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John G. Wright

Soviet Union Notes

Drive Against Foreigners Proceeds – Another G.P.U. Mystery – Troyanovsky Engages N.Y. Times on “Illiteracy”

(29 January 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 5, 29 January 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Drive Against Foreigners Intensified

The lag in Soviet industry had led to the belief that foreign specialists might be recalled, but thus far there has been nothing to indicate any change in the attitude toward foreigners.

Expulsion of Czechoslovak citizens has assumed such proportions that the Czechoslovak legation had to convert part of its quarters into a dormitory for travellers in transit. The Paris press reports that about 60 Czechs have been recently placed under arrest. The number of Germans arrested has reached 500, according to the same sources. In the latter part of 1937, 3,000 Greeks, most of them naturalized Soviet citizens, were arrested.

At Moscow, 48 technicians were recently placed under arrest in a single house. Their wives and children, numbering about 100, were ordered to prepare for departure to an unknown destination. On Dec. 28, the police came in trucks and took them away. It seems to have become an established practice to send relatives of arrested persons to regions far distant from the big cities.

Their apartments, incidentally, are not placed at the disposition of the public, despite the acute housing shortage, but remain in the hands of the G.P.U., which thus provides for its own members.

Another Mystery?

Everyone in any way connected with recording the death of Ordjonikidze, Commissar of Heavy Industry, who allegedly died at his home on Feb. 18, 1937, has either disappeared or been arrested.

According to reports as yet unconfirmed, the purge reached inside the Kremlin walls and carried off two of the leading physicians in charge of the Kremlin hospitals: Drs. Levine (director of the hospital), Mertz, and a third unnamed.

These doctors had signed the statement issued by G.N. Kaminsky, then Commissar of Health, on Ordjonikidze’s death. Kaminsky was removed from his post in March. Prof. Pletnev, who reputedly refused to sign the statement, is believed to be under arrest.

Ordjonikidze was stated to have died of heart failure due to overstrain. There was a delay of almost twenty-four hours between the time of his death and the public announcement of it.

The Membership “Drive” of the C.P.S.U.

As an integral part of his Second Five Year Plan, Stalin ordered a new purge in the party. On December 10, 1,932, the Central Committee decreed the “cleansing”, and at the same time closed the membership books. Three years later (on December 25, 1935) the Central Committee voted in favor of reopening the lists, and accepting applications of new candidates and members. However, it was only one year later on November 1, 1936, that official instruction to this effect was forthcoming.

The party had apparently been made “safe” for new members – after a purge of four years’ duration which was followed by a “check-up of documents” and the “issuance of new books”, and climaxed by the Moscow frame-ups and the blood purge of unprecedented proportions. The most conservative estimate of the number of party members involved in this entire (five-year) operation would be in the neighborhood of a million.

In its leading article for December 22, 1937, Pravda sums up, the achievements of the period as follows:

“Rigid individual selection has helped the party for the past year to fill its ranks with thousands of advanced workers, kolkhozniki, and the best people from among the Soviet intelligentsia. In the various enterprises in Moscow and Leningrad, the basic party organizations have added to their ranks a considerable number of new communists from among the best Stakhanovists, men known to the whole country. All told, since the reopening of applications into the party, there have been accepted, according to preliminary figures, 46,289 individuals as candidates, and 51,675 as members of the C.P.S.U. Of this number, the district and city committees have approved 27,785 as candidates and 33,720 as party members.”

But while apparently expressing satisfaction with the general state of affairs, Pravda goes on to comment sadly that in many party organizations “membership books are still closed, in point of fact”!

Since its leading editorial on the progress of the membership drive, Pravda has filled its columns with “danger signals.” The Railway and Stalin District Committees in Rostov-on-Don had not taken in a single new member for ten months. The Voroshilovsk party organization (embracing the largest chemical plants in the country) had accepted only seven applicants as candidates and the same number as members in a period of 9 months. (Pravda, Dec. 29) The Sevastopol party organization had accepted for the past half-year only fourteen men, among them three workers. The total number of sympathizers had “even” declined in the same period. (Pravda, Jan. 2) In the entire Archangel province, the number of sympathizers had increased by only 260. In certain regions there was a decrease. The number of acceptances had been decreasing from month to month and “in the last two months only seven were accepted in the entire province.” (Pravda, Jan. 3)

The explanation for this “lag” is simple enough. Every new applicant must be recommended by two party members in good standing. And prospective sponsors, mindful of what has happened in the past, are evidently very loth to incur the risk of recommending anybody at all – for fear that they might be sponsoring an “enemy of the people.”

Bungle-Troyanovsy vs. The N. Y. Times and Stalin’s Pravda – on Illiteracy

Ambassador Troyanovsky has engaged the editors of the N.Y. Times in a spirited discussion on the “level of illiteracy” in the U.S.S.R. The editorial commentator of the Times has had the temerity to estimate that the number of illiterate persons in the Soviet Union composes “perhaps 25%” of the population. Troyanovsky thereupon charges that this is part of a campaign of defamation against Stalin carried on by the champion of “obscurant Tsarist autocracy” who poses as a commentator for the said Times. (N.Y. Times, Sunday, Jan. 16)

Unbeknown to the contending parties (and to itself), Pravda has added a significant item to the discussion. On Jan. 3rd, a special correspondent of Pravda, one Khodakov sent a wire dispatch from the thriving city of Osh, which has a silk plant employing more than 1,000 women. According to this correspondent, the women workers in this silk plant “become indignant when they talk about the work in the domain of liquidating illiteracy.” And apparently with good reason. For, continues Khodakov, “they have been attending the study circles (of the society for liquidating illiteracy) for two and three years but the instruction is so poor that the women have not yet learned how to read.” The conclusion which Pravda’s correspondent draws might prove illuminating, especially to Troyanovsky. Here it is: “It is quite self-evident that in the Soviet and party apparatus of the city of Osh there still remains a goodly number of alien and enemy elements.” (Pravda, Jan. 3, 1937)

All of which leads us to conclude that Troyanovsky bungled again. Quite obviously, it was his duty not to challenge the estimate of the N.Y. Times but rather to point out that the large number of illiterates was due to “Trotskyite-Boukharinite-Fascist” wrecking, sabotage, etc. etc.

Last updated: 30 July 2015