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John G. Wright

The New Purge in the Soviet Union

Extends Once More into Industry as a New Caste
of Generals Is Created by Stalin

(5 October 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 40, 5 October 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(This is the fourth of a series of articles on the present crisis in the Soviet Union)

The 1940 purge penetrated by the end of July and the first week in August – later issues of Soviet papers haven’t arrived – into four Commissariats: The Ship Building Industry, Electrical Industry, Non-Ferrous Metallurgy, and the Oil Industry.

In the first two, only the deputies of the People’s Commissar and the members of the Collegium have been purged to date. In the Commissariat of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy, the People’s Commissar Samokhvalov was removed together with his deputies. In the case of the Commissariat of the Oil Industry, the personage lopped off was none other than L. Kaganovich. Stalin’s own “Iron Commissar”, “Chief Trouble Shooter,” etc.

In the People’s Commissariat of War, matters have progressed several stages beyond the initial and preparatory move made several weeks ago: the replacement of Voroshilov by Timoshenko. Marshal Shaposhnikov has been retired (“ill health”) from his post and General K.A. Meretskov appointed in his place as head of the General Staff.

Marshal Budenny, the third of the three Marshals who survived the 1938 purge has been relieved of his post as Commander of the Moscow Military District.

Zhdanov has been removed from his position as chief of the Department of Party Propaganda and now occupies the decorative position of “supervisor”.

Molotov Is Surrounded

With Kaganovich, Zhdanov, Budenny and Voroshilov skidding to oblivion, the question naturally arises: Is Molotov immune?

Within the recent weeks Stalin has surrounded his Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars with three brand new deputies: Voroshilov, Vyshinsky and Mekhlis. Voroshilov, as is well known, was kicked upstairs for the time being which explains his presence on the premises. But the promotion of Vyshinsky and Mekhlis?

The whole world is familiar with the character and role of Vyshinsky, the Prosecutor of the infamous Moscow Trials. Mekhlis is not so well known outside of the Soviet Union. He first took his orders direct from Stalin in the capacity of personal secretary. Stalin then promoted him to the editorship of the Pravda. When Stalin undertook the purge of the Red Army, the man he selected, as head of the Army’s Political Department in place of the executed Gamarnik, was this same Mekhlis, who upon direct orders from Stalin massacred the flower of the Red Army (the estimate of victims ranges from 20–40,000). In August of this year, Stalin decided that the job in the Red Army had been completed. In June came the appointment of more than a thousand new generals; in August the undivided authority of the officer corps was restored and the Political Department, abolished altogether.

But Mekhlis was not abolished. Stalin promoted him to two posts: Molotov’s deputy in the Council of People’s Commissars, and head of the newly created State Control Commission. Nobody knows as yet just what are the powers and functions of this new Commission. But the mere fact that Mekhlis heads it cannot fail to arouse unpublished thoughts in Molotov’s head. No! With such three deputies Molotov can hardly be classified among those whom the insurance companies designate as “good risk.”

Red Army “Re-Organized”

The army is the quintessence of a regime. “The army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature” (Trotsky). How is the internal crisis of the Stalin regime mirrored in the army?

The transfer of Voroshilov, the shift of Budenny, the replacement of Shaposhnikov, the abolition of the Political Department in the Army, the restoration of undivided authority of the officers’ corps, has been supplemented by the appointment of hundreds of Admirals and Generals. The new officers’ corps has (been raised to Czarist splendor. Titles abhorred by the Russian masses as the very symbols of the Czarist autocracy have been legalized by ukase.

The appointments in the Navy include:





Vice Admirals


Rear Admirals


Lieutenant Generals


Major Generals




The appointments in the Army are as follows:





Colonel Generals


Lieutenant Generals


Major Generals




Of the thousand-odd appointees in the Army and Navy not a single one, to our knowledge, played a role of even tenth-rate importance either in the October revolution or the Civil War. Many of them, as appears from the photographs carried by Pravda in issue after issue in June, are youngsters; most of them are in their thirties or early forties. They are men of the Stalinist conscription; they owe everything to Stalin. The same thing applies to the lower officer ranks.

Of the the full-fledged Generals at the apex of this newly appointed military hierarchy only one, I.V. Tulenev, is credited with a Civil War record. This nonentity is now provided with a synthetic record: “one of those who helped forge the First Cavalry Corps.” His subsequent achievements are on the same level as these forged Civil War credentials: He participated in the “emancipatory advance into Western Ukraine” in 1939.

One of his colleagues, G.K. Zhukov, reportedly played an important role in the clashes with the Japanese on the Manchurian and Outer Mongolian borders. The other, K.A. Meretskov, the Commander of the Leningrad Military District, fell into disrepute last winter during the dismal failure of the first offensive against Finland and is now acclaimed as the hero of the “break through the Mannerheim line” (Pravda, June 5). Meretskov is the new head of the General Staff.

Preparing a Military Dictatorship?

Pravda explained the appointment of this veritable army of Generals as intending to “elevate the authority of our commanding staff, and still further to reinforce the complete authority of army commanders.” (Idem)

The aim pursued by Stalin is, by giving a new social weight to the summits of a hierarchical military caste, to bind the Generals to himself.

When the news of Voroshilov’s removal as Commissar of War was first reported, we concluded that “Stalin is staking everything on the new officers’ caste which now acquires an enormous specific weight, and a degree of power and independence never before attained by the Soviet officers’ corps, and this – under war-time conditions” (Socialist Appeal, May 18, 1940). This has been corroborated by Stalin’s latest moves. In the light of these developments, the question now poses itself: Is Stalin preparing the ground for a military dictatorship?

The Purge in Industry

The administrative personnel of the Soviet industry is confronted with a fate similar to that suffered by the personnel of the trade union bureaucracy. They are being purged much in the same manner as were the trade unions. Industry, too, it is now declared, has been operating in an “office-bureaucratic manner”, with vast padded staffs, embezzlements, graft, etc. etc.

The complete picture as depicted by Stalin’s own press and on Stalin’s own orders is not yet available to us – the papers haven’t “arrived” yet – but we are in position to sketch the background.

Pashin, the People’s Commissar of the Machine-Building Industry, in his “exposure” of the office-bureaucratic way in which his particular Commissariat has been functioning, revealed that according to official computations “the central office of (his) People’s Commissariat has issued 40,000 different orders, regulations and directives in the space of a single year.” This represents, so to speak, the volume of export. The inflow from the main departments under this central office amounted to “more than 180,000 various instructions which arrived by mail” (Pravda, June 15).

Why this deluge? Who writes these letters? Pravda replies: “People who are afraid of responsibility; people who seek to insure themselves against any contingency with all kinds of documentary alibis.”

On July 10th the Kremlin issued a ukase prohibiting the “production of defective goods” by the Soviet industry. “It is a crime equivalent to wrecking,” reads the ukase. The directors, the chief engineers and the heads of technical control are held directly responsible for the quality of manufactured goods,, machines, output of coal and metal mines, etc. The crime is punishable by prison terms of five to eight years.

What a commentary on the quality of Soviet industrial production!

There is hardly a plant in the Soviet Union today whose directors, engineers, etc., would not immediately be liable under the law. Thus, it provides the most convenient formula for the purge. With this decree as a whip over the “technical cadre” Stalin hopes to supply the necessary quota of scapegoats.

Several trials have already been held and a number of administrators and engineers are already serving their prison terms. The reason given for the “demotion” of Samokhvalov, former People’s Commissar of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy, was that he had allowed “violations of fixed standards and the worsening of the quality of certain forms of production” (Izvestia, July 10).

The immediate effects of this decree, as Pravda itself was compelled to report, were that many factories actually shut down; machine plants did not produce a single machine; directors of coal mines instructed that their impure daily output be stored in warehouses. (Pravda, July 13).

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