Raya Dunayevskaya 1953

The Beria Purge

Source: Correspondence, October 3, 1953;
First published: without a byline; included in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, Vol. III, Microfilm numbers 2200-2202;
Transcribed: by Kevin.

Communism as practiced in Russia is a system of the most sweated labor in the world, buttressed by forced labor camps and a vast complex network of spies and counter-spies, The counter-spies are not “foreign agents;” they are “Party men” who spy on the GPU who spy on the Party men, and both spy on the people. This octopus periodically disgorges itself in blood baths known as purges.

Nevertheless, there could be no greater mistake made than that of all our Russian “experts” who identify all purges as the same type, and are now busy likening the purges following the arrest of the No. 2 man in the whole Russian empire, Lavrenti P. Beria, to the “Trotskyist” Trials of 1936-1938. The purges of the 1936-38 period announced the consolidation of the monster state. The present period signifies its disintegration.

After a struggle that had been raging in the country since the death of Lenin, the victor, Stalin, felt confident he could undertake a purge of what was left of the 1917 Revolution-not alone of those who had led it but thousands and thousands of rank and file workers who had opposed his regime. Thus by 1936-38 the counter-revolution was firmly in the saddle. The blood bath had helped the ruling intelligentsia, the planners, assert its authority: “I am here to stay. I am the new ruling class, and you all better obey me. Here is the new Stalinist Constitution which not alone legalizes my status but defines my power as absolute.”


Today the ruling bureaucracy is not the integrated whole it was in 1938. It is split all ways between Zhdanov men, Malenkov men, Beria men, and-not to be forgotten although little known at present-Khrushchev men. Anyone who, like Nikita S. Khrushchev has been boss over rebellious Ukraine, comes into Moscow as late as 1950, and by 1953 is in a position to have Malenkov “ask to be relieved” of the post of General Secretary of the omnipresent Communist Party, and himself steps into that post, is a man to be watched. These power politicians have by now reached a blind alley, not knowing where to turn, and murdering each other.

They have been doing that ever since 1948 when Malenkov engineered, without “the all-powerful Stalin” knowing about it, the medical assassination of his co-leader and superior, Andrei Zhdanov. It is clear now, as it was not then, that the death of Zhdanov was the beginning of the end also of Stalin.

Ever since the expulsion of Trotsky, Stalin has held undisputed power. Ever since 1938 he was so confident of his might and his politics that he knew he could mobilize for war, although he had executed the entire military staff. Hitler used to rave and rant to his lieutenants his envy and appreciation of the genius of Stalin who had the perspicacity and audacity to get rid of the general staff of the Red Army before launching a world war. He knew whereof he spoke for totalitarian economics has no room for a command divided between political and military needs.


But by 1948, after two decades of undisputed power, topped by a military victory, Stalin, to use a phrase of his own on another occasion, was “dizzy with success.” I am not using it as a psychological epithet. His exhilaration from success was a sign that he was no longer responsive to the objective needs requisite for a struggle for world power. Stalin failed to grasp the new situation-he had won a war, a mighty one, over Nazi Germany, yes. But he had yet to face the real contender for world power-the United States. Zhdanov was with him in not using the truce between wars for a breathing spell; he was ready to take the whole world on.

Malenkov thought differently and, feeling that he could not win the argument since Stalin was evidently with Zhdanov, had Zhdanov poisoned. For the first time since Stalin came to power something had been done behind the back of the old master intriguer and murderer: no leader can long retain undisputed leadership under such circumstances, no matter what leader cults have been fashioned around his name. The bureaucracy whom Stalin had so long and so fully represented began to find him inadequate to the new situation created by the end of a world war which no one really won but which left each of the two state-capitalist giants so exhausted that a halt had to be called.

How pyrrhic was Stalin’s victory could be seen in the unrest in the national republics which constitute Russia. By a ukase of the Supreme Soviet, five autonomous republics were liquidated. Russia had suffered the greatest devastation and was in crying need for a labor force to rebuild the country. It could not hope to have that force enlarged by the return of slave laborers in Hitler’s Germany-too many had willingly escaped from the prison which is Stalin’s Russia. Anyone who was in Germany at the end of the war knows that long before Koje[1], the Korean War and the massacre of P.O.W’s, a veritable civil war was going on in the Russian displaced persons camps, but the Allies forced the Russians to return to their “homeland.”


The restlessness of the Russian masses knew no bounds. If they were merely to go on in the same old way, keeping their noses to the grindstone, then at least it would not be in the god-forsaken Urals. The totalitarian Russian bureaucracy had all the power and all the force and all the laws it needed to enforce labor discipline, but absolutely nothing could stem the tide of returning Russians. The tide invalidated all laws. To have a labor force at all the planners were compelled to make an unplanned declaration-an amnesty on all labor offenses committed during the war.

So catastrophic, however, had been the decline of the labor force during the war years (a drop from 31.2 million in 1940 to 27.2 million in 1945 with more than a third of these unskilled new women workers) that even the amnesty was insufficient to create the labor force necessary. Thereupon occurred one of the speediest demobilizations of an army anywhere in the world; no less than 10 million were demobilized between 1943 and 1947. But many, of these had been infected with what the Soviet bureaucracy called “bourgeois ideology.” Still, considering Russian purges, this “cultural purge” in 1946 was a very mild one. But the power struggle behind the scenes was not so mild. A new low, even for the Stalinist bureaucracy, was reached in ending an argument among themselves by quietly doing away with Zhdanov, and then, of course, giving him a big mass funeral.


By 1950 the Russian economy had about got back to normal when Stalin had a brainstorm. He brought Khrushchev in from the Ukraine (where he was Premier) and had Khrushchev, in a speech in the Moscow district, announce the most fantastic scheme yet-the creation of agrorods, that is to say, agricultural towns. Just like that-decree them, and they shall arise and the centuries-old distinction between city and country will vanish.

Instead of “abolishing” the distinction between city and country, this idiotic schema brought such chaos to the countryside that even in that land of monolithic planning, the idea had to be shelved in a few short months. The peasant wasn’t hurrying to transport, at his own expense and his own time, his little hut in the collective farm to the agro-town which was yet to be created, while the apartment house in which he was to live like a worker had not only not been built, it had not even been planned.


But if Stalin had to be satisfied with something less than the “abolition” of the difference between city and country, he was going full speed ahead towards a head-on collision with the United States-at least where he could get the Koreans and the Chinese to do the fighting for him. There was no breathing spell let alone peace. The iron-fisted Stalin was clearly becoming a millstone around the neck of the bureaucracy which yearned for a truce between wars. He had to be gotten rid of. But no one dared. No one except Beria. He had to dare, for it was a question of either his neck or Stalin’s and he preferred Stalin’s.

Stalin had evidently begun to suspect the “naturalness” of Zhdanov’s death. The wily Malenkov had beat Beria to the draw again and managed suddenly to uncover “the plot of the doctors-poisoners” who had indeed poisoned Zhdanov, thus laying the blame for a death he had engineered right at the doorstep of Beria’s Ministry. While the “lack of vigilance” campaign was raging in the country[2], Beria plotted his revenge, or, if you wish, his defense. For if there is anyone who knew Stalin it was his glorifier-biographer-historiographer, Beria.

Six months before the death of Stalin the power struggle reached a climax. Beria knew that his days were numbered and he had to move fast. He did. Despite all the bulletins of the Central Committee and of the chief doctors in the land, we can be sure that if Beria is not accused directly of poisoning Stalin, he will be accused of doing so indirectly, of bringing about his “untimely death” through his “intrigues and treachery.”

This doesn’t mean either that intrigue or treachery will stop, or that the bureaucracy as a whole didn’t breathe a sigh of relief, at the death of their “almighty” leader. One has to take but one glance on how quickly his whole program was scuttled: (1) The Korean war was stopped. (2) What the 19th Congress, the last which Stalin directed and the first to meet since 1939, had established, in trying to widen somewhat the base of the bureaucracy has been shelved. The Praesidium once again consists not of 50 or 25, but “a less unwieldy one” of 10. (3) And they ran, like rats from a sinking ship, from the grandiose fundamental “work of genius,” Stalin’s “Economic Problems of Socialism of the U.S.S.R.”


This, which we may call Stalin’s Last Testament, is the most pathetic document that ever a tyrant left his fighting heirs. After a quarter of a century of Plans and what he assured them was the actual transition “from socialism to full communism,” Stalin’s mighty labors brought forth only the need to merge the peasant’s private allotment adjoining the collective farm into the collective itself. Upon this private garden, rightly called in this country “an acre and a cow,” evidently depends the building of “full communism.” This, plus “the gradual abolition” of the collective farm market, and substitution of “products exchange” for money exchange, will bring them to “communism in a single country.”

That was little enough of a legacy to leave his bureaucratic heirs. But the Russian masses, who know that Stalin doesn’t go in for theory unless he plans to apply it, made one grand rush to transform their money into manufactured products (consumers goods) and the peasants at the same time withheld farm products.

It was the closest to panic Russia has been since forced collectivization took its toll in 1932. Zverev, the Minister of Finance, had to come out with a statement against “rumors” that Russia was going to do away with money. Then he had to cut by no less than 50 percent the “voluntary” State Loan. Then the Supreme Soviet had to declare a 50 percent deduction in the agricultural tax. And finally Malenkov steps forward promising them heaven on earth, and to begin with: “Our country is insured of bread.”

If Stalin’s Last Testament is pathetic, how much lower the sights of Malenkov. In his first major speech he used for morale building everything from “elegant shoes” to hydrogen bombs But there is nothing really decided in this power struggle as can be seen by the fact that no one has yet come out as the Leader but each man must hide behind the “collective” Central Committee which is about as unified as thieves who fall out.


There is no getting away from it, the Russian masses are not only ill fed, ill-clad and ill-housed. They are rebellious.

The biggest problem of Russia remains the low labor productivity. Totalitarian state-capitalism has invented no substitute for that. The Russian workers aren’t producing enough, and the Russian peasants are keeping back a lot of what they are producing. And all the pie in the sky, hydrogen bombs included, will not thrust them back into their isolation now that the East German workers have revolted against these rulers and overnight filled the air with the stuff that makes dreams a reality.

We are at the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism. That does not mean the state-capitalist bureaucracy will let go of its iron grip. Quite the contrary. It will shackle them more as can be seen from Malenkov’s blaming of the workers for the poor quality of consumer goods “To the shame of the workers of industry.” What it does mean is that from the center of Russian production, from the periphery of the satellite countries oppressed by Russia, and from the insides of the Communist parties, all contradictions are moving to a head and the open struggle will be a merciless fight to the end.

1. Koje-do was a small island on the coast of South Korea which was the site of a prisoner-of-war camp by the U.S. during the Korean war. There was a large uprising in the camp in 1952. – Transcribers Note.

2. There is much more than this to that campaign, but it does not affect this story. However, I hope to return to that “doctors-poisoners” trial in a future article.