazakhstan’s GDP per capita is nominally close to Russia’s, providing economic conditions which attract more Central Asian migrants than any other country in the world (apart from its neighbor to the north.) And what, pray tell, do Russia and Kazakhstan have in common? I’ll give you a hint:

In Ukraine, well you guessed it. Once upon a time they built things, and now all they can do is construct “revolution and dictatorship.” 

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

So looking at all of the chaos that’s been unleashed by one of the worst geopolitical disaster’s of the 20th century, the narrator, whoever he is speaking for, is coming out of the closest (no, not that closet!)

“Yes, I’m an occupant, and I’m tired of apologizing for it. I’m an occupant by birthright, an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid.” 

The video, unsurprisingly, goes on to deride western hypocrisy, parroting the widely held belief that democracy does not exist, before reducing western values to gays, gays, more gays, and Conchita Wurst (as opposed to transparency, the rule of law, the protection of minorities, civil rights and the regular and predictable transition of power through free and fair elections.)

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

“I politely warn you for the last time, don’t mess with me. I build peace, I love peace, but I know how to fight better than anyone else,” the message, which is quickly dispatched to Barack Obama, concludes.


Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нет.

Kevin Rothrock from Global Voices contacted the alleged creator of the video, a man going by the name of Evgeny Zhurov. Zhurov is emphatic that the professionally produced video was independently made, saying claims of Kremlin involvement are an absolute “lie.”

“These people want to destroy the ‘myth’ about a guy who works ‘for an idea,’” Zhurov said.“They want to make all my work look like it was part of some government contract.”

I for one believe whoever is behind the video is an ancillary point. That the Kremlin would make (or at the very least finance) such a video in a world of internet troll farms and organized-state hysteria is par for the course. What’s more important is the fact that the maker of this video has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Russia. In line with their educational curriculum, many Russians believe in a reductionist view of history which hinges on external invasions of Russia, but ignores numerous instances of Russian aggression against its own neighbors.

It is within this narrative that the myth of the peaceful but ferocious Russian was born. The revelatory part of the video, of course, is that it couples Russians belief in their peaceful nature with its highly militaristic culture, which revels in the idea of being feared. For those who visit Russia, the obsession with power is stark. Some have likened it to a sublimated prison culture, and even in Soviet times, prisoners themselves called the labor camps the ‘small zones’ and the country itself the ‘big zone.’ And this obsession with power manifests itself in virtually every interaction.

When the face of Russia’s domestic propaganda effort Dmitry Kiselyov warned “Russia can turn the US into radioactive dust” last March, he was speaking directly to the Russian id that can resentfully only find parity with their former Cold War rival in its ability to destroy it (and be destroyed in turn.) Russia is a shadow of its former Soviet incarnation, but due to its nuclear arsenal, it most be feared and respected, or so the logic goes.

I already mentioned its reduction of Western values to one gigantic gay pride parade, though there is something interesting in its interpretation of Soviet History. Russians both view the Soviet Union as a Russian imperialistic project and as a commonwealth of brotherly nations coming together for a utopian vision of the future. Many Russians deftly navigate very convoluted waters in which all of the evils of the Soviet Union are blamed on outside anti-Russian forces (often Jews), while at the same time believing that all of the accomplishments of the Soviet Union were in fact Russian accomplishments.

The videos portrayal of the former Soviet republics and Siberia itself as backwaters that would have been nothing if not for Russia’s beneficent occupation is a widely held belief. Jim Kovpak, an amateur historian and author of the popular blog Russia Without BS, summarized this mentality in an article entitled ‘See, this is why nobody likes you.’

“It goes something like this. Russian wants to rant against some former Soviet nationality. It doesn’t matter if its their ‘Slavic brothers’ like the Ukrainians or non-Slavic nationalities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, or Georgians. With the most condescending and patronizing tone, they remind the target of their rant how great they had it under the USSR, or in the case of this article, the Russian Empire. Typically no distinction is made between the two.  

The story is that Muscovite Russians selflessly endeavored and bled to give these people various “gifts” for which they were ungrateful in 1991. Basically it’s the equivalent of a right-wing American telling black Americans that they should be grateful for slavery, or better said a British person lecturing India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan about how great they had it when they were the jewel of the British Empire. The difference being, however, that in the US or UK views like this are often met with sharp criticism, often all across the political spectrum. In Russia they are mainstream and encouraged,” he wrote.

That these views are mainstream and encouraged is obvious in the stellar popularity of ‘I am a Russian Occupant’, which has gathered over 5 million views and 111k likes in some two weeks. One of the most telling aspects of many Russians is that they are supremacists who are enraged that they might be viewed as inferior, anti-PC bigots who will jump at the slightest mischaracterization of their own people, self-proclaimed lovers of peace who are militarists obsessed with power and respect, patronizing colonialists who are deeply resentful that neighboring nations do not respect the paternalistic yoke.

These contradictions are the source of a great deal of internal strife that manifests itself externally, as the pressure of cognitive dissonance rarely dissipates of its own accord. And often, the psychic fault lines between reality and delusion create tremors in the real world.

It would be easy to dismiss this clip if it weren’t so telling. After all, it is the worldview it depicts (a false belief that it is Russia’s “birthright” to keep their backwards and rebellious children in the fold) that drove the Kremlin to rip Ukraine apart rather than let it choose its own path. Taken in that light, there is nothing funny about ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ at all.

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нетю

Screenshot from ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’, courtesy of YouTube user ОКеям Нетю


The Changing Leadership of the Secret Service


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


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:

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.


On the 100th anniversary of World War I


The following entry is from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

 – E.S.

World War I (1914–18) 

an imperialist war between two coalitions of capitalist powers for a redivision of the already divided world (a repartition of colonies, spheres of influence, and spheres for the investment of capital) and for the enslavement of other peoples. At first, the war involved eight European states: Germany and Austria-Hungary against Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro. Later, most of the countries in the world entered the war (see Table 1). A total of four states fought on the side of the Austro-German bloc; 34 states, including four British dominions and the colony of India, all of which signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, took part on the side of the Entente. On both sides, the war was aggressive and unjust. Only in Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro did it include elements of a war of national liberation.

Although imperialists from all the principal belligerent powers were involved in unleashing the war, the party chiefly to blame was the German bourgeoisie, who began World War I at the “moment it thought most favorable for war, making useof its latest improvements in military matériel and forestalling the rearmament already planned and decided upon by Russia and France” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 16).

The immediate cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by Serbian nationalists on June 15 (28), 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. German imperialists decided to take advantage of this favorable moment to unleash the war. Under German pressure, Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia on July 10 (23). Although the Serbian government agreed to meet almost all of the demands in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations with Serbia on July 12 (25) and declared war on Serbia on July 15 (28). Belgrade, the Serbian capital, was shelled. On July 16 (29), Russia began mobilization in the military districts bordering on Austria-Hungary and on July 17 (30) proclaimed a general mobilization. On July 18 (31), Germany demanded that Russia halt its mobilization and, receiving no reply, declared war on Russia on July 19 (Aug. 1). Germany declared war on France and Belgium on July 21 (Aug. 3). On July 22 (Aug. 4), Great Britain declared war on Germany. The British dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa) and Britain’s largest colony, India, entered the war on the same day. On Aug. 10 (23), Japan declared war on Germany. Italy formally remained a member of the Triple Alliance but declared its neutrality on July 20 (Aug. 2), 1914.

Causes of the war. At the turn of the 20th century capitalism was transformed into imperialism. The world had been almost completely divided up among the largest powers. The uneven-ness of the economic and political development of various countries became more marked. The states that had been late in embarking on the path of capitalist development (the USA, Germany, and Japan) advanced rapidly, competing successfully on the world market with the older capitalist countries (Great Britain and France) and persistently pressing for a repartition of the colonies. The most acute conflicts arose between Germany and Great Britain, whose interests clashed in many parts of the globe, especially in Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East, focal points of German imperialism’s trade and colonial expansion. The construction of the Baghdad Railroad aroused grave alarm in British ruling circles. The railroad would provide Germany with direct route through the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor to the Persian Gulf and guarantee Germany an important position in the Middle East, thus threatening British land and sea communications with India.


France, rooted in the desire of German capitalists to secure permanent possession of Alsace and Lorraine, which had been taken from France as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, and in the determination of the French to regain these provinces. French and German interests also clashed on the colonial issue. French attempts to seize Morocco met with determined resistance from Germany, which also claimed this territory.

Contradictions between Russia and Germany began to increase in the late 19th century. The expansion of German imperialism in the Middle East and its attempts to establish control over Turkey infringed on Russian economic, political, and strategic interests. Germany used its customs policy to limit the importation of grain from Russia, imposing high duties while simultaneously making sure that German industrial goods could freely penetrate the Russian market.

In the Balkans, there were profound contradictions between Russia and Austria-Hungary, caused primarily by the expansion of the Hapsburg monarchy, with Germany’s support, into the neighboring South Slav lands (Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Serbia). Austria-Hungary intended to establish its superiority in the Balkans. Russia, which supported the struggle of the Balkan peoples for freedom and national independence, considered the Balkans its own sphere of influence. The tsarist regime and the Russian imperialist bourgeoisie wanted to take over the Bosporus and Dardanelles to strengthen their position in the Balkans.

There were many disputed issues between Great Britain and France, Great Britain and Russia, Austria-Hungary and Italy, and Turkey and Italy, but they were secondary to the principal contradictions, which existed between Germany and its rivals— Great Britain, France, and Russia. The aggravation and deepening of these contradictions impelled the imperialists toward a repartition of the world, but “under capitalism, the repartitioning of ‘world domination’ could only take place at the price of a world war” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 34, p. 370).

The class struggle and the national liberation movement grew stronger during the second decade of the 20th century. The Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia had an enormous influence on the upsurge in the struggle of the toiling people for their social and national liberation. There was considerable growth in the working-class movement in Germany, France, and Great Britain. The class struggle reached its highest level in Russia, where a new revolutionary upsurge began in 1910 and an acute political crisis ripened. National liberation movements grew broader in Ireland and Alsace (the Zabern affair, 1913), and the struggle of the enslaved peoples of Austria-Hungary became more extensive. The imperialists sought to use war to suppress the developing liberation movement of the working class and oppressed peoples in their own countries and to arrest the world revolutionary process.

For many years the imperialists prepared for a world war as a means of resolving foreign and domestic contradictions. The initial step was the formation of a system of military-political blocs, beginning with the Austro-German Agreement of 1879, under which the signatories promised to render assistance to each other in case of war with Russia. Seeking support in its struggle with France for possession of Tunisia, Italy joined Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1882. Thus, the Triple Alliance of 1882, or the alliance of the Central Powers, took shape in central Europe. Initially directed against Russia and France, it later included Great Britain among its main rivals.

To counterbalance the Triple Alliance, another coalition of European powers began to develop. The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1891–93 provided for joint actions by the two countries in case of aggression by Germany or by Italy and Austria-Hungary supported by Germany. The growth of German economic power in the early 20th century forced Great Britain to gradually renounce its traditional policy of splendid isolation and seek rapprochement with France and Russia. The Anglo-French agreement of 1904 settled various colonial disputes between Great Britain and France, and the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 reinforced the understanding between Russia and Great Britain regarding their policies in Tibet,Afghanistan, and Iran. These documents created the Triple Entente (or agreement), a bloc opposed to the Triple Alliance and made up of Great Britain, France, and Russia. In 1912, Anglo-French and Franco-Russian naval conventions were signed, and in 1913 negotiations were opened for an Anglo-Russian naval convention.


The formation of military-political groupings in Europe, as well as the arms race, further aggravated imperialist contradictions and increased international tensions. A relatively tranquil period of world history was followed by an epoch that was“much more violent, spasmodic, disastrous, and conflicting” (ibid., vol. 27, p. 94). The worsening of imperialist contradictions was evident in the Moroccan crises of 1905–06 and 1911, the Bosnian crisis of 1908–09, the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–12, and the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. In December 1913, Germany provoked a major international conflict by sending a military mission under the command of General O. Liman von Sanders to Turkey to reorganize and train the Turkish Army.

In preparation for a world war the ruling circles of the imperialist states established powerful war industries, based on large state plants: armaments, explosives, and ammunition plants, as well as shipyards. Private enterprises were drawn into the production of military goods: Krupp in Germany, Skoda in Austria-Hungary, Schneider-Creusot and St. Chamond in France, Vickers and Armstrong-Whitworth in Great Britain, and the Putilov Works and other plants in Russia.

The imperialists of the two hostile coalitions put a great deal of effort into building up their armed forces. The achievements of science and technology were placed in the service of war. More sophisticated armaments were developed, including rapid-fire magazine rifles and machine guns, which greatly increased the firepower of the infantry. In the artillery the number of rifled guns of the latest design increased sharply. Of great strategic importance was the development of the railroads, which made it possible to significantly speed up the concentration and deployment of large masses of troops in the theaters of operations and to provide an uninterrupted supply of personnel replacements and matériel to the armies in the field. Motor vehicle transport began to play an increasingly important role, and military aviation began to develop. The use of new means of communication in military affairs, including the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio,facilitated the organization of troop control. The size of armies and trained reserves grew rapidly. (See Table 2 for the composition of the ground forces of the principal warring powers.)

Germany and Great Britain were engaged in a stiff competition in naval armaments. The dreadnought, a new type of ship, was first built in 1905. By 1914 the German Navy was firmly established as the world’s second most powerful navy(after the British). Other countries endeavored to strengthen their navies, but it was not financially and economically possible for them to carry out the shipbuilding programs they had adopted. (See Table 3 for the composition of the naval forces of the principal warring powers.) The costly arms race demanded enormous financial means and placed a heavy burden on the toiling people.


There was extensive ideological preparation for war. The imperialists attempted to instill in the people the idea that armed conflicts are inevitable, and they tried their hardest to inculcate militarism in the people and incite chauvinism among them. To achieve these aims, all means of propaganda were used—the press, literature, the arts, and the church. Taking advantage of the patriotic feelings of the people, the bourgeoisie in every country justified the arms race and camouflaged aggressive objectives with false arguments on the need to defend the native land against foreign enemies.

The international working class (more than 150 million persons) was a real force capable of significantly restraining the imperialist governments. At the international level, the working-class movement was headed by the Second International,which united 41 Social Democratic parties from 27 countries, with 3.4 million members. However, the opportunist leaders of the European Social Democratic parties did nothing to implement the antiwar decisions of the prewar congresses of the Second International. When the war began, the leaders of the Social Democratic parties of the Western countries came to the support of their governments and voted for military credits in parliament. The socialist leaders of Great Britain (A. Henderson), France (J. Guesde, M. Sembat, and A. Thomas), and Belgium (E. Vandervelde) joined the bourgeois military governments. Ideologically and politically, the Second International collapsed and ceased to exist, breaking up into social chauvinist parties.

Only the left wing of the Second International, with the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin in the vanguard, continued to fight consistently against militarism, chauvinism, and war. The basic principles defining the attitude of revolutionary Marxists toward war were set forth by Lenin in the Manifesto of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, “War and Russian Social Democracy.” Firmly opposed to the war, the Bolsheviks explained its imperialist character to the popular masses. The Bolshevik faction of the Fourth State Duma refused to support the tsarist government and vote for war credits. The Bolshevik Party called on the toiling people of all countries to work for the defeat of their governments in the war, the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, and the revolutionary overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the landlords. A revolutionary, antiwar stance was adopted by the Bulgarian Workers’ Social Democratic Party (Narrow Socialists), headed by D. Blagoev, G. Dimitrov, and V. Kolarov, and by the Serbian and Rumanian Social Democratic parties. Active opposition to the imperialist war was also shown by a small group of left-wing Social Democrats in Germany, led by K. Liebknecht, R. Luxemburg, C. Zetkin, and F. Mehring; by a few socialists in France, led by J. Jaurès; and by some socialists in other countries.

War plans and strategic deployment. Long before the war began, the general staffs had worked out war plans. All strategic calculations were oriented toward a short, fast-moving war. The German strategic plan provided for rapid, decisive actions against France and Russia. It assumed that France would be crushed in six to eight weeks, after which all German forces would descend on Russia and bring the war to a victorious conclusion. The bulk of German troops (four-fifths) were deployed on the western border of Germany and were designated for the invasion of France. It was their mission to deliver the main attack with the right wing through Belgium and Luxembourg, turning the left flank of the French Army west of Paris and, throwing it back toward the German border, forcing it to surrender. A covering force (one army) was stationed in East Prussia to oppose Russia. The German military command figured that it would be able to crush France and transfer troops to the east before the Russian Army went over to the offensive. The main forces of the German Navy (the High Seas Fleet) were to be stationed at bases in the North Sea. Their mission was to weaken the British Navy with actions using light forces and submarines and then destroy the main British naval forces in a decisive battle. A few cruisers were detailed for operations in the British sea-lanes. In the Baltic Sea the German Navy’s mission was to prevent vigorous actions by the Russian Navy.

The Austro-Hungarian command planned military operations on two fronts: against Russia in Galicia and against Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans. They did not exclude the possibility of forming a front against Italy, an unreliable member of the Triple Alliance that might go over to the Entente. Consequently, the Austro-Hungarian command drew up three variations of a war plan and divided their ground forces into three operational echelons (groups): group A (nine corps), which was designated for actions against Russia; the “minimum Balkan” group (three corps), which was directed against Serbia and Montenegro; and group B (four corps), the reserve of the supreme command, which could be used either to reinforce the other groups or to form a new front if Italy became an enemy.

The general staffs of Austria-Hungary and Germany maintained close contact with each other and coordinated their strategic plans. The Austro-Hungarian plan for the war against Russia provided for delivering the main attack from Galicia between the Vistula and Bug rivers and moving northeast to meet German forces, which were supposed to develop an offensive at the same time moving southeast from East Prussia toward Siedlce, with the objectives of surrounding and destroying the grouping of Russian troops in Poland. The mission of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, which was stationed in the Adriatic Sea, was to defend the coast.

The Russian General Staff worked out two variations of the war plan, both of which were offensive. Under Variation A, the main forces of the Russian Army would be deployed against Austria-Hungary. Variation G was directed against Germany, should it deliver the main attack on the Eastern Front. Variation A, which was actually carried out, planned converging attacks in Galicia and East Prussia, with the aim of destroying the enemy groupings. This phase of the plan would be followed by a general offensive into Germany and Austria-Hungary. Two detached armies were assigned to cover Petrograd and southern Russia. In addition, the Army of the Caucasus was formed in case Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. It was the mission of the Baltic Fleet to defend the sea approaches to Petrograd and prevent the German fleet from breaking through into the Gulf of Finland. The Black Sea Fleet did not have a ratified plan ofaction.

The French plan for the war against Germany (Plan XVII) envisioned going over to the offensive with the forces of the right wing of the armies in Lorraine and with the forces of the left wing against Metz. At first, the possibility of an invasion byGerman forces through Belgium was not taken into account, because Belgian neutrality had been guaranteed by the great powers, including Germany. However, a variation of Plan XVII ratified on Aug. 2, 1914, specified that in case of an offensive by German troops through Belgium, combat operations were to be developed on the left wing up to the line of the Meuse (Maas) River from Namur to Givet. The French plan reflected the lack of confidence of the French command,confronted with a struggle against a more powerful Germany. In fact, the plan made the actions of the French Army dependent on the actions of the German forces. The mission of the French fleet in the Mediterranean Sea was to ensure themovement of colonial troops from North Africa to France by blockading the Austro-Hungarian fleet in the Adriatic Sea. Part of the French fleet was assigned to defend the approaches to the English Channel.

Expecting that military operations on land would be waged by the armies of its allies, Russia and France, Great Britain did not draw up plans for operations by ground forces. It promised only to send an expeditionary corps to the continentto help the French. The navy was assigned active missions: to set up a long-range blockade of Germany on the North Sea, to ensure the security of sea-lanes, and to destroy the German fleet in a decisive battle.

The great powers carried out the strategic deployment of their armed forces in conformity with these plans. Germany moved seven armies (the First through Seventh, consisting of 86 infantry and ten cavalry divisions, with a total of about 1.6million men and about 5,000 guns) to the border with Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, along a 380-km front from Krefeld to Mulhouse. The main grouping of these forces (five armies) was located north of Metz on a 160-km front. The defense of the northern coast of Germany was assigned to the Northern Army (one reserve corps and four Landwehr brigades). The commander in chief was Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the chief of staff was General H. von Moltke the younger(from Sept. 14, 1914, E. Falkenhayn, and from Aug. 29, 1916, until the end of the war, Field Marshal General P. von Hindenburg).

The French armies (the First through Fifth, consisting of 76 infantry and ten cavalry divisions, with a total of about 1.73 million men and more than 4,000 guns), which were under the command of General J. J. C. Joffre, were deployed on front of approximately 345 km from Belfort to Hirson. (From December 1916, General R. Nivelle was commander in chief of the French armies, and from May 17, 1917, until the end of the war, General H. Pétain. On May 14, 1918, Marshal F. Foch became supreme commander of Allied forces.) The Belgian Army under the command of King Albert I (six infantry divisions and one cavalry division, with a total of 117,000 men and 312 guns) occupied a line east of Brussels. The British Expeditionary Force under the command of Field Marshal J. French (four infantry divisions and 1.5 cavalry divisions, with a total of 87,000 men and 328 guns) was concentrated in the Maubeuge region next to the left flank of the grouping of French armies. (From December 1915 until the end of the war, the British Expeditionary Force was under the command of General D. Haig.) The main grouping of Allied forces was northwest of Verdun.

Against Russia, Germany placed the Eighth Army (14.5 infantry divisions and one cavalry division, with a total of more than 200,000 men and 1,044 guns), under the command of General M. von Prittwitz und Gaffron, in East Prussia andGeneral R. von Woyrsch’s Landwehr corps in Silesia (two Landwehr divisions and 72 guns). Austria-Hungary had three armies (the First, Third, and Fourth) on a front from Czernowitz (now Chernovtsy) to Sandomierz. H. Kövess vonKövessháza’s army group (from August 23, the Second Army) was on the right flank, and Kummer’s army group was in the Kraków region (35.5 infantry divisions and 11 cavalry divisions, with about 850,000 men and 1,848 guns). Thesupreme commander in chief was Archduke Frederick. (Emperor Charles I became supreme commander in chief in November 1916.) The Austro-Hungarian chief of staff was Field Marshal General F. Conrad von Hötzendorf (from Feb. 28,1917, General Arz von Straussenburg).

Russia had six armies on its Western border (52 infantry divisions and 21 cavalry divisions, with a total of more than 1 million men and 3,203 guns). Two fronts were formed: the Northwestern Front (First and Second armies) and theSouthwestern Front (Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth armies). The Sixth Army was to defend the Baltic coast and cover Petrograd; the Seventh Army was to defend the northwest coast of the Black Sea and the boundary with Rumania. The divisions of the second strategic echelon and the Siberian divisions arrived at the front later, at the end of August and during September. On July 20 (August 2), Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich was appointed supreme commander in chief.(For a list of his successors, see SUPREME COMMANDER IN CHIEF.) The chiefs of staff of the supreme commander in chief were General N. N. Ianushkevich (July 19 [Aug. 1], 1914, to Aug. 18 [31], 1915) and General M. V. Alekseev (Aug. 18 [31],1915, to Nov. 10 [23], 1916; Feb. 17 [Mar. 2] to Mar. 11 [24], 1917; and Aug. 30 [Sept. 12] to Sept. 9 [22], 1917). At the end of 1916 and during 1917 the duties of chief of staff were temporarily carried out by Generals V. I. Romeiko-Gurko,V. N. Klembovskii, A. I. Denikin, A. S. Lukomskii, and N. N. Dukhonin. From Nov. 20 (Dec. 3), 1917, to Feb. 21, 1918, the chief of staff was M. D. Bonch-Bruevich, whose successors were S I. Kuleshin and M. M. Zagiu.

In the Balkans, Austria-Hungary set two armies against Serbia: the Fifth and Sixth armies, under the command of General O. Potiorek (13 infantry divisions and one cavalry division, with a total of 140,000 men and 546 guns). Serbiadeployed four armies under the command of Voevoda R. Putnik (the First, Second, Third, and Fourth armies, consisting of 11 infantry divisions and one cavalry division, with a total of 250,000 men and 550 guns). Montenegro had six infantrydivisions (35,000 men and 60 guns).

The strategic deployment of the armed forces of both sides was basically completed by August 4–6 (17–19). Military operations took place in Europe, Asia, and Africa, on all the oceans, and on many seas. The principal operations tookplace in five theaters of ground operations: Western Europe (from 1914), Eastern Europe (from 1914), Italy (from 1915), the Balkans (from 1914), and the Middle East (from 1914). In addition, military operations were carried out in East Asia (Tsingtao, 1914), on the Pacific islands (Oceania), and in the German colonies in Africa, including German East Africa (until the end of the war), German Southwest Africa (until 1915), Togo (1914), and the Cameroons (until 1916).Throughout the war the chief theaters of ground operations were the Western European (French) and the Eastern European (Russian). Particularly important theaters of naval operations were the North, Mediterranean, Baltic, and Black seas and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Campaign of 1914. In the Western European theater, military operations began with the invasion by German troops of Luxembourg (August 2) and Belgium (August 4), the latter having rejected a German ultimatum regarding the passage of German troops through its territory. Relying on the fortified areas of Liège and Namur, the Belgian Army offered the enemy stubborn resistance on the Meuse River line. Abandoning Liège after bitter fighting (August 16), the Belgian Army retreated toward Antwerp. Dispatching about two corps (80,000 men and 300 guns) against the Belgian Army, the German command directed the main grouping of its armies to the southwest, toward the Franco-Belgian border. The French armies of the left flank (the Third, Fourth, and Fifth armies) and the British Army were moved forward to meet the German forces. The Battle of the Frontiers took place on Aug. 21–25, 1914.

In view of the danger of the enemy turning the left flank of the Allied forces, the French command withdrew its armies deeper into the country to gain time to regroup its forces and prepare a counteroffensive. From August 7 to 14 the Frencharmies of the right flank (the First and Second armies) conducted an offensive in Alsace and Lorraine. But with the invasion by German forces of France through Belgium, the French offensive was brought to a halt, and both armies were drawn back to their initial positions. The main grouping of German armies continued its offensive along a southwest axis of advance toward Paris and, winning a series of local victories over the Entente armies at Le Cateau (August 26),Nesle and Proyart (August 28–29), and St. Quentin and Guise (August 29–30), reached the Marne River between Paris and Verdun by September 5. The French command completed the regrouping of its forces and, having formed two newarmies (the Sixth and the Ninth) from reserves, created a superiority of forces in this axis. In the battle of the Marne (Sept. 5–12, 1914), the German troops were defeated and forced to withdraw to the Aisne and Oise rivers, where they dug in and stopped the allied counteroffensive by September 16.

From September 16 to October 15, three operations by maneuver known as the Race to the Sea developed out of the attempts of each side to seize the “free space” west of the Oise and extending to the Pas-de-Calais, by enveloping the enemy’s open flanks on the north. The forces of both sides reached the coast west of Ostend. The Belgian Army, which had been forced to withdraw from Antwerp on October 8, occupied a sector on the left flank of the Allied armies. The battle in Flanders on the Yser and Ypres river (October 15 to November 20) did not change the overall situation. Attempts by the Germans to break through the Allied defense and take the ports on the Pas-de-Calais were unsuccessful.Having suffered considerable losses, both sides stopped active combat actions and dug in on the established lines. A static front was established from the Swiss border to the North Sea. In December 1914 it was 720 km long, with 650 km assigned to the French Army, 50 km to the British, and 20 km to the Belgians.

Military operations in the Eastern European theater began on August 4–7 (17–20), with the invasion of East Prussia by the inadequately prepared troops of the Russian Northwestern Front (commanded by General la. G. Zhilinskii; chief ofstaff, General V. A. Oranovskii). During the East Prussian Operation of 1914 the First Russian Army (General P. K. Rennenkampf, commander), advancing from the east, smashed units of the German I Corps near Stallüponen on August 4(17) and inflicted a defeat on the main forces of the German Eighth Army on August 7 (20) in the battle of Gumbinnen-Goldap. On August 7 (20) the Russian Second Army (commanded by General A. V. Samsonov) invaded East Prussia, delivering an attack on the flank and rear of the German Eighth Army. The commander of the Eighth Army decided to begin a withdrawal of forces from East Prussia beyond the Vistula, but the German supreme command, dissatisfied with this decision, ordered a change in command on August 10 (23), appointing General P. von Hindenburg commander and General E. Ludendorff chief of staff.

The offensive by Russian troops in East Prussia forced the German command to take two corps and one cavalry division from the Western Front and send them to the Eastern Front on August 13 (26). This was one of the causes of the defeat of German forces in the battle of the Marne. Taking advantage of the lack of cooperation between the First and Second armies and the mistakes of the Russian command, the enemy was able to inflict a heavy defeat on the Russian Second Army and then on the First Army and drive them out of East Prussia.

In the battle of Galicia (1914), which took place at the same time as the East Prussian Operation, the troops of the Russian Southwestern Front (commander in chief, General N. I. Ivanov; chief of staff, General M. V. Alekseev) inflicted amajor defeat on the Austro-Hungarian forces. They took L’vov on August 21 (September 3), laid seige to the Przemyśl fortress on September 8 (21), and, pursuing the enemy, reached the Wisłoka River and the foothills of the Carpathians by September 13 (26). A danger arose that Russian forces would invade the German province of Silesia. The German supreme command hurriedly transferred major forces from East Prussia to the region of Częstochowa and Kraków and formed a new army (the Ninth). The objective was to deliver a counter strike against Ivangorod (Dęblin) in the flank and rear of the troops of the Southwestern Front and thus to thwart the attack on Silesia that the Russian forces were preparing. Owing to a timely regrouping of forces carried out by Russian General Headquarters, in the Warsaw-Ivangorod Operation of 1914 the Russian armies stopped the advance of the German Ninth Army and the Austro-Hungarian First Army on Ivangorod by September 26 (October 9) and then repulsed the German attack on Warsaw. On October 5 (18), Russian forces went over to the counteroffensive and threw the enemy back to the initial line.

The Russian armies resumed preparations for an invasion of Germany. The German command moved the Ninth Army from the Częstochowa region to the north, having decided to deliver a blow at the right flank and rear of the Russian offensive grouping. In the Łódź Operation of 1914, which began on October 29 (November 11), the enemy succeeded in thwarting the Russian plan, but an attempt to surround the Russian Second and Fifth armies in the Łódź region failed, and German troops were forced to withdraw, suffering heavy losses. At the same time, Russian troops of the Southwestern Front inflicted a defeat on Austro-Hungarian forces in the Częstochowa-Kraków Operation and reached the approaches to Kraków and Częstochowa. Having exhausted their capabilities, both sides went over to the defensive. The Russian armies, which had experienced a critical shortage of ammunition, dug in on the line of the Bzura, Rawka, and Nida rivers.

In the Balkan theater of operations, Austro-Hungarian forces invaded Serbia on August 12. Defeated in a meeting engagement that began on August 16 in the region of Cer Mountain, by August 24 the Austro-Hungarian forces had been thrown back to their initial position beyond the Drina and Sava rivers. On September 7 they renewed the offensive. A shortage of artillery and ammunition forced the Serbs to withdraw on November 7 to the east of the Kolubara River, but after receiving supplies from Russia and France, they went over to the counteroffensive on December 3. By mid-December they had liberated their country from enemy forces. The two sides took up defensive positions on the river boundary lines.

At the end of 1914 hostilities began in the Middle Eastern theater of operations. On July 21 (August 3), Turkey declared its neutrality, waiting and preparing for a convenient moment to come out on the side of the Central Powers. Encouraging Turkey’s aggressive aspirations in the Caucasus, Germany sent the battle cruiser Göben and the light cruiser Breslau to the Black Sea at the war’s beginning (August 10), to support the Turkish Navy. On October 16 (29),Turkish and German ships unexpectedly shelled Odessa, Sevastopol’, Feodosia, and Novorossiisk. On October 20 (November 2), Russia declared war on Turkey, followed by Great Britain (November 5) and France (November 6). Turkey declared a “holy war” against the Entente powers on November 12.

Turkish ground forces consisted of about 800,000 men. The Turkish First, Second, and Fifth armies were deployed in the Straits region; the Third Army, in Turkish Armenia; the Fourth Army, in Syria and Palestine; and the Sixth Army, in Mesopotamia. Sultan Mehmed V was nominally the supreme commander in chief, but in fact the duties of this position were carried out by Enver Pasha, the minister of war. The chief of staff was a German general, W. Bronsart von Schellendorf. Russia moved its Army of the Caucasus to the Turkish border (commander in chief, General I. I. Vorontsov-Dashkov; deputy commander in chief, General A. Z. Myshlaevskii; 170,000 men and 350 guns). In the second half of October (early November) clashes took place in the Erzurum axis. On October 25 (November 7) the Russians seized fortified positions near Köprüköy (50 km north of Erzurum). However, under pressure from the superior forces of the enemy, the Russians withdrew to their initial positions by November 26 (December 9). The Turkish Third Army went over to the offensive on December 9 (22), but during the Sankamuş Operation of 1914–15 it was routed. On November 10 British expeditionary corps landed at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, forming the Mesopotamian Front. On November 22 the British took Basra, which had been abandoned by the Turks. The British captured al-Qurnah on December 9 and established a firm position in southern Mesopotamia.

Germany was unsuccessful in combat operations in Africa, the Far East, and the Pacific Ocean, losing most of its colonies during a single military campaign. In 1914, Japan seized the Caroline, Mariana, and Marshall islands in the Pacific Ocean as well as Tsingtao, a German naval base in China. The Australians seized the German part of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and New Zealand captured the Samoan Islands. Anglo-French forces occupied the German colonies in Africa: Togo in August 1914, the Cameroons in January 1916, Southwest Africa by July 1915, and East Africa by late 1917. (Until the end of the war, German forces continued to conduct partisan actions in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique and the British colony of Southern Rhodesia.)

Naval operations were of a limited character in 1914. On August 28 there was a battle between light forces of the British and German fleets in the North Sea near the island of Helgoland. On November 5 (18) a Russian squadron waged battle against the German ships Göben and Breslau near Cape Sarych in the Black Sea (50 km southeast of Sevastopol’). Damaged, the German ships retreated. The German command attempted to step up the actions of its fleet in British sea-lanes in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. In the battle of Coronel (Nov. 1, 1914), Admiral M. von Spee’s German squadron (five cruisers) defeated Rear Admiral C. Cradock’s British squadron, but on December 8, Admiral von Spee’s squadron was destroyed by Admiral F. Sturdee’s British squadron near the Falkland Islands. By the beginning of November, three additional German cruisers operating in the Atlantic and Pacific had been sunk.

The campaign of 1914 did not produce decisive results for either side. In France both sides went over to a static defense. Elements of trench warfare also emerged in the Eastern European theater of operations. Military operations demonstrated that the general staffs had been mistaken in their prewar predictions that the war would be short. Stockpiles of armaments and ammunition were used up during the very first operations. At the same time, it became clear that the war would be long and that emergency measures must be taken to mobilize industry and to develop the production of arms and ammunition.

Campaign of 1915. The Anglo-French command decided to go over to a strategic defensive in the Western European theater of operations, in order to gain time to stockpile matériel and train reserves. In the campaign of 1915 the main burden of armed struggle was shifted onto Russia. At the demand of the Allies the Russian command planned simultaneous offensives against Germany (in East Prussia) and Austria-Hungary (in the Carpathians). The prospect of protracted war did not please the German high command, which knew that Germany and its allies could not withstand a lengthy struggle with the Entente powers, who possessed superiority in manpower reserves and material resources.Therefore, the German plan for the campaign of 1915 was an offensive plan that counted on rapidly achieving victory. Lacking sufficient forces to conduct offensives simultaneously in the East and the West, the German command decided to concentrate its main efforts on the Eastern Front, with the objectives of crushing Russia and forcing it to leave the war. A defensive posture was planned for the Western Front.

Russia had 104 divisions against the 74 divisions of the Central Powers (36 German and 38 Austro-Hungarian divisions). Attempting to forestall the offensive prepared by the Russians, between January 25 (February 7) and February 13 (26) the German command undertook the Augustów Operation of 1915 in East Prussia. However, they did not attain their objective of surrounding the Tenth Army of the Russian Northwestern Front. In February and March Russian command used the forces of the Tenth, Twelfth, and First armies to carry out the Przasnysz Operation, during which the enemy was thrown back to the borders of East Prussia. On the southern wing of the Eastern Front, the command of the Russian Southwestern Front carried out the Carpathian Operation of 1915. Beseiged by Russian troops, the 120,000-strong Przemyśl garrison surrendered on March 9 (22). Heavy but indecisive fighting continued in the Carpathians until April 20.Experiencing a critical shortage of weapons and ammunition, the Russian forces brought a halt to their active operations in April 1915.

By the summer of 1915 the German command had formed the Eleventh Army with troops transferred from the Western Front to Galicia. The German Eleventh Army and the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army, under the overall command of the German general A. von Mackensen, went over to the offensive on April 19 (May 2). With an enormous superiority in forces and means (especially in artillery), the enemy broke through the defense of the Russian Third Army near Görlitz. The Görlitz breakthrough of 1915 led to a deep withdrawal of the forces of the Southwestern Front, which left Galicia in May and June.

At the same time, German troops were advancing in the Baltic region. On April 24 (May 7) they took Libau (Liepāja) and reached Shavli (Ŝiauliai) and Kovno (Kaunas). In July the German command attempted to break through the defense of the Russian First Army with an attack of the newly formed Twelfth Army in the Przasnysz region. The Twelfth Army, in cooperation with the Austro-Hungarian Fourth and German Eleventh armies, which were advancing from Galicia toward the northeast, was to surround the main groupings of the Russian forces, which were in Poland. The German plan was unsuccessful, but the Russian troops were forced to withdraw from Poland.

In the Vil’na Operation of August 1915 the Germans attempted to surround the Russian Tenth Army in the Vil’na (Vilnius) region. On August 27 (September 9) the enemy managed to break through the Russian defense and gain the rear of the Tenth Army. However, the Russian command stopped the enemy breakthrough. In October 1915 the front stabilized on the line of Riga, the Zapadnaia Dvina River, Dvinsk, Smorgon’, Baranovichi, Dubno, and the Strypa River. The German command had failed in its plan to force Russia to leave the war in 1915.

At the beginning of 1915 there were 75 French, 11 British, and six Belgian divisions opposing 82 German divisions in the Western European theater of operations. The number of British divisions increased to 31 in September and 37 in December. Planning no major operations, both sides conducted only local battles in this theater of military operations during the campaign of 1915. On April 22 at Ypres the German command became the first to use chemical weapons(chlorine gas) on the Western Front: 15,000 persons were poisoned. The German troops advanced 6 km. In May and June the Allies launched an offensive in Artois. Carried out with insufficient forces, it did not influence the course of combat operations on the Russian Front.

On July 7 the Interallied War Council was formed in Chantilly, to coordinate the strategic efforts of the Entente powers. To assist Russia, the council decided to undertake an offensive on the Western Front, with the objective of drawing considerable German forces away from the Eastern Front. However, offensive operations were carried out only from September 25 to October 6 in Champagne and Artois. At this time active military operations had in fact ceased on the Russian Front. Moreover, the Allied forces were unable to break through the strong enemy defense.

In the Middle Eastern theater of operations Russian forces conducted the most active military operations. In the Alashgerd Operation they cleared the enemy from the area around Lakes Van and Urmia. The increasing activity of German and Turkish agents in Iran forced the Russian command to send troops into the northern part of that country. General N. N. Baratov’s Caucasus Expeditionary Corps (about 8,000 men and 20 guns) was transferred from Tiflis to Baku and transported over the Caspian Sea to the Iranian port of Enzeli (Bandar-e Pahlavi), where it landed on October 17 (30). In November the corps occupied the city of Qazvin, and on December 3 (16) it took the city of Hamadan. Attempts by Germany and Turkey to strengthen their influence in Iran and draw it into the war against Russia were thwarted. The Caucasian Front (commander in chief, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich), which united all the Russian forces operating in the Middle Eastern theater, was formed in October 1915.

On the Mesopotamian Front, British troops under the command of General C. Townshend moved slowly toward Baghdad in September 1915, but on November 22 they were attacked and routed by the Turks, 35 km from the city, and on December 7 they were beseiged in Kut al-Amarah. The Russian command offered to organize coordinated actions between the British forces and the forces of the Caucasian Front, but the British command refused the offer, because it did not want Russian forces to enter the oil-rich Mosul region. At the end of 1915 the British corps in Mesopotamia was replenished and converted into an expeditionary army. On the Syrian Front the Turkish Fourth Army attempted to take the Suez Canal, by attacking Egypt from Palestine, but the Turks were driven back by two Anglo-Indian divisions. The Turks took up a defensive position in the al-Arish region.

In 1915 the Entente succeeded in drawing Italy into the war on its side. The vacillation of the Italian government was ended by the promises of the Entente powers to give greater satisfaction to Italy’s territorial claims than had been offered by Germany. On Apr. 26, 1915, the Treaty of London was signed. On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, but it did not declare war against Germany until Aug. 28, 1916. The Italian Army (commander in chief, King Victor Emmanuel III; chief of staff, General L. Cadorna) had 35 divisions, with a total of about 870,000 men and 1,700 guns. On May 24, Italian forces began military operations on two axes: against Trent and simultaneously toward the Isonzo River with the mission of reaching Trieste. The Italians failed on both axes. By June 1915 military operations in the Italian theater had already assumed a static character. Four attacks by Italian forces on the Isonzo River ended in collapse.

In the Balkan theater of operations the position of the Allies became more complicated in October 1915, when Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers (the Bulgarian-German Treaty of 1915 and the Bulgarian-Turkish Treaty of 1915). On September 8 (21), Bulgaria proclaimed a mobilization of its army (12 divisions, about 500,000 men). In late September (early October), 14 German and Austro-Hungarian divisions and six Bulgarian divisions under the overall command of Field Marshal General von Mackensen were deployed against Serbia. The Serbs had 12 divisions. To assist Serbia, Great Britain and France, under an agreement with Greece, began on September 22 (October 5) to land an expeditionary corps at Salonika (Thessaloniki) and move it toward the border between Greece and Serbia. On September 24 (October 7) the Austro-German and Bulgarian forces launched a converging offensive against Serbia from the north, west, and east. For two months the Serbian Army courageously repulsed the onslaught of the superior forces of the enemy, but it was compelled to withdraw through the mountains to Albania. Approximately 140,000 men were transported by the Entente fleet from Durrës (Durazzo) to the Greek island of Corfu (Kerkira). The Anglo-French expeditionary corps retreated to the Salonika region, where the Salonika Front was formed in late 1915. The occupation of Serbia secured for the Central Powers the opportunity to establish direct rail communication with Turkey, making it possible to provide Turkey with military assistance.

During 1915 the German Navy continued its attempts to weaken the fleets of its enemies and to undermine the supply of Great Britain by sea. On January 24 a battle took place between British and German squadrons at Dogger Bank (North Sea). Neither side attained success. On Feb. 18, 1915, Germany declared that it was initiating “unrestricted submarine warfare.” The sinking of the passenger steamers Lusitania (May 7) and Arabic (August 19) evoked protests from the USA and other neutral countries, forcing the German government to limit its submarine warfare to actions against warships.

In February 1915 the Anglo-French command began to carry out a naval operation, the Gallipoli Expedition (the Dardanelles Operation of 1915), attempting to use naval forces to cross the Dardanelles, break through to Constantinople, and put Turkey out of the war. The breakthrough failed. In April 1915 a major landing party was set down on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but Turkish forces offered stiff resistance. In December 1915 and January 1916 the Allied command was forced to evacuate the landing forces, which were transferred to the Salonika Front. During the preparation for and execution of the Gallipoli Expedition, there was a bitter diplomatic struggle among the Allies. The expedition was undertaken under the pretext of assisting Russia. In March-April 1915, Great Britain and France had reached an agreement with Russia, under which Constantinople and the Straits would be handed over to Russia after the war, on the condition that the latter did not interfere in the partitioning of Asiatic Turkey. In reality, the Allies intended to capture the Straits and deny Russia access to them. Anglo-French talks on the partitioning of Asiatic Turkey concluded with the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. In August the German Navy undertook the Moonsund Operation of 1915, which was a failure. The Russian Black Sea Fleet continued to operate in Turkish sea-lanes. On April 21 (May 2), during the Gallipoli Expedition, it shelled the fortifications on the Bosporus.

The campaign of 1915 did not fulfill the hopes of either of the hostile coalitions, but its outcome was more favorable for the Entente. The German command, again failing to solve the problem of crushing its enemies one by one, faced the necessity of continuing a long war on two fronts. The chief burden of the struggle in 1915 was borne by Russia, giving France and Great Britain time to mobilize their economies to meet war needs. Russia also began to mobilize its industry. In 1915 the Russian Front grew more important: in the summer, 107 Austro-German divisions, or 54 percent of all the forces of the Central Powers, were stationed there, as compared to 52 divisions (33 percent) at the beginning of the war.

The war placed a heavy burden on the toiling people. Gradually freeing themselves of the chauvinistic attitudes that had been widespread at the beginning of the war, the popular masses became more and more resolutely opposed to the imperialist slaughter. Antiwar demonstrations took place in 1915, and the strike movement in the warring countries began to grow. This process developed with particular speed and violence in Russia, where conditions were greatly exacerbated by military defeats, and a revolutionary situation developed in the autumn of 1915. At the fronts, there were cases of fraternization among soldiers from hostile armies. The propaganda of the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, and the left groups of European socialists and Social Democratic parties helped arouse the masses to revolutionary activity. In Germany the International Group was formed in the spring of 1915 under the leadership of K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg. (From 1916 the group was known as the Spartacus League.) The Zimmerwald Conference (Sept. 5–8, 1915), an international socialist conference of great importance for the consolidation of revolutionary antiwar forces, adopted a manifesto that signified “a step toward an ideological and practical break with opportunism and social chauvinism” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 38).

Campaign of 1916. By the beginning of 1916 the Central Powers, having expended enormous efforts in the first two campaigns, had considerably depleted their resources but had been unable to force France or Russia to leave the war. The Entente raised the number of its divisions to 365, as against the 286 divisions of the German bloc.

The 1916 operations by the armies of the Central Powers were based on General von Falkenhayn’s plan, according to which the main efforts were again to be directed against France. The main attack was to be delivered in the Verdun region, which was of great operational importance. A breakthrough on this axis would threaten the entire northern wing of the Allied armies. The German plan called for active operations at the same time in the Italian theater, using the forces of the Austro-Hungarian armies. In the Eastern European theater of operations, the Germans decided to limit operations to a strategic defensive. The fundamentals of the Entente’s plan for the 1916 campaign were adopted at a conference in Chantilly (France) on Dec. 6–9, 1915. Offensives were planned for the Eastern European, Western European, and Italian theaters of operations. The Russian Army was to be the first to launch offensive operations, followed by the Anglo-French and Italian forces. The Allies’ strategic plan was the first attempt to coordinate troop operations on different fronts.

The Entente plan did not provide for going over to a general offensive until the summer of 1916. This ensured that the German command would keep the strategic initiative, a factor which it decided to use to its advantage. The Germans had 105 divisions on a front 680 km long in the Western European theater of operations. They were opposed by 139 Allied divisions (95 French, 38 British, and six Belgian divisions). On February 21 the German command began the Verdun Operation of 1916, without an overall superiority in forces. Bitter combat, during which both sides suffered heavy losses, continued until December. The Germans expended enormous efforts but were unable to break through the defense.

In the Italian theater of operations the command of the Italian Army launched its fifth unsuccessful offensive on the Isonzo River in March 1916. On May 15, Austro-Hungarian forces (18 divisions and 2,000 guns) delivered a counter blow in the Trentino region. The Italian First Army (16 divisions and 623 guns), unable to hold back the enemy onslaught, began to withdraw to the south. Italy requested emergency assistance from its allies.

Operations in the Eastern European theater, where 128 Russian divisions were deployed against 87 Austro-German divisions along a front 1,200 km long, were particularly important in the campaign of 1916. The Naroch (Narocz) Operation,which was carried out on March 5–17 (18–30), forced the Germans temporarily to weaken their attacks on Verdun. The Russian offensive on the Southwestern Front (commander in chief, General A. A. Brusilov), which began on May 22 (June 4), was of great importance. The Russians broke through the defense of the Austro-German forces to a depth of 80–120 km. The enemy suffered heavy losses (more than 1 million killed and wounded and more than 400,000 taken prisoner). The command of the Central Powers were forced to move 11 German divisions from France and six Austro-Hungarian divisions from Italy to the Russian Front.

The Russian offensive saved the Italian Army from destruction, eased the situation of the French at Verdun, and hastened Rumania’s entry into the war on the side of the Entente. Rumania declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 14(27), on Germany on August 15 (28), on Turkey on August 17 (30), and on Bulgaria on August 19 (September 1). The Rumanian armed forces consisted of four armies (23 infantry and two cavalry divisions; 250,000 men). The Russian 47th Army Corps was moved across the Danube to the Dobruja region to assist the Rumanian forces. With Russian support, Rumanian forces launched an offensive in Transylvania on August 20 (September 2) and later in the Dobruja region, but they did not attain success. The Austro-German command concentrated General von Falkenhayn’s army group in Transylvania (the German Ninth Army and the Austro-Hungarian First Army, with a total of 26 infantry and seven cavalry divisions) and Field Marshal General von Mackensen’s German Danube Army in Bulgaria (nine infantry and two cavalry divisions). On September 13 (26) both groups, under the overall command of General von Falkenhayn, went over to the offensive at the same time. The Rumanian Army was routed.

On November 22 (December 6), German forces entered Bucharest, which the Rumanians abandoned without a fight. The Russian command moved in 35 infantry and 13 cavalry divisions to assist Rumania. Russia had to form a new Rumanian front. By the end of 1916, its forces had stopped the advance of the Austro-German armies on the line between Focşani and the mouth of the Danube. The formation of the Rumanian Front increased the total length of the front line by 500 km and diverted about a fourth of Russia’s armed forces, thereby worsening the strategic position of the Russian Army.

After lengthy preparation, Anglo-French forces opened a major offensive on the Somme River on July 1, but it developed very slowly. Tanks were used for the first time on September 15 by the British. The Allies continued the offensive until mid-November, but despite enormous losses, they advanced only 5–15 km and failed to break through the German static front.

In the Middle Eastern theater of operations the forces of the Russian Caucasian Front successfully carried out the Erzurum Operation of 1916, the Trabzon Operation of 1916, and the Erzincan and Oğnut operations, taking the cities ofErzurum, Trabzon, and Erzincan. General N. N. Baratov’s I Caucasus Cavalry Corps launched an offensive on the Mosul and Baghdad axes, with the objective of assisting the British, who were beseiged at Kut al-Amarah. In February the corps took Kermanshah, and in May it reached the Turkish-Iranian border. With the surrender of the garrison at Kut al-Amarah on Apr. 28, 1916, the Russian corps brought a halt to its advance and took up a defensive position east of Kermanshah.

In naval operations, the British fleet continued its long-range blockade of Germany. German submarines were active on the sea-lanes. The system of minefields was improved. The battle of Jutland (1916) was the war’s only major naval battle between the main forces of the British Navy (Admiral J. Jellicoe) and the German Navy (Admiral R. Scheer). The battle involved 250 surface ships, including 58 capital ships (battleships and battle cruisers). As a result of its superiority in forces, the British fleet was victorious, even though it suffered greater losses than the German fleet. The defeat shattered the German command’s belief that it was possible to break through the British blockade. The Russian Black Sea Fleet continued its actions on enemy sea-lanes, blockading the Bosporus from August 1916.

The campaign of 1916 did not result in the achievement of the objectives set at the beginning by either coalition, but the superiority of the Entente over the Central Powers became evident. The strategic initiative passed fully to the Entente, and Germany was forced to go over to the defensive on all fronts.

The bloody battles of 1916, which involved enormous human sacrifices and great expenditures of matériel, were depleting the resources of the belligerent powers. The situation of the working people continued to worsen, but the revolutionary movement also continued to grow stronger in 1916. The Kienthal Conference of internationalists (Apr. 24–30, 1916) played an important role in increasing solidarity among revolutionary forces. The revolutionary movement developed with particular speed and turbulence in Russia, where the war had finally revealed to the popular masses the complete decadence of tsarism. A powerful wave of strikes swept over the country, led by the Bolsheviks under the slogans of struggle against the war and the autocracy. The Middle Asian Uprising, a national liberation movement, took place from July to October 1916. In the autumn a revolutionary situation took shape in Russia. The inability of tsarism to win the war aroused discontent among the Russian imperialist bourgeoisie, who began to prepare a palace revolution. The revolutionary movement grew stronger in other countries. The Irish Rebellion, or Easter Rising (Apr. 24–30, 1916), was harshly suppressed by British troops. On May 1, K. Liebknecht led a massive antiwar demonstration in Berlin. The growing revolutionary crisis forced the imperialists to direct their efforts toward quickly ending the war. In 1916, Germany and tsarist Russia attempted to open separate peace negotiations.

Campaign of 1917. As the campaign of 1917 was prepared and carried out, the revolutionary movement grew considerably stronger in every country. Protest against the war with its enormous losses, against the sharp decline in the standard of living, and against the increasing exploitation of the working people became stronger among the popular masses at the front and in the rear. The revolutionary events in Russia had a tremendous effect on the subsequent course of the war.

By the beginning of the campaign of 1917, the Entente had 425 divisions (21 million men), and the Central Powers, 331 divisions (10 million men). In April 1917 the USA entered the war on the side of the Entente. The fundamental principles of the plan for the campaign of 1917 were adopted by the Allies at the third conference in Chantilly on Nov. 15–16, 1916, and were made more specific in February 1917 at a conference in Petrograd. The plan provided for limited operations on all fronts early in the year, to hold the strategic initiative. In the summer the Allies were to go over to a general offensive in the Western European and Eastern European theaters of operations, with the objective of finally crushing Germany and Austria-Hungary. The German command rejected offensive operations on land and decided to focus its attention on waging “unrestricted submarine warfare,” believing that it could disrupt the British economy in six months and force Great Britain out of the war. On Feb. 1, 1917, Germany declared “unrestricted submarine warfare” on Great Britain for the second time. Between February and April 1917, German submarines destroyed more than 1,000 merchant ships of the Allied and neutral countries (a total of 1,752,000 tons). By mid-1917, Great Britain, which had lost merchant ships amounting to approximately 3 million tons, found itself in a difficult situation. It could only make up for 15 percent of the losses, and this was not enough to sustain the export and import traffic essential to the country. By the end of 1917, however, after the organization of a reinforced defense of the sea-lanes and the development of various means of antisubmarine defense, the Entente managed to reduce its merchant ship losses. “Unrestricted submarine warfare” did not fulfill the hopes of the German command. Meanwhile, the continuing British blockade was starving Germany.

In executing the general plan for the campaign, the Russian command carried out the Mitau Operation on Dec. 23–29, 1916 (Jan. 5–11, 1917), with the objective of diverting part of the enemy forces from the Western European theater of operations. On February 27 (March 12) a bourgeois democratic revolution took place in Russia (the February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution of 1917). Under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the proletariat, demanding peace, bread, and freedom, led the majority of the army, which was made up of workers and peasants, in the overthrow of the autocracy. However, the bourgeois Provisional Government came to power. Expressing the interests of Russian imperialism, it continued the war. Deceiving the masses of soldiers with false promises of peace, it opened an offensive operation with the troops of the Southwestern Front. The operation ended in failure (the June Operation of 1917).

By the summer of 1917 the combat capability of the Rumanian Army had been restored with Russian assistance, and in the battle of Mărăşeşti (July-August) Russian and Rumanian forces repulsed the German forces, which were attempting to break through to the Ukraine. On August 19–24 (September 1–6), during the Riga defensive operation, Russian troops surrendered Riga. The revolutionary sailors of the Baltic Fleet heroically defended the Moonsund Archipelago in the Moonsund Operation of Sept. 29 (Oct. 12)-Oct. 6 (19), 1917. These were the last operations on the Russian Front.

The Great October Socialist Revolution took place on Oct. 25 (Nov. 7), 1917. The proletariat, in alliance with the poorest peasants and under the leadership of the Communist Party, overthrew the power of the bourgeoisie and the landlords and opened the era of socialism. Carrying out the will of the people, the Soviet government addressed a proposal to all the warring powers, calling for the conclusion of a just democratic peace without annexations and reparations (the decree on peace). When the Entente powers and the USA refused to accept the proposal, the Soviet government was forced to conclude an armistice with the German coalition on December 2(15) and begin peace negotiations without the participation of Russia’s former allies. On November 26 (December 9), Rumania concluded the Focşani armistice with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

In the Italian theater of operations there were 57 Italian divisions opposing 27 Austro-Hungarian divisions in April 1917. Despite the numerical superiority of the Italian forces, the Italian command was unable to attain success. Three more offensives against the Isonzo River failed. On October 24, Austro-Hungarian troops went over to the offensive in the Caporetto region, broke through the Italians’ defense, and inflicted a major defeat on them. Without the assistance of 11 British and French divisions transferred to the Italian theater of operations, it would not have been possible to stop the advance of the Austro-Hungarian forces at the Piave River in late November. In the Middle Eastern theater of operations British troops advanced successfully in Mesopotamia and Syria. They took Baghdad on March 11 and Be’er Sheva’ (Beersheba), Gaza, Jaffa, and Jerusalem in late 1917.

The Entente plan of operations in France, which was developed by General Nivelle, called for delivering the main attack on the Aisne River between Reims and Soissons, in order to break through the enemy defense and surround the German forces in the Noyon salient. Learning of the French plan, by March 17 the German command withdrew its forces 30 km to a previously prepared line known as the Siegfried Line. Subsequently, the French command decided to begin the offensive on a broad front, committing to action major forces and means: six French and three British armies (90 infantry and ten cavalry divisions), more than 11,000 guns and mortars, 200 tanks, and about 1,000 airplanes.

The Allied offensive began on April 9 in the Arras region, on April 12 near St. Quentin, and on April 16 in the Reims region and continued until April 20–28 and May 5 on some axes. The April offensive (the “Nivelle slaughter”) ended incomplete failure. Although about 200,000 men had been lost, the Allied forces had not been able to break through the front. Mutinies broke out in the French Army, but they were cruelly suppressed. A Russian brigade that had been in France since 1916 took part in the offensive on the Aisne River. In the second half of 1917, Anglo-French forces carried out a number of local operations: Messines (June 7-August 30), Ypres (July 31-November 6), Verdun (August 20–27),and Malmaison (October 23–26). At Cambrai (November 20-December 6) massed tanks were used for the first time.

The campaign of 1917 did not produce the results anticipated by either side. The revolution in Russia and the lack of coordinated action by the Allies thwarted the Entente’s strategic plan, which had been intended to crush the Austro-Hungarian bloc. Germany succeeded in repulsing the enemy attacks, but its hope of attaining victory by means of “unrestricted submarine warfare” proved vain, and the troops of the coalition of Central Powers were forced to go over to the defensive.

Campaign of 1918. By early 1918 the military and political situation had changed fundamentally. After the October Revolution Soviet Russia quit the war. Under the influence of the Russian Revolution, a revolutionary crisis was ripening in the other warring powers. The Entente countries (excluding Russia) had 274 divisions at the beginning of 1918—that is, forces approximately equal to those of the German bloc, which had 275 divisions (not counting 86 divisions in the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Baltic region and nine divisions in the Caucasus). The military and economic situation of the Entente was stronger than that of the German bloc. However, the Allied command believed that even more powerful human and material resources would have to be prepared, with the assistance of the USA, in order to finally crush Germany.

Strategic defensives were planned for all theaters of military operations in the campaign of 1918. The decisive offensive against Germany was postponed until 1919. Their resources running out, the Central Powers were eager to end the war as quickly as possible. Having concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Soviet Russia on Mar. 3, 1918, the German command decided in March to go over to the offensive on the Western Front to crush the Entente armies. At the same time, German and Austro-Hungarian forces, in violation of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, began occupying the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Baltic region. Rumania was drawn into the anti-Soviet intervention after May 7, when it signed the Bucharest Peace Treaty of 1918, the terms of which were dictated by the Central Powers.

On March 21 the German command began a major offensive operation on the Western Front (the March Offensive in Picardy). Their intention was to cut off the British forces from the French forces by means of an attack on Amiens, then crush them and reach the sea. The Germans made sure that they would have superiority in forces and means (62 divisions, 6,824 guns, and about 1,000 airplanes against 32 divisions, about 3,000 guns, and about 500 airplanes for the British). The German forces broke through the Allied defense to a depth of 60 km. The Allied command eliminated the breakthrough by bringing reserves into the battle. The German forces suffered heavy losses (about 230,000 men) but did not achieve their assigned objective. Going over to the offensive again on April 9 in Flanders on the Lys River, the German forces advanced 18 km, but by April 14 the Allies stopped them.

On May 27 the German armies delivered an attack north of Reims (the battle of the Chemin des Dames). They managed to cross the Aisne River and penetrate the Allied defense to a depth of about 60 km, reaching the Marne in the Château-Thierry region by May 30. Having arrived within 70 km of Paris, the German forces were unable to overcome French resistance, and on June 4 they went over to the defensive. The attempt of German troops from June 9 to 13 to advance between Montdidier and Noyon was equally unsuccessful.

On July 15 the German command made a final attempt to defeat the Allied armies by opening a major offensive on the Marne. The battle of the Marne of 1918 (the second battle of the Marne) did not fulfill the Germans’ hopes. After crossing the Marne, they were unable to advance more than 6 km. On July 18, Allied forces delivered a counterattack; by August 4 they had driven the enemy back to the Aisne and the Vesle. In four months of offensive operations the German command had completely exhausted its reserves but had been unable to crush the Entente armies.

The Allies took firm control of the strategic initiative. On August 8–13 the Anglo-French armies inflicted a major defeat on the German forces in the Amiens Operation of 1918, making them withdraw to the line from which their March offensive had begun. Ludendorff referred to August 8 as “the black day of the German Army.” On September 12–15 the American First Army, commanded by General J. Pershing, won a victory over German forces at St. Mihiel (the St. Mihiel Operation). On September 26, Allied forces (202 divisions against 187 weakened German divisions) began a general offensive along the entire 420-km front from Verdun to the sea and broke through the German defense.

In the other theaters of military operations the campaign of 1918 ended with the defeat of Germany’s allies. The Entente had 56 divisions, including 50 Italian divisions, in the Italian theater of operations, as well as more than 7,040 guns and more than 670 airplanes. Austria-Hungary had 60 divisions, 7,500 guns, and 580 airplanes. On June 15 the Austro-Hungarian forces, going over to the offensive south of Trent, broke through the enemy defense and advanced 3–4 km, but on June 20–26 they were thrown back to the starting line by counterattack by Allied forces. On October 24 the Italian Army went over to the offensive against the Piave River, but it made only an insignificant advance. On October 28 units of the Austro-Hungarian Fifth and Sixth armies, refusing to fight, began to abandon their positions. They were soon joined by troops of other armies, and a disorderly retreat of all the Austro-Hungarian forces began on November 2. On November 3,Austria-Hungary signed an armistice with the Entente at Villa Giusti (near Padua).

In the Balkan theater of operations, the Allied forces consisted of 29 infantry divisions (eight French, four British, six Serbian, one Italian, and ten Greek divisions and one French cavalry group, a total of about 670,000 men; and 2,070 guns).Facing them along a 350-km front from the Aegean to the Adriatic were the forces of the Central Powers—the German Eleventh Army; the Bulgarian First, Second, and Fourth armies; an Austro-Hungarian corps (a total of about 400,000 men); and 1,138 guns. On September 15 the Allies began an offensive; by September 29 they had advanced to a depth of 150 km along a front of 250 km. Surrounded, the German Eleventh Army surrendered on September 30. The Bulgarian armies were smashed. On September 29, Bulgaria signed an armistice with the Entente in Salonika.

The British army of General E. H. Allenby and the Arab army commanded by Emir Faisal and the British intelligence officer Colonel T. E. Lawrence (a total of 105,000 men and 546 guns) were operating on the Syrian Front, where Turkey had three armies—the Fourth, the Seventh, and the Eighth (a total of 34,000 men and about 330 guns). The Allied offensive began on September 19. Breaking through the enemy defense and pushing forward cavalry units to the enemy rear, Allied troops forced the Turkish Eighth and Seventh armies to surrender; the Turkish Fourth Army retreated. Between September 28 and October 27 the Allies captured Akko (Acre), Damascus, Tripoli, and Aleppo. A French landing party went ashore at Beirut on October 7.

On the Mesopotamian Front the British expeditionary army of General W. Marshall (five divisions) went on the offensive against the Turkish Sixth Army (four divisions). The British captured Kirkuk on October 24 and Mosul on October 31.The Entente powers and Turkey signed the Moudhros Armistice on Oct. 30, 1918, aboard the British battleship Agamemnon in Moudhros Bay (the island of Limnos).

In early October, Germany’s position became hopeless. On October 5 the German government asked the US government for an armistice. The Allies demanded the withdrawal of German forces from all occupied territory in the west. The military defeats and economic exhaustion of Germany had accelerated the development of a revolutionary crisis. The victory and progress of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia strongly influenced the growth of the revolutionary movement of the German people. On Oct. 30, 1918, an uprising broke out among the sailors in Wilhelmshaven. The Kiel Mutiny of sailors in the German fleet took place on Nov. 3, 1918; on November 6 the uprising spread to Hamburg, Lübeck, and other cities. On November 9 the revolutionary German workers and soldiers overthrew the monarchy. Fearing further development of the revolution in Germany, the Entente hurried to conclude the Armistice of Compiègne with Germany on Nov. 11, 1918. Germany, admitting that it had been defeated, obligated itself to remove its forces immediately from all occupied territories and turn over to the Allies a large quantity of armaments and military equipment.

Results of the war. World War I ended in the defeat of Germany and its allies. After the conclusion of the Armistice of Compiègne the victorious powers began developing plans for a postwar “settlement.” Treaties with the defeated countries were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–20. A number of separate treaties were signed: the Peace Treaty of Versailles with Germany (June 28, 1919), the Treaty of St.-Germain with Austria (Sept. 10, 1919), the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria (Nov. 27, 1919), the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary (June 4, 1920), and the Treaty of Sèvres with Turkey (Aug. 10, 1920). The Paris Peace Conference also adopted a resolution regarding the establishment of the League of Nations and approved its Covenant, which became part of the peace treaties. Germany and its former allies were deprived of considerable territories and compelled to pay heavy reparations and greatly reduce their armed forces.

The postwar peace “settlement” in the interests of the victorious imperialist powers was completed by the Washington Conference on Naval Limitations (1921–22). The treaties with Germany and its former allies and the agreements signed at the Washington Conference constituted the Versailles-Washington system of peace. The result of compromises and deals, it failed to eliminate the contradictions among the imperialist powers and in fact considerably exacerbated them. Lenin wrote: “Today, after this ‘peaceful’ period, we see a monstrous intensification of oppression, the reversion to a colonial and military oppression that is far worse than before” (ibid., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 217). The imperialist powers began to struggle for a repartition of the world, preparing for another world war.

In its scope and consequences World War I was unprecedented in the history of the human race. It lasted four years, three months, and ten days (from Aug. 1, 1914, to Nov. 11, 1918), engulfing 38 countries with a combined population of more than 1.5 billion. The Entente countries mobilized about 45 million men, and the coalition of the Central Powers, 25 million —a total of 70 million men. The most able-bodied men on both sides were removed from material production and sent to exterminate each other, fighting for the interests of the imperialists. By the end of the war, the ground forces exceeded their peacetime counterparts by a factor of 8.5 in Russia, five in France, nine in Germany, and eight in Austria-Hungary. As much as 50 and even 59.4 percent (in France) of the able-bodied male population was mobilized. The Central Powers mobilized almost twice the percentage of the total population as the Entente (19.1 percent, as compared to 10.3 percent). About 16 million men—more than one-third of all those mobilized by the Entente and its allies— were mobilized for the Russian armed forces. In June 1917, 288 (55.3 percent) of the Entente’s 521 divisions were Russian. In Germany, 13.25 million men were mobilized, or more than half of all the soldiers mobilized by the Central Powers. In June 1918, 236 (63.4 percent) of the Central Powers’ 361 divisions were German. The large size of the armies resulted in the formation of vast fronts up to 3,000–4,000 km long.


The war demanded the mobilization of all material resources, demonstrating the decisive role of the economy in an armed struggle. World War I was characterized by the massive use of many types of matériel. “It is the first time in history that the most powerful achievements of technology have been applied on such a scale, so destructively and with such energy, for the annihilation of millions of human lives” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 36, p. 396). Industry in the warring countries supplied the fronts with millions of rifles, more than 1 million light and heavy machine guns, more than 150,000 artillery pieces, 47.7 billion cartridges, more than 1 billion shells, 9,200 tanks, and about 182,000 airplanes (see Table 4). During the war the number of heavy artillery pieces increased by a factor of eight, the number of machine guns by a factor of 20, and the number of airplanes by a factor of 24. The war created a demand for large quantities of various materials, such as lumber and cement. About 4 million tons of barbed wire were used. Armies of millions of men demanded an uninterrupted supply of food, clothing, and forage. For example, from 1914 to 1917 the Russian Army consumed (in round figures) 9.64 million tons of flour, 1.4 million tons of cereal, 8.74 million tons of meat, 510,000 tons of fats, 11.27 million tons of forage oats and barley, and 19.6 million tons of hay, with a total value of 2,473,700,000 rubles (at 1913 prices). The front was supplied with 5 million sheepskin coats and pea jackets, 38.4 million sweaters and padded vests, more than 75 million pairs of underwear, 86.1 million pairs of high boots and shoes, 6.6 million pairs of felt boots, and other clothing.

Military enterprises alone could not produce such enormous quantities of armaments and other supplies. Industry was mobilized by means of a large-scale conversion of consumer-goods plants and factories to the production of war goods. In Russia in 1917, 76 percent of the workers were engaged in meeting war needs; in France, 57 percent; in Great Britain, 46 percent; in Italy, 64 percent; in the USA, 31.6 percent; and in Germany, 58 percent. In most of the warring countries, however, industry was unable to supply the needs of the armies for armaments and equipment. Russia, for example, was forced to order armaments, ammunition, clothing, industrial equipment, steam locomotives, coal, and certain other types of strategic raw materials from the USA, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Japan, and other countries. During the war, however, these countries provided the Russian Army with only a small proportion of its total requirements for armaments and ammunition: 30 percent of the rifles, less than 1 percent of the rifle cartridges, 23 percent of the guns of different calibers, and 20 percent of the shells for these guns.

In all the major countries special state bodies were established to manage the war economies: in Germany the Department of War Raw Materials, in Great Britain the Ministry of Munitions, and in Russia the Special Conferences (for state defense, fuel, shipping, and food). These state bodies planned war production; distributed orders, equipment, and raw and processed materials; rationed food and consumer goods; and exercised control over foreign trade. The capitalists formed their own representative organizations to assist the state bodies: in Germany the Central War Industries Council and war industries committees for each sector, in Great Britain the supervisory committees, and in Russia the war industries committees and the Zemstvo and Municipal unions. As a result, an interlocking relationship developed between the state administrative apparatus and the monopolies. “The imperialist war has immensely accelerated and intensified the process of transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 33, p. 3). Although the state bodies managing the war economy had strong assistance from the representative organizations of the capitalists, the very nature of the capitalist economy prevented them from achieving complete success.

The war made intensive demands on all types of transportation. Up to half of all railroad rolling stock was loaded with military shipments. Most motor vehicles were used for military needs. A large number of the merchant vessels of the warring and neutral countries were engaged in shipping cargoes for war industries and armies. During the war 6,700 vessels (excluding sailing ships) were sunk (total displacement, about 15 million tons, or 28 percent of the prewar world tonnage).

The increase in military production, which was achieved primarily at the expense of nonmilitary sectors, placed excessive strains on the national economies, resulting in the disruption of the proportion between different sectors of production and, ultimately, in economic disorder. In Russia, for example, two-thirds of all industrial output went for war needs and only one-third for consumer needs, giving rise to a scarcity of goods, as well as to high prices and speculation. As early as 1915 there were shortages of many types of industrial raw materials and fuel, and by 1916 there was a severe raw materials and fuel crisis in Russia. As a result of the war, the production of many types of industrial output declined in other countries. There was a significant decline in the smelting of pig iron, steel, and nonferrous metals; the extraction of coal and petroleum; and output from all branches of light industry. The war damaged society’s productive forces and undermined the economic life of the people of the world.

In agriculture the effects of the war were especially grave. Mobilization deprived the countryside of its most productive workers and draft animals. Sown areas were cut back, yields dropped, and the number of livestock decreased and their productivity declined. Severe shortages of food developed in the cities of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, which later experienced famine. The shortages spread to the army, resulting in cuts in food rations.

World War I demanded colossal financial expenditures, many times greater than the expenditures in all previous wars. There is no scientifically substantiated estimate of the total cost of World War I, but the one most commonly cited in the literature was calculated by the American economist E. Bogart, who set the total cost of the war at $359.9 billion in gold (699.4 billion rubles), including $208.3 billion (405 billion rubles) of direct (budgeted) expenditures and $151.6 billion (294.4 billion rubles) of indirect expenditures. Direct war expenditures included the cost of maintaining the army (40 percent) and the cost of the material and technological means for waging war (60 percent). The national income provided the economic base for covering war expenditures. Additional sources of financing the war were increases in existing (direct and indirect) taxes and the institution of new taxes, the sale of domestic and foreign bonds, and the issuing of paper money. The full weight of the financial burden of the war fell on the toiling classes of the population.

World War I was an important stage in the history of the art of war and in the building of armed forces. There were major changes in the organization and relationships of the various combat arms. The great length of the fronts and the deployment on them of vast armies of millions of soldiers led to the creation of new organizational units: fronts and army groups. The firepower of the infantry increased, but its proportionate role decreased somewhat as the result of the development of other combat arms: engineers, signal troops, and especially, the artillery. The number of artillery pieces rose sharply, technology improved, and new types of artillery were developed (antiaircraft, infantry support, and antitank artillery). The range of fire, destructive force of fire, and mobility of the artillery increased. The density of artillery reached 100 or more guns per kilometer of front. Infantry attacks were accompanied by rolling barrages.

Tanks, a powerful striking and mobile force, were used for the first time. Tank forces developed rapidly. By the war’s end there were 8,000 tanks in the Entente armies. In aviation, which also developed rapidly, several different branches emerged: fighter, reconnaissance, bombardment, and ground attack aviation. By the end of the war the belligerent powers had more than 10,000 combat aircraft. Antiaircraft defense developed in the air war. Chemical warfare troops appeared. The significance of the cavalry among the combat arms declined, and by the war’s end the number of cavalry troops had dropped sharply.

The war revealed the growing dependence of the art of war on economics and politics. The scale of operations, the extent of the front of attack, and the depth and rate of advance increased. With the establishment of continuous fronts,combat operations became static. The frontal blow, the success of which determined the outcome of an operation, became very important. During World War I the problem of the tactical breakthrough of a front was solved, but the problem of developing a breakthrough into an operational success remained unsolved. New means of fighting complicated the tactics of the combat arms. At the beginning of the war the infantry conducted offensives in skirmish lines and later, in waves of lines and combat teams (squads). Combined arms combat was based on cooperation between old and new combat arms—the infantry, the artillery, tanks, and aviation. Control of troops became more complex. The role of logistics and supplies increased significantly. Rail and motor-vehicle transport became very important.

The types and classes of naval ships were refined, and there was an increase in the proportion of light forces (cruisers, destroyers, patrol vessels and patrol boats, and submarines). Shipboard artillery, mines, torpedoes, and naval aviation were used extensively. The chief forms of military operations at sea were the blockade; cruiser, submarine, and mine warfare; landings and raids; and engagements and battles between line forces and light forces. The experience of World War I greatly influenced the development of military thinking and the organization and combat training of all combat arms (forces) until World War II (1939–45).

The war brought unprecedented deprivation and human suffering and widespread hunger and devastation. It brought mankind “to the brink of a precipice, to the brink of the destruction of civilization, of brutalization” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 31, p.182). Valuables worth 58 billion rubles were destroyed during the war. Entire regions, especially in northern France, were turned into wastelands.

Casualties amounted to 9.5 million killed and dead of wounds and 20 million wounded, of whom 3.5 million were permanently crippled. The heaviest losses (66.6 percent of the total) were suffered by Germany, Russia, France, and Austria-Hungary. The USA sustained only 1.2 percent of the total losses. Many civilians were killed by the various means of combat. (There are no overall figures for combat-related civilian casualties.) Hunger and other privations caused by the war led to a rise in the mortality rate and a drop in the birthrate. The population loss from these factors was more than 20 million in the 12 belligerent states alone, including 5 million in Russia, 4.4 million in Austria-Hungary, and 4.2 million in Germany. Unemployment, inflation, tax increases, and rising prices worsened the poverty and extreme deprivation of the large majority of the population of the capitalist countries.

Only the capitalists gained any advantages from the war. By the beginning of 1918, the war profits of the German monopolies totaled at least 10 billion gold marks. The capital of the German finance magnate Stinnes increased by a factor of ten, and the net profits of the “cannon king” Krupp, by a factor of almost six. Monopolies in France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan made large profits, but the American monopolies made the most on the war—between 1914 and 1918, $3 billion in profits. “The American multimillionaires profited more than all the rest. They have converted all, even the richest, countries into their tributaries. And every dollar is stained with blood—from that ocean of blood that has been shed by the 10 million killed and 20 million maimed” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 37, p. 50). The profits of the monopolies continued to grow after the war.

The ruling classes placed the entire burden of the economic consequences of the war on the toiling people. World War I led to an aggravation of the class struggle and accelerated the ripening of the objective prerequisites for the Great October Socialist Revolution, which opened a new epoch in world history—the epoch of the transition from capitalism to socialism. The example of Russia’s toiling people, who threw off the oppression of the capitalists and landlords, showed other peoples the way to liberation. A wave of revolutionary actions swept over many countries, shaking the foundations of the world capitalist system. The national liberation movement became active in the colonial and dependent countries. “World War I and the October Revolution marked the beginning of the general crisis of capitalism” (Programma KPSS, 1974, p. 25). Politically, this was the chief result of the war.


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Lloyd George, D. Voennye memuary, vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1934–38. (Translated from English.)
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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 – 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


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.

American Party of Labor: Who Started the War?


Anti-Communist Hysteria on the Rise

It seems that once again a specter is haunting Europe, if not the world. Yes, the specter of communism, which was supposedly totally discredited, debunked and rendered wholly irrelevant since 1989. The ruling classes of Europe and the industrialized imperialist world are again putting all their efforts into exorcising this demon; whereas ten years ago they scoffed at Marxism and communism as the profits of the internet boom, outsourcing and neo-liberalism rolled in, they are now in a total panic. That “discredited” theory has got them so terrified that they have, in the past few years, began not only to dredge up all the standard anti-communist propaganda of the Cold War years, but have even resorted to re-writing and re-interpreting history so as to invent new myths.

In Ukraine, the push for international recognition of the 1932-33 famine as genocide was successful under the aegis of Viktor Yushenko. A museum dedicated to the “victims of communism” was opened in Washington D.C. The Katyn massacre is bandied about endlessly while the millions of Polish civilians who died at the hands of the Germans are virtually ignored and the victories Polish People’s Army, which participated in the liberation of Warsaw and the capture of Berlin, is utterly forgotten on the world stage. The 60,000-100,000 Bolshevik prisoners of war who died in Polish captivity after the Russo-Polish war, a war started by Poland, are completely forgotten as well—they don’t count. The history of the Second World War is being actively re-written so as to totally omit the pivotal role played by the USSR and the world’s communist parties in the victory over fascism. Worse still, in 2009 there has been a trend to equate communism and Nazism, to proclaim them allies, and to actually blame Stalin for starting WWII. The praise for Hitler, allowing him to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles and re-arm, the hypocritical Non-Intervention in Spain and the betrayal of Munich are all to be forgotten. We are supposed to believe that it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which gave Hitler a green light to go to war, while ignoring years of collaboration and encouragement for Hitler from the Western powers.

How far has the hysteria gone? In July of 2009, an OSCE parliamentary resolution drafted by Lithuanian Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene called for the 23rd of August to be made a day of remembrance for the “victims of Nazism and Stalinism.” This resolution attributes blame for WWII equally upon both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; Munich and the years of Western support and collaboration with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy are ignored entirely. Possibly as a result of this decision, a new wave of articles hit the newspapers and internet around August to the 1st of September 2009, practically if not literally proclaiming Stalin guilty for starting WWII. This demonstrates that the hysteria has reached such a pitch that the ruling classes of Europe are more than willing to re-write even the most basic historical facts. It is absurd beyond all explanation that the Western powers could spend years trying to downplay if not totally ignore the Soviet Union’s role in destroying fascism in the Second World War, yet they are willing to make a most idiotic leap of logic to blame the whole war on the Soviet Union. One might ask whether or not such people would prefer the masses to believe that Stalin alone rather than Hitler started the war; I am inclined to believe yes. The ruling classes of Europe do not fear Nazism resurgent, but communism is a real threat. It is that fact which serves as a principle reason for the rise of anti-communist hysteria, which we will explore in detail later in this text. For the moment, let us focus on the allegation itself.

Addressing the Allegation

Anyone familiar with history has heard the term “Big Lie.” The term was coined by none other than Adolf Hitler, who explained that people would more likely believe a big lie simply because they would not expect anyone to tell such preposterous lies. Of course that theory is rather absurd; I could tell a big lie by claiming to have a pet dinosaur, and most would simply laugh at the claim. “Big Lies” do exist however, and those which are effective are those which are on one hand often repeated, and on the other so multi-layered that most people simply do not have the requisite knowledge to challenge them. A claim with one or two falsehoods or logical fallacies is easy to spot, but the lies surrounding this new mythology of the Second World War and the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact contain so many distortions and omissions that they are difficult to answer in detail without filling entire books. The best way to challenge these lies is to break down the claim into various parts and address each one in concise fashion. Thus let us begin to do just that.

Claim: Nazi Germany & the Soviet Union, by way of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, were Allies.

Firstly, a non-aggression pact is not an alliance. This might seem like legalistic quibbling, until one considers that Poland signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR in 1932, and later concluded a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1935. One would be hard pressed to find any mainstream source of historical literature referring to Poland and the USSR or Poland and Germany as “allies,” despite the fact that Poland took advantage of Germany’s dismantling of Czechoslovakia to invade and seize part of the newly independent fascist Slovakia. It is worth noting that the territory seized from Czechoslovakia by Poland had a minority Polish population, a fact the reader should keep in mind for later.

One might claim that the pact was an alliance because of the transfer of raw materials to Germany. This fails for several reasons; first among them is the fact that again, Poland signed a trade agreement with Nazi Germany after signing the non-aggression pact with the latter. Again, nobody speaks of the “allies” Germany and Poland “carving up” Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, the US was still shipping vital scrap metal and oil to Japan despite the latter’s conquest of Manchuria and invasion of China. Japan received 80% of its oil from the US, which only cut off oil exports in 1940 when Japan invaded French Indochina. Again, who claims that the US and Japan were allies?

Much has also been said about the collaboration of American corporations with Nazi Germany, IBM most likely being the most notorious due to the role their products had in the Holocaust. Does anyone blame America for the Holocaust? While much is said today about the resources gained from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, not a word is mentioned about the key role played by German subsidiaries of GM and Ford in arming the Wehrmacht. The switch-over from civilian to military production in these plants was not only known, but encouraged by the US-based corporate HQs of these companies. Perhaps far more importantly, the US corporations Standard Oil and Texaco provided Germany with vital supplies even after the war began. Standard Oil even assisted the Germans in creating synthetic fuel, which proved crucial to Germany’s war effort.

When considering whether the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, even taking into account the resource transfers to Germany, was the catalyst for the Second World War, it helps to realize that Albert Speer, armaments minister of Germany and a close confident of Hitler, once remarked that Hitler would not have gone to war had it not been for the capability to synthesize fuel.

Why did the USSR sign the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany? Western Conciliation and Collaboration sets the Stage

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler laid out what he saw as a plan for the salvation and preservation of Germany and its people. Hitler understood that Germany could not possibly rely on a maritime empire with far-flung colonies like those of Britain or France. As such he envisioned a European, contiguous land empire expanding eastward. Unlike the fallen Austro-Hungarian Empire, which Hitler despised for its multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan nature, Germany’s new empire would expand into Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia, but the population would either be killed, deported, or sterilized and used as slaves. Upon invading the USSR in 1941, this process of ethnic cleansing, enslavement and extermination began from the first days of the invasion and would continue until the Germans were finally pushed out of Soviet territory. Incidentally the plan for the whole campaign was to take all the land up to what was called the Archangel-Astrakhan line, running from the north all the way to the Caspian Sea in the south. With chilling sobriety, German planners estimated that countless millions would die from starvation alone. This was the threat hanging over the USSR since Hitler came to power.

Speaking in the 18th Congress of the VKP (b) in March of 1939, Stalin put forth the line that the outside world could be divided into two camps. On one hand there were the “democracies” consisting of the United Kingdom, France and the US, all of which had an interest in maintaining the status quo. In the other camp were Germany, Japan and Italy. Having turned to fascism and nationalism in response to their economic predicaments, they had a natural inclination to seek out new markets via military means. Germany had no colonies and based on Hitler’s ideas, a genetic imperative to expand eastward. Italy had few colonial possessions but its eyes were focused on what seemed like easy targets such as Albania and Abyssinia. Japan held some colonial possessions for some time and had already began to expand starting with its conquest of Manchuria in 1931, and by 1939 it had already been engaged in a war against China for almost two years. While the “army faction” of the military junta ruling Japan wished to expand the China war into a war against the USSR, the navy faction sought new sources of oil and rubber in the colonial possessions of France, England, America and the Netherlands.

Given the situation at the time, it was clear that though England, France and the United States were imperialist states, they represented a far lesser evil than the rising Axis powers. Moreover, these states had a desire for peace, on one hand because their populations were not keen on going to war, on the other hand because they had large markets under their control and no reason to buck the status quo. The Soviet Union had an even greater interest in preserving peace; having barely completed its industrialization, it was imperative to equip and modernize its armed forces. Based on this disposition, the policy of the USSR was to seek collective security with England and France against Germany and Italy. There was only one problem with this strategy: the English and French had to be willing.

During the Russian Civil War, numerous imperial powers invaded the dying Russian Empire, hoping to strangle Bolshevism in the cradle and hopefully snatch their own piece of territory. Among the armies of intervention were the French and the British. When the Whites and their allies failed, the British and French attempted to create a “cordon sanitare” around the Soviet Union in hopes of stopping the spread of communism. The success of the fascists in defeating the communists of Germany and Italy suggested that they may become a bulwark against the USSR and communism. As such, though it was against their own objective interests, the Western powers became increasingly friendly to both Hitler and Mussolini.

From the time Hitler came to power in 1933, Britain and France began to cow to Germany at every opportunity. Britain made the first move, signing a naval treaty with Germany in 1935 which was vital to its rearmament. Nothing was done to prevent the Germany’s reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936. Probably the most egregious act of Britain and France in terms of appeasement prior to Munich was the “Non-Intervention Agreement” concluded with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. This agreement prevented the Spanish Republic, the legally elected government of Spain, from having the right to buy weapons for its own defense. While the Republic was isolated by its neighbors, Germany and Italy sent thousands of men, along with planes and tanks for the nationalist rebels. The rebels were provided with oil on credit by Texaco. Upon seeing that Non-Intervention actually meant allowing the nationalists to destroy the Republic with ease, the Soviet Union quickly withdrew from the embargo and began to supply the Republic with high-tech arms. Thousands of pilots and other military advisors were sent to Spain while the Comintern organized volunteers from around the world to fight in the International Brigades. German and Italian U-Boats torpedoed Soviet merchant ships sailing to Spain, while on one occasion a Royal Navy vessel watched as the German Kriegsmarine shelled the Spanish coast in support of a nationalist attack. Spain was sacrificed in the hopes that Germany would look east and only east. Next on the chopping block would be Austria and Czechoslovakia.

The Germans managed to pull off their crooked “Anschluss” with Austria without any opposition from abroad. In the case of Czechoslovakia, the last democracy in Central Europe, the fate of this small country would be decided without its presence at the negotiating table. Also excluded was the Soviet Union, which later attempted to send weapons to Czechoslovakia (which sadly ended up in German hands). The annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia meant that the country’s border defenses ended up in the hands of the Germans, leaving the last democracy in Central Europe to be picked clean by Germany, Hungary and Poland. Slovakia became a German client state under the fascist regime of Josef Tiso. Hitler was not satisfied with Munich though; he felt that he had been swindled, and “denied” the war he desired.

Soviet attempts to create an Alliance with Britain and France; the Ultimate Betrayal at Munich

Recognizing the threat posed by Nazi Germany, and with an understanding that their capability for war was at the time insufficient, the Soviets strove to create a collective security pact with Britain and France. When the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact was signed, the Soviets had been embroiled in negotiations with the British and French for six months. Negotiations stalled when the Soviets demanded transit rights through Poland and Romania should war with Germany break out. Both Poland and Romania were at the time anti-communist states with fascist or quasi-fascist regimes; both were embroiled in territorial disputes with the USSR as well. The British and French seemed willing to conclude a political agreement, but the Soviets quite rightly judged this to be useless without a military agreement. Stalin believed that there was the possibility the English would conclude a pact with the USSR and then not come to aid militarily if war broke out. Considering the Anglo-French reaction to the invasion of Poland, this fear might have been right in hindsight.

As negotiations broke down, it was the Germans who began to suggest an agreement to the Soviets. At first the Soviets did nothing; it was clear this was a ploy to spoil the negotiations with the French and English. At the same time however, it was becoming clear that the English and French were deliberately dragging out the negotiations, particularly on the military aspect of a pact. This idea was supported by the fact that the Anglo-French military delegation headed to Moscow not by plane but by a slow ship to Leningrad. With the English and French clearly sabotaging the negotiations in a vain hope of deterring Hitler by the mere threat of an alliance, the Soviets began to talk to the Germans.

In his book Stalin’s Wars, author Geoffery Roberts points out that aside from the lack of a provision condemning aggression against a third country by a party to the agreement, this Non-Aggression Pact was not much different than any other non-aggression pact the Soviets had signed in the 20s and 30s. Roberts characterized the pact as a pledge of Soviet neutrality in the event of a German war against Poland. It is also worth noting that prior to the beginning of negotiations with the Germans, Soviet intelligence as well as Stalin himself were convinced that a German attack on Poland was inevitable. All that mattered is where Germany would stop, an issue we will explore in detail later.

Roberts goes on to point out that in August 1939, it was not clear that Poland would fold so easily against the German war machine, which had yet to debut in combat save for limited action in the Spanish Civil War. While the English and French had guaranteed Poland’s independence, there was still the possibility of a Munich-style betrayal, which would have handed to the Germans either a part of Poland’s territory if not the whole country itself. This was a critical threat for the USSR because Poland in 1939 included the territories of Western Belarus and the Halychyna (Galicia)/Volhynia (Volyn) regions of Ukraine. Were Germany to occupy, by whatever means, all of 1939-era Poland, it would have brought their armies far closer to Kiev, Leningrad and Moscow. From East Prussia the Germans could also easily move up through the Baltic countries. To prevent this from happening, the Soviets agreed to “spheres of interest” in Eastern Europe that would theoretically keep the Germans at bay. Thus the pact not only bought the USSR time to reorganize and arm its forces, but also helped push the border westward. Of course the Soviets were aware that the Germans might not honor their part of the deal, and they were not pleased when the Soviets retook Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania, a move which brought them dangerously close to Germany’s vital oil supply from the fields of Ploesti.

After the war had already broken out, Stalin gave his opinion on the pact and the fall of Poland to Germany in a meeting with Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the Comintern, who noted it down in his diary. “A war is on between two groups of capitalist countries…for the redivision of the world, for the domination of the world! We see nothing wrong in their having a good hard fight and weakening each other. It would be fine if at the hands of Germany the position of the richest capitalist countries (especially England) were shaken. Hitler, without understanding it or desiring it, is shaking and undermining the capitalist system…We can maneuver, pit one side against the other to set them fighting with each other as fiercely as possible. The non-aggression pact is to a certain degree helping Germany. Next time we’ll urge on the other side…Formerly…the Polish state was a national state. Therefore, revolutionaries defended it against partition and enslavement. Now (Poland) is a fascist state, oppressing the Ukrainians, Belorussians, and so forth. The annihilation of that state under current conditions would mean one fewer bourgeois fascist state to contend with! What would be the harm if as a result of the rout of Poland we were to extend the socialist system onto new territories and populations?”

After 1945, that vision came true.

The Partition of “Poland”

Part of the “big lie” surrounding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is the claim that “Germany and the Soviet Union attacked and divided up Poland.” At face value this seems true, until one actually looks at the details. While the Germans attempted to get the Soviets to invade as soon as possible, Molotov rejected premature intervention. The Soviets never crossed the Polish border until 17 September, after the Polish government had fled the country and the Germans had declared that they no longer recognized the existence of a state named “Poland.” This declaration gave the Germans “legal” grounds to drive right up to the Soviet frontier. In fact on several occasions German forces did attempt to just that, in hopes that the Soviets would not contest any ground they managed to grab. Thus, Red Army troops were sent into Galicia and Volyn under the orders to prevent the Germans from seizing these territories.

Did this invasion constitute an aggressive attack? Does this prove that the USSR was attacking Poland as an “ally” of Germany? Hardly—as noted before, Poland had a non-aggression pact with Germany when it seized a non-Polish territory of Czechoslovakia. Nowhere today in the mainstream media do we hear about dastardly Poland’s “alliance” with Germany and how the Nazis and Poles “carved up Czechoslovakia.”

There are some other facts worth considering as well. Most important of all are the facts surrounding the lie that the USSR invaded “Eastern Poland.” The territory of “Eastern Poland” at the time consisted of Ukrainian and Belorussian territories seized by Poland in a war of aggression back in 1921. With the Bolsheviks tied down in the Civil War, Poland rejected the borders it had been granted and attempted to take Belarus and Ukraine. The Poles managed to defeat Ukrainian nationalist forces and were poised to take Kiev when they were pushed all the way back to Warsaw by the Red Army. Despite this success, the Bolsheviks still had to contend not only with the White Guards but also the armies of the imperialist intervention. They signed the Treaty of Riga with Poland, ceding the disputed territories of Volyn and Galicia in Western Ukraine and territory in Western Belarus. Polish rule was unpopular; in fact a Ukrainian nationalist insurgency broke out in the late 20s, and the Germans even used supporters of this nationalist movement in their war against Poland in 1939. Had the Germans been allowed to take all of 1939 Poland, they would have been dangerously close to the USSR’s most vital territory.

It is also worth noting the reaction of the world to the Soviet invasion, particularly in contrast to the reaction to the German invasion. Honoring their pledge to Poland in word though not in deed, the English and French declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939. Neither declared war on the USSR however. England, France and Romania had military alliances with Poland, and none of these countries declared war on the USSR. The League of Nations did not declare the Soviet invasion an act of aggression, nor did any other country. In fact not even Poland declared war on the USSR. Poland’s supreme commander even ordered the army not to resist the Red Army, while still urging continued resistance to the Germans. Here is the text of his order of 17 September 1939:

“The Soviets have invaded. My orders are to carry out the retirement into Rumania and Hungary by the shortest routes. Do not engage the Soviets in military actions, only in the event of disarming our units by them. The task for Warsaw and Modlin, which must defend themselves against the Germans, remain unchanged. Units towards whose formations the Soviets have approached should negotiate with them with the aim of the exit of the garrisons into Rumania or Hungary.

            Supreme Commander

            Marshal of Poland E. Rydz-Smigly”

It is also interesting to note that Winston Churchill himself, a die-hard anti-communist and a beloved icon of anti-communist authors today, was in favor of the Soviet action in Poland. Again, author Geoffery Roberts provides us with Churchill’s words from a radio broadcast of the 1st of October 1939:

“Russia had pursued a cold policy of self-interest. We could have wished that the Russian armies should be standing on their present line as the friends and allies of Poland instead of invaders. But that the Russian armies should stand on this line was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace…I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest or the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan states and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of south-eastern Europe. That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.”

The idea of an innocent Poland, beset upon by two predatory “totalitarian” “allies” has long stood as a useful myth not only to the anti-communists of Poland but also to the English, who have long maintained this myth to paint their involvement in the Second World War as being a selfless act in defense of a weaker nation. As laughable as this is, many still believe today that the USSR’s invasion of Galicia, Volyn and Belarus can be equated with Germany’s invasion, which not only occupied Polish land but also ethnically cleansed Poles from the Wartheland as they resettled the area with German colonists. Then again, most people have never heard of Galicia or Volyn.

Why Are They Rewriting History?

The history of the Second World War is complex beyond words. Thousands upon thousands of books have been written on the subject. Every major battle has produced its own collection of books, and in some cases documentaries and feature films. The history of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is itself incredibly complex. Here we have discussed only a bare minimum of facts, specifically key facts necessary for the refutation of this modern attempt to rewrite history. Exposing the facts about Western collaboration with fascism can only do so much good. The key issue is that in the past few years, fear of communism among the elite has risen to a level not seen since the McCarthy era. Why, if communism is supposedly dead and buried, do they need to go to such great lengths as to actually re-write history to a degree not even seen during the Cold War?

It is not entirely coincidental that as capitalism descends once more into crisis and as the leading imperialist countries find themselves embroiled in two losing wars, the drive to push communism beyond the pale of political discourse has led to the rewriting of history’s most basic facts. 1991 was supposed to mark the triumph of capitalism and the free market. It was called “the end of history.” Capitalism brings prosperity, the free market conquers all. Reality brought something much different however.

Within a few years, people who never had to worry about paying the rent, making ends meet or getting quality medical care suddenly found themselves helpless at the hands of rapacious thugs, gangsters and oligarchs. Millions were displaced as nations broke apart. Stability gave way to chaos, hopelessness, violence, sex slavery and human trafficking. Nationalism reached a fever pitch and tens of thousands of people were ethnically cleansed. Europe experienced its bloodiest conflict since the WWII. At first, many in Eastern Europe accepted the excuse that they had dismantled their old economies “too fast,” as though this was carried out according to their will as opposed to that of their respective ruling classes advised by and in collusion with businessmen and investors from around the globe. Things would get better after joining NATO and the EU, or a strong leader like Vladimir Putin would solve everything. It is now nearly 20 years since the fall of the Eastern Bloc, and the leaders who promised prosperous societies with respect for “human rights” have failed. They have failed and the people know it.

Now in the throes of an economic crisis, one which now threatens the imperialist European Union, the specter of communism is again haunting Europe. With the US still suffering from massive unemployment, that specter is haunting the US as well. All over the world, even people who were once mainstream liberals are now starting to question capitalism itself. Many are no longer just questioning “unregulated capitalism” but capitalism itself. When we look at the riots in Greece unfolding before our eyes, or the struggle of the TEKEL workers in Turkey, when we see an increasing number of Eastern Europeans admitting that they had a better life under their revisionist regimes than their incompetent politicians today, we easily understand why it is necessary for the European elite to equate communism with Nazism, the latter being a monster fed and raised by capitalism itself. No wonder the American elite pays Glenn Beck to scare the politically and historically illiterate with the same idiotic conflation. After 1991 they could proclaim capitalism triumphant and Marx discredited. Today Marx has been vindicated; economic crisis, unemployment and poverty are all inherent and eternal in capitalism and always will be.

There is no lie too great for the international ruling class when it comes to scaring the proletariat away from the path of liberation and emancipation. A few years ago they tried to erase the Soviet Union’s massive contribution to the defeat of fascism, the bastard child of capitalism. Today they are trying to tell us that Stalin was just as responsible for starting the Second World War. We can be certain they will continue raising the mythical body counts of communism to absurd levels as well. Try as they may, however, they will never exorcise this spirit from the mind of the working class, the one class of society that has the power to both provide for society’s needs and run society itself.

As Enver Hoxha once said: “No force, no torture, no intrigue, no deception can eradicate Marxism-Leninism from the minds and hearts of men.”


Furr, Grover. “Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland in 1939?.” Cyrano’s Journal (2009): n. pag. Web.

Pauwels, Jacques. “Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler.” Labour/La Travail 51. (2003): n. pag. Web.

Roberts, Geoffery. Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953. 1st. Yale University Press, 2007. Print.


Anna Louise Strong: “Stalin”

Anna Louise Strong 1913_UWDigital

by Anna Louise Strong

The Soviets Expected It, The Dial Press, New York, 1941, pp. 46-64

YEARS AGO, when I first lunched with President Roosevelt just after he had seen H. G. Wells, I found that of all the subjects in the Soviet Union the one that interested him the most was the personality of Stalin and especially the technique of “Stalin’s rule.” It is a natural interest; I think it interests most Americans. The unbroken rise of Stalin’s prestige for twenty years both within the Soviet Union and beyond its borders is really worth attention by students of politics.

Yet most of the American press brags of its ignorance of Stalin by frequently alluding to the “enigmatic ruler in the Kremlin.” Cartoons and innuendo have been used to create the legend of a crafty, bloodthirsty dictator who even strives to involve the world in war and chaos so that something called “Bolshevism” may gain. This preposterous legend will shortly die. It was based on the fact that most American editors couldn’t really afford to understand the Soviet Union, and that Stalin himself was usually inaccessible to foreign journalists. Men who had hit the high spots around the world and chatted cozily with Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin D. Roosevelt and even Chiang Kai-shek were irritated when Josef Stalin wouldn’t give them time. The fact of the matter was that Stalin was busy with a job to which foreign contacts and publicity did not contribute. His job, like that of a Democratic National Chairman, was organizing the ruling party and through it the country.

Since the German-Soviet war began, Stalin has become chief of the army and government. He will see more foreigners now. He made a good beginning with Harry Hopkins and W. Averell Harriman. They seem to have been impressed! I know how they were impressed for I also met Stalin. In the light of the impressions that leading Americans and Britons are now going to have of him, the legend of the inscrutable dictator will die. We may even come to hear Stalin spoken of, as a Soviet writer once described him, as “the world’s great democrat”!

When I met Stalin, I did not find him enigmatic. I found him the easiest person to talk to I ever met. He is far and away the best committee chairman of my experience. He can bring everybody’s views out and combine them in the minimum of time. His method of running committees reminded me somewhat of Jane Addams of Hull House or Lillian D. Wald of Henry Street Settlement. They had the same kind of democratically efficient technique, but they used more high pressure than Stalin did.

If Stalin has been inaccessible to foreigners—there were exceptions even to this—that does not mean that he lived in isolation, in a sort of Kremlin ivory tower. There were close to 200,000,000 people keeping him busy. He was seeing a lot of them. Not always necessarily the party leaders. A milkmaid who had broken the milking record, a scientist who had broken the atom, an aviator who flew to America, a coal miner who invented a new labor process, a workman with a housing difficulty, an engineer balked by new conditions—any person representing either a signal achievement or a typical problem might be invited by Stalin to talk it over. That was the way he got his data and kept in touch with the movement of the country.

That, I realized afterwards, was why Stalin saw me. For nearly ten years I had liked his country and tried to succeed there, for nearly two I had organized and tried to edit a little weekly newspaper for other Americans who had come to work for the Five Year Plan. And what with censorship, red tape, and what seemed the wanton emergence of another competing weekly, I wanted to give up. My editor-in-chief was practically blackmailing me that, if I resigned, he would ruin my reputation. Exhausted and angry, I was feeling trapped. A Russian friend suggested that I complain to Stalin. I did. Three days later his office called me up and suggested that I come down and talk it over with “some responsible comrades.” It was done so casually that I almost refused, for the editor-in-chief had finally agreed to my resignation and I was “through with it all.” But I felt that after sending that letter it was only polite to go.

I expected to see some fairly high official at the party headquarters, and was rather stunned when the auto drove straight to the Kremlin and especially when I entered a large conference room and saw not only Stalin rising to greet me, but Kaganovich and Voroshilov too! It seemed overwhelmingly disproportionate. Later I realized that it was not my little problem that chiefly concerned them. I was one of several thousand Americans who had begun to worry them. We had come to the Soviet Union to work in its industries. We were reasonably honest and efficient, but we couldn’t make good. Stalin wanted to know what was the matter with us in our adjustment to Soviet industry. By investigating my troubles he would learn what made us Americans click, or more often not click, in the Soviet land. But if he learned about Americans from me, I learned from him something equally important—how the Soviet Union is put together and how Stalin works.

My first impression of him was vaguely disappointing. A stocky figure in a simple suit of khaki color, direct, unassuming, whose first concern was to know whether I understood Russian sufficiently to take part in discussion. Not very imposing for so great a man, I thought. Then we sat down rather casually, and Stalin was not even at the head of the table; Voroshilov was. Stalin took a place where he could see all our faces and started the talk by a pointed question to the man against whom I had complained. After that Stalin seemed to become a sort of background, against which other people’s comments went on. The brilliant wit of Kaganovich, the cheerful chuckle of Voroshilov, the characteristics of the lesser people called to consult, all suddenly stood out. I began to understand them all and like them; I even began to understand the editor against whom I had complained. Suddenly I myself was talking and getting my facts out faster and more clearly than I ever did in my life. People seemed to agree with me. Everything got to the point very fast and smoothly, with Stalin saying less than anyone.

Afterward in thinking it over I realized how Stalin’s genius for listening helped each of us express ourselves and understand the others. I recalled his trick of repeating a word of mine either with questioning intonation or a slight emphasis, which suddenly made me feel I had either not quite seen the point or perhaps had overstated it, and so drove me to make it plainer. I recalled how he had done this to others also. Then I understood that his listening has been a dynamic force.

This listening habit dates back to the early days of his revolutionary career. “I remember him very well from the early days of our Party,” said a veteran Bolshevik to me. “A quiet youth who sat at the edge of the committee, saying almost nothing, but listening very much. Toward the end he would make a few comments, sometimes merely as questions. Gradually we came to see that he always summed up best our joint thinking.” The description will be recognized by anyone who ever met Stalin. In any group he is usually last to express his opinion. He does not want to block the full expression of others, as he might easily do by speaking first. Besides this, he is always learning by listening.

“He listens even to the way the grass grows,” said a Soviet citizen to me.

On the data thus gathered, Stalin forms conclusions, not “alone in the night,” which Emil Ludwig said was Mussolini’s way, but in conference and discussion. Even in interviews, he seldom receives the interviewer alone; Molotov, Voroshilov, or Kaganovich are likely to be about. Probably he does not even grant an interview without discussing it first with his closest comrades. This is a habit he formed very early. In the days of the underground revolutionary movement, he grew accustomed to close teamwork with comrades who held each other’s lives in their hands. In order to survive, they must learn to agree quickly and unanimously, to feel each other’s instincts, to guess even at a distance each other’s brains. It was in such a group that he gained his Party name—it is not the one that he was born with—“the Steel One, Stalin.”

If I should explain Stalin to politicians, I should call him a superlatively good committeeman. Is this too prosaic a term for the leader of 200,000,000 people? I might call him instead a farseeing statesman; this also is true. Put more important than Stalin’s genius is the fact that it is expressed through good committee work. His talent for co-operative action is more significant for the world than the fact that he is great.

Soviet people have a way of putting it which sounds rather odd to Americans. “Stalin does not think individually,” they say. It is the exact opposite of the “rugged individualist” ideal. But they mean it as the very highest compliment. They mean that Stalin thinks not only with his own brain but in consultation with the brains of the Academy of Science, the chiefs of industry, the Congress of Trade Unions, the Party leaders. Scientists use this way of thinking; so do good trade unionists. They do not “think individually”; they do not rely on the conclusions of a single brain. It is a highly useful characteristic, for no single human brain today is big enough to decide the world’s complex problems. Only the combination of many brains thinking together, not in conflict but in co-operation, can safely handle the problems of today.

Stalin himself has said this a score of times to various interviewers. When Emil Ludwig and, later, Roy Howard sought to learn “how the great dictator made up his mind,” Stalin told them: “Single persons cannot decide. Experience has shown us that individual decisions, uncorrected by others, contain a large percentage of error.”

Soviet people never speak of “Stalin’s will” or “Stalin’s orders”; they speak of “government orders” and “the Party line,” which are decisions produced collectively. But they speak very much of “Stalin’s method” as a method that everyone should learn. It is the method of getting swift decisions out of the brains of many people, the method of good committee work. It is studied carefully in the Soviet Union by bright young men who go in for politics.

For me, the method was emphasized again in the days that immediately followed that first conference. It had seemed to me that Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, and everybody else had agreed on a certain action. Then the days went by and frothing happened, till the conference seemed almost a dream. I confided my worry to a Russian acquaintance. He laughed.

“That is our ‘terrible democracy,’” he told me. “Of course, your affair is really settled, but technically it must be approved by all the members of the Political Bureau, some of whom are in the Caucasus and some in Leningrad. It will go as routine with a lot of other decisions and none of them will bother about your question because they know nothing about it. But this is our usual safeguard for anyone of the members may wish to add or change something in some decision. That decision will then go back to committee till all are satisfied.”

Stalin brings certain important qualities to these joint decisions. People who meet him are first of all impressed by his directness and simplicity, his swift approach. Next they notice his clearness and objectivity in handling questions. He completely lacks Hitler’s emotional hysteria and Mussolini’s cocky self-assertion; he does not thrust himself into the picture. Gradually one becomes aware of his keen analysis, his colossal knowledge, his grip of world politics, his willingness to face facts, and especially his long view, which fits the problem into history, judging not only its immediate factors, but its past and future too.

Stalin’s rise to power came rather slowly. The rise of his type is slow and sure. It began far back with his study of human history and especially the history of revolutions. President Roosevelt commented to me with surprise on Stalin’s knowledge of the Cromwellian Revolution in Britain as shown in his talk with H. G. Wells. But Stalin quite naturally studied both the British and the American historical revolutions far more intimately than British and American politicians do. Tsarist Russia was due for a revolution. Stalin intended to be in it and help give it form. He made himself a thorough scientist on the process of history from the Marxian viewpoint: how the masses of people live, how their industrial technique and social forms develop, how social classes arise and struggle, how they succeed. Stalin analyzed and compared all past revolutions. He wrote many books about them. But he is not only a scientist; he also acts.

In the early days of the Revolution, Stalin’s name was hardly known outside the Party. In 1923, during Lenin’s last illness, I was told by men whose judgment I trusted that Stalin was “our coming man.” They based this on his keen knowledge of political forces and his close attention to political organization as secretary of the Communist Party. They also based it on his accurate timing of swift action and said that thus far in the Revolution he hid not once guessed wrong. They said that he was the man to whom “responsible Party men” turned for the clearest statement of what they all thought., In those days Trotsky sneered at Stalin as the “most average man” in the Party. In a sense it was true. Stalin keeps close to the “average man”; the “average man” is the material of politics. But Stalin does it with a genius that is very far from average.

“The art of leadership,” said Stalin once, “is a serious matter. One must not lag behind the movement, because to do so is to become isolated from the masses. But one must not rush ahead, for this is to lose contact with the masses.” He was telling his comrades how to become leaders; he was also expressing his own ideal, which he has very effectively practiced.

Twenty years ago in the Russian civil war, Stalin’s instinct for the feeling of the common people more than once helped the Soviet armies to victory. The best known of these moments was the dispute between Stalin and Trotsky about an advance through the North Caucasus. Trotsky wanted to take the shortest military route. Stalin pointed out that this shortcut lay across the unfriendly lands of the Cossacks and would in the end prove longer and bloodier. He chose a somewhat roundabout way through working-class cities and friendly farming regions, where the common people rose to help the Red Armies instead of opposing them. The contrast was typical; it has been illustrated since then by twenty years of history. Stalin is completely at home in the handling of social forces, as is shown by his call today for a “people’s war” in the rear of the German Armies. He knows how to arouse the terrible force of an angry people, how to organize it and release it to gain the people’s desires.

The outside world began to hear of Stalin in the discussions that preceded the first Five Year Plan. (I wrote an article some five years earlier, predicting his rise as Lenin’s successor, but the article went unnoticed; it was several years too soon.) Russian workers outside the Communist Party began to think of Stalin as their leader during the first spectacular expansion of Soviet industry. He first became a leader among the peasants in March, 1930, through his famous article,“Dizziness from Success,” in which he checked the abuses that were taking place in farm collectivization. I have described its effect on the rural districts in the preceding chapter. I remember Walter Duranty waving that article at me and saying, “At last there is a leader in this land!”

Stalin’s great moment when he first appeared as leader of the whole Soviet people was when, as Chairman of the Constitutional Commission, he presented the new Constitution of the Socialist State. A commission of thirty-one of the country’s ablest historians, economists, and political scientists had been instructed to create “the world’s most democratic constitution” with the most accurate machinery yet devised for obtaining “the will of the people.” They spent a year and a half in detailed study of every past constitution in the world, not only of governments but of trade unions and voluntary societies. The draft that they prepared was then discussed by the Soviet people for several months in more than half a million meetings attended by 36,500,000 people. The number of suggested amendments that reached the Constitutional Commission from the popular discussions was 154,000. Stalin himself is known to have read tens of thousands of the people’s letters.

Two thousand people sat in the great white hall of the Kremlin Palace when Stalin made his report to the Congress of Soviets. Below me, where I sat in the journalists’ box, was the main floor filled with the Congress deputies; around me in the loges sat the foreign diplomatic corps; behind me, in a deep gallery, were citizen-visitors. Outside the hall tens of millions of people listened over the radio, from the southern cotton fields of Central Asia to the scientific stations on the Arctic coast. It was a high point of Soviet history. But Stalin’s words were direct and simple and as informal as if he sat at a fireside talking with a few friends. He explained the significance of the Constitution, took up the suggested amendments, referred a large number of them to various lawmaking bodies and himself discussed the most important. He made it plain that everyone of those 154,000 suggestions had been classified somewhere and would influence something.

Among the dozen or more amendments which Stalin personally discussed, he approved of those that facilitated democratic expression and disapproved of those that limited democracy. Some people felt, for instance, that the different constituent republics should not be granted the right to secede from the Soviet Union; Stalin said that, while they probably would not want to secede, their right to do so should be constitutionally guaranteed as an assertion of democracy. A fairly large number of people wanted to refuse political rights to the priests lest they influence politics unduly. “The time has come to introduce universal suffrage without limitations,” said Stalin, arguing that the Soviet people were now mature enough to know their own minds.

More important for us today than constitutional forms, or even the question of how they work, was one very significant note in Stalin’s speech. He ended by a direct challenge to the growing Nazi threat in Europe. Speaking on November 25, 1936, before Hitlerism was seriously opposed by any European government, Stalin called the new Soviet Constitution “an indictment against Fascism, an indictment which says that Socialism and Democracy are invincible.”

In the years since the Constitutional Congress, Stalin’s own personality began to be more widely known. His picture and slogans became so prominent in the Soviet Union that foreigners found this “idolatry” forced and insincere. Most Soviet folk of my acquaintance really do feel tremendous devotion to Stalin as the man who has built their country and led it to success. I have even known people to make a temporary change of residence just before election day in order to have the chance to vote for Stalin directly in the district where he was running, instead of for the less exciting candidate from their own district.

No information about Stalin’s home life is ever printed in Soviet newspapers. By Russian tradition, everybody, even a political leader, is entitled to the privacy of his personal life. A very delicate line divides private life from public work. When Stalin’s wife died, the black-bordered death notices in the paper mentioned her by her own name, which was not Stalin’s, listed her work and connection with various public organizations, and the fact that she was “the friend and comrade of Stalin.” They did not mention that she was his wife. The fact that she worked with him and might influence his decisions as a comrade was a public matter; the fact that she was married to him was their own affair. Some time later, he was known to have married again, but the press never mentioned it.

Glimpses of Stalin’s personal relations come chiefly through his contacts with picturesque figures who have helped make Soviet history. Valery Chkalov, the brilliant aviator who made the first flight across the North Pole from Moscow to America, told of an afternoon that he spent at Stalin’s summer home from four o’clock till after midnight. Stalin sang many Volga songs, put on gramophone records for the younger people to dance, and generally behaved like a normal human being relaxing in the heart of his family. He said he had learned the songs in his Siberian exile when there wasn’t much to do but sing.

The three women aviators who broke all world records for women by their spectacular flight from Moscow to the Far East were later entertained at an evening party at the Kremlin in their honor. One of them, Raskova, related afterwards how Stalin had joked with them about the prehistoric days of the matriarchate when women ruled human society. He said that in the early days of human development women had created agriculture as a basis for society and progress, while men “only hunted and went to war.” After a reference to the long subsequent centuries of woman’s slavery, Stalin added, “Now these three women come to avenge the heavy centuries of woman’s suppression.”

The best tale, I think, is that about Marie Demchenko, because it shows Stalin’s idea of leaders and of how they are produced. Marie was a peasant woman who came to a farm congress in Moscow and made a personal pledge to Stalin, then sitting on the platform, that her brigade of women would produce twenty tons of beets per acre that year. It was a spectacular promise, since the average yield in the Ukraine was about five tons. Marie’s challenge started a competition among the Ukrainian sugar beet growers; it was featured by the Soviet press. The whole country followed with considerable excitement Marie’s fight against a pest of moths. The nation watched the local fire department bring twenty thousand pails of water to the field to beat the drought. They saw that gang of women weed the fields nine times and clear them eight times of insects. Marie finally got twenty-one tons per acre, while the best of her competitors got twenty-three.

That harvest was a national event. So Marie’s whole gang went to Moscow to visit Stalin at the autumn celebration. The newspapers treated them like movie stars and featured their conversation. Stalin asked Marie what she most wanted as a reward for her own good record and for stirring up all the other sugar beet growers. Marie replied that she had wanted most of all to come to Moscow and see “the leaders.”

“But now you yourselves are leaders,” said Stalin to Marie.

“Well, yes,” said Marie, “but we wanted to see you anyway.” Her final request, which was granted, was to study in an agricultural university.

When the German war was launched against the Soviet Union, many foreigners were surprised that Stalin did not make a speech to arouse the people at once. Some of our more sensational papers assumed that Stalin had fled! Soviet people knew that Stalin trusted them to do their jobs and that he would sum the situation up for them as soon as it crystallized. He did it at dawn on July 3 in a radio talk. The words with which he began were very significant.

“Comrades! Citizens!” he said, as he has said often. Then he added, “Brothers and Sisters!” It was the first time Stalin ever used in public those close family words. To everyone who heard them, those words meant that the situation was very serious, that they must now face the ultimate test together and that they must all be closer and dearer to each other than they had ever been before. It meant that Stalin wanted to put a supporting arm across their shoulders, giving them strength for the task they had to do. This task was nothing less than to accept in their own bodies the shock of the most hellish assault of history, to withstand it, to break it, and by breaking it save the world. They knew they had to do it, and Stalin knew they would.

Stalin made perfectly plain that the danger was grave, that the German armies had taken most of the Baltic states, that the struggle would be very costly, and that the issues were between “freedom or slavery, life or death to the Soviet State.” He told them: “The enemy is cruel and implacable. He is out to seize our lands, watered with our sweat . . . to convert our peoples into the slaves of German princes and barons.” He called upon the “daring initiative and intelligence that are inherent in our people,” which he himself for more than twenty years had helped to create. He outlined in some detail the bitter path they should follow, each in his own region, and said that they would find allies among the freedom-loving peoples of the world. Then he summoned them “forward—to victory.”

Erskine Caldwell, reporting that dawn from Moscow, said that tremendous crowds stood in the city squares listening to the loud speakers, “holding their breath in such profound silence that one could hear every inflection of Stalin’s voice.” Twice during the speech, even the sound of water being poured into a glass could be heard as Stalin stopped to drink. For several minutes after Stalin had finished the silence continued. Then a motherly-looking woman said, “He works so hard, I wonder when he finds time to sleep. I am worried about his health.”

That was the way that Stalin took the Soviet people into the test of war.


Anthony Bimba Trial of 1926

by M. Morgan
Copyright © 2000-2006, Brockton Genealogy, All Rights Reserved.

Anthony Bimba was born January 22, 1894 in Lithuania. He was a socialist turned communist, a writer, a journalist, and a lecturer. In the cold winter of 1926 controversy would soon spread throughout the shoe factories and shops of the Lithuanian neighborhoods of northern Brockton. A coming speech by the radical Bimba in the Baltic section of Brockton known as the ‘village’ would ignite a drama worthy of national attention.

The epicenter of the ‘village’ Saint Rocco Church, now named Saint Casimir shared the neighborhood with the Lithuanian National Hall known by some opponents as ‘little Moscow’. This is where on January 26, 1926 Anthony Bimba would speak freely to an audience of about 150 listeners. He spoke with criticism of the current regime in his homeland, of his opposition to Roman Catholicism, and with pro-Bolshevik, anti-capitalist pleadings. What was different about this night for Bimba and his typical speech was that there were opponents in the audience who listened, and noted his ridicule. One Anthony Eudaco would bring a charge of sedition, while Joseph Treinavich one of blasphemy. The clerk of Court, Charles F. King, processed their complaints. #’D 78314 The Commonwealth of Massachusetts against Anthony Bimba for violating state laws on 2 counts, chapter 264 #11 (sedition) and chapter 272 #36 (blasphemy). Anthony Bimba would be the first tried under the new sedition law of 1919 and only the second on the blasphemy issue, first in the 20th century.

To get an understanding of the charges one must look into the wording of the text. The blasphemy law originated in 1641 as a Massachusetts Bay Colony law based on the Old Testament book of Leviticus 24:15:16, with violators sentenced to death! The law was renewed in 1658 with the same available penalty, by 1697 a fine and imprisonment was deemed more suitable! The revised version of the law stated:

“Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judgment of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $300, and may also be bound to good behavior!”

The other charge was for violators of the newly drafted 1919 sedition law. Commonly known as the “Red Scare”, after the world war the country was weary of contamination with any foreign intervention with anti-American intentions. The Massachusetts law was born and stated:

“Whoever by speech or by exhibition, distribution or promulgation or any written or printed document, paper or pictorial representation advocates, advises, counsels or incites assault upon any public official, or the killing of any person, or the unlawful destruction of real or personal property, or the overthrow of the commonwealth or of the United States, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years, or in jail for not more than two and a half years, or by a fine of not more than $1000: provided, that this section shall not be construed as reducing the penalty now imposed for the violation of any law. It shall be unlawful for any person who shall have been convicted of a violation of this section, whether or not any sentence shall have been imposed, to perform the duties of a teacher or of an officer of administration in any public or private educational institution, and the superior court, in a suit by the commonwealth, shall have jurisdiction in equity to restrain and enjoin any such person from performing such duties thereafter; provided, that any such restraining order or injunction shall be forthwith vacated if such conviction shall be set aside”.

Thus, one can see with laws so written freedom of speech in this era meant something else. Religion was not to be tread on either. Compared to today’s society with TV, movies, and music far more latitude is afforded, censorship albeit alive is more in the form of parental guidance stickers and NC-17 ratings, rather than the rigid and uniform moral standards of Bimba’s time. When John Lennon of the Beatles said once, ‘I think the Beatles are more popular than Jesus Christ’ there were bonfires with Beatles records for fuel but John didn’t face a lynch mob!

Bimba was swiftly arrested at the Lithuanian Hall in Worcester before giving another speech. He was given over to Brockton Police and when searched he was in possession of $13.79. He was wearing a World War Army coat; he remained basically silent under questioning and refused bail. Soon however Bimba was released on $1500 surety from a sympathizer, a lot of money in this day. Soon the press was all over the story. National unwanted attention was on the ‘Shoe City’ with most of the focus not on the sedition charge but the blasphemy one. Atheist barked at the ancient charge saying one can’t be forced to believe in a higher power. Bimba found support with many of these groups while many Catholic Lithuanian immigrants voiced their opposition to his stand. On one occasion 400+ Bimba protesters rallied at the neighborhood church collecting donations to fight him and his cause.

The trial would be held in Brockton’s Superior Court on Belmont St., which is still in use today, however due to a heavy snowfall the trial was delayed. Defense attorneys traveling from Boston and witnesses from the ‘village’ would have trouble traveling in the inclement weather forcing the postponement. Meanwhile sides were taken, Bimba had his sympathizers and the prosecution theirs, including; Douglas Shoes, Atherton Furniture, B.P.M., Geo.E. Keith Co., even the Mayor Harold D. Bent. Tension was felt throughout the city with the delay not helping the matter. When the trial finally began state and local police were in force to keep order. Each side presented their case. And for 6 days the trial went on with each side pressing their position. Finally on March 1, 1926 a verdict was reached. Guilty of sedition, not guilty of blasphemy! Both the prosecution and the defense saw this as a win. Bimba quickly departed back to his home in Brooklyn. Despite his assertion that his public speaking days were over and that he’d write instead he did appear to speak again. The Judge in the case King revealed his findings to justify his position.

“The epithets and characterizations which ran through this case are the same as have run through others I have handled. One side will contend that all of the other side are communists, socialists, and atheists, and the other side will contend that there is unfair discrimination and too strict religious belief… It is not certain that he said more. It seems apparent to most of us that there was no sense in his bringing this statement into a protest against the Lithuanian Government, but apparently it resulted from the fact as alleged in testimony that the Lithuanian Government is clerical. I want to say a bit about the situation among our Lithuanian friends in Brockton. They resort too much to court for religious and factional disputes… I think that it is a rather overzealousness rather than intent to use the court eternally as a weapon that brings these cases here.”

Over a year would pass for an appeal on the Sedition charge. After an investigation in the case a ‘nolle prosequi’ finding was made, essentially the case was dropped. Soon after, the trial and all that surrounded it were seemingly lost in obscurity. Many didn’t know what to think of the court’s decision and it’s reluctance to declare if it was free speech or something more. As immense a story worthy of our Nation’s attention the issue just died.