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John G. Wright

Stalin Forbids Soviet Masses
to Discuss War Developments

Measure Is Intended to Silence Those
Who Are Critical of Kremlin’s Ruinous Policies

(11 October 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 41, 11 October 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(This is the second of a series of articles on conditions in the Soviet Union today, based on the first number of consecutive issues of Moscow newspapers available in this country in almost a year.)

* * *

The Soviet Union was placed under martial law on June 22, the day Hitler started his invasion. Military authorities now rule supreme. No one is permitted to enter or leave Moscow. Workers who live in the suburbs of Moscow must obtain special permits to go to their jobs in the city. (Pravda, June 26).

But even martial law is not rigorous enough for Stalin’s requirements. After two weeks of war, on July 5, he issued a special ukase virtually forbidding people to talk! The text of this ukase, issued in the name of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR, follows:

“It is hereby decreed that whoever is guilty of spreading in wartime false rumors arousing alarm among the populace shall be sentenced by verdict of the courts martial to a term of 2 to 5 years in prison, unless the nature of the crime is such as carries with it a severer penalty by law.” (Pravda, July 6)

With this ukase Stalin has, in effect, scrapped the Stalinist “Constitution” with all its “guarantees”. The military tribunals – the courts martial – are the sole judges of the distinction, If any, between “free speech” and “false rumor.”

Even the judges are instructed in advance. The Secretary of Propaganda of the Moscow District Committee of the Communist Party elucidated the ukase as follows:

“Especially intolerable today ... are general discussions, empty and abstract babble ... In accordance with the new ukase of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR it is necessary to conduct the most ruthless struggle against the disseminators of false rumors arousing alarm among the populace. Our work must be directed toward the extirpation of spies and diversionists, the exposure of panicky people, provocateurs, etc.”

It will be observed that the Secretary of Propaganda makes no distinction whatever between a “babbler” and a “spy”; between “panicky people” and “diversionists.” They are lumped together along with “disseminators of false rumors,” “provocateurs”, etc. Perhaps this is merely an excess of zeal? Pravda itself hastens to dispel any illusions on this score in a leading editorial.

“Fascist plunderers,” thunders Pravda, “are trying to employ the methods of diversionism and espionage on the broadest scale imaginable. The fascist cutthroats are outfitting their spies and diversionists with uniforms of militia-men and Red soldiers. They try to invest them with the appearance of Soviet citizens.”

Trying to Separate Worker and Soldier

Anyone wearing the uniform of the Red Army is thus a potential suspect.

“It would be a mistake,” continues Pravda, “to think that the enemy is sending his diversionists and spies only behind the lines close to the front The fascist barbarians are trying to penetrate deep into the interior in order to perpetrate their black deeds here.”

Obviously, the Kremlin wants to erect an impenetrable barrier of suspicion between soldiers and civilians. To engage a soldier in conversation is to run the risk of being charged with contacting an agent of the enemy. But that is not all. The Kremlin wants no discussions of spy kind, neither among soldiers nor among civilians. Pravda makes no bones about it:


In order to illustrate that the GPU alone is equipped to pass judgment on the character of conversations, Pravda featured the case of a Soviet worker.

“On June 25,” says Pravda, “one Ts. was doing some repair work in a house on one of the central streets of Moscow ... Ts. deported himself very freely, and wishing to show off that he was a ‘well-informed person’ told the housewife all sorts of fantastic nonsense.”

We interrupt at this point to explain that Pravda is not at all enraged by the fact a Soviet worker was kept busy repairing an apartment instead of being engaged in defense work. Workers do not live in houses in the center of Moscow. The house in question was not at all an ordinary house, but that of a bureaucrat. And the “housewife”, obviously, was the wife of an important person. Could anything be more suspicious than a worker feeling at ease in such circumstances? The “housewife” immediately reported this most suspicious behavior to the police.

“The investigation proved,” emphasizes Pravda, “that Ts. was systematically engaged in counterrevolutionary agitation among the workers in the building trades, and was trying to sow panic.”

What greater criminal could there be than a worker who thinks he can deport himself “freely” or “show off” how much he knows in public? To jail with the counter-revolutionist! The bureaucratic mind remains the same in war as in peace. Today these contemptible parasites feel themselves besieged on all sides. As always, their only answer is – more repressions.

GPU Wants Help

Pravda concludes its revealing story with this warning:

“The duty of every Soviet patriot, of every citizen of our great fatherland is actually to help the organs of state security (i.e., the GPU) to apprehend spies and their assistants.” (Pravda, July 19)

The GPU finds itself overworked. The only ones “actually” helping are the privileged “housewives”.

It is clear that the Soviet masses are becoming more and more alarmed about the continued advance of the Fascist armies. With the most rigorous censorship it is impossible to suppress news of defeats. Such news circulates of necessity by word of mouth. The official communications tell nothing.

In this connection the role of the so-called Bureau of Information is especially significant. The impression has been deliberately created that this “service” has been set up primarily to supply news for foreign consumption. That is not its primary function. The communiqués issued by this Bureau set the limits within which Soviet citizens can discuss the war. Everything which goes beyond what is specified in its bulletins is – “false rumor”, “panic-mongering”, “aid to spies and diversionists”, etc.

This is made very explicit by Pravda:

“The widest popularization of the dispatches of the Soviet Information Bureau must be counterposed to all sorts of rumors and petty gossip which might work hand-in-hand with the enemy.” (Pravda, July 17)

Discussion Limited – to Official Line

In the same article we find the following:

“Popularization of episodes from the exploits in battle of our glorious Red Army, exposure of the myth of the invincibility of the Fascist German Army, stories of the bravery of Red guerilla fighters, accounts of the unheard of bestialities of fascists – this is the material with which the agitators must go to the population.”

Here is a verification of the fact pointed out by Natalia Sedov Trotsky, namely, that Stalin is utilizing guerilla warfare with all its disproportionate sacrifices in order to distract public attention away from the lack of leadership, the absence of a unified strategic plan in Stalin’s conduct of the war.

The increasing isolation of the Kremlin from the masses is evidenced by the fact that Stalin distrusts even his own agents. The above-cited instruction to the agitators concludes with this well-nigh incredible admonition: “Be a militant patriot not only during discussion periods and at party meetings but also under all other circumstances.”

Bureaucrats Fear the Youth

The pages of the Stalinist press further reveal that the Kremlin fears the reaction of the youth, especially the Komsomols – the Russian YCL. The defeats of the Red Army have stunned the Soviet Youth more than any other section of the population. The youth had been duped by the Stalinist boasts of the invincibility of the Soviet armed forces. Events are now pounding the truth into their minds. Many of them half-accepted the beheading of the Red Army during the monstrous Moscow frameups and blood purges as having “safeguarded” the defensive strength of the USSR. They are now witnessing the disastrous consequences of Stalin’s crimes.

The initial period of confusion caused by the blows of events was undoubtedly followed by anxious doubts and questionings. The secretary of the Komsomols publicly warned the youth:

“There must be no indulgences to panicky people and tail-endists. All whisperers and whimperers who hinder our great struggle must be resolutely exposed.” (Pravda, June 28)

“Explaining” the Defeats

To counteract the growing doubt and alarm, the Kremlin attempted at the beginning to ex plain the defeats away by pleading that the “treacherous enemy” had caught the Red Army unprepared. But once the full strength of the the Red Army was mobilized, the enemy would be halted and crushed. In his July 3 speech Stalin worded his alibi as follows:

“As regards the fact that a part of our territory has nevertheless been occupied by the German Fascist troops, the chief explanation for this is that the war of Fascist Germany against the USSR began under conditions advantageous to the German troops and disadvantageous to the Soviet troops.”

Taking this as its cue, Pravda kept promising:

“If as a result of the first days of resistance by the Red Army, when it was still far from mobilized, ‘the best divisions of the German Fascist Army have been destroyed by our army, then this means that the Hitlerite Fascist Army can also be smashed, and it will be smashed just like the armies of Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm’ (STALIN).” (Pravda, July 4)

These “explanations” only made things worse. By proclaiming that Hitler had caught him by surprise Stalin publicly acknowledged his own stupidity. His prestige, his pretensions to infallibility could not fail to suffer thereby. Moreover, if the “best” Nazi divisions had been destroyed, as Stalin claimed, then it was the inferior German divisions which kept advancing against the fully organized might of the Red Army, with Stalin as Commissar for Defense. Commander-in-Chief, etc., etc. How could that happen? The Kremlin stopped explaining and issued the gag law of July 6. The less talk the better. Even the Pravda has had to reduce from six pages to four pages. This reduction in Pravda’s size was officially explained as due to a “considerable increase in circulation.” The broader Stalin’s public, the less it must be given to read.

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