Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Gates

Stalin’s New Purges and Ukraine Independence

(9 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 36, 9 September 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In the midst of the great diplomatic struggles which aptly characterize the Paris Peace Conference as the meeting ground of imperialist brigands, the news of another nationwide purge in Stalin’s Russia has been reported in more or less subdued terms. This purge extends everywhere: in Great Russia, the Urals, Siberia, White Russia, The Ukraine; it embraces functionaries of the “Republics,” factory managers, and the highest summits of the Stalinist parties. And nowhere is the purge as severe as it is in the Ukraine. Two highlights of the situation occur to one immediately: the general purge itself and its relation to Russian society, and the severity of the purge in the Ukraine. While the two problems are related, they have, nevertheless, distinctive qualities and touch, as it were, two separate questions.

In general, the purges are a preparation for the commencement of a new five-year plan to be completed by 1950 with goals approximating prewar levels. Like all previous “victories of the five-year plans” this one, too, if successful, will be achieved by the sweat, blood and tears of the workers, peasants and convict laborers of the “federated Republics.”

Purges Explode Myth of “Socialist” State

The regime of the Kremlin, which has just emerged from the war a somewhat battered victor with immense new prestige and power as an imperialist giant, prepared for the expected post-war dissatisfaction of the masses and their demands for “a new and better and more fruitful life” by a campaign against scores of small bureaucrats. Several things are thus achieved by the purge:

  1. It strikes fear into the hearts of millions of lower functionaries, technicians, specialist and industrial engineers creating the condition for abject submission to the regime;
  2. It creates a frenzy of industrial planning and operation and produces superhuman efforts by the workers and peasants to achieve the norms of the plan at the expense of their physical well-being;
  3. It postpones again, on the grounds of the destruction caused by the war, the question of increasing the production of consumer goods and raising the living standards of the people (Russia is surrounded by enemies; now is not the time for luxuries!);
  4. It prepares in advance all the alibis for bureaucratic failures which are inherent in the backwardness of the nation and the totalitarian regime which, acts as a brake upon progress;
  5. It prepares for new repressions against the masses.

One need not listen to the professional apologists for Stalin, who raise their feeble and often indistinct voices against capitalist exploitation and more loudly condemn its imperialism, while they are totally silent about Stalinist imperialism and the exploitation of the masses who compromise the new Russian empire. (Did I say silent? Pardon me. They are the loudest and most vulgar supporters of the new exploitative society!) One has only to recall the history of the successive purges to see through the camouflages created by the regime.

The purges often take on a ludicrous form amidst the terrible tragedy that is Russian society. We have been told that Stalin’s Russia is a socialist nation. That it has not only entered the stage of socialism, but as long as fifteen years ago completed nine-tenths of socialism. Obviously, the other tenth has long ago been reached. Russian society, however, has nothing in common with socialism; it is a new form of exploitation; a new class society emerging from a defeated revolution. It contains manyvices which are characteristic of all class societies and therefore has many similarities to capitalism. Its exploitation is, however, even more primitive than that of the advanced capitalist world; savage under the most complete totalitarian police regime in the world.

Socialism presupposes a classless society, a social organization without exploitation and where the state diminishes in importance as the economy rises and finally enters its decline on the road of disappearance, to be replaced by administrative bodies of the people. It is not complete socialism, i.e., communism. This signifies the actual disappearance of a state power of coercion. But this distinction is not really as great as would appear at first glance. A dividing line between the disappearance of the first stage and the appearance of the second is difficult to fix. The achievement of the socialist stage of development implies a new advance of culture, a complete and irrevocable defeat of capitalism and capitalist ideology. Mankind living in a socialist state would have lost completely the strivings, interests and desires which spring out of the insecurity of capitalist property relations.

If Russia had achieved only five-tenths of socialism, there would be no need to be concerned with the recrudescence of capitalist ideology unless it was forcibly introduced over a period of years from the outside. In addition, Stalin’s Russia is a hermetically sealed land. Few ideas from the outside world penetrate its borders (unless there has been some disaffection brought back by the returning soldiers). Despite the claim of having achieved socialism, the regime has constantly to mobilize its police apparatus to combat “alien” ideology. This type, of struggle is employed as a method of combatting opponents of the regime; at the same time it is a reflection of the new exploitative character of the Russian social order.

Reflects a Wide Dissatisfaction

The masses who observe through their own experiences the character of Russian exploitation, the miserable factory conditions, the speed-up systems, piece-work payments, the immense poverty and deprivation on the one hand and the well-being of the bureaucracy on the other, are themselves influenced in part by the anti-socialist nature of the economic, political and social system that prevails. Older workers who lived under Tsarism, recall the similarities of exploitation between the two systems. The social system in Russia having a logic of its own, creates conditions under which socialist ideology cannot flourish; it can only be the property of revolutionists, who seek the overthrow of the regime and the social system which it has imposed. The regime itself, as an anti-socialist force, is a reactionary influence in the land.

Thus, almost thirty years after the revolution, the Kremlin continues to “combat survivals of private ownership among farmers, especially ip areas occupied by the Germans during the war, where hostile propaganda against the Soviet state structure and collective farming was carried out by the enemy.” The conscious, thinking, socialist worker must say to himself: How is it possible that after a decade and a half of socialism Russian workers and peasants could be influenced by such a reactionary movement as German fascism? It makes no sense ... that is, if you accept the premise that Russia is a socialist society. It does make sense if you accept that some elements of the population could have been influenced by the Germans because of the oppressive, class character of Russian society.

We consider this, however, to be the least important factor in the situation. The attack upon the farmers “in whose consciousness survivals of private ownership are still strong” is a reflection of a deep dissatisfaction with the rule of the bureaucracy which fattens off the labor of the workers and peasants. And what better instrument can the Kremlin employ against dissatisfaction among the people than to accuse dissident elements of representing capitalist ideology and capitalist restoration. The fact that these “survivals” are most noteworthy among peasants illustrates not only the strong urge for ownership among this class, but indicts the whole regime for its anti-socialist measures arid conduct. What is very likely true about some peasants, is certainly not a nationwide phenomenon. The workers and peasants of all Russia are not desirous of a return to capitalism.

The attack on the “backward elements” is related to Stalinist policy toward the Ukraine. The purge has been most inclusive there. A mass replacement of personnel in the state and party apparatus has taken place. One-half of the party leadership has been replaced in addition to 64 per cent of the presidents of executive committees of regional soviets; 38 per cent of all secretaries of regional committees of the party; two-thirds of all directors of machine and tractor stations. In the Sumi district of Northern Ukraine. 91 per cent of all presidents of executive committees of regional soviets have been changed. Eighty-three per cent in the Nicolaiev district and 83 per cent in the Rovno district were similarly removed.

Charges Have Familiar Ring

The charges have that familiar monotonous ring: “falsifying production figures”; “plans unfulfilled.” “fraud,” “machinery very poorly employed,” “careless attitude toward machinery,” work “badly organized,” “rotten liberalism and petty-bourgeois looseness.”

The report of Nikita S. Khruschev, principal secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukraine, criticized the training of party officials and called for the organization of six-month training courses for “soviet workers of district and village organizations.” He criticized the Central Committee of the party for not giving sufficient attention to “ideological-political training” which brought about a situation where “there are ideological mistakes and distortions and attempts to give rebirth to bourgeois-nationalist conceptions.” According to the New York Times, “some of these writers were accused of ‘idealizing the past.’”

It is obvious from the nature of the situation that Khruschev is not really deploring the lack of proper training of officials – it is inconceivable that the regime would appoint “untried and untrained” officials. What Kruschev is actually saying is that the Great Russian rule over the Ukrainians is meeting with difficulties. The Ukrainians are restless under the oppression of the Moscow regime and carry on, under the totalitarian regime, various forms of resistance to Stalin’s endless campaign to Russify the Ukraine. The officials have been found wanting in this campaign.

The charge that there are “attempts to give rebirth to bourgeois nationalist conceptions” is not really very funny coming from a tyrant who has introduced the worst kind of chauvinism into the nation. The difficulty of the regime is readily apparent: the Kremlin, which has resurrected Peter the Great, the old Tsarist generals, Gen. Chelmnitsky, the pogromist, and has decorated its own generals with diadems, medals and platinum stars in the manner of ancient potentates, is not opposed to great Russian nationalism; it is fighting the new growth of Ukrainian nationalism which cannot possibly develop except in a struggle against the Kremlin.

Revolutionary Policy in the Ukraine

The Ukrainian question is not new; the Bolsheviks had long ago adopted in its program the right of self-determination for the Ukraine even to the point of separation from the “Soviet Federation.” There was a struggle over this question in the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party in which Lenin vigorously opposed the Great Russian nationalism espoused by Stalin. In an important article written in 1939, Trotsky again issued the slogan of the independence of the Ukraine, precisely because under the Stalinist regime it became a necessity for the Ukrainian masses. He wrote:

“The Bolshevik Party, not without difficulty and only gradually under the constant pressure of Lenin, was able to acquire a correct approach to the Ukrainian question. The right of self-determination, that is, of separation, was extended by Lenin equally to the Poles and to the Ukrainians. He did not recognize aristocratic nations. Every inclination to evade or postpone the problem of an oppressed nationality he regarded as a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism.”

Lenin constantly urged the government to “accede as far as possible to these nationalities that have been oppressed in the past. In the proposals and declarations of Stalin, on the contrary, the tendency to bureaucratic centralism was invariably pronounced. In order to guarantee ‘administrative needs,’ i.e., the interests of the bureaucracy, the most legitimate claims of the oppressed nationality were declared a manifestation of petty-bourgeois nationalism.”

The Stalinist regime, which has resurrected the Tsarist dream of “panslavism,” also demanded the unification of all Ukrainians during the war – after Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded Russia. But prior to this demand for the unification of all Ukrainians in Eastern Europe who were oppressed by Poles, Rumanians and Hungarians, Stalin was ready to make various diplomatic deals against the best interest of these people, deals which violated their right of self-determination.

In the Ukraine, more than any other place, bureaucratic hooliganism has been employed against the longing of the masses for their freedom and independence. The regime combats the healthy and progressive character of Ukrainian nationalism with reactionary oppressive Great Russian nationalism. No wonder, then, that the Germans were able to make headway in the Ukraine by giving lip-service to the desire of large masses for national freedom. It is Stalin’s Great Russian nationalism in the Ukraine which gives rise to reactionary chauvinist sentiments among the people. But even this, on the scale of progress, is less offensive than the oppression “big power” policy of the Kremlin.

For Ukrainian Independence!

Thus, purges, changes in personnel, new policies, new practices, all take place by order from above without consultation with or the participation of the Ukrainians, except through Stalin’s hirelings. The masses of workers and peasants constantly feel the whip-lash of the bureaucracy and the dissatisfaction therefore is undoubtedly widespread. This is revealed in the very character of the present purge.

If it was correct to raise the slogan of the “independence of the Ukraine” almost ten years ago, it is even more important to do so now. In a dishonest way, and for reactionary diplomatic purposes, Stalin has unwittingly granted the validity of this slogan, as well as verified the position of Lenin and Trotsky by insisting that the Ukraine be accepted as an independent nation at the Paris Peace Conference and in the United Nations. This “formal” recognition, however, is counteracted by the real state of affairs, i.e., by the iron rule of the Kremlin over the country.

Thus, if the purges in the Ukraine are any symptom, they are a symptom of the immense dissatisfaction of the masses and their desire for genuine national freedom. The slogan, “For an Independent Ukraine,” is a progressive, revolutionary, socialist slogan which coincides completely with the interests of the socialist revolution. It becomes an indispensable measure in the struggle against Stalinist totalitarianism and counter-revolution.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 28 March 2020