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Irving Howe

World Politics

New Purges in Russia

(8 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 27, 8 July 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A brief glimpse behind the “iron curtain” of Eastern Europe was possible last week. Reports from Stalinist Russia indicated that a new purge was about to begin; a typical story of fraud and corruption by industrial managers was aired in the Moscow press. Such stories are always the prelude to purges of one extent or another. Simultaneously Moscow announced the “dissolution” of two of its “republics,” Crimea and Chechen-Ingush. And, finally, fragmentary reports filtering through from Poland indicate that a virtual civil war was in progress in that Russian-dominated country which might reach its peak in a national referendum scheduled for this week.

And so once again reports have begun to come through that in the land of Stalinist terror all is not well. Purges, dissolution of republics, repression of dissident nations under Stalin’s imperialist yoke – these are just the few bits of information that manage to leak out. Imagine how much more there must be!

These reports should give cause for thought to those people who have adopted an attitude of helplessness toward the Stalin regime. Just as many people were fooled by the external stability and power of the Hitler regime into believing that it would exist for an indefinite period, almost accepting thereby the Hitlerian boast that the Fourth Reich would exist for a thousand years – so have some despairing liberals begun to talk about the “stability” of the Stalin dictatorship.

Now we have no desire to exaggerate the scope or significance of these recent events. There is no indication of an immediately acute crisis which could threaten the stability of the Stalin regime. In that sense, it is for the moment secure. But the Stalin regime, we have always insisted, was no more secure, ultimately, than any other government based on terror and the whip; it too would suffer deep-going crises, it too would be wracked by internal disorganization and difficulties. The Stalin dictatorship – no matter what the liberals thought: either the liberals who worshipping it or were cowed by it – was not omnipotent nor immune from social crises.

The “Crimes” of the Managers

Examine, in the light of these ideas, the news reports that have recently come out of Russia. First, the purges. The Moscow papers report “widespread dismissals and fining of factory directors, engineers and accountants as a result of the discovery of evidence that industrial-production figures had been faked, bonuses had been distributed illegally and factory funds had been misappropriated.” These are highly serious charges. The purges have taken place in such widely-separated areas as Moscow, Leningrad, Stalinsk and Tomsk in Siberia. Thus far, there is no talk about a “plot”; that may come later.

But the very extent of the dismissals, their spread over major industrial Russian cities, indicates that there must be a deep-going internal crisis. Among the charges launched against the plant managers is “mismanagement of industrial plants and poor quality of production.” That means that the level of production and the quality of consumer goods must have become so intolerable that the bureaucracy found it necessary once again, in typical fashion, to find a scapegoat for its own ineptitude.

For surely everyone understands that in as highly centralized an economy as Russia’s this kind of thing can’t go on for very long without the top layers of the bureaucracy becoming aware of it – assuming, of course, that the whole business isn’t a mere frameup with the sole intention of deflecting popular dissatisfaction with consumer goods. But that is the price of a dictatorship: no one dares move, no one dares utter a word of criticism even when aware of dishonesty or nepotism; everyone waits for the bureaucracy to decide on top.

(One interesting parenthetical aspect: The local Stalinists use the official Russian statistics – which, alas, the Russian workers cannot eat – to “prove” all kinds of glorious things about the Stalinist fatherland. But if, as is now charged by Moscow, these statistics are often falsified by plant managers, then how can Stalinists claim them to be reliable?)

Why were the “autonomous republics” of Crimea and Chechen-Ingush abolished? The official reason given by Moscow is that in these Southern regions many inhabitants, most of whom are Tartars, supported the Nazis during the war. But that is a remarkable admission. For the propaganda of Stalinism – often shamefacedly echoed by those who were not Stalinists and should have known better – continually harped on the claim that the peoples of Russia fought so heroically because they realized that Stalin’s dictatorship was the nearest thing to Paradise which this world could bring to them. If that is so, how explain the failure of the Tartars to appreciate this fact as much as, say, the Azerbaijans or the Ukrainians?

A strange admission which the Stalin bureaucracy has made – and a damning one.

The New Army Code

Together with these developments came the announcement that discipline is to be tightened in the Russian army. In a decree signed by Stalin, a new military code has been announced. This code provides for stricter discipline, including a greater emphasis upon saluting (at the very time when mass discontent of the American soldiers has forced the Washington brass-hats to loosen saluting regulations a little in the American army!). It also provides for special officers’ courts to try offenders.

Surely if there were not rather serious breaches of discipline and low morale somewhere in the Stalinist army, such measures would not be required. Possibly they are provoked by a desire of the bureaucracy to “liquidate” sections of the officer caste which, flushed with victory, may become a little too independent.

The reader will notice that on many of these matters one can do little more than speculate, because the censorship in Russia is one of the tightest the world has ever seen. But a bit of news leaks out every now and then – and we learn that all is not well in the Stalinist prison camp, that there too faint rumblings of discontent may perhaps be heard. Or rather, that if the rumblings of discontent themselves may not be heard, we can see the repressive measures which the bureaucracy takes, the presence of which proves beyond a doubt that some discontent does exist.

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