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Fourth International, October 1946


Review of the Month

Stalin’s Latest Purge


From Fourth International, October 1946, Vol.7 No.10, pp.294-296.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Stalin’s New Giant Purge

Stalin’s latest purge first became known to the outside world late in June of this year. Since then scarcely a week has passed without a report that some additional phase of Soviet life and activity was being sucked into the whirlpool of Stalinist totalitarian “house-cleaning.” As in the great purges of 1936-38, the frightened men in the Kremlin are making a thorough sweep of the country. The hand of the purgers has descended on industry and agriculture, the army, the Communist Party, the youth, every branch of social and cultural life.

In the case of the economy, we have again heard the familiar charges of peculation and embezzlement, faking of production statistics, misappropriation of state property. The theater and the arts are found to be nests of bourgeois ideology and nationalism. The same is said to be true of the Communist Party units, especially in the Ukraine. In the armed forces we are told there was insufficient discipline.

The new purge was under way long before the outside world received news of it. As a matter of fact, purges have become a permanent and continuous feature of Soviet life under the Stalin regime. The tempo changes, rising or falling according to circumstances, but the purge itself is in reality unending. After 1938, it appeared to taper off. So great was the chaos which it had created, that Stalin himself had to promise that there would be no more of it. But the hounds of the NKVD were in full cry again during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, as Kravchenko has reported in his book.

Kollwitz: The Mothers

In the Ukraine, in particular, the tempo of the purge was stepped up after the war had ended. On August 23, Nikita S. Khruschev, reporting to the central committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, revealed that the purge had been going on there during the preceding eighteen months and perhaps longer. It resulted, he said, in the removal from office of half the leading Party workers. Those purged included 64 percent of the presidents of executive committees of regional Soviets, 38 percent of all secretaries of regional committees of the Party, and two-thirds of the directors of machine-tractor stations. In particular localities the percentages were much higher. Thus in Sumi district in the northern Ukraine, Khruschev reported, 91 percent of the presidents of executive committees of regional Soviets were “changed.” In the Nikolaev and Rovno districts, 83 percent were cut down by the bureaucratic axe.

Drastic House Cleaning Of The Military

For obvious reasons, the Kremlin clique has endeavored to conceal the purge in the army, by restricting itself to reports of measures for “strengthening discipline.” The extent of the purge in the armed forces, however, may be judged by the large-scale new appointments to the highest military posts. The newspaper Pravda reported in a single day (July 6, 1946) a total of 68 such appointments: 12 lieutenant-generals, 52 major-generals, 1 vice-admiral, 3 rear-admirals.

The most highly-placed purge victim to date was B.L. Vannikov, Minister for Agricultural Machine-Building, whose dismissal and transfer to another unspecified post was announced by the Moscow Radio on June 27. Vannikov’s department, it was stated, was involved in widespread record-faking and misappropriation of funds, and two of the Minister’s subordinates were reported held for trial.

Thus far we have not heard the once-familiar charges of “sabotage,“ “wrecking” and “diversionary activities” in behalf of a foreign power. And since all the Old Bolsheviks were long ago framed up and murdered by Stalin, there are no illustrious political figures who can be tortured into making “confessions” and then hauled into court for show trials in which they make themselves scapegoats for the incompetence, the blunders and the crimes of the top Kremlin clique.

Evidently the Kremlin clique still needs scapegoats, but must content itself with the nonentities and the bureaucratic small-fry who now manage Soviet affairs. That there are real thieves and scoundrels among those now purged one cannot doubt. A totalitarian regime, free of any popular democratic control; a bureaucratic ruling clique which is tyrannical, corrupt and parasitic, cannot inspire honesty and incorruptibility, or even administrative efficiency, in the ranks of its handpicked servants. It is itself the fountain-head of thievery, corruption and bungling.

There is abundant evidence that the Soviet Union is beset by terrible economic crisis, which forms the background to the latest purge. The war is over, but its heritage of ruin and dislocation remains. The bureaucracy, from the highest levels to the lowest, continues as always to enjoy the “good life.” Press dispatches tell of Moscow stores whose show windows are filled with every conceivable type of consumers’ goods, from luxuries to necessities, including the best of food and clothing, much of it imported from abroad. But fantastic prices place these goods well beyond the reach of the mass of the people. They are intended for the Soviet “elite.” The workers are ragged and ill-nourished.

The parasitic bureaucracy, consuming an inordinate part of the social wealth and stifling the economic forces by its bungling control, is the main obstacle to industrial and social rehabilitation and the development of an all-sided economy which could satisfy the needs of the masses. Continuing hardships, with no relief in sight, breed discontent and rebellion. Stalin and the Kremlin clique know only one remedy: the purge. Throw the discontented populace a few hundred or a few thousand scapegoats! Divert the accumulating social anger to the little bureaucrat – the local Soviet or Party official, the factory administrator, the manager of a machine-tractor station. And for good measure, throw in the head of one of the top bureaucrats at the center of government. It was done before. Why not again?

Social Base Constantly Narrowed

But each successive purge creates added danger for the regime. The social base upon which it rests becomes more shaky. This social base was narrow to begin with, consisting of the stratified bureaucracy itself, the army, and the small minority of privileged workers, technicians and specialists. As Kravchenko revealed, many of these Soviet “elite” have come to hate the Kremlin oligarchy. They have, it is true, a standard of living far above that of the mass of Soviet citizens. But the enjoyment of their material privileges is tainted by ever-present fear and uncertainty. Always in the background lurks the omnipresent shadow of the NKVD. The regime needs ever more scapegoats. Heads are forever rolling. No one knows what tomorrow will bring.

It is this uneasy, fear-laden stratum which constitutes the social base of Stalin’s rule. There is no way of strengthening or stabilizing it. On the contrary, all the policies of the Kremlin tend to weaken it still further. For the Kremlin has at its disposal but one method of dealing with problems: bureaucratic command backed by police-state coercion and violence. As a result, the regime staggers from one crisis to another, creating new multitudes of enemies, becoming ever more isolated. How pitiful is the “theory” of those who maintain that this hated and isolated regime represents a new ruling class! For the alleged new ruling class is none other than the narrow social stratum which, because of the conditions of its political existence, is driven to hate the regime of which it is the social beneficiary.

The current purge, piled upon all the previous purges, and coming in the midst of a growing international crisis, marks the Stalin regime, once again, as a regime of acute and permanent crisis. It is precisely now, when the imperialist foes of the Soviet Union are readying themselves for attack, that internal stability becomes a crying necessity. Yet all Stalin can do is to weaken the Soviet Union in the face of its implacable enemies.

Historically, the Stalin regime is doomed. It never had any progressive historic mission. Coming to power in a period of reaction as the destroyer of Bolshevism, its lifespan is drawing to a close. It is helping to dig its own grave. Either it will be wiped out by the Soviet proletariat, which would then proceed to restore genuine Bolshevism and move forward to socialism in alliance with the European working class – or it will be destroyed by imperialism, together with the remaining conquests of the October Revolution, in a third world war.

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