Raya Dunayevskaya 1954

Russian Regime Cannot Afford a Beria Show Trial

Source: Correspondence, January 9, 1954. This piece appeared in Dunayevskaya’s regular unsigned column, “Two Worlds: Notes From a Diary.” It is included in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, Vol. III; Microfilm numbers 2208-2209;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

On December 23rd the Moscow radio announced that after a six-day secret trial, Beria, Number Two man in Russia, had been executed as a “traitor.” He had been under arrest since July. On August 10th the Moscow radio reported that his case was under investigation by the Supreme Court. Four months of silence followed. Both the capitalist press and the radical press were anticipating mass show trials and set to compare this new purge to the Great Purge of 1936-1938. We wrote to the contrary:

“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. Two man in the whole Russian empire, Lavrenti P. Beria, to the ‘Trotskyist’ Trials of 1936-1938. The purges of the 1936-1938 period announced the consolidation of the monster state. The present period signifies its disintegration.” (Correspondence, Vol. I, No. 1, Oct. 3, 1953) [1]

When the power struggle reached the stage where Stalin’s bureaucratic heirs set about murdering each other, the beginning of the end of the totalitarian regime should have been obvious to all. The press thought the thieves were falling out because there was no one with Stalin’s authority to take over sole power. We said that no one dared take sole power because the restlessness of the masses was assuming the dimension of an open rebellion and threatening the whole totalitarian structure.

The Total Crisis and the Red Army

From the start Correspondence sensed clearly the stage of rebellion of the Russian masses. Ever since the end of the war their seething discontent had reached such proportions that to get a labor force at all the Russian Government had to declare an amnesty on all labor offenses committed during the war. After the death of Stalin in March, 1953 it was revealed that the peasants were producing little, and withholding from the state as much as they could hide. The ruling bureaucracy came up with concessions on the agricultural front as they had done on the labor field. The sudden concentration on consumer goods had a two-fold purpose: (1) to appear before the masses as new rulers with new perspectives and confidence in the future and (2) to appease the lower rungs of the bureaucracy. (Correspondence, Vol. I, No. 4, Nov. 14, 1953)

Nevertheless, the cut-throat struggle for power continues unabated, not because the bureaucratic heirs of Stalin are grate intriguers than Stalin. Not at all. It is due to the fact that the crisis that is shaking the totalitarian structure is total.

Our Russian experts say that it is the Red Army which engineered the downfall of Beria. They fail to explain how it is that the Army which was so brave in quelling the revolt of the unarmed East German workers was not brave enough to stage a public trial, although in the dock was the most detested man in the whole Russian empire. That, and not the fact that an Army Marshal presided over the trial, is what is spectacular about the Beria showdown.

These analysts look at things like planners and are so trained to watch the plotting up above that they easily forget what they witnessed with their own eyes – the revolt of the East German workers. The truth is that it was not the Russian tanks which brought about the downfall of Beria. It was the revolt of the East German workers.

The Revolt of the East German Workers

When on June 17th the German workers struck against the raising of “working norms,” it wasn’t only against infernal speed-up and miserable pay that they revolted. It was against the whole system of Communist rule and terror. Long before the open rebellion which changed the face of Europe, the workers’ discontent was so obvious that even the controlled East German press wrote about “the grumbling” of the workers. The Communist Government was ready for “concessions” while blaming the German farmer for the lack of the most elementary food necessities because they had not fully “collectivized.” So sure still was Beria of continued rule for his puppet, police chief Zeisser, that the Government “permitted” a workers’ demonstration and sent “supporters” into the ranks of the marchers hoping to divert the demonstration to begging the Government for concessions which it would “magnanimously” grant. That was at the start of the strike. But not many hours passed before the East German Government learned that the German workers wanted freedom even more than bread. As the strike gained momentum, not even the revolt against speed-up was as popular as the slogan, “Down With the Government!”

The truth is that the most efficient, the most pervasive, the most secretly organized, terroristic secret police in the world mean nothing when the workers to a man are out on the street ready to take power.

In Russia the MVD (the secret police) has at its disposal not only tens of thousands of spies but also a secret army and forced labor camps. Terror is not just a means of “telling on others,” of control. It is the organized state power. As we wrote in the first issue of Correspondence, “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.”

In the satellite countries, however, Russia cannot exercise state power directly. It must act through a puppet regime. No matter how pliant the puppet, it does not have the power and hence its terror can be only “a means of control.” Beria’s agent in East Germany, Zeisser, the police chief, could spot the trouble and dutifully report it to Beria. But Berlin is situated in the heart of Europe, not in the wilds of Siberia with its forced labor camps to which to banish rebellious workers. And to what avail is secret work when two million Germans are out on the streets?

The Workers Want Total Change

It cannot be repeated enough that the totally new factor in the present stage of disintegration of the Russian Empire is the revolt of the East German workers, symbolizing the rebelliousness of the workers in all of the satellites. Thus within Russia and outside of it the beginning of the end can be seen. While the bureaucrats are out cutting each other’s throats, none – not the one-party state, not the secret police with all its instruments of terror, nor even the Russian Army with its tanks – dared bring Beria to public trial and place upon this monstrous personality all their crimes. It is not that they hadn’t wanted so convenient a scapegoat. It is that they dared not.

The reason for the failure to bring Beria to public trial is simple, but profound. The workers, both Russian and German, aren’t accepting scapegoats no matter how detested the bureaucrats in question are. They are out for total change, central to which is the destruction of the Red Army which crushed the German revolt.

1. The article was titled “The Beria Purge.” – Transcriber