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A. Roland

The Kremlin Bureaucracy and the War

(April 1943)

From Fourth International, Vol.4 No.4, April 1943, pp.119-120.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

EDITOR’S NOTE: In our February 1943 Issue we published an article by Olga Petrova, describing in detail the play, The Front, which appeared last fall throughout the Soviet Union. The play was also—an unprecedented occurrence—published in full in Pravda. Its author, Andre Korneichuk, has now been appointed Vice-Commissar of Foreign Affairs. The play depicted the dismissal of “old” Red Army leaders and their displacement by new and young cadres, and sought to show that Stalin, had been right both in having the “old” leaders at the beginning of the war and in now replacing them. Olga Petrova’s article after describing the play, concluded that the displacements in the Red Army were Stalin’s method of unloading the responsibility for his own mistakes and that those dismissed included those heroes of the civil war who had survived the 1936-38 purges of the Red Army. The following article offers a different interpretation of the reorganization of the Red Army.

The power of the Stalinist bureaucracy was unchallenged and unlimited at the start of the present war. Stalin had dealt ruthlessly with all his real or potential foes. The Old Bolsheviks, those who had played the foremost role during the Civil War and were thus its heroes, had been cold-bloodedly murdered with the judicial aid of the mock trials. Nobody remained of the original Leninist Political Committee that had guided the October Revolution except Cain-Stalin himself. He had gathered around him those elements who were completely at his beck and call, completely “loyal” to himself personally. This dictatorial bureaucracy, interested first of all in its own swollen powers and privileges, faced its major test in the war.

All the facts are not known as to what occurred inside the USSR as a result of the impact of the war on the rule of the bureaucratic clique. But enough is known to indicate that the frauds perpetrated by the Thermidoreans in their crude attempts to falsify history became increasingly evident. War is too much a matter of life and death to permit bluff and bluster and fake records to cover up ineptitude and ignorance in the leadership at the front or in the factories. The early defeats suffered by the Red Army are clearly attributable to two causes. The first is a political cause due to Stalin’s complete lack of belief that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union without placing demands before the Kremlin and thus permit Stalin to negotiate. The success of Hitler’s surprise must therefore be laid directly at the door of Stalin himself. But the second cause is the confusion created in the ranks of the inept bureaucracy.

If we had no other evidence of this fact, we have that of Stalin himself. It is given in the play bureaucratically cut to order, The Front. (The author, Korneichuk, has been promoted to political spokesman for the Soviet Union in the controversy over borders with Poland.) But it must be said at once that whoever accepts the Stalinist version of events fall directly into a trap set for the unwary. The play deals with the changes in Red Army leadership made in the course of the present war, particularly those made in the high command. The removal of figures like Voroshilov and Budenny represents but one aspect of the small crack that already appears in what was apparently a solid, unbreakable front. Will that crack widen and bring about a crumbling of the edifice of the bureaucracy—or can it be cemented together again? The play is one of the many efforts to apply a healing cement, to hold off the inevitable effects of the war on the Soviet Union.

It is evident that Stalin feels the need to explain away what has happened already. Only a vague reference is made in the play to the Red Generals (Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, etc.) whose bloody purge so weakened the Red Army before the war. The early defeats suffered by the Soviet Union cannot help but have reminded the Russian workers and peasants of those leaders. There must have been keen dissatisfaction with the unnecessary losses in men and material suffered solely because of a political leadership that knew nothing of modern strategy and tactics. The proof of this lies in the play, The Front, in which the attempt is made to take over the criticism and make it appear as if this comes directly from Stalin.

The war forced the Stalinists to take measures in the direction of reform of the Red Army leadership. Better to lose a part, even if a section of the ruling clique, than to lose all by defeat. Not one of the top clique that surrounded Stalin has made much of a reputation as a military leader. Those who have forged to the front are comparative unknowns coming from the rear ranks of the Stalinists, or from outside the bureaucracy entirely. This was in laughable contradiction to the utter myth that Stalin had been trying to foist on Russia and the world for a generation. Was it not Voroshilov, that paragon of military men, the close companion of Stalin, who had been the hero (under Stalin’s guidance, of course!) of the defense of Tsaritsin (now Stalingrad) during the Civil War? Doesn’t the motion picture of that event (with its nauseating flattery of the Dictator) prove this beyond any doubt?

The picture that Stalinist propaganda has tried to impose on history, by violence, by fraud, by outright forgeries, is of the great genius Stalin, choosing his worthy followers by recognition of their great merit. The deflation of the puffed-up Voroshilov at the very first touch of harsh reality tends very decidedly to cast reflection on the Dictator in the Kremlin. (And Voroshilov here represents but one figure among many.) It tends to raise questions concerning the wisdom of those purges which replaced men of known worth, like Tukhachevsky, by such nonentities as those now removed from command. Stalin tries to explain all this in the propaganda-play. The play’s the thing!

The outbreak of the war has imprinted a greater force than that of the GPU on the Soviet Union; namely, that of the war itself. The urgencies of war no longer permit the succession of bloody purges based on frame-ups. Such attempts now, particularly on the scale of the past purges, would completely disrupt defense and would lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union, the bureaucracy included. The whole situation calls for something quite different. Stalin accepts the fact of complete unanimity in the struggle against fascist invasion. All are brothers together in this struggle. The trouble was, according to Stalin, that the really “beloved” leaders of the Red Army, those chosen because of their great services and their heroism during the Civil War, have failed to keep up to date. They failed to study intensively and acquaint themselves fully with modern weapons and strategy. Thus they must be replaced by the more advanced elements who can give proper leadership.

Stalin himself, it goes without saying, has “kept up” with everything. The play actually shows him knowing more about a certain sector of the front than the commander immediately in charge. He knows not only what is happening everywhere, but also he can judge from Moscow which plans are best to set in operation. More than that, he knows which commanders are really proving their fitness, and which ones have fallen out of step. It is not the impact of events that forces the hand of Stalin to remove the deadwood of his bureaucracy. It is still that same old genius which recognizes merit impartially and rewards it, and at the same time punishes stupidity.

The Stalinist version has its political purpose. The older elements who must be removed to save the army are still left with their completely false halo supposedly deriving from the Civil War. They are not “purged,” but simply “retired.” The newer elements, with real initiative and leadership, have not been molded to Stalinist stature and are therefore an uncertain and perhaps even a dangerous quantity for the future of the bureaucracy. Stalin wants therefore to try to cement them to himself and to the bureaucracy by attributing their advancement to himself. He wants also to indicate to the masses that Stalinism stands solely for the good of the entire country. It places only the best in the posts of leadership. The new elements are merely the younger brothers of the ones retired. They are inheriting the mantle worn so well—but in times past—by their elders.

The Front represents in reality a belated effort on Stalin’s part to make a compromise with the youth of the Soviet Union. It is an effort obviously forced on him by the desperate situation created by the invasion. The political sycophants surrounding the Great Marshall have had to yield place to those who could really carry on. But Stalin himself? He will yield nothing. He aims to consolidate his power once again at the first opportunity. He cannot act in his erstwhile arbitrary fashion during the war. But he plans to clamp down at the proper moment, with the aid of the new, younger leaders if he can attract them to his side, against them if necessary. The war, just as we expected, has shifted the weight somewhat against Stalin and his henchmen.

The writer does not agree with the analysis made by Olga Petrova in a previous issue. Her analysis accepts completely and precisely the view that the Stalinists wish to give. Actually, the heroes of the Civil War were removed from the scene long ago by the Stalinist reaction. Those who were promoted in the Red Army and out just before the war were Stalin’s pliable henchmen. Far from being the heroes of the Civil War, they were its gravediggers. The removal of such mediocrities and deadwood as Voroshilov and Budenny obviously brought about a change for the better in the defense of the Soviet Union. The likelihood is that Stalin, fearing the influx of new, virile men not completely under his thumb, has not gone half far enough in removing the rotten elements that infest the Red Army. He would undoubtedly want to maintain a completely reliable base for himself.

The Front is Stalinist propaganda in the interests of Marshal Stalin and his bureaucracy. But it contains nonetheless a contradictory admission that the situation is changing under the impact of the war. The Dictator is no longer merely laying down ukases, but is actually making a subtle appeal for understanding of the beneficial role of the old leaders, that is, of the bureaucracy. That means that this role is not appreciated in the manner Stalin would like to see. It means that new elements devoted to the interests of the Soviet Union rather than to those of the Kremlin clique have forced their way to the front. If history means anything, then the rift that has appeared in the bureaucratic front will not be cemented together but will widen still further. The war has released new forces.

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