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John G. Wright

Soviet Union Notes

Litvinov’s Removal Certain – Case of A.N. Tupolev – Shadows over Stakhanovism

(5 February 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 6, 5 February 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Litvinov’s Removal Certain

The oft-repeated rumors concerning Litvinov’s downfall in connection with the purge of the diplomatic corps will be substantiated in the near future. His post has already been stripped of its previous significance, for, on a motion by Beria, the Supreme Council voted to establish a permanent committee on Foreign affairs which, in effect, supersedes the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. The chairman of this committee of eleven (on it are Beria, Mekhlis, and Khruschev) is none other than Zhdanov, member of the Politbureau, who excoriated Litvinov’s Commissariat in his speech at the session. The Chairman has the power not only to guide and alter foreign policy but to intervene in the appointment of ambassadors, etc. Because of the role played by Litvinov and his public prominence, it is quite likely that a special “method” will be used in his case. Rumors, which appear to be officially inspired, have been circulating that Litvinov will “retire” in six months, and his place taken either by Zhdanov or Potemkin, with the latter appearing to have the inside track.

While the stage is being prepared for Litvinov’s “retirement”, Stalin’s hangmen are mopping up the Commissariat itself. Among those just liquidated is Sabanin, head of the legal department of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, and a close friend of Litvinov’s. Together with him, four other functionaries were placed under arrest: Fachner, Neumann, Shakhov and Beckman.

In the case of Litvinov, the blows aimed at him, as well as inevitable elimination, are intimately linked with a change of Soviet foreign policy that is doubtless being contemplated by Stalin.

The Case of A.N. Tupolev

Perhaps the most sudden and least expected of the recent purgings was that of Andrei N. Tupolev, head of Tsagi (Soviet Aerodynamic Institute), one of the world’s outstanding aeronautical engineers and inventors, creator of the Red Air Force, better known to, the general public by his initials ANT which used to appear on Soviet planes, in particular, ANT 25 which made the record Moscow-San Diego flight. The Special correspondent of the Paris Temps, Pierre Berland, gives some interesting details relating to Tupolev’s downfall in a communication devoted entirely to the current purge (Le Temps, Jan. 1).

As Berland comments, “Tupolev was perhaps the most decorated man in the Soviet.” He was given the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Star, and that of the Red Labor Banner. Privileges were heaped upon him. He had a vast luxurious apartment in Moscow and a summer house. And, according to Berland, the Government opened for him an unlimited bank account to use for his experimental and construction work. He had free entrance to the Kremlin and even, it is reputed, to Stalin, an honor accorded only to Voroshilov and Yezhov. He was likewise chummy with Voroshilov. It goes without saying that he was designated as candidate for the Supreme Council. When his name was removed at the last moment from the roll of deputies, the world learned of his fall from grace. Officially, of course, there has been no news. The darkest rumors are circulating as to his fate. Many of his colleagues have been placed under arrest. At a recent meeting of the workers of Tsagi a “party representative” (i.e., G.P.U. functionary) urged the assembly to unmask the “Tupolevites,” declaring that a “ruthless struggle” must be waged against this latest variety of the enemies of the people, the “Tupolevites,” in no way to be distinguished from the “Trotskyites,” “Bukharinites,” “Rykovites,” etc. etc.

Tupolev’s initials have been removed from all planes, even from ANT 25, with which Gromov established the world record. It is now only a number: 25.

Soviet circles are reported as lost in speculation as to the reasons for Tupolev’s arrest. Comments Berland: “It may well be that Tupolev objected to the methods of the purge which was creating breaches in the war industries. No official comment has appeared as yet to provide a key to this mystery. The customary accusations of sabotage-espionage seem hardly applicable to a Tupolev. All his achievements gainsay the charge of sabotage. As for espionage, it bears no semblance of truth. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a change in the regime.”

To the crushing blows he has dealt to the Soviet Army and Navy, Stalin has now added a blow at the Air Force, which the bitterest enemy of Russia could not have hoped for in his most sanguine moments.

Berland reports among those arrested as “Nazi terrorists.” one Nissen, a crack camera man, usually detailed to cover big events. It was he who took pictures of the unanimous vote for the Constitution in the great hall of the Kremlin on Dec. 5, 1936.

Shadows over Stakhanovism

The Soviet press, in general, and Stalin’s lackey and apologists abroad, in particular, used to raise a howl whenever anyone pointed out either the disruptive effects of Stakhanovism on Soviet industry (the more Stakhanovists in a plant the lower the output) or the fraudulent and spurious nature of many of the records. It may sound unbelievable but it is nevertheless a fact that both Izvestia and Pravda on the same day (Jan. 9) in their leading articles admit the baneful effects and frauds of Stakhanovism, in guarded but plain terms. Says Pravda: “Certain enterprises are still being carried away by organizing for individual records to the detriment of organizing the Stakhanovist work of entire brigades, shifts, and plants.” The editorial then goes on to warn the managers, engineers and technicians not to “forget” their duty of assuring to each worker “the opportunity for over-fulfilling the norm.” And then Pravda adds the following eloquent statement:

“Some industrial directors countenance a sporting attitude toward individual high records and, as was to be observed in the Donbas, countenance therewith even fraud, ascribing the results achieved on the basis of a division of labor between a group of workers to a single individual alone. The sooner we put an end to such distortions of the Stakhanovist movement, the more the country will benefit from it. A correct leadership of the Stakhanovist movement ... leads to the growth of the productivity of labor not only of individual record holders, but of entire groups of workers, and entire guilds.”

Economic difficulties, especially those in connection with the spring sowing campaign, are compelling the ruling clique to revise its attitude toward one of its pet panaceas, Stakhanovism. A retreat has already started. Shortly scapegoats will be produced. An “exposé” of record-holders is in the cards.

Last updated: 30 July 2015